When I was a young believer, I was greatly impressed by a certain old man in our church. In my early 20’s, I didn’t have a whole lot of interaction with elderly people until I came to Christ and started going to church. This old man was a delightful man whose wife was terminally ill when he first started coming to church and died shortly thereafter. As a brand new believer, I was impressed with how his faith carried him through. He mourned the loss of his wife, but never without simultaneously expressing his confidence in the Lord’s promise to take her into paradise. It was a new and refreshing perspective for me.
He used to wear a shirt that said "PBPWMGINFWMY". Now a shirt with that jumbled mess of letters begs the question…"What does it mean?" this was delighted to tell us proud, young, go-getters in his deep, softening muffled voice, "It means, please be patient with me, God is not finished with me yet." I knew then that if God wasn’t finished with this old man, he had a lot of work yet to do with me.
I’ve always read Ephesians 2:10 in the shadow of that early encounter with that old man. God is continuously working on us, bringing us up in maturity, shaping our hearts, and growing our faith. We see that pointed out in Samuel, who "continued to grow in stature and in favor with the LORD and with men." (1 Samuel 2:26) And we hear it in the exhortation of Peter, who concluded, "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 3:18) The writer to the Hebrews, likewise, commands, "Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity…" (Hebrews 6:1)
These are the examples and commands that demand that we grow and develop in our faith. As Simpson wrote, "Men and women who do not press on in their Christian experience to gain the fullness of their inheritance in Him will often become cold and formal."
That being said, I don’t believe as I once did that this ongoing work of God is what is meant by Paul when he declares, "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) God’s workmanship is not the ongoing process of what God is doing in you, it is the completed work of what God has done in you. Even though you are, in one sense, called to grow in the grace and knowledge of God, you are in another sense complete. To live on another level, you need to understand that you are God’s finished work.
The word "workmanship" is a term for an end-product. It is finished. Done. Imagine that you went down to a car lot to buy a car and all you saw was the raw metal frame. It had no seats, no dash, no mirrors, no paint, no tires, and no engine. That, my friends, is an unfinished product. That is not what God made of you when he made you new in Christ Jesus. He has blessed you in the heavenly realms. When Jesus rose from the dead, you were raised up to life with him. When Jesus was established on his throne, the promises of God to you were seated, or established with him. If you believe in him, you are completed in him. A masterpiece of life. God’s workmanship. Hallelujah!
To really appreciate this, we have to know what God has made us from. That’s what Paul is getting at in Ephesians 2:1-9.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1-5)
We once were dead in our transgressions and sins. As Paul puts it, we were objects of wrath, headed for the incinerator. Then God took hold of us through his son Jesus, and made of us something useful. And we’re not just here to take for granted either; we’ve been created in Christ Jesus to do good works, that God prepared in advance for us to do.
We would be best to never forget what we once were. First of all, if we understand this, we gain a greater appreciation and love for God. Second, we learn to conduct ourselves as people who live on another level when we have the humility that truth expresses. How can I be angry at the unreached people of this earth when I too once lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of my sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts? How can a former object of wrath have anything other than compassion for the present objects of wrath?
Yet so much of the time, we are angry.
"Well, I never…"
I’ve got news for you. Yes you did. "All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath." (Ephesians 2:3) I hope we will keep this in mind as we build bridges of grace and friendship to the unchurched and underchurched people in our world.
If you pay close enough attention, you’ll find that nature still trying to rise up in you on a daily basis.
And here’s the amazing thing: The passion with which you have pursued the cravings of your sinful nature is the force with which God’s justice demands his wrath, or anger, in response. Paul writes, "Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath." (Ephesians 2:3).
That word "wrath" is a desire—a violent passion. It implies punishment, just as we presume, but it comes from a passion of God for justice and for his glory. Our sin robs him of his glory, so the same force of passion in our nature that stirs us to sin is at work in God stirring up his wrath toward us when we sin. That is his nature. It’s different than ours.
In Mark 3, Jesus asks a crowd gathered at the synagogue, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" They didn’t answer him. I picture them just sitting there, staring, like someone in a debate whose point has just been blown out of the water. Mark’s description of what happens next is telling of the divine nature of Jesus. "He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out and his hand was completely restored." (Mark 3:4-5)
What we have here is a confrontation of the two natures. Our nature is to sin. The people of the synagogue, who represent us, could only stare off in bewilderment in response to the light of truth Jesus had cast over their religiosity. And he did it with a simple question. To answer would have only proven foolish, and they were much too proud for that. To not answer acknowledged they had gone too far in applying the Scripture. The divine nature, in contrast, is righteous and holy and good. So Jesus, out of his divine nature, looks upon the sin-strong crowd with wrath.
It seems odd, doesn’t it, that Jesus can look upon men with anger and we, meanwhile, are told to put away all bitterness, rage, and anger (the same word as wrath)? But we don’t operate out of a divine nature. We can’t. Only God does and only God can. And he must. He is compelled by his passion for justice.
