Now if you would please, take a copy of God’s holy Word in your hands and turn with me to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 2; Ephesians chapter 2, page 976 if you’re using one of our church Bibles. Ephesians chapter 2. We’ll be reading verses 1 through 10. Before we read, would you bow your heads with me as we pray together? Let’s pray.
O Lord, we pray now that You would help us hear what Your Spirit would say to the church from this portion of Your holy, inerrant Word, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Ephesians chapter 2 at verse 1. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in 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 – among 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. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Amen, and we praise God for His holy and inerrant Word.
Well we are happily at Ephesians 2 verses 1 through 10 this morning, which coincides marvelously in God’s kind grace with the theme verse or verses for the season of camp ministry at Twin Lakes. It is of course one of the best known and most important passages of the New Testament scriptures – provides us with an extraordinarily clear, concise statement of the way that God works when He saves a sinner in His mercy. There is nothing more fundamental for us to understand, nothing more basic or important to grasp with clarity than the teaching of these ten verses. Many of the worst mistakes and the most pernicious spiritual diseases in the Christian life are a result of missing something or misunderstanding something that is clearly taught here.
And I want to consider it with you under three very simple headings. You’ll see them very clearly dividing the passage. Verses 1 to 3 – who we were. Here is the apostle Paul explaining what life is like apart from Christ. Here’s life in an unconverted condition. Here’s the human condition without Jesus. And then verses 4 to 9 – what God has done. Who we were. What God has done. His dramatic intervention which, as we will see, is absolutely necessary without which there is no hope for anyone. God’s dramatic intervention in saving grace. Who we were. What God has done. And then in verse 10 we come full circle – who we are now. If God has in fact intervened and made you His child and given you saving grace. Who we were. What God has done. And who we are now.
I. Who We Were
So verses 1 to 3 first of all – who we were. At the end of chapter 1 you will remember the apostle Paul has been praying that the Ephesians would know God better, and in particular, that they would know the immeasurable greatness of His power, the power of His grace toward us who believe. And as he turns to the opening ten verses of chapter 2, he really is staying with that theme – the immeasurable greatness of grace. And he wants to explore how the greatness of grace has erupted into the Ephesians lives and into your life today if you are a Christian. He’s about to ascend Mount Everest, as it were. There’s a soaring pinnacle of grace to be explored in these ten verses. Before he begins the climb, however, he takes us down to the roots of the mountain, all the way down into the shadowy valley of our condition before we were Christians, down into the depths of human lost-ness and need. In verses 1 to 3 he’s describing life without Christ.
You Were Dead
And he does it, if you’ll notice, in three ways. First of all in verse 1 he says that a non-Christian, someone who doesn’t know Jesus, is spiritually dead. They are dead. “You were dead in trespasses and sins in which you once walked.” That is the human condition. It is not that we are merely sick and in need of medicine. It may be bad, we might say even terminal, but where there’s life there’s hope – that might be our perspective. It’s not at all the apostle Paul’s perspective. Neither is it that we’ve simply taken a wrong turn – what we need is clear instruction; better guidance to get us back on the right path. It’s not that we’re missing vital data in order to finish for ourselves the calculus of salvation. No, Paul is saying, rather, that without Jesus Christ we are flat-line, unresponsive; we are spiritually dead. He’s highlighting our powerlessness to alter our own condition. And really no other analogy will do. There’s nothing so hopeless as death, is there? It’s what makes our grief so very acute when someone we love dearly has died. We know there’s no reversing that condition. They’re gone; we cannot return them to life here with us. There’s something final and absolute about it. And that is Paul’s point regarding our spiritual state before we were converted. We were dead in trespasses and sins. We could do nothing to alter our state. There is an essential inability and powerlessness involved.
