“For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand in order that we might walk in them.”
The word ποίημα (poiema) refers to that which has been made by another, more typically, a creation made by the hands of another. This is a theme that is present from the beginning of the Bible to the very end. God made Adam and Eve and God will remake us as glorified beings. God made the creation and God will remake the creation in the new heavens and earth. God is the potter and we are the clay. We are described as “new creations” in our regeneration as we are made believers and disciples of Jesus by the work of God’s hands.
There are two observations that ought to be driven home by these words. The first is that the created thing has no say over how it is created or what its purpose will be. The creator has the power and the right to make some items for honored use and others for dishonorable use. The clay has no rights over the potter but the potter has complete rights over the clay. We have talked a great deal about God’s sovereignty in election thus far, in the context of this passage, we can add to it the notion of God’s sovereignty in our sanctification. God has remade us and in that making, we are not our own. We belong to our maker and He and only He has the right to determine what we should or should not be doing.
In a broad sense, it is good works for which we have been created. And you will notice that those good works were prepared for us beforehand. In other words, God does not create us and then say, “Hmmm…how shall I use this person?” God has a purpose and a plan and creates us with that purpose and plan in mind. To simplify the idea with an analogy, a regular screwdriver can be used for lots of things — prying open cans of paint, loosening jammed windows or doors, banging in a nail or brad. Yet, a regular screwdriver was not created to do these things; it was created to tighten and loosen screws whose slots match the slot on the screwdriver. When used that way, its function will be best served and it will last longer without being broken or otherwise damaged. yet, the company doesn’t just put material in a mold and wonder what is going to come out. They set forth to manufacture a regular screwdriver that can be used to tighten or loosen flat-head screws. God has made you and me in a certain way with certain purposes in mind. Our design is thus different and situated to our calling; we will live longer and more fulfilled lives if we live in accordance with that design.
The second point that is worth noting here is that when God does a work of creating something anew, it is normally found in the context of redemption. God is redeeming the creation in the new creation to come. Even the remaking of the world as a result of the Flood is a kind of redemption — the land washed clean from the filth of sin. And, so when Paul is using this language, calling Christians a craftsmanship of God, a new creation, etc…, we should see this as a reference to redemption. Not just to our individual redemption but also to our redemption as part of the body of Christ. And so, as we think about the notion of being redeemed as a new creation for the purpose of good works, we ought to ask ourselves how we can best live out that role.
“Even if he should live a thousand years two times over, but goodness he has not seen, is it not to one place that every man goes?”
No human being that has ever walked the face of the earth has ever made it to his thousandth birthday…none. Methuselah was the oldest recorded living man at 969 years with Adam “close” behind at 930 years, but no one hit 1000. And so, Solomon’s point is driven home — even if one were to live as long as Methuselah and then live that lifetime all over again, but has not enjoyed goodness which comes from God and a proper understanding of the works of our hands, his life was not worth living. He will go to the same spot as that stillborn baby.
There are two ways to apply this. The first would be to highlight the hyperbole that Solomon is making and illustrate the fact that no matter how many good works you do, no matter how many children you father (or mother), and no matter how much wealth you accumulate, you return naked to the grave and your corpse will return to dust. You cannot merit God’s favor, even if you had two-thousand years to do so (or, as Abraham ibn Ezra, the medieval Jewish commentator renders it… a thousand times a thousand years). Yet, this idea we have previously explored as we have worked through Solomon’s text, so we will leave this one as it stands.
The second way to apply this is to look at the text in its more literal application. Though no human being has ever lived 1,000 (let alone 2,000) years on the earth, we must remember that humans are immortal. Thus, in a real sense, one can talk about those who have “lived” (in the broadest sense of the term) for thousands of years. When one dies, his spirit goes either into the presence of God or the presence of Satan based and this anticipates a resurrection to life and a resurrection to death that will take place at the second-coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The believers will be resurrected to glorified bodies and the blessedness of life-eternal in God’s perfect presence. Unbelievers will be resurrected to bodies of death that will be able to sustain the eternal torments of Hell — always dying but never eternally dead or annihilated.
And, in this latter case, we can talk confidently of those who dwell for ages, even millennia but who experience no goodness. And Solomon’s words echo back to us that this too is not worth living…it is a waste from the perspective of the one living that life. Truly, in God’s economy, there is no such thing as a truly wasted life, for even the wicked who will be under the wrath of God are so punished as a demonstration of God’s power (Romans 9:22-23).
John Piper wrote a book a few years back, entitled: Don’t Waste Your Life. Solomon’s response to this idea would be to say to us that if we live our lives devoid of the goodness of God, then our life is truly amongst the things we have wasted.