Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Supernatural Religion – Ephesians 2:1-10




In its 2000-year history, Christianity has almost destroyed itself numerous times.  It really is amazing the church is around at all.  Jesus must have been telling the truth when he promised, “The gates of hell will not prevail [against the church].”  Its problems have not only been caused by enemies from without, but also by enemies from within (as Paul himself predicted would happen to the Ephesian church in Acts 20).  One of the things that has plagued the church from the very beginning is the attempt to redefine the church in ways that end up evacuating the church of its power and real influence.  Often the way this comes about is through people who argue to convince Christians that the only way they can stay relevant is by changing who they are in ways that conform to society and culture.  We’re seeing that today, with the effect that the church is losing relevance instead of becoming relevant. 

Christianity has been redefined in multiple ways.  Some try to redefine it as a political movement.  I’ve been reading a lot of church history lately, and one of the things that has stood out to me is how unfortunate it was that the church became allied to the state in ways that made the church inherently political.  Think about the terrible things that happened as a result.  We wouldn’t have had the Crusades or the Inquisition or a million other evils if the church had stayed away from politics.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that individual Christians shouldn’t be involved in politics.  But it does mean that the church, as such, should never identify itself with a particular political party, and we need to hear this as much today as ever.  And the church should certainly never, ever use political power to advance its mission.  This may gain short term advantages, but it is a terrible long-term strategy.

Others have tried to redefine the church as a cultural movement.  If the former is a temptation for the religious right, this is a temptation for the religious left in our day.  In this scenario, the church is seen to be a cheerleader for the current cultural trends.  I remember what a former famous baseball player said when he was asked if he was a Christian: “Of course I’m a Christian – I’m American!”  As if these were one and the same.  But the church was never meant to be a shadow for the national ethos.  It was never meant to be an echo-chamber for the values of the times.  Instead, the church is supposed to be radically counter-cultural in ways that make the Sermon on the Mount incarnational in a society that is ultimately under the power of the Prince of Darkness.  And what its advocates don’t realize is that this is fundamentally lethal for the church.  When the church in Europe during the first world war (on both sides) acted as God’s voice for their governments advocating for war, this led to wide-spread disillusionment in the wake of the war and to the waning of the church’s influence in Europe.  In any case, God will not bless the church that advocates the values of fallen and sinful society – the purpose of the church is to call society to repentance, not to cheer it on.  The role of the church is not that of a cheerleader, it is that of a prophet.

Still others have tried to redefine Christianity as a moral movement.  In this way, the Christian religion is redefined and reduced to law.  Though the religion of Christ is not lawless, and though the apostle Paul speaks of being under the law of Christ (1 Cor. 9:21), it is not law but gospel that defines what is unique and central to Christianity.  More importantly, the danger here is defining Christianity so that it is primarily about “being good” and about what you can do for God so that you can somehow earn your way into heaven.  The focus is off God and onto man.  And although many who advocate for this view would hate to be in the same room as an atheist, their view of salvation is not so different from that espoused in the Secular Humanist Manifesto: “No god can save us; we must save ourselves.”

It is this latter redefinition of Christianity that I primarily want to take aim at as we step back and look again at the first ten verses of Ephesians 2.  We must beware of any view of salvation that assigns the ultimate and decisive factor to man that brings a person from being under the wrath of God to being accepted by him.  This can be very subtle.  You can talk about grace and yet think that something you did made the decisive difference when it came to being saved.  But there is little, if any, difference between that and advocating for salvation by works.

The problem with this view, from a Biblical standpoint, is that the Bible never speaks of salvation in this sense.  It doesn’t say that man has nothing to do with salvation (we are to believe and repent), but it never, ever ascribes the decisive step in the order of salvation to man.  Rather, it ascribes it to God and to God alone.  Salvation is of the Lord.  In fact, Paul would say this to the Corinthian believers: “For who maketh thee to differ from another?  And what hast thou that thou didst not receive?  Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7).  Ask yourself the same question: What makes you different from an unbeliever?  The fact that you are saved and someone else is not is not explained by something you did as it is by something you received.  We are saved by grace through faith.

