Before Paul became a Christian, he very much wanted to have a right relationship with God. So, he followed his religion very carefully (Galatians 1:14). However, he still could not say that he had a right relationship with God. He saw, from his knowledge of God’s law, that even his wrong thoughts and desires were against God’s law (Romans 7:7-8). So, Paul tried to please God by more extraordinary efforts. He began to oppose and to arrest Christians (Acts 8:3). He opposed them because he believed them to be wrong. However, he did it because he was trying to earn for himself a right relationship with God by his efforts (Romans 10:2-3).
Then Paul became a Christian, and his opinions changed at once (Acts 9:1-22). He learned, from the Bible, that no person can earn for himself a right relationship with God (Romans 4:1-5). A person can only receive such a relationship by faith - in other words, when that person believes and trusts God (2:8).
So, when God forgives someone, that is an act of God. No person has a right to claim the honour for it. Nothing that we can do, can ever earn for us a right relationship with God.
In the Bible, the word ‘works’ means the things that someone does. In Ephesians 2:9, ‘works’ mean a person’s efforts to earn God’s kindness. Such efforts cannot succeed, because God’s kindness is his gift to us. In the next verse, verse 10, ‘works’ mean the good things that Christians do because of their relationship with Christ. The Bible approves of that kind of good works. Similarly James 2:14-26 refers to the good works that are the result of faith (belief and trust in God). Genuine faith is active; in other words, it changes the way that we act. Faith causes us to do those things that God wants us to do. By such good works, we are not trying to earn God’s kindness; rather, we gladly do the things that God desires.
Next part: How can we do what is good? (Ephesians 2:10)
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© 2018, Keith Simons.