The Master ArtistBy Brian Anderson
In order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:7-10 (NASB)
I've always been fascinated by artists. I can remember as a small child watching my mother doodle. She has always had an artistic gift, and could just pick up a pencil and a piece of paper and draw whatever was in her mind. In a matter of minutes she would have a beautiful replica of her idea reproduced onto the paper. When I see someone do that, it makes me just stand back in amazement, because I could never do that in a million years! This last summer our family took a trip to Disneyland, and there were artists there who would draw your portrait for a fee. I found myself almost entranced as these artists very ably reproduced the features of the live face in front of them onto the canvas as we watched.
As good as these human artists are at their craft, I want you to direct your gaze to an even greater One. This Artist is not just good. He's not just great. He's the best there is! He's perfect! He doesn't just produce a work of art that closely resembles what He has in mind. He produces a work of art that is exactly what He has in mind! In fact, no one else is even in His league. He's far greater than Leonardo Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Rembrandt, or Picasso. This Artist is able to take any piece of canvas and transform it into a masterpiece. In fact, every work He begins ends up as a masterpiece. I'm speaking, of course, of God Almighty!
Ephesians 2:10 speaks of God's workmanship -- "For we are His workmanship." The Greek word for workmanship is "poiema." We get our word poem from it. It means a work of art, or an expression of someone's creativity. I want you to envision God as The Master Artist, and yourself as His workmanship -- His work of art. As you do so, I want you to take a look first at the canvas, then the paint, the brush, the painting, and finally the art gallery.
1. The Canvas
The very first thing we notice as we observe this Master Artist is the canvas He is painting on. It's not new. In fact it's quite old. Formerly, it had been graced by a lovely portrait, but a vandal came along with a black magic marker and scribbled all kinds of profanity on it. Now it just looks like a bunch of confusing and grotesque black markings. Whatever original beauty there may have been in the portrait has been effaced forever. It is fit now only for the garbage heap. It has become useless; absolutely good for nothing but burning. But this is exactly the kind of material the Master Painter delights to use. You see, He delights in finding old, used, ugly canvasses and transforming them into objects of exquisite beauty!
Now my friend, allow me to ask you a question. What does that old, defaced, blackened canvas represent? What is the raw material that this Master Artist begins with in producing a masterpiece? The answer may be startling to you. This ugly, grotesque-looking canvas represents you and me. Our text says, "for by grace YOU have been saved... for WE are His workmanship..." The YOU and WE of verses 8 and 10, are the same YOU of verse 1 and WE of verse 3. Ephesians 2:1 tells us "And YOU were dead in your trespasses and sins..." Ephesians 2:3 declares
Among them WE too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. Ephesians 2:3 (NASB)
Man was originally created in the image and likeness of God, but that image has been marred and defaced because of our sin. Instead of being alive to God as Adam was originally in the Garden of Eden, we are born dead in sins. Instead of walking in fellowship with God as Adam did in the garden in the cool of the day, we walked according to the prince of the power of the air, the devil himself! Instead of our desires being to please and glorify God, to our shame we lived in the lusts of our flesh and our mind. Instead of being children of God as Adam was, enjoying His favor, we are sons of disobedience and objects of His holy anger. We are sinners, lost, undone, under God's righteous condemnation and wrath. Unless a remedy is found for our helpless and hopeless condition, we will perish eternally in hell. That's how far we have fallen from what we were created to be! The original portrait has been permanently scarred beyond all description.
2. The Paint
What is the only thing that can cover over that ugly, hideous canvas? Only the Master Artist's paint will do the job. Unless paint is applied to the canvas, it will forever remain the same - an object of deformity and ugliness. Observe as the Master Artist takes His brush, dips it into the white paint, and begins by completely painting over that blackened, defaced picture. He completely covers over the old canvas, until there's not a trace of color left. In fact, when He's done with His white paint, you'd never know that the canvas once bore such an ugly impression. It's almost as though that old portrait had never existed! The old, ugly image has been completely blotted out. But that's just the beginning. When the white paint dries, He begins to apply the different colored paints to the canvas at just the right places, and shades, and intensities. Soon that old canvas begins to sparkle with life, and a lovely new portrait begins to take shape before your very eyes.
