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Welcome back to Ephesians, Chapter 2. I left you standing in the doorway to new life in Christ, “alive in a space filled with the love of the Persons of the Trinity for one another,” and soaking up that love like a sponge. Does it get better than this? Oh, yeah! That was You, to the First Power – a new baby Christian, or one returning to that newness and simplicity of being, in any moment of your life in Christ.
Ephesians 2: 4-10 is an easy-to-miss transition between ‘you to the first power’ and ‘you to the third.’ The ‘second dimension’ always hints of tension, of movement through to somewhere else, of puzzling paradox and a need for resolution. It isn’t cited in the Catechism, but is, I think, of tremendous significance for the actual living of your life. So, here it is, in full, from the Revised Standard Version:
But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
NEWS FLASH: YOU are a work of art, created for action!
The word ‘workmanship’ in verse 10 is, in the Greek, ‘poema’. It suggests the deliberate choices made by a designer, the craftsmanship of a master sculptor, the long, slow process of artistic creation. You may not feel very well-constructed, and your life may not seem likely to produce much harmony, or beauty, but, there it is in black and white. You are a work of art.
When you get to the last verse, you will need this understanding of yourself as God’s own poema in order to aim accurately toward those good works which He prepared ahead for you to do. This one little verse introduces the note of tension that is needed for you to become ‘two-dimensional’.
Merciful God brought you to life in Christ, and raised you right up into the heavenly love of the Trinity, so that He could shower grace and kindness and riches upon you. This passage glows with warmth and relaxation – rest in the eternal security of His Presence. (I call it ‘one-dimensional’ not because it is ‘flat,’ or ‘insufficient,’ but simply because it is not all there is to the Christian life.)
Verse ten jolts you out of your reverie by introducing that new element: tension, calling, purpose, work, forward movement. This may actually make you feel quite uncomfortable – more so if you’ve had any inclination to ‘pay God back,’ or earn His favor, or to qualify for His ‘employee of the month’ award! If you’re trying to get an ‘A’ in a class, and the teacher says he’s got work he expects you to do, it’s natural to wonder what that work is, whether you’ll be able to accomplish it, and how well you’ll do it.
This is the way most of us initially read verse ten, and why it’s worth paying attention to it. You cannot jump into action (v 10) without adequate preparation (v 4-9). You won’t rightly understand the word ‘work’ until you understand God as an artistic Creator.
The work is YOU! YOU are being formed, polished, perfected by grace according to His intention. You are His instrument, not as a ‘thing by which work gets done,’ but as a flute is an instrument for Him to breathe into life as music. He has many plans, and there are moments in Scripture when He plainly says, “Do this.” But here, where ‘the work,’ or ‘the action’ is not specified, and is still in the future tense, nothing is being demanded of you. Here, now, you are passive and at rest in His hands, but with a new awareness that He is preparing you to be response-able – capable of free acts by which His work will be accomplished in you, and in the world.
This passage is immeasurably rich with Sabbath imagery. Passivity, patience, receptivity and trust generate capacity for action, freedom, work and creativity. Likewise, conscious Sabbath-keeping* – holding open space for God to act upon me, rather than filling the holy day with activity or distraction – generates capacity for the life of Christ, the Eucharist, the Resurrection power within me.
And that brings us right up to YOU, to the Third Power! See you next time.