Ephesians 2:1 – 10
Is it possible to escape the death penalty?
Only a few weeks ago, news of the execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in Indonesia filled the headlines, didn’t it?
In many ways it became the national conversation.
Every time I turned on the radio, that’s what people were speaking about,
Everywhere I went on the Internet, it was “Bali 9,
Appeals for clemency,
All those messages about the 2 Australian men, who, as we know, were ultimately executed as punishment for their crimes.
There were 2 major narratives going through all of that discussion, though, weren’t there? Firstly, everyone’s opinion on the death penalty itself,
And then secondly, the question, do we think it is possible for someone to truly change.
Not just change their behaviour, but, change who they are.
Is it possible for someone to be so totally transformed, that they can escape the set punishment for the wrongs they’ve done?
It’s a question that, on a much broader scale, is addressed by our passage in Ephesians chapter 2.
This chapter asks the question, is there a way to be spared the punishment we face, for the way we’ve lived.
I’m sure you noticed as we read it through, the Apostle Paul’s writing to Christian people, Christians in the city of Ephesus around the middle of the first century AD, and he begins with what their life was like before God’s gracious intervention in their lives,
And he says, you were dead.
Sin and rebellion means we are dead to God
And if you’re a Christian here this morning, this is a description of your life as well.
Pick it up with me from the beginning of chapter 2. As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,
Things don’t get much worse than being described as dead do they?
I used to work in the Department of Anatomy at Adelaide University. I’ve seen more than my fair share of dead bodies. And I can tell you one thing they all have in common: They are powerless.
I heard just this week about a group in the US called The Anatomical Gift Association. When you die, your family can gift your body to this organisation for research.
Isn’t that the ultimate statement of powerlessness. You become a gift, that somebody else gives.
Clearly Paul means , spiritual death;, being separated and isolated from God. Paul says our transgressions and sins have put us far from God, and powerless to do anything about that situation ourselves.
Transgressions and sins are just different ways of talking about our failure to live as God commands us,
How we fall short of the pattern for life that God has established.
Some Bible translations talk about us being dead through transgressions and sins.
We’ve come be in this state of death, separation and powerlessness, through our transgressions and sins,
Through our rebellion against God.
Now, most people I know, don’t think that they’re living in rebellion against God.
Some of our young adults tell me that I’m always quoting Mick Dundee, Crocodile Dundee. But the reason I do is because he is absolutely stereotypically Australian, in this one regard!
Mick Dundee says, “Me and God, we’d be mates!”
Mates with God.
Me and the big guy upstairs have got an understanding!
That is entirely how my friends think about their standing before God.
But Paul speaks about sin!
When he points to the rest of people in verse 3, he’s looking at every person who’s ever lived!
Everyone, he says, is a sinner!
Everyone has lived in the world that God made, but lived as if God doesn’t exist!
All of us, verse 3, have failed to give God the honour due to him as the creator of the world, the one who established the pattern for what life in his world ought to look like.
And Paul says because of sin,
Because of rebellion against God,
Because people long to set themselves up as the final authority, instead of recognising God’s authority, Paul says, you were dead.
Separated from God,
As we’ll see in a moment, facing the due punishment for our sin and rebellion,
And unable to do anything, about our situation.
If you watch those lifestyle shows on TV, you’ll know that they’ll often do a before and after comparison.
Somebody’s backyard that’s been miraculously transformed over a weekend,
Or, what is it? The Block Sky High, is the latest one.
Some dilapidated home that’s been renovated for auction,
It used to be this, now it’s this!
Remember that Paul’s writing to Christian men and women, who have heard and believed the good news of Jesus,
So this description in the first 3 verses, isn’t their current state.
It’s their previous state.
It is the before part, of the before and after comparison.
But if we’re Christians, we need to recognise that this is what we were, before God’s gracious intervention,
But we also have to remember that this is the current state, of everyone who hasn’t yet received God’s grace.
Verses 1 to 3 describe everyone who still lives in God’s world with no thought for God, including, most of the people that you and I know.
The people whose names are written on your Prayer Focus card,
The people we mix with every day.
Friends it’s really important that we recognise the true situation of people who are living in rebellion against God.
