D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. - Ephesians 2:10
We have glanced at this great statement previously when we took it in its context in connection with the two previous verses, 8 and 9. These three verses together, as we saw, are a composite statement, therefore before we come to take this verse on its own, it was right that we should have taken it as a part of the argument which the apostle puts before us in the three verses together. The argument is that our salvation is entirely of grace; it results from the grace of God. There is no boasting; that is excluded altogether. We must not even boast of our faith, we must not turn even faith into ‘works’. ‘We are saved by grace, through faith.’ Faith is the instrument and the channel, it is not the determining cause. Now that is the great argument, you remember, that it is all by grace and of grace. The apostle puts it in a negative and in a positive manner. And in this tenth verse he brings out what is in many ways his final argument. He says it is entirely of grace; it is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast, ‘for we are His workmanship’—any other view is impossible, is quite inadequate and ridiculous. And indeed, he says, this can finally be clinched by the fact that the good works that we ought to perform as Christians are works that are already before ordained that we should walk in them. Even the very works that we do as Christians are prepared beforehand by God that we might walk in them. So far then, we have looked at this statement in a general and, chiefly, negative way.
It is, however, such a profound and such a glorious statement that it would be very wrong to leave it just at that. It is a part of the argument, but it is also a statement in and of itself, a positive statement, and one of the most important and vital statements that we can ever consider. Here we are given one of’ Paul’s definitions of what its means to be a Christian. And there is, I suppose, no more exalted statement of it than just this, that we are God’s workmanship. That is the truth about us all as Christians, and that is the truth about the Christian Church. It is our business to learn to think of ourselves in that way; and it is only as we do so that we shall truly function as Christians.
It seems to me, more and more, that all our troubles really come from our failure to realise the truth about ourselves and our position as Christians. The central trouble with us—and it is an astounding thing to realise—is our initial failure to have the true view of these matters. We are so much the creatures of tradition. We start off with the wrong ideas—the natural man ever starts with a wrong conception of Christianity. We persist in thinking of it as just being good or doing good, or some such thing; and it is extremely difficult to shed that idea. But that is something which falls hopelessly short of this great New Testament concept. These New Testament Christians are constantly being exhorted to realise the privilege of their position. Though they are but a handful of people in a great pagan society they are always being told to rejoice, to consider their wonderful destiny; they are being reminded of who they are and what they are, and they are told to lift up their heads and to go forward in a triumphant manner. All that is done, of course, in the light of what the New Testament expounds as the true doctrine concerning the Christian.
This matter can be put in the form of a question. Are we filled with a sense of privilege and of joy? What is our understanding of being Christian? What is our view of the Church? Is it not true to say that, speaking generally, we always tend to think of it in merely human terms? We tend to think of the whole Church of God as a human institution and society, we think in terms of the activities of men and what men are doing and not doing, and of committees and gatherings and organisations and the like. All these things are undoubtedly a part of it, and they are essential, but they do not constitute the Church. That is not what makes the Church the Church. And again, it is exactly the same with regard to the individual Christian. Are we confident, have we got assurance, as we think of ourselves and consider the complete Christian life and all that belongs to that life? Do we think of it solely in terms of ourselves and of what we are doing and proposing to do, or do we see ourselves as part of a great process? Do we realise that we have the privilege of being brought into a great scheme and plan? Now that is the idea and outlook the apostle is putting before us here, in a positive manner. Let us therefore, come immediately to a consideration of the terms he uses.
