…But God (Pt 1): From Death to Life
This is another sermon I did during my college internship at my home church in Colorado in the summer of 2010. I have updated it a little and am kicking off a series taking the “…but God” passages.
Have you ever seen a dead body before? I have a couple of times, at funerals for a couple of my aunts at different time in my life, one was very recent. Those of you who have seen a dead body do you remember what it looked like? Maybe for some of you in the medical field or those who are combat veterans have seen number of bodies. Here is how Webster’s Dictionary defines a dead body, “deprived of life, no longer alive, having the appearance of death, lacking power to move, feel, or respond”. As unbelievers we are dead. God makes the sinner alive, for salvation of man was nothing but God. Let’s look at our passage.
I. Before Christ vv1-3
Verses one through three gives us an up close look at the pre-conversion state of man. Verse one tells us that we were dead. Now you’re saying, “Wait a minute I thought you said we are dead, now you’re saying we were dead. What is it?” In verse one Paul is reminding the Ephesian believers of their state before salvation. But what does he mean by dead? Because I know that I was alive before I got saved. Paul is speaking on a spiritual level. Our souls were dead because of sin. The unsaved person is dead spiritually. Wiersbe describes the condition, “that is, he is unable to understand and appreciate spiritual things. He posses no spiritual life, and he can do nothing of himself to please God” (Warren W. Wiersbe; The Bible Exposotion Commentary: New Testament Vol. 2; © 1989; p17). The verse says that we are dead in our “trespasses and sins” what’s the difference? A trespass or transgression is a stepping over the line, the act of sinning, doing something wrong. This is most dramatically seen when your favorite wide receiver catches the game winning touchdown, but he was caught out-of-bounds by the officials. The player trespassed, he crossed the line that allows play. The word sin in our verse is more of missing the mark, this is an action or in-action. If watched Superbowl 52 you may have seen the play when the New England Patriots attempted a play that turned quarterback Tom Brady into a receiver. If you did you would have seen Tom Brady miss the ball causing an incomplete pass. He missed the mark, he “sinned”. Do you know the difference between two sinners? It’s the amount of decay their spiritual bodies have. The bum in gutter who needs a fix and a drink is just as dead, but may be more decayed in appearance than that city council member, but they are both dead.
In verses two and three Paul describes the help we get as sinners to sin. You’re thinking, “What are you talking about?” Well, let’s look. The first encourager we have as sinners is the world. This world system pushes each person to conform to its way of thinking, acting, and living. “The unsaved person, either consciously or unconsciously, is controlled by the values of this world.” The second encourager of sin is the devil. The phrase, “the prince and power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” is a reference to Satan. Satan controls the sinful world. Now Satan is a created being, and that means he is not omnipresent as God is. However, Satan has a horde of evil angels working with him, but I do not believe that because little Jonny stole a cookie he has a right to say, “The devil made me do it”. I will get to our third enemy in a second, but here is a thought of encouragement for us who are born again. My Theology professor used this and I like it. Picture in your mind a man walking down the sidewalk walking his Rottweiler, now the Rottweiler is on a leash but he is jumping and barking at everyone and knocking newspaper stands over. Now picture walking the in the opposite direction a young mother with a baby in a stroller. The mother sees the dog and his master getting closer, and decides to cross the street. The dog’s owner sees the mother, and pulls back on the leash not giving it any room to jump and run ahead, just before the mother crosses the street. The Rottweiler is Satan, and the owner is the Holy Spirit. God has a leash on the devil and he can only do so much and there will be a time when he is punished for his sins.
We get to the third encourager of sin in verse three. This is our flesh. Not flesh as in our physical body, but this is a reference to our sin nature. Warren Wiersbe uses a good illustration in his commentary he says, “An evangelist friend of mine once announced as his topic, ‘Why Your Dog Does What It Does,’ and, of course, many dog lovers came out to hear him. What he had to say was obvious, but too often overlooked: ‘A dog behaves like a dog because he has a dog’s nature.’ If somehow you could transplant into the dog the nature of the cat, his behavior would change radically. Why does a sinner behave like a sinner? Because he has the nature of a sinner. This sinful nature the Bible calls ‘the flesh’” (Wiersbe, p18) The sinner commits sin because he has an appetite for sin. The unsaved think and will say that they do good. But they are depraved. In Isaiah 64 it says that our righteousness is like filthy rags. Because the unsaved are depraved they cannot do any thing that is not selfish. This isn’t to say that every sinner is on the same level of sin, or that the sins are as evil as they could be, but when an unbeliever does something good it is selfish and will not get them any kind of merit with God.
Unbelievers are by their sinful nature, children of wrath. Unbelievers are by action, disobedient under the influence of Satan, “the prince and power of the air (vs 2)”. God, the righteous judge, has passed sentence. The sinners will be punished. But God in his mercy has granted a stay of execution. The individual cannot save himself, cannot work his way to heaven, but God in His grace has provided a way to salvation. For the salvation of man was nothing but God.
So we have seen the sinner’s spiritual condition before Christ, now let’s look at how God worked.