It’s not that they just believe something different to you,
It’s not that they have different needs,
They don’t just approach life differently to the way that you or I do,
They’re definitely not worse than you, Paul counts himself amongst them, we were by nature deserving of wrath.
People who haven’t trusted in Christ’s death in their place to take the punishment for sin that they deserve, are dead.
But it’s easy for us not to see them as dead, isn’t it?
I noticed about 12 months ago, there was a spate of films, and books, and TV shows about zombies.
Now, ordinarily, almost nothing could interest me less, than anything to do with zombies. They call zombies “the living dead,” don’t they? It’s people who are dead, but are still walking around, and talking, and in many ways, looking as if they’re still alive.
As far as I can tell, the only redeeming feature of the zombie genre, is that it can actually help us remember, what Paul says here about humanity, apart from God!
Alive, yes, physically,
and yet , dead.
See Ephesians 2 says that it is entirely possible, to look alive, and yet be dead.
Dare I coin the phrase “spiritual zombies”, if that’s not unhelpful to you?!
Friends, it is absolutely essential that we remember, people we love and care about,
People in our families,
Look alive, and yet they are dead when it comes to spiritual things.
Please don’t let the fact that they can walk, and talk, and love, and breathe, cloud the fact, that people who live in transgressions and sins, are dead.
Because unless we see them as dead, we won’t grasp the perilous state they’re in.
Unless we remember they’re dead, I don’t think that there’s any way that we can really be labouring and praying that they’ll come to know Jesus.
Don’t be fooled, by the fact that someone can look like they have it all together, and yet be dead.
Don’t be fooled by the fact that someone could have the life that you aspire to, that you wish was yours, and yet be dead.
Don’t be fooled, that in God’s kindness, people can still enjoy the wonders of creation, of human life and relationship, and yet be dead,
Spiritually dead, isolated from God.
Paul says there are 3 things, that influenced his Christian readers, when they were, the living dead!
They were following the world, the devil, and their own evil desires.
Again, remember that Paul’s not saying he’s any better than anyone else: All of us, we were!
He’s not looking down from his high horse. He knows that his situation was the same as theirs.
Paul was one of the privileged religious elite in the first Century AD, and he thought this was what characterised his life, left to his own devices,
His life, apart from God’s gracious intervention.
We were following the world
Verse 2, he says, We followed the ways of this world
Now, we know the influence that society and culture can have on us, don’t we?
I remember once hearing a preacher talking about Lot.
The story is told in the book of Genesis; This man named Lot took up residence in the city of Sodom. A city, famous even today, for its wickedness, and eventually Lot himself got drawn into its wicked behaviour.
And this older preacher observed, that Lot moved into Sodom,
And eventually, Sodom, moved into Lot.
Day by day, we are confronted with the reality of a world, opposed to God. The dominant values system of our society is opposed to the way that God values things.
If you’re not a Christian, if you think that you probably still are living in , rebellion against God. We’re really pleased you’re here, we we’d love to help you think these things through,
Please don’t believe for a moment, that you can drift towards God,
Or that the currents of our society,
And thinking, of the world around your will lead you to God.
They will not.
Paul says to follow the ways of the world is to be dead in, transgressions and sins.
And for those of us who are Christians, we need to hear this and be reminded that the pattern of the world, will always fall short of God’s intention.
If you follow the thinking of the world,
Set your priorities according to the orthodoxy of our day,
If you embrace what the world loves,
You will not find yourself, thinking as God thinks,
Acting as God acts,
Loving, as God would have you love.
It’s not saying that people can’t do good towards others, or anything like that, but until we get to the new creation, our society will not reflect God’s plans and priorities, and pattern for life.
We were submitting to the devil
But it gets more personal, even more sinister, you might say.
Paul says we were also following the devil, the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient
This might not fit with what people like to call a scientific worldview. Although in fact, the greatest scientists in the world would tell us that a true scientific worldview would be entirely open to this.
One of the things John Dickson pointed out at Men’s Convention last weekend, was that the New Atheist movement, appears to be significantly uneducated or misinformed, about these kinds of things.
It’s the pop scientific worldview that ridicules this kind of thinking.
