“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)
Many Christians are understandably cautious whenever someone urges us to excel in ‘good works.’ Cautious because ingrained in our hearts is the vital gospel truth that we can never save ourselves by trying hard to be good. We have been rightly taught that “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). And that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
But all this does not mean that we should treat “works” as a dirty word. Just because we are saved by grace alone, through faith, this should not lead us to conclude that what we do and how we live as Christians is unimportant. On the contrary, doing good deeds is an essential outworking of authentic Christian faith. Indeed James warns us that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).
True, we cannot be saved by our righteous acts of Christian service, no matter how faithful and tireless they might be. Nor should they give us any cause to boast, either before God or other people. But doing good works is to be an integral part of every believer’s life. Indeed we are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus” for this very purpose. So to walk in the good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do is his plan for your life and mine.
Does this mean, then, that God has prepared in advance very specific things that he wants each of his individual children to do? Well, on the basis that we each “have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us” (Romans 12:6) this seems like a very reasonable assumption to make. However, we cannot use this as an excuse for laziness and inactivity (as I sometimes did in my early ‘super-spiritual’ days as a Christian), by claiming to be awaiting God’s revelation before we do anything worthwhile with our lives.
Even if I am unclear about God’s specific plans for my life or unsure precisely what gifts he has entrusted to me, there are more than enough general commands in scripture to keep me fully occupied. Commands such as “devote yourselves to prayer”, “love one another deeply” and “offer hospitality to one another” to name just three. And if I set my heart on prayerfully putting these and other biblical instructions into practice, I can be confident that God is well able to make known any specific good works that he’s prepared in advance for me to do.