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Description: We Are God’s Workmanship 3
We Are God’s Workmanship 3
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
We are studying Ephesians 2:10 and we have got to about the 3rd part of the verse. I divided it up
into A, B & C as you can realize yourselves:
“For we are his workmanship,” we have called “A”.
“Created in Christ Jesus,” we called “B”.
“For good works,” we have called “C”.
“For we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works.” And last time we studied it,
we talked, you remember about the fact that good works has almost become a negative term to many of
us, because we’ve tended to say, “Oh, good works, good works won’t save you.” And we’ve caught that
from the emphasis, of course, that you get in the reformation [The Protestant Reformation was the
divide within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli and
other early Protestant Reformers] where the theologians reacted against the tendency to emphasize
“salvation by works,” that had developed over the centuries. And they emphasized that you couldn’t
be saved by works, you remember, in relationship to those verses in Romans. You don’t need to look
them up. I’ll just mention them and then read them. Romans 3:20, [King James Version] “Therefore
by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the
knowledge of sin.” So Paul was saying, “You who are Jews have tended to try to satisfy God and his
righteousness by being as righteous as him yourselves. And you think that if you are as righteous
as him, he will accept you.” And the point is, you can never be as righteous as him, and so you can
never be justified by works of law.
And Romans 4:2, [King James Version] “For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to
glory; but not before God.” And of course he points out that Abraham was saved because he believed
God. And he believed what God had promised in regard to his wife who was far past the age of
bearing children, concerning the whole race that she would bear for God himself and for Abraham.
And so Abraham was justified by that faith in God rather than his works. And then you remember
Romans 11:6 “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if
it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” Paul is saying, “You are
saved because God has had mercy upon you and has forgiven you, and has made everything right in
Jesus. That’s why you are saved. You are not saved because you are doing works that please him,
because you can never do works well enough to please him. Your works will always in someway fall
short of his righteousness.”
And then you remember in Ephesians 2:8-9, which you probably can look at, because it is just one
verse back. He’s talking about by grace you are saved through faith. “For by grace you have been
saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God — not because of works,
lest any man should boast.” And so there has come the emphasis in our understanding of Christianity
that you’re not saved by works. And we’ve tended to talk about them as good works. “Good works
won’t save you.” I suppose we are trying to say that there is no such thing as good works, along
the line of Jesus when he said, “There is no one good but God.” So there are really no good works
that are perfectly good like God. And so we’ve said, “No, good works are bad.” And really what we
have meant was, “works of law are bad.” We’ve meant works of law are bad. But we’ve tended to mix
the two up and say, “Works that are done to satisfy the law, those are “good works”, and those are
not good things.”
Now in fact, of course, the opposite is true. The Bible makes a clear distinction between ‘good
works’ and ‘works of law’. And of course, it constantly emphasizes the importance of good works.
“And God is able to make all grace abound towards you that ye always having all sufficiency in all
things may abound to every good work.” [2 Corinthians 9:8, KJV] So God is making grace for you so
that you may abound in every good work. Colossians 1:10 [KJV], “That ye might walk worthy of the
Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
So it is that you might walk worthy and be pleasing to God, “being fruitful in every good work.” 2
Thessalonians 2:17, “Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.” And of
course a famous one, Titus:2:14, Jesus, “who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all
iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”
And so the Bible has all kinds of references here to the fact that “good works” are what we were
made for. And of course that is what our verses say [Ephesians 2:10], “We are God’s workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus…” What? To experience intimacy with Jesus? To experience heaven? No.
“Created in Christ Jesus ‘for’ good works.” So it seems important for us first of all to change our
whole attitude to good works and to see that ‘good works’ as we mean them when we talk about them
negatively are really ‘works of law’. But ‘good works’ themselves are what we were created in
Christ Jesus for; we were created ‘for’ good works.
I think it would be good for us to look again at what ‘works of law’ really are. Do you remember…?
In fact if you look at Romans, that passage that Paul talks of, if you look at that passage that we
read in Romans 7, you can see some interesting comments that Paul makes. He says first of all in
verse 7, he says that the purpose of the law is actually to expose sin. [Romans 7:7-8] “What then
shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I should not
have known sin. I should not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not
covet.’ But sin, finding opportunity in the commandment, wrought in me all kinds of covetousness.
Apart from the law sin lies dead.”
It is good to see that ‘the law’, first of all, is ‘the law’ in the sense of the law of gravity.
The love of gravity says that heavier [than air] objects fall to the ground. It doesn’t mean that
the heavier object says, “Ah, the law of gravity means that I ought to fall to the ground. Ah! Kong!
I must fall to the ground.” No. The law describes the way the heavy objects behave on our Earth.