Now it is true that we are justified and forgiven by faith.  If you would be saved, you must repent of your sins and trust in Christ as your Lord and Savior.  But we must not think that our faith is something that we can take credit for.  Faith does not come out of thin air.  More to the point, faith in Christ is created in the heart of rebels.  It is created in the heart of a person who was dead in sin.  Being dead in sin means that your heart was turned against God, his law, and his Son.  Faith in Christ is unthinkable in someone who is in this state, who is hostile to God.  It is therefore out of spiritual life that faith comes, so that even faith itself is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8).  There is nothing that we can take credit for, not even our faith, so that there is absolutely no ground for boasting (Eph. 2:9).

Look again at Ephesians 2.  In verse 1-3, we are told the state that we are in by nature.  We are dead in sins, alienated from the life of God.  And as such we will never take one step toward God because we are enslaved to the course of this world, in lock-step with the devil, the world, and our own lusts.  How is this condition to be reversed?  How are we to be saved? 

The answer to this question comes in verses 4-10.  But it is summed up with the first two words of verse 4: “But God.”  The bridge between depravity and sainthood is not to be found in the warped will of man.  Rather it is found in the sovereign grace of God.  Paul does not see the answer to man’s predicament in something that we do, but in something that God does.

The thing that God has done corresponds to our condition: we were dead in sins and so God raises us from a spiritual death (4-6).  This happened “even when we were dead in sins” (5) so that we cannot take credit for being quickened (made alive), for being raised up, or for being seated with Christ in the heavenly place.  The subject of each of these actions is God, not man, who is being acted upon.

Paul makes it clear here that this is the decisive action that brings us from being “children of wrath” to being saved.  The decisive action is God giving us spiritual life.  This is what makes the difference.  It is out of this spiritual life that faith comes by which we receive justification and acceptance before God (cf. Rom. 5:1).  We would never make the journey from death to life had not God intervened in Christ by grace to save us from sin. 

Throughout eternity we will not be praising ourselves for the good decision that we made.  We will be praising God for the “exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (7).  There will be no room for self-worship.  God will be the only one who will be praised for endless ages.

Thus, when Paul says that we are saved by grace through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God (8), we should not exclude the “faith” as that to which “it” is pointing as part of the gift of God.[1]  Faith is part of the gift of God, something which has its origin in the life that God gives his elect.  This is supported by the observation that if faith was not part of God’s gift to us but something entirely of ourselves, then we would have something to boast in, namely, our faith.  But Paul says that we are not saved by works, “lest any man should boast” (9).  It does not do to say that faith is different from work.  That is true.  Nevertheless, the observation still holds: a faith which originates in our hearts apart from God’s prior and effectual work in our hearts would still be a ground of boasting in us.  There would be some part of our salvation that we could take credit for, and this would undermine the reality of salvation by grace.

And when Paul finishes this section by saying that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (10), he is again underlining the fact we are not self-created spiritually.  We do not give ourselves life.  God did that.  We do not raise ourselves from the dead.  God did that.  We do not seat ourselves in the heavenly places in Christ.  God did that.  We are his workmanship, not our own.  And therefore to God alone the glory.

Now I don’t want to deny that at the same time our faith is our faith.  Our repentance is our repentance.  We believe.  We repent.  And if we don’t believe and don’t repent we will not be saved.  I’m not arguing, and the apostle was not arguing, that we are robots or puppets.  Rather, what I believe the apostle is saying is that everything good in us spiritually is a gift of God, including our faith (cf. Eph. 1:3).  We exercise what he gives us.  As Saint Augustine prayed: “God, give what you command, and command what you will.”  The apostle James put it this way, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.  Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (Jam. 1:17-18).  Or, as Paul would say to the Corinthians, our faith does not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God (1 Cor. 2:5).

