Note: As I mentioned in the previous sermon text on Ephesians 2:1-3, I no longer agree with much of what I have written in this sermon. I first preached it about 15 years ago, and my theology has changed quite a bit since then. Here is basically how I would explain these verses today:
Even though our great sin was that of accusation and blame, so that we condemned and killed others in God’s name (Eph 2:1-3), God Himself did not behave that way toward us. (This proves that God was not behind our killing of others in His name.) God does not bring an end to life, but raises us up to new life in Christ. Beyond that, He also raised us up with Jesus Christ and seated us with Him in the heavens!
This is what it means to be “saved.” To be “saved” is not to go to heaven when you die (though that is part of it), but is to follow God in a new way of living life, a life of restoration and blessing directed at others. God acted this way toward us by grace, and by grace, we can act this way toward others since we now are seated with Christ in heavenly places.
So… that’s the new way of explaining this text. Compare it with what I wrote before, and see how much has changed!
P.S. If you want to learn more about what Scripture teaches about the words “save” and “grace” and how these are related to the gospel, consider taking my course, “The Gospel According to Scripture.”
Ephesians 2:1-3 pointed out that all people are sinners. There is a problem with that text. The problem is that most people don’t believe what it says. They don’t believe they are sinners and under the wrath of God. Most people believe they are pretty good people. They think they live pretty moral lives. They are pretty righteous already. They have plenty of good works and good deeds. But let me tell you what God says to all of this. In Isaiah 64:6, it says that from God’s viewpoint, we are like one who has become unclean (that’s the word for lepers), and all of our righteous acts are like filthy rags. In other words, all of the things that seem to be good works to us, God sees them as just a pile of dirty, disgusting rags.
And in fact, if you were able to get into the Hebrew of Isaiah 64:6, you would see even more than that. These aren’t just any filthy rags, the original Hebrew uses the term for a menstrual cloth, or a menstrual garment. When we try to bring our good works to God to cover over our sin, God says we might as well be bringing him a filthy, stained, stinking menstrual cloth. That is what our good works amount to in his eyes.
And so, we are helpless and hopeless. We are sinners in the hands of an angry God, and there is nothing we can do to appease Him! And because of that, we were by nature, objects of wrath. God had determined to poor out his wrath on us. We were doomed and there was nothing we could do about it. Which brings us to Ephesians 2:4-7. Paul, under the inspiration of God, has just told us of the horrible condition we are in, and if that is where He left us hanging, it would be a terrible ending to the story. He doesn’t leave us there, he says, BUT God…But God.
Sometimes the smallest words in Scripture are the most important. And this little word “But” is one of the biggest buts in Scripture. The word is a conjunction, and in this case, and adversative conjunction, showing a contrast between what Paul has just said, and what he is going to say next. The contrast here is between where we were headed as sinners, and what God has done for us as a result.
Ephesians 2:1-3, when all alone, are very depressing. They talk about sin, judgment, wrath, condemnation…and then we come to that little word … But. This little three letter word is a shower of hope to a tired and weary soul. It is one of the most glorious transitions in the whole Bible! If you are burdened by your sin, and you are distressed about God’s judgment coming upon you, take note of this word!
Here we are, sitting under the condemnation of God, and there is nothing we can do. It is a hopeless situation. But there are two parties in this predicament. We are helpless to do anything to save ourselves. We can not save ourselves. We have no ability to save ourselves. We are powerless.
But God is not. When Paul says But God, he is saying, you couldn’t do anything, so God took the first step. He initiated the process. When no one else could help. When no man was found to have the ability necessary – God stepped in.
So maybe you’re wondering what exactly God did. Well, Paul tells us, but first he tells us why and how God did what He did. The next part of Ephesians 2:4 tells us the first of two reasons why God did for us what He did. This first reason is that He is rich in mercy. Though we deserve punishment, he desired to have mercy on us.
