** The following is the text of a message upon which I based my Super Summer presentation on Tuesday evening. So, if you are interested in reviewing that lesson, here it is. It is also the message I delivered here at Olney as my first message to this congregation—before they even voted to call me as their pastor. **
“The Glorious Grace of God”
Olney Southern Baptist Church
Sunday Morning, September 17, 2006
Speaker: Travis Peterson
Text: Ephesians 2:1-10
Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV)
1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
“What do you want to hear first, the good news or the bad news?” We’ve heard this question a thousand times. And, in most circumstances, we choose to hear the bad news first. That’s because we really want, deep down, for the good news to outweigh the bad and leave us feeling OK.
I think Paul understood the whole bad news good news thing, because we see him use that pattern here in Ephesians 2:1-10. In the middle of teaching the people in Ephesus about the truly glorious grace of God, he tells them the bad news first. Thankfully, he follows that bad news up with the greatest possible news, and then challenges the people to change how they live in the light of the grace of God.
This morning, I intend to share with you the bad news, the good news, and how we need to respond to both. The points of this message will be different for you depending on whether or not you are here as a believer in Jesus Christ or as someone who has not yet made up his or her mind about Jesus. On your outline in the bulletin, notice that there are four points. Follow along, and let’s learn something of the glorious grace of God.
Point 1: Recognize the true state of all who are lost.
1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath,
This might well be called the “bad news” section of the text, because it paints for us a very dark, very grim picture of reality. Often you hear Christians tell the lost, “You need to be saved.” Sadly, many of those same Christians can not explain to the lost person from what or from whom they need to be saved. Paul, in explaining the grace of God, does not leave that up for discussion. He makes it plain exactly why we all need to be saved, rescued from great and eternal danger.
If you are a Christian, listen to this section of scripture to be reminded by God of who you once were. God makes it plain that this text applies to all of us—not some of us, all of us. Not one of us has a clean record. Not one of us has a spotless background. Not one of us deserved anything good from God. So, for us, we need to remember who we were in order to properly glorify God for what he has done.
At the same time, some of you here this morning do not yet know Jesus. You have never made up your mind about Christianity. As gently as I can, I want to let you know that this passage of scripture describes you and your present condition before God. You need to be saved. You need to be rescued. And, as we read this section, you will see why.
In verse 1, Paul tells us that we were all dead in sins and trespasses. In case you are wondering, the Greek word here translated dead is a word that actually means dead. That’s right, nothing fancy about it. All who do not have Christ are spiritually dead in sins and trespasses. To be dead is to be unable to do anything, unresponsive, completely without life. Thus, the person who is spiritually dead is unable to do anything that would please God. While they may be capable of doing good deeds, Isaiah 64:6 tells us that all such good works are like filthy rags in the sight of a holy God. No matter how good the behavior of the person outside of Christ, they are completely stuck in and lost in sins and trespasses.
Paul goes on to say that we formerly walked in those sins and trespasses. That is to say that we lived either falling short of God’s standard of perfection or intentionally going too far and crossing the line of his commands. And we, who were spiritually dead, lived our lives always in that state. We were the walking dead, always in the grip of sin. We lived, whether we knew it or not, following the pattern of the world around us and of the devil himself, who Paul here calls the prince of the power of the air.
Paul says that the devil is at work in the sons of disobedience, all those who fail to follow Christ. He also says that we used to live among such people, fulfilling the desires of our sinful flesh. We were captive to the passions of our bodies and minds. That is to say that we lived based on what we thought seemed right or what felt good to our bodies. This may not mean that we were always trying to do what was wrong, but we were stuck in a manner of thinking that was worldly and that could never please God.
And, at the end of verse 3, the bad news gets as bad as it can get. Paul says that we were by nature children of wrath. God is here telling us that, when we were outside of his grace, we were children of his wrath. We were ready to inherit his judgment, his anger, his fury over sin. We had sinned before him. We had failed to live up to his glory. We had tried to live according to our own best thoughts and pleasures, and we were under his condemnation. We were destined for destruction, and we deserved it.