You Were a Slave
But even death is an incomplete analogy and so to it Paul adds in the second place verses 2 and 3, our slavery, our bondage. If a non-Christian is spiritually dead as Paul describes us in verse 1, if you’ll look at the verses that immediately follow, you will see it is a very peculiar death indeed. It is an active death, a busy death even, a living death. Look how the spiritually dead operate. Paul says first, they “follow the course of this world.” That is, the dictates of the age, the preferences and fads, the pop cultural group-think of a society that has lost its moral compass, the relentless peer pressure to conform. All of these sway and govern the course of their lives. If you’re not a Christian, Paul says the world sets your agenda. And then he adds, secondly, that non-Christians also follow “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” That’s a title for the devil, one designed to evoke the unseen and yet pervasive influence of Satanic power – “the prince of the power of the air.” It is the devil’s agenda that provides the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age, the spirit now at work in a world rebelling against God. Behind the moral decay of society stands the personal malice of Satan himself.
And more even than that, in the third place, notice Paul says, verse 3, non-Christians live “in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and of the mind.” The two great external powers that sway and influence and shape non-Christian thinking and living, the world and the devil, have an internal ally – the flesh, Paul says. And it is a flesh controlled and governed and dictated by the orientation and bent and habit of the heart and the mind towards sin and rebellion. The desires of the body and of the mind. The flesh, in Paul’s thinking, is theological shorthand for our natures, our essential selves – lost, broken, guilty, and enslaved to sin. We are dead and we are slaves.
You Were Condemned
Then the third piece of the picture has to do with our destinies. We are dead, we are enslaved, thirdly, verse 3 again – do you see? We are condemned. What is the consequence of our spiritual death and our bondage to sin? “We lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath.” By nature children of wrath. The only thing that fits our natures, the only response to our essential selves and the fundamental bent of our minds and our wills towards sin and rebellion is the condemnation and wrath of a holy God. Here is your real condition if today you’re not a Christian. Don’t think things are not so bad. Don’t say to yourself, “I have plenty of leisure to repent of my sin whenever I wish and right now I’m in no particular hurry.” You are dead! You are enslaved to the world, the flesh, and the devil, and you are a child of wrath living already under the curse of divine judgment. You are beyond all self-help. There really is no remedy within your power that you can apply to make even the slightest improvement to your predicament.
It is a terrible picture and it is, no doubt, hard to hear. But I want you to think of it almost like a long, undiagnosed medical condition now at last identified. You felt perhaps for some time now that all is not right with you. There’s something wrong. No one has quite been able to identify your real problem. But now at last the apostle Paul offers the true diagnosis and it may well be hard to hear, like really bad news from the physician, but it is vital to know nonetheless. Because as we will see, it is not the apostle Paul’s agenda simply to leave us despairing over our hopeless condition. We are dead, our wills are enslaved to sin; we really do live under the wrath of God. It is terrible. What a diagnosis! And yet even here, as we will see, there is hope. There is hope.
II. What God Has Done
Who we were, but now look at verses 4 to 9 – what God has done. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says of the opening two words of verse 4 that in a sense, they contain the whole Gospel. The opening two words of verse 4 – do you see them? We are dead, slaves to the world, the flesh, and the devil, destined for condemnation, really a bleaker portrait of human nature it is hard to conceive but what hope is there? There’s hope in these two words and nowhere else – “But God.” Sin rules the territory of our hearts like a tyrant, absolute in its sway. From its grip there is no possibility of shaking yourself free. “But God.” Slaves to our passions and appetites, the world with its twisted norms and perverted priorities provides our ethics. Satan waylays and tempts and assails us at every opportunity. We have neither the desire nor the inclination nor any power to rescue ourselves. “But God” – two words that are like someone suddenly turning on the light switch in a darkened room. He breaks in. But God comes. But God intervenes. His grace explodes into our darkness and brings life in the place of death.