The definition of mercy, of course, is not getting something bad we do deserve. It is like when you are speeding, and the cop pulls you over, and you know you deserve a ticket, and he knows you deserve a ticket, and he decides to show mercy and not give you one. Mercy is not getting what you do deserve. And God is rich in mercy. He has an abundance of it.
Following mercy, Paul tells us the second reason God did what He did. Ephesians 2:4 says, because of His great love. Paul tells us here that it was because God loved us. God did what He did out of His mercy and His love. I like to call these the two roadblocks to hell. God put these up on the Highway to Hell, and you have to be pretty blind to miss them, and pretty foolish to drive through them. Don’t ignore God’s mercy and love toward you this day. You can’t keep God from showing mercy toward you and from loving you, but you can turn your back on Him and refuse what He is offering.
Now this second reason, this love of God, is not just any love. This is agape love – unconditional, perfect love. Not only that, but Paul says God has great love for us. Why does God love us? Well, He loves us because we were his creatures. We are like His long lost son. He made us. He loves us. He wants to restore a right relationship with us.
We need to remember though, that this love for us was not based on who we were or what we had done, or how good of people we had become. God does not love us because we are lovable. Just the opposite in fact, we had rebelled against Him. We had betrayed Him. We had stabbed Him in the back. There was nothing lovable about us; our sin was detestable in the eyes of God, but he loved us anyway.
In fact, that is exactly what the rest of Ephesians 2:4 and the first part of Ephesians 2:5 says. …because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses. We were dead in our sins. We were unlovely. We were a rotting, maggot filled corpse. We were dressed in filthy menstrual garments. We were undesirable by any standard. Yet God’s love for us was so great, that He loved us anyway.
So what did He do? Ephesians 2:5-7 tell us that He did four things for us. But before we look at these four things that God did for us, I want to point out how he did these for Christians. We’ve seen the why – because of his love and mercy. The last phrase in Ephesians 2:5 tells us how. In my translation, it has a short parenthesis which says (by grace you have been saved). How has God done all that he has done for us? He had done it by grace. An acronym for grace is God’s Riches At Christ’s expense – GRACE.
In other words, this salvation is a gift. You did not earn it. It was not given to you as a reward for being a good person. It was not given to you as payment for a job well done. It was pure grace. I said earlier that mercy is not getting what we do deserve. The definition of grace is getting something good we don’t deserve. Imagine my illustration of the police officer pulling you over for speeding again. You and he both knew you deserved a ticket, but he didn’t give you one. That’s mercy. But then let’s say, he pulled out his wallet, and handed you a hundred dollar bill. That’s grace. Mercy is not getting what you do deserve – not getting a speeding ticket. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve – the $100.
Paul says here that God saved us by his grace alone. We did not deserve it. God shows his mercy and love to all, but He only gives grace to those who receive the free gift of salvation by faith. God cannot force a free gift upon you. He cannot force you to accept something you don’t deserve.
He can give you what you do deserve – which is punishment. He can – out of his mercy and love – offer to free you from this punishment – which is what He offered through Jesus Christ – but He cannot force you to accept the offer – He cannot force grace upon you, just like you cannot force someone to accept a free gift. God cannot force you to receive something you don’t deserve. You must accept it freely by faith. We’ll talk more about this next time.
Having seen why God did what He did- because of His mercy and love, and how He did it – by grace, let us now look at what He did.
Before we do, though, I want to remind you what the key term in Ephesians is. Paul uses in dozens of times in this letter. When we believe in Jesus alone for eternal life, God places us IN CHRIST. That is the key term: In Christ, or in Him. Therefore, whatever happens to Christ, happens to us. Whatever Christ gets, we also get. It is a very amazing relationship. When we remember this, and we read in chapter 1 what happened to Christ , we should get a clue about that Paul will inform us that the same thing has happened to us in Christ.
For example, in the last part of chapter 1, Paul told us that Christ was given new life, and raised from the dead, and seated at God’s right hand in the heavenly places, so that everything, both now and in the ages to come might be placed under Christ’s authority. That’s what Paul said about Christ in 1:20-22. With that in mind, let’s look at the four things that have happened to us in Christ.