Paul’s first proposition is this: we are God’s workmanship. That is the first thing we have to realise about ourselves as Christians. Negatively, as we have already seen, that means that we do not make ourselves Christians. We are not what we are as the result of anything that we have done. Nothing whatsoever!—boasting is excluded. ‘Not of works.’ ‘Not of yourselves.’ But we do not stop with the negative, we must go on to look at it positively like this. We are God’s handiwork. That is the meaning of the term. We are, so to speak, a thing of His making. This is to me a most remarkable and thrilling thought, that we are something that is being made and fashioned by God. We can think of this individually, of ourselves as Christians; and we must think of it as being true of the whole Church. Once again let me put the matter in the form of a question. Do we habitually think of ourselves in that way? Is it not, alas, true to say of most of us that we persist somehow in thinking of God as being entirely passive? Our idea of God is that He is there in the heavens entirely passive and waiting for us to approach Him. We think: Of course if I go to God He will listen to me, He will answer me, He will bless me. But in that way, we think of the real activity always as being on our part. God has a great treasure house, a great storehouse; He has great gifts to give, yes, but He does nothing about it, He just waits until we do something, and then when we take action God responds.
Let us examine ourselves again in the light of that. Is it not our tendency to think of it in that way? I decide for Christ, and therefore I am justified. I may go on like that for years. Then I decide that I want to be sanctified, so I apply for that also, and God gives it me. But God is passive the whole time; it is my activity that matters, it is what I decide, it is what I do. All that is, of course, altogether contrary to the teaching of the apostle, which reminds us, and puts tremendous emphasis upon the fact, that Christianity is entirely the result of the activity of God. ‘His workmanship are we.’
It is God who is the Workman, it is God who is active. It is astounding that anyone could ever fall into the particular error I have just outlined, because the Bible is nothing but the record of the activity of God. How is it possible that anyone can read an open Bible, starting with the words ‘In the beginning God’, and then go on to think of the whole thing as the activity of man? It is God who acts everywhere. He made man, He made the world. Man sinned— God went after him. It is God who called Abraham; it is God who created the kings; it is God who called the prophets; it is God who gave the law; it is God who gave the instructions about building the tabernacle and the temple; and it was God, who, in the fulness of the times, sent forth His own Son. It is God’s workmanship, God’s activity, from beginning to end. And yet, even we who are Christians tend to forget that, and to think often of our Christian life, and of our being Christians at all, in terms of something we have done, or something we have attained. Even if we start in the right way we tend to insinuate the other idea later on. We will persist in thinking of God as being more or less passive and simply ready to respond to what we do and what we desire. But the very term the apostle uses here should make such thoughts quite impossible. God is the Workman. God is the One who is fashioning. It is a wonderful picture of God as a kind of Artist, as some kind of Artificer. The picture invites us to think of God as in some great workshop, and asks us to watch Him forming and fashioning and bringing something into being.
Now this is characteristic biblical teaching with regard to God. Take the pictures which we are given in the Scriptures, of God as a Potter. You get it in the Old Testament, you get it in the New Testament. This same apostle, in writing to the Romans, uses that very metaphor. Here is a lump of clay; the workman, the potter, comes along and takes hold of this shapeless mass of clay, and begins to work on it. He begins to round it off and to get rid of angles and corners; he has certain lathes, and he puts it on the lathe. He is fashioning, he is making a vase or some kind of vessel. That is the picture that is given—the potter and the clay, and that is precisely the idea that the apostle has here, that God is the Workman, and we are the clay that is being formed and fashioned. The work is His, not ours. He is the Workman, the Artist, who is producing a piece of work.
Indeed, the apostle uses another term that is still more explicit: ‘We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus’. That takes us right back, of course, to the original idea of creation. ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.’ What is creation? The very idea, the essential idea of creation, is that something is made out of nothing; it was not there before, but it is now brought into being. That is the precise way in which the apostle thinks of the Christian. So we must say farewell for ever to all ideas of improvement, and of self-improvement especially. The most important fact about the Christian is that he is a new creation, a new creature. God the Creator, God the Potter, the Artificer, God the great Maker, the great Workman, has brought something into being in my life that was not there before—that is what makes me a Christian. And I am not a Christian apart from that. So that to talk about Christian nations and a man being a Christian because he belongs to a Christian nation is simply, of course, a blank denial of the whole biblical teaching. It is God’s action, a specific action, a new creation. The God who at the beginning (as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 4:6) ‘commanded the light to shine out of darkness,’ that same God, in the same way ‘hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’. That is what it means to be a Christian. Nothing less than that! How can one put it more clearly? What concerns me is not simply that we should have the right idea, but that we should all come to see that there is no greater travesty of Christianity than the idea that we are Christians because of something that we are, or something that we do. We must realise that we are the workmanship of the great Workman, the great Artist. There is nothing more wonderful than this, that I, such as I am, am something that has been brought into being, something that has been fashioned by God Himself, that I am like clay in the hands of the potter. As I think of my Christian life in this world I must stop thinking of it simply in terms of what I do and am doing, but rather think of it in terms of what God is doing to me, that I am in the hands of the great Maker, in the hands of the Creator, and that He is working in me and upon me. That is the apostle’s conception and teaching here.
