God took Jeremiah down to the potter’s house to teach him a valuable lesson, a lesson that each of us desperately needs to learn this morning. The lesson is so important for us to learn because somehow, some way, we have convinced ourselves that we are the final authority, we are the determiner of what is right and true, what is to be acceptable concerning what God is like, and what God does and doesn’t do. God took Jeremiah down to the potter’s house and this morning I want to begin our time together in God’s Word by inviting all of us to make that journey with Jeremiah once again. Let’s read together from Jeremiah 18:1-6.

1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. 4 But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. 5 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. (Jeremiah 18:1-6 NIV)

By the time Jeremiah leaves the potter’s house he knows for certain that he and every other person on the planet is merely clay on the Potter’s wheel. The lesson which we need to get a firm grasp upon this morning is that God is God and we are clay on the Potter’s wheel.

The imagery of the potter and the clay is used over and over again throughout the Bible. Each and every time the imagery is used the same message is being conveyed. Let me show you a few of the instances of the appearance of the potter and the clay. First, turn with me to Isaiah 29:15-16.

15 Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the LORD, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?” 16 You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “He did not make me”? Can the pot say of the potter, “He knows nothing?” (Isaiah 29:15-16 NIV)

I love the phrase, “You turn things upside down…” Isn’t that exactly what we’ve done today? We’ve put ourselves in the place of God. We’ve decided that we will be the captain of our own ship, we will determine our own course through this life, and we are quick to say what God will do, won’t do, or could never do with our lives. We’ve turned things upside down. Let’s take another look at the potter and the clay in the prophet Isaiah. Turn with me to Isaiah 45:7-11.

7 I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things. 8 “You heavens above, rain down righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness grow with it; I, the LORD, have created it. 9 “Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘He has no hands’? 10 Woe to him who says to his father, ‘What have you begotten?’ or to his mother, ‘What have you brought to birth?’ 11 “This is what the LORD says– the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? (Isaiah 45:7-11 NIV)

The very first verse confirms my statement about how we have determined what God will or won’t do in our lives and in the world. God says, “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.” We don’t have any problem believing that God creates prosperity, that He gives us all of the things that we have placed under the heading, “Good Things,” but we would never agree with God’s statement that He “brings disaster.” We state emphatically that the troubles of this life, the hardships we face as individuals and as nations are unknown to God–He would never do such a thing! Oh really? That’s not what God says. Our place is on the wheel my friends. Our place is to recognize the Potter who is at work. The Potter is molding us, shaping us, conforming us to the image of His Son as He does His work through the events, all of the events, of our lives.

The same theme of the potter and the clay is picked up by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament. In Romans 9, Paul writes to the folks in Rome about what God has done. He has chosen the Israelites as His Covenant people and yet they have rejected Jesus. God chose to intervene in Sarah’s life when she was past the time of childbearing. God chose Jacob over Esau for no apparent reason other than that is what God chose to do. God chose to raise up Pharaoh for a purpose and the purpose was to put on display God’s mighty power throughout the earth. We might not agree with what God has done. We might not like God’s methods or purposes in history, but we must remember that He alone is God and we are not.

We people are very good at questioning the decisions that others make. A coach will make a call to go for the win instead of tying the game and going into overtime and every man who ever played Pee Wee football knows what a dumb decision the coach just made. A parent will make a decision about where to send their child to school and some of their friends will comment to one another, “Well, I would never do that to my kid!” Employees learn about a new decision made by the owners of the company and they will gather around the water cooler and question the wisdom of the new policies. And let’s not forget church folks. Church folks are quicker on the trigger than Rooster Cogburn when it comes to criticizing and second guessing aren’t they?

We question one another’s wisdom and decision making all of the time. I’ve learned the hard way that when others question me I need to listen because I’m so limited in my understanding, I don’t know much at all, and I need the input of others. When it comes to questioning what God is doing and why He is doing it then we have exited the realm of sanity and are most certainly going to miss what God is trying to do in our lives. Paul puts it this way.

20 But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?'” 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? (Romans 9:20-21 NIV)

Our understanding of who God is and who we are makes all of the difference in the world in how we go through this life. If we get the answers to these questions wrong then it can be devastating and cause us tremendous problems in dealing with life. When we understand that He is the Potter and we are the clay then life does not get any easier, but we have the assurance that the Potter is at work.

I’ve shared all of this with you to simply lay the groundwork for our Scripture for this morning. If you will turn with me to Ephesians 2:10. Let’s read it together.

