“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.” Ephesians 2:4,5
Chapter 2 is a continuation of the thoughts of the prayer we looked at last week in Chapter 1 verses 15-23. Remember, that these chapter divisions and verse numberings, did not exist in the original manuscripts but have been added into the Bible purely to make it easier for us to find and refer to particular passages or sentences within any of the books of the Bible. St Paul, here, then, is still expanding his thinking on how powerful God is, his prayer for the believers that, Chapter 1 v18,
“the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know, the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”
Paul's thoughts turn now therefore to what these believers were like before they came to faith in Christ and what they are like now that they have been saved by grace through faith in Christ.
Paul begins thus by outlining firstly then humanities predicament v1
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live...”
Now has Paul any right to say this? At a wedding I once conducted the bride's Father told me how he remembered being in church as a young boy of six and of how the minister seemingly pointed to him and bellowed out 'you are sinner'. He dismissed this saying, 'I was only six'.
What does it take to be considered a sinner then? Breaking at least one of the Ten Commandments perhaps! Not doing what we are told! Saying no to one's parents!
Throwing one's rattle out of the pram again after mum has just picked it up told you not to do that and put it back yet again! Or, is that just asserting one's independence, as Eve did when she persuaded Adam to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil in disobedience to God's clear directing? But independence from whom?
Are there absolutes such as right and wrong, good and evil, or is it as many would have you believe, all just relative? Is there such a thing as original sin and has it left mankind with a bias to doing wrong or not? Will a young child if it dies and has not been baptised go to hell rather than heaven therefore, because of its inherited and inherent sinfulness? Are all sinners in the sight of God as a consequence of man's fall or, or is it only those who live particularly bad lives who are in danger of going to hell?
The first point I would make here, is that, before mankind fell into sinfulness the Scriptures teach us that God had already determined, out of his love for us, to save those who would put their faith in Him. God is not to blame for our sinfulness, it we who have disobeyed Him who are. It is we, who choose to do wrong rather than right, evil rather than good, who chose to go our way rather than His way in life. The fact that our natures are marred by sin does not mean that we are any less responsible for our actions when we do sin. For, we are yet made in the image of God and capable of making both right and wrong decisions. The choice we make to do wrong or to fail to do that which is right, is our choice, not God's.
Secondly, in relation to a young baby, God will judge justly, for I do also note that God is a loving heavenly Father and whose will is to save rather than to condemn. But on the other hand, I would reject any sentimental nonsense suggesting that God surely could not condemn a child just because he or she looks young and cute! We are sinners by nature and in as much as we are also sinners by action, no-one of us deserves to be saved. The wages of sin is death. Paul's estimation of the human predicament is correct then when he says,
“you were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live...”
And my third point here, ask any person, how their life was before they came to faith in Christ and they will surely say that they lived their life at that time, not for God but for self, indeed they perceived themselves to be non-believers. They did not know God, nor did they try to live their lives in accordance with his commandments, their lives were alienated from him and they certainly did not “Love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength… nor, “did they love their neighbour as themselves.”” which Jesus tells us are the two greatest commandments of all.
“You were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live...” is the lifestyle of the unbeliever and we note that that refers to all mankind because of its inherently sinful nature and lifestyle v3
“All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.”
To put it in the words of the Psalmist Psalm 14 verses 2 &3
“The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.
All haved turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no-one who does good, not even one.”
Indeed in God's sight all unbelievers are sinners in need of salvation. In the words of the prophet Isaiah 64:6, 7
“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No-one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.”
The description that Paul gives us here then of the human condition in these opening three verses is devastating,- spiritually dead, morally enslaved, under God's wrath and clearly deserving of His judgement upon it.
“dead in transgressions and sins” v1 “you followed the ways of the world” v2
“gratifying the cravings of your sinful nature” v3 “and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air”(that is the Devil) v2 and v3 “were by nature objects of wrath”
In these three verses in fact Paul summarises what he says more fully in Romans Chapters 1-3 where he there tells us, simply and succinctly, in chapter 3 verse 23
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”
Having outlined the seeming hopelessness of man's condition, as if in that also to emphasise the greatness of what God then did to save us from our sin, we next turn then from what we were, the predicament of humanities condition apart from God, to secondly, what we by God's grace can be, to what the believers in Ephesus now were, with two great words “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.”
