Ephesians 2:1 – 10
Friends or enemies?
A man named named Hiroo Onoda passed away last month. He was 91, not a bad innings, we would say, and so nothing really remarkable about his death. His obituary, however, was printed on page 2 of the international edition of the New York Times. And that’s because, Hiroo Onoda, was the very last Japanese soldier, in the Philippines, to surrender after World War 2.
In fact, although the war ended in 1945, 2nd Lieutenant Onoda was cut off from communications, and didn’t know that the war had finished. He held out, fighting against the Philippines, initially with 3 other soldiers, but then on his own, for 29 more years, until 1974, killing animals, burning crops, even killing people who lived in the villages nearby.
It’s intriguing, isn’t it, but really a tragedy, that a man would spend most of his life, as an enemy, when in fact, he was at peace, with those he was fighting against.
And yet every day, tens of thousands of people, die, having spent their lives, in a very similar pursuit, that is an even greater tragedy: People who spend their lives thinking that they are God’s allies, when in fact the very opposite is true, and they are living as God’s enemies.
Every person lives as God’s enemy
Did you hear how the Apostle Paul, began this section, as he writes to Christian brothers in and around the city of Ephesus?
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,
And verse 3, Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.
Every single person alive, is, in a mixture of metaphors, both dead, and living as God’s enemy.
Even though, most of the people I meet, think that they’re OK with God, or, more specifically, that God is OK with them.
Our young adults here tell me that I frequently quote Mick Dundee!
But it’s only because he’s such an accurate representation of typical Australians!
In this aspect alone, shall we say!
Crocodile Dundee says, “Me and God, we’d be mates.”
And yet Paul says the universal human condition is not “mates with God”,
It’s enemies of God.
Now, “enemies of God” doesn’t mean burning crops and killing villagers.
It’s just to live in the world that God made, without acknowledging God as the ruler of the world that he’s made.
It’s a bloodless coup, very polite, but a rejection of his authority all the same.
If you’re into those lifestyle shows on TV, you’ll know that they’ll often show the before and after comparison.
Somebody’s backyard that’s been blitzed,
Some home that’s been renovated for auction,
Or an old piece of furniture given a new lease on life,
It used to be this, now it’s this!
Paul’s writing to Christian men and women, who have heard the good news of Jesus,
They’ve believed that Jesus lived and died and rose again so that they can be transformed from God’s enemies into his friends.
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.
And notice Paul understands this to have been the situation of every single person who has ever lived, including himself,
Verse 3, Like the rest, we were, by nature deserving of wrath
Paul’s Jewish heritage, doesn’t mean he’s any better off in this regard.
Every person, left to their own devices, lives as God’s enemy.
And Paul describes the situation of being God’s enemy in 4 different ways.
We were dead in sin
And things don’t get much worse than being described as dead do they?
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
Clearly Paul means spiritually dead.
And notice this spiritual death isn’t just something in the future that awaits people at the end of this life. It is the present state, of everyone who is an enemy of God.
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.
And some of the other English Bible translations talk about us being dead through transgressions and sins.
We’ve come be in this state of death, through our transgressions and sins, through our rebellion against God.
I know many of us are looking forward to hearing Darren preach his first sermon as a member of the Trinity staff, in a couple of weeks.
And as I was preparing this week, I was reminded of my first sermon, on the Trinity team, about 11 years ago, at Trinity Hills church, and I was preaching on this very passage, about being dead in transgressions and sins
Now, I had previously worked for the Department of Anatomy, at the University of Adelaide, and my job, there’s really no polite way of saying it, was to cut up dead bodies.
And so I thought, “I can share something of the insight of, what it means when someone is dead”!
But my boss, Chris Edwards, said to me, “In your very first sermon here, when people are just getting to know you, I’m not sure it’s a great idea, to describe your fairly grisly former employment.”
So I left it out!
But now that most of you know me, and aren’t going to be put off by details of my gruesome past, I can share it with you!
But actually, it’s not really all that exciting,
It’s not some deep insight, it’s just a very straight forward observation, that I was confronted with every day:
Those people who had been caught in death, could do nothing for themselves.
