How would you sum up 2020? What words would you use to describe the year just gone? Challenging? Perplexing? Difficult? Lonely? Unexpected? Surprising?
Rewind to 1st January 2020. Who would have predicted that within a few months, much of life as we know it would grind to a halt, schools would be closed and church congregations would not be able to physically gather to worship together?
And now as we embark on this New Year, there are still many uncertainties about what lies ahead in the next 12 months. Will there be any more spikes in Covid infection rates? How long will it take for the Covid vaccines to be widely available? Will we see the end of ‘lockdown’? As the year unfolds, what will the toll of last year’s restriction look like in terms of the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and financial health of our nation? As if this wasn’t enough, we might add into the mix the added unknown impact of the UK leaving the EU!
With uncertainty all around us, it can be disheartening. We might be prone to feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. In our present situation with all that is unknown, hear these wonderful words of hope from the book of Ephesians (2:10):
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
One writer has said that the book of Ephesians was written to expand the horizons of the Apostle Paul’s readers so that they might better understand the dimensions of God’s eternal purposes and transforming grace. So allow God, by the power of His Spirit, to expand your horizons as we consider what He might be saying to us here at the start of 2021.
Already in Ephesians chapter 2 we have learned that because of God’s transforming grace, believers are made “alive with Christ” (2:2). If this was not astounding enough, Paul goes on to explain something more of God’s eternal purpose for His people: “For we are God’s handiwork.” The Greek word here might well carry the connotation of artistic skill. The ESV translates it as “his workmanship” or the NET as “his creative work.” Each piece of art reflects something of the artist. The only other use of this word in the New Testament is in Romans 1:20. There Paul says that God’s character- His eternal power and divine nature- are clearly seen through the created world. These dear believers in Ephesus have been transformed through the work of God’s grace. By saying they are “God’s handiwork” in 2:2 Paul likens them to the created world referred to in Romans 1; they are to clearly display something of the character of God to the watching world.
How do God’s people show that they are his handiwork? Through “good works” for which they have been created in Christ Jesus. Paul could not be more clear in the preceding verses; no one is saved by good works but we are saved for good works. To a watching world, this is how the believers live out the Gospel and reveal their Creator’s character: by doing good works.
But there is another precious truth in this verse. Not only are believers God’s handiwork, but Paul finishes this verse by saying that our Great God has prepared good works in “advance for us to do.” Here is a reminder of a theme that occurs throughout the book of Ephesians: God is sovereign! He has sovereignly brought us to Himself through the gift of faith and He will continue His work of transformation is us. Hopefully as you reflect on 2020 with all of its challenges and perplexity that you can see that God has indeed been at work in your life, like a skilled artist, making you more into His own likeness (4:24). As we begin 2021 with all of its uncertainties, we don’t know what this year will hold, but God does. And he goes before us into this New Year preparing good works for us to do.
So what are some of these good works that God has prepared for us? Well the book of Ephesians is crammed full of what this might look like for us:
– increasing adoration of God for his gift of salvation (1:3-9)
– deeper prayerfulness (there are two sublime prayers in 1:15-19 and 3:16-20)
– growing spiritual maturity (4:13-15)
– greater mastery over our sinful tendencies (4:25-32)
– expressing love and humility in our closest relationships (marriage, families and work situations: 5:22-6:9)
– cultivating wisdom in how to stand against the powers of darkness (6:10-18)
– developing a readiness to share the Gospel (6:19-20)
So as we begin 2021 with all of its uncertainties, may these words from Ephesians 2:10 serve to expand our horizons and help us further grasp the dimensions of God’s eternal purposes and transforming grace. If we are in Christ Jesus, we can take great hope that while we don’t know what the future holds, God does. He goes before us. As part of God’s handiwork, in the year that is before us in what ways will you display His character to a watching world?
Gordy Mackay is the Community Pastor at Perth Baptist Church in Scotland.