First in Ephesians 2:5. He made us alive together with Christ. We were dead, and he gave us life. God couldn’t just do this by a wave of his hand, no matter how much he loved us, because – as I said earlier – that would violate his justice and his righteousness. So God made us alive together with Christ.
Paul doesn’t go into great detail here on what he means by this, but that is because Paul has already gone into detail in chapter 1, verse 13-23. Also, most of the people Paul is writing to have already been saved, so he doesn’t need to tell them how to be saved again. In chapter two, Paul is telling the Ephesian Christians what they were – they were sinners, what has happened to them – God provided salvation – and what their future holds. In this paragraph, he is telling them what has already happened to most of them.
If you are listening today, and you do not know if you have been raised with Christ, let me tell you how right now. It’s real simple. All you have to do is believe in Jesus for eternal life and believe in Him alone. It’s not enough to say that you believe that Jesus has done 99% of what needs to be done, and you are going to do the final 1%. You need to believe that Jesus has done everything that needs to be done. He came as a man. He lived without ever sinning even once. Yet he died on the cross as a sinner. In so doing, he bore the penalty of sin for the entire world. And as proof that his payment was satisfactory to God, God raised Christ from the dead, and Christ now sits at God’s right hand in heaven, waiting until the day when He will return to rule the earth.
So even though Christ died for you, that does not mean you are saved. I’ve said it before, and I want to be very clear. Believing that Christ came, died and rose will not save you, unless you believe that Christ did these things for you and for your sin so you can have eternal life. The bottom line is this. If you believe right now – or have believed sometime in the past that Christ guarantees you eternal life simply for trusting in Him alone for it, then eternal life is yours. That’s how simple it is.
And that’s what Paul is talking about here. The Ephesian Christians had done this exact thing, and Paul is telling them that when they did, they were made alive together with Christ.
Next in Ephesians 2:6, Paul gives us two more things that God did for us in Christ. Look at verse 6. and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. As believers in Jesus Christ today – Ephesians 2:6 tells us that secondly, we have been raised together with Christ. God raised us up together in Christ. That means we have new life!
The new life means we don’t have to act the way we used to. We don’t have to behave the way we used to. We don’t have to chase after the same old things, or allow ourselves to be controlled by the same old sins. We have a new life! A brand new start! A fresh beginning! I don’t know how many times I’ve wished I could go back and start my life over again and make right some of the mistakes I’ve made.
But Paul is saying to me and to you here – “You Can! You have been raised to a new life! The old mistakes are gone! The old habits are done away with! You don’t have to be enslaved to them anymore! The old has gone, the new has come! You’ve been liberated. You have been raised in Christ.”
Not only that, but Paul says, thirdly, in Ephesians 2:6, that we are seated with Christ in heavenly places. This means we are royalty! In fact, more than that – we are children of the one and only God! What a privileged position! What a wonderful title!
In view of that, though, how should we act? How should we behave? We have infinite resources at our disposal. We should not be ashamed of whose children we are. We should be proud of our name and our family. We should not worry about worldly concerns because our Father the King is watching out for us. And if a new life, and being raised with Christ, and getting a royal position are not enough to get you excited to serve God, Ephesians 2:7 tells us the fourth thing we have, and it concerns our future. Ephesians 2:7 tells us what our future holds.
People always want to know what the future holds. That is why people read the astrology section of the paper, and why Miss Cleo is so rich. But Christians, believers in Christ are told by God through Paul what our future holds. Let’s look at verse 7. That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Paul talks more about our future later in chapter 2, but for now, this is all he tells us. The first thing that I want to point out is that this is a promise for believers. God’s grace is so great that once you have believed in Jesus for eternal life, there is nothing – let me say it again – NOTHING that can separate you from God! God promises to bring his own to heaven. He will lose none of his sheep. No one and nothing can take us out of his hand. Nothing we can do will separate us from the love of God. (cf. Jn. 6:39; 10:28; Rom. 8:38-39). All true believers in Christ will make it to heaven. That is our future, because it is God’s promise.
