THE GREAT TRANSFORMATION
by Bob Wheeler
We have seen that salvation is “by grace . . . through faith. . .not of works” (Eph.2:8,9; NKJV). Does that mean, then, that good works are unnecessary? That we can live like the devil and still go to heaven?
It all depends on what we mean by “unnecessary.” Salvation is not based on human merit – we do not earn our way into heaven. But we are required to repent – to show genuine remorse for the sins that we have already committed. And good works will naturally flow from salvation. If we have been genuinely born again we are changed persons – we do not live the way we used to live before. In other words, good works are not the necessary precondition of salvation, but they are the necessary consequence of it. We do not do good works in order to become saved; we do them because we are saved.
Paul brings this out in Eph. 2:10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” He begins by saying that “we are His workmanship.” Spiritually the Christian is what he is as a result of what God has done inside of him. And what is God’s aim in “creating” us? We were created “for good works which god prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” And how did He “prepare them beforehand”? By providing us with the things that we need to live a godly life. He gave us the Bible to teach and to guide us; He gave us His Holy Spirit to produce His fruit in us. And yet this does not eliminate human responsibility. God gives us these things so “that we should walk in them.” We are the ones who do the walking. But we do it because of what God has done in our lives.
Paul goes on to explain the transformation in chapter 4, verses 20-24. Here he speaks of “learning Christ” and “being taught by Him.” He does not say that “you heard about Him,” but rather that “you heard Him.” You were, in some sense, at least, taught by Christ Himself.
And what did we learn from Christ? “. . .that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man . . . and that you put on the new man” (vv. 22, 24). The verbs “put off” and “put on” suggest the imagery of a change of clothing – you take off your old garments and put on new ones. It is a picture of how dramatic the change is in the new believer’s life. Furthermore, what we “put off” is “your former conduct, the old man” (v. 22). The change is so radical and dramatic that it is practically the same thing as discarding our old personal identity. The way we used to live before we became Christians was “corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.” We went through life letting our self-centered desires guide and control us, and we became enslaved to sin as a result. That whole corrupt way of life we are to put completely behind us. In it’s place we are to “put on the new man” (v. 24).
But what is this new way of life like? First of all, it involves a profound inward change. Paul says that we are to “be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” As we commune with Christ in prayer and personal Bible study, the Holy Spirit changes our thoughts and desires, and enables us to see things differently. We have a new awareness of spiritual reality, a new worldview and a different set of values. We have different motives and desires. As a result we live differently than we did before. We live “in true righteousness and holiness” (v. 24). And this “new man” was “created according to God.” It is something God creates inside of us by the presence and power of His Holy Spirit, and it makes our lives conform to His own holy nature.
What all of this involves, practically speaking, to that Paul devotes the second half of his epistle. But the point of it here is this: salvation involves both justification and sanctification. We are saved from both the guilt and power of sin. Good works are the evidence of new life in Christ. Let us “pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).