The paint represents the grace of God. When God determines to save a sinner, He begins with the white paint of His pardoning grace. He blots out our sins so that it is as if they never existed. We are clean, white, and pure in His eyes. But that's only the beginning! He goes on to apply the various colors of His grace to our lives. He applies His regenerating grace, changing our old hearts which were indifferent and hardened to God and transforming them so that they love Him above all things. He also bestows His sanctifying grace, purging our lives of sin and conforming us to the likeness of Jesus Christ Himself. Then there is the preserving grace of God, keeping us in His love so that we never totally or finally fall away from Him. There is also His empowering grace, enabling us to do His will and proclaim His truth. Additionally He gives sustaining grace, bearing us up so that we don't give up when heavy trials and sorrows come our way. We also receive His comforting grace, wiping away our tears when tragedy strikes. Furthermore, we experience His reviving grace, refreshing and kindling again fresh love and zeal in our hearts for Christ. All of these aspects of God's grace come to us as so many colors of paint from the Master Artist's brush.
An important question needs to be addressed at this point, however -- what is grace? Well, according to Ephesians 2:8, it is what God applies to our lives in order to save us. "For BY GRACE you have been saved through faith." According to Ephesians 1:6 it is that which He bestows upon us. "To the praise of the glory of HIS GRACE, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved." According to Ephesians 1:7-8 it is what He lavishes upon us. "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of HIS GRACE, which He lavished upon us." The grace of God is the basis of our salvation. It is His undeserved and unearned favor to hell-deserving sinners. If grace is the basis of our salvation, and if grace is unearned and undeserved, then it's obvious that our salvation could never be obtained as a result of our good deeds. And that's exactly what we read in Romans 11:6 "But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace." Grace and works are like oil and water -- they can't be mixed together. Grace is God's free favor. Works are our efforts. The Biblical teaching is that salvation comes not from human effort, but from God's free favor.
God had an important reason in mind when He designed our salvation to be based upon His grace. He didn't want anyone to be able to boast in themselves. Ephesians 2:8-9 state, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works that no one should boast." Grace glorifies God; works glorify man. God hates boasting, because it comes from a heart of pride, and God is opposed to the proud. He doesn't want us taking credit for what He has done. Thus, He has designed salvation in such a way that we can never steal the glory. If our salvation is by His grace and not by our works, then we have nothing we can boast about. We didn't do anything. He did it all! At this point you might be thinking, "But what about my faith? Maybe I can't boast about anything else, but surely I can take a little credit for the faith that I have in Jesus Christ!" Well, in order to examine this issue, we need to take a good look at the paintbrush.
3. The Brush
In order for the Master Artist to apply the paint to the canvas, He needs a special tool. We call it a paintbrush. What a paintbrush is to a canvas, faith is to our soul. Faith is that instrument by which God's grace is brought into contact with our life. Notice that Ephesians 2:8 declares, "For by grace you have been saved THROUGH FAITH." We are not saved BY faith; we are saved THROUGH faith. Faith is the channel, the medium, the instrument of salvation. A man is not saved by belief alone. He is saved by belief plus trust. In the 19th century, a world-famous acrobat named Blondin stunned his audiences with his many death-defying stunts. Among others, Blondin would cross the Niagara Falls on a tightrope 1,100 feet long and 160 feet above the water. One of his amazing feats included carrying a man across the Niagara Falls on his back on the tightrope. After successfully accomplishing this stunt, Blondin shouted to a man in the crowd below, "Do you believe I could do that with you on my back?" The man replied, "Of course. I just saw you do it!" Blondin replied, "Wonderful! Hop on and we'll go across together!" At that, the man in the crowd, replied, "Not on your life!" This unnamed man in the crowd is like too many professing Christians today. They have mental belief in Jesus Christ, but they have never dared to venture everything upon Him to be saved by Him. There can be no saving faith without trust.
Now, let's get back to our question. Can we boast of our faith? After all, it is my faith! God does not believe for me. If that is so, shouldn't we be able to take the credit, at least for our faith? The answer is an unequivocal NO! The reason is that faith comes to us as God's gift. Look at our text in Ephesians 2:8 again. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." There you have it! Faith is the gift of God! If someone gives you a new watch as a Christmas present, you don't go around boasting about the fact that you did something great to get it! You didn't do anything great to get it! It was given to you! You only received it!
I realize that you still may not be convinced that faith really is a gift of God. Much of the Christian church in America today teaches that faith comes not from God, but from ourselves. They believe that it is our contribution to salvation. God does 99%, but my faith is the 1% that I contribute towards my salvation. This implies that God is doing everything in His power to save everyone, but unless a person adds his/her faith of their own free will, God's hands are tied! Is that true? Not if faith comes to us as God's gift. But does it? Well, let's examine some other texts in the New Testament to see.
Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:1 (NASB)
Here we are told that faith is something that is received by us, not something that we contribute of ourselves.
For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake. Philippians 1:29 (NASB)
We are specifically told here that believing in Jesus is something that is GRANTED to us. A grant is a gift. If you receive a grant from a university, you are receiving a gift of a scholarship. Thus, if it is granted us to believe in Jesus, it is a gift of God.
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 6:23 (NASB)
In this passage we are told that peace, love and faith come from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord, NOT from ourselves.
And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he helped greatly those who had believed through grace. Acts 18:27 (NASB)
Believing in Christ comes through His grace, not our own efforts.
And He was saying, "For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father." John 6:65 (NASB)
What does it mean to come to Jesus? Jesus explains what it means in John 6:35 where He says "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst." Quite clearly here Jesus explains that to come to Him means to believe in Him. But equally as clearly in verse 65 He declares that this coming to Him can only happen if it has been granted from the Father. Thus, saving faith in Jesus Christ occurs only in those to whom this special gift is given.
You may be wondering, "In what sense is my faith a gift from God?" Your faith in Christ is the gift of God in the sense that your faith is the free, spontaneous and inevitable result of God's work in your heart. We call this work regeneration or being born again. As soon as God sovereignly gives spiritual life to a spiritually dead man, that man believes on Christ. Christ becomes irresistible to Him! He has no desire to run from Christ any longer. The Holy Spirit has shown Him the wretchedness and filth of his sin, and the loveliness and goodness of Christ to die for sinners like him. Just as the prodigal son returned home to his father's loving embrace, so too does the regenerated sinner run into the loving arms of Jesus Christ by faith. If God had not taken the first step, and regenerated us, we would never have believed in Christ at all! Our hearts were set upon sin, not upon trusting Christ. But now, having been freed from the slavery of sin, we find that it is natural for us to turn in faith to Christ as our Savior. By giving us a new heart, He has given us the gift (the ability) to believe savingly on Jesus Christ.
4. The Painting
We come now finally to observe the actual painting take shape. As the Master Artist applies the right colors to the right places on the canvas, the portrait becomes increasingly beautiful. We now begin to see the symmetry, form and shape of the portrait. It becomes a thing of real beauty before our very eyes, delightful to behold.
The beauty of the painting represents the Christian's life of good works. As God begins to work by His grace in our lives, and we begin to respond to Him in obedience, love, compassion, kindness, and humility, our lives begin to be a thing of real beauty, delightful to behold. But make careful note -- this Artist is not in a hurry. When God undertakes to make us into masterpieces of His grace, He takes His sweet time in doing it. We might wish that He would hurry the process along, but He knows exactly what He is doing. Slowly but surely we see the fruit of the Holy Spirit produced in our lives. Regrettably, we don't see perfection immediately. We see a little red here, a little green there. We will not see the perfection in our lives that we so long for until we see Him face to face.
If this beautiful painting represents the beauty of a Christian's life of good works, then we need to understand something about them. What does the Bible teach about good works? Well, it teaches us that we are not saved by them, but we are saved for them. Notice our text in Ephesians 2:10,
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus FOR good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10 (NASB)
They are not the root, but are the necessary fruit of our salvation. We are saved through faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone. We are not saved through faith PLUS works, but we are saved through a faith THAT works. We don't work to get saved, but we work because we ARE saved. No one more wholeheartedly repudiated good works as the ground of salvation than the Apostle Paul, but neither did anyone more strongly insist on good works as the fruit of salvation than the same apostle! Therefore, good works are important! In some Christian circles, "good works" are almost dirty words. These believers want to protect the truth that salvation is by grace apart from works so much that when they hear others speaking of the importance of good works in the life of a Christian, they see it as tantamount to legalism and works-righteousness. But the Bible doesn't read like that! Allow me to give you a quick sampling of the Biblical teaching on good works.
Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16 (NASB)
Evidently it is Christ's desire that we produce good works.
So that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. Colossians 1:10 (NASB)
We learn here that we please God by our good works.
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NASB)
The very purpose the Scriptures were given was to equip us to perform good works!
Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. Titus 2:14 (NASB)
Christ died to save a people out of the world who would be zealous for good deeds.
This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God may be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men. Titus 3:8 (NASB)
Here we learn that we must be careful to engage in good deeds.
And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds. Hebrews 10:24 (NASB)
In this text we see that we are to give careful thought as to how we can motivate others to good deeds.
