Eph2v1to10: SAVED BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH
Introduction. (Read the reference)
I had a terrible job just getting started on this exposition. Once again I find the author's style unattractive. In places it is by no means easy to be certain what he means. However my greatest problem stems from the fact that many Christians seem very far from being new creations. Worse, I do not feel much like a new creation myself. I had no dramatic conversion like Paul - no sense of coming out of darkness into the light - no awareness of being filled with the Spirit - no rapid progress to holiness. All I can honestly say is: "I believe in Jesus." I trust him for salvation, admire him in everything and try in a small way to serve him. So I find it hard to identify with the triumphal language of Ephesians2v1to10.
The passage is addressed to Christians and deals with three subjects: (1) What we were, (2) What we are and (3) How we changed.
(A) What we were.
Paul describes three characteristics of non-Christians:
(1) Dead in transgressions and sins. As for you, you were dead in transgressions and sins.
There is no doubt that all have sinned and fallen short of what God desires of us. William Barclay put it like this: Sin .... is the failure to be what we ought to be and could be.
I know a man whose life is spoiled. This man could have been a better teacher if he had controlled his tongue; he was marred as a cricketer by being a poor loser and sadly had a reputation for retaliation as a hockey player. This man's care of his father was seriously flawed by outbursts of bad temper. Even his 50 years of preaching are blemished by a desire for recognition.
It is wrong to think that being dead in trespasses and sin means men are totally depraved. I have just finished reading Sidney Lockwood's book, 'Unbelievable but True'. It is an account of his experiences as a Japanese prisoner of war. He describes the behaviour of a middle-aged Thai man who was nicknamed, Mr Bull. Mr Bull was poor but somehow he managed to put together a basket of raw meat for the starving prisoners of war. The Japanese guards confiscated the meat and beat Mr Bull up. Sometime later he returned with another basket of meat. The same thing happened except his second beating was worse than the first. Mr Bull learnt from his mistakes. On his third visit to the camp he brought a live bullock. This time the meat got where he intended! Here is a man - probably a Buddhist - who displayed both compassion and courage. Let no-one say he was totally depraved or that nothing he did pleased God.
It is also wrong to think that no spiritual life is possible outside of Christ. There are individuals in the New Testament whom God appears to regard highly: Simeon, Anna the prophetess, the certain poor widow and Cornelius - a righteous and God fearing man. Acts10v22. The epistle to the Hebrews makes much of the heroes of faith. This doesn't mean they never sinned but it is clear God credited their faith to them as righteousness.
The fact remains that the lives of even the best of men are flawed by sin. Insofar that we are sinners then like Adam and Eve we are under sentence of death. Our relationship with God is not what he desires. It is most unsatisfactory to him and it will be terminated unless something can be done about it.
(2) Unrighteous. 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. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. vs2and3.
The unrighteous succumb to three evil influences:
(b) Satan. I believe Satan gives impetus and demonic strength to our evil tendencies. We see Satan's influence in the devilish strength of man's addictions, obsessions and desires. One only has to consider the way jealousy can completely take over a man's life to appreciate the power Satan wields. He also exploits our weaknesses of disposition and temperament.
Satan drives us to excess. I often got angry at school. Satan had the ability to transform my justifiable anger into a raging, volcanic outburst of temper. Our greatest enemy can take a trifling disagreement or a few careless words and blow them up out of all proportion to break friendships, make enemies and divide a church.
(c) The flesh. The flesh is our sinful or fallen nature. It has the strongest of holds upon us and we readily succumb to its cravings, desires and thoughts. Once again it may helpful to consider just a few examples:
(3) Objects of wrath. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.
I was often angry as a teacher when a pupil did not do himself justice; when he let himself down by producing poor work through laziness, inattentiveness, lack of perseverance - and so on.
During my time as manager of the Debenham School Under 14 football team there were players who were objects of my wrath - those who never raised a sweat, those who wouldn't head the ball because they didn't want to get their hair dirty and those who never passed to others. I couldn't abide boys who didn't take the game seriously!
The potter who takes out a batch of vases from the kiln will inspect them for cracks. Some are always flawed in the firing. It is no good the potter painting over the cracks. They will never ring true. They are objects of the potter's wrath and destroyed.
