Today’s reading: Ephesians 2
… is actually Catholic.
Whenever discussions between Catholics and Protestants circle around to the issue of works, invariably the misunderstood notion that Catholics believe in a works based salvation is asserted so that that idea can be refuted by citing Ephesians 2:8-9, which says:
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.
That’s pretty clear, right? “Not because of works”, how can us Catholics mess up something so simple. By now we have had many discussions on the topic of works and we have seen the overwhelming evidence presented in the Bible of the correct understanding of Faith & Works. We agree that we are saved through faith by a free gift of grace for which we can do no work to merit. However, once we are saved our works do have merit, for through Christ we participate in the divine life and we will be rewarded for the works we do in his name. And this is in fact, exactly what the next sentence in Ephesians says:
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Thus, works are our purpose, this is in our very nature, we are created for good works. Why is it this way? The simple answer is because that is the way God wants it. God could have done it anyway he wanted. He could have made it that after Baptism, or on our tenth birthday or when as adults we accept Jesus that we become perfect, completely saved and free from all sin. He didn’t choose to do it that way. What he chose was for us to continue to work on our sanctification through our relationships with others. He chooses for us to live a life of good works, for us to become servants of others whereby we become more and more like his son.
This is why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3 that we are God’s “Co-workers”:
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
And notice how consistent the two passages are. In Corinthians, Paul says that he and Apollos were “assigned” by the Lord to those that were converted. In Ephesians, Paul says that works are, “prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” So it is not just our eternal souls that are predestined but the very works we will do in our lives. Why? Because that is how God chooses to affect the salvation of the world. Why? Because God wants us to be in relationships with others, to share with others the love we have for Him. Why? Because God is himself a Trinitarian relationship of love. Jesus is the son in relation to the Father and the Holy Spirit is the relationship of love between the Father and the Son. By effecting salvation through relationships of love God allows us to know him. He allows us, he helps us, he enables us to understand him.
Notice, this is what Paul says in the verses preceding 8 and 9:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
God gave you the saving grace for salvation, “because of the great love with which he loved us”. After which we are, “alive together with Christ”. It makes sense then that if we are “alive together” with him that we need to become more like him. How was Jesus when he was here? He was a servant. He referred to himself as such. We then must be servants of others, humbling ourselves to do good works for them.
Paul continues and again articulates how closely we are related to Jesus:
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who HAS MADE US BOTH ONE and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create IN HIMSELF ONE NEW MAN in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God IN ONE BODY through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him WE BOTH HAVE ACCESS IN ONE SPIRIT to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints AND MEMBERS OF THE HOUSEHOLD of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom THE WHOLE STRUCTURE, BEING JOINED TOGETHER, grows into A HOLY TEMPLE in the Lord. In him you also ARE BEING BUILT TOGETHER INTO A DWELLING PLACE for God by the Spirit.
These verses speak of a profound closeness within the body of Christ. It speaks of the one body of Jesus being the infinitely sufficient sacrifice that redeems all of creation and of the profound closeness all those who are saved will have with the Lord. It speaks of one household and being joined together in one temple. We know that Jesus told us that the temple in Jerusalem would be torn down and we know that in three days it would be rebuilt in his body but we are part of that rebuilding.
From the reading today, we see this is something that from God’s perspective this is something that has already happened in heaven:
... and RAISED us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Thus in heaven, there will be no physical distinction between the members of the body. We will be like the cells of our own bodies, each one individual and unique yet entirely part of the hole. Paul teaches this when he speaks of it being impossible for the head to say to the foot, “I have no need of thee.” Remember, when he spoke of this unity of the body he immediately related it back to the Church.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
All this serves to clarify what we read from Paul yesterday when he said that, “the Church is the body of Christ, the fullness of him who is all in all.” Paul’s understanding of the body is not merely a spiritual body. Rather, it is a profound change to the very nature of our existence. It is so profoundly different from how we are now that Paul can only get at it by circumlocution. It is one of the greatest mysteries of Christianity.
Tomorrow: Ephesians 3