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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:God Makes Dead Sinners Alive in Christ
Text:Ephesians 2:1-10 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-11-08
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 73:8,9                                                                   

Ps 5:1,3,4

Reading – Ephesians 2

Ps 40:1,3,4

Sermon – Ephesians 2:1-10

Hy 80:1,2,5,6

Hy 64:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, you’ve probably seen one of those “Before and After” shots. Two photographs placed side-by-side, meant to illustrate a momentous change. Maybe it was a “Before and After” for a fancy home renovation, or a big clean-up along a riverbank. Before, there is ugliness, disorder, and filth—and after: beauty, harmony, and cleanliness. You hardly recognize what was there before!

We see a kind of “Before and After” in our text this morning, and the contrast is very striking. Paul is unfolding God’s great work of salvation, and as he does, he shows how radical is the transformation of sinners. It’s a contrast between being dead and being alive; walking in the futile ways of the world versus being seated with Christ in heaven; enduring God’s wrath or enjoying his kindness.

I wonder how much we appreciate what a change this is—certainly not as much as we should. It’s difficult to imagine being someone other than who we are, particularly when we’ve known Christ for years and years. But it can be good sometimes to ask “What if…?” What if God hadn’t sent his Son? Or what if God hadn’t made a covenant with us? What if we didn’t have true faith? Where would we be? That’s what our text helps us to understand, as Paul details the life-changing power of God’s salvation.

It’s hard to see it in translation, but in the Greek these ten verses have just one main subject and one main verb. The central subject (or doer) is God, and his central activity is “makes alive” (see verse 4). We were dead in trespasses and sins, but God made us alive! What a change that is: from rolling in the dust of death, wallowing in the mud and mire, to a place in the kingdom of Christ! I preach God’s Word to you from Ephesians 2:1-10,

God has made us alive in Christ Jesus!

            1) we once were dead in sin

            2) but we have been raised up

            3) and recreated for good works

 

1) we once were dead in sin: First the bad news, then the good news. That’s so often Paul’s teaching method, and in Ephesians it’s no different. He begins with our sin-filled condition and desperate need: “[You] were dead in trespasses and sins” (v 1). Those two words for wickedness describe how total and comprehensive is sin in our life.

The word “sin” means literally a miss, like when a man aims his arrow at a target but he shoots way wide. Sin is our failure to accomplish what God wants us to do, to be what we ought to be. This makes sin is a universal problem—sin isn’t just murder and robbery and adultery, but it’s our failure to be the people who God first created. We were made in God’s image to live in his holy service, but we fall short.

This failing is the continuous reality of our lives. Are you as good a husband as you should be? Are you as devoted a friend and neighbour? Do you always hit the mark as a parent? Are you doing everything just how Christ wants you to, as an employee or student or church member?

The word “trespass” has a similar meaning. It brings to mind slipping or falling away from the truth that we should’ve known. This word too, raises the question: Have we reached the place of holiness that God says we need to? In our prayers and devotions, in our giving and serving, are we up to God’s standard? And we have to confess that we’re not. We might look respectable, but there’s a lot of sin and trespass.

What’s the consequence of this? You are “dead.” The Spirit doesn’t mean that literally, of course, but death is more than a future event. If the meaning of life is knowing God, then not knowing him, and not being right with him is death. Think of Adam and Eve: just like God warned, they died on the day they rebelled, for sin disconnected them from God.

That is still the fearful power of sin: it is a killing force. It kills our good desires and goals; it kills true knowledge; it kills our freedom. At first we engage in sin because we want to do so; later we do because we can’t stop sinning, when it has become a necessity. “You were dead,” Paul says, and the problem with being dead is that there’s no man-made getaway from this condition. When you’re as good and moral and well-behaved as you possibly can be, you’re not good enough. You’re still dead—still unable to come near to God.

