Discipleship & Identity (Part 3)

After the Apostle Paul draws his comparison between those who are outside of Christ and those who are in Christ, he provides great insight into how we should view self-expression. Ephesians 2:10 has opened incredible insight to me, and I have begun to share it frequently to students, both in corporate and individual settings. I want believers to embrace this verse as they think about who they are and the mission God would have them pursue in their own life.

Before we get to verse 10, however, we are reminded of the reality of this shift in identity and how it came to be. A foundational truth in understanding our own self-expression lies in the fact that this change in identity is completely undeserved and unearned on our part. It is completely by grace. Because of this, we have no room for boasting…not only in our salvation, but also in our position, in our gifts, in our place in life, etc.

This has massive implications upon how we view self-expression that we might miss if we are not careful. This gracious gift of God means that there can be no area of our life that can become a source of our boasting. Any expression of ourselves, then, should be only that which reflects worship to the only one who is worthy of exaltation: our Creator and life-giver. Only in understanding this can we also come to understand what it truly means that “in him we live and move and have our being.” Next week I plan to offer thoughts on how this simple mind-shift will help us understand how we should approach personal evangelism in a postmodern culture.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before hand, that we should walk in them. (v. 10)

Wow, has this verse opened an incredible way of thinking to me! Especially that word, workmanship. We saw in verses 1-7 just how radically our identity has changed in Jesus. We then see in verses 8-9 that this is completely a result of grace. Now in verse 10 we are told what we are and, I believe, we can begin to understand how we are to view self-expression (as redeemed worshipers).

What does it mean that we are his workmanship? Now that we have been redeemed in Christ, any “good works” that we walk in for rest of earthly life are a result of the Spirit’s transforming work in our lives. As Paul says elsewhere, “the old has passed away and the new has come.” He also says in that same passage in 2 Corinthians 5 that in Christ we are “new creations.” Workmanship is a picture of the new creation we have become and are becoming as a result of sanctification through the transforming work of the Spirit. We are his workmanship. It is neat that the Greek word for workmanship (used only here and in Romans 1:20) is poiema, which sounds like the English word, poem. In Jesus we truly become God’s poem, or masterpiece. Just as each work of art formed by an artist’s hands is unique in detail and expression, so are we as God’s work. We begin to express ourselves to others through God’s ultimate expression to the world, the Gospel. We become masterful works of art displaying the transforming power of the gospel, imploring others to be reconciled to God (1 Cor 5:20).

This means that God has not saved us so that we would all be conformed to the same way of expressing worship through obedience!! God has uniquely created us to find our ultimate expression in him! We are to be unique in the way that each of us offers worship to God as our Creator. We are to use our unique sets of gifts, talents, desires, delights, contexts to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9). The other place this word is used in the New Testament is in Romans 1:20, also by Paul. Isn’t it interesting that in this verse he uses it to convey the idea that through all that God has made (poiema), his “invisible attributes…have been clearly perceived.” Paul is saying that God has clearly revealed/expressed himself through all that is his creation, or workmanship. How unique is his creation!? This verse should include us as a part of his workmanship, or (re)creation.

It is my desire that the church would gain a much more robust understanding of this call to self-expression in worship. Young people, especially, need to hear this message. To follow Christ is not to abandon pursuit of self-discovery and self-expression. It is not a call to ‘fall in line’ and become someone’s frivolous definition of what a Christian should look like. That is legalism. That is what the Pharisees did! To follow Christ is to embark on a lifelong journey in discovering who we were created to be and how our Creator has uniquely created us to delight in him and express ourselves in worship toward him. The problem has been for too long that in our sin we simply want everyone to look like us. So we have suppressed this understanding of what it means to be God’s workmanship and young people have picked up on this. Instead of celebrating the uniqueness of God’s creative design, most clearly seen in people, we fight about silly things like style of music as if there can only be one specific way that delights God. Once again, young people have picked up on this.

Now, if you know me, you know that I believe orthodoxy and doctrine to be of the utmost importance. I do not believe that Ephesians 2:10 offers us a license to decide for ourselves what that expression can and cannot be. It just means that as we discover for ourselves how God has uniquely designed us to worship him, it will be in conformity to his Word, but at the same time incredibly personal and unique for each individual. Instead of sinfully discovering and expressing ourselves by following the emotions and desires of our sinful and deceitful hearts (Jeremiah 17:9), we redeem that pursuit by seeking to understand both in Christ as uniquely created images of God.

Next I will offer some suggestions on how this practically applies to all of us, especially in the area of personal evangelism.

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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