Ephesians Study, Part 10
Poetry is an odd format to express oneself. It is more than just a narrative, of someone sitting down and writing about some life experience or an observance about the way the world seems to work. It’s art. It is taking words and putting them together in such a way that together they mean more than if those words were just used in a bare narrative.
“Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in his hand
Who saith, ‘A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!’”
[“Grow Old Along with Me” by Robert Browning]
Or a person could simply say, “Be with me as I age. I trust God, so I won’t be afraid.” That would be the bare-bones narrative version. There is a sense in which you as a believer are God’s expression of himself – and not in a common, narrative manner. You are indeed God’s art here on this earth. We will examine that thought later in this blog.
Ephesians 2: 8-10 is one of the great passages in the Bible. Immediately preceding this passage, we have a confirmation of how God views us humans and how he treats us:
“. . . [God] might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” [Ephesians 2: 7b. NIV]
Then we come upon the transitional “For” to bring us to the result of the preceding thought.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, though faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” [Ephesians 2: 8-9. NIV]
“Saved.” What does this mean? Saved from what and for what purpose? Due to sin in our lives (actions or attitudes that interfere with our relationship to God, to others or to ourselves), we find ourselves separated from a relationship with God. Verse 3 in this chapter mentions that “Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” This would be God’s wrath due to our ongoing sinful nature and actions. It’s not the way God wants us to be. Romans 3:23 summarizes it this way:
“. . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Salvation, you see, is the point of this entire passage in Ephesians 2. To illustrate, if you were in a body of water and drowning, you would be in danger of death. But when someone rescues you, it is said that the rescuer “saved” you, and you are able to continue your life. Verses 4-5 of this chapter state it this way, “. . . God . . . made us alive with Christ.” Not to belabor the point, but God saved us from spiritual drowning.
Now let’s go to verse 8 as quoted above. Paul writes about “grace” and “faith.” Remember the definition I stated that may appeal to more modern students of the Bible? Grace is God’s undeserved love for us. Grace originates with God and not with us. Faith, on the other hand, is belief AND trust in God. That is our response to God offering his undeserved love for us.
The next phrase in verse 8 is, “. . . and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God . . . .” What is the word “this” referring to? When I was a teenager and exploring this passage, I puzzled over this. I eventually arrived at the conclusion that “this” referred to faith as being the gift of God. That’s puzzling theologically, but I went with it at the time. Faith as the gift of God. . . . Hmmm. However, a study in the original Greek language of the New Testament reveals the meaning. You see, Greek nouns are designated as masculine, feminine or neuter, much like the Latin-based Romance languages (Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Romanian and so on). Any words referring to those nouns or concepts must agree in gender. In the Greek language, grace is feminine and so is faith. However, “this” is neuter, so it can’t be referring to grace or faith. So now what? It turns out “salvation” is neuter. That certainly clarifies the matter, doesn’t it? The “gift of God” is not “grace” or “faith.” Instead, it is “salvation.” Salvation is the gift that God has given us through his volition of grace and in our response of faith. What a great passage!
Salvation, then, is the gift of God. We are approaching Christmas in the Christian tradition in which we exchange gifts. A gift is not something you earn or pay for to receive. It is given due to the gift-giver liking you, you’re related, or the giver feels a sense of obligation (like at your job). But regardless, to receive a gift doesn’t cost you anything to receive it. God’s grace (his undeserved love for us) and our response of faith (belief and trust) results in his gift of salvation to us. Just to be clear, Paul then lays it out for us:
“. . . not by works, so that no one can boast. [Ephesians 2: 9. NIV]
Salvation is not based on anything we’ve done: not being nice to people, not mowing your neighbor’s yard or painting their house, not giving money to church or a non-profit organization. Nothing. If salvation depended on what we’ve done, then we will likely brag about it. “Look at what I did to get into heaven and be accepted by God!” I may touch on this later in order to save words in this blog.
Now for the last verse in this segment, the one I alluded to at the beginning:
“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” [Ephesians 2: 10. NIV]
This verse is usually left out when people quote verses 8-9. I like to focus on the concept of being “God’s workmanship.” Other versions of the Bible translate this Greek word for “workmanship” as “masterpiece” or “handiwork.” The Greek word is “poiema” from which we get our English word “poem.”
To reflect back on how I began this blog, we as created beings are not just created plain and simple – like a narrative. “Here is John M. He is male, age 70 and he’s had a lot of different experiences.” End of description. That’s the narrative version. “Just the facts, Ma’am” as Police Detective Sergeant Joe Friday would say to witnesses as he researched who was behind a crime on the old TV show, “Dragnet.”
According to verse 10 (my interpretation, mind you), we are God’s artful expression of himself. We are created to be able to make decisions, to create and appreciate art in all its forms, to enjoy humor, to be able to play, to love, to hug, to reason. Those are all factors that surpass what could have been a plain narrative of our lives and of our existence. For God to create in us the abilities of love, humor, play and art enjoyment is what makes us a workmanship, a masterpiece, a handiwork – indeed, a poem. Think of yourself as God’s poem to be enjoyed by God and others on this earth as you live out the life that God created for you to do and to be.
Categories: How Can the Bible Relate to Us Today?
Happy belated birthday to your wife and congratulations on 48 years of marriage. Tomorrow we celebrate 30 years!
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I’m sorry for being a johnny-come-lately as it has been a month since you commented. However, Happy Anniversary!
“ However, “this” is neuter, so it can’t be referring to grace or faith. So now what? It turns out “salvation” is neuter. That certainly clarifies the matter, doesn’t it? The “gift of God” is not “grace” or “faith.” Instead, it is “salvation.” ”
Brilliant!!!! I had never had that Greek connection explained to me before! It makes so much sense too.
Salvation is a free gift.
Grace is a free gift too … by definition we can’t earn or deserve grace either. Then it wouldn’t be grace!
The thought of ‘faith as a free gift’ takes a lot more mental gymnastics to figure out. Thinking of ‘salvation as a free gift’ is much easier to wrap my mind around. Thank you!