I couldn’t say to one of them, “Excuse me, would you mind just moving over there a little bit?”
And Paul says that’s the situation of every human being.
Dead in, transgressions and sins.
I know that some people, think that the language of being dead, makes the case a bit too strongly!
“Surely that’s pushing it a bit!”
But if that’s what we think, it shows we have underestimated, the magnitude of the problem,
We’ve misunderstood the seriousness, of living as God’s enemies.
It’s amusing when you’re overseas watching the news, or looking at overseas websites, as they report news about Australia.
I remember years ago being overseas, and watching a report on the news about floods in the town of Katherine in the Northern Territory. And the video footage they used in the story, was of a helicopter flying over the Sydney Harbor Bridge.
But it’s often it’s the vast scale of Australia that people in other countries seem to struggle with.
Like the Japanese man who brought his pushbike to Adelaide, intending to ride to Darwin in the next day and a half.
And you might remember, this time last year, there were big bushfires in SA, and the overseas news networks struggled to communicate the sheer size of the fires, since there was one fire alone, that was larger than 75 different countries of the world!
Let’s not take this lightly, because we fail to grasp the sheer scale of the problem,
The magnitude of our offence against God.
you were dead, in your transgressions and sins
That is the situation of very person, apart from God’s gracious intervention, which is what we’re coming to in a moment.
But let’s take a quick at the 3 things that Paul says were influencing us, in this direction.
People who live as God’s enemies, follow the world, the devil, and their own evil desires.
Following the world
Verse 2, he says, We followed the ways of this world
We know, don’t we, the influence that society and culture can have on us?
There are numbers here, in our church family, who, at work, or school, or university, who have come face to face, with a worldview and value system that is opposed to Gods.
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,
I think the point for you here is, “Don’t swallow the lie, that the dominant worldview of our society, is good, or even neutral.”
The habits, and attitudes, and behaviour of society, will lead you away from God, not towards God.
Similarly, for those of us who are Christians, we need to remember, the pattern of the world, will always fall short of God’s standard.
We will not, we can not, by following the ways of the world, find ourselves, thinking as God thinks, and acting as God would have us act.
Our society, will never, this side of the new creation, reflect God’s plans and priorities, and pattern for life.
We were following the devil
But it’s not just that we’re swept along under the influence of the world,
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
Here is a personal evil force who is at work, opposed to God.
Now, 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,
It’s the pop scientific worldview that is opposed to this,
Even so, here is the reality of evil and opposition to God.
Apart from God’s action for us, we are under the influence of the devil.
We were following our own desires
But, lest anyone say, “the devil made me do it!,
I was just doing what society wanted!”,
Verse 3, All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.
Our natural thoughts and desires are to reject God and his rule,
To live as his enemy, and to throw off his pattern for life.
And the Apostle Paul includes himself among in this,
Even though, if he was alive today, everyone would say, surely he’s mates with God,
Dead, in transgressions and sins.
Apart from God, 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.
God gets angry at sin
See the end of verse 4 there, Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.
Let me make a confession,
I get angry, at my kids.
I wish I didn’t,
And it distresses me.
And one of the things that distresses me most about the way I get angry at my 3, is that what is perhaps justifiable anger, is so often contaminated, amplified, by other emotions or reactions.
Maybe I’m frustrated,
Maybe I’ve been physically hurt, I’ve got bruises from my kids to prove it!
Perhaps we’re out somewhere, and I’m embarrassed at what my kids are getting up to.
Maybe I’m tired,
Maybe I’m trying to concentrate on something else,
My anger gets tainted, by, most significantly, my sin.
Friends, God’s wrath, is not like that.
God’s anger is not contaminated or exaggerated by self-interest, or embarrassment, or frustration.
God’s anger, is not reactive, unpredictable, capricious, like the gods of Greek and Roman mythology;, You could never be quite sure, how they would react, on any given day.
God’s wrath, is his settled opposition, to sin and evil.
His firm mind and purpose, that justice is 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.