Just as the sun was created to shine, the rose to give forth a delightful fragrance, and the bird to fly, so the Christian was created in Christ Jesus to abound in good works. Good works are the proof that we possess salvation!
Notice in our text that these good works were "prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." God has a blueprint for every life. Before our conversion He mapped out our spiritual career for us. We don't have to work out a plan for our lives. We are to just accept His plan which He drew up for us. We don't even have to prepare these good works. We are just to walk in them when He shows them to us! Oh, if we would just remember this, how freeing it would be for our lives! God came to the prophet Jeremiah and said, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations" (Jeremiah 1:5). It was true in Jeremiah's life that before he was even born God had already decided what good works he would be involved in. It is also true for you!
5. The Art Gallery
There's only one last thing I need to show you. It's the art gallery where the Master Artist hangs His masterpieces. When He is through with one of His paintings, He very carefully hangs it up in His gallery in His private mansion, so that when His friends and relatives drop by they can have the pleasure of seeing His creativity and skill. They are constantly amazed when they drop by to see the latest work of art. Their jaws gape open as they stand in awe and wonder at His ability! The gallery is full of works that are breathtakingly beautiful. No one can believe what treasures have been transformed from such ugly canvasses! Who would have thought that something so ugly could be turned into something so lovely?! All of this brings to light the greatness of the Artist!
The Master Artist's gallery represents the glory of heaven. Notice what our text says, "in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus," (Ephesians 2:7). In the untold millions of ages running on forever in eternity future, Almighty God will display to the watching universe what His grace is able to accomplish. The heavenly throng will be learning forever the greatness of His grace! Heaven will be the school. God will be teacher. Grace will be the subject. We will be the students. The school term will be eternity!
When the text says, "that He might show", the verb is in the middle voice, which means that God is doing this for Himself. God's purpose in salvation reaches beyond us. God's ultimate aim in all He does is His own glory, and He will accomplish it as the adoring multitudes look at what He has done in our lives!
Notice how the text puts it. The Bible doesn't just speak of "His kindness." It speaks of "His grace in kindness." But that isn't strong enough, so it says, "the riches of His grace in kindness." But even that isn't strong enough, so the Bible speaks of "the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness!" Throughout eternity we will be put on display as the masterpieces and monuments of His amazing grace!
The truths laid out in this pamphlet, though interesting, would be of little help to you unless you understand how to apply them to your life. The following are a few suggestions to help you do just that.
1. Allow These Truths To Encourage You
Perhaps you are looking at yourself today, and you don't like what you see. Take courage - He's not finished with you yet! Wait until He adds the blue and the green and you will be amazed. Sometimes when we look at a painting that is half way finished, it can be very confusing. We can have difficulty determining what the painting is supposed to be of. So too, sometimes our own lives may look a bit confusing. But wait until He's finished with you. I guarantee you will be happy with the finished product. Don't give up! If a canvas was unhappy with the way it looked, what could it do? Only lie still in the Master Artist's hands and receive the paint He applies from His brush. You must do the same! By faith, continually trust Him to work in you to will and to do of His good pleasure!
2. Allow These Truths To Comfort You
Be assured of this -- God's work will be completed. He never gives up on one of His masterpieces. Every work of art He begins, He completes! If we were creating a painting, we might quit because we grow weary, run out of paint, or get bored with the whole thing. But God is omnipotent and never gets weary, He has an infinite supply of grace and will never run out, and is delighted with what He is painting, not bored in the least! Trust Him! He will complete the good work He began in you! "He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus," (Philippians 1:6).
3. Allow These Truths To Excite You
Remember, your good works have been prepared beforehand! That means that the Christian life is an exciting adventure! We never know what good works God has prepared beforehand for us! We are just going to have to wait and see! I would never have dreamed that pastoring a church and teaching God's word was something that He prepared beforehand for me! I'm naturally a shy and reserved person. In school I hated public speaking, and would turn beet red when forced to do it. But when God called me to preach, He completely changed my desires and I find that I love doing what He has called me to do! Oh, look forward with excitement to what God will do in your life! See yourself as that canvas upon which the Master Artist is adding fresh color every day!
Some of you who are reading this may be canvasses that the Master Artist has just pulled out of the garbage heap. He is just now applying the white paint of His pardoning grace. You are just starting out on this Christian life. Others of you are almost nearing completion. In a few more deft strokes the Master Artist will be done with your life. You are nearing the end of your earthly life. No matter how long He has been working on you, entrust yourself to His skillful hands to make you into that object of beauty which will bring praise and glory to Him!