God’s Work and Workmanship

Having prayed that these Christians would know “the exceeding greatness of his power toward those who believe according to his mighty strength,” and having illustrated it by that power’s operation in raising Christ from the dead and seating him at the right hand of the Father in heaven, Paul now shows that no less power was needed to rescue them in their sinful condition. His argument is a masterful display of continuity moving from a needy condition, to solution, and to conceived result. Natural impossibility of condition gives way to the omnipotence of particular grace and results in a new creature radically different from its original state.


I. The Universal and Pervasive sinfulness of all humanity.

A. Dead and walking in sin. The curse of sin is upon all. Through Adam’s covenant headship we stand condemned; through his natural headship we are corrupt. We stand under the verdict of eternal death in him and have, by our trespasses, confirmed that condition and given more occasion for the wrath of God.

B. The Course of this world. “All that is in the world, the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes and the pride of life,” (1 John 2:16) constitutes the value system of humanity in its natural condition. We have no mind for God, no fear of God before our eyes, do not seek him but want only those things from the world that puff the ego, tantalize the senses, and increase our sense of self-importance. We are fed a constant diet of self-esteem, many times even by Christian teachers, as a necessary element of finding success. We find it hard, therefore, to accept this biblical assessment of the problem. We do not need nurturing in self-confidence, self-reliance, and self-esteem but in a joyful submission to the power and purpose of the gospel.

C. Satan prowls like a roaring lion. We follow the “prince of the power of the air.” This refers to the host of demonic forces that are under the superintendency of Satan. Satan is the chief among the fallen angels and devises the plan of assault on the purpose of God and the people of God (Job 1:6-12; 2: 4-9; 1 Peter 5:8, 9; Ephesians 6:11-13). In his path we are led while under the dominion of sin and the world. He blinds our minds so that we can see neither the grace of the gospel or the beauty of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4-6).

D. Among the sons of disobedience – As Satan rules among the sons of disobedience, even so we lived our lives in that context. The most significant thing about any unsaved person is that they are now children of disobedience. Though in the image of God, their loyalty is to sin and self, in accord with the malicious pleasure of Satan. The greatest of sins is the unlamented path of disobedience to the glorious sovereign of the universe.

E. Dominated by sin in expressions of pleasure and of thought – The interests of the unregenerate focus on those pleasures that the flesh desires and the thoughts of the world that are developed without reference to the truth of divine revelation. Paul gives further attention to this trait in chapter 4:17-19 pointing to the “futility of their minds,” their darkened understanding, and that they have “given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.”

F. By nature children of wrath – Given a summary statement of al the traits of sinfulness in the unregenerate, Paul concludes that in their very nature—in our very nature—our propensity is only to sin and rebellion against God, contains no resolve to love and obey him and thus, in very nature the wrath of God abides on us (John 3:19, 20, 36; Romans 1:18).

G. This is not a description of the worst of humanity, but of each and every person – “even as the rest.”

  1. Paul has sections in his writings in which he talks about increasing perversity of sin and thus increasing susceptibility to increased measures of eternal wrath (Romans 1:24-32; 2:5, 6). The characterization of these verses, however, is not for the so-called worst of sinners but is the condition of everyone outside the mercy of Christ – “even as the rest.”
  2. Any attempts by non-biblical theories of social relations, such as the divisions envisioned by the theory of intersectionality, to isolate sin to one portion of humanity has not dealt sufficiently with the true depth of the iniquity common to all the descendents of Adam.
  • Not only here, but in Titus 3:3, Paul painted a picture of the depth of human evil both Godward and manward that makes all other attempts to locate the source of human evil shallow by comparison. It begins with the reality of a native moral and mental foolishness that produces a constant frame of disobedience to God as revealed in his moral law. That manifests itself in the personal lifestyle of pursuit of “passions and pleasure,” and shows itself toward others in “malice and envy,” at the same time we are “hated by others and hating one another.” Again, he does not isolate only the worst part of humanity, or one section to the exclusion of another, but begins the entire description with “For we ourselves were once . . .”
  • Perhaps one of the most striking instances of asserting the reality that sin, in relation to divine mandate, establishes uniformity of obligation is seen in the admonition given to slaves in Colossians 3:22. Slaves are not seen as in a superior moral position due to their enslavement nor are masters ipso factoseen as sinful; rather each must handle his respective sphere of responsibility with an awareness of divine expectation and oversight. The slave is to obey his master in everything, not simply in order to impress the master, but with a sense of moral oughtness and true involvement of heart as a duty performed in obedience to God, “fearing the Lord.” In fact, their calling is to be seen as one in which their entire heart can be involved, for even in this role of slave they work “as for the Lord and not for men.” Their obedient work gains for them an inheritance, probably “the crown of righteousness” Paul expected in 2 Timothy 4:8, which they will receive “from the Lord.” They do not look to the master as having placed them under this obligation, though through him the authority of the Lord is mediated, but “It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” In this relationship, therefore, when one refuses to see his responsibility as a matter of divine, and even merciful, providence and consequent mandate, any wrongdoing will be paid back, for “there is no partiality” (25). That is, when the slave refuses to function responsibly as a servant of the Lord in his sphere of providential calling, he will be held accountable for having sinned against the Lord.If there is any place where some kind of partiality could be shown, surely the slave would be given some leverage for demonstration of dissatisfaction.But no, the responsibility is to the Lord and thus “no partiality.” That Paul viewed this submission as a matter of moral responsibility as well as divine purpose is seen in 1 Corinthians 7: 21, 22. There Paul tells slaves not to be concerned about their status as slaves even though they have been called as children of God. If, however, there is a legitimate way to obtain freedom, they should avail themselves of that opportunity. Otherwise, they should regard themselves, even in their position as slaves, as “a freedman of the Lord.” And those called to know Christ while they are in a state of freedom should regard themselves as “slaves of Christ.” The eternal and vertical status of effectual calling to salvation by Christ, rescuing us from the state described in these opening verses of Ephesians 2, transforms every earthly relationship into a calling of service to the Lord. How can we fret over a merely temporal circumstance when we have been rescued from a condition of utter destitution?
  • Likewise, the master in that relationship (Colossians 4:1), received instruction to “treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.” The slave/master relationship is not seen as an intrinsic evil, but it may be executed in a way that is just and fair. The master also answers to his Master in heaven even as does his slave. This relationship will be addressed in some detail in 6:5-9.
  • The state of lostness in sin is the same for all; the privilege and elevation of salvation also is no respecter of persons.