But friends, notice that Paul doesn’t say, “People are dead, and living in rebellion against God, because they’ve believed very compelling arguments for atheism”, as if, , all we need to do is come up with a better argument, and people will no longer live as God’s enemies.
This is a spiritual, supernatural issue.
When we choose to reject God’s pattern for life, we put ourselves under the rule of Satan.
And so apart from God’s gracious action for us, we are under the influence of the devil.
We were satisfying our own desires
But, lest anyone try on the world’s oldest excuse! “the devil made me do it!
Or even, “I was following the crowd”,
Verse 3, All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.
Here’s a reason why they world’s priorities will never match up with God’s
The problem doesn’t start with society, it starts with us!
Our natural desire, is to reject God and his rule.
Again, hear Paul counting himself who naturally rebel against God. He probably also means all Jewish people.
He’s saying there’s no difference here between Jews and Gentiles, even super high achieving religious Jews like Paul.
If Paul was alive today, everyone would have looked at his life, and said “Surely he’s mates with God.”
Paul says all us, naturally set out to satisfy our selfish desires.
Do you see, apart from God,
Apart from God’s gracious intervention, we cannot please God.
If you’re living with yourself as number one, which is, of course, the very essence of sin, who do you set out to please? Well, it’s not God, is it?
You follow the desires and thoughts of a self-centred life.
Once again, this isn’t saying someone who’s not a Christian can’t do a single good thing, but the trajectory of their life is not towards God, but towards satisfaction of self.
See, the “good deeds” of someone who lives a “good life”, can never count for anything before God, because if that person is living with themselves as Lord instead of God, those so-called good deeds are merely the product of a life in service of self.
Remember that person I mentioned a couple of months ago? “I’m a good person, I give blood! Surely God will be pleased with me!”
Dead, in transgressions and sins.
Left to our devices, we follow the world, the devil, and our own evil desires, and we will find ourselves facing a God who gets angry, at the very kind of sin and evil he would find in us.
Justice must be done, so God gets angry at sin
See the end of verse 4 there, Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath, deserving of anger.
Perhaps, like me, you’ve seen anger, up close, and you don’t like it.
You might have even experienced the anger that turns violent, makes you fear for your safety. Sadly, I know that for some here in our community, that’s been a past experience,
Or even, even a present one,
Witnessing, experiencing that kind of anger, can make us very wary when we read of God’s anger, God’s wrath.
We think, “if that’s what anger is, then I want nothing to do, with a God who gets angry.”
Gosh, I even see my own anger, and get distressed by it, after the event.
But friends, we must not confuse the anger that we see in ourselves,
The anger we see, or , even experience from others,
The anger that we know, that is contaminated, by self-interest, or embarrassment, or frustration, in many ways, tainted sin,
We must not confuse that kind of anger, with God’s anger.
God’s anger is not, reactive,
A smokescreen for self-interest or pride.
God’s wrath, his anger, is his deliberate, personal, settled opposition to sin and evil.
It is his firm mind and purpose, that justice must be done, and that sin is punished.
God’s wrath, is the punishment, and separation from God and his blessings, that will rightly be poured out, on those who live as God’s enemies.
It is the final, eternal death.
Paul says all of us, were by nature deserving of wrath.
We deserve separation from God and from everything good, forever.
The death, that never ends.
So what can be done?
The question that the Bali 9 duo inserted into our national conversation,
Is it possible to escape the punishment which is coming?!
And if so, how?
Can we change our perilous situation?
How can we change our perilous situation?
Well, even if we’ve come to the realisation that perhaps, left to our own devices, we’re not “mates with God” like we thought we were, I reckon that the average Australian still thinks that if I put in a reasonable effort,
Some good deeds,
Some religious sincerity, then God will kind of, make up the difference.
Perhaps if I can just get halfway, to being right with God,
If I can get this part of my life in order, then God will be pleased with me.
After all, we know the saying, “heaven helps those who help themselves.” Actually my father tells the story, when he was growing up, the local store had a sign warning would-be shop-lifters, “heaven help those, who help themselves.”
But then, of course, the question is, How good do I have to be?
How good do I have to be, to escape God’s wrath.
To get off, spiritual death row?
Have a listen to what someone, someone pretty universally recognised as “good”, has to say about being good enough for God.