In other words, Ephesians 2:1-10 emphasizes the reality that the Christian religion is supernatural.  It is not a political, or a cultural, or even a moral phenomenon.  It is fundamentally a supernatural reality.  I think that is one of the major takeaways from this passage.  And I believe this is something that we need to constantly remind ourselves of, because in our day Christianity has been in many ways reduced to a formula, to an algorithm.  Books come out with the promise, “Here is the secret for ____________!”  The underlying message is that if you follow these steps, you will achieve the hoped-for end.  The danger in many of these books is that sanctification becomes a matter entirely of what you do.  The supernatural element has been removed from our walk with God.

I’m not saying that there are no steps to sanctification or salvation.  “Believe, and you shall be saved” is a fundamental step we must all take.  There are things we must do, without which we will never grow in grace.  But what we have to be careful about is that salvation and sanctification becomes primarily about what you do.  At that point, we need to remind ourselves that salvation in all its aspects is not something that we are doing on our own.  Salvation is first of all something God has done in us and for us.  And then as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, we do so knowing that it is God who is working in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure (Phi. 2:12-13).  Salvation and sanctification are supernatural processes in our lives. 

Yes, the point of Ephesians 2 is that salvation is by grace.  But whose grace?  God’s grace!  Salvation is therefore supernatural in its origin (in the giving of spiritual life, verses 4-6), in its continuance (in the sustaining of spiritual life, verses 8-10), and throughout eternity (in the celebration of God’s grace in giving and supporting us in spiritual life, verse 7).

Now what are some of the implications of this fact?  What should our lives look like in light of this reality?  It means primarily that our lives ought to be oriented toward God.  It means that we ought to live out our sanctification in dependence upon God in Christ.  God is doing a thousand things in your life to make you more like his Son.  And every one of us is different.  No one of our stories is going to be exactly the same.  There is no cookie-cutter Christianity.  The things and truths and events and circumstances that God uses to sanctify us may be different for each of us.  But there is one unifying reality: we are all sanctified by the work of God because of what Christ has done for us and because of what the Holy Spirit is doing in us.  And that means that no matter what our path to holiness looks like, it must be characterized by a life of dependence upon the Triune God. 

But what I want to drill down on is what this dependence looks like in light of the truths of Ephesians 2:1-10.  There are at least six features that our dependence upon God ought to be characterized by.

First of all, our dependence upon God ought to be Christ-focused.  If Ephesians 2 reminds us that we owe our spiritual life to God the Father, it also reminds us that the Father gives us this life in his Son.  We are “quickened together with Christ” (5), and when Paul uses the word “together” with “raised up together” and “seated together” the implication is that we are raised and seated together with Christ (5-6).  The riches of God’s grace in his kindness comes to us “through Christ Jesus” (7).  We are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (10).  This is Paul filling out what he meant in 1:3 when he said that God “hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.”

The dependence that characterizes a Christian is not therefore some general and vague notion of a merciful and kind Creator who occasionally intervenes in the lives of his creatures.  It is not the belief that God helps those who help themselves.  Rather, it is trust in the redemptive work of Christ upon the cross.  It is depending on the fact that Christ by his death purchased for us “all things” necessary for life and godliness (Rom. 8:32).  It is relying on the reality that Christ was my substitute, taking my sin upon himself so that I could have his righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).  It is understanding that the basis of my relationship with God is not dependent upon my being good for God but upon Christ being righteous for me.  It means relating to God through Christ as my Mediator, knowing that in him I can do all things that God expects me to do, but without him I can do nothing (Jn. 15:5; Phil. 4:13).

Second, our dependence upon God ought to be active and obedient.  We are not saved by works (9) but we are saved unto good works (10).  The dependence we are talking about is not that of a spiritual sloth or of the fatalist.  It is not drawing the implication that since God’s works for me, I don’t have to do anything.  Rather, the knowledge that God is working in us and for us ought to energize us to work for God.  God gives us life and raises us from the dead, not so that we can go on doing nothing for God but so that we will walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4).

