You Were Made For Ministry: The Place of Good Works in the Life of God’s Grace

Christians are to be good for something. What are you good for?

Ephesians 2:1-10

I am a man who has been chiseled out of a backwoods orphan. I was raised by a woman that I will always call Aunt Eva. God shaped me under her tutelage way back in Southeastern Louisiana, near the Mississippi line, in the tall piney woods that give way to hardwoods as one moves past Livingston Parish towards Magnolia, Mississippi. It was there on a little hardscrabble farm that I remember how my Aunt Eva got my goat. I once had a goat named Buck. Believe it or not, Buck was so big that I could ride him, which I often did. I grew to really like old Buck. Buck was a pretty white color. He was fun to be with. Yet Aunt Eva never really got attached to Buck like I did. One day, in the spring of the year when our many azalea bushes were in full bloom and the magnificent bridal wreath spirea cascaded over onto the lavender flowers which Aunt Eva prized almost as much as she prized me, Buck apparently got very hungry. And he proceeded to eat down all of those azalea bushes along with the spirea next to them. Once discovered, Buck was history. The last I saw of Buck, he was in the back of a trailer headed to who-knows-where. Buck was a fine animal and I thought, other than that episode, he was a pretty good goat. But on that fatal day, Aunt Eva declared that Buck was just “good for nothing.”

Christians are to be good: good for something.  But we all know that we can also appear to be “good for nothing.” In fact, Jesus said that when we stand before Him on judgment day, some will be like sheep and some will be like goats. The sheep in Matthew 25 will be on Jesus’ right hand, at the place of sonship. They are the true believers who manifested their faith in tangible expressions of love to others. Jesus said that these sheep will have fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, provided hospitality to the homeless, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and those imprisoned. And Jesus identified Himself with the needy.  On the left hand, there will be the goats. Just as good works show the sheep’s true faith, the goats are known because of their lack of good works. They did not feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, show hospitality to strangers, clothe the naked, or visit the sick and imprisoned. Again, Jesus identifies with those people and says “inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did not do it to Me” (Matthew 25:45 NKJV). Jesus was speaking about the response of the nations to the Gospel and those who go out in His name to preach the Gospel, but the story is also clear: true faith requires good works or else it is “a goat that is good for nothing.”

Christians are to be good some something. “Blessed to be a blessing” is the way someone put it. And that is exactly what we will see as we study Ephesians chapters 1 and 2. In Ephesians 2:1-10, Paul unfolds the glory of God in salvation, all of grace that leads us in verse 10, to His purpose for saving us: good works. Charles Hodge, the great Princeton theologian, said that this passage begins with “the spiritual state of the Ephesians before their conversion” and moves to the “change which God had wrought in them” and leads to “the design for which that change had been effected.”[1] You see again, as Hodge saw it, that this passage is about answering the question: “What is the reason for it all?”

This passage shows that you were made for Good Works, or as we might say: You were made for ministry.

There are three affirmations we must take from this portion of God’s Holy Word.

To begin with, we need to affirm something very important in this passage that will clear up a lot of misunderstanding in the Body of Christ:

I.     Good Works Require God’s Grace (vs. 1-9)

I once heard of a man who said that, like Smith Barney, he got his religion the old fashioned way: he earned it!

Well, of course, nothing could be further from the Gospel truth, especially pressed home by Paul in the second chapter of Ephesians. Looking at the entire section of verses 1-9, we see how we are saved by grace. By a free, sovereign act of a loving God, through the life and death of Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit drawing us to Christ, and through an act of faith in Him, we are saved by being translated out of a spiritual death into new life and all of that by God’s grace.

This is the passage that gripped my soul so many years ago. I am here only because of the power of this passage and I do not doubt that like me, there are some today that have grown up in the church, heard the Word for many years, but have missed this central and essential truth of the Gospel. In fact, this is THE Gospel. We are saved not by works but by grace. May God clear your mind of man-centered religion and infuse you, supernaturally, with the wisdom of God to believe in Jesus Christ alone for eternal life.

As if to preclude the antinomianism of some (those who threw out the law) who would try to promote an intellectual religion that has no point, no practical application, the Great Apostle shows that we were saved by grace unto good works. He moves effortlessly from grace to salvation to works. And this is what we mean when we say that we are made for ministry: We were made for Good Works in Christ Jesus.

This is also what James means when he writes:

So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (James 2:17 ESV).

Now some say that this is a contradiction of Paul. Others say that this compliments Paul. And so it does. But Paul himself in this passage makes the same statement so that even if we did not have James to compliment and explain, there is enough here to teach us that faith produces good works.

The Westminster Confession is helpful to us at this point: In Chapter 16 of the Confession entitled, “Of Good Works” the Westminster divines, with Scriptural footnotes after each phrase, clearly show the place of good works in the Christian life:

“…Good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith.” (And it goes on to say that by them we manifest our thanksgiving to God for our salvation.)

