Sermon Notes

Ephesians 2:4-7 October 10, 1999
Get a Life!

Our language is filled with clichés and slogans. They are catchy phrases we use to say more than the few words we speak. In our media-saturated culture it should come as no surprise that some of our favorite sayings come from TV. One such expression is "Get a life!" popularized by William Shatner on "Saturday Night Live" when he parodied geekie trekkies at a Star Trek Convention. After trying to answer inane questions from socially inept and misguided devotees of the 30-year-old TV show, Shatner lambastes the trekkies obsession with the defunct TV show by saying: "Get a life! It’s just a TV show. Move out of your parents' basements!" Today, we tell people who need to grow up, to move on, to get a life. What they are doing needs to change. The response to one who has misplaced priorities, who focuses on the insipid rather than the significant aspects of living is often: "Get a life!"

In our passage this morning Paul tells his readers that as believers they have a life. But often we forget the important reminders in this passage. We all, far too often, are living a life of fantasy, believing the lies of our world, of our own sin nature and of the devil. This passage reminds us of the life God has prepared for us today.

Last week we looked at the life of delusion we lived under when we were without hope in Christ. We heard the bad news that we were dead, dominated, disobedient, depraved and therefore doomed. The constant barrage of sin, Satan and society coupled together so that we had no real life, only living death. But the bad news of our sin is greatly overshadowed by the power of God’s love for us. While we were dead, God made us alive. God gave us life. This morning I want to examine what the life looks like. What is the life we now have?

4. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,

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

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

7. in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

While the sin and God’s wrath of verses 1-3 are real, Paul shifts the focus in this section from our sin to God’s grace which is the basis of our new life in Christ. What is the basis of this new life? Last week we touched on this briefly as we saw how God negates our sin by His mercy.

Paul describes God as being rich in mercy. Rather than giving us what we deserve in light of our sin, He gives us what we could never merit. God not only withholds our condemnation, He goes further: He reaches out to make us His own. The rich mercy of God comes to us not due to anything in us, but is channeled to us because of His great love for us. By joining these two, mercy and love, Paul presents an image of God we struggle to accept: God’s mercy comes not out of necessity, not from a divine imperative, as though God must be merciful because God’s nature demands He forgive us… rather His mercy comes because He loves us.

What does this mercy flowing from love do for us? God gives us a new life. There are three aspects of the life we have received. For each of these Paul coins a special word which encompasses what our Christian life means: in verse 5 we are made alive; in verse 6 we are raised up and we are seated.

The English can not adequately convey the full power of these words as Paul described a benefit we all have received as believers which is given to us. The life we have is not just between me and Jesus, but it is a life we have together, as all believers of which Christ is the head.

We are made alive with Christ

Alive with Christ - we have a new life

The death described in the opening section of this chapter is removed. We are emancipated from the domination of the world and the devil. The depravity by which we feel it necessary to fulfill our sinful desires is removed. When Paul says that Christ made us alive, the new life He imparted comprehends everything which is included in salvation. When we were dead we were under the condemnation of God’s wrath; we suffered the stench of our own sin and misery. So where there is life there is now forgiveness, regeneration, and hope. This is why Paul, in Colossians 2:11-14 says: "In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross."

The centrality of the crucifixion and resurrection to new life for the believer is explained further by Paul in Galatians 2:20. Again we see the connection between the work of Christ for us and our own life. But notice again how the verbs here are all in the past tense. This death and resurrection, the new life we have been given occurred in the past. It is not something we must strive for, not something we have to earn; it is given to us by God’s grace. What the great preacher of the early church, John Chrysostom, said is applicable here: "The life of the whole body is in the head, and therefore when the head rose, the body rose. Each in his order however; first Christ, and then they that are Christ’s."

What does this mean for you and me? It means we have a new start, a fresh beginning.

Our federal government, in order to put a clamp on organized crime, instituted the witness protection program. Those willing to admit to their own association in crime and give information about other criminals are given a new identity. Their past crimes are set aside and they are never to return to their old way of life. They are given a new life.

You and I have a new beginning. Your sins of the past may still haunt you . Memories of choices you made may still plague you. But the living death you had prior to coming to Christ has been removed. That old lifestyle no longer need be yours today. You have a new life. No more guilt, no more shame. There is freedom.

Alive with Christ - we received grace

This new life in Christ comes about not because of what we do, but Paul interjects the refrain he’ll use later: "it is by grace you have been saved." Unfortunately, we too often forget that it was God’s grace that saved us. We forget the amazing power of His mercy and love.

In his book What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey tells the story of a friend who works with the down-and-out in Chicago:

"A prostitute came to me in wretched straits, homeless, sick, unable to buy food for her two-year-old daughter. Through sobs and tears, she told me she had been renting out her daughter – two years old! – to men interested in kinky sex. She made more renting her daughter for an hour than she could earn on her own in a night. She had to do it, she said, to support her own drug habit. I could hardly bear hearing her sordid story. For one thing, it made me legally liable – I’m required to report cases of child abuse. I had no idea what to say to this woman. At last I asked if she had ever thought of going to a church for help. I will never forget the look of pure, naïve shock that crossed her face.