And it is absolutely necessary for us to understand this if we are going to be truly productive in God’s kingdom.  If you think you can obey God in your own strength, it is because you don’t really understand the depth and breadth of God’s commands.  There is a lot of superficiality in religion, especially among those who define Christianity purely in terms of law.  God asks of us things that we cannot do in ourselves.  We are like the apostles who were commanded to take five loaves and two small fishes and use them to feed 5000+ people.  It was impossible!  And yet they did it, not in their own power, but through the power of Christ.  In the same way, we are to live out our lives in active and obedient service because we are not dependent upon our own resources, but upon the power and grace of God which is freely given to those who trust in him.  It follows that true obedience, the obedience that takes in all that God commands, is dependent upon the grace and power of God.

Third, our dependence upon God ought to be confident and courageous.  Do you hear the note of confidence in Eph. 2:1-10?  This may seem like a contradiction to dependence.  But we are not talking about self-confidence here.  We are talking about confidence that God can and will do what he says he will do.  In fact, one of the major obstacles to obedience is a lack of confidence in God.  Why do we sin?  Why do we fail to do what we ought to do?  Is it not often because we simply do not believe that God will follow through with his promises? 

But if we recognize that God has been at work in us from the very beginning, that he is the one who has made the decisive difference in our lives, and that he is continuing this work in us to the present day, then that ought to give us confidence and great courage.  If moreover, we recognize that God’s work in us is not dependent upon our goodness but upon his grace, then we have no reason to rest fully upon his promises that he will continue the work he has begun in us.

Yes, there are a lot of reasons in us to cause us to be frightened and to step back from obedience.  We are weak.  We often feel ill-equipped to the task.  But this is not a reason for the Christian to step back from obedience.  For we know our weakness is not obstacle to God.  In fact, God loves to work through our weaknesses.  Remember the apostle Paul?  “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.  Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).  We are to know “the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power” (Eph. 1:19).

Fourth, our dependence upon God ought to be a humble dependence.  There is no room for boasting (Eph. 2:9).  Our victories are not accomplished in our own strength.  “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Rom. 8:37).  When Peter healed the lame man at the temple gates, and the people began to praise him for this miracle, he responded, “Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this?  Or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk?” (Acts 3:12).  Peter then pointed them to Jesus (13, ff).  In the same way, none of us have any ground for praise.  All the good that we have done, we have done through Christ.  It is his life that animates us.  It is his grace that empowers us.  And therefore it is his glory that ought to be praised.

Fifth, our dependence upon God ought to be a prayerful dependence.  To say that we depend upon God and yet do not pray to him is a contradiction.  Those who depend upon God must pray and will pray.  Prayer is not something they have to do, it is something they feel that they must do.  I read recently someone who likened prayer to eating food.  You don’t force yourself to eat food.  Nor do you beat yourself up if you sometimes miss a meal.  You eat because you need to.  In the same way, the Christian who understands just how dependent they are upon God doesn’t have to be forced to pray.  Nor do they beat themselves up if they haven’t prayed as much as they should have because they know that God is gracious.  But one thing they will not do: they cannot not pray.  We need God more than we need the air that we breathe.  In him we live, and move, and have our being.  He gave us life, we are his workmanship, and we need him for every step that we take.  Show me a dependent Christian, and I will show you a praying one.

Finally, our dependence upon God ought to be a worshipful dependence.  In Ephesians 2, Paul is worshiping God as much as he is teaching about him.  How can you not worship God who has given you life, raised you from a death in sins, and seated you in the heavenly places in Christ?  God has not only been good to us, he has been eternally gracious to us, delivering us from what we deserved to give us what we do not.  Worship and prayer flavor the lives of those who are conscious of what God has done, is doing, and will do for them.