10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10 NIV)

“We are God’s workmanship,” we are the clay on the Potter’s wheel, and we have been created with purpose. The Greek word that Paul uses for “workmanship” is a very interesting word. The Greek word is, “??????” (poiema), and it means, “That which has been made, a work, it applies to the works of God as Creator.” Dr. Walter Liefield has some helpful thoughts for us concerning this word,

The word workmanship was used in ancient Greek literature to refer to what a person made or did. Among other things it could refer to literary works, such as a poem. Christians used it in its more general sense and applied it to God’s creation, as Paul did in Romans 1:20. Here, as the work that God produces, it stands in contrast to the mere human works in the previous verse that are unable to save us. Salvation cannot be our work, not only because it is God’s work but because we are God’s work, his new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). (Liefield, Walter. Ephesians. InterVarsity Press. Downers Grove, Ill. 1997. pg. 66)

Just as a sculptor, writer, builder, or artist creates, so is God the Creator. He created us, or as the Psalmist puts it,

13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. (Psalm 139:13 NIV)

God created us, He gave us life, we didn’t do that on our own, and any parent who has ever witnessed the birth of a child knows that they had very little to do with the creation of that precious little baby. God not only created us, but He “recreated” us. Because of sin, we are born spiritually lifeless, there is no sign of spiritual life in us whatsoever, but God, who is rich in mercy, acted on our behalf. Remember what Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:4-5? Let’s read it together.

4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5 NIV)

God made us alive, He recreated us, gave us new life through His Son Jesus. This is what Paul is referring to in Ephesians 2:10 when he writes, “

10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10 NIV)

We Are The Work of God

We are the work of God. We are completely the work of God. He gave us life when we were knit together in our mother’s womb and He gave us spiritual life through our relationship with the life-giving Savior. So, if we will stick to what the Scriptures say we will see that He has created us, He has recreated us, and we are now, in Christ, a new creation. Paul wrote to the folks in Corinth and told them,

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV)

God’s Purpose in our Recreation

Our God is a God of purpose and what He has done on our behalf He has done with purpose. We learned last week that God has done this in order to display His incomparably rich grace, shown through His kindness to us, to this dark, dead world. We are to be living examples of God’s rich mercy and grace to a cold and dead world full of spiritual zombies. Ephesians 2:10 makes it clear to us that our role in this demonstration of Almighty God is not the same as fashion designers who put their material creations on display in department store windows. In other words, we are not lifeless mannequins or models who simply parade up and down runways. He has given us life, He has opened the door for us to walk in relationship with Him as we walk through this world so that we might have new eyes to see what we were unable to see, so that we might have new ears to hear what we had previously been unable to hear, and that we might have a new heart, a heart that is broken with the things that break His heart. This change is put into effect so that we might act on behalf of the broken, lost, and lonely that He places in our path. We were recreated in Christ Jesus to do good works.

Now, we must be very careful at this point. We need to be reminded that our works will never save us, our works will never get us a better seat in the Kingdom, and our good works, if not understood for what they are, can lead to spiritual arrogance and pride. John MacArthur said, “Although they have no part in gaining salvation, good works have a great deal to do with living out salvation. No good works can produce salvation, but many good works are produced by salvation.” (MacArthur, John. The New Testament Commentary: Ephesians. pg. 62.) We have to remember that any created thing points to a Creator, right?

Our Work is His Work

If you were to go to the Louvre in Paris, France and visit the Mona Lisa you would know that Leonardo Da Vinci was an amazing artist. You would know that the painting didn’t create itself—it had a creator. The most famous sculpture in the world is in Florence, Italy—Michelangelo’s “David.” As you look at Michelangelo’s sculpture you recognize the incredible creative ability of the artist, not the marble. The good work done by Leonardo Da Vinci on the canvas draws attention to the good work done by the artist. The good work done by Michelangelo on a block of marble draws attention to the good work done by the sculptor. We praise people for their creative work and yet Paul wants you and me to see that there is a Creator behind each of our works. “Our work” is truly “His work” done through us. Our work serves to draw attention to the Master Artist who continues His work through us. Jesus said,

16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16 NIV)

How do we “let our light shine before men?” It’s not complicated at all. We are to live as Jesus lived, we are to do the things that Jesus did, we are to die to ourselves and live for His glory. You say, “Well, I haven’t seen anyone raise the dead lately so how am I to do what Jesus did?” Jesus’ mission in life wasn’t to raise the dead. As a matter of fact, during Jesus’ life He raised the dead three times. He raised the widow’s son at Nain (Luke 7:11-17), He raised Jairus’ daughter (Matthew 9:18-26), and He raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11). Jesus’ mission wasn’t to raise the dead, but it was to serve. He says so Himself in Mark’s Gospel.

