Salvation is Only a Work that God Can Do

"The Vision of The Valley of The Dry Bones", Gustave Doré, 1866
“The Vision of The Valley of The Dry Bones”, Gustave Doré, 1866

Our focus passage from this last week was the familiar passage (at least familiar relative to other parts of Ezekiel) of the valley of dry bones. God brings Ezekiel to a place full of death. There are bones that are long dead and have dried up. They appear to be hopeless, for who holds out hope that life can return to a corpse, let alone the bones that remain after years of decay? But God commands Ezekiel to speak this prophecy to the bones:

O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.

Ezekiel 37:4b-6

As God had described it so it happened. Ezekiel witnesses dry bones covered with sinews and then flesh. But just to have appearance of the living is not enough. God then breathes life, Spirit, into the bodies. Then they stood as a great army.

These bones represent the whole house of Israel that believed itself beyond hope, but God still had a plan for them. He would revive them and put his Spirit within them. Just as it was with the vision of the bones, the work God would do in Israel would be miraculous and therefore would cause the people to know whose hand was behind this. Then the people would know God is the Lord for only God could save them from death and gift them with life.

This chapter describes the work of God for a nation in exile and suffering from their sins, but the miracle of turning death to life is described as well in the New Testament. I find that Ephesians 2 parallels this in some ways.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:1-10

Like the dry bones, we were dead. What could the bones do to restore flesh and life? Nothing. As a people dead in our sins, how could we save ourselves? We lived according to the sinful ways of the world, like the people of God in Ezekiel. They acted just like the nations surrounding them and suffered discipline for their disobedience. Likewise we are described here as children of wrath, just like the rest of mankind. But God rescues us in both situations and it is not because we deserved it. I see two reasons, first that God is merciful and loving to his people.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…

Imagine reading that passage and ending before this verse. It is a dire situation. That is a pretty big “but” that comes to our aid. The situation was dire as well for the people in exile. In both, all hope is lost if not for the intervention of a gracious God. It is and has always been “by grace you have been saved.”

The other reason that God would do such a thing is that it fits in with his perfect plan. In Ephesians we see lines like, “so that in the coming age he might show immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” and “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” Ezekiel is full of the line, “that you may know that I am the Lord your God.” God’s work for the whole house of Israel is a testimony to his character and his grace and he wants the people to know, and he wants the world to know. We are chosen not to merely enjoy a blessing, but to also carry a great responsibility in God’s plan for this world.

God saves us from our sin and he raises us up with Christ. He does so because he has a plan for us. That plan is one of blessing, surely. But it blessing to be shared. His saving us is not a result of good works, but it is part of a plan that God prepared beforehand that leads to good works for his sake.

It is only because of God’s grace could we receive such mercy and love. Like dry bones, we could not bring back life. Even if we could somehow restore flesh and sinews, we still would lack life–the breath of God within us. Fortunately his plan did not call for us to remain dead. His plan was for us to have a life where we walk in his ways. This plan bought us back from death, restored us, and raised us to life with and because of our Lord Jesus Christ.