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Author:Rev. George van Popta
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Congregation:Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church
 Ottawa, Ontario
Preached At:Ancaster Canadian Reformed Church
 Ancaster, Ontario
Title:Once dead, now alive
Text:Ephesians 2:1-10 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Singing: Ps. 47; Ps. 119:14; Hy. 24:1-4; Hy. 24:5-7; Ps. 30:1,2;

Reading & Text: Ephesians 2:1-10
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ:

What is the state of fallen man? How fallen is he?

Is fallen man well, as the early 5th Century British moralist Pelagius taught? Was he correct in teaching that man has a created capacity for freedom from sin?

Or is fallen man ill, like many today hold? Does fallen man need some medicine to make him well again? And is the gospel of Jesus Christ that medicine? Is fallen man like someone who has fallen in the water and is in danger of drowning, but so long as he grabs hold of the life-ring of the gospel, he'll be OK?

Or is fallen man dead? Not in danger of drowning, but long drowned, lying at the bottom of the lake. Lungs full of water, in need not of a life-ring; in need not of some medicine; but, rather, in need of resuscitation? In need of a spiritual resurrection?

Beloved, the latter is true. The latter is what the scriptures teach. The Apostle Paul teaches it here in Eph. 2. We were dead. We needed resuscitation.

And that's what we got. Got from God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

I proclaim to you the Word of God under this theme:


1. We were dead through sin; 2. We are alive by grace; 3. We live to do good works.

1. Part way through his letter to the church at Ephesus, the Apostle Paul wrote something rather shocking. As for you, you were dead...

They were dead once -- dead, and they hadn't even noticed.

What kind of death was Paul talking about? He meant a spiritual death. Not a physical death. That's clear from what else he said. In vv 1-4 he said that even when they were dead they were active -- actively living. They were walking in something; they were following someone; they lived in the midst of some things. It's clear that Paul was not referring to a physical death as if the Ephesians had all died at some time in the past and that God had resurrected them. Paul spoke of a spiritual deadness.

This shocking thing that Paul wrote to the Ephesians is directed to us too, in all of its stark and appalling reality. In v. 3 Paul said that the Ephesians had been dead in sin like the rest (of mankind). The whole human race, every man, woman and child, was spiritually dead because of sin.

And, so, this is addressed to us as well. There's no getting around that. We cannot just sit back and listen to what Paul once wrote a church, far away and a long time ago, as if it had nothing to do with us. We may not just treat what Paul wrote here as an interesting historical document. Sometimes people find old letters and publish them. If you're into that, you might find it rather interesting to read the correspondence between people who have died. Say the correspondence between Abraham Kuyper and Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer. Or the exchange of letters between C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein. Such correspondence is interesting. But it doesn't speak to us. We've got nothing to do with what they wrote to each other. We are a third party. Kind of like the old party lines telephones when you could eavesdrop on the neighbour's conversation.

But it is completely different when it comes to the letters in the Bible. Paul's correspondence to the church at Ephesus speaks to us as well. The Holy Spirit who inspired Paul addressed this letter to us too. Just as much as to the Ephesians.

The message of doom comes to us: You were dead. Dead through the transgressions and sins. We are trespassers. We transgressed the will and the law of God by the terrible way in which we walked. You know what "No trespassing" means. The farmer puts up a sign on the fence surrounding his apple orchard which says: "No trespassing". But the young lads climb over the fence anyway, and go and steal some of the farmer's apples. That's what trespassing is. Crossing the line God has drawn. God has said: "This far, and no farther." But we crossed the line and did what we wanted.

We acted against the will and the law of God. We walked in transgression and sin.

We followed the ways of this world. The way the world ran was the way we ran. The world is on a course that runs against the law of God at every point. At no time is the world running with God. It runs against God.

We were on that course. We followed the world's agenda. The program set by the world.

We followed the leader of that course -- the pace-setter. The ruler of the course of this world is, said Paul (v. 2) the ruler of the kingdom of the air. That's the devil. Satan. He is the ruler, the king of the evil spiritual powers. The demons. The devil and his hosts are spiritual powers. That's why Paul spoke of "kingdom of the air".

