daily biblical sermons


We are saved by faith, not by good works, but for good works, which God has planned for us ahead of time
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Monday, 29th Week of the Year, October 19, 2020
Ephesians 2:1-10, Psalm 99, Luke 12:13-21


 

Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

 

 

“And you he made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – 9 not because of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:1-10).

 

 

In these verses of chapter two of St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he tells us how God saved us in Jesus Christ. First, he starts out by saying that we were dead through our trespasses and sins, and that he then made us alive, “Among these [sins] we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of the body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:3). But then, when we were dead in our sins, God, through Christ, made us alive.

 

 

Then St. Paul comes to his great conclusion in verse eight through ten. Basically, he tells us that we were not saved by our good works – whether of the moral or ceremonial law of God – but rather through our faith, which is itself a gift, by which we receive salvation. So, we have nothing to boast about, since salvation is simply a gift that our faith has received, and even our faith is a gift of God. Here is what St. Paul says, “8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – 9 not because of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

 

 

What does this mean? It means that our good works (whether of the moral or ceremonial law of Moses) do not save us from our sins, but rather what saves us is our faith in Christ, which is itself a gift, because of Christ’s atoning death on the cross which made reparation for our sins. Only when we put our faith in him is his atoning death on the cross applied to us by God and considered by him as paying the price of punishment that we owe God for our sins.

 

 

But what is the end result of this salvation from our sins and this forgiveness that we obtain through our faith, not through any good works? The end result is the good works that we will then do, for we were “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 1:10b). So, God has a wonderful plan for our life if only we would obey him, do his will, confess and repent of our sins, leave them behind us, and put our trusting faith in the atoning merits of Christ’s death on the cross to make reparation for our sins.

 

 

If we do that, we are created anew in Christ and become a new creature in him (2 Corinthians 5:17). As a new creature in Christ, we are created to do good works. But these good works do not merit or earn our salvation. Nor do they merit our justification. Rather they are the result of our justification. Once we are justified by God through faith, not by works, we are then to do good works according to God’s moral law, and God has a wonderful plan for our life if only we would obey him. It is a plan for us to do good works in this world in certain specific ways.

 

 

God will then reward us according to our good works. Those that do more good works and of higher quality and with more dedication will receive a higher reward, “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then he will reward each according to his works” (Matthew 16:27 NKJV).

 

 

“While it is true that we are not saved by good works, it is equally true that we are saved for good works. Good works are not the root but the fruit. We do not work in order to be saved, but because we are saved” (William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson, 1989), page 1919, emphasis in the text).

 

 

We note that St. Paul says that we were “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 1:10). So, it seems that God has a plan for our life and has certain good works that he hopes that we will do in this plan if only we would obey him. This is indeed a wonderful reality. “God has a blueprint for every life. Before our conversion He mapped out a spiritual career for us. Our responsibility is to find His will for us and then obey it. We do not have to work out a plan for our lives, but only accept the plan which He has drawn up for us” (MacDonald Commentary, page 1919).

 

 

So, we see that both faith and good works are of fundamental importance to the Christian life. The problem is that many people are confused about this and some even think that their good works earn and merit their justification, their salvation from their sins, their forgiveness, and their being made a new creation in Christ. This is a serious error that distorts and even cancels out the gospel. It is of the greatest importance that we understand the importance of good works and how they fit into the Christian life and the importance of faith and how it fits in. It is a great error to think that we earn our forgiveness of our sins and earn our status as righteous people by doing good works. We do not.

 

 

Rather, as St. Paul tells us today, God made us alive when we were dead through the trespasses and sins in which we once walked, following the course of this world (Ephesians 2:1-2). What got us out of these sins and this living according to the desires of the body and of the passions of the flesh? God got us out of these things. We did not get ourselves out of them, and we did not merit our salvation from this dark pit that we were in. For “even when we were dead through our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Ephesians 2:5).

 

 

We needed a Savior, and we were not that Savior. We did not save ourselves through any good works of the moral or ceremonial law of God, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of your own doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

 

 

That we could save ourselves by good works (moral or ceremonial) was the error of some of the Jews of St. Paul’s time. The Gentiles who were not seeking righteousness at all attained it by faith in Christ; but the Jews who were concerned about seeking righteousness through their good works did not succeed in attaining it because they were pursuing it in the wrong way, as though it were the result of doing good works, which it is not. Rather the gift of God’s righteousness comes through faith. This is the very point that St. Paul makes in his epistle to the Romans, “What shall we say, then? That the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; but that Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on law did not succeed in fulfilling that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it through faith, but as if it were based on works” (Romans 9:30-32).

 

 

Then about these Jews that were seeking righteousness through works St. Paul goes on to say, “They have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God [through Christ by faith], and seeking to establish their own [by law keeping], they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law [as a means of justification], that every one who has faith may be justified” (Romans 10:2-4).

 

 

St. Paul clearly distinguishes himself from these Jews who seek their own righteousness by good works and think that they can earn and attain their justification and salvation in that way, for he says, I want to “be found in him [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own, based on law [law keeping], but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9).

 

 

Again, in the second letter to Timothy we hear these words, God “saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago” (2 Timothy 1:9).

 

 

So it is clear that we are not saved by our works in the sense that our works forgive our sins, justify us, make us a new creature in Christ, and give us the gift of eternal life. Our works do not do this, for Christ “saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7).

 

 

 

So, in conclusion let us repeat again that we are not saved by good works but for good works. “Good works are not the root but the fruit. We do not work in order to be saved, but because we are saved” (MacDonald, Commentary, page 1919, emphasis in the text).

 

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