Can good works be done by unbelievers? Again, the Confession of Faith deals with most all of the questions about our faith and here we learn that while there are works that bring good, even out of a sense of duty and thinking they will earn salvation through these works, and while these works may certainly benefit mankind, are not good works because their end is not the glory of God.[2]

Perhaps John Calvin put is best when he said:

“It is faith alone that justifies, but the faith that justifies is not alone.”[3]

Taken as a whole, and not out of context, the teaching clearly establishes the relationship of God’s grace and God’s intent that we should be engaged in good works.

So let us have this pillar of truth firmly established and then let us move on to understand good works. And so we move on and live in verse 10. Here we read:

“For we are His workmanship…”

The Greek word for our rendering “workmanship” means: “to make, to practice, to produce, to create.”[4] It is the Greek word poi/hma from which we get our word “poem.”[5]

The force of the passage is that regenerate human beings are “masterpieces” of a gracious God. Thinking about it from our use of the word poi/hma, we could say that the life of a believer is poetry and designed to be poetry in motion.

Thus we affirm that “Good Words Requires God’s Grace,” as well as…

II.     Good Works Reflect Christ’s Ministry (10a: “His workmanship”)

The reason that we are to be about good works begins with the fact that we have been made in the image of God. We are “His workmanship” and the very fact that we exist shows that God is not just about philosophical interests, but He is interested in red blooded men and women. If we are a “piece of work” belonging to God, then we should naturally reflect Him in our own lives.Reflecting Christ is to be about good works.

The early church father, John Chrysostom, wrote:

“Mercy imitates God and disappoints Satan.”[6]

Let’s consider how Jesus Christ is a God of “mercy” and “good works” and how if we are His workmanship, we should reflect those good works. How do good works reflect Christ’s ministry? There are five ways.

1.   Jesus came to do good works

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

Christ came for a particular work. He was sent by the Father to accomplish this work: to live the life we could not live and to die the death that would atone for sin, to set us free, and to restore the heavens and the earth from the bondage of the devil.

Thus, we too are sent on a mission of good works. We are saved first. But we are His workmanship, made in His image, and so we are most like Him when we serve others and give our lives away for the sake of the Gospel. Most of us can understand giving our lives away to God. But Paul shows us that we give our lives away to God as we give our lives away to others:

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory  (2Timothy 2:10).

My dear friends, in the year that 16 million acres was sold to America for less than 3 cents per acre and the Louisiana Purchase was signed in New Orleans, when the Napoleonic wars raged in Europe, and when Thomas Jefferson presided as our third president, a group of settlers and the clerk of session carefully recorded words that let us know today that Hopewell Presbyterian Church was established in the name of Jesus. And why? Because they desired to offer hope to that community in reflecting the ministry of Jesus! And some of those were Indians and some were rebel-rousers and some were not nice folk. No. That church, and perhaps this reflects your church as well, was founded to reach sinners in need of a Savior. You see, to give your life away to someone who will never thank you, even mistreat you is more like Jesus. That is being His workmanship.

How do good works reflect Christ’s ministry? The second way is:

2.   Jesus did good works, as the eternal God, in works of creation:

For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16).

We are His workmanship, made in His image, and so we are most like Him when we are creative and productive. Good works thus involve fulfilling the cultural mandate of Genesis:

And God blessed them. And God said to them, be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth (Genesis 1:28).

There is an elder at First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga who is about 80 years old and at one time ran one of the best papers in the country. He taught Sunday School, served on boards, raised money for needy organizations, gave speeches, and managed to play tennis at least once a week. I once asked about all of that and Mr. Lee Anderson told me, “Now what if I didn’t have anything to do today!” And he told me how he thanked the Lord for work.

Whether you are a homemaker, a teacher, a businessman, a student in elementary school or high school or college, the way we approach our work reveals our hearts.. For we are in the image of the Creator, our Lord Jesus. When you serve God in your work you are doing His will. But make sure you are working for Him, and not for yourself, or fame, or riches. Then your work will be satisfying and God will be glorified and other people blessed. That is the key!

How do good works reflect Christ’s ministry? A third way:

3.   Jesus did good works, as the perfect Man, in works of obedience:

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52).

To be His workmanship means to do good works of obedience. Jesus Christ was obedient to His parents, obedient to the Law, and we even see Jesus attending synagogue and participating in festivals that were more cultural than Biblical, for instance in the feast of dedication[7] or Chanukah. And of course our Lord was obedient to His Father. He came to do His Father’s will. And we too, though saved by grace, should be motivated by that grace to obedience. And do you see the difference? We are constrained by love not duty. It is a duty of the heart that brings our lives into conformity with God’s will.

