Ephesians 2:4-7

Sermon preached on April 2, 2006 by Laurence W. Veinott. Copyright 2006. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.newlifeop.org/.

When I was attending Gordon College on weekends I used to visit relatives who lived south of Boston. My uncle had his pilot's license and one weekend he asked me if I would like it if he and his partner flew me back. I thought that was a great idea. So we met up at an airport south west of Boston and we were going to fly up to Beverly airport, which was north east of Boston. It was a gorgeous day and it was a great way to go back to college. But one of my biggest memories of the flight was that my uncle and his partner were practicing instrument flying. They actually put this head gear on that prevented them from looking to the side. It reminded me of the blinders that they put on horses. I can't remember if they both used them at the same time or whether just one of them did. But I remember thinking that they were missing the best part of the flight. The view was spectacular. I could see the city of Boston, all the buildings, the Charles River. I could see the ocean and the outline of the coast, the sky, other planes in the area. It was an incredible sight. But they were there with their blinders on, glued to the instrument panel.

They were missing out on so much. I felt sorry for them because I had a much better view than they did and, it seemed, a much better appreciation of what was going on around me.

That illustrates the limited perception that we Christians sometimes have of God's role in our salvation. There are some Christians who think that God merely made salvation possible, and that if someone becomes a Christian it's ultimately because of their will and choice. They will tell you that God, in sending Jesus to die for us, has done everything He can do to save us and that it's now all up to man, to his ability, his choice, his actions.

Of course nothing could be further from the truth. Look at what the apostle Paul tells us in this section of Scripture about our salvation.

In the first three verses of this chapter he painted a horrible picture of human beings and what they are by nature. Paul told us that they were dead in trespasses and sins, that before they became Christians they followed the ways of the world and of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who as at work in those who are disobedient. They readily joined in such things, gratifying the cravings of their sinful nature and following it's desires and thoughts. Like the rest, they were by nature objects of wrath.

But then we have a radical, fundamental and incredible change. They became alive.
What accounted for this great change? Only one thing.

God made them alive with Christ.

The apostle writes,

"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—
it is by grace you have been saved."

It was God who changed everything. We were dead, now we have life. We were under the sway and power of sin, now we are led by the Spirit. We were alienated from God and by nature objects of wrath—now we have been brought close to God, brought into His family.

In this section Paul is making it clear that we owe our salvation totally to God. We dare not boast in ourselves or in something in us. We need to praise and glorify God for giving us life. God has done this.

Now to help us see this I want to do two things. First I want to contrast what the Ephesian Christians had in Christ compared with how they were described in the first three verses. We'll note how that in all of these things the emphasis is on God's initiative, God's power, God doing it. Secondly, I want to look at how these things come to us—through our union with Christ. All these things show us that salvation is totally from God.

First of all, consider the contrast between what the Ephesians were like before they became Christians and what they were like after.

The first thing we are told in verse 1 is that before the Ephesians became Christians they were

dead in trespasses and sins.

In verse 5 we have the opposite of that—life in Christ. Notice how Paul puts the emphasis on God's work. He says that God, (Ephesians 2:5)

"made us alive with Christ
even when we were dead in transgressions—
it is by grace you have been saved."

We were once dead spiritually—unable to please God, unable to rise above our transgressions and sins. We were dead, of no use to God, unable to bring Him glory except in us bearing the punishment for our sins.

We are taught the same thing in
Colossians 2:13 where we read,

"When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature,
God made you alive with Christ."

You'll remember that when God formed Adam from the dust of the ground that Adam didn't become a living being until God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. (Genesis 2:7) So too, it is that way with us spiritually. Jesus told Nicodemus that for anyone to enter the Kingdom of God he needed to be born again, or born 'from above'. He said, (John 3:5f)

"I tell you the truth,
no one can enter the kingdom of God
unless he is born of water and the Spirit.
Flesh gives birth to flesh,
but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
You should not be surprised at my saying,
'You must be born again.'
The wind blows wherever it pleases.
You hear its sound,
but you cannot tell where it comes from
or where it is going.
So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

After God created Adam and placed Adam in the Garden of Eden, Adam should have been filled with thankfulness and praise to God for giving Him life and putting him in the Garden. Not to do so would have been the height of ingratitude. For Adam to think that somehow he gave life to himself would have been a great self-delusion.

You Christians, how much more ought you to appreciate the creative power of God in you. How you ought to be praising God for making you alive. It's astounding. It's a marvelous and great miracle. He has taken you who were dead in trespasses and sins and made you alive. Your rebirth is nothing less than a recreation. As Paul said in
2 Corinthians 5:17-18,

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ,
he is a new creation;
the old has gone,
the new has come!
All this is from God,"

How much you ought to be praising God for making you alive!