This idea of wrath is difficult to understand. I met a man who rejected Christianity and attends The Spiritual Enrichment services because he says he cannot believe in a loving God who is a God of wrath. It’s difficult to understand because we cannot understand the concept of wrath apart from our sinful nature. The only wrath we’ve ever experienced has always been tainted with selfish ambition, selfish motives, get-evenism and overkill justice. We don’t know how to balance truth and love.
There might be moments when we might experience a taste of God’s righteous anger. We get a taste of it when someone commits an egregious crime.
Several years ago, the son of a woman I worked with was killed by a gang while minding his own business walking down the street. He was only 14. He was not in any way affiliated with any gang. He was simply the innocent victim of a thrill killing. The mother didn’t know it, but there were people in our office working on that case. The local police department brought in the blade used to kill him, and it was no knife. It was about 14" long and 3" wide with a pointed end and sharp edges on each side. It was some sort of small tribal sword. It still had the boys blood on it to the depth it had been thrust into the boys side—clear to the handle. When that weapon was brought in, every effort was made to keep this grieving mother from setting her eyes on it. The sight of the sword alone would only stir up the passionate anger she was holding inside.
That’s how God’s nature responds to sin. But only God can exercise that wrath perfectly, because only God operates out of a position of absolute righteousness. So God rightly makes sinful man the object of his wrath, while we are rightly commanded to put away all wrath.
Fortunately, "the LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made." (Ps 145:8-9)
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-- it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5)
Here we were…dead; objects of wrath headed for the incinerator. And God decides to play Junkyard Wars. And we are not simply a work in progress. His first work is complete. He has made us alive--with an emphasis on the past tense—he has made us alive, having raised us up and seated us with Christ in the heavenly realms.
What does it mean that he has "seated" us with Christ? Well, simply find where Jesus is sitting and you’ll find the answer to the question. Jesus is seated on his throne. We are sugkathizo, a compound word combining sun, meaning together or a union, with kathizo, which means to seat down. We are seated down together with Christ.
Psalm 1 is also helpful in understanding what it means to be seated with Christ.
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Ps 1:1-2)
What you see here is a progression of moving farther and farther away from the blessing. A man might begin walking in the council of the wicked. Worse yet is the one who makes a stand with their ways. Worse yet is the one who establishes himself in the seat of mockers.
Such a man has seated himself in the enemy camp and as such is removed from the blessing.
We are, instead, seated in the blessing. We are established with Christ in the heavenly realms. Out of the place where Jesus reigns in heaven and on earth, it is established that we are already his forever. The adoption papers have been signed and recorded and cannot be rescinded.
It is established that God has made us alive by making us his forever. It is established by the throne from which he has authority to say it is so. That is a done deal! We are his workmanship, created or formed anew in Christ. That is a gift from God, not by the things we do, but by the undeserved favor of the Father who loves us.
God’s workmanship is finished. It is a past tense, completed work. Compare that to Paul’s message to the Galatians when he writes that we are to be filled with the Spirit. Now that is not a past tense word. Being filled means to be continuously filled, over and over again. In the way the Holy Spirit continuously comes to us to fill us and give us a Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that we may know him better and be changed, God is not finished with us yet. But in the way that he has made us his and made us vessels that can be filled—and be useful—we are a finished product. We are God’s workmanship.
What difference does that make?
It makes me free to do the work God prepared in advance for me to do. It is good work. I don’t work to earn anything because I can’t—it would only make me boast. But I do good work because he has made me to do good work. So I press on to be satisfied with Jesus only as my reward. I carry with me the Great Commandment to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love my neighbor as myself. I take up his Great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations by baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything he has commanded me. I carry with me the personal mission to know Jesus and make him known by allowing his life to be formed in me, by raising up workers for the harvest, and by planting relevant life-giving churches. And I can succeed in these things, because the one with whom I have been seated is the head over everything for the church.
I can bear his stripes and share in his sufferings because I am a finished product. I am not simply a work in progress. To borrow a line from J. Roberts, I am just a man standing before a church asking them to be patient with me as I learn how to let God make full use of the life he has given me.
I am seated with the King of Kings. I am enthroned with the Prince of Peace. I am forever adopted into the family of God. People can dis me all they want. They can disrespect me, discredit me, disown me, disregard me, discount me, disenfranchise me, disturb me, disrupt me, disavow me, disagree with me, disgust me, disdain me, and displease me, but as long as I don’t let them discourage me or distract me from understanding who I am in Christ—that I am God’s workmanship—I’m living on another level.
It is by grace I have been saved through faith—and this not of myself, it is the gift of God—not by works, so I cannot boast.
I am God’s workmanship, his finished product, and he has created me anew through the cross of Jesus, his Son to do good things that he has prepared for me to do.
Care to join me?