Let us now consider it a little more in detail, because the more we understand this great truth in detail the more it will amaze us and thrill us. How does God do this work? The first thing we have to emphasise is that it is in and through the Lord Jesus Christ: ‘created in Christ Jesus’! That is always the case. We have already seen it in verses 4 to 7 where we have been told that we have been quickened with Him, raised together with Him, seated with Him in the heavenly places. In other words, God makes us Christians by applying to us, by mediating to us, that which He has done for us in Christ. It is all in Christ, therefore. It is in Him, in His Person. It is ‘of his fulness that we receive, and grace for grace’. We receive the benefits of His death, we receive the benefits of His life; we receive His very life itself. All good comes to us from Christ. That is how God does it. He has sent forth His Son, then He brings us to the Son. Or, to use another scriptural term, He forms the Lord Jesus Christ in us. That is what He is doing: He is forming Christ in us. ‘My little children’, says Paul to the (Galatians 4:19), ‘of whom I travail in birth again, until Christ be formed in you’. That is the New Testament idea of being Christian. It is a great mystical conception, it is a vital conception. We are at this point altogether outside the realm of our little works and decencies and moralities. Christ is being formed in me!
How does God do that? Look for a moment at the means that God employs to form Christ in us. Take my illustration of the workshop, or the factory. You can go to a shop and there see a finished article for sale, a beautiful bowl, a beautiful vase, or whatever it is. How has it come into being? You may be fortunate enough to be taken on a visit to the factory. Have you ever been to a glass factory or some such place? I remember once visiting one in Venice, and there we saw men actually making the wonderful things which we had seen previously in a finished form. We were rather amazed when we saw the first beginnings. Well, it is something like that that we have to think of now. How does God produce this finished article, the Christian? Go to the workshop, and there you will discover exactly how it is done. That is what we are told in this very Epistle.
The first thing we become conscious of is the work of the Holy Spirit. You have noticed the striking order in Scripture—God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. The Father plans salvation; He sends the Son to work it out; and then He and the Son send the Spirit in order to apply it. God works in us and God makes Christians of us, and fashions us according to the image of Christ, or forms Christ in us, primarily by the work of the Holy Spirit. ‘Know ye not that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost?’ says the apostle in writing to the Corinthians. The Holy Spirit is in us if we are Christians; we cannot be Christians without having the Holy Spirit in us. And He works in us. We shall consider later exactly how He works. I am simply introducing you at the moment to the means that God employs. There is this constant activity of the Holy Spirit in the individual Christian, in groups of Christians, in the Church. The Holy Spirit is in the Church, and He is working and He is doing God’s work; God is working through Him.
Then the next thing we have to mention is the Word, the Scriptures. You remember our Lord’s great high priestly prayer in which He says, ‘Sanctify them through thy truth, thy word is truth’. How are we born again? According to the Epistle of James we are ‘begotten by the word of truth’ (1:18). Peter says, ‘Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God which liveth and abideth for ever’ (1 Peter 1:23). God uses the Word in order to give us life. The Word is preached and the Word becomes life to us. There is a seed of life in it, and God puts the life into us through putting the Word into us. You get that same idea in the fifth chapter of this Ephesian Epistle, where we are told about ‘the washing of water by the word’. As we think of this process which God is working out in us we have to think of this Word. That is where the importance of reading the Scripture comes in. It is the means that God Himself uses. God could have done it without means, but He has chosen to do it in this way. So He gave the Holy Spirit to enlighten these writers, to give them understanding, to open their minds to the truth, and to enable them to convey the truth. And the Spirit led them and guided them. It is all designed to this great end—God as the Workman, producing Christians and perfecting Christians! How tremendously important is the Word!
