4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards 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 the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
When I was in elementary school, I was a part of my church's AWANA program (Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed). Think Boy Scouts meets Bible Camp. Grey outfits with red neckercheifs. Pins instead of patches. And of course, the boys and girls are separated. Instead of earning patches for learning certain skills, you earned pins for memorizing scripture. And the one for today was one of the first I ever had to memorize, so much so that I can't get it out of my head (though the translation I memorized was the NIV). We're talking 18 years of this being one of the biblical passages that I truly know by heart. Imagine the cognitive dissonance I experienced when I learned that Ephesians might not have actually been written by the Apostle himself. Thankfully, this dissonance didn't come when I was 11.
One word comes to mind when I read this passage: helpless. When it comes to garnering favor from the Creator, there is not a damn thing I can do to increase my odds. The fact is that God's grace is already being poured out on me (and in my opinion, all of us) to its maximum capacity: infinitely. Unlike what many of us have experienced with other members of the human race, there's nothing we can do to make God love us any more—or less. As far as God's goodness, kindness, love, etc. are concerned, we don't have access to the control panel.
There's one area in which we're not helpless, though, and that's in the area of living, of works. Look at v.10: created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Doing good is in our DNA, in our genetic code, and despite all the New Testament talk about how sinful we are as a species, the writer of Ephesians gives us some good news after all. Doing good is what we were made for. Whatever is wrong with us, we're wired to do good.
It's hard to believe this when we look at the world in which we live. I've lost track of how many people in Chicago have been victims of gun violence since I moved into the city. Hell, I've lost count in the last six months. People around the world die from starvation, malnutrition, lack of proper medical care. Kids are born into families that don't know how to love them the way the need and deserve. Partners cheat on each other instead of communicating their needs. Churches split over issues that are honestly bull shit. The gap between the rich and the poor is growing at breakneck speed. Materialism keeps us from discerning our true needs and desires. Technology makes it hard for us to truly connect to one another. I'm sure you can think of some things to add to this list.
So what do we do? Truth be told, there's no hard and fast answer other than this—do good. It's what we were made for. It's who we are as God's beloved. We need to let go of the theology that tells us we're crap, that tells us God can't come near us because of the stench of our sin and start embracing the theology that tells us who we are and whose we are. We are good, and we are God's. If we start believing this within ourselves, and if we start recognizing this about those around us, there's no telling how the world could change and be transformed.
Get up. Do good. After all, when it comes to doing good, we're not helpless...