I have served as a pastor in four different churches over the course of my career in vocational ministry. In each of those settings, I took seriously my privilege and responsibility as a preacher, and I worked hard to prepare and deliver Biblical sermons that were both practical and inspirational. I am not a pastor at present, and I do not preach in a Christian worship service on a regular basis. As a result, I miss the regular discipline of expository preaching.
A blog is not a pulpit, a blog post is not a sermon (at least mine are not, usually), and my readers are not parishioners in a service of worship. Still, I hope you will indulge me if, on occasion, I use this blog to share a simple, straightforward exposition of scripture. That is what I want to do in this blog post and the one to follow.
Since I will have no context in which to deliver a sermon on a Lenten theme this year, what you will read in these two posts is essentially the content of a sermon for Lent which I would have preached if I had had the opportunity. Thanks for reading.
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Ephesians 2:1-10 is one of the most important paragraphs in the entire Bible. I believe it is possible to learn as much (or maybe more) about the human condition by immersion in this portion of Scripture as from most graduate-level courses in behavioral psychology.
The paragraph tells us three vital truths about human existence.
Vital truth number 1: The condition of every human being who has not entered into a personal relationship with God.
1 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 and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.
Vital truth number 2: The present position of every Christian believer.
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. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 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.
Vital truth number 3: The means by which a person moves from the condition (of verses 1-3) to the position (of verses 4-7).
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Or, to say it another way, Ephesians 2:1-10 tells us (who are believing Christians)—
What we were, what we are, and how the change came about!
Let’s consider each of these truths a bit further.
First of all, what we were. (2:1-3)
Keep in mind that Paul is describing, in these lines, everybody who has not come into a relationship with God through faith in Christ—all of human society apart from the Christian community. And about this mass of humanity he says…
- They are dead (in “transgressions and sins,” v. 1)
- They are enslaved or in bondage to three forces… (vv. 2, 3)
- the ways of this world (verse 2)
- the ruler of the kingdom of the air (verse 2)
- the cravings of our fleshand following its desires and thoughts (v. 3)
3. They deserve only the judgment of God. (verse 3)
Human beings are created by God for the purpose of doing the will of God in the world. Anybody who is not fulfilling that purpose is, spiritually speaking, a corpse. Apart from believing faith, humans are blind to the truth about Jesus and deaf to the voice of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing in them that produces a yearning to call upon God as “Abba, Father.”
Further, the system of values that permeates and dominates contemporary Western society is mainly secular, amoral, and materialistic. It sees no need for God, embraces no sense of moral absolutes, and is consumed by the desire for more and more things.
When Paul writes of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient, he wants us to understand that the evil in our world has a personal force behind it.
When he talks about the enslavement of unbelievers to the cravings of (the) flesh (with) its desires and thoughts, he wants us to recognize the tendency of a non-Christian culture to corrupt and distort perfectly good and normal desires and behaviors so that they come to consume and addict and obsess us.
That’s the bad news of Ephesians 2:1-3.
What follows, however, in verses 4-10, is one of the most exciting, glorious declarations of truth in all of the Scripture. And it is introduced by two powerful words of hope…
That is… “It’s true that humanity, in general, is in rough shape… but God…
And, with those two words, that adversative phrase, Paul lets us know that a remedy for this awful situation is possible only because God has taken the initiative to correct it.
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.
And so we come to the second vital truth about the human condition which Paul addresses in this paragraph, namely …
What we are… as believers. (2:4-7)
God, who has great love for us and is rich in mercy has taken the initiative to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
- He has made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions (v. 5).
- He has raised us up with Christ (v. 6)
- He has seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus (v. 6)
Is it pushing too far the imagery that Paul uses here to suggest that he intends us to compare what God has done for us with some significant events in the life of Jesus? For example…
- His resurrection—(God has made us alive)
- His ascension—(God has raised us up with Christ)
- His restoration to the Throne of God—(God has seated us with him in the heavenly realms)
And keep in mind, all of this is present reality… not “pie in the sky by and by.”
And why has God done all this? Paul tell us why in v. 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.
There is something about God’s providing a remedy for human sin that establishes the greatness of the glory and the character of God in a way that nothing else can!
And consider this: throughout all the eons of the future, God’s characteristics (of love and grace and kindness and mercy) will be clearly displayed in the universe because there are people like you and me who have been forgiven of our sins and have experienced salvation.
I think I will leave it there for today and pick up at this point in my next post.