Death To Life
November 06, 2016 | Randy Smith
Death To LifeEphesians 2:1-7
Sunday, November 6, 2016
Pastor Randy Smith
Let's pretend you and I are walking through a cemetery. It's late at night. The moonlight is enough to illuminate different shades of the autumn colors. The tall trees are swaying in the breeze. The fallen leaves are crunching under our feet as we approach a large tombstone. We can barely read the weathered engravings, but we do know laying to rest just beside us is a deceased body.
I ask you to share the Gospel to the dead individual. You look at me like I am crazy. I ask again, encouraging you that you can raise this person from the dead. You still refuse. Yet my persistence begins to annoy you and knowing I won't quit, you comply.
You begin: "There is a holy God. You are a sinner. Yet Jesus Christ died for sins and conquered death by rising from the dead. If you believe in Him and turn from your sins, God will make you alive."
Together we stare intently at the grave in anticipation. In the utter silence we wait. Nothing! I encourage you to speak a little louder. Still nothing! I encourage you to be more persuasive, give some incentives, maybe tell a funny story. We wait and still no response.
Ephesians 2:1 says, "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins." This was your spiritual status before Christ. Though my illustration used physical death, the spiritual domain is no different. Apart from God, spiritually dead people can't make themselves alive.
Our goal this morning before we break for the Lord's Table will be to examine who we were before Christ, God's gracious role in our salvation and God's reason for making us alive.
1. Your Past Position
Let's start in the first point with your past position.
After describing the great riches of our salvation in chapter 1, Paul now in chapter 2 wants to inform his Christian readers how it all took place. Before you came to Christ, he says in verse 1 that you "were dead in your trespasses and sins."
We are talking physically alive, but spiritually dead. Spiritual zombies. Going through life, but not possessing life. Spiritual EKG - flat line. We are talking totally unresponsive to God. We are talking an inability to want Him, chose Him or love Him. We are talking every person, but Christ that has ever been born on the planet.
This is where we get the doctrine called "total depravity." We are not saying some are not worse than others. We are saying all humans are born spiritually dead. It's like the cemetery again. Some of the dead may be more decayed than others, but all of them are dead. Like the famous riddle when driving past a cemetery. "Guess how many dead people are buried here?" Answer: "All of them." All buried in a cemetery are physically dead. All in this world without Christ are spiritually dead.
This simple biblical concept answers a lot questions. Why do young children sin without ever being formally taught those specific actions? Why are they greedy, apt to seek revenge and focused on self? Why does illicit sex and violence sell so well through movies and commercials? Why do people use our Lord Name in vain or for the punchline of a joke? And why is there so much evil in the world? The answer to all these questions is the same. As we read in verse 1, we "were dead in [our] trespasses and sins." We can't deny that humans are sinners. And what we must understand is that we are not spiritually dead because we sin. Rather we sin because we are spiritually dead.
And every Christian was no different than the rest. We too were once spiritually dead from the time of birth. And at the risk of getting ahead of myself, there is nothing we did in and of ourselves to change that. Just as we did nothing to give ourselves physical birth, there is nothing we did to give ourselves spiritual birth either. We'll come back to that with biblical proof, but for now let's move to the second point.
2. Your Past Influences
Before Paul shares the good news, in verses 2-3 he shares the bad news. Paul lists the influences that once held us under their sway. You can see in verse 2 he says in these things we once "formally walked." Or verse 3, "Among them we too all formally lived."
The first one of the three mentioned is "the course of the world" (verse 2). The world as it is often mentioned in Scripture in this context describes not the physical planet or the people themselves, but rather the philosophies, ideologies and priorities held dearly by those without Christ. These attitudes do not account for God's standards and are often hostile to God's standards and hostile to the people who live according to God's standards.
If you don't believe me just test the system. Say you believe in sex after marriage or traditional marriage or the end of abortion or the need to live by the Bible or salvation in Christ alone. At best you'll be ridiculed. At worse you'll lose your job and undergo "sensitivity training."