A Resurrecting Union
Notice what God does, verse 5 – “When we were dead in our trespasses, he made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Do you see the timing there? Notice it carefully. Paul is reemphasizing something he’s already said. God intervened when? “While we were dead.” While we were dead He broke in. We were powerless, helpless, lost and He saved us. This is not our doing; it is His. He bursts in upon the spiritually dead and He alone makes them alive. The great reversal of our condition is accomplished by God alone. In fact, He tells us it is actually kind of a resurrection – we are made alive together with Christ. More than that, it’s even a sort of ascension – “We are raised up and seated with Christ in the heavenly places,” verse 6. “Once we were dead in trespasses and sins,” verse 1; that’s where we used to live. One commentator calls it Death Valley, verses 1 to 3. That was our native environment, our natural habitat – Death Valley. But when God intervened He united us to Christ. We were brought out of the old habitat of transgressions and sins in which we used to walk and we were brought into a new environment entirely, a new habitat. Now we are in Christ and united to Christ. We rose from spiritual death and ascended with Him to the heavenly places, that is to say to a place of dignity and adoption and sonship so that we suddenly find ourselves “alive in Him, my living Head, and robed with righteousness divine.” That’s what God does when He saves sinners. He makes dead people live. He brings them out of Death Valley, out of the land of transgressions and sins into the living, vital, evergreen landscape of union with Jesus Christ. He connects us like branches to the vine, like members of the body to the head. Because Jesus is alive, we who are united to Him come to life too. What God does.
The Motive of God
And did you see, we’re even told why He does it. What possible motive could God have, the holy, holy, holy One? When confronted with a world of rebellion and sin, when He would be perfectly right and good and just to save none and condemn all, why does He save any? What does the text say? Verse 4, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, made us alive together with Christ.” If you are a Christian, why have you been rescued? Why did God save you? Mercy! Love! No other reason. I love the redundancy in verse 4. Did you hear it? Loved with love. He loved you with love. He fixed His love on you and made you His. You were hopeless and helpless, guilty and condemned, unlovely altogether and He loved you with love and made you alive.
Only by Grace
And notice how God does it. We are made alive in union with Christ because of mercy and love. How? Verse 5, “By grace you have been saved.” Verse 8, “By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works so that no one may boast.” Grace. God saves entirely as a gift for free. It’s the lynchpin, you know, of authentic Christianity. The gift character of Christian salvation is the key thing. Without it there is no Christianity at all. And immediately I hope you see what that means. If your Christianity is a matter of family tradition alone, you are still in Death Valley; you are still in verses 1 to 3. If your religion is an attempt on your part to earn the favor of God, to make Him by your effort accept you, you are still living in Death Valley. If you are here and you think that by your songs and your prayers you might somehow off-set your moral failures, you know balance the scales, you are still living in Death Valley. Dead, enslaved, condemned because salvation is a gift of grace. You can’t earn it, you can’t buy it, you can’t merit it, you can’t make yourself worthy of it. God must save you or you can’t be saved. God must do it or it will not get done. Will you give up your effort to manipulate the deity and throw yourself on the only save object of confidence and trust – not your efforts but God’s free grace alone? He is, after all, a God who delights to show mercy, a God who loves with love. There is grace for sinners, abundant, enough for you in Him.
Look at the text again. “You are saved by grace through faith, and this is not your own doing.” Sometimes people take the “this” here – “this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God” – to refer to faith. By grace you are saved through faith and this faith is not your own doing it is the gift of God. And the point they seek to make there is that even faith, even the faith that takes a hold of God’s grace is itself a gift and doesn’t originate from within us naturally. It is a product of supernatural work in our hearts to which we say aloud, “Amen.” Except that grammatically, structurally, it’s probably better to understand Paul is saying here that this salvation as a whole is not your own doing but is a gift from God, not of works lest anyone should boast. But far from weakening Paul’s message about the sovereignty of grace that actually strengthens the point. You see what Paul is saying? Not just your faith can be said to be a gift, but the whole thing is a gift. Salvation from its origin to its outcome, from the instrument by which we receive it – faith – to the riches we enjoy in it, salvation as a whole, from first to last, is all gift, all grace. And just to drive the point home one more time, negatively Paul says it is not a result of works so that no one may boast.
