“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
- Ephesians 2:8-10
There are a couple chapters in the Bible which provide a clear and succinct description of the gospel, and Ephesians 2 is one of them. It reveals our condition pre-salvation, our position after salvation, the means of our salvation, and the purpose of our salvation. Last week we explored how Scripture changes us, making us more like Christ. This week we look at Ephesians 2:8-10 which shows that God changes us. Though it may not be obvious, there are a couple key truths concerning God’s work in sanctification in these verses.
Notice in the text, Paul says we are saved through faith. Faith is the means by which we enter into the kingdom of God and start on the road to being made more like Christ. Paul gives other truths in this verse that highlight God’s active work in our salvation. He says faith itself comes from God, that we are his workmanship which he created for good works, and that even those good works were prepared for us by God.
Last week we saw how simply reading scripture doesn’t change us, believing what the Bible says about us changes us. This text says that God gives us the faith necessary for belief. Think about what this means. When you wake up and read God’s word, and that word sinks down into your heart so you remember it and believe that it’s true, and the reality of that truth changes how you act, God was ultimately at work.
Paul says something about this in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind..””Transformed” is a passive verb in this verse. Something, or someone is doing the transforming as you meditate on the truths given us in God’s word. Peter calls this process of being transformed the “sanctification of the Spirit” (1 Pet 1:2).
In sum, God is actively at work in us by giving us the faith to believe that what he has said is true and that it’s true specifically for us. Remember, general truth saves nobody. We have to believe that what God says specifically in Scripture is specifically true for ME. That’s the work that God does directly. He gives us faith to believe. Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” Our hearts rest completely and totally in the sovereign hand of the Lord. Nothing is outside his control.
Consequently, one of the most effective tools in our growth in sanctification is actually prayer. John writes, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him (1 Jn 5:14-15).” John is saying, if we ask according to his will, we can be confident God hears and will answer. What is his will? “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…(1 Thess 4:3)” God is not stingy in granting to us the very thing he wants us to have, but he gives generously and without reproach (Jm 1:4). God’s desire for his children is that we would be holy and filled with faith. If we ask him to sanctify us and give us faith, the Scriptures assure us he will because those are the requests he loves to answer. The fulfillment of that request may not come in the way we asked or in ways we expect, but God promises to answer them. Prayer is one avenue God has granted us to request him to intervene and change hearts, whether it be our hearts or someone else’s.
Sometimes, we see family members of friends making foolish choices, or sinning in some way, and we can fall into the trap of thinking all the responsibility falls on us. If we don’t say something, nobody will, and they will be stuck in their sin forever. And this may be true. God may want us to intervene and have hard conversations. But don’t discount the effectiveness of prayer. Don’t think that somehow determining to pray for someone is a cop-out. We often hear, or maybe say to ourselves, “The only thing I can really do in this situation is pray.” You may be right, but don’t consider that a small and insignificant effort . Sanctification doesn’t work unless God grants faith to believe his promises. It never has and it never will. Asking God to intervene and channel their heart to faith is often the best and most effective way to be a meaningful influence in someone else’s life.
This week, make it a priority to pray for someone. Pray they would find Jesus, or that their hearts would be convicted of sin, or that they would recognize some foolish choices. Pray for your spouse, pray for your kids. Make prayer the first thing you do not because it’s what you’re supposed to do but because it’s the most effective means of changing someone’s heart.
If you are interested in learning more about the process of Sanctification, I highly recommend How Does Sanctification Work, by David Powlison. You can also check out our previous blog posts or the audio from our last conference.