So, is that news bad enough for you? Christians, I call upon you to think seriously about what God is telling you here. He wants you to see that, before you came to Christ, you were spiritually dead. You were incapable of doing anything good. You could do as much to please God as a corpse can do to respond to those filing through a funeral line. You lived according to the pattern of the world, the devil, and your own desires. You were an object of God’s wrath. You were destined for destruction and hell itself. Think about such things, so that you can properly thank God for his grace, knowing from what you were saved.
And, if you are here this morning without ever having put your faith in Jesus Christ, you need to see these words as a description of your present state. You are in grave danger before God. You can do nothing to make things right with God on your own. You have sinned, you are dead, and you need to be rescued and revived. In a word, you need to be saved. And, thankfully, God has done the work that needs to be done for that to happen.
Now that we have recognized the true state of all who are lost, let’s look to the good news, and see what it is that God has done to turn this dark story into something glorious.
Point 2: Remember the love and mercy God showed you in Christ.
4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
The two words that open this section, “but God,” may be the most beautiful two words in all of the scriptures. You and I were dead. You and I had sinned before God. You and I were destined for deserved wrath. But God did something. But God stepped in. But God made a difference. But God brought the good news.
Before we see what God did, let’s look at a couple reasons why he did it. First, God did what he did because he is rich in mercy. Throughout the Bible, even in the Old Testament, God has revealed himself to us as the LORD, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness. God has always been incredibly merciful. If God were not merciful, he would simply destroy us all at the moment of our first sin, and that would be the end of the story. If God were not merciful, he would never have revealed to us what he expects us to do to please him. If God were not merciful, we would have no hope at all.
Also, God did what he did because of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead in our sins. God’s love for his creation is something deeper than we could ever grasp. And, the fact that he loved us even when we were dead in our sins makes it clear that he did not love us because of something good we did. He loved us because and only because he chose to do so. He loved us because that perfectly fits who he is. We can take no credit for the love of God. He did not owe it to us and we did not earn it. He just loved us, and that is all we can say.
Now we get what it is that God did. Even when we were dead in our sins, God made us alive together with Christ. This is a reference back to Jesus’ resurrection. Just as God physically raised Jesus from the dead, God took dead sinners like you and me, and he raised us from the dead spiritually. Also, the fact that we were raised together with Christ tells us that we can not be made alive spiritually through any other way. Jesus is our only hope. He is the way, the truth, and the life. No one may come to God except through him.
How did all this happen? God knew that we were sinners before him—sinners who could never repay the debt we owed for our sin. He is holy, and infinitely so. Our sin offended God and his perfect justice, and infinitely so. Thus, God had to make a way for an infinite price to be paid for our sins in order that we might be forgiven. That is why Jesus, the infinitely holy Son of God, came to earth. He lived a perfect life, Then he died on the cross of Calvary although he never did anything wrong. While on the cross, the Father poured out on the Son all of his wrath, an infinite amount, for all of the sins of all who would come to him. Christ fully paid the infinite penalty for our sins before God. Then, after his death, Jesus rose from the grave three days later, proving for all to see that the work was done and the sacrifice was accepted by God. Christ now offers to any who will come to him and have faith in him complete forgiveness of all their sins and life together with him.
So, for you and me, Christ rose from the grave and brought us up with him. All who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ and been made new by him have been raised up together with him. And Paul just can not help exclaiming that it is by grace you have been saved. However you might describe this plan of salvation, one thing is clear: it is a salvation that is by grace. We did nothing, absolutely nothing, to earn it from God. God did it all.
After Jesus rose from the dead, he also ascended into heaven and sat down beside his Father on the throne of heaven. That is what Paul is pointing to in verse 6 where he says that God raised us up and seated us with Christ. Not only do we who are forgiven by Christ have at present a new life together with Jesus, we also have a future promise of blessing. It is such a sure thing that Paul speaks of it as if it were already done. He has raised us up with Christ. That is to say that he will one day take us to heaven to be with Christ. He will also seat us with Christ on the throne of his kingdom. We who are children of God will inherit all the glorious blessings of his grace purchased for us in Christ. All those blessings are already ours. We only await the day when we die or when Christ returns so that we can actually take possession of the blessings already given to us in Jesus.
