Created in Christ Jesus for Good Works
I have decided to take verse ten by itself as it expresses the relationship between faith and works in such a clear way. It has often been said that Paul and James are at odds with one another (e.g., James 2:18-26). But James is not saying that works save a person, nor is Paul saying that one may believe and then go about his merry way. This passage from Paul explains the relation between faith and works to which both men would have subscribed.
First, we understand that we are God’s workmanship; that is, we are His new creation, people whom He has made alive together with Christ, raised up with him, and seated in the heavenly paces in Christ Jesus—and all by grace through faith—the work of God. So we are rightly called “His workmanship,” or more colloquially, each of us is His “piece of work” as He is the divine Potter and we the clay. This is why in the very next clause we read that we are “created in Christ Jesus,” stressing again our Lord’s priority in the work in that we are the object acted upon in God’s creation; that is, we are “created” in Christ Jesus and not the ones creating ourselves in him—quite a blasphemous thought when one gets right down to it.
So now Paul may correctly address the doing of good works by these who have been so created in Christ Jesus: for they were “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” It was the very purpose of God to create us anew, birth us anew by the Spirit in Christ Jesus so that we would honor Him by the doing of good works. Indeed, God saved us so that we may do such works, which was His plan all along that we should do. It was God’s purpose with the people of Israel that they would be like Him by keeping His law. But they were unable to do so because the keeping of God’s law requires something with which we are not born; that is, the indwelling Holy Spirit who comes only with our rebirth, our re-creation, which was made possible by Christ’s work on the cross and the Spirit’s bestowal at Pentecost. And so now we as God’s new creations have inherited the task at which they failed: to be “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession” to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9), which is to do the work of the One who has sent us, to do the work which He prepared beforehand that we should do. And we have no excuse. At least the ancient Israelites can say, “We had not the Holy Spirit.” We do. So let us go out with joy as redeemed people who have every reason to proclaim His excellencies.