Ephesians 2:10 is an interesting verse; it is one of the few places Paul positively uses the term good works. Much of Paul's effort in New Testament writing is spent helping people understand that we are not saved by our good works. Indeed, the better someone is, the more difficulty they may have recognising their need for God.
Good works have nothing to do with our justification (Romans 3:28) or our salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). However, they have everything to do with following Jesus. So this is what Paul writes:
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)
Let's unpack this beatiful but challenging verse:
For we are his workmanship
The for links this with everything that precedes: because, therefore. Since we have been saved by grace through faith, it means that anything we are in God is because we have been made in him by God.
workmanship: this is the Greek word poiema which means creation, something made, physically (like vase) or artistically (like a song, poem). Paul uses it in Romans 1:20 for the physical creation. It means that, like an original composition or a movie score or a beautiful poem, we are hand-crafted by God to be a song of representing the beauty of his kingdom to a world in need.
created in Christ Jesus
God has created us anew (made us new people) through what Christ has done (his perfect life, sacrificial death, and poweful resurrection) and by means of our union with Christ. As Paul wrote in v. 5, He made us alive together with Christ. He brings up the same theme in his letter to the Corinthians:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17
The consequences of this new creation are many and profound; for example, we have been seated with Christ in the heavenly places (v. 6). The big idea is that we are hand-crafted by God through what Christ has done; part of this creative process is spiritually joining us to Christ.
for good works
The for reminds us that not only are we saved on purpose (by the foreordained plan of God, Ephesians 1:4-5); we are saved for purpose, and that purpose is doing good works. In the context of Ephesians 2:1-10, doing good is the fruit of salvation; it is the result of being made alive and united with Christ.
That brings up the question, what good works? The New Testament is filled with many specific examples of the kinds of good works that give glory to God. For example, Ephesians Eph. 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Imagine how great it would be if everyone you encountered tomorrow were living by that verse! Imagine a world populated by kindness, tender-heartedness, and forgiveness. That's the beauty of what we've been created for in Christ.
which God prepared beforehand
The good works that God’s people will do have been previously prepared; even in our doing good, we have nothing to boast about; God took the initiative by carefully preparing our good works before the foundation of the world.
that we should walk in them
Providing a bit of a bookend to this chapter, where Paul starts by describing our walk in trespasses and sins, now we walk in good works. Walking describes a lifestyle; because of God’s mighty salvation by which we have been changed, we portray the new creation in our lives.
In wrapping this up, there are three big take-aways for us from Ephesians 2:8-10:
Big Idea 1
We are not saved by good works; neither are we saved without them. A lifestyle of pleasing God by doing good is the fruit (not the cause) of salvation.
Big Idea 2
You have been well made. God is the ultimate Mega Maker: He takes sinful humans, dead in sins, makes them alive, unites them to Christ, saves them from judgment, and makes them new creations.
Big Idea 3
Every day is an adventure of goodness. Every day we enjoy the opportunity of demonstrating the beauty of God’s kingdom through a changed life, portraying God’s goodness to the world around us.
You have been well-made; every good work you does reflects back on your maker. God is glorified by a life filled with good works.