God is unhappy, upset and angry that we are flawed. Some are certainly more flawed than others - but none of us ring true. God would not be much of a potter if he either ignored the cracks or glossed over them!
(C) What we are.
(1) ALIVE. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions .... . vs4and5.
It is helpful to compare this verse with the passage in Romans6v8to10. Taken together these Scriptures teach that when Jesus died and rose again a way was made for God to give new life in Christ. This raises certain important issues:
I think it is significant that when Paul wrote to the Corinthians about sexual desire that results in temptation and sin he didn't say that God would deliver Christians from the desire. Instead, he instructed single men who burned to get married and couples who were married to have sexual intercourse regularly.
At the end of the day both Christians and non-Christians die. We do not escape one of the consequences of sin!
(a) So what does the new life of the Christian consist of? Here are some suggestions:
(c) Examples of changed men.
I have provided many examples of changed men on this website. Perhaps, the one I like the best is that of wee Willy White - because I knew him so well. Willie was the Brockley baker for many years. Eventually, he sold his share of the business to his brother Albert and bought a small farm in the neighbouring village of Hartest. Willie was a likeable, friendly, hard-working and decent man but he had little interest in Christianity. He probably attended our chapel a few times a year on special occasions. But after his wife died, things changed. He began attending regularly probably out of gratitude to our pastor for the way he conducted his wife's funeral. After a while, thanks to the witness of our pastor's wife, he was converted. There was a great change in him! Not that he had any great vices to abandon nor that he overcame some of the weaknesses of his disposition but because he showed a tremendous enthusiasm for the things of God. He understood for the first time what it was all about! He attended all the services with real enjoyment. He participated in the prayer meeting - he even led the Sunday morning prayer time. Willie delighted to be in God's house and among God's people. He would say of his new life in Christ, "It's wonderful. I can't describe it in any other way. It's just wonderful." It was a privilege to conduct his funeral and bear witness to the transforming power of Jesus.
(2) SAVED. It is by grace you have been saved. Eph2v5. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him. Rom5v9.
Christians are saved from the ultimate consequence of their sin. We are not saved from physical death or from an imperfect relationship with God in this life. We are saved - as was Jesus who became sin for us - from the inevitable consequence of being a flawed creation namely, destruction.
If we believe in Jesus God no longer sees our sins; he is blind to them. All he sees is Christ's righteousness, a righteousness that culminated in the perfect, all-sufficient sacrifice he made upon the cross.
Christians can say with the great apostle Paul: We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. Rom5v11.
(3) EXALTED. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. v6. See also Col3v1to3.
I find this sort of language intensely frustrating because it is not clear what the author means. For example, does, 'with him', mean with God or with Jesus? It is ambiguous. After reading all my commentaries I think the writer is saying that in God's eyes we share Christ's exalted status. Every believer has exalted status in heaven not by being there in person but by the decision of God.
It is a bit like a headmaster saying to a teacher, "Mr Smith you are very well thought of by the Local Education Authority." Or a head teacher being told by the Chief Education Officer of his Local Authority, "Mr Brown you are highly regarded in the Ministry of Education." Or, more realistically, a teacher telling a pupil, "Jimmy, you are greatly respected in the staff room."
Now if it is true that we are highly thought of in heaven we should surely try to live up to our exalted reputation. At the very least we should be extremely gratified to be so highly regarded by God.
Our exalted status means that in the coming ages he (God) might show the incomparable riches of his grace expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. v6.
A great day will dawn for all God's redeemed people when Jesus returns to earth. Those in Christ will either be raised to life or changed in the twinkling of an eye to begin a life of eternal bliss with their Saviour and Lord. See exposition on 1Cor15v35to58.
The ultimate expression of God's incomparable grace and kindness will be our transformation to be like Jesus; to be changed so that we actually in all reality share his nature and standing.
The most a pupil with a high reputation in the staff room could expect is to be made head boy or to recieve a prize for an outstanding contribution to the school. A head teacher who has impressed the mandarins in the Ministry of Education might be given a knighthood for services to education. But these are tawdry honours compared to what God will do for all those who love and serve Jesus. He will not reward the few but a great multitude whom no man can number. The Christian's exceeding great reward will be to see Jesus and to be like him.
(5) USEFUL For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. v10.