Christians, I want to call you to remember the love and mercy God showed you in Christ. You were dead, but God made you alive together with Christ. You were living according to this world, but God raised you up to the heavenly places with Christ. You were destined for God’s wrath and for hell itself, but God has given you a place with Christ in glory. This is ultimate mercy, and God has shown it to you because of his great love and mercy. It is all of grace. Remember that truth, and give thanks to God for what he has done for you.
And, for you who are not yet believers, see this love and mercy as a call to come to Jesus. If you will just put your faith in Christ and turn away from your sin, God will make you alive. God will give you forgiveness for your sins. God will grant to you a place in heaven, and you will no longer be under his wrath. The reason that this story is good news is not because God says you are OK. The reason this story is good news is that God knows you and I are not OK, but he has made the way for us to be forgiven. And, let me be clear, there is only one way to be forgiven, Jesus Christ. You will either be forgiven by coming to Christ, or you will be under the wrath of God for eternity. That is your choice; and I urge you to choose wisely.
Now that we have remembered the love and mercy that God showed us in Christ, let’s go on to see one way we should respond to that mercy we have received.
Point 3: Give God 100% of the glory for anyone’s salvation.
7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Verse 7 is yet another reason why God chose to do all that he has done for us. Ask yourself, “Why would God save me? Why did he raise me up? Why did he give me a place in heaven?” The answer to such questions is in verse 7, and it may be different than you think. Paul says that God did all this, “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” God saved you in order that he might demonstrate something. He wanted to demonstrate the immeasurable riches of his grace and kindness.
Just imagine this for a moment. Two angels are walking around in heaven. One looks to the other and says, “How great are the riches of God’s love and mercy and kindness?” The other angel would turn to the first, and he would not have to say a word. He would only have to point. He would point to me. Perhaps he would point to you. And, by pointing us out, he would show the ultimate evidence for anyone to see that God is loving, merciful, gracious, kind, and good. Why? I am a sinner. I have failed God time and time again. For God to forgive me my sins is glorious. For God to give me a place in heaven, that is more than glorious, but I don’t have a word to express how great that is. His riches of mercy and kindness to me have been immeasurable. And, so if anyone wants to ask at any time if God is merciful, God need only point to me. I am a demonstration, a proof, an evidence of just how gracious he is.
Take a moment to ponder that for yourself. When a sports team wins a championship, the members of the team get medals or trophies. The trophy proves for all to see that you were a part of the winning team. You, if you are a believer, are a trophy. You will live as an eternal proof and demonstration of the great love and kindness that God has demonstrated in Jesus Christ. You are a trophy of the grace of God.
How do we prove God’s grace? For it is by grace that we were saved. Grace is a goodness given to you that you did not deserve. You can do nothing to earn grace, or it is no longer grace.
You were saved by grace, through faith. Now it becomes even more clear. WE did nothing to earn our salvation. If we are saved, we are only saved because we have placed our faith in Jesus Christ. It is not that we had faith and added right deeds that saved us. It is not that we had faith and were baptized, took communion, or attended church that saved our souls. If you are saved, you are saved by God’s grace alone through the vehicle of faith alone.
“And this is not your own doing.” What does this phrase mean? Some argue that it means that the grace did not come from us. However, that makes very little sense. Grace could never come from us. If this phrase is intended to mean that the grace did not come from us, it is redundant; and I have never known Paul to be redundant, using meaningless repetition.