So ‘the law’ originally is the law of God. It describes the way God’s own nature works. That is
really what ‘the law’ is. It is the law of God’s nature. And in a sense, Barth [Karl Barth, 1886 –
1968, Swiss theologian] is nearer to the truth when he says, “The laws that are given in the Old
Testament are not so much as, ‘Thou shalt…” ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me,’ in the sense
of, ‘You mustn’t do that!’ ‘You mustn’t have any other gods before me! That’s my law! You must not!’
but rather ‘If you believe in me, you will have no other gods before me.’ ‘If you believe in me you
will not steal, you will not bear false witness.’ ‘If you believe in me you will not murder.’ If
you trust me you will be as my Son was.’ That’s really what works of law are about.
And the law was given to us so that we would see that actually we don’t want to be like that. And
so that’s what Paul says. He says, “Before I met the law at all I didn’t even know how covetous I
was.” And I put it that way, “I didn’t know how covetous I was.” Now we have a tendency to say, “O
yes, the law exposes sin. That’s right because it says coveting is sin, killing is sin, stealing is
sin. And we think, “Yes, that’s what it means.” No. You remember what Paul says in Romans 7:13,
“Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me
through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might
become sinful beyond measure.”
The law comes and says, “If you believe and trust in Jesus, if you trust God, if you believe that
God has created you in Christ Jesus, you will not covet.” And we hear that and we say, “Well I
certainly will not covet. I ‘will’ be like God. I will not covet.” And so you start trying not to
covet by your own strength and by your own will power. And you covet. And the law comes at you
again and says, “You will not covet if you believe in God.” And you say, “Well I do believe in God,
so I certainly must not covet. I must concentrate on not coveting.” And the more you try, the more
you begin to see that the sin is not so much coveting. It’s trying not to covet by your own power
while you are still independent of God, while you are not really believing in him, while you are not
really resting in Christ in whom he has made you.
And so works of law, well you can see it yourselves. Works of law are really things that you and I
do to try to prove to ourselves that we are like God, even though we are not resting in him. So we
are not resting in the truth that we are a part of Jesus. We’re not resting in the fact that God
has made us in his own Son. And we find coveting within us and we try to avoid that coveting on our
own, by our own strength. And sin is beginning to be seen by us as exceedingly sinful, because we
begin to realize, “Wait a minute. This is crazy! I find this inside me, and I know the only reason
it can be inside me is because I’m not really resting in what God has done for me and to me in
Jesus. And yet, I don’t want to rest there, but I do want to show him and prove to myself that I am
resting, even though I am not resting. And so I will not covet.” And you exercise all your will
power not to covet. That’s a work of law.
A work of law is not just not coveting, but a work of law is not coveting by the strength of your
power and your own will rather than by actually resting in the position God has given you inside
And it seems to me quite important for us to see that. Otherwise I think what we get into is works
of law without realizing it. And so we often think, “Well I am doing this and I’m doing that. And
those are the things that God has said I should do. I’m sure I have a little trouble with that at
times, a little trouble with this at times, but I am doing it. And sometimes it takes all the power
I have to do it, but I am doing it.” But there is a strain about it.
A work of law is a deliberate, conscious attempt to be in line with what God’s law says by our own
strength, by our own power, rather than resting in the position he has given us in himself. In
other words, in a sense you could say the problem of works of law is there is no faith in it. And
that’s why old James says that. He says, “You have faith. Well I say, ‘I by my works will show you
And then if we could just jump to ‘good works’. Good works are works that spring naturally from
faith in the position that God has given us in his Son Jesus.
I’d like to take you to a couple of verses that certainly highlight it very clearly to my mind.
Philippians 4:4, because the law, as you know in the Bible is not simply the Ten Commandments. It
is of course all the commandments that Jesus gives us, and that he gives us through his apostles.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
Well you could almost preach the rest of the sermon yourselves. Have you found yourself reminding
yourself that you should rejoice? “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Have
you found yourself thinking of that as a healthy minded piece of advice? Have you found yourself
responding to that as, “That’s an exhortation to me, and I ought to” (what is it?) “stand up and fly
right”? Have you found yourself doing that? “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say,
Rejoice.” “That’s right. I shouldn’t be down like this. I shouldn’t be. There is every reason for
me to be up. I should be up.” A ‘work of law!’ A ‘work of law!’
We shouldn’t confuse ourselves by saying, “Well now wait a minute! It does help me at times.” Oh,
sure. A ‘work of law’ will help you. I mean. “Whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are
of good report, think on those things.” Good things will always be an uplifting influence to us.
But a ‘work of law’ is trying to do what God says comes naturally when we are abiding in him,
[Pastor whispers] without abiding in him.
Remember Barth has that concept. I don’t know if you remember it. “Autonomy,” he says, “Autonomy.”
“auto” is ‘self’ in Greek, and ‘nomos’ is ‘law’. It is “Ruling yourself.” It is “self-rule.” He
says, “That’s our problem.” And it’s the same thing that Lewis [Clive Staples Lewis, 1898 – 1963,
British novelist, poet, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian,
broadcaster, lecturer, and Christian apologist] brought out, you remember, in his, “Mere
Christianity”. We actually want to maintain the rule of ourselves, our own self rule. We want to
be autonomous. We want to be independent of
God, but we do want to be saved. You remember Lewis says the same kind of thing, “If we can only
hold onto a little of self, we’ll give and give and give, but we don’t want to give everything.”