Secondly, we see that before the Ephesian Christians were made alive by Christ, they,

followed the ways of this world, the ruler of the kingdom of the air. Spirit at work in those who are disobedient.

Although it's not explicitly stated, one of the basic thoughts of the first three verses of Ephesians 2 is that before God made the alive, the Ephesian Christians were slaves to sin and to Satan. They gratified the cravings of their sinful natures, following it desires and thoughts. They were, as Romans 6:20 tells us, slaves to sin and free from the control of righteousness.

Paul also tells is in
2 Timothy 2:26 about the trap of the devil and how the devil has taken unbelievers,

"captive to do his will."

In Revelation 12:9 he is referred to as,

"that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan,
who leads the whole world astray."

You'll recall that before Judas betrayed Jesus the devil entered into him. (John 13:2) He had power over him and used him for his purposes.

But now all that has changed.

Through Christ we have been freed from our slavery to sin and to the devil.

Notice again how the emphasis is in Christ, on the Spirit—on God's work, His activity. For example, in Romans 6:6 the apostle Paul wrote,

"For we know that our old self
was crucified with him
so that the body of sin might be done away with,
that we should no longer be slaves to sin"

Then in Romans 7:4f Paul wrote,

"So, my brothers,
you also died to the law through the body of Christ,
that you might belong to another,
to him who was raised from the dead,
in order that we might bear fruit to God.
For when we were controlled by the sinful nature,
the sinful passions aroused by the law
were at work in our bodies,
so that we bore fruit for death.
But now, by dying to what once bound us,
we have been released from the law
so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit,
and not in the old way of the written code."

Christians died with Christ, we have been crucified with him. The power of sin has been broken. Romans 8:21 refers to,

"the glorious freedom
of the children of God."

And in Galatians 5:1 Paul declared,

"It is for freedom
that Christ has set us free."

Notice the emphasis on Christ. He is the One who has set us free. He has released us from our bondage to sin. Our new life, our release from bondage, our power to serve God in freedom—is all from God. We are now free to serve Him, praise Him and bring glory to His name. It's all a result of His work.

God has taken us from the lowest place—from slavery to sin, from following Satan's ways, (1 John 3:8) from displeasing God, from doing the worst thing in the world, from having enmity against God, from sinning against Him, seeking to destroy His rule—and changed us and brought us under His rule. We were formerly unable to bring glory to God—except by being punished by Him—and now all that has changed. It's all God's doing. In
Colossians 1:13 we read,

"For he has rescued us
from the dominion of darkness
and brought us
into the kingdom of the Son he loves,"

As Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:8,

"For you were once darkness,
but now you are light in the Lord.
Live as children of light
(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness,
righteousness and truth)"

We have been brought into His kingdom. It's all His doing. He has brought into His kingdom. Or as Peter put it in 1 Peter 2:9, God has,

"called you out of darkness
into his wonderful light."

Christians, realize what you have in Christ. He has taken you from the old realm and brought you into His Kingdom.

Even more than,
God has given us His Spirit, which is transforming us and leading us in righteousness. This is from God. The Spirit is referred to as the 'gift of the Spirit'. (Acts 2:38) We have been given His Spirit which leads us in righteousness. We have the Spirit in us who in conforming us more and more to the image of Christ. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:8,

"And we, who with unveiled faces
all reflect the Lord's glory,
are being transformed into his likeness
with ever-increasing glory,
which comes from the Lord,
who is the Spirit."

As Paul put it in Ephesians 4:24, we are,

"to put on the new self,
created to be like God
in true righteousness and holiness."

The Spirit is making us like God. How wonderful, how glorious.

What we should note about all this is that

it's all a result of our union with Jesus.

Notice how Paul puts it in our text. Paul wrote,

"But because of his great love for us,
God, who is rich in mercy,
made us alive with Christ"

The phrase 'alive together with' is all one word in Greek. Paul emphasizes our union with Christ and being fundamental and decisive. John Stott writes that what makes us distinctive is,

"their new solidarity as a people who are 'in Christ'. By virtue of their union with Christ they have actually shared in his resurrection, ascension, and session."

This is clear from verse 6 as well. Paul wrote,

"And God raised us up with Christ
and seated us with him
in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,"

John Calvin writes,

"It is as if he said that we have been transferred from the deepest hell to heaven itself."

Peter O'Brien writes on verse 5.

