If John 3:16 is the most popular passage in the New Testament, I would guess that Ephesians 2:8 is probably in the top ten. At least, this is true for those of us who spent any time in more evangelical circles.
For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God…
For those who didn’t have Ephesians 2:8 drilled into their hearts and minds at one form of church camp or another, it is probably easier to read the entirety Ephesians passage as a whole. Those who accomplish such a task, are blessed when they reach the final verse of Sunday’s Epistle Lesson and read, “For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” In the NRSV, unlike some other translations, the passage ends with a delightful idiomatic double entendre. By choosing to translate a Greek phrase that essentially means “for us to walk in” as “our way of life,” the authors of the NRSV have invited us to see God’s creation of us through Christ for good works in two distinct ways.
First, and most obviously in the English, this phrase plays on the idiomatic expression of ones way of life as a typical pattern of behavior. That is, those who follow Christ will, by their very nature, be driven to good works, toward charity, toward acts of mercy, and toward being ministers of compassion. That this is not the case is a testimony of our sinfulness and our predisposition toward selfishness. Or, as John puts it, our love of darkness.
It is with John’s Prologue as well as Sunday’s Gospel passage in mind that I find myself reading the end of the Ephesians lesson not descriptively, but prescriptively. That is, what if the translation way of life isn’t so much about our normal patterns of behavior, but an actual way? As in, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. The good works, which God has prepared for us in Christ Jesus are the way of life, the path of life, the road map we should follow toward eternal life. This reading, I think, follows more closely the Greek, which suggests that God has created good works for us to walk in. As disciples, then, our task is to have our eyes open to see God’s hand at work in the world about us, looking for opportunities for good works as pathway markers, like a cairn in the woods, toward the Kingdom of God. In spite of our way of life being aimed towards selfish desires, in Christ Jesus, God offers us a path to follow that is the way of life.