II. But God vv 4-7
Verses one through three reminds the Christian of life before Christ, then Paul starts verse four with, “But God”. But God. Aren’t those sweet words in your ears? You were dead in sin, but God. But God! Those are very precious words. Those two little words show us attributes of God. You say, “how?” Well think of it this way. There are some attributes that God has that can been seen differently when they are related to man. God is holy, but His holiness when related to man is His justice. God is love, but His love when related to man is His grace and mercy. God is merciful by not giving us what we deserve as sinners. Like a parent not punishing their disobedient child. God’s gracicious to us by giving what we don’t deserve eternal life in His presence. Like a parent giving a gift to child even that child disobeyed.
Verse five reminds us that it was God who pulled us out of the graveyard that is this world It says that He “made us alive with Christ”. What does that mean? God through His Word and the power of the Holy Spirit has given us a spiritual resurrection just as He gave Jesus a physical resurrection. Our spiritual resurrection unites us with Christ. Now as members of His body we share His resurrection life and power. Verse six continues the thought of being united with Christ. Warren Wiersbe says this, “Our physical position may be on earth, but our spiritual position is ‘in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.’ Like Lazarus, we have been called from the grave to sit with Christ and enjoy His fellowship” (Wiersbe p19). He’s saying that even though we are physically here, our citizenship is in heaven. We are not of this world anymore. Philippians 3:20 and 1 Peter 2:11 also reminds us that we are now citizens of heaven and are just travelling through this life.
Verse seven reads “so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” This is part of God’s work. In eternity future God will display those whom He has redeemed. “Riches of His grace” is connected with believer’s redemption. His ultimate purpose for our salvation is that for all eternity the whole church of redeemed believers will glorify God.
Verse four to seven remind us that we could not save ourselves and that we are now citizens of heaven and part of the body of Christ. It’s like someone finding a homeless person who is a drug addict and an alcoholic and cleaning him up and making him king someplace.
III. By Grace vv 8-10
Verse eight is a reminder that we can do nothing for our salvation. Since we cannot gain salvation through our good works, it also stands that we cannot lose our salvation through our bad works. Salvation is not a reward, but a gift. Grace is the basis and faith is the instrument of our salvation. Harold Hoehner says this, “Whereas ‘grace’ is the objective cause or basis of salvation, ‘through faith’ is the subjective means by which one is saved. This is important, for the salvation that was purchased by Christ’s death is universal in its provision, but is not universal in its application. One is not automatically saved because Christ died, but one is saved when one puts trust in God’s gracious provision” (Harold W. Hoehner; Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary; ©2002; p341). Verse nine broadens the thought as Paul tells us that since we didn’t do anything for salvation, we have no room to boast. Dr Llyod-Jones reminds us, “It is the Lord Jesus Christ who saves you. If you say that your faith saves you, your faith has become a work, and you have something to boast of” (Dr Martyn Llyod-Jones; Romans: An Exposition of Chapters 3:20-4:25 Atonement and Justification; © 1970; p47). This is God’s work. It is by His grace.
Verse ten reads “For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.” The word workmanship has a meaning of a piece of art or a masterpiece. Like the artist who painstakingly spends hours on a piece of art to make sure it is perfect, so God is working in our lives. This word is different from the word used for human works in verse nine. What is this work that God has done? He has made us or created us into a new creation. Creation is something that only God can do, and because we have new life in Christ we are a new creature than the old unbelieving world. Our new life is not the end of God’s work in us, it is only the beginning. God wants us to be more like Christ, that is progressive sanctification. That term, means that as we live our lives here on earth we strive to overcome sin in our life. We battle sinful addictions, become better husbands and wives. But we do not do this on our own. We cannot. Just as we cannot save ourselves, we cannot overcome our sinful habits ourselves. God must be involved.
The good works that are referred to here have nothing to do with our salvation, but as a demonstration of our faith. John Calvin wrote, “It is faith alone that justifies, but faith that justifies can never be alone.” We are not saved through our good works, but our faith is seen by our good works. James chapter two talks about this very thing. James 2:17 says, “In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself.” He says later that faith is seen by good works. Jesus even talked about these good works, Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” You’re thinking, “Ok, we get it, but what are these good works then?” It’s an “Absolutely Free Car Wash”, it’s working in VBS, it’s giving to missionaries, it’s going calling and sharing the gospel. But remember, we do not produce these good works, these good works come from God. They are a product of God working in one’s life. We see here in verse ten that God knew what works he would have us do. This means He has a plan for our lives, He knows what good works He wants us to do. All we need to do is be in His will for our lives, and those good works will come for us to do so that men may glorify our Father in heaven.
Verses one through three show us that no one is able to do anything good that is worthy of merit with God. Verses four through seven remind us that we had nothing to do with our salvation, but God provided through grace and mercy. Finally verses eight through ten show us that God did the work, and has work for us to do for Him. But you know, we cannot do that work if we do not accept God’s free gift of salvation.
If you don’t know if you have accepted God’s gracious gift of salvation then follow this link for an explanation of how you can know for certain from Dr David Jeremiah or this link to walk down the “Romans Road” on biblegateway.com.