Not only that, however, but the preaching of the Word also. You will find in the fourth chapter of this Epistle to the Ephesians that Paul puts it like this: ‘He gave gifts unto men; and He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers’. What for?—‘for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’. Do you understand? Do you see what is happening in the factory where Christians are being made? Look at the benches, look at the lathes. What do you see there? Apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, preachers—all put there by God, and He is doing His great work by them and through them. He is using all these men to fashion Christians. That is the New Testament idea of Christianity!—not a man hesitating in his bed on Sunday morning as to whether he will go to a place of worship or not; or whether he will read the Bible, or pray. It is not our work; ‘not of yourselves’. God is doing this, and this is how He does it. It is God who calls men to preach the gospel. Preaching is not a profession—alas, it often is, but then it is of no value. It is God who calls and who places men in their different offices. He has planned it all. It is His design, it is His blueprint, and it is all being put into operation. The preaching and the teaching, the gifts that God gives to men, and the gifts that He gives to the Church are all a part of the process. None of them are given for their own sake, they are simply given in order that God may use them, in order to bring to pass His great purpose.
What else? We find another element put before us in the twelfth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Circumstances and chastening! What is the teaching in the twelfth of Hebrews? These Hebrew Christians were tending to grumble and to complain because they were having trials and troubles and tribulations; and the argument that is put before them is that it is all happening to them because they are children. ‘Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth!’ He uses an illustration. Take our earthly parents, he says. They correct us; but why do they correct us? They do so because they are concerned about our well-being, because they are concerned about our development. The good parent chastises the child, not simply to relieve his pent-up emotions but because it is in the best interest of the child, because he loves the child, because he is considering the child’s future. And his argument is that God as our Father does exactly the same thing with us. That does not mean that every time something goes wrong with us we are of necessity being chastened by God. We are living in a world of sin, we are living in a world where secondary causes operate, and oftentimes our illnesses and diseases and trials happen to us merely as the result of secondary causes; but there is very clear and explicit teaching in the Scripture that God does chastise His own children. And He does that in order to perfect them. In other words, if we will not listen to the teaching of the Scripture, if we will not accept it positively, if God has started working in us and making us and fashioning us, He will produce the ultimate result by this other method. It may involve chastening, chastisement—the potter’s use of the lathe suggests this; certain angles have to be removed and certain corners have to be got rid of. God puts us on the lathe, as it were. Or, to use the very illustration of that twelfth chapter of Hebrews, He puts us into the gymnasium, He makes us go through these exercises in order that we may be perfect. He intends us to develop. Indeed, I would refer you to the teaching in the eleventh chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians in connection with the Communion Service, where the apostle teaches very explicitly that some members of the church at Corinth were sick, and weak, simply because of their sin, their refusal to judge and to examine and to correct themselves. God was dealing with them by means of sickness. And he adds: ‘Some indeed even sleep’. A great mystery that, but the teaching clearly is that some may even die because it is a part of God’s way of dealing with them. We do not understand that fully, but there is the teaching. And all I am concerned about at this moment is that we may see that that is a part of the process in the great factory. If there is a resistance in this mass of clay, if there is some obduracy, if there is some difficulty about it, God has His method, He has His machinery, He has His way. He is producing a perfect article and He uses all these various means and methods. We are His workmanship!