"Only now is the main verb which governs the paragraph, (God) made us alive, introduced, and it is the first of three verbs compounded with the preposition 'with' which point to the union between Christ and his followers (cf. 1:20). Speaking of the mighty salvation that has already been won, Paul maintains that believers have been made alive together with Christ, raised up with him, and made to sit with him in the heavenly places. What God has accomplished in Christ he has also accomplished for believers… the relationship with Christ that is in view affects believers' destinies, for it involves their sharing in his destiny."

This is clearly God's work. He made us one with Christ. We didn't do this. It is God's work. He united us with Christ in His death, resurrection, ascension and session. He has given us these things in Christ, through our union with Him.

Thirdly, we see that before they were Christians the Ephesians were

by nature objects of wrath.

Or if we wanted to be literal, we could translate it that we were by nature, 'children of wrath'.

But now, instead of being children of wrath—we are children of God! We have been adopted into God's family! As John wrote in
1 John 3:1-2,

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us,
that we should be called children of God!
And that is what we are!
… Dear friends,
now we are children of God…"

Again, notice how it's all of God. God lavished love on us. God made us His children. He adopted us. We were merely the recipients of it.

So we can now say, (Romans 8:15)

"Abba, Father."

We are not longer objects of wrath—but objects of blessing. On the last day Jesus will say to us, (Matthew 25:34)

"Come, you who are blessed by my Father;
take your inheritance,
the kingdom prepared for you
since the creation of the world."

Since the creation of the world—who is responsible for that? It can only be God. We weren't around then. God planned it and has been preparing it for us.

Instead of being objects of wrath, God has raised us up with Christ and seated us in the heavenly realms in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. We are objects of love, of kindness—forever to the praise of God's glory.

John Stott tells the story of when the Rev. Paul Gibson retired as Principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge, a portrait of him was unveiled.

"In expressing his thanks, he paid a well-deserved compliment to the artist. He said that in the future he believed people looking at the picture would ask not, 'Who is that man?' but rather 'Who painted that portrait?'"

In a sense that's an illustration of what it will be like in the future, forever we will be objects that show the immeasurable riches of Christ's grace and kindness. Forever the heavenly host will see us and marvel at and praise God for His love and kindness. Do you see how it's all of God?

But there's even more here. Not only is our salvation from God, but the cause of it is found in God. Why did God love us? Why did God save us? Paul emphasizes the fact that

the cause in found in God, not in us.

God didn't save us because we were different than other sinners, better than them, more worthy than them. No, notice what Paul says here. John Stott comments, (p. 82)

"Paul assembles four words to express the origins of God's saving initiative. He writes of God's 'mercy' (God who is rich in mercy, verse 4a), of God's 'love' (out of the great love with which he loved us, verse 4b), of God's 'grace' (by grace you have been saved, verses 5 and 8) and of God's 'kindness' (his… kindness toward us in Christ Jesus, verse 7)."

Stott continues,

"We were dead, and so helpless to save ourselves: only 'mercy' could reach the helpless, for 'mercy' is love for the down and out. We were under God's wrath: only 'love' could triumph over wrath. We deserved nothing at God's hand but judgment, on account of our trespasses and sins: only 'grace' could rescue us from our deserts, for grace is undeserved favor."

Peter O'Brien comments on the phrase, 'God who is rich in mercy',

"In the Old Testament God is frequently characterized in this way: he 'abounds in mercy' (Exod. 34:6; Ps. 103:8; Jonah 4:2), indeed, he delights in it (Mic. 7:8). 'Mercy' often represents the Hebrew term hΩesed≈, which has been taken to refer to Yahweh's steadfast covenant loyalty and love, especially when Israel was unfaithful. F. I. Andersen has shown, however, that this is 'an expression of love and generosity which is unexpected'. It does not fall within the domain of duty and obligation," "The whole paragraph emphasizes that he acted on our behalf simply because of his own gracious and merciful character. Our experience of salvation was totally unmerited, since we were dead in our trespasses, subject to the entanglements of the world, the devil, and the flesh, and thus destined for divine judgment."

You Christians owe everything good you have in salvation to God. The magnificent change in us, in our condition, in our relationship to God—has been effected by God. You were dead in trespasses and sins, slaves to sin, by nature objects of wrath—now all that has changed. It has changed because of God, because of what He has done for you in Christ. Praise God. Rejoice in Him. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 10:17,

"Let him who boasts
boast in the Lord."

Lastly, if you're not a Christian, you've heard this morning that salvation is totally and exclusively of God. You can't change your heart. You can't change your condition. Only God can do it. Go to Him. Ask Him to save you. Be like the tax collector in the temple who asked, (Luke 18:13)

"God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

Jesus said he went home justified. Become like Him. Ask God to save you, to have mercy on you, to bring you into His family. He will not disappoint you.