When at last, believer in Jesus, you stand before your Redeemer in glory, there will be nothing in your life story, nothing in your salvation, nothing in the glory that awaits you for eternity that you can say, “This, this is mine. I did this.” No, when you stand before your Savior you will cast your crown at His feet and give Him all the praise. “Not of works, lest anyone should boast.” All the glory is His for it is His work from first to last. All grace; all gift. So what must you do? You must come to God the only way you can – bereft of all confidence in yourself, robbed of all hope in anything you can say or do. Instead, you must come clinging only to grace. You must come looking to Jesus Christ and only to Jesus Christ to rescue and save you. You must be abandoned to the mercy and great love of God for sinners in Jesus. You must come, in the words of Andrew Bonar’s great hymn and say to God, “Not what my hands have done can save my guilty soul. Not what my toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole. Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God. Not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load. Your voice alone, O Lord, can speak to me of grace. Your power alone, O Son of God, can all my sin erase. No other work but Yours, not other blood will do. No strength but that which is divine can bear me safely through.” Is that your stance and posture before God today? No confidence in yourself, not in your goodness, not in your religion, not in your piety, not in your pedigree, not in your reputation but in Christ alone, in grace alone, in free mercy alone. There is no hope anywhere else.
III. Who We Are Now
Who we were. What God has done. Then look at verse 10 – who we are now if by grace God has broken in and made you His. What does God make of a person when He saves them? “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Remember how we once walked back in verse 1? “We once walked in trespasses and sins.” That was the name of the street down which the whole course of our life moved, the banner over everything in our lives – trespasses and sins; spiritual death. But now that God has intervened, now that He has created you anew in Christ Jesus, your life now moves along a different highway. “You are now God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” You are saved in order to serve, do you see? Saved in order to serve. “Created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
Conversion Produces Activity
Sometimes you will hear people arguing that teaching like this produces passive, inactive Christians, Christians who need do thing since after all God does it all. But do you see how the apostle Paul reasons in verse 10? What is the mark, the great evidence of new life springing up in a once dead soul? The evidence that grace has invaded and you have been made new is that you get busy serving. There is no coasting in the Christian life. Children of God, saved by grace, have been saved to serve. We are commissioning Twin Lakes staff today, but you know verses 2 through 10 really provide a commission to every believer in Jesus, don’t they? They say to you, “If God has delivered you from death and brought you into life, you now have a job to fulfill, a task to perform. There is a world to reach with the Gospel. There is mercy to show since you yourself have received mercy. You are now to be an instrument of grace since you yourself have received mercy. You are now to be an instrument of grace since you have received such grace. And this Gospel, this good news, that salvation is all gift, now ought to fill your lips and enflame your heart and animate your whole life as you seek to bring honor and glory to the Master who has redeemed you.”
Who we were – dead, helpless, enslaved in bondage and condemned. If that is you this morning, please hear the alarm sounding and see from our passage that there is a place of safety and escape in the grace of God. He and He alone can deliver you. Who we were. What God has done – He has broken in, broken the chains and shackles of sin that held us in bondage and set us free, given us life, made us His children, united us to Christ. And He’s done it for a reason. Who we are now – saved for service. May God capture your heart and enflame your whole soul with new passion for His honor and praise and make of you a Gospel servant from this day and on and forever. Let us pray together.
O Lord our God, how we adore You that though we were helpless in our sin You delight to save sinners. Though, like Peter we were sinking, Christ has saved us and rescued us. Help us, every one of us, to cling to and rest on Christ alone, offered freely to all in the Gospel. And as we do, would You ignite within us joy in the knowledge that He has saved us, we are His. And enable us in that joy to resolve to live for His praise. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.