These words don’t describe some especially degraded portion of society like rapists and neo-Nazis, but they describe all people everywhere. “This is how it used to go for all of us,” Paul reminds the Ephesians. To be sure, Paul begins in the first two verses speaking about you—“you were dead”—because he’s thinking about the Gentiles in the congregation. But by verse 3, he’s changed to us—“we all once conducted ourselves.” In the end, there’s no distinction between Jew and Gentile, for we’re all in the same spiritual condition: dead in trespasses and sins. Even little Sophie is born in this condition.

The origin of all this misery is what happened ages ago in the garden. But Paul identifies three ongoing and wicked influences on people. They’re familiar to us from the Catechism: the world, the devil, and our own flesh.

Verse 2: “You once walked according to the course of this world.” In Scripture, “the world” can refer to different things, sometimes to creation, sometimes to mankind in general, and sometimes to humanity in rebellion against God. That’s what Paul refers to here, a way of living that consistently denies the Lord.

This is the “course” of the world, its pattern or path. When there’s a well-worn path, people tend to follow it: we “walk according to [its] course.” Walking is a basic daily activity, so it’s a good metaphor for the progress of a person’s life. Where are you going? What path are you following?

Without God’s redirection, we will walk according to the world’s pattern. If you allow it, this godless society will determine your values, and dictate what is important to you. Because we live every day among an unbelieving world, we can “catch” its views unconsciously, almost like a disease. The world promotes self-indulgence and luxury, persuades us to accept more than one truth, and it says that material things are the basis for security.

That’s an easy path, so we prefer to follow it. We have to fight hard not to go that way! At the same time, we’re captive to “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” (v 2). That first phrase is an image of the air around us crowded with demons, populated by spirits who are sent to generate evil and ruin our souls. There are spiritual hosts of wickedness, and the prince of these powers is Satan.

Satan has a real effect as he influences people to reject and disobey God. We shouldn’t underestimate the devil’s power: it’s dynamic, it’s supernatural. Even though Christ has defeated Satan, he’s not going to surrender without a fight. So he gets people to follow him; he get us to buy what he’s selling. Beloved, think of the very worst temptation in your own life, the thing that threatens to get its claws around your neck and strangle you: this is the work of the prince of the power of the air, and without God’s help he will destroy you.

Then there’s our third enemy: “We all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind” (v 3). The key word here is “flesh.” In the New Testament this often refers to the sinful human nature, our corrupted hearts which are inclined to evil. These “lusts of the flesh” can be so powerful, like when a craving can overwhelm you, override even your best intentions. Maybe it’s a desire for power, or approval, or money—desire is a terrible master. And just because one of these sins doesn’t afflict you, there will always be something else that threatens to dominate you.

Notice too, how verse 3 speaks of the desires of the flesh and “of the mind.” Even our thinking is disturbed by the power of sin. It’s impossible for us to respond to life’s decisions neutrally or innocently, for evil has affected us so deeply.

What’s the result of all this corruption and rebellion? “[We] were by nature children of wrath” (v 3). Our sinfulness means we’re in line for God’s condemnation. And being a “child of wrath” means that it’s not something you can escape easily. This is innate, it’s who we are by virtue of our birth—born to die.

So far this exposition of salvation has been pretty dismal. Do we see ourselves in it? We get how it describes the Ephesians, some of whom used to worship idols. But were we ever like this? Was there ever a time that you were dead in trespasses and sin, stuck in this world’s godless pattern, listening to Satan, surrendering to any wicked impulse? Probably some of us have lived this way at times. But haven’t many of us always had what we have today, the gospel and Christ and life?

We praise God for his grace! But knowing Christ isn’t something that’s ours by right. It’s not something we deserved, or even asked for. If we didn’t know the Word of salvation, we’d be lost. We’d be miserable and lost and dead. But God has raised us up!

 

2) but we have been raised up: We’ve seen the guilt—now for the grace. The Father reached down with his loving arm and pulled us out of our lowly state: “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (vv 4-5).

Let’s first outline the motive behind this great rescue operation. We see it in verse 4: God’s “rich mercy” and his “great love.” Compare it to being in a big pile of trouble at school; you did something wrong, and you fully expect a severe punishment. But the principal chooses to have mercy on you and this time he excuses your offense. You didn’t earn it—you’re in debt to his compassion. So with our salvation: God redeems us in spite of us, redeems us because of who He is, merciful and loving.