II. The Exuberant Goodness of God in Rescuing Such Sinners (verses 4-7).

A. The great adversative to the natural condition, “But God.” God himself is the initiatory cause of every aspect of salvation. Paul points to four manifestations of God’s saving goodness in the verses that follow.

  1. God is “rich in mercy” (4). This is the same word used in Titus 3:5—“According to his mercy he saved us”—as well as the word used in Romans 9:15, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” It places before us the sovereign goodness of God. Mercy in particular means a reprieve from a merited punishment.
  2. God has loved us with a great love (4). This love refers back to the love of 1:4, 5 from which came his decree of predestination. Sinners under the mercy of God were loved with everlasting love. Even as love is the root of predestination, so it is the fountain from which regeneration flows. In this double movement of love Paul later says that we are ‘rooted and grounded” (3:17).
  3. God operates toward us in grace (5, 7). As mercy peculiarly concerns reprieve, grace indicates the granting of gifts in exuberant gratuity. Mercy empties the cup of divine wrath and mercy fills it with the gifts of Christ’s goodness and his perfect satisfaction of the divine purpose for righteousness.
  4. He manifests his kindness toward us (7). Titus 3:4 follows the description of our sin with the word translated “goodness” in the ESV and “kindness” in the NASB. Kindness is that facet of the overall goodness of God that prompts him to pour out benefits from Christ that sensibly flower our way with joyful realizations—“He makes me to lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul. . . . You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, you anoint my head with oil. . . . Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in house of the Lord forever.” This is the realization of God’s all pervasive kindness to his redeemed people.

B. His action operates when we are dead. He does not take his cue from us or hover until he sees some willingness on our part – “Even when we were dead.” Every aspect of our depraved condition still engulfed us at the moment he “made us alive with Christ.” This life-giving power comes from the Holy Spirit, who grants to the elect the victory of Christ over the curse of sin, corruption of heart, the grave, and the evil spirits that inhabit the air, and places us in union with him as he is seated in heavenly places.

C. “Made us alive together with Christ.” Though we observe the work of Christ in its physical reality, his life of perfect obedience, his suffering and death, the burial of his body, the resurrection of his body, his bodily ascension into heaven, there is an accompanying spiritual dimension in all that he did. The physical is real and was necessary, but in the same actions, Christ was removing the curse of sin from his people; he gained for them forgiveness and reconciliation and the certainty of life in the presence of the Eternal One. The spiritual life he gained by his work of redemption becomes ours when we are joined to him in regeneration.

D. “Raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus.” All the advantages of his resurrection and his present session at the right hand of the Father now belong to those for whom he died and who have been brought from death to life by the merciful operations of God’s Spirit. This shows us that every part of Christ’s work from conception to present session was essential for the complete work of redemption.

E. “So that in the coming ages:” this refers to the reality of an unending and ever-expanding consciousness of the endless blessings we receive from Christ. Whatever our condition here, when we are given union with Christ, the gifts never cease. Never a frown, never a moment of anger, never a necessity of discipline, when standing before our Savior in eternity the endless flow of kindness reaches into the inexhaustible storehouse of the riches of God grace that have been treasured up for us by Christ. There will be something expanding, and surprising, and wonderfully satisfying in each moment and while we will be conscious of the surrounding of angels, and the saints of all ages never will there be a lapse of consciousness that all is a reward to Christ for his obedience and we are recipients of his fullness.