And so we end up in this situation where we face a verse like Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord
always; again I will say, Rejoice.” And we think to ourselves, “I’m not rejoicing and I should be
rejoicing.” And then we get to work with soulish, psychological being, and we say, “Now, let me
look at things. Well, ‘Count your blessings; count them one by one.’ I should count my blessings;
that will help to rejoice, and look at all the good things I have. I have a lovely car. I have a
good home. I have people who love me, and look at God, how good he has been to me. I should… There
are lots of reasons why I should rejoice.”
Works of law! Works of law! Because it’s effort. It’s finding that joy is not springing up in
your heart. It is not there. And in a way you know it. In a way you and I both know it. We know
that there is something manufactured about our rejoicing. There is something full of effort about
our rejoicing. There is a sense in which it is not joy. We know in our heart of hearts that joy is
something wonderful that springs up. When we see a bird soaring in the sky, we don’t have to say
that bird is trying to be joyful. We just know that bird is soaring because it can’t do anything
else. It is its nature to soar. And it is the same — we joke about our little dog. In the
morning, “Get up! Get up! It’s great! There’s a new day!” And you don’t have to say the dog is
trying hard to be happy. He’s just happy.
And that is what a good work is. A good work is an outward act or word — or a thought I suppose it
can be — that springs up naturally from a heart that is abiding peacefully and restfully in Jesus,
in the arms of our Father.
I’ll give to you another one that brings it home very clearly to me. It’s the last one, but it is
very clear. It is 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of
God in Christ Jesus for you.”
The rain is blasting out of the sky; you are just at the bulge there at Washington, and it is 5PM in
the evening, and there is a ‘pssss’ and the tire has gone flat. And you get out with your umbrella,
which is broken, and the rain is blasting down. What is your heart at that moment? “Give thanks in
all circumstances; for this, at this moment, close to Washington, 5PM, rainy night, head to tail
traffic, is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” And then God brings that verse to you for one
purpose, to expose sin. But you grab it, and you say, “That’s right. That’s what I’m supposed to
be doing. That’s terrible; that’s wrong that I was so anxious and worried there for a moment. For a
moment — that’s wrong that I felt like that. That’s wrong depressed and down and felt everything
is going wrong. I should give thanks here. ‘Lord, I want to give thanks here for this beautiful
situation which I’ve had.'” But it is a work of law. It is a work of law.
It seems to me that God is graciously saying to us, “I created you. You are my workmanship. I
created you in my Son, Christ Jesus for good works. Those are works that spring spontaneously from
your heart as you rest in me. Now if you try to imitate those works, because that is all you are
doing, because it is obviously a kind of manufactured effortful act that you produce — if you try
to imitate those works, you are simply compounding sin. Sin is a willful independence of me.
Actually there is something in your attitude to me that is still independent. That’s why you don’t
feel joy. That’s why you don’t give thanks in all circumstances. You are not resting in me, in my
own heart. You are not abiding in me. And that is why I allowed this situation to come about. And
that is why I wrote this in my book, so that you would see that you are not abiding in me, and there
is a deeper place of abiding that I have for you here. And when you abide there you will do the
good works that I have made you to do.”
It seems to me that’s it. And I ask you to think about it. It’s certainly the only satisfying
interpretation that I can see from that whole Romans 7, that first half of Romans 7. And it is a
deeper interpretation than the one we usually give it. The one we usually give it is, the law is
there to expose sins, ‘sins’, s-i-n-s. It is there to expose the ‘sin’ of covetousness. It is
there to expose the sin of stealing. It is there to expose the sin of bearing false witness against
your neighbor. It is there to give you information. It is to tell you the names of acts and words
that are not pleasing to God. “Wrong!” The law is there not to expose sins, but to expose ‘sin’.
And ‘sin’ is a willful independence of God, willful because it wants to continue that independence.
And even though God shows us that we are not rejoicing from the heart, or we are not giving thanks
in all circumstances from the heart, or we are not free from anxiety in our deepest self, we persist
in saying, “No, but we are resting in Christ.” And God says, “Not only are you not resting in
Christ, but you are now compounding your sin by refusing to believe that you are not resting in
Christ.” And so sin becomes, or is seen to be exceedingly sinful.
And I do think that healing and salvation come to us when we look up to God and we say, “Yes, Lord,
that’s right. That’s right. I was made in Christ Jesus for good works, and good works are works
that stem from my faith, that flow naturally from my heart that is contentedly dwelling in you. And
the ‘rejoicing good work’ is not there. And the ‘free from anxiety’ good work is not there. So
Lord, what more? Where do I need to rest and yield to you?”
It seems to me that. And I pray that God will give us grace to do that.
Let us pray.
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