No, “And this is not your own doing,” refers back to the faith that saved us. This is the only possible way that it makes sense for Paul to have written it. And he is saying that, if you are saved, you are saved through faith. And, just in case you are about to get proud of yourself for having been smart enough or good enough to have had faith, he lets you know that your faith is not of your own doing, it is the gift of God. Remember, you were dead. Can dead people have faith? Of course they can not. For a dead person to respond in faith is for that person to have been made alive by God. That means that we can not take credit for any part of our salvation—not one little bit. If you are saved, you are saved by grace through a faith that was given to you by God.
And, Paul ties a little bow on the package of our salvation when he tells us that if we are saved, we were not saved as a result of works, because God does not want us to be able to boast. God is clear. You and I must never boast about our salvation, at least not in ourselves. The only thing that we brought to the table is our sin. God brought the love, the mercy, and the payment for our sins. God made us alive when we were dead. God gave the grace. God even gave us the faith. And so, we boast only that God is great and that we are saved by a truly awesome and glorious God.
Christians, let this point remind you to give God 100% of the glory for your salvation. Do nothing to give credit to yourself for being saved. Thank God, because your salvation comes from him completely.
And, if you are not yet a believer, recognize that you can not bring anything to the table to earn your salvation. You can not bring good works and expect that God will think you are a good enough person to go to heaven. If he would accept that, you could brag all over heaven that you got yourself in. That will never happen. The only thing that you can do is come to Jesus Christ. Ask for his grace. Come to him in faith. He will forgive you, but all the credit will go to God, who deserves all the glory for your salvation. So, come to God, and receive his grace through faith in Christ.
And all that talk about faith alone might make us wonder if we are ever supposed to do any sort of good works at all. Of course we are supposed to do good works, but they come after our salvation as we will see in . . .
Point 4: Live a life full of good works after you are saved.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Closing up this section, Paul says that we are God’s workmanship. That word, workmanship, is a word that comes from the world of art or craftsmanship. God calls those of us who are saved his works of art. In this, he shows that we exist to display his skill, his craftsmanship, his glory.
We are works of art created in Christ Jesus. Only through Christ can a dead sinner become a living and breathing work of art, a work created to work. In Christ, God has made you for the purpose of doing good things. He has saved you intending that you will do works that bring honor and glory to his name. And he prepared those works for us to do beforehand. Before you were ever born, God had already planned for your salvation and for the way that you would serve him to bring honor to his name.
Christians, let this final little verse remind you that God has a purpose for you besides simply saving you. You did no good works to be saved. But once you are saved, God intends that you do lots of things to bring honor to his name. He has them already planned out for you. They were prepared before hand. So, let’s get about the process of doing them. God saved us from wrath when we were dead in sins. He made us alive with Christ. It only makes sense that we would respond by doing as much as we can to show the world how great is our God.
And, if you are here this morning without Christ, recognize that the good deeds must follow salvation. Good works can never get you into heaven. But, if you come to Christ, he will enable and empower you to do works that please him after your salvation. And, let me tell you, nothing will ever satisfy your soul and thrill your heart more than when you have come to Jesus Christ, been forgiven of your sins, and actually do the works that God created you to do.
We started with the bad news, but the good news is super good. Recognize the true state of all who are lost. That state is sad and frightening. Let that memory cause you who are believers to give God thanks for what he has done for you. Let it also call you to share the gospel with the lost so that they too may experience the grace you have experienced. Also, remember the love and mercy God showed you in Christ, and give God 100% of the glory for anyone’s salvation. All salvation from sin is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone; and none of us may take personal credit for such a salvation. Instead, we all should give all glory and honor to our God. And, as you glorify God in salvation, live a life full of good works after you are saved. Let your life reflect the change that God has made in you through the grace of Christ.
And, finally, to you who do not know Jesus, I urge you to come to know him today. You have heard of your state before him. You are in great danger of facing the wrath and judgment of God. But God has made a way for you to be forgiven in Christ. Come to Jesus, believing that he is the Son of God who died to pay for your sins. Put your trust in Jesus and Jesus alone for your eternal soul, and God promises to give you his mercy. Then, give God all the glory for your salvation, because you would never believe apart from him doing the work in your heart. And when all is said and done, live to give honor to God because of his glorious grace.