Dead or alive.
These are the only two categories of human beings Paul laid out for us in one of the most clear and concise presentations of the gospel found in the Bible. In Ephesians 2:1-10, the apostle starts with the devastating news that all of humanity is dead. Not wandering; not in need; not even in danger – but spiritually lifeless. And just as a corpse cannot resuscitate itself, so the spiritually dead are unable to change their condition. But then we come to verse 4:
But God had mercy. But God loved us. But God intervened, and just as He brought order from the chaos in Genesis 1, He breathed life into the deadness of humanity one by one as He awakened us to the truth of the gospel. This message is not how bad people can be good people; it’s how dead people can be living people. According to Paul, the equation of salvation is pretty simple:
“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).
Salvation is by grace, through faith, and unto good works. All three components are necessary and work in tandem with each other. In that equation, there is a wonderful word that reminds us of the great artistry of God. In Christ, we are “His creation.” Other translations say we are His workmanship, or even more descriptively, His masterpiece. Like an artist who crafts his seminal and defining work, so does God re-create us in Christ, bringing us to spiritual life, so that we might walk in the good He has carefully planned out for us before we were even knitted together in our mother’s wombs.
When we think about this, that we are the masterpiece of God, our minds drift to the picture of a painter who one stroke at a time, intentionally paints line after line the perfect beauty that comes out on canvas. It’s a great mental picture, but not, I believe, one that truly captures the creativity and redemption of what God does in His children. That’s because this picture is too clean.
Maybe God’s masterpiece is less like a painting and more like a mosaic.
A mosaic is the process of taking shards of material – glass, stone, or most anything else – and assembling them in a recognizable pattern. It takes seemingly unrelated and in many cases useless things and puts them together to reveal something only in the mind and the heart of the artist. That’s starting to feel a bit more right, isn’t it?
All of us have those shards in our lives. They’re broken pieces of experiences, relationships, and patterns of living. They’re the leftovers of sinful choices, painful circumstances, and seasons of suffering. They’re the remnants of what seems like has fallen apart, and perhaps they would remain that way, “but God…”
But God is in the habit of putting broken pieces back together. And when He does, He makes something completely new and different with the old. He doesn’t put life back the way it was; in fact, no one could guess entirely what He’s making as He puts those pieces together, but when He’s done, you begin to see how it all comes together to form something beautiful. Mysteriously, painfully, beautiful.
Who could have guessed what God was doing when all life broke apart the day Adam and Eve ate the fruit? Who could know what was in His heart when the children of Israel were scattered to the nations? Who would have imagined how things would ever be okay again when there was 400 years of silence after the Old Testament? And then came that one Friday, when all the hopes and dreams of the true believers were nailed to a cross outside of Jerusalem. What could God be doing with this mess? This bloody, terrible, disfigured mess?
But then, over time, the pieces begin to come together. No outliers; no random pieces. Everything intentionally put back together, but done so in a way that you could never see coming.
Maybe that’s encouraging to you if your life doesn’t feel like a masterpiece today. Maybe today you look down and only see bits of broken glass. God is a good artist. But maybe not the kind you’re expecting.