This is Mohandas Gandhi:
Where is there a wretch
So wicked and loathsome as I?
I have forsaken my Maker,
So faithless have I been.
I’m pretty sure that Ghandi sits near the top of most people’s list of “good” people.
But if he said that about himself,
What would he think of me?
If Gandhi’s “wicked and loathsome”, then what is the average Australian?
If Ghandi, the international poster boy for “doing good”, has been faithless and forsaken his maker,
What hope is there for us, and for the people we know, to escape the right and just judgment of God that we face for our rebellion against him?
Well, the truth is, none of us can be good enough for God.
We can’t even help ourselves into a position, where God can kind of make up the difference.
The stain of sin,
The influence of the world,
The power of the devil,
The insatiable call of our selfishness and evil desires, all mean that we cannot ever reach God’s standard of perfection.
And, friends, if that was all that the Christian message had to offer us, then Christianity would be worthless and cruel.
But remember Paul’s speaking to Christian people.
He’s giving them the before picture, and now he turns to the after picture, and we see that solution to this terrible predicament, is not our work, but God’s work, and it comes to us in God’s grace, his undeserved favour.
Of course, on those reality TV shows, when they give you the after picture, it’s not the same messy backyard, just with a few pot plants rearranged is it?
The record-breaking renovation isn’t the exact same room, untouched except for a new picture hanging on the wall.
No, the after picture, is a picture of complete and utter transformation that leaves the owner in tears, and is supposed to inspire us to go out and renovate our own house!
Well the transformation worked in us by God’s kindness is no less dramatic.
God’s grace is amazing
In the original language, Ephesians has some seriously long sentences. Chapter 1 verses 3 to 14 are one big long sentence.
Verses 15 to 23, which we looked at last week, another long single sentence.
And here chapter 2, verses 1 to 3 are one long sentence in the original, and verse 4 to 7 are another long sentence.
The word order is different to in English, so that first long sentence starts with the emphasis on the word you.
The second sentence starts emphatically but God.
You, spiritual death row,
There was a famous Welsh preacher named Martyn Llyod Jones, who once preached a whole sermon, on these two words; but God.
So convinced was he of the significance of this turning point, the change from before to after, that rests in God himself, and not in us, that he devoted the entire 45 minutes of his sermon to it.
We don’t need to be able to identify the long run on sentences, or understand the original language to see the contrast do we?
The contrast of death, and life,
The contrast of our works, and God’s grace.
Verse 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.
Had the Indonesian authorities heeded the calls of the Australian government and many others, and called off the firing squad, we could have said quite rightly that those condemned prisoners were saved.
Saved from the consequences of their actions.
Is that what’s on view here?
Just being given a new lease on life,
Saved from the consequences of our actions?
I was talking the other day with someone who speaks English as a second language, and we thinking about how in English we often use the same word to mean different things.
Ounce, for example, the unit of weight,
Is also a unit of time! You might have known that. It’s equal to about 7 and a half seconds.
So when we say a woman has just given birth, and we give the vital statistics,
43 cm long,
9 pounds, 4 ounces,
Because of the limitations of our language, we can’t actually be sure if we’re talking about the baby’s weight, or the world record 30 second labour that the mother has just endured!
Fortunately for us, the Apostle Paul only ever uses words like salvation, and saved, to talk about one thing:, humans escaping the judgment they deserve,
People being transformed, from being God’s enemies, to God’s friends.
So we know that nothing less than our eternal standing before God is on view here.
What was that question we started with?
Is it possible for someone to change so much, that they can escape the set punishment for the wrongs they’ve done?
Well this is the ultimate change,
The ultimate transformation.
And to say that it’s by grace is to say it’s free,
It’s a gift.
And John Newton got it right back in 1779, when penned his hymn, Amazing Grace.
Grace , is amazing.
For me to be following the ways of the world,
Submitting to the rule of the devil,
Gratifying the desires of the sinful nature,
Un-able to help myself,
To have my sin and rebellion against God cancelled,
To undergo the most dramatic transformation imaginable, from being God’s enemy, to being seated, verse 6, in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.
That, is amazing.
