Our condition at the beginning is a key to the entire picture. We start out dead because of sin, so only God can bring us back to life:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to this worldly age, according to the ruler of the atmospheric domain, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and by nature we were children under wrath, as the others were also. But God, who is abundant in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. By grace you are saved! He also raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavens, in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation—created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.
It could hardly be clearer. We were spiritually dead before God. We were absolutely powerless to do anything on our own behalf. The “you” and “we” in this passage are Gentiles and Jews, respectively. All had sinned, Paul told us in Romans 3, and the apostle tells us the same thing here in different words. In the midst of this terrible dilemma, God shows up. He shows up full of mercy. Mercy is something God does because He wants to, not because He has to. He shows up full of love. God chooses to make us alive in Christ. God gives us a place with Him in heaven, making us a part of His family.
So in the end, salvation is His gift, not from works. Those who benefit from God’s grace are the work of His creative hands, experiencing a new life in a new birth, what Scripture calls elsewhere “being born from above” or “born again.” And yet, despite all Paul says about works, he does not throw them away.
This is another part of Paul’s teaching we often miss. Works are a product of the new life of faith. Faith saves and faith works. We were “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.” Why does God save us? So that we can again be useful, fulfilling the design that He originally had for us.
That is true fulfillment—walking in the purpose for which we were made. Good works are the indicator that salvation has taken place. When we are born again, we are God’s creation, His living poems. The word for creation in Ephesians 2:10 describes something someone else, in this case God, has brought into existence. We are designed for good works. We are built to serve and be useful. God designed this path so that having been saved and enabled in this new relationship, we can now walk in the good labor He designed for us originally to perform.
Bock, Darrell (2010-10-28). Recovering the Real Lost Gospel (pp. 63-64). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.