My friends, the world wants to tell you how to feel empowered.  What they mean by this is that you can look inside yourself and find the strength and power and confidence to make something of yourself in this life.  This is not what Paul or the gospel or our Lord promises his followers.  Instead, it calls us to look outside of ourselves to Christ and find his strength and power and grace that makes dead men into living men not only in this life but for all eternity.  Don’t believe the fake and cheap lie that the world is peddling.  Believe the gospel.  Believe the word of God.  Look, not to yourself, but to Christ and in him find life and grace and power and joy forever.



[1] In the Greek, the word “it” is neuter, whereas “faith” is feminine.  So “it is the gift of God” does not refer only to faith.  Rather, it must refer to the entirety of our salvation which is by grace and of which faith is a part.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Salvation by Grace – Ephesians 2:4-10




Christianity is different from every other world religion in one very important sense.  It is the only world religion that is a religion of grace.  Every other religion tells you what you have to do to earn eternal life.  Christianity, on the other hand, puts a cross where every other religion puts a rule and says that Jesus Christ the Son of God has done for us what we could not do for ourselves.  Salvation is not  a work, it is a gift.  And no where is the gracious nature of salvation exhibited more clearly than in Ephesians 2:4-10. 

It is imperative however, as we look at the apostle’s words here in verses 4-10, that we keep the reality of verses 1-3 before our minds.  We will never truly appreciate what God has done for us until we really appreciate where we were at before God moved in to save us.  And Paul helps us here because at the beginning of verse 5 he himself reminds us that God saved us “even when we were dead in sins.”  To be dead in sin is not the state of a small minority of mankind.  It is not a description of the very worst of sinners.  No, it is a description of the world, of everyone who is yet outside of Christ.  You and I are by nature heirs of the wrath of God, even as the rest of mankind (3).  As such, we are slaves, slaves to the course of this world, slaves to the Prince of darkness, and slaves to the lusts of the mind and flesh (2-3).  The problem with mankind is not a lack of knowledge or a lack of resources or a lack of better opportunities.  The problem with mankind is that we are dead in sin, with hearts that are opposed to God, his law, and his gospel.

That doesn’t mean that men and women are as bad as they can get.  But it does mean that by nature we are unable, because we are unwilling, to move one inch toward God.  We can no more move toward God than a corpse can move toward a physician.  We are spiritually dead.

Until we get that, until we really believe that, we are not going to be able to grasp the significance of what the apostle is saying in these verses.  What we need in order to be regenerated and converted is life, spiritual life.  And life is not something that you and I can create.  George Washington Carver, the famous botanist, after dissecting a leaf, is said to have remarked: “There, I have taken it apart, but only God Almighty can put it back together.”  Or as the king of Israel responded to the message from the king of Syria demanding that Naaman be cured of his leprosy: “Am I God, to kill and to make alive?” (2 Kings 5:7).  Only God can give life to the dead.

Which is why when you look at how the apostle describes how we are saved, the focus is entirely upon God, not us.  We need to hear this because our great need is to be looking toward God.  Do you remember Paul’s prayer in the previous chapter?  It was that they might grow in the knowledge of God, and that they might know and experience God’s calling, God’s inheritance, and God’s power (1:15-19).  The Scriptures continually remind us that we are in constant need of God.  They tell us that apart from Christ, we are nothing and can do nothing pleasing to God.  They remind us of our desperate need of him. 

Of course, the purpose of such emphases is not to turn us into spiritual sloths who wait for God to do something for us.  We are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12).  We are to strive with all our might against sin.  We cannot expect to make progress in holiness by just sitting around.  This is not a call to fatalism.  Rather, it is a reminder that as we work out our own salvation, we do so because it is God who works in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).  I cannot expect to take one step apart from the grace of God.  And yet I am commanded to take that step in and through and because of the grace of God.  If I am making progress in holiness, it is not because I am better than the next person.  It is because God has given me life and sustains me in that life that I can make any progress in the life of obedience and faith. 