I sat in my office just last week with someone, who rattled off a great long list of people, individuals, and categories of people, who she thought, deserved God’s wrath.
But she didn’t think for a moment, that her name was anywhere on that list,
Yet Paul says all of us, were by nature deserving of wrath.
So what can be done?
So what can we do?
If you’re a fan of the Sound of Music, you might recognise these words that Maria sings, when she realises that Captain Von Trapp has fallen in love with her.
here you are, standing there, loving me
Whether or not you should
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good
Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could,
So somewhere, in my youth or childhood,
I must have done something good
I saw you there, singing along silently, You know who you are!
It’s a little soppy and romantic isn’t it?
But it is how, well, most of the people I know, think life works, and even, I know lots of Christian people, who live as if this were true.
The Australian equivalent is,
“There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
But when it comes to dealing with this serious problem, of being God’s enemies,
If, there’s no such thing as a free lunch,
If, nothing comes from nothing,
If whatever good comes my way is the result of some other good that I’ve done,
How good do I have to be?
How good do I have to be, to escape God’s wrath.
Well, the truth is, none of us can be good enough for God.
The stain of sin, the influence of the world, the devil, and our evil desires, mean that we cannot ever reach God’s standard of perfection.
And if that was all the Christian message had to offer us, then Christianity would be worthless and cruel.
But having seen the “before” picture, we’re now presented with the “after”, 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, that is, God’s undeserved favour.
God’s grace is amazing
It’s not obvious in our English translations, but verses 1 to 3 are one long sentence in the original, and verse 4 to 7 are another long sentence. And the first sentence starts with the emphasis on the word you, and the second sentence, starts emphatically but God.
Howard Mowl was an Archbishop in Sydney, he once spent a year visiting the churches in his diocese, doing confirmations and those kinds of things. And in every church he visited that year, he preached on those 2 words, but, God.
So significant, was this contrast, the turning point, between before and after, that Archbishop Mowll wanted every person in church to have these words impressed upon them.
Even in our NIV translation, the contrast is still apparent.
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.
Sometimes we use the same word, to mean different things, don’t we?
Love, for example.
I love my children,
I love pizza,
I love going on holidays.
It doesn’t mean the same thing in each case, does it?
It means I like to eat pizza, but my children, not so much!
The Apostle Paul, only ever uses words like salvation, and saved, to talk about one thing:, people being transformed, from being God’s enemies, to God’s friends.
Nothing less than our eternal standing before God is on view here.
And this salvation, is by grace.
By grace means it’s free,
Grace by necessity, points to somebody else.
Chris Edwards, who I mentioned earlier, had a silly illustration of grace that he used to like.
He’d say, “Grace, is a turtle on a fence post.”
But actually it’s a tremendous picture! When you see a turtle on a fence post, you know it didn’t get there on its own.
We have 2 turtles in our family, their names are Esther and Mordechai. And I thought I would try this out,
I took them out into the backyard,
I plonked them down on the ground next to the fence, and watched to see if they could climb to the top.
Guess what?! That is grace!
They cannot do it!
Grace says “somebody else does all the work!”
In a world where we’re told “nothing comes from nothing”,
Where kids grow up to learn that there’s no such thing as a free lunch,
Where the popular notion of “karma” is taught in schools and pre-schools,
Grace is amazing.
There’s nothing good in my youth or childhood, or any other part of my life for that matter, that gives me a right to this salvation;, the cancelling of my sin and rebellion against God, and my transformation, from one who was God’s enemy, to one seated verse 6, in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.
God’s amazing grace comes to us in Christ
Did you notice Paul’s insistence, that God’s amazing grace comes to us only in Christ Jesus.
Listen to the repetition in verses 6 and 7, And God raised us up with Christ,
and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,
7 the riches of his grace, are, expressed in his kindness to us, in Christ Jesus.
Did you detect the theme?!
It is only through trusting in Jesus that the riches of God’s grace become ours.
We are made alive, resurrected, raised up with Christ. That is to say, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead has benefits for us.