Therefore we are reminded by Christ that His people will be persecuted by the world because we are no longer of the world. In Galatians, Paul says our Savior came that "He might rescue us from this present evil age (Gal. 1:4). And being rescued from the world system that hates God, John tells us not to "love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 Jn. 2:15). God views a love for the world as spiritual adultery (Jas. 4:4). Before Christ we were puppets drinking the world's Kool-Aid, believing and walking in the sinful, anti-God flow of society. But now that we are delivered from the world and placed in God's kingdom with the mind of Christ, the Scriptures become our guide and our command is to no longer be "conformed to this world" (Rom. 12:2).
Second, Paul says the Christian has been delivered from the influence of "prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience" (Eph. 2:2). This is a clear reference to Satan and his demonic horde.
Satan in the Bible is called the "god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4) and "the ruler of this world" (Jn. 12:31). Satan is a supernatural being, defeated at the cross, but ever so powerful in deceiving and leading people astray with his lies. He knows his time is short. All of his energy is used to oppose the will of God and draw people into His kingdom of darkness. His primary purpose is to get people to do evil and think evil about God. How effective has he been? His success is spelled out at the end of verse 2 in that his deceived subjects are characterized as "sons of disobedience."
As Christians were now are able to overcome the world. We are also able to overcome the devil as well. By God's power and with the spiritual weapons we'll learn about in chapter 6 we can be victorious.
The last influence mentioned in verse 3 is the flesh. Paul calls it "the lusts of the flesh" and "the desires of the flesh and of the mind." So it's not just that the world and the devil were active from without to keep us away from Christ. Here we also learn that there was something also from within.
The flesh is our fallen, self-centered human nature. The flesh is the old heart we were born with inherited from Adam. When Paul speaks of the flesh here, he prefaces it with the word, "lusts." That speaks of a powerful desire to do the things in line with our sinful nature. We read in Romans 8:8 that "those who are in the flesh cannot please God." We know from Galatians 5 that the flesh produces all kinds of evil fruit like anger and bitterness and jealousy and greed and idolatry and sexual immorality.
And like the other two influences, the flesh needs no longer to have mastery over us because we now have been given a new heart indwelt with the Holy Spirit and are able and commanded to live no longer according to the flesh, but rather according to the Spirit.
Paul's goal in verses 1-3 is not a blanket condemnation of all unbelievers. Though that's true, his primary goal in speaking to believers is to show us who were before Christ. Though we can and are expected to be by God's grace victorious over the world and the devil and the flesh, before Christ we were under their bondage just like everybody else. "We too," verse 3, "All formally lived" in them. "We formally [lived]," verse 2, according to their principles. We, verse 1, "Were dead in [our] sins and trespasses." And therefore, the end of verse 3, "Were by nature children of wrath even as the rest" of them.
So before we get to the good news we get a significant dosage of the bad news. Before we get a big head for our spiritual privileges, we get a reminder that we were no different than the rest. And before we go through life unappreciative for our salvation, we get a bold pronouncement of where we were before Christ. You see, only when we understand our helpless position and the greatness of God's wrath will we be mastered by God's unbelievable grace and mercy.
Let move to the third point- "Your Gracious God."
3. Your Gracious God
Look at verse 5. "Even when you were dead in your transgressions." So get the picture painted here clearly in your mind. This is where we must start. You were hostile to God. You weren't seeking God. You were alienated to Him and existing as a child of wrath. You didn't want Him. You were "dead in your transgressions" (verses 1 and 5). And while you were "dead in your transgressions" the rest of verse 5 says He "made [you] alive together with Christ."
While you were spiritually dead entangled with the world, the devil and the flesh, God performed a miracle in your heart to make you spiritually alive. And that miracle gave you the ears to hear Him and the eyes to see Him and the heart to want Him. And as a result of His work to regenerate your dead spirit, you cried out to Him in faith. You began to experience new life with Christ. Let's hear those words again: "He made [you] alive."