45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45 NIV)

Jesus came to serve and then to give His life for ours, to offer Himself as a sacrifice on Calvary’s Cross for the forgiveness of our sins. “Serving” was His mission. “Serving” is our calling. “Serving” is the good work that God has planned for you and me. As we live our lives as servants others will take notice and we will point them to the Father, the Artist who is at work in our lives. So, we are saved for good works, not by good works.

The Good Work is Before You

Someone may ask, “What good works am I to do?” That is a great question and the answer is, “It is right before you.” As you and I live our lives God presents opportunities before us each and every day. You may run into someone at work who is going through a difficult time in their marriage. Most people are too busy or do not want to get involved—God is calling you to reach out and be a friend, a support, offer a prayer, to walk with your friend through that trial. You may hear about someone who has lost their job and they are struggling to pay their bills. God is calling you to help. I can’t tell you if He is calling you to give them money, a place to stay, to gather clothes from your closet or your friend’s closets, or to cook them meals, but He is calling you to get involved. If you will listen He will lead you in getting involved. There was a little girl in our church who needed a home. I sent out an email and some newlyweds got in touch with me and said, “We believe God is calling us to help her family by taking her into our home.” Someone in our church needed a car. Some folks got together and said, “God is calling us to get involved.” They pooled their money and she got a car so she could carry out her ministry. I have no idea what “good works” God has called you to, but I know that they are right in front of you if you will have eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart that is open to what God is wanting to do through you.

There is one more thing about these “good works” that you need to know about. Let’s take one more look at Ephesians 2:10.

10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10 NIV)

It is that last phrase that I want us to focus on before we leave here this morning—“which God prepared in advance for us to do.” It’s the phrase “to do” that I want us to understand. The Greek word, “?????????” (peripateo) means, “to walk, to live, or to conduct one’s self.” The NIV doesn’t really make this clear to us so let me show you a couple of other translations. Both the Revised Standard Version and the New American Standard Version get it right. Listen to this.

“…which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10 NAS)

Walk the Walk of God’s Good Works

God has already prepared for you and me the good works that He intends for us to do, but we must walk in them, we must live them out, we must step through the door of opportunity and allow God to use us. This passage ties together what Paul has said about our life prior to Jesus coming in and our life now that we are living in Him. In Ephesians 2:2 we learned about our walk before Christ. Read it with me.

2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. (Ephesians 2:1-2 NAS)

We used to walk, we use to live, in a totally different way than we do once Jesus becomes Lord and Master of our lives. Peter O’Brien has written about the contrast.

There was a time when we walked in disobedience and sin, followed the ways of this world, were in terrible bondage to the devil, and were destined for wrath. But now because of God’s might salvation in which a glorious change has been effected, we are expected, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, to demonstrate a changed life-style. Our attitudes and behavior are to show all the hallmarks of the new creation. (O’Brien, Peter. The Letter to the Ephesians. William B. Erdman’s Publishing Company. 1999. pg. 181)

Some Christians cringe at the thought that there is work to do. As they slouch in their salvation and lounge around in their comfortable pseudo Christianity they say, “I don’t have to feed the hungry, visit the sick and imprisoned, comfort the broken, and clothe the naked. I’m saved by grace not by works.” The truth of the matter is that if that is the way you feel then you probably don’t know Jesus at all. You are perverting God’s grace. Faith without works is dead. The reason I can say that is because God is the one who is at work in His people so if you are His people then His work is going to be evident in your life. Our works are not for our salvation, but they are the fruit of our salvation.

The question must be asked this morning, “Are you walking in the good works the Lord has planned for you? As Jesus reached out to the lost, cared for the sick, bound up the broken, and met the needs of the poor—are you walking in His steps?” If not, why not? Is it because you have never given your life to Jesus? Then why don’t you do that this morning? He will begin a work in you that you cannot even imagine and the work He does in you will translate into work that He does through you. Won’t you invite Him in?

Mike Hays
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
January 22, 2012

We Are His Workmanship
Ephesians 2:10