This driver of salvation also appears in verses 5, 7 and 8—it’s a word that keeps recurring, one of the most precious words our faith: “grace.” Grace is God’s favour toward people beyond and contrary to what we deserve, his free gift, his generous nature towards sinners. “By grace you have been saved” (v 5). The miracle is that God doesn’t deal with you in strict justice and inflict his wrath upon you, but shows life-changing compassion. This is why Paul continues to mention it: amazing grace!

One more inspiration that is moving God’s work of salvation: his “kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (v 7). Put all those together—rich mercy, great love, kindness and exceeding grace—and you have a portrait of the God who saves us, who makes dead sinners alive, who comes near to children of wrath and makes them children of God.

And the Spirit insists on grace exactly because of that stubborn human notion that we can earn something with God. In verses 8-9 He rules it out twice: “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works.” The door of works is slammed shut because of who God is. He is infinitely perfect and holy, and we can do nothing that would ever satisfy his perfection. There is nothing that finite, sinful people like us could ever bring to win God’s approval or merit.

Don’t we need that regular reminder? Salvation is God’s gift, not your reward. It’s a truth both humbling and comforting. It’s humbling that God saved you, not because of your church membership. Not because you’re a kinder person than your neighbour, and not because you work hard every day, and you’ve never blasphemed. Salvation is by grace, “lest anyone should boast” (v 9). We sinners have no grounds for self-confidence, but our only refuge is in the cross. Grace puts a hand on the boasting mouth and shuts it up.

That’s humbling, we said, and also comforting. Salvation is God’s project, not your own. You didn’t earn it, and you don’t have to earn it. It’s not a gift that will decrease in value, and it can’t be lost if you have a bad day or a bad year. By believing in Christ, your salvation is secure, now and always.

God’s only condition, his only requirement, is this: you are saved “through faith” (v 8). Faith is the humble hand by which we reach out and take salvation as our own. It’s the simple trust of a child in her father, the sure confidence of a soldier in his mighty general. Beloved, you finally have to realize that you’re empty, that it’s not up to you, but everything is dependent on him and what God has already done.

And what has He done? As we said earlier, you can draw a line under the central action in this gospel showcase: God made us alive. That was our fundamental need, because we were truly dead—spiritually flatlined—incapable of living without constantly sinning, liable to the sentence of death. But the remedy for death is resurrection. We were dead, and God “made us alive together with Christ” (v 5).

What Paul explains here is the teaching of our union with Christ. This is the kind of teaching that needs repeating often. Being joined to Christ by faith means that every good thing and every high position that belongs to Christ, God says is also ours.

Paul wants to show just how closely we’ve been connected to Christ by faith. He does it with three compound words. In each case he’s taken a normal verb and stuck onto the front of it the preposition “together.” The first one is in verse 5. In Greek it’s just one word, but in English it takes three words to translate it: “made alive together.” Paul’s next compound word is in verse 6, translated as “raised up together,” and again, “made to sit together.” These words make clear that whatever God did for Christ, He did at the same time for his chosen people. He made us alive, He raised us up, He seated us in heaven—with him!

God made us alive by Christ when by his death he paid the penalty for sins, and then by his resurrection showed that death’s power was broken. Verse 6 says, God “raised us up together” with Christ. When Christ triumphed over death, we triumphed too. Already we enjoy a new life in Christ, already we’ve been raised from our deadness and made alive with a life that lasts forever.

And then “God made us sit together in the heavenly places with Christ” (v 6). See how Paul speaks about that event as if it’s already happened. It’s not just a future hope, that one day we get to go to heaven to be with Christ. No, it’s an accomplished fact: we are already in heaven with him!

Remember, God looks at us as so closely united to his Son that we’re actually with him in heaven. If Christ is in the presence of God, then we are in the presence of God. And that means we too, are given access to untold riches and resources, even all the assets of heaven. Even more fundamentally, being “seated with Christ in heaven” means that God welcomes us into his presence. You can go to heaven through prayer and worship, and God accepts you, allows you free access to the Father.

