You are NOT God’s Masterpiece

August 3, 2013 in Theology · 7 comments

cezanne-card-players

The New Living Translations of Ephesians 2.10 says “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

I’ve often heard this verse extolled as a sort of self-affirming mantra to fall back on when you’re feeling down about yourself. Most recently I encountered it in this tweet from Joel Osteen: “You are not average. You have been custom made. You are God’s masterpiece.”

Before we discuss the issues with being “God’s masterpiece,” let’s rebel a little and take a look at what the text really says.

The word the NLT translates as “masterpiece” is ποίημα, which means, according to BDAG: “that which is made, work, creation.” This meaning is clearly reflected in every other English translation of Ephesians 2.10. Of the 38 translations I surveyed, only the NLT used the word masterpiece. The most common word used in other translations was “workmanship,” as reflected in the NAS: “For we are His workmanship.” The NIV uses “handiwork,” the NRSV opts for the woodenly literal “what he has made.”

Ποίημα pops up two other times in the Bible, in Romans 1.20 and in the LXX in Psalm 143.5. The NLT translates these occurrences as “everything God made” and “what you have done,” respectively. In those same instances the NIV uses “what has been made” and “what (your hands) have done.”

So, simply speaking, ποίημα means something God has made. As Christians, God made us again in Christ. But does that mean we’re God’s masterpiece?

A masterpiece represent the pinnacle of creative achievement, a work that stands in contrast to creations that are not masterpieces. To say that something is a masterpiece is to say that there are other creations that are merely average. Masterpiece is a term of comparative evaluation, it’s a measure against inferior workmanship. To say that we are God’s masterpiece is to say that God has done work that isn’t masterful and that we are superior to that second-rate work. Needless to say, neither of those notions are theologically sound.

Ephesians 2.10 is talking about the work of God in creating a Christian and about the purpose of that work. It’s not an evaluation of that work in relation to non-Christians or to other Christians. It’s not a measure of our personal worth or relative value in the eyes of God. God’s work in us isn’t something we should boast about (Eph 2.9) nor is it merely an abstract undertaking to be valued as a purely artistic endeavor. It’s a creation with a purpose: to do good works.

I’m sorry to break it to you, but you don’t represent the height of God’s artistic achievement, a painting to be hung on the wall and valued above all others. Rather, if you’re a Christian, you’ve been made so by God for the purpose of doing good in the world. You’re not an esoteric piece of art, you’re a tool for good. Ephesians 2.10 isn’t a message to build our self-esteem, it’s a call to humbly live up to the mission that’s been put before us.

7 comments… read them below or add one

Anna August 4, 2013 at 10:05 pm

Love your take on the text!

Reply

Dan August 5, 2013 at 8:11 am

Thanks!

Reply

Mike McCandless August 5, 2013 at 7:51 am

Point taken. Isn’t humanity called the “crown of creation” in the OT? Maybe the NLT translators were influenced by that passage. In any case, whether we’re his masterpiece or not, we have a lot of explaining to do for not doing our part in his plan.

Reply

Dan August 5, 2013 at 8:15 am

You can certainly make a very good case that humanity as a whole has a unique value in relation to God…though I don’t think that relegates the rest of creation to a lesser status. Regardless your last point is very well taken — it’s a sobering challenge.

Reply

Steve Matthews December 14, 2013 at 6:24 pm

God does not make “junk” or “average” things especially man as we are made in his image and his image is certainly ‘a masterpiece’. I would be very careful about making such statements. The Greek word is the same we derive our word POEM from. Whether a man is like a poem, a picture Rembrandt, or whatever, since God made it, compared to anything we know, it must stand as a MASTERPIECE.

Reply

Dan December 17, 2013 at 9:10 am

Wow. It’s like you didn’t read anything that I wrote! But thanks for stopping by!

Reply

Diane Waltman December 31, 2013 at 4:59 pm

I was sexually, mentally, emotionally and verbally abused by my grandfather as far back as I can remember. He did many terrible things, some of which are too distasteful for me to talk about publicly. I want to share my testimony, because so many people have been hurt, and they need to realize that someone has made it through their struggles so they can have hope. More than anything, I want you to know and really understand that anyone who has been abused can fully recover if they will give their life completely to the Lord…It may seem impossible, but God’s truth has set me free from a life of pretense and lies and has restored my soul. I am living proof that nothing is too hard for God. No matter what you’ve been through or how bad you’ve been hurt, there is hope!
My book is available at Amazon and I would love for each person who has liked this page to order a copy. Each copy sold will go toward the prevention of child abuse across the country and world. The Little Girl Inside. God Bless, Diane Waltman

Reply

Leave a Reply

Previous post:

Next post: