Brothers and sisters, God, Who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through 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 ages to come 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 the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
The Epistle reading for the upcoming Sunday reveals to us the inner heart of our God. Despite our wretchedness, our coldness which rebels against God's love, God still loves us. God does hate sin, but in His love He "could not endure to behold humanity oppressed by the devil" (from one of the prayers of Baptism service).
When God saw us dead through our trespasses, He gave us life, by uniting us to His Christ so that we share His Resurrection and His sitting at the Father's right hand in the heavenly places. As we also pray at Baptism that we may die the death the Christ died and be raised with His Resurrection. Through baptism we are united to Christ, we become part of His Body, His Church; therefore, we share His own life, His own Resurrection, and His own sitting at the Father's right hand.
We won't be raised from the dead like Christ did (because we are not gods), but we share His own Resurrection, so that we are raised with Christ. And since our baptism was not earned, but freely given, Saint Paul says that by grace we have been saved. Here we see the generosity of God, His limitless love. Even though, we were dead to Him through our trespasses, He saved us by grace so that in the life to come He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us.
Our salvation is the result of our faith, and faith is our repentant response to God and our discipleship (following) to Jesus. Faith is not our own accomplishment, however, it is something we freely choose to do, but it's not something we acquire on our own. We are have been saved through faith, which itself is the gift of God.
Thus, we have no reason to boast in front of others or in the presence of God. Humility, the foundation of all Orthodox spirituality, is built into our faith. In humility we also realize that we are not self-made, we are the creation of God. He has created us as His new creation in Christ Jesus. And as no person can take credit for his/her own creation so no one can boast of our new life, status, glory, or faith. It is entirely the work of God.
God created us for a specific reason, and that reason was not for our own pleasure, not to pursue our own ends and destinies, but to glorify Him. Or as Paul says, "...for good works." Our works, everything we do, should glorify God, if it doesn't, then we might be doing something wrong. Good works are inseparable from the Christian life, and no one can be saved without them. However, the good works are not the ground and cause of our salvation. Saint Paul just said that our salvation is not our own doing, it is not the result of our works. Rather, good works are what the Christian life is all about. Good works do not lead to salvation, good works are the result of our salvation.
More than that, God has prepared good works beforehand to be our way of life. This means that before even the creation of this world, God had planned that we should be radiate with the light of kindness and love. This is our predestination, all of us. God predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29), to be like Him. The practical aspect of this conformity is our walking in good works. To be conformed to the image of Christ means not only our glorification in the age to come, but it also means "shining like stars in the world" (Philippians 2:15) now.
The above is based on the commentary of Fr Lawrence Farley, "The Prison Epistles."
Yours in the Lord,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest