As we continue our study of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus it is so important that we remember who Paul was addressing in his letter. He wasn’t writing to the Chamber of Commerce, the members of some philanthropic organization, the academics at a local high school or college, and neither was he writing to the purveyors of some political party. Paul was writing to those who belonged to the Body of Christ. He was teaching them the fundamentals of the Christian faith. He was reminding them of biblical truth. It is important that we learn and relearn God’s truth over and over again throughout our lives my friends.
As we take a look at Ephesians 2:1-10 this morning we are going to see one of the most striking, awe-inspiring contrast found in God’s Word. We will see that we were once dead in our trespasses and sins, but now we have been made alive with Christ. We will learn that we were once, by our very nature, objects of God’s wrath, but now, by God’s rich grace, we are the recipients of His glorious mercy and salvation. We will see that we were at one time followers of the ways of the world, following the spirit who is at work in those who are disobedient, we were following our own fleshly desires, but now, because of God’s work, we are followers of righteousness, followers of Jesus. These are amazing contrasts! Let’s read our Scripture and then we will take a closer look.
1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:1-10 NIV)
These ten verses that we are looking at this morning can be divided into two sections. In the first section, verses 1-3, we will learn about our natural state, our condition as a result of our birth. In the second section, verses 4-10, we will learn about our condition as a result of God’s intervention in our situation.
The last time we were together we took a long look at Ephesians 2:1-3. Before we move on to verses 4-10 I want to remind us that if God would have done nothing then we would still be in the hopeless situation that we read about in verses 1-3. Our hopeless situation is described by Paul as being “dead in our trespasses and sins,” following after “the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” If this were not bad enough, Paul also says that our ambition was nothing less than “gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” Paul says that “we were by nature the objects of wrath.” The problem is not so much “what” we do as it “who” we are. The Bible teaches us that we are not good people who occasionally sin. We are sinners who simply do what comes naturally. We have to teach our children many things in life, but we don’t have to teach them how to sin. Actually, part of our responsibility as parents is to help them learn how to battle that “bent” within them.
Many people struggle with the phrase “we were by nature objects of wrath.” A God of wrath is not acceptable to most people in our day. We would prefer a God of love right? Well, what we really mean when we say that we don’t “believe” in a God of wrath is that we want God to simply accept anything and everything that we do because He loves us. We don’t want to be accountable for our actions. We want to be able to do whatever we want to do without the thought lurking in the back of our minds that we are going to suffer the consequences of our actions. The Bible clearly teaches that God’s wrath is as much a part of God’s character as God’s love. John Stott wrote these powerful words describing God’s wrath.
So what is his wrath if it is neither an arbitrary reaction nor an impersonal process? It is God’s personal, righteous, constant hostility to evil, his settled refusal to compromise with it, and his resolve instead to condemn it. Further, his wrath is not incompatible with his love. The contrast between verses 3 and 4 is notable: we were by nature children of wrath…But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us… Thus Paul moves from the wrath of God to the mercy and love of God without any sense of embarrassment or anomaly. He is able to hold them together in his mind because he believed that they were held together in God’s character. We need, I think, to be more grateful to God for his wrath, and to worship him that because his righteousness is perfect he always reacts to evil in the same unchanging, predictable, uncompromising way. Without his moral constancy we could enjoy no peace. (Stott, John R.W. The Message of Ephesians. pg. 76)
God is absolutely, unapologetically opposed to all that is evil, to every sin, because this is what is destroying us. Sin has destroyed our relationship with God. It is sin that destroys our relationships with those around us in our families, our workplaces, and our neighborhoods. And ultimately, it is sin that is destroying us. James wrote,
14 Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15 These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. (James 1:14-15 NLT)
God loves us too much to simply wink at our sin. He stands opposed to it. He will not accept it. He condemns our sin like a parent condemns the destructive choices being made by a child who is ruining his or her life.
I love the contrast that Dr. Stott points out for us in verses 3-4. I want to read the very last sentence of verse 3 and the very first sentence of verse 4 to allow us to see the contrast. Listen to this: “Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us…” (Ephesians 2:3-4 NIV) When we come to verse 4 we come to an absolute transformation in the tenor and tone of Paul’s teaching. Paul uses the word, “but” to highlight the contrast. I was talking to Herman about this during the week and he gave me a little English lesson. Herman told me that “But” is a “coordinating conjunction” used to contrast two very different ideas. I didn’t do so well in English, but it’s not too hard for me to see the contrast that Paul is pointing out for us.
In verses 1-3 we learn what we were left to our own devices—we were without God and without hope in this world. Beginning in verse 4 the focus now becomes God—His love, His grace, His mercy, and the work that He has done, and continues to do, on our behalf. We were dead in our trespasses and sins, but God… We were following after our cravings, after our own desires, but God… We were hopeless, but God… I want us to take a look at verses 4-6 once again so that we can understand the remarkable things God has done on our behalf.
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus… (Ephesians 2:4-6 NIV)
We’ve Been Made Alive With Christ
First of all, we learn that because of God’s great love for us, we have been made alive with Christ. Do you remember our state before God acted on our behalf? We were told in verse 1 that we were dead in our trespasses and sins. What can a dead person do to restore their own life? You don’t have to be an Ivy League alumni to answer that question do you? There is nothing a dead person can do to restore their own life. What we could never do, God has done. We were dead to God. We were oblivious to God’s activity in our life or the world. We had no sense of God’s will or purpose for our life, but God acted and because He did we are now alive to God. We are alive to God’s purpose for our life. We are now sensitive to His work going on in our life and in the world around us. God has taken a dead person like me and breathed life into me. He has given me new eyes to see. He has has taken a spiritual corpse and given me a new disposition, a new bent. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has written,
What man in sin needs is not new faculties; what he needs is a new disposition. What is the difference, you ask between faculties and disposition? It is something like this: the disposition is that which determines the bent and the use of the faculties. The disposition is that which governs and organizes the use of the faculties, which makes one man a musician and another a poet or another something else. So the difference between the sinner and the Christian, the unbeliever and the believer, is not that the believer, the Christian, has certain faculties which the other man lacks. No, what happens is that this new disposition given to the Christian directs his faculties in an entirely different way. He is not given a new brain, he is not given a new intelligence, or anything else. He has always had these; they are his servants, his instruments, his ‘members’ as Paul calls them in the sixth of Romans; what is new is a new bent, a new disposition. He has turned in a different direction, there is a new power working in him and guiding his faculties. (Lloyd-Jones, Martyn. God’s Way of Reconciliation: Ephesians 2. pg. 79)
No longer is the power of death, rebellion, selfishness, self-fulfillment, and destruction controlling us if we have trusted in God’s work done on our behalf through Jesus. We have been given a new power at work within us. It is the power of God, the power of life, a new direction, a new sensitivity to the things of God.
We’ve Been Raised With Christ
Secondly, we learn that God has raised us up with Christ. Just as Jesus was resurrected from the grave so we have been raised up with Him. In Romans 6, when Paul was writing to the believers in Rome about the significance of their baptism, he wrote,
1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin– 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. (Romans 6:1-7 NIV)
What an amazing truth! We need to be reminded of this truth each and every day! Those who are in Christ have died to their old life. We have died to sin! We were “buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” The “me” that you knew before Jesus opened my eyes and breathed new life into me is dead and gone. I have been raised up with Jesus into newness of life, a life that I had no idea existed before He came into my life. I am no longer a slave to sin. I am a slave to Jesus, my Lord, my Savior…my King!
We’ve Been Seated With Christ
Third, Paul says that we have been seated with Christ in the heavenly realms. This is truly a remarkable statement. The Greek verb for “seated” is in the “aorist tense” which means that Paul wrote as if the event had already taken place. Paul’s thought is not so much that we will be seated, but that we are already seated with Christ in the heavenly realms. Make no mistake about it—there is much more to come for those who are in Christ, there is an inheritance that is beyond our wildest imagination, beyond our ability to comprehend. Peter wrote about it when he penned these words.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. (1 Peter 1:3-6 NIV)
There is much more to come, but the truth of the matter is that many of us who are followers of Jesus are missing out on so much of what God has in store for us right now. We are living defeated lives. We allow every trial and every hardship to sideline us, cause us to question God’s faithfulness and love, and distract us from His work that is taking place in us.
We need to know these truths, we need to remind ourselves that “in Christ” we have been made alive to God, “in Christ” we have been raised up to a newness of life unobtainable to us outside of Christ, and we need to remind ourselves that “in Christ” we have been seated with Christ in the heavenly realms. We need to know these truths so that we might live out these truths in everyday life. I want you to know that these discoveries that are found exclusively “in Christ” are revolutionary, they are transformative, and they will alter your reality regardless of what you are experiencing if you will “live” in them, incorporate them into your everyday life.
I don’t know about you, but learning these things leads me to ask the question, “Why? Why would God do such a thing?” Was it because He sees something in us that we don’t see in ourselves? Was it because even though we are by nature objects of wrath, we really have a good heart and God is focused on that aspect of our lives? Nope. Not even a remote possibility. If you will look at verses 6-7 with me.
6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6-7 NIV)
Why has God done what He has done? Well, we learn in these verses that God has acted in order to demonstrate the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. It really is mind-boggling when you stop to think about it isn’t it? You and I are recipients of God’s great kindness. We are recipients of the incomparable riches of His grace. We are more than recipients; we are to be reminders to our generation of God’s glorious grace and kindness. The phrase “in the coming ages” is understood in two different ways by Bible teachers. Some think that it means that from the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection God’s kindness has been demonstrated by the way He has showered sinners with His grace and mercy. This is certainly true is it not? We are reminders to a dead generation of the life-giving, gracious God that we serve. When others see the kindness of God showered upon our lives, when those who know us see the transformation that God is making in us, it is intended to open their eyes to God’s grace and mercy. God is glorified through this demonstration of grace and mercy in our lives.
Still there are others who would say that “in the coming ages” refers to the end of time, the world to come, after Jesus second coming when all of those who are “in Christ” will be gathered and God will be exalted and glorified for His saving grace. We get a glimpse of this in Revelation 7:9-12. Read along with me.
9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” 11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” (Revelation 7:9-12 NIV)
I believe that Paul doesn’t specify the “coming ages” and therefore we should see both of these options as valid. It’s not “either/or” but “both/and” that is true. God is glorified in our day and the days to come when the lives of hopeless sinners like you and me are transformed by His abundant kindness and God will be glorified when that great and glorious multitude gathers around His throne to praise His name.
Before we get out of here this morning I have to ask you, “What did we do to deserve this wondrous work of God on our behalf? What did we do to deserve this wonderful blessing from God?” I think you know the answer, but I want to make sure. The answer is, “Absolutely nothing.” Twice in these ten verses Paul has made it quite clear that “it is by grace you have been saved.” Take a look at verse 5 with me.
5 (God) made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:5 NIV)
We were dead and a dead man can do absolutely nothing. We were dead, but God acted on our behalf—He made us live, He made us alive with Christ. Paul follows this profound statement with the obvious—“it is by grace you have been saved.” Again in Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul drives home the same truth. Read it with me.
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV)
It is by grace, God’s glorious grace, that those who were once spiritually dead have been made alive. It is not by works, but by God’s grace. Most of the followers of Jesus need clarification on this point because even though we say that we know we are saved by God’s grace we still tend to try and convince ourselves that there is something about us that has caught God’s eye. Oh, we are sinners. No doubt about it. We’ve not always done what is right in God’s eyes, but we really have a good heart, we have good intentions, and we don’t ever mean to hurt anyone. Or maybe we’ve convinced ourselves that even though we are sinners, we still have something to offer God. We are intelligent, we are diligent, industrious, full of charm, wit, and personality–God could really use someone like us to make a difference in this world.
This past week Connie and I were reading our Scripture for the day. It was the Scripture from Genesis 27 where Jacob deceived his father, Isaac, and stole his brother Esau’s blessing. Connie said, “Boy, God’s ‘chosen’ were sure a mess. Look at Jacob. God chose him and yet he was a swindler, he stole his brother’s blessing.” I said, “You are right. God’s chosen are a mess, but so are those who are not chosen.” Connie said, “Yeah, but you would expect that.” I said, “The truth of the matter is that God doesn’t have much to work with does He?” The truth of the matter is that we are all a mess are we not? I think I overstated things when I said that God doesn’t have much to work with. After studying Ephesians 2:1-10 I think it would be more accurate to say that God has absolutely nothing to work with when it comes to humanity. We are not spiritually lethargic or spiritually apathetic—we are spiritually dead until He breathes life into us, raises us from the grave, and begins His transformative work within us.
You can’t tell it, but there are corpses sitting in this sanctuary this morning. Some of you know who I am talking about. You would never describe yourself as a “corpse,” but hopefully after learning the truth of God’s Word this morning your eyes have been opened and you now see yourself for what you truly are—you are a corpse. Oh, you get up in the morning, head out the door, and you are quite productive as the world measures productivity. God’s assessment is not the assessment of the world and He says that apart from Him you are dead—as dead as any body laying six feet under the ground at the local cemetery. He has brought you here this morning so that you might learn the truth, so that you might recognize your greatest need, and cry out to Him to breathe life into your spiritually dead body. Won’t you confess your need to Him this morning? Invite Jesus to come into your life and transform you into the person He desires for you to be?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114