"'Church!" she cried. 'Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse!'"

The perception, real or otherwise, unfortunately describes how too often those outside the church as well as those within the walls view what it means to be a Christian. We think becoming alive is by our own hand and hard work. We forget that the new life we have is by God’s grace and His grace alone. When we are forced to smell the repulsive odor of our sin, when we can taste the putrid flesh and then recognize that God takes that death in us and makes us alive apart from anything in us, then we begin to understand grace.

The trouble is, like the prostitute, we think becoming a Christian is only about feeling more guilty about our sins. How much we need to proclaim this grace.

Martin Luther, in a letter to Philip Melanchthon, warned his friend against allowing his own morality to overshadow God’s grace. Melanchthon, like so many of us, foolishly imagined that God may give us a boost toward new life, but that it is up to us to maintain the life. To this, Luther said:

"If you are a preacher of grace do not preach a fictitious, but a true grace; and if the grace is true, carry a true, and not a fictitious sin. Be a sinner and sin vigorously… It is sufficient that we recognize through the wealth of God’s glory, the lamb who bears the sin of the world; from this, sin does not sever us, even if thousands, thousands of times in one day we should fornicate or murder"

We forget the truth of God’s grace which makes us alive when we try to rectify our own lives by programs of moral improvement. But just as we are made alive by God’s grace, so also we are raised up with Christ.

We are raised up with Christ

Raised with Christ - we need not be ruled by sin

It isn’t often that one finds good theology written on the back end of an 18 wheeler. Nevertheless, I read of a truck this week which had some good theology written on its tailgate. The truck was one of those extended dump trucks, belonging to a demolition company, and on its tailgate was painted the company logo: "We Could Wreck The World." But just beneath that, someone placed a small sticker: "Jesus Saves."

Being raised with Christ means we cease from that self-destructive nature of ours. The small cliché "Jesus saves" passes us by without us realizing the full implications of its truth. Christ’s resurrection to new life and ascension to heaven far too often is also a cliché taken from the creed, but its powerful truth is quickly forgotten.

To be raised with Christ means sin no longer has dominion over us. This is not to say we cease sinning, but we no longer have the excuse to sin as we did before. Prior to regeneration, we have no choice but to sin. While we can chose in ways small or large, we can not but sin, if only in that we do not glorify God with even the good we do. But with the new life we have in Christ the power of sin is broken.

The basis for knowing that we are no longer under sin’s control is found here. In Colossians 3:1-10, Paul, with the assumption that Christ’s resurrection and ours is an event in the past, is able to call us to a new life.

Raised with Christ - we have a new home

A changed life is not only possible, it is critical, for our home is now changed; our citizenship is different. We have a new environment in which we live. We are no longer creatures only of this world, bound by what we can see and touch and smell and hear and taste. We are now creatures of the greater, heavenly realm who now, because of our union with Christ, think and work and speak in spiritual categories. We must realize that we belong more to heaven than to earth.

Where do your loyalties lie? Where is your heart? Here’s the ultimate test: if the Packers kick-off was always at 10 a.m….

This does not imply that we don’t care about the world in which we live. It is never an excuse for complacency. Rather, we are now energized to do the work God has here for us. Our position in the heavenly realms does not mean we are to be so heavenly minded we are no earthly good. This means that we keep our lives in perspective.

We are seated with Christ

Seated with Christ - we rest with him

Along with our new life and our being raised to a new place, we are also now seated with Christ. Being seated with Christ carries with it two ideas which are very important to how we live our lives today. Sitting is a position of rest. When Christ ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, as we confessed earlier from the Apostles’ Creed, we are saying that Christ secured our salvation. The same goes for us as well. There is nothing you or I can ever add to what God in Christ has done for us.

After a long day at the office, of thinking at school, of chasing toddlers and dust bunnies all day, there is nothing as refreshing as sitting down. I need little excuse to sit down. But if you are like my wife, Janet, you will not sit down until the last scrap is cleared from the plate, the last child is in his bed, the last knick-knack is returned to its rightful place. Then, and only then will she be seated. But when she sits down, I know her work for the day is done.

If you are in Christ, you are seated. There is nothing left for you do to in order to secure your position with God. The author of Hebrews reminds us of this truth in 4:9-11. The Lord’s Day we set aside for worship and rest is a picture of what we have in Christ today. Just as we do not engage in our daily occupation on this day, so we rest from seeking to reform ourselves, bettering ourselves and trust that another has done it for us. We are to work hard at one thing: resting in Christ.

Seated with Christ - we reign with him

If we are made alive, we are raised and seated with Him; this means also that we now reign with Christ. We are in the position of victory, security, and privilege. There is an honor conferred on you and me we too often neglect. As Christ is now on His throne, seated at the right hand of God and, as He is our head and we His body… we are seated with Christ. We are more assured of our position before God than a Packer season ticket holder is of his place in Lambeau.

