It’s only 3 letters. A throw away word. The kind of word that appears countless times in an article. One that we simply write or say or read without thinking much about it because at its best it simply links what comes after it to what comes before it. It’s a word that shows up in a passage of Scripture that beautifully summarizes the gospel message:
“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).
In these three verses, the word appear three times in this particular translation, but it’s the appearance in verse 10 that I’d like to call your attention to. We are newly created in Christ for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to walk in.
You find in this passage a holistic treatment of the gospel. That is we were saved by grace, through faith, for good works. Take any of those three components away and you have an incomplete message. We are brought near to God not on the basis of our own merit, but by grace. Unmerited favor. Undeserved blessing. Completely apart from ourselves, this grace finds its root in God alone and His great love and mercy. It is by grace we have been saved.
And that grace is given to us by faith. Faith is the track upon which the train of grace rides. It is the avenue by which we are made right with God. It is through faith alone that anyone at any time is ever made right with God. As Charles Spurgeon beautifully put it, “Faith is the silver thread upon which the pearls of grace are to be hung. Break that, and the pearls lie scattered on the ground.” Faith is the mechanism by which the gospel ceases to be mere historical fact and actually comes to rest on a person. It’s the moment when a person ceases to merely know and begins to actually believe.
And then there is the last part. This grace, which comes by faith, is for good works. It’s a cause and effect kind of thing. Those who experience this grace are irreversibly changed. They bear the fruit of righteousness and now love God with their deepest desires. Their souls have been awakened to true beauty and, like someone who has eaten the richest fare once, no longer find a cheeseburger from McDonald’s all that satisfying any more.
Our understanding of the gospel might turn on any of these words, but I’m thinking particularly today about the word “for.” We are created for good works; not by good works. This we must understand.
If it’s “for” then we are free. If it’s “by” we are enslaved. If it’s “for” then grace is the focus. If it’s “by” then performance is the focus. If it’s “for” then we are unleashed to do that which God has reborn us to do. If it’s “by” then we are caught on the treadmill of self-justification.
Now all that is well and good so long as we not only know we were saved by grace, through faith, and for good works. We must also truly believe it to be so. For there is perhaps no other word in all Christianity that might be so quickly replaced with another as “for” is with “by.”