Have you ever wondered what heaven will be like? Ephesians 2:7 is a hint. It will be an eternity of experiencing the exceeding riches of God’s grace and kindness. I don’t know exactly what that means – I don’t know all that will be involved – but think about it for a moment. If God did not spare his own son for mortal sinners like us – we cannot even imagine what he has in store for us when we become immortal children of God in heaven!
If you think He’s shown us mercy, grace and love now – just wait! You ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Take all of your fondest memories, mix them with your wildest dreams, put them together with the most beautiful places on earth, add in the most enjoyable people you know of to be around, and if can imagine such an event, you have not even come close understanding what God is preparing for those who love him. Jesus said when He left this earth that he was going to prepare a place for us. He has been gone now for almost 2000 years. Think about that, and compare it with the six days it took Him to create the present universe. It’s going to be a glorious place – and it will be for our enjoyment in the ages to come when God shows the exceeding riches of His grace and His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
So Ephesians 2:5-7 tell of the things that God has given to believers in Christ. When Christ died, believers died as well. When he got new life, believers got new life. When He was raised, we were raised. When He was given a royal position, so were we, and since he has eternal honor and riches, when we get to heaven, God promises to pour them out upon us as well.
You must remember, however, that these things are only for those who are believers. Notice the contrast. We were dead. God gave us life. We were destined to hell. God seated us in heaven. We were poor and wretched, but God gave us riches and honor. We were helpless….BUT GOD did it all through Christ. What about if you are listening to me today, and you are not a believer? Those of you are caught up in the things of this world need to “GET A LIFE!” – Get the life of Christ.
You think this world has a lot to offer? Do you think the eagle that soars in the glory of the sun after gaining freedom from a zoo ever longs for its cage down upon the dark and distant earth? If it ever stops to look at the old cage, it is only to sing of his deliverance and soar away to the skies again. The unsurrendered life is the life of the cage. Yes, it may have it’s little thrills and little toys that the keeper puts in there to amuse his pets, but the best of these is nothing compared to genuine freedom.
Christ, our Savior, by His death on the Cross, proclaims ‘liberty to the captives,’ so that you may be set free! FREE, not to simply fly into the branches of a nearby tree, but to ‘rise and walk in the light of heaven, to be free from this world and sin, to have a pure heart, and white garments, and Christ enthroned within!
If you do not trust Christ, if you think this world is better than what God is offering you, then, I ask you, what is the alternative? What can you expect out of this life and the next? God says that you can only expect what you were going to be getting anyway. You have sinned, and your sin deserves punishment. If you will not choose the only possible escape route, you will die in your sins, and suffer for eternity in hell. God, however much he loves you, cannot force you to do otherwise. God has offered you salvation free of charge, and if you try to do it on your own, God is not to blame when you fail. He has done everything necessary. He has made it so simple only the foolish reject His offer. But some, out of pride or anger or ignorance, still reject Him.
If that is you today, reject him no longer. I plead with you. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or haven’t done. He has already made is eternal love known to you by sending His one and only Son to die for all of your sins, past, present and future. God has done all that He can righteously do, and now He is calling to you to respond. He is drawing you to Him.
What will you do? If you want to be headed for heaven instead of hell, if you want a brand new life, if you want a royal position, and if you want to receive the riches of God’s grace and kindness in the ages to come, I urge you, do not delay, believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life right now. That’s how simple it is. Believe in him alone.
And for you believers listening today – many of us don’t need to get a life – we have one – but many of us need to start using what we have. Christ didn’t die just so you could go to heaven. Yes, he came that you might have life, but not just a regular old life – he came so that you might have an abundant life! So let’s all make commitments today. Unbelievers – to believe in Jesus for eternal life – believers, to press on toward an abundant life. Only then will we truly begin to live life to the full.