Wednesday, July 21, 2021


“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Remember pet rocks? Five million of those useless things were sold in 1975-76. They were marketed to people with a droll sense of humor and no time or energy to devote to a real pet. Like any fad they quickly disappeared, but for a brief period of time the pet rock craze made the people who came up with the idea some serious money.

Built for a Purpose vs. Purpose-Built

Someone has rightly pointed out that everything ever built was built for a purpose. Even something as pointless and trivial a pet rock is marketed purposefully. But being built for a purpose is different from being purpose-built. All cell phones are built to make and receive phone calls, but not all cell phones are designed for environments in which only a rugged device will survive. We would say the latter sort of cell phone is purpose-built, whereas the generic Walmart $70 unit — which still does its job perfectly well under normal circumstances — is not.

What I believe the apostle Paul is saying about Christians in the verse we have quoted above is not just that we have all been created in Christ Jesus for good works, like the cell phone you can use to make and receive calls, but that each believer is uniquely purpose-built. Long before you ever came to the place where you acknowledged Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord of your life, God knew all about it and was planning ahead. There is a specific set of good works prepared for which you — and only you — were designed.

When Opportunity Knocks

We see this in the apostle’s own experience, don’t we? The circumstances of the life of Saul of Tarsus — including the privilege of studying the Old Testament scriptures under rabbi Gamaliel and his timely presence at the stoning of Stephen — were carefully ordered so as to put him in just the right place at just the right time with just the skills, drive and motivations that would enable the Lord to transform the world of Paul’s day through his efforts in only a few years. Lots of first century Christians went out to do missionary work, but nobody else could have done exactly what Paul did. He was purpose-built. (So were they, just for different purposes.)

So there he is in Damascus, only just converted, and he is immediately proclaiming Jesus in the synagogues. How did that opportunity present itself so quickly? I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have happened had not God prepared beforehand a specific set of good works in which he intended his servant to walk. A Gentile Christian would get no traction in such a situation. The most scripturally-literate and godly Jewish woman in the world could not have stood up in a synagogue and spoken like Paul did in that cultural context. It was forbidden. Even Peter, Andrew, James or John would not have had the same freedom to make themselves heard among educated Jews in Damascus. They were “uneducated, common men”. Paul was not, and God had planned it that way.

Gifts, Service, Activities

We see this idea again in Paul’s teaching about spiritual gifts. There are varieties of gifts, varieties of service and varieties of activities. The same Spirit gives them, the same Lord directs them and the same God empowers them, but the gift itself, the context and the circumstances in which it was designed to be used all vary from believer to believer. Even if you and I both have teaching gifts, the techniques I use when I teach, the content of what I teach, and the type of audience for which I am burdened will all be a little bit different than yours. My history, my interests and my insights will all be different from yours, because we are purpose-built, and no two Christians are exactly alike.

Moreover, because we are purpose-built, no two believers have exactly the same set of opportunities or fields of service. The people I can reach where the Lord has put me in life are different from those you can reach in the place he has put you.

Hanging on the Garage Wall

Now, I firmly believe God prepared a specific set of things for each of us to do, but I do not believe he makes us do them. Each opportunity for service, each learning and growing experience God presents to us, can easily be refused. Each moment in which I could be using my gifts, experience and spiritual skill set for the glory of God is equally a moment in which I can choose to use them to make a reputation for myself, to promote some inferior agenda, or not to use them at all. A purpose-built tool may be able to do all kinds of things well, but it may just as easily be left hanging on the garage wall. We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works prepared beforehand, but it falls to each of us to get up and actually walk in them, and to do it joyously and well, as opposed to shoddily and grumpily.

Christ is the foundation of God’s house, but men and women choose to build in that house with different materials. I can use gold, silver and precious stones if I wish, but God will not make me do so. I can always use wood, hay and straw instead if I am so inclined. There is a vast difference in reward, of course, but the choice is left to me. And if I choose to use inferior materials in my service for the Lord, bear in mind that I am using them in situations that may never be repeated again. By building badly, I may hinder others from building well, making their efforts unnecessarily difficult, and forcing them to repair the messes I have made before they can build on that work themselves.

Does that sound like an awful lot of responsibility to you?

Yeah, me too.

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