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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Life and Death (Ephesians 2:1-10)

January 13, 2009
Sermon by: Robert Austell

Today we are looking at an amazing description of what God has done for us through His son, Jesus Christ. This passage follows an extended description of God’s goodness and graciousness in chapter one, where Paul describes a number of “spiritual blessings” and “gifts in Christ” and then prays for us to understand and know those blessings and gifts.

In Ephesians 2, Paul goes on to explain the ultimate gift of God and why God gave it. If you think back to Christmas, two very important things you want to know about every gift are “What is this?” and “Who gave this to me?” Those are the questions Paul answers in this morning’s text.

Ephesians 2 is really an extended answer to these questions, with Paul exploring three ways of describing God’s great gift through Jesus. Later in the chapter Paul will discuss how God has brought near those who were far away. He will also discuss how God has made family out of those who were strangers. In the opening verses that we are looking at, Paul discusses how God has given life to those who were spiritually dead.

Today we are going to focus on the two questions, “What is this gift?” and (not who gave it) “Why did God give this gift to me?”

What God Has Done

To understand what God has done (that is, what the gift is), first we have to understand the situation prior to the gift. That’s where Paul starts:
You were dead in your trespasses and sins… (v. 1)
Would anyone debate that? It depends on whether you think people are inherently good or not. One common understanding in our culture is that people are inherently good, but the situation of the world (poverty, lack of education, etc…) causes them to do bad things. The Bible teaches a different perspective. It teaches that like Adam and Eve, we choose from the beginning to act selfishly and turn away from God. Paul puts some language to this:
…you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to… the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. (v. 2)
That’s how he describes the course of the world and those living in it. We are “children of disobedience.” And he gives some specific examples:
…we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind… (v. 3)
The last part of that verse is most telling. Not only does Paul characterize all who do not know Christ as “children of disobedience,” he describes them as “by nature children of wrath.” (v. 3) That means that human beings, inherently disobedient, live under God’s wrath. That’s not a popular message, but if it were not true, there would be no point in the Christian message. Jesus would have no one to save! There would not be spiritual death in need of resurrection and life.

You can disagree with the biblical message and say that you believe in another version of reality, but I’d rather you do that than misread the Bible as the story of a God who watches passively over a world full of good people. I just don’t see how one would get that out of this Bible.

All that is to say that Paul is setting the stage for the great gift. He is reminding us that all were once spiritually dead and separated from God because of our own sin and disobedience.

Then, in verse 4, it’s like pulling the great gift out from under the tree. Paul says, “But God….” Spiritual death is not the end of humanity’s story. Being children of wrath is not our fate or destiny.

If we focus on the main clauses, we see that God did three things. This is Paul’s basic description of the great gift:

God made us alive together with Christ (v. 5)
God raised us up with Him (v. 6)
God seated us with Him in the heavenly places (v. 6)

The big contrast is between “you were dead” and “God made us alive.” Paul even repeats it right before this three-fold description of the gift. Again in verse 4 he says, “…even when we were dead in our transgressions… God made us alive….”

While Paul goes on later in the chapter to offer other explanations, none can be more of a contrast than this. This is the bedrock truth of what salvation is. As much as I like the rescue-the-drowning-man illustration, that falls short. It’s not even enough to change that to do-CPR-and-resuscitate-the-drowned-man. God says that we were dead-dead, with no earthly or natural hope of life. And God made us alive with Jesus Christ, the one God raised from being three days dead. That’s why we are “made alive together with Christ.” God is doing in us what He did once and for all in Jesus: conquering sin and death so that human beings might know what it is to be spiritually alive and reconnected with God.

That would be enough. That is so much already. But there’s more. That’s why Paul goes on at such length in Ephesians 1 about the “riches” of God’s gift. It’s over and above anything we could ever come up with.

The other two parts of the great gift are not just that we are given spiritual life and connection with God during our short stay on this planet, but that we are “raised up” and “seated with” God in the heavenly places. That is, we are given life and a home with God forever. We are joined to Jesus Christ, adopted into God’s family, and given a name, a place, and a home.

What a contrast to being dead in sin! What hope and Good News! This is God’s great gift to us in Jesus Christ. That this news is ho-hum to so many of us I think belies the fact that we don’t understand what is at stake and what God has done. We hear about this great gift – as if unwrapping it – and we just don’t know what it is. We’ve had some presents for our kids like that. We as parents are so excited for them to open it, but they just don’t recognize in the packaging what it is or what they can do with it. It takes us opening it and showing them how to use it. That’s just what God did through Jesus! He came to be one of us and die so that God could make him alive, raise him, and re-seat him in Heaven. The Bible unwraps this great gift for us, for those with ears to hear and eyes to see.

Why God Has Done It

We’ve looked at the question of “What is this (gift)?” But why has God given it to us? This passage gives two answers. The first is in verse 4:

…because of God’s great love with which He loved us…

That’s one of the most basic things that even small children can say about God. God loves you! But how do we know that? Is it just because that’s our picture of what God should be? No, we know because of the second answer Paul gives here. God gave us the gift of lasting life…
…in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (v. 7)
God gave us the great gift of lasting life because He loves us and to show us He loves us. God is not a remote, uninvolved deity. God is not even just a beneficent and kind Creator. God is a loving Father who has demonstrated the extent of His love through Jesus Christ.

God loves you. But not everyone knows or has experienced that. Do you understand the gift of lasting life given to you in Jesus Christ? If and when you do, then you will experience the love of God. You will experience what is true to be real.

Some Implications of Grace

Paul ends this passage with a short excursus on “grace.” Grace is how he describes in a word the great gift given in love and meant to show God’s love. All that is wrapped into the word “grace.” It is here in verse 8 that he equates the two:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God…”
So here’s a wonderful definition of grace: Grace is God making you alive when you were spiritually dead, raising you up and seating you with Him because He loves you and in order to show you He loves you.

Paul also briefly addresses the topic of “good works.” For some reason, we human beings are wired to think that we must earn God’s favor. Indeed, we were created to be in relationship with God and to know the joy of living in His favor. But sin and disobedience destroyed all that, beyond human hope of repair.

After describing the great gift of God in terms of eternal life, Paul is now focusing on this earthly life to say that God’s resuscitation and revival of us from death to life impacts our life in the here and now as well as in eternity.

We are made alive for good works, not because of good works.

We are made alive because of God’s love, which He intends for us to experience.

And God has prepared for us not only an eternal home with him, but also a place in this world.

We’ve talked in the last year about participating in God’s mission in the world and this is what Paul is describing here. God is even now showing His love to the world through what Jesus has done. And God has prepared work for us to do – to “walk in” – to speak and show that love and bear witness to who God is.

I believe 2008 is the year that God would turn our focus truly outward, that gathering to worship and look and listen to God, we will consistently then get up and get out to bear witness to Jesus Christ in our neighborhoods. I’m not talking about beefing up a mission or local service program. I’m talking about us grasping God’s amazing love for humanity and becoming a part of communicating that love to those who are dead spiritually.

There are those who feel dead inside. There are those who know they need something. There are those who are very successful and don’t know what they are missing. But without knowledge of God through Jesus Christ, a person is spiritually dead. And so once were each of us.

I challenge you and charge you, to see as God sees and love as God loves. That is the church I believe God would have us become. Amen.

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