But the wonder does not stop there. We have not just been saved from sin. We have been saved that we might live our lives now 'in Christ' and to God's glory, for Jesus has now become, by grace and through faith, the Lord and Saviour of our lives.
“Fundamental to New testament Christianity, writes John Stott in his BST commentary on Ephesians, is this concept of the union of God's people with Christ. What constitutes the distinctiveness of the members of God's new society? Not just that they admire and even worship Jesus, not just that they assent to the dogmas of the church, not even that they live by certain moral standards. No, what makes them distinctive is their new solidarity as a people who are 'in Christ'. By virtue of their union with Christ they have actually shared in his resurrection, ascension and session... (that is, his enthronement in heaven)
...Moreover, this talk about solidarity with Christ in his resurrection and exultation is not a piece of meaningless Christian mysticism. It bears witness to a living experience, that Christ has given us on the one hand a new life (with a sensitive awareness of the reality of God, and a love for him and for his people) and on the other a new victory (with evil increasingly under our feet). We were dead, but have been made spiritually alive and alert. We were in captivity, but have been enthroned.”
“...And God, raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus”
Secondly, what God has done and then just as amazingly, thirdly and finally, why God has done it. To reveal to us his glory and to reveal in us that glory too.
To “show forth, v7, the incomparable riches of his grace” and, so that we might v10 “do good works” to His praise and to His glory!
Not, because, we are in any way deserving of his benefits or blessings, in fact very much the opposite, but rather, simply because, of who he is by nature and by grace, a God of 'love' v4, of 'mercy' v4 and of 'kindness' v7.
We are, as one great hymn writer Augustus M. Toplady once put it 'debtors to mercy alone', a sentiment seldom heard today sad to say:
A debtor to mercy alone, of covenant mercy I sing;
Nor fear, with Thy righteousness on, my person and off’ring to bring.
The terrors of law and of God with me can have nothing to do;
My Savior’s obedience and blood hide all my transgressions from view.
“Paul was under no illusion about the degradation of mankind. He refused to whitewash the situation, for this might have led him to propose superficial solutions. Instead, he began this chapter with a faithful (and I would add frightful) portrayal of man as subject to three terrible powers, namely 'sin', 'death' and 'wrath'. Yet, he refused to despair, because he believed in God. True, the only hope for dead people lies in a resurrection. But then the living God is the God of resurrection. He is even more than that: he is the God of creation. Both metaphors indicate the indispensible necessity of divine grace. For resurrection is out of death, and creation out of nothing. That is the true meaning of salvation.” (John Stott) and that is undeniably what man needs, for he cannot save himself.
The key words here in these opening verses of chapter two are then “But… God….” and “by grace”, for, therein is real hope to be found for our lives. They are why, no matter how bad things seem we now know that there is a real alternative to the lifestyle of unbelief, and that is, that faith which is there for us to know in Christ and through which we have been raised above the way of the world, the flesh and the devil, to know instead both a glorious new life and to have become part of an eternal new kingdom, that has made possible for us instead the actuality and authenticity of that real hope and promised future for us and for all those who come to believe in the one who is the Resurrection and the Life both in this life and the next, even as we appropriate the truth of what God has done for us as we live 'in Christ' and serve him with our lives.
Let me finish by summarising what I am trying to say then, through quoting finally, what Klyne Snodgrass has to say in his application of the cotemporary significance of these words for us today, he writes:
“In essence this passage screams out “Get a life!” Too often we have become spectators of life and spend enormous amounts of time on trivialities. Is not the fascination with the lives of the “rich and famous” due to our triviality? Why does our society spend so much time watching talk shows that discuss the banal and bizarre? We need to live out the transition from death to life, by turning from banality to life with Christ."