If those are the means that God uses, what is the actual work itself? What does He actually do to us, what does He do in us? Again I am simply picking out certain things that are of greatest importance. One of the first things a man becomes conscious of when God begins to work in him is that he is disturbed, he is convicted. Look back into your own experience and I am sure that you will find that to be true. You were living your life in a certain way and going along in a certain direction. Thousands of others were doing the same thing. Suddenly (or gradually, it does not matter which) you were conscious of a sense of disturbance. Somehow or another you were not as happy as you had been before. Questions began to arise in your mind. You notice, I do not say that you sat down and said to yourself, ‘Now I am going to start thinking’. Not at all —questions arose in your mind. Is not that it? Where did they come from? They came from God. That is the work of the Holy Spirit—conviction of sin. A man is arrested, he is pulled up, he is disturbed; he does not understand it, he is annoyed about it; indeed, he tries to shake it off. He may take to drink, he may plunge into business, anything to get rid of it. But there it is, something is happening to him. God is in pursuit of the man. As the poet put it:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him down he arches of the years;
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind.
But from the Hound of Heaven there is no escape.
Do you know what I am talking about? His workmanship! Conviction of sin! Disturbances! These curious interferences and interruptions, this sense that we are being dealt with. No man can be a Christian without knowing something about that. If you do not understand, to some small extent at any rate, the feeling of the Psalmist in Psalm 139, when he cries out saying, ‘Whither shall I flee from thy presence?’ you are just not a Christian at all. The very sense of resistance to God is a proof that God is dealing with you and doing something to you. That is the first thing always—disturbance, conviction of sin, being arrested, being pulled up, being caused to think, questions, queryings. They are all the work of God through the Holy Spirit. That is how He begins when He first takes hold of this amorphous mass of clay. He takes hold of it; that is the first step. Before He has taken it to that lathe, before He has chiselled off any portions, before He begins to smooth it and to glaze it, the first step is just taking hold of it. Has God taken hold of you? Or are you in charge of yourself still? If you are still in charge of yourself, just manipulating yourself and trying to make yourself something, you are not a Christian at all. The first thing that is true about the Christian is that He is aware that God has taken hold of him. The Potter has taken hold of the clay.
The next step is an enlightening of the mind to see truth. What a wonderful process it is! A man to whom these terms meant nothing, though he had heard them all his life, suddenly begins to see something in them. He sometimes read the Bible and he was bored by it: he now sees that it is a living Word, and he wants to read it. That is God; God in the Spirit working in the man and opening his mind increasingly to a perception and an understanding of the truth. It is He who is doing it—putting in the thought; the light and the power of the Spirit, God opening things out, the Word opening before us; our eyes, our understanding being enlightened. And then in turn that leads to a desire for truth, and a thirst for it. ‘As new born babes,’ says Peter, ‘desire the sincere milk of the word ….’ How can you if you are not born? if you have not got life? But if you have life you will desire it, as the babe desires the milk. And, still more important, joy in the truth and rejoicing in the truth, finding pleasure in the truth. This is God’s work, this is how He does it all.
And it leads in turn to this, that we become aware of the new nature that God has placed within us, the new principle of life. In spite of ourselves we find that we have got a new outlook. Again, I say, we may dislike that, but it is a fact. I find that I am not any longer what I was. I may say to myself: Would to God I had never heard of this so that I could go with my companions as before! But I cannot. I may make myself go but I am not happy with them, I find I am different. I have a new outlook; I have new desires; and I have new powers. We are His workmanship! He is the Potter and we are the clay. That is the thing the apostle is teaching us here.
Let me say just a word about the design. There is a definite design, of course. ‘Created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath before ordained (or prepared) that we should walk in them’. Now this is the remarkable thing, that there is a design for the Christian, and God has planned it and designed it all. What is it? It is that we are to conform to the life of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We are to live in this world and in this life as He did. As I put it before, we are to live the Sermon on the Mount. We are to carry out the ethical instruction of these New Testament Epistles—to ‘love one another’, to ‘put filthy communications out of our mouths’, and avoid all ‘foolish talking’ and ‘jesting’—it is all to go. ‘Be ye therefore followers of God as dear children, and walk in love as Christ also hath loved us and hath given himself for us; but fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness nor foolish talking nor jesting which are not convenient; but rather giving of thanks.’ That kind of life! We have been formed for that. That is what we are fashioned unto. That is the design, that is the shape, that is the mould, that is the image. God is making us for that.