Behind our transgressions and sins which we committed in conformity to the standards of this world lay the power, the influence of the devil. The spirit now at work in those who are disobedient.

The devil, that ancient evil spirit, is still working. Working hard -- in many people. In the disobedient. Influencing opinion and patterns of thought and behaviour opposed to God and his holy kingdom. This prince of darkness grim has power. Power to wreak havoc in the lives of people and communities. He is the wrecker of everything good. He attacks the work that the Lord Jesus Christ is doing in this world. He brings death -- death and destruction into the lives of communities and individuals.

In 2 Cor. 4:4 Paul called the devil: the god of this world who blinds the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel.

The devil is able to influence people. He holds the unbeliever in darkness. He blinds the unbeliever. To be held in Satan's grip is fearful, dreadful, terrible.

Those who are blinded by him, who are held in his grip, are led to live godless and disobedient lives. Completely against the will of God. Lives of transgressions and sins. Following the agenda of the world, the program set by the devil.

We all lived among them at one time. V. 3 -- We all lived among those who are disobedient. We followed not the will of God. Rather, we lived in the passions of our flesh. What our flesh desired is what we did. We followed the desires of body and mind, of the old nature. Not the commandments of God and the will of our Lord. But the selfish desires of body and mind. We thought we knew best. And acted accordingly.

And this killed us. We were dead in this. Dead in sin. Dead in disobedience.

The question asked by theologians is whether man is only sick or dead in sin. Is man only sick, in need of a little bit of therapy? A bit of medicine to help get him back on his feet? Or is he dead in sin?

Some theologians even think that man is well. Well enough to live a righteous life apart from the Holy Spirit.

Paul states very emphatically that man is dead because of sin. It was a spiritual suicide. Yes, man was persuaded by the devil. But man deliberately chose to purposefully obey the devil and disobey God.

You might be saying to yourself: "What you are saying doesn't really touch me. I grew up in a Christian family. I've always gone to church, to catechism, even a Christian school. I cannot remember being an unbeliever. I cannot remember being dead in sin. I can see how this would apply to the Christians in Ephesus who were converted from heathen religions to the Christian religion by the preaching of Paul. But it's completely different for me. I grew up in a Christian environment."

That's true for most of you. Not all, but most. Don't forget to praise and thank God every day for the Christian environment in which you grew up. And that your parents taught you to love the Lord from the days you lay in your cradle. Thank God for that; don't coast on it; don't presume complacently that all must be OK because of it; but, rather, work with it.

And yet, that you may have been born and raised in a Christian environment, at bottom, doesn't change anything. What Paul wrote here still applies to us equally. Just as much as it did to the Ephesians. Paul's conclusion in the end of v. 3 is: Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. All of mankind, the whole human race, dead because of sin. By nature, everyone born spiritually dead. Each of us is, by nature, a child of wrath. Liable to the wrath of God. To his anger, his judgment, and to eternal punishment.

There's no escaping that fact. And dead people cannot do anything. We cannot give ourselves life. We are perfectly unable to do a single thing to change the state of affairs -- that will make it so that we are no longer children of wrath. There's nothing we can do to lift the wrath of God off our heads.

The whole human race, under the wrath of God -- worthy of everlasting hell, even, because of its disobedience -- its unbelief and its godless living. As we say in one of our confessions:

Since all men have sinned in Adam, lie under the curse, and deserve eternal death, God would have done no one an injustice if it had been His will to leave the whole human race in sin and under the curse, and to condemn it on account of its sin....

We are part of that sinful, rebellious humanity.

We need to face that. To realize it.

Who would not tremble with fear before the holy majesty justice of God?

(2.) But God.

Two words that proclaim the most glorious truth recorded in the Bible. But God.

We, by nature, children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions -- it is by grace you have been saved.

When we were dead through our transgressions, God came. He, the one who is rich in mercy, who is the epitome of love, came towards us, us who were dead. Dead in sin. By nature dead. Spiritually dead. Under the wrath and the curse of God.

We, who deserved his anger and his curse -- he came to us. And he didn't curse us into hell. Instead he made us alive. That's grace. Grace, the kindness of God shown to those who deserve exactly the opposite.