We’re seated, with him in the heavenly realms in Christ, that is, united with Christ.
In Christ is a favourite phrase for Paul in this letter. And it sums up the fact, that when God the Father looks at us, he sees his perfect Son, Jesus.
It makes 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 looks at his Son, Jesus.
Salvation is a free gift
And, as if Paul hadn’t already found enough ways to say “there’s nothing you can do to change your relationship with God”, he adds, this salvation is gift.
Verse 8, it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.
At one of the weddings in our church last weekend, I was wearing a tie, that my sister had given me as a Christmas present.
And somebody complimented me, on tie.
Now, if the tie is a gift, and somebody compliments me, I can’t take credit for it, can I?
I didn’t choose it,
I didn’t buy it,
I didn’t even know I wanted it!
I just unwrapped it!
Grace, faith, the whole salvation package, is the gift of God, verse 8
Nothing in my youth or childhood, nothing at all in my life, puts me on the receiving end of what God offers me through the death of Jesus in my place.
And it’s amazing.
We’ve been saved to do good works
I said earlier that Ephesians 2 gives us the before and after picture, but it actually goes one step further than that.
We’re told what we were like, apart from God.
And then we’re told where we are now, in Christ, no longer enemies, saved by God’s grace.
But then Paul goes on to say what happens next.
If the Sound of Music is not your thing, maybe Back to the Future is more your genre!
In the DeLorean time machine, there are 3 LED displays, each one with a different date and time.
And the inventor of this time machine says, “this one shows you where you’re going,
This one shows you where you are,
And this one shows you where you’ve been.
Quite important, if you’re travelling through time!
But good also for the Christian person to bear in mind!
This is where you’ve been. Dead.
This where you are!
Made alive! Saved by God’s grace.
And then, because of your new standing as God’s friends in Christ.
This is where you’re going.
This is what comes next.
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Years ago there was an ad on bus stops around the place.
It had a photo of a young ballerina, centre stage in a huge theatre, and the caption said something about “following your dreams.”
I think we were supposed to imagine that this young woman had been preparing for this moment all her life.
And so imagine when this moment finally comes, if she walked out in front of the packed theatre, , and did nothing?
Or if she walked to the very front of the stage, and said “For my audition, I’m going to dance something from Swan Lake.”
She’s not there to do nothing,
She’s certainly not there to audition,
She is there to do, what she’s been prepared for.
Admittedly, that hypothetical ballerina got where she did, by a lot of hard work,
If you’re a Christian, you got to the exalted place you enjoy, through a free gift!
But the same principle applies.
We’re not here to audition, to impress God,
And we’re not here to take up space.
But what are the good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do?
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.
In our church life,
We’ve commissioned some who serve among us this morning, and there are plenty of other opportunities serve Christ’s people.
There’s good work to be done in this family.
In our region, as people who have benefitted from God’s kindness, There’s good work to be done in Mount Barker.
Who are those you know, who are living as God’s enemies, thinking they’re his allies?
There’s good work to be done there, isn’t there?
Imagine spending your life thinking you were at war, when actually peace at come.
Or, even worse, imagine spending your life thinking you’re at peace, when you’re actually, you’re living as God’s enemy.
In the nearly 3 decades that Hiroo Onoda hid out in the Philippine jungle, countless times, the Philippine government, the Japanese government, dropped leaflets, written in Japanese, explaining that the war was over, and urging Onoda to come out,
To enjoy life, and freedom.
And each time, he read the leaflets, and concluded they were propaganda, a trick.
Onoda only came out of the Jungle, when the Japanese government, sent his former commanding officer, who by now was living a quiet life running a bookshop in Tokyo, they sent the major into the jungle, to meet his lost comrade, and to bring him home.
If you’re not a Christian,
Please don’t think this is just propaganda,
Some story that’s been concocted to scare you, or trick you!
And do you know, God hasn’t just sent some retired army major, slash book shop manager, to show you how serious he is.
He sent is one and only son, to show you how serious he is, how much he longs for you to stop living as an enemy, and come to him as a dearly loved child.