And all that is in this life. Would you like to know what the ultimate design is? This is a process. You do not become perfect in a moment. Sanctification is a process, and God puts us through the process by the means that I have already indicated. Do you want to know the result of it all? Well, this is the ultimate, this is what will be true of us in glory, in eternity, when the work is really finished. He has given the apostles and the other ministries for ‘the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry,… till we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.’ That is going to be the end. You and I, as certainly as we are Christians at this moment, are going to attain to that, ‘unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’. Listen to Paul stating it in the fifth chapter about the Church in general: ‘That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish’. Christian people, we are in that process as certainly as we are Christians. God has taken hold of us, He is fashioning us, and He is going to keep on working in us, and with us, until we have come to this—without ‘spot or wrinkle or any such thing’. No blemish will remain, every vestige of evil will have gone, and we shall be entirely perfect. That is the design, that is the pattern.
The only other thing I would say is this, that in the light of this doctrine it is absolutely certain that we shall come to perfection. ‘He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.’ (Philippians 1:6.) Nothing outside us can ever prevent it. I will go further; nothing inside us will ever prevent it. God never starts a work only to give it up half-complete. That is utterly incompatible with His majesty and His glory. When God begins God continues. If God has taken hold of you and has started fashioning you according to the image of Christ, Christian friend, as certainly as the sun is shining in the heavens He will go on with it until you attain ‘unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’. He will go on with it until there is ‘no spot or wrinkle or any such thing’, no blemish at all, and you will. stand before Him perfect and faultless with exceeding joy. What a glorious doctrine! Yes, but in certain respects what a terrifying doctrine! If you are a Christian and you in any way resist God’s will for you, be prepared for what is coming to you. Be prepared for chastening, chastisement. Be prepared perhaps for severe and harsh dealing. Because He will perfect you. He has set His love upon you, and you are in His hands. There are no rejects out of His factory. God’s work is always perfect, and it is always complete. What a blessed ground of assurance!—in spite of my waywardness and sinfulness and imperfection. My only hope is this, that I am in His hands, that He is the Workman and I am the clay, and that I know that He will bring to pass His perfect will. If it depended upon me, or any one of us, the whole thing would long since have been a hopeless failure. But, we are His workmanship!
I close by leaving you with three or four questions as tests. Is this happening to you? Can you say that you are God’s workmanship? Have you got that subjective feeling of being dealt with by God? Are you aware of the Presence and of the hands? Are you conscious of being moulded and fashioned? Do you agree with this doctrine, or are you fighting against it? That is a very good test. Are you desiring the sincere milk of the Word as a newborn babe? But, still, the best test of all is this: Are you desiring holiness? ‘Created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.’ It is a part of His plan. If you do not desire to be holy I do not see that you have any right to think that you are a Christian. It is a part of God’s design that we be prepared unto good works. If you think that you can abstract forgiveness only from the plan of salvation, you completely misunderstand the plan. When God looked upon you and loved you and began to work in you to make you a Christian, He had already prepared the works which you should live and perform. There is no such thing as justification without sanctification. If there is no beginning of sanctification in you, you are not justified. Do not delude yourself, do not mislead yourself. There is no such thing as faith without works ‘Faith without works is dead.’ The proof of faith is works. There is no value in a profession of Christianity unless it is accompanied by a desire to be like Christ, a desire to be rid of sin, a desire after positive holiness. According to this verse it is essential. ‘We are his workmanship, created (by him) in Christ Jesus unto good works.’ He is making us for that. God works in us to produce this result. So the final test of whether God is working in us is that we desire to be more and more like Christ, holy and pure, separate from the world and from sin, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, that we may please the God who has thus begun to work in us.
From God's Way of Reconcilliation: An Exposition of Ephesians 2 by Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Listen to the original sermon here.