Ephesians 2:1-10 – God’s Amazing Grace 10/5/15
(NB – due to technical difficulties the audio for this sermon is not available)
Amazing Grace, what a great hymn! I love it, although as good hearing the organ accompanying our great singing was, having gone to a school with a Scottish heritage, I miss the dulcet tones of the bagpipes! But we didn’t choose this hymn because I love it, but because of how much it picks up on the themes in Ephesians 2. Before we look at that amazing grace, if we go back to the first verse, I wonder do you consider yourself a wretch? Or do you have a slightly better view of yourself? Are you basically a good person, someone with whom God would be if not well pleased, then at least reasonably happy with? Paul’s not so sure at the start of Ephesians 2.
Paul begins in verse 1 by saying we’re all dead. ‘1You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived.’ Hopefully you don’t feel very dead this morning. But Paul’s not talking about our physical state, but our spiritual state. It’s a condition that’s afflicted the human race since the beginning, or at least just after the beginning. What did God say to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? ‘17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (Gen. 2:17). What did Adam and Eve do? They ate the fruit! Did they take one bite and drop dead? No. But in the moment they ate the fruit they did die, spiritually. Now, because of our sins and transgressions we too are dead! Which is a problem, because when you’re dead you can’t do anything. Because we’re dead we’ve lost the ability to do what’s right, we can’t do anything to merit God’s favour.
As if being dead wasn’t bad enough, Paul says we’re also captives, following the course of the world, following the ruler of the power of the air and following our own selfish desires.
The world’s constantly telling us what’s right and wrong, what we should desire and what we should avoid. Whether we like it or not, whether we admit it or not, we listen to those messages and so we’re shaped by the world’s values. If that wasn’t true billions of dollars wouldn’t be spent on advertising every year! But this is a fallen world and the course of this world is not the course that God would have us on.
Paul says we also follow the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is at work among those who are disobedient. Who’s Paul referring to? It’s Satan. Now you might think that’s a bit harsh; after all not many people deliberately follow Satan. But listen to how he continues: “3All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses.” Our desire was to please ourselves rather than God. That’s how we followed Satan. Our desires and passions ruled us. They’re very strong forces aren’t they? How many of us can say we’ve never been ruled by our passions? Just think about how you act when you lose your temper: the things that you would never say at other times; the way you’re happy to hurt those you love the most. It’s sad, isn’t it? But we find ourselves ruled by our desires and passions far too often. And what’s the result? “We were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.” That is, our very nature meant that we were under God’s judgement.
So every person on earth has this dilemma. We’re dead, dominated and damned. Perhaps we are wretches after all? Except that’s not all Paul has to say. In fact, if you noticed what he’s described so far has all been in the past tense. That’s how we were, but it’s not how we are now. Once we’re in Christ things change. And how do they change? It’s through God’s amazing grace:
4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
Out of his rich mercy God has done something. Even though we’re guilty, by nature children of wrath, God has shown us mercy. God hasn’t said ‘it’s OK, don’t worry about all that stuff you did, or didn’t do.’ That wouldn’t be just at all. But out of his great love with which he loved us, God sent his Son into the world. And on the cross, God poured out his wrath on Christ. The judgment and the punishment fell on him so that we might be forgiven. And then God raised Christ from the dead. And now, even though we were dead, God out of his great love has made us alive!
Notice how none of this was our doing, it was all God’s. That’s why Paul says, “it’s by grace you have been saved.” It’s such an important point, that he repeats it again in verse 8. If you get nothing else out of this passage, make sure you understand this. God has saved you, not because of something you’ve done that makes you worthy of his mercy, nor because you can give him something back. He doesn’t need you or me to be his children. It’s not even because we decided to trust him. No, he makes us alive as a free gift that comes out of his great love and mercy. That’s what grace means: free, totally unmerited, favour. It goes against everything we learn as we’re growing up doesn’t it? We’re taught we need to earn favour, earn rewards, sometimes even earn love. But not from God. He gives us his love and mercy freely.
For, its by grace we have been saved, through faith. Now what is faith? Well, simply put, faith is believing God and trusting in his promises. Faith is believing God’s promise that he’ll forgive our sins in Christ. Faith is believing Jesus’ promise that he’ll raise up whoever believes in God’s Son. But least we think that faith is what we do to earn God’s merit, Paul reminds us that faith itself is a gift from God, who chose us before the foundation of the world. Thinking of faith in this way has implications for evangelism. We need to pray that God will first stir up faith within others, because unless he does that first their ears will be deaf to the gospel. They’ll never get the words you say to them. And if you’re a person who’s searching for the truth about spiritual things, then it would be good for you to pray that God would open your ears, would give you spiritual life. God delights to answer those sorts of prayer. God in his amazing grace loves to raise people to life in Christ.
But did you notice that God’s amazing grace doesn’t end there? He wasn’t content just to raise us to life with Christ. He’s gone even further;
6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Last week we saw that God’s incredible power was demonstrated when he raised Christ from the dead, and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places. God’s incredible, amazing, grace is shown in that he has raised us up also and has seated us with him! Now that we’re in Christ we’re seated with him on God’s throne in heaven! As much as we might proclaim, ‘Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,’ I think its only when Christ returns in the ages to come, that we’ll truly appreciate how amazing God’s grace truly is. When we fully comprehend the wretches we were and when we can compare that to the heights to which God placed us, we’ll be singing amazing grace for eternity! Especially when we consider that none of this was our work, none of it was our merit, so that none may boast, but that all with glorify God.
But having said that our good works don’t help us to achieve salvation, we’re left with the question, “are good works of any use at all?” Can I just forget about them? Well no, because Paul finishes these words: “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Far from forgetting about being a good person, now that we’ve been raised with Christ we have a job to do. We have good works to do, because that’s what God made us for. Paul’s expression has the idea of God fashioning us specifically for this purpose. We’re his custom made tool. It’s like going into a mechanic’s workshop and looking at all the tools on his shelves. Some tools are general purpose tools that could be used for all sorts of jobs, but some are purpose built. They’re made for doing a particular job. If you weren’t fixing cars they’d be no use to you but to the mechanic they’re indispensable. Well, to God, we’re indispensable, because he’s made us to do his work in the world. What sort of work?
Well, it could be talking to your neighbour about this community here at Christ Church. It might be inviting someone with kids to Mainly Music, or to the Cluster Youth event, or helping out with those ministries. Or it might be inviting someone home to lunch. It might be visiting someone in hospital. It might be providing a meal for someone or joining the Meals on Wheels team. There are all sorts of good works that we might be doing. So let’s make sure we’re looking out for those opportunities to serve God and other people that he’s prepared for us. Remember that you’re God’s new creation, purpose built to do his work in the world.