In Christ is a favourite phrase for Paul in this letter. We see it again in verse 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
It’s kind of Paul’s shorthand way of saying, when God the Father looks at you, he doesn’t see your sin and rebellion, he sees his perfect Son, Jesus.
It does make the before and after comparison on TV look pretty weak, doesn’t it?
Now, in Christ.
Deserving of wrath, now looked upon by God, the same way he sees his Son, Jesus.
We’ve been saved to do good works
I’ve been saying all along that Ephesians 2 gives us the before and after picture, but it actually goes one step further than that.
Before, this is what we were like, apart from God.
After, that is, now, if you’re trusting in Jesus’s death to spare you from God’s rightful judgment, now we are in Christ. Saved by God’s grace.
But Paul also goes on to say what happens next.
Which, if you want to continue the TV program metaphor, this is the “tune in next week” bit!
Or perhaps, more accurately, this is the bit where they tell us, now go and have a crack at doing it yourself.
This is what comes next.
For we are God’s handiwork, verse 10, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
created in Christ Jesus to do good works, Do you find that is an astounding, surprising idea?
I think we easily buy into something of our culture, so that we think that if we’ve been saved from the punishment for our sin, we just put our feet up and wait for Jesus to take us to heaven, where again we’ll just sit with our feet up, for all of eternity!
The idea of being saved, to work,
Created, to work, I find slightly jarring, and yet there’s no mistaking it there.
Those who are created in Christ, are to work.
If we’re saved by God’s grace, we’re drawn into God’s own work in the world.
And in fact Paul puts it into purpose language; the purpose of being created anew in Christ Jesus, is to do good works.
So if we’re not fulfilling our purpose, that raises a question over the reality of the transformation.
If there’s someone who calls themselves a Christian, but they’re not interested in doing the work for which God created them in Christ, they’re not what the Bible calls a Christian.
The Christian who rejects the notion of putting effort into their Christian life,
The Christian who shirks any responsibility, for God’s mission in the world,
The Christian who simply turns up to church to consume, that is a concept entirely foreign, to the Bible.
That kind of Christian would be wholly unrecognisable to Paul.
But what are these good works?
Well, part of it must be in living a holy life.
Living according to the after picture, not the before picture.
There’s good work to be done there.
I think it was the British pastor John Stott who said, “holiness is not a condition into which we drift.”
There is work, in living according to God’s pattern for life.
In our church life,
There is good work to be done among this family.
We’ve seen and heard something this morning of the amazing ministry happening among our kids. We’d love to expand that, especially among kids who aren’t here on Sundays. We’d love to kick off our Friday afternoon Kids’ Club again.
But we need leaders.
There’s good work to be done there.
In our region, as people who have benefitted from God’s kindness, There’s good work to be done in Mount Barker.
There’s a church nearby, planning to plant a new church right to this region.
In God’s kindness, we’ve learnt a thing or two about starting new churches haven’t we?!
There’ll be heaps of good work we can do, to help that brand new church get up and running. Please start praying now! That’s a good work!
Pray that hundreds of people, will come to faith through that new church.
Who are those you know, who are living in rebellion against God.
There’s good work to be done there, isn’t there?
The reason we have Prayer Focus Cards is to help you in that work.
The work of giving the work of the gospel.
Blokes, we heard it from John Dickson last weekend, didn’t we;, Those who give financially to support gospel ministry, are just as much part of the work of promoting the gospel, as the person who evangelises new Christians, and disciples old Christians.
There’s good work to be done there.
After the executions in Indonesia, I came across an article in the New York Times. The author described as others had, how the prisoners apparently faced their deaths, singing the hymn, Amazing Grace.
She wrote, As the members of the firing squad cocked their rifles, the strains of “Amazing Grace” were heard in the darkness.
The drug smugglers were singing a hymn written by a former slave ship captain, John Newton, also a wretch who wanted to be saved.
Also, a wretch, who wanted to be saved.
Except that’s not quite right, is it?!
It’s not what the hymn Amazing Grace is about, is it?
And it’s definitely not what Ephesians 2 is about.
If you’re a Christian, the salvation described here, the free gift of God, is not something you need hope for, though it does have a future aspect,
This salvation, has been achieved.
This is what you were, a rebel on death row.
This is what you are, in Christ, created, to do good works
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav'd, a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.