A Commentary by John Stott
One might imagine that by now Paul has made his point and is ready to pass on to another topic. But no, he is determined not to leave his theme until he has expounded it beyond any possibility of misunderstanding. So he adds one more positive, decisive and glorious affirmation (verse 10): *For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.* The first and emphatic word of the sentence is *autou*, ‘his’. Paul has already declared that salvation is not our achievement. Now he does not just state the opposite, namely that it is God’s achievement. He goes further. He leaves behind any thought of salvation as an ‘it’ or a ‘this’ outside and apart from ourselves. He is concerned about us, living human beings, who were dead. What are we now? We are God’s *workmanship (poiema*, ‘his work of art, his masterpiece’) *created (ktisthentes) in Christ Jesus*. Both Greek words speak of creation. So far Paul has described salvation in terms of a resurrection from the dead, a liberation from slavery and a rescue from condemnation. And each declares that the work is God’s, for dead people cannot bring themselves to life again, nor can captive and condemned people free themselves. But now he puts the matter beyond even the slightest shadow of doubt. Salvation is creation, re-creation, new creation. And creation language is nonsense unless there is a Creator; self-creation is a patent contradiction in terms. ‘You see then’, writes Calvin, ‘that this word “create” is enough to stop the mouths and put away the cackling of such as boast of having any merit. For when they say so, they presuppose that they were their own creators.’
Not that we remain passive and inert. Some critics have always thought this, and supposed that Paul’s doctrine of salvation by grace alone actually encourages us to continue in sin. They are entirely mistaken. Good works are indispensable to salvation – not as its ground or means, however, but as its consequence and evidence. We are not saved *because of works* (verses 8-9), but we are created in Christ Jesus *for good works* (verse 10), good works *which God prepared beforehand*, which he designed in a past eternity and for which he has fashioned us, so that we should continuously *walk in them*.
Thus the paragraph ends as it began with our human ‘walk’, a Hebrew idiom for our manner of life. Formerly we walked in *trespasses and sins* in which the devil had trapped us; now we walk in *good works* which God has eternally planned for us to do. The contrast is complete. It is a contrast between two lifestyles (evil and good), and behind them two masters ( the devil and God). What could possibly have effected such a change? Just this: a new creation by the grace and power of God. The key expressions of the paragraph are surely *but God* (verse 4) and *by grace* (verses 5,8)
Paul was under no allusion about the degradation of mankind. He refused to whitewash the situation, for this might have led him to propose superficial solutions. Instead, he began this paragraph with a faithful portrayal of man as subject to three terrible powers, namely ‘sin’, ‘death’ and ‘wrath’. Yet he refused also to despair, because he believed in God. True the only hope for dead people lies in a resurrection. But then the living God is the God of resurrection. He is even more than that: he is the God of creation. Both metaphors indicate the indispensable necessity of divine grace. For resurrection is out of death, and creation is out of nothing. That is the true meaning of ‘salvation’