Christians are not only saved from the consequences of their sin but saved to serve. God has a plan for our lives. Included in that plan are the good works he has arranged for us to do. We have been given new life in Christ for a purpose.
Many people like to be useful even if it is only in a small way. Denis and Biddy both now in their eighties who attend our church spend every morning sticking labels on packets of herbs. Their son has business that distributes herbs all over southern England. They like to help. Denis says, "It's good to be useful." I take a couple of sisters shopping. One of them is quite fragile mentally. She likes to take the bags from the boot of the car into the house. This is something I could easily do but I let Margaret do it because it is a small boost to her self-esteem.
If we can be useful to God - if only in a small way - it gives our lives significance and worth. It is the only thing which gives my life any real value. Leaders of churches need to remember this when they "retire" people from the jobs that they are doing.
(D) How we change.
For it is by grace you have been saved through faith - and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. v8.
(1) There is no doubt that we are saved by grace.
This is the overwhelming emphasis of the pasage. See verses: 4, 5, 7 and 8. All true Christians agree that men and women are saved by grace because:
(b) God communicated his will to Jesus during his public ministry. In the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus asked God if there was no other way to bring in the kingdom the answer was emphatic: he had to drain the cup to its bitter dregs.
(c) God accepted the sacrifice Jesus offered for man's sins. Like all sacrifices it was only a token payment for the vast accumulated weight of mankind's shortcomings. It depended for its effectiveness upon the grace of the one to whom it was offered. In grace God accepted it. In grace God declared his satisfaction with it by raising Jesus from the dead.
(d) God gifts his Spirit to believers imparting new life to those in Christ. Nothing else can explain the sort of change that occurred to wee Willie White when he finally trusted Jesus for salvation.
(2) But we are also saved through faith.
(b) Faith precedes spiritual regeneration. If, like Calvinists, we make faith a gift that is only acquired after the Holy Spirit begins the work of regeneration we face several problems.
I believe this is taking the figure too far. A fundamentalist Christian might be completely dead to the academic discipline of Geology. He may be ignorant of it, disinterested in it and prejudiced against it. But that doesn't mean he cannot change. All sorts of things could trigger a change: finding fossils on the beach at Lyme Regis, a son with a passion for dinosaurs, a TV program on plate tectonics, a friend with a passion for rocks.
The same might be said of relationships. I have been trying for years to build a friendly relationship with the girl in the paper shop. She never initiates a conversation. She never asks how I am. She rarely if ever smiles. But things could change - I could eventually wear her down by my relentless good will! It would be wrong to despair. Who knows what might trigger a thaw!
So a person may be dead in sin, spiritually dead and in no sort of relationship with Jesus but there are all sorts of things that might trigger a change. My mother was attending an evangelical rally at which the Rev Alan Redpath was speaking when she was confronted by the love of Christ. My brother Paul was in a tent at Pioneer Camp when one of the workers asked him, "Paul are you saved?" Itinerant preacher David Cordle was in his mother's kitchen and was challenged by the text on the wall calendar. Charles Colson was cut to the quick by the chapter entitled, 'Pride,' in C.S. Lewis', 'Mere Christianity.' These triggers often come after a period of preparation.
God plays a huge part in our salvation. He has provided the means of salvation - in Christ. God will use a variety of strategies to prepare a man or woman for faith. God may provide the trigger that leads to faith. The Holy Spirit often gives added force to that trigger - bringing a sinner to the point of decision. But at that point the sinner must exercise faith. He must choose to accept what is on offer or refuse it. When the Philippian jailer asked, "What must I do to be saved?" the answer was clear and unequivocal, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved." He believed - it was his responsibility, he believed BUT he didn't have to.
Many, many would testify that they were given a clear choice - to believe in Jesus and be saved or to reject him and remain in their sin. That was my mother's testimony. It was C.S. Lewis' experience. It is David Cordle's assertion.
I know a man who owes a lot of money. He cannot pay it. He cannot borrow from the bank to pay it as he is already in debt. I told him I would give him the money he needs to save him from bankruptcy. He will not merit the money by taking it. This debtor doesn't want to take my money. The choice is his. He can either be declared a bankrupt or be released from his debt. He must choose. There is no other way - and there is no other way for sinners to benefit from the incomparable riches of God's grace. They either take it or leave it.