Grace, the apostle Paul has told us in almost every way possible in Ephesians 2:1–9, is the sole reason for our salvation. There is nothing that we can do to make the Lord save us, no deed good enough to merit His favor, and no way that we can make up for any of our sins. We must depend on grace — the favor that the Creator shows to His people despite what we have done — for redemption. All we can do is place in Christ the faith that God gives us, and all those who have been given faith will finally exercise it unto salvation. Charles Hodge comments, “He has made us Christians. Our faith is not from us. It is because of God that we are in Christ Jesus.”
This does not mean that good works are optional for us. After all, our Creator made humanity to do good works and practice wise dominion over the earth for His glory (Gen. 1:26–28). Part of redemption is the restoration of our ability to fulfill our original purpose, so the Lord must intend that His people do good works. These works are never to be seen as the basis for our salvation but as the necessary result of the Lord’s restoration of us to a right relationship with Him (James 2:14–26). We will discuss this point more next week, but today note that our good works follow our justification as its result; they do not precede it as its cause.
That salvation by grace alone through faith alone does not invalidate our call to good works is seen in today’s passage, for after giving us the ground and means of our salvation in Ephesians 2:8–9, the apostle Paul tells us explicitly in verse 10 that we are created in Christ for good works. This accords with Paul’s teaching in passages such as 2 Corinthians 9:8 and Galatians 6:10. If we do not do good works, then we are not fulfilling God’s purposes for us. Furthermore, if we continue in this impenitently, we will prove that the Lord has never brought us to new spiritual life by His grace.
What shall we make of our good works? Are they perfect? Should we consider them good in themselves according to God’s standards? The answer, of course, is no — because of our remaining sin. But the Lord sees fit to accept them as good, not as the ground of our salvation but as its fruit. Moreover, we are to do them as long as we draw breath. John Chrysostom says, “Walking is a metaphor that suggests continuance, extending to the end of our lives” (ACCNT 8, p. 128).
Knowing that we are justified by faith alone takes pressure off of us when we seek to please God. It might be that sometimes we do not do good because we fear that we will mess things up. Yet since the Father declares us righteous in Christ, we need not worry that our feeble attempts at doing good will be futile — if we understand they result from our salvation without causing it. Even our good deeds are covered by Jesus’ blood.