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TEXT: Ephesians 2
SUBJECT: Ephesians #4: What We Were; What We Are
Last week, near the end of the sermon, I told you every problem between Christians can be solved or lived with. This means, no Christian marriage should end in divorce, no believing family should break up, and no church should be divided.
This is how it ought to be, but let's face it, it is not the way it is. Why not? What keeps us from living together in love and peace, humility, patience, and good humor?
Many things keep us from doing this, of course, but one thing is at the bottom of them all. What makes people quit the church in anger is the same thing that makes men leave their wives, parents abuse their children, and kids run away from home.
The one thing is pride. I'm quitting the church, you see, because it's not good enough for me. I'm leaving my wife because I deserve a better life than the one she's giving me. I'm running away from home because my desires are more important than my parents' rules.
Pride can be dressed up in other words, but it is what it is. We will not have unity in the church or in the Christian family or in our believing friendships, for that matter, until we call it what it is, and by God's grace, repent of it. This is not easy; it's easier to give up your right arm than to give up your pride. But do it we must, if we want to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
The second chapter of Ephesians will help us do this. But only if we hear God's voice in it, and pray He will make us doers of His word, and not hearers only. Do you want the church and your marriage and your friendships in Christ to last? Here's how they will.
WHAT WE WERE--DEADPaul begins by reminding the Ephesians of what they used to be. I suppose if you talked to each one privately, he would admit he had been this way, but though he knew it in his heart of hearts, when he got together with his friends, he forgot it-or acted as though he did. Back in Paul's day, this was especially so of the Jewish believers who, unlike their Gentile brethren, had not grown up worshiping idols or attending orgies. As long as they thought of themselves as being naturally better than others, there would be division in the church. This is not a First Century problem, or a Jewish one either. As long as any Christian thinks too highly of himself or looks down on people who don't measure up, there will be no harmony in the church, the home, or anywhere else. To help us stop doing this, Paul tells us four unpleasant truths about ourselves-about every one of us. The first is in v.1-
And you, who were dead in trespasses and sins.
Dead means 'separated'. If we say a man is dead, we mean he's not with us any more. If we're talking theology, we mean his spirit and body are now separated; the body is still on earth and the spirit has gone somewhere else. The death we have here, however, is not physical death-the separation of body and soul. It is spiritual death, death in trespasses and sins. What does this mean? It doesn't mean we were as bad as we could possibly be or that we never had a good impulse in our lives. It means we were separated from God and Christ. A bit later, Paul says we were-
Alienated from the life of God.
To be separated from life means death, and since God is Life, to be estranged from Him is to be dead in trespasses and sins.
Note also the word, you. In English, the word applies both to one person and to more than one. We learn which by context. If I pull a man aside and say, 'Please stay for the afternoon service', I mean him alone. If I say it from the pulpit, I mean all of you. In Greek, we have a distinction. The you in v.1 means 'all of you'. He's