I’m a rubber meets the road kind of guy. I want to know the big picture early on in a discussion. And I want to know what I’m being asked to do.
Perhaps that is why I’ve always wrestled with Ephesians 2:8-10.
For it is by grace that 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. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
In this passage Paul addresses the question, “Why are we saved?” More importantly, he points us to the biggest struggle of the church today: Do we exist, as believers, for the church’s good works or for the good works of the city we live in?
I think church leaders morph the meaning of this verse and lift it out of context for their own purposes.
Church leaders interpretation: “You were created in Christ Jesus to do good works, and we’re going to point you to good works right here in the church building. We have many programs of the church that could use your good works… especially in the nursery. Did you know we have a growing nursery and a shrinking pool of volunteers willing to hold babies so their parents can worship Sunday morning?”
Let’s be honest. That’s a very seperatist view of the the world. Much of what we do as church leaders is kingdom building for our local church. We address our most current need as if it were the communities most current need. In America, our view of a good church is one that is full of people, has a great pastor, and has a huge building. But what good are those things to the people of the community? Do they see the church as a place of good news for them? In most cases they don’t. American churches serve themselves more than they serve the community! Most churches in our country have little to no impact on the community they live in. They reach 2-3% of the populuation and all of their programs essentially benefit themselves or that 2-3% of the population who come to their building to worship.
To the community– a lot of churches are bad news.
Paul’s explanation in Ephesians 2:12-13: (The part pastors don’t read when asking you to volunteer for something) “Remember that at that time [before you were saved] you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ”
Paul is reminding his people… you were once locked out of the being a part of God’s family because you weren’t born into it. But Jesus tore down that wall of separation. There is no “good works for Jesus” and “good works for the world” in God’s eyes. A good work is a good work. Verse 14 makes this even more explicit, “For he himself if our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.”
So… why are we saved? What is our purpose in the city we live in? To do good works both within the church and outside. There is no separation and one is not better than the other. They are both good works! The purpose of the church isn’t to create a holy huddle… it’s to create a sending place of good works and renewal into the places we live.
Perhaps this is why the program-driven church is so repulsive to people exploring a walk with Jesus today. They read the New Testament for themselves and cannot reconcile what is described as a movement of God’s people to change the world with the church they are presented with… one that exists to feed its programs.