What is clearer than Paul’s extraordinary statement of truth — that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.”
That faith itself is a gift of God is clear — yet is also one of the stumbling blocks of the Christian walk. The concept that God gives us our faith in His Son causes great consternation. How is it that God gives us this gift? Why does He give it to some, but not to others? How is this fair? Paul asks and answers these questions in his letters to the Romans.
“No one can boast.”
This is ultimately the truth we should find in the Word of God. No one is able to stand in the presence of God unless God Himself has willed it. Job’s friends try to discover Job’s secret sin, the cause of all his suffering. Job continues to protest that he is righteous and has done no wrong. In the end, God challenges Job to explain the universe and to recognize that God has every right to do with His creation whatever He wishes.
God is the potter; we are the clay.
“No one can boast.”
In the end, Job repents in dust and ashes.
Paul adds, “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)
Not only has God created us, given us faith in His Son; but He has also created the good works we are to do while we are alive on this earth. God has a plan, like any exceptional craftsman. He knows His work; He has an end result in His creative mind.
Paul reminds us that God’s mind, riches, wisdom, knowledge, judgments, and ways are unknown, unsearchable, inscrutable. Paul says, “for from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11: 36)
Paul therefore appeals to us “by the mercies of God, to present [our] bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual worship.”
In presenting our bodies to God, we also renew our minds so that we may be able to discern “what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12: 2) We renew our minds through the Word of God which the Holy Spirit reveals to us as we meditate upon it, explore it, study it, pray it.
We are able to present ourselves to God as gifts because of His mercies. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2: 10)
Paul therefore urges us “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4: 1 – 3)
Taste that the Lord is good. Know that His Word stands forever. Know that you, like all flesh, will fade away. Know that whatever worldly glory you have will end as a flower withers and falls from the stem. The only difference is that now, in Christ, you are born again of an imperishable seed. The seed is the Holy Spirit. He is both the Father of Jesus and of us. “For He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why [Jesus] is not ashamed to call [us] brothers.” (Hebrews 2: 11) Jesus “helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore He had to be made like His brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2: 16 – 18) Jesus was born a baby, grew through a childhood into an adolescence and then into manhood. Along the way, He was tempted just as we are, except without sin. Therefore, Jesus knows firsthand what it is to face temptations, what it is to resist them, what it is to conquer them. On the Mount of Olives, Jesus prays, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.” (Luke 22: 42) “Now may the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.” (Hebrews 13: 20 – 21)
“For, because you trusted in your works and your treasures, you also shall be taken.” “And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad — in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of Him who calls — she was told, ‘The older shall serve the younger’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’ What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!” (Romans 9: 10 – 14) Neither our heritage nor our works make us right with God. Having all the treasure in the world does not make us right in His sight. “So then He has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills. You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its maker, ‘Why have you made me like this? Has the potter no right over the clay?” (Romans 9: 18 – 21) Yes, we are clay — we are all alike. We come from the same father, Adam — just as Jacob and Esau come from the same father, Isaac. Yes, God is the potter. He made and owns the clay. Yes, He has all rights over us. He is allowed. “But to all who do receive Him, who believe in His Name, He gives the right to become children of God, who are born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1: 12 – 13)
“All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
The beginning of our ability to work for God is our acquaintance with His Word. The deeper we immerse ourselves in God’s ‘breathed-out’ scripture, the more we are ‘equipped for every good work.’ God’s Word makes us competent. The Word teaches, reproves, corrects, and trains us in the righteousness that comes through our Lord, Jesus Christ.
“For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4: 12) The Word of God is the sword that the Holy Spirit wields in His effort to make us holy.
With His Word, the Holy Spirit searches us, determining as well as altering the state of our hearts. The Word is alive, working God’s ways in us. We “are born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God…and this Word is the good news that is preached to [us].” (1 Peter 1: 23, 25)
“The Word of the Cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1: 18)