Do you see this incredible contrast with whom you were and who you are now? Do you realize your new identity? Do you understand why you can and must be spiritually victorious? Do you praise God for His choice of you rather than your choice of Him? Do you now get a better understanding of the greatness of God's grace? As we read at the end of verse 5, "By grace you have been saved." A fitting conclusion for all that Paul just taught us!
And why did God do this? Why did He save us by making us spiritually alive? It certainly wasn't because we deserved it. It also certainly wasn't because of anything we had done. Why would He lavish such incredible grace on those who spurn His name and by nature were hopeless vile and rebellious sinners justly under the condemnation of His wrath? Why would He and He alone take us from children of wrath to children of God?
Look at the verse 4. This is the only answer we have. It was because He is merciful, or as the passage says, "Rich in mercy" and because He is love, or as the passage says, "Great love."
And not only were we saved by His grace, but we were also given an exalted status in Christ. Verse 6 says He "raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus." Can you imagine anything better than this? Not only were your saved from God's wrath (that's the mercy!), but God also gave you an exalted position in the heavenly places with Christ (that's the grace!).
So last week we learned in 1:20-22 that God "raised [Christ] from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet." Now just a few verses later (remember there were no chapter breaks in the original), we realize that God has made our position to be with this exalted Christ a reality we will one day fully experience.
You know, as I was writing this, I feel at a loss to explain the greatness of this with mere humans words and illustrations. But I'll try.
Let's pretend you committed the worst crime you can imagine. The trial is set and in it you are found guilty and sentenced to die. Yet the judge has pity on you. In his desire to see justice fulfilled, the judge offers himself to take the death penalty on your behalf. You are set free (mercy!). But as the wealthy judge is being escorted out, he hands over to you all his bank accounts and the keys to his cars, boats and houses (grace!).
And let's remind ourselves how it all came about. God in His love choosing to have mercy on deserving objects of His wrath sent His Son to pay the full penalty of their sins. In His sovereign will He chose to take our spiritually dead and enslaved hearts and make them spiritually alive, enabling us to cry out to Him in faith. He gave the ability to overcome the world and the devil and the flesh to live lives now free from their bondage and able to enjoy fellowship with Him. And then He writes our names in heaven only to have us experience the greatness of our salvation with an eternity where we are exalted with Christ. And all of this, as we will learn in verse 8 next week was a gift that He has chosen to bestow on us. Nothing of ourselves. All of Him! It is all of grace, mercy and love - the three words we see in this passage.
This past weekend God providentially worked it out that I was able to be in Chicago (to speak at a men's retreat) the day after the Cubs won the World Series. When I first arrived, I had to pay a visit to Wrigley Field. The place was packed, filled with people celebrating unlike anything I had ever seen. There was a lot to be happy about. Yet when it comes to the greatness of our salvation - which far exceeds a Cubs victory - I witnessed nothing. We might not see this celebrated at Wrigley Field, but we better see it celebrated in the church!
So what's the catch? Is there any reason why God has chosen to love us and grant us the riches of His grace? Is there any directive as to how God expects us to live our redeemed lives from this point going forward? Is there any way that we can express our gratitude for His unfathomable mercy?
Let's go to the final point.
4. Your Glorious Purpose
Verse 7 gives us God's purpose. "So that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."
God wants your life to serve as a demonstration of His love throughout all of eternity. It's all for God's glory whereby your life might function as a trophy of His grace. Unlike the man-centered preaching in many churches, the Bible is God-centered.
And this shouldn't surprise you as we studied this same purpose in chapter 1. 1:5-6, "He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace." 1:11-12, "[God] works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we would be to the praise of His glory." And in 1:13-14, "You were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise to the praise of His glory.
Are you amazed at the greatness of your salvation? Are you able to accept the reality of your depraved position before Christ so you might have greater appreciation for your exalted position after Christ? Are you left with eternal praise for the love, mercy and grace of God? Are you more willing to hate and overcome sin because you now better understand what you were saved from and who you are now in Christ? Are you excited that the future is bright for greatness of your salvation has yet at this time to even be experienced? And are you motivated based on God's great love to live a live by His grace so that you might seek to bring Him glory in all things?