And we don’t just need God at the beginning of the Christian life.  We need him for every step that we take afterwards.  When Paul writes in verse 8, “for by grace are ye saved,” the Greek verb behind “you are saved” denotes action in the past with results continuing into the present.  We are saved by grace at the beginning in regeneration and conversion.  But God’s grace doesn’t stop there.  Like ripples in the water, it continues to radiate outward and operates in the life of the child of God from that point on, so that what God has begun in us he will also complete (Phil. 1:6).  The point is that the Christian life is lived with our faces constantly turned toward our gracious Father in heaven, trusting in his Son who saved us by his sacrificial death and resurrection from the dead.  That is why we need to constantly remind ourselves of the truths of these verses.

So what does the apostle say, exactly, in these verses?  First of all, he points us to the source of our salvation, which is the mercy and love of God: “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us” (4).  Mercy is kindness extended toward those who are in a miserable state.  And surely there is no worse or miserable condition than to be dead in sins.  Remember that Paul had just in the previous verse said that we were by nature children of wrath – that is, subject to the wrath of God on account of our sins.  God is rightly angry with us because of our rebellion against him.  And yet wrath and anger are not the only things that characterize God.  He is also merciful and loving.  To have a correct view of God, you have to hold both these things together – God’s holy wrath and his loving mercy.  God cannot but be angry with us over sin.  He would not be holy if we wasn’t.  And yet, the Bible tells us that God averts his own wrath by extending mercy to us through his Son, Jesus Christ. 

The apostle is actually saying that God extends mercy and love toward those who are spiritual corpses.  Now, there are some who think they are too far gone.  They look at their life and think there is nothing God could do for them.  They think that God would never have mercy upon them for what they have done.  And yet that is exactly what Paul is saying here.  Again, you cannot get any worse than dead.  Your specific sins may be worse in some sense than the sins of someone else.  But that doesn’t really matter.  What you have to remember is that it’s not specific sins that is the problem, it’s the spiritual deadness behind those sins that is the problem.  And it doesn’t matter whether you were raised in a Christian home or not.  It doesn’t matter if you burned up your youth doing depraved things.  What does matter is that your past can stay in the past forever because God raises dead people to life through his Son Jesus Christ.  He is rich in mercy and great in love towards us.
The implication of this verse is that if you are saved, you didn’t have make yourself good enough for God.  You are not saved because you got your ducks in a row.  You are not saved because you cleaned yourself up first.  Rather, you are saved because God is rich in mercy and great in love.  And that is true of everyone in this room who is saved.  We should be very careful looking down on others.  None of us has the right to do so, because all of us, no matter what our background was, were dead in sins before God gave us life.  It’s God’s mercy and love that made the difference, not us.

Another implication of this verse is that if you are saved, you don’t have to live in continual fear that God is somehow going to regret what he has done and take back what he has given.  You were dead once; now you are alive – and you are going to stay that way!  You may mess up really badly.  But that doesn’t take away the life God has given.  Just as putting make-up on a dead person doesn’t give them life, even so throwing mud on a living person doesn’t make them dead.  Spiritually dead people can do good things, but that doesn’t mean they are saved.  At the same time, those who are alive in Christ can do bad things, but that doesn’t mean they are now dead.  And the reason is that God is not just merciful; he is rich in mercy.  He is not just loving; his love is great toward his elect.

This love and mercy that Paul is describing here is God’s saving love and mercy.  God does have a general love for all mankind.  God does not desire the death of the wicked but rather that they should live (Ezek. 18:31-32).  But the love that the apostle is describing in these verses is a love that moves God, not merely to make salvation possible, but to make it a reality in the lives of those whom he chose before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4).  This is a love that does not merely desire life, but moves God to “quicken us together with Christ” (2:5).  God the Father, before the foundation of the world, chose a people in Christ.  Now, in time, he moves in his great love and mercy for them to quicken them and give them life in Christ. 