But how can this be? We look around and we see life as it is every day. How is it that Paul takes the work of Christ, which he mentioned earlier in 1:20 and applies it to our lives? How can it be that these three verbs are in the aorist tense, signifying a completed or past action? What does Paul mean?

This comes back to that critical concept Paul expounds in his letters: our union with Christ. Paul touches on this fact over 160 times in his letters. As we saw before, we were chosen in Christ and redeemed in Christ. This concept has been termed to be "the heart of Paul’s religion." John Murray wrote, "Union with Christ is the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation." Arthur Pink is even more emphatic: "The subject of spiritual union is the most important, the most profound, and yet the most blessed of any that is set forth in sacred Scripture." But he also rightly notes that "sad to say, there is hardly any which is now more generally neglected. The very expression 'spiritual union' is unknown in most professing Christian circles, and even where it is employed it is given such a protracted meaning as to take in only a fragment of this precious truth." (Boice, Ephesians 59)

When we speak of our union with Christ, we mean that Christ is our federal or covenant head. Let me unpack this more first by the passage which best illustrates it and then by an example in our lives.

The place in Scripture to see this best is in Romans 5. Paul describes the work of two individuals whose actions had tremendous ramifications. The first person is that of Adam. His actions have a immense impact on you and me. His sin was imputed to us, that is, God decreed that when he broke His command, it was our breaking it too. We are all born "in Adam." But fortunately God did not leave us there. Notice what is said in verses 18-19.

Just as Adam was our federal head, just as his action became ours, so also we receive all the benefits of salvation because of Christ’s action on our behalf. Adam stood as our representative and we were condemned. Then Christ stood as our representative and we were given the riches of God’s mercy. Because He is justified, we are justified. Because He is raised, we are raised. Because He is exalted to heaven, we too are exalted to heaven. As Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father in glory, so also are we seated.

This doctrine is called federalism, because it is analogous to the way a citizen is involved in the actions of his country or federal government. As citizens of a country, we suffer the liabilities and enjoy the benefits of our leaders.

During the bombing of Serbia a few months back, Americans in Belgrade were in danger, not because of the bombs, but because of the Serbs who were understandably upset with the actions of our President. They suffered because of what someone else did. Likewise, an ambassador stands in the place of a country; he or she speaks for the nation. This is what Christ has done for us

Conclusion: We are a trophy of God’s grace

Why did God go to such an extreme for us?

He did this to show the exceeding riches of His grace. God’s grace is boundless. Grace is not rationed out, so that when we have received a certain amount it is cut off. Nor can we say that if we slip into sin it is cut off. God’s grace is exceedingly great, and it is lavished on sinful and imperfect people. No matter how great our sin, God’s grace is even greater.

We are an eternal, universal advertisement of God’s grace. Throughout time and space all creation will marvel at God’s eternal wisdom, majesty, and glory. We are His trophies.

If a plastic surgeon called you, offering you free facial reconstruction, so that he could use you for advertising, you should feel grateful, but not proud. He did not choose you because you were so attractive, but because you were so ugly, and could demonstrate the marvelous skills he has as a plastic surgeon.

As you hear that, you may think you’d be offended. What an insult to be used for a before and after picture for a plastic surgeon. The whole world would see how ugly you really were and not how beautiful another person has made you. We might be repulsed because of our pride.

But what if, as you look in the mirror, you know you are deformed. You know how contorted your face is. You know children flee in terror and women faint. What is worse, the kids are your own and the women are your wife and mother. If you knew you needed it, then you would be delighted that for free, you could have a beautiful demeanor. What is more, this surgeon is not just offering to rearrange your present face, but can give you the most exquisite appearance on the planet.

The contortion of sin, the wretchedness of our depravity, makes us unloveable. Perhaps you think it's not that bad. You don’t need any surgery. You’ll do fine on your own. If that is you, then the offer of the Gospel is rather meaningless. But once you’ve seen your soul for what it is, the offer of new beauty is impossible to resist.

So it is with God’s grace. God sent Jesus Christ to the world, to suffer and to die in the sinner’s place. He did this because we were in such terrible shape. He did this so that He could demonstrate His grace, and His power in transforming a "dead" man or woman into a living sacrifice, a living testimony of His grace and power. God’s motivation in saving us should not flatter us, but it does glorify Him. He did this to give us life.

Do you have this kind of life?

Does knowing all that God has done for you make a difference in how you live today? If not, then you had better move out of Adam’s basement. By faith, trusting Christ’s work on the Cross was sufficient for you so that you now have a new life, a life in which you are now alive, raised and seated with Him today in the heavenly places. This passage commands us only to believe, to trust and in response to worship. So it commands us to get a life, a life you can never earn nor deserve, a life that is offered to you in the Gospel.

Sermon Notes