Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 August 9, 2015
“What We Were by Nature, What We Are by Grace”
Text: Ephesians 2:1-7
After these many weeks in Ephesians 1, we arrived today at the first verses in Ephesians 2—and as we arrive, we turn today in our sermon series from prayer to instruction. In particular, we note how God builds His new society, the Church. Today and next week, God willing, we see one facet of this—and we shall see another facet when, in a few weeks, we arrive at verse eleven in this chapter. Today we have rich fare indeed: We must see what we were by nature, and we rejoice to see what we are by grace. Let us hear now God’s Word, as conveyed by the Holy Spirit through Paul’s pen, and may He speak by His Spirit to our waiting souls.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
First—and necessarily, in order to prize the news in the back half of today’s text—we see what we were by nature in the first half of today’s text (1-3). Paul, through the Spirit, states a bald, uncomfortable fact: We were dead in trespasses and sins. We were neither merely sick nor merely wounded, and we needed no mere elixir or bandage to solve our problem. What we needed—and, alas, may yet need—is resuscitation, or defibrillation, or other dramatic extraordinary intervention. This truth was lost on many a priest and prophet in Jeremiah’s time, for they dressed the mortal wound of God’s people lightly (cf. Jeremiah 8:11). We apart from Christ need no light dressing. We need serious, life-giving intervention indeed.
Being dead in sins and trespasses apart from Christ, we found ourselves dominated by evil spirits exerting evil force. Paul calls these beings and phenomena by various names, such as the course of this world, the prince of the power of the air, and the spirits at work in the sons of disobedience. The work of these beings, in those not in Christ, results in indifference or outright hostility to the Lord and His good news—His Gospel—in Jesus Christ. If we will not worship God in Christ, we will worship something or someone else, for God has created us to worship. The usual substitute for God is self. Instead of submitting ourselves to God’s Lordship in Christ Jesus, we enthrone ourselves—and this with disastrous results.
Furthermore, we were enslaved by fleshly lusts. By lust, we mean an ever-increasing desire for an ever-decreasing pleasure—a pleasure in which the object of desire and/or the desire itself is Scripturally inappropriate. We think in terms of improper sexual desire here—and there is plenty of this going around in the American culture, and there is too much of it going on in the American church—but any improper desire falls under this head. We can be enslaved to lust for food, or drink, or power, or public accolade, or a host of other things. Formerly these lusts enslaved us, and at times we did not to be free of them. Then, when at some level we wanted freedom, we found ourselves bound and, thus, could not gain the freedom we wanted.
All of this summed makes us the just objects by nature of God’s wrath. By the wrath of God we mean His just, infinite, vehement hatred of sin. This wrath, moreover, is the just desert of those who cling to sin and its author, the evil one himself. Being unregenerate, being estranged from God, being bound in outlooks and behavior contrary to those of God, and being enamored ultimately of self as object of worship brings down His righteous wrath upon us.
Just now one or several of you may say, “I may slip up from time to time, but is the case really as bad as you state? Isn’t the rhetoric here a bit overcooked?” We tend to flatter ourselves at times with the fact that we appear to behave a bit better than the next guy—or, at least, a bit better than the latest reprehensible criminal paraded before our eyes on the six o’clock news. Yet, when we compare ourselves before an infinitely righteous God, if we be brutally honest we find ourselves infinitely wanting. Then, a solution to who we are and what we do apart from Him becomes much more appealing. Happily, this state need not continue. Let’s view the remedy without further ado.
Having seen what we were by nature, we now come to the thrilling prospect of what we are by grace (4-7). There is a three-fold sense of what we are by grace—and these senses have parallel to the exaltation of Jesus in Ephesians 1:20-23. First, we who were dead in sins and trespasses are made alive in Christ Jesus. Just as Jesus lay down His life, only to take it up again (cf. John 10:17), so we, who once were dead, are made to live by God’s decisive action in Christ. Second, we are raised with Jesus. Recall that, apart from Christ, we dwelt abysmally low—enslaved to sinful passions and estranged from our exalted Head. Now God, in Christ, elevates the believer—out of the miry clay onto a firm standing place (cf. Psalm 40:2). We are raised to life in Christ—a life abundant in quality and eternal in scope (John 10:10, 3:16). Third, we are seated with Jesus Christ in heavenly places. Apart from Christ, we once sat in the squalor of sin, but now in Christ we sit in heavenly places—spiritually now and spatially in days to come, either at our individual Home-goings or at Christ’s glorious return.
How do all these precious benefits come to us? They come to us by the richness of God’s mercy. The New Testament sense of the word mercy involves heavily the alleviation of our need. As noted earlier, apart from Christ we have staggering need, but also note—and rejoice—that God is infinitely rich to accomplish this on our behalf. God expresses the richness of His mercy in His matchless grace. Grace involves many wonderful things. By God’s grace we obtain unmerited favor from Him. Our God is not against us, but, rather, is for us (Romans 8:31). This is favor—favor we never can earn, but favor which He freely bestows upon His elect in Christ Jesus. Grace also involves the forgiveness of our sins. From the Lord, by grace, we receive a full, free, unconditional pardon of all the offenses we committed against Him. Grace also involves the bestowal of other good things to us in His good providence. Praise God indeed for His matchless mercy and grace.
Why, then, does God act so favorably and decisively on our behalf? The answer is two-fold. First, He acts as He does because of His great love for us: a love expressed fundamentally in the death of His Son and, consequently, in our rescue through that atoning death. Second, God acts as He does so that He may show the immeasurable riches of His grace. No matter the depth of the sin of those who are in Christ, grace does much more abound to them (cf. Romans 5:20). This comes to pass because sinners need this richness, but it comes fundamentally because God is to be glorified in all things. This loving favor we receive indeed garners God glory from His redeemed.
If formerly you have believed in Christ, then—in light of all we heard today—rejoice in your standing before Him and continue on the narrow way that leads to life. If, however, you have not believed in Christ, you remain in what we are by nature—and, obviously, this is not a good place to remain. By God’s gracious power, then, turn from this and believe the Gospel. Then, rejoice and continue forward with the others who formerly trusted in Christ. May the Lord bless you each and all in the hearing of His Word read and proclaimed.