By grace have we been saved. We justly deserved the wrath and curse of God. And yet God loved us and was merciful toward us. That's grace. For the sake of Christ he raised us. By the same power with which he physically raised Christ from the dead, he raised us up from spiritual death.

And not only did he raise us in his grace. He also seated us in the heavenly realms with Christ Jesus. Jesus Christ is seated in the heavenly realms already. We whom God has raised from spiritual death in Christ -- because of the work of Christ on the cross and because of his resurrection -- God sees us as well when he looks at his son Jesus Christ. So sure is our relationship to Jesus Christ that Paul can say that we are already in the heavenly places at the right hand of God. In Christ we are there.

The course of this world is no longer our proper place. Heaven is. Our citizenship is in heaven.

Why has God done this? Why has God performed this amazing work of grace -- saving us from death and from His own wrath? Paul tells us in v. 7. So that in the coming ages, all might be able to see the incomparable riches of the grace that God has shown to us in Christ Jesus. The church is a demonstration, a visible display, of the grace of God. The church is an exhibition of God's kindness, love and mercy.

Paul spoke of the coming ages as if they were waves. Wave after wave -- age after age -- one after the other far into the future. For ever. Everlastingly. Throughout time and forever into everlasting life, the church, the society of pardoned rebels, will stand as the masterpiece of God's goodness and grace. Ps. 145:9 says that God has compassion over all that he has made. But he displays the immeasurable riches of his grace only in the church.

We are what we are by the grace of God. Nothing else. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. The beginning of our salvation is from God. Of course -- we were dead, remember? God saves us by grace, through faith, said Paul in v. 8. But even that faith is the gift of God. Even our believing by means of which we are saved is God's gift. Your faith, the faith by means of which you embrace for yourself God's salvation -- that action of yours -- the act of believing without which you will not be saved -- even that human action of believing the gospel is God's gift. God gives us the faith through which he saves us by his grace.

It's not because of works. Your act of believing, as absolutely indispensable to salvation as it is, is not a work which saves you. It's not the one good work you've got to do to be saved. It too is the gift of God.

There's no room for boasting. There's no room for human pride. There is no such thing as a self-made man when it comes to salvation. There's only room for thanking and praising God for his free, gracious, act of salvation by means of which he saves us even at that very moment when we were still dead.

3. God has raised us up to new life. But that means that we must now live that new life. God has made us alive so that we may begin to live a life of good works. Once we were dead in sin doing evil works. Motivated by the spirit of Satan. Now we are alive in Christ living in obedience. Filled and energized by the Spirit of God.

We are God's workmanship created in Christ Jesus. The word "workmanship" always refers to God's created works. Here Paul uses it to refer to us. We are new creatures in Christ Jesus. God has taken us dead, miserable sinners, and created us in Christ so that we would do good works.

We might be inclined to think that here we get to put in our part. Now our efforts begin to count for something.

But listen to what the Apostle Paul is saying: These good works for which God has created us to do -- God prepared them beforehand. Before the creation of the world, God prepared works of love and obedience. And now he takes us through them. He fills us with his Holy Spirit and makes us walk through the good works God had prepared for us to do when he elected us unto salvation in Christ before the creation of the world.

This is truly one of the most mind-bending aspects of the gospel -- that our good works existed in the sovereign plan of God long before we did them.

Not only the initial reception of salvation, but also the whole of our lives is part of God's purpose for us. The works are there. God has raised us up in Christ so that we might walk in them. Even our Christian walk flows out of the grace of God. It's grace all the way.

And so, be no longer dead in transgressions. Be alive in Christ.

Do not walk in sin. Walk in good works.

Do not be not in bondage to the agenda of this world and the ruler of hell. Be free in Christ -- a citizen of the heavenly places.

Don't live in the selfish passion of your flesh. Don't follow the desires of your body and your mind. Be united with Christ. Let the mind of Christ be your mind.

Don't be a child of wrath. Be a child of God. Enjoy his grace, his love, his mercy, his kindness.

Be alive in Christ Jesus by the amazing grace of God. Be alive and live for God.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2000, Rev. George van Popta

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