Which brings us to the next thing the apostle does in these verses: he gives us a description of our salvation: “Even when we were dead in sins, [God] hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (5-6).  The difference between being lost and being saved, between being under the wrath of God and embraced in his love, between being unforgiven and forgiven, is the difference between life and death.  Simply put, Paul’s description of salvation is of a person being raised from the dead.
Which means that there is a real difference between being lost and being saved.  A person cannot say they are saved and yet go on in bondage to the world, the flesh, and the devil.  That was a description of lostness and deadness.  If you are lost, if you are unsaved, then you are a slave to the general direction that the world is going, a slave to the devil, and a slave to the lusts of the flesh.  If that still describes you, then you are still dead.  Those who are alive in Christ are in a different state altogether.  They have gone from being dead in sin to being dead to sin.  I love the way the apostle put it to the Corinthians: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?  Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, not revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11).  Before a person is saved, they might have been all those things and more.  But now things are different.  They have been washed, sanctified, and justified.  There is new life and a corresponding new way of living.  The old has past and the new has come.

Being saved doesn’t just mean that you have identified as a Christian.  Anyone can do that.  Fundamentally, it means that you have new life and with this new life comes new desires after God, after Christ, for prayer and fellowship with God, and for the word of God.  There is a new desire for holiness; whereas once keeping God’s commandments was a burden to you, now it is a delight.  Nor is it some effervescent experience that wears off after a few days or months or years.  The life that God gives has staying power.
Which is why Paul not only says that God gives to his people new life and resurrection, but also that they are seated with Christ in the heavenly places, “the unseen world of spiritual reality.”  That description would not be true of any believer unless their final salvation was guaranteed.  How could I said to be seated in heavenly places if I eventually end up in hell?  In that case, the apostle’s words would just be a sick joke.  Rather, Paul is saying here what he said, in different words, in Romans 8:29-30.  Those who are called are justified and glorified, past tense.  Why?  Because what God has begun in us he will complete.  Christ is even now glorified at the Father’s right hand.  In Christ, every believer even now shares his glorification; he or she is seated with him at the Father’s right hand.

And all of this is “in Christ,” or in union with Christ.  We are given new life with him, raised with him, and seated with him.  Many commentators believe that Paul is thinking about Christ’s resurrection, ascension, and session at the Father’s right hand.  What Paul is saying is that when Christ rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and sat down in victory, he did not do this as a private individual.  He did this for those he came to save.  It is in virtue of what Christ has done for me that I can have new life.  Another way to put this is that union with Christ is the basis for salvation by grace.

Allow me to illustrate.  One of my favorite Dickens’ stories is Little Dorritt.  One of the main characters is Arthur Clennam, who in the course of the story becomes a business partner with another character, named Daniel Doyce.  While Doyce travels to Russia to pursue their business interests over there, Arthur decides to invest in a speculative banking scheme and ends up losing all his money, thereby unable to pay off the business’ creditors.  As a result, he ends up in the debtor’s prison, the Marshalsea.  However, while Arthur languished in prison, his partner Daniel Doyce had become rich.  And when he comes back from Russia, he uses his wealth to free Arthur from prison.  Of course we understand why.  Clennam and Doyce were partners: what one lost for the business the other made up, and even more.  All the creditors were paid off and Arthur was free.  Now of course we are not strictly partners with Christ.  However, just as there was a sort of union between Clennam and Doyce, there is an even better and more wonderful union between Christ and the believer.  Through our sin, we have lost everything and languish in the prison of our slavery to sin.  And we would stay there if it had been left to us; however, Christ has acted for his people, so that all who belong to him by faith can look, not to their own gain but to the riches of Christ who has paid all our debts for us and set us free.
Why would God do this?  Why would he act for disgraceful sinners as we are?  The apostle answers in verse 7 by giving us the goal of our salvation: “that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.”  The goal of our salvation is not to make a spectacle out of us; it is to direct our attention forever to the glory of the exceeding riches of the grace of God in his kindness in Christ.  And I think a good way to check ourselves to see whether we are in the faith is to ask yourself: does this excite you?  Does this not thrill your heart?  For the believer, the display of the glory of God forever is the essence of heaven and of the delight that will fill our cups brim full for eternity. 