Why would God do all this? What’s his purpose in this great work of salvation? The Spirit reveals that too: God has made us alive together with Christ “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (v 7). The ultimate goal of all God’s great works is his own glory! Our salvation is a great gift, but it’s not even the greatest good. It’s a means to an end: the revelation of God’s glory.

God wants everyone to see his rich mercy, his great love, his kindness and exceeding grace. God wants everyone to know his perfect wisdom and mighty power and awesome justice. The salvation of sinners puts God’s glory on full display!

This teaches us about our purpose as believers and church. Here on earth, we’re meant to show the riches of God’s grace. God has made you alive, given you hope, promised you glory. You look like a normal person, but you have something that is beyond imagination or description: a new life in Christ Jesus!

This changes who you are, it changes what you’re living for. With your new life, you have a purpose: to exhibit God’s love and power. Our purpose is to magnify his name, to demonstrate what a majestic God He is. Is that what you’re busy with? Do you see that as your calling, to live for the Lord’s glory? By faith in Christ, you can do that in whatever place God has put you.

 

3) and recreated for good works: Someone might think that Paul is a bit confused. He’s just insisted that we’re not saved by our good works, but one verse later he says that we must do them: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (v 10).

Let’s understand this properly. Paul says that we are God’s “workmanship,” his handiwork. Compare it to when you build something in your workshop. You might occasionally make something just for decoration, another knick-knack for the shelf. But generally, you build with purpose: you make a lamp, a table, a tool. Your handiwork has a reason—you want it to do something!   

This is what God has saved us for; it’s his purpose in creating us. By his grace we’ve gone from being useless and dead, to alive and meaningful. We’re God’s handiwork so that we worship. So that we can serve. And give. And pray. This is the kind of life that God has prepared us for, the kind of life which brings him joy. We can never merit his splendid love, but what we can do is gratefully accept it and try to be worthy of it.

To show that this is God’s purpose and will for us, Paul says that God prepared all these works “beforehand.” Back in chapter 1 Paul speaks about how God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. The whole course of our life has been determined by God, even down to the good works that we do—they’ve been part of his plan from eternity.

You see then, that doing these good works are very different from those done to try and save ourselves. For a child of God, there’s no anxiety about doing enough, no anxiety about reaching some impossible standard, because we already have our peace with God through Christ. But there are good works to do. This is what God made us for.

He prepared them for us, and now we must “walk in them.” Notice again the language of walking. Earlier we spoke about “walking according to the course of the world.” Now we strive to walk according to the good works that God prepared. This should be the whole course of our life, our unfailing purpose.

So we must be devoted to finding out those good works God wants us to do—finding them out, and doing them. And it’s not some mysterious or difficult quest. A person can spend years agonizing over God’s will, wondering what good things God wants them to do. A person can search for so long that they end up doing not very much at all.

To be sure, there can be times when you need to find a new path, when you want to make a change and serve God in some other way. In times like that, pray for God’s wisdom and direction, and He’ll lead you. Keep praying for God’s blessing, and He’ll ensure that your gifts and talents are put to good use. Remember that He’s got good works prepared for you!

But wherever God leads you, whatever life God has set before you, remember that this is your purpose: to do good works for his glory. Life isn’t about you, pursuing whatever is right for you. Life isn’t about the pursuit of your personal happiness, your avoidance of trouble and sacrifice. There is something very wrong about a believer who is not producing good works, a Christian who is not active. We’d even say that such a person is not a believer at all, but he is still dead in trespasses and sins.

God made you alive in Christ, and in him He has created you to do good works. So do them—they’re right in front of you. Search the Word and you’ll see. Open your eyes, and you’ll see. There are good works everywhere for you to do, in your home, and in the church, and in the community. There is worship to bring. There are people to love. There are friends to help. There are gifts to use. There are projects to work on, and God’s kingdom to build.

It’s not an accident that you are where you are right now: God has led you to this place. This is where you should be, and this is where He wants you to do the good works that He has prepared for you. So do them, in his strength, and to his glory!  Amen. 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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