Why do we give? Out of obedience. Why do we send out missionaries? Out of obedience. Why do I want to give my life away to serving God in ministry? Out of obedience. But why obedience? Love – love that came about because Jesus loved me and gave Himself for me. And that is why churches are planted, and why  you must seek to obediently fulfill the Great Commission in this world today.

Here is a fourth way that Jesus worked and we must reflect this work in our lives:

4.   Jesus did good works, as the fully Human One, in works of mercy:

And He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons (Mark 1:34).

Jesus was and is fully God. He was and is fully Man. He is more human than anyone who ever lived. He gave His life for other human beings.

We are His workmanship, made in His image, made for ministry, and we should reflect His image in mercy. Jesus used miracles to draw attention to His power and to illustrate His teaching. And so mercy illustrates the Gospel.

I am an Army Reserve chaplain. I have met some of the finest people in the military. In recent days I met men who risked their lives going door to door in urban warfare in Iraq, and who risked their lives in fire fights in the craggy and high mountains of Afghanistan. But these men told me that they would do it again just to hold that little Iraqi child and show him love. Or to build that hospital for hurting people in an Afghan village.  These are heroes in our generation. They are risking their lives to reach others with hope.

Jesus was more human than anyone who ever lived. His heart was filled with compassion for poor, hurting people and so must ours be filled as well. The Gospel must go forth in word and in deed.

Finally, a fifth way Jesus worked and we must work:

5.   Jesus did good works, as the Lord of Lords, in works of atonement for sin:

When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished,” and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit  (John 19:30).

On the cross, grace and good works wed. There, in that saving cry of the King of Glory, “It is finished” the good works for our salvation was complete.

Now we are His workmanship, made for ministry. And though we cannot in any fashion add to that great work, we must carry that work to others through evangelism, through a good old-fashioned word that we don’t use any more, “soul winning.” Yet the Bible says:

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise (Proverbs 11:30).

Once I received a call from an elderly church member who had gone for care in another city. And she called me to give me an update on her travels. She told me that everywhere they went in this large metropolitan area, they went by taxicab and it seemed that most of the drivers were Muslim. So she said, “Mike, what a wonderful ministry the Lord has given me! I just tell them about Jesus and let them know that He will forgive their sins and give them eternal life if they will receive Him as Lord. And then I just leave it with Him.”

There is a wise woman. And there is a woman who models the ministry of Christ. For she is His workmanship. That is what you are called to do. That is what you are called to do as a Christian, to share the atoning work of Jesus with others.

Good works include sharing the Gospel in whatever we do. Good works include, for the believer, bringing the Gospel to bear in our families, our vocations, in all of our relationships. For this is the great and final work of our Savior.

*  *  *

Finally, we read in this great verse these words:

Created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them

And I focus on those last words, “Which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” From this we affirm:

III.     Good works Realize Christ’s Mission (10b: “which God prepared beforehand”)

Again, the great Princeton theologian, Charles Hodge, saw this section as leading from the transformation of the Ephesians in order for them to realize Christ’s purposes for their lives: to carry on the mission of Jesus Christ in the world.

What I really want you to see is what He desires to do through you today. You are His witnesses, saved by grace, saved to serve. Now. Today. In this place.

Let Your Heart Be Broken

Friends, don’t let anybody “get your goat.” To be a true believer is to be in ministry, to be about the good works which God has given us to do. These good works require God’s grace. Good works reflect Christ’s ministry. And these good works realize Christ’s mission. What a powerhouse of a passage! Saved by grace. Saved unto Good Works.

And the words of a newer hymn in the Church sum it up:

“Let your heart be broken for a world in need; feed the mouths that hunger, soothe the wounds that bleed, give the cup of water and the loaf of bread; be the hands of Jesus, serving in His stead. Blessed to be a blessing, privileged to care, challenged by the need; apparent everywhere. Where mankind is wanting fill the vacant place; be the means through which the Lord reveals His grace.”[8]

People of God: reveal His grace. For you were made for ministry.


[1] Charles Hodge, Ephesians (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, first published 1916, 1991 reprint), 57-58.

 

[2] See the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XVI, Section 7.

[3] The Westminster Collection of Christian Quotations, ed. Martin H. Mansere (Louisville, KY: Westminster-John Knox Press, 2001).

[4] “poi/hma, poieœma, n.  [4472]. what is made, workmanship, creation” in NIV Greek Concordance (6.1.2) (Accordance, 2004 [cited 2004]).

[5] John Ayto, Dictionary of Word Origins (New York: Arcade Publishing, 1990), 401.

[6] The Westminster Collection of Christian Quotations.

[7] John 10:22-23 states, “And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch.”

[8] Bryan Jeffrey Leach, “Let Your Heart Be Broken” in The Trinity Hymnal (Atlanta: Great Commission Publications, 1998 Seventh Edition), 595.

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About Michael Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D. (University of Wales, Trinity Saint David's College), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author. He is, also, an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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