Verses like this are also the reason why I don’t think heaven is some stagnant experience.  “In the ages to come” is an age without an end.  And through these endless ages, God will be showing us the exceeding riches of his grace.  But this is not like looking at a single display forever, like sitting in front of a painting at a museum.  That would get boring.  Rather, the glory of God’s grace is so infinitely vast, that it will take eternity for us to enjoy it.  There will be fresh displays of God’s glory and grace forever and ever.  The focus will not be on us, it will be on God!  And the saints will enjoy it, forever.

Now I think what the apostle does at this point in verses 8-10 is to point out the implications of our salvation, which he has written about in the previous verses. 

The overall implication of course is that we are saved by grace.  He has said this already in verse 5, and reminded us of God’s grace in verse 7.  Now, in verses 8-9, he sums up it all up: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.”  Salvation is the gift of God, not the work of man.  It is something that God gives us, which we receive by faith.  It is not something that we work for.  It is not something that we merit.  It is not something we deserve.  It is of grace, pure and simple.

And you can see how this follows from all Paul has said in the previous 7 verses.  How could it be otherwise?  We were dead in sin; how could we save ourselves?  It was God who gave us life – we did not give it to ourselves.  It was God who raised us up and God who seated us with his Son at his right hand.  And it was all accomplished in Christ, in virtue of his righteousness and his sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection.  And thus it is that the entirety of salvation is “not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” 

The next implication follows directly from the previous one: “lest any man should boast.”  If salvation is by grace, there is not place of boasting for any of the saved.  John Stott recounts that when he was a divinity student, one of his teachers was honored by having his portrait painted and put on display on campus.  His teacher responded that he liked the painting very much because no one would be asking who was the man in the portrait, but rather who was the painter?  In the same way, no one in heaven will be looking at any saint and wondering how great a Christian they must have been.  Rather, they will look at them and see only a prize of the grace of God.  And if we are tempted at any time to think that we are great stuff, we need immediately to check such a spirit.  Any spirit of imagined superiority is a false and sinful spirit and needs to be squelched.

In any case, it is impossible to glory in God and glory in ourselves.  It has to be one or the other.  One is right and the other is wrong.  “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (2 Cor. 10:17).

Finally, we cannot be saved by works because we are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (10).  It’s always good to get your prepositions right!  We are not saved by good works, we are saved unto good works.  The final implication here is that works are not the basis of our salvation, they are the fruit of our salvation.  So although it is right to look for good works as the evidence of salvation, it is not right to require good works in order for salvation. 

Some people will get upset with you if you doubt their profession of faith because they are living in sin.  “Hey, I put my faith in Jesus, so I am saved; I am eternally secure!” they say.  The problem is that they have misunderstood the theology of salvation by grace.  It is not an excuse for sin.  For if you have been truly saved, your life will be different.  If you have been given life, you are not going to keep acting like a dead man.  Don’t condemn someone for burying you if you aren’t breathing and stink.  Don’t condemn someone for questioning the reality of your faith when you continue to act like a spiritually dead man.  There is such a thing as false faith.  False faith is a different from saving faith as death is from life.  Our Lord said this: “Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.  A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.  Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.  Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (Mt. 7:17-20).  Or as James put it: “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe and tremble.  But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (Jam. 2:19-20).  As it has been often put: we are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.

When God works on a man or woman, boy or girl, the craftsmanship is obvious.  God creates beautiful things.  He brings life out of death, he gives “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified” (Isa. 61:3).  And the amazing thing is that he does it out of his sheer mercy and grace.  Thank God for his grace through Christ!  It ought to cause all of us to love the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ more, to depend upon him, to cling to him, to trust in him, to admire him, to look to him, and to obey him.

The Christian Work Ethic: Ephesians 6:5-8

Back in chapter 4, we noted that the apostle commends and commands labor.   In other words, he speaks to the morality of labor: “Let ...