III. All of Grace – verses 8-10

A. By grace. The unmerited favor of God is the source, established before the foundation of the world (1:4, 6) of every part of God’s restitution of sinners and fitting them for heaven.

  1. “You have been saved.” Since he uses here a perfect passive form, he means that this event has occurred and has abiding results. We could say that salvation is initiated experientially in forgiveness of sins and justification. That already has taken place in the life of the Christian and he/she is freed from condemnation and granted the merits by which eternal life is granted.
  2. “through Faith”. That aspect of God’s favor towards us is received on our part by our seeing the worthiness of Christ and his work and placing our full trust in him for acceptance before God. We rely on him alone and turn away from any possibility of acceptance through personal merit. No performance of ours escapes the verdict of condemnation but is cast aside as dung when we see the excellence of Christ (Philippians 3:7-9).
  3. “And that not of yourselves” – The neuter demonstrative pronoun, “that” refers to the entire process of the grant of all that is involved in forgiveness and justification as well as the granting of faith. The merits are of Christ and the faith is from the power of the Holy Spirit granted to us in the moment of regeneration. While we are dead in trespasses and sins he raises us up to a new spiritual life, the immediate reflex of which is the response of faith toward the working of God and by the working of God.Compare Colossians 2:12, 13.
  4. “It is the gift of God.” Literally, “of God, the gift.” No simpler or more absolute way could it be expressed. The fullness of the gift in its every part originates in the mind of God, is prepared by the power of God, and is granted by the grace of God. Its freeness in every part conforms to the trinitarian reality with every person operating to complement, undergird, and sustain the work of each other divine person so that in salvation God is all and in all. In eternal covenant, incarnation, the cross, the resurrection, the ascension, and the sending of the Spirit, Scripture gives evidence of a fitting engagement of Father, Son, and Spirit in each step.
  5. “Not of Works” – This reiterates the insistence on grace as the all-encompassing reality of salvation. By “works” is meant our conformity to the law of God. We have broken his law in both tables and in all of its distinct parts and are under its curse. Should we be judged according to works, condemnation would be the result, for, as previously stated, we are “by nature children of wrath.”
  6. “So that no one may boast.” At the cross of Christ, none will boast in themselves. Each will say, “Marvelous grace of our loving Lord; grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt; yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured, there where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.”


B. “We are His workmanship.”

  1. “Created in Christ Jesus” – It is both in Christ Jesus and for Christ Jesus that the creation wrought by the new birth finds its power and is sustained for its ultimate goal. The Spirit may be sent into our hearts, for Christ has removed from us the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13; 4:4-6; Romans 5:1, 5). He sheds abroad the love of God in our hearts through the reconciliation of Christ and continues his operations throughout our lives to conform us spiritually to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29; Review also Ephesians 1:23 and look forward to Ephesians 3:16, 17, 21).
  2. “For Good works” – Good works always are those works that are expressly contained in the moral law of God or by consequence of scriptural application derived from it. In short, God moves us by his Spirit to love him with all our heart, mind soul, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Ways in which that is done both in the church and in the world are indicated throughout the New Testament (cf. Titus 3:14; 1 Timothy 5:9, 10; 6:17-19; Hebrews 13:20, 21; James 3:13-18; 1 John 4:7-12).
  3. “Which God prepared beforehand” – The movement of all things in the world in their fitting relationship with all other things has been established by God as a matter of his wisdom in creation. Even so, the perfect conformity of the human spirit, the imago dei, with the holiness of God and in love toward all other image bearers is the guiding principle by which God had beforehand prepared good works. But also, specifically he calls each of his people within the sphere of their gifts and labor to do what they do “as unto the Lord.” By his sovereignty, he distributes gifts among men; and in his effectual providence and internal promptings he moves us to good works. We should be able to testify with Paul, in his efforts to “present everyone mature in Christ,” “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:28, 29).
  4. “That we should walk in them.” – Following the good works that God himself has prepared for us should be the manner of our life. Ordering our steps according to his law, in respect of his providence, and with a conscientious view of his glory is our goal and his purpose.



IV. A confessional expression of these truths is found in the article of “Effectual Calling in the Second London Confession expressed in modern English:

  • In God’s appointed and acceptable time, He is pleased to call effectually, by His word and Spirit, those He has predestined to life. He calls them out of their natural state of sin and death to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ. He enlightens their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God. He takes away their heart of stone and gives them a heart of flesh. He renews their wills and by His almighty power turns them to good and effectually draws them to Jesus Christ. Yet he does all this in such a way that they come completely freely, since they are made willing by His grace.
  • This effectual call flows from God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in those called. Neither does the call arise from any power or action on their part; they are totally passive in it. They are dead in sins and trespasses until they are made alive and renewed by the Holy Spirit. By this they are enabled to answer this call and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it. This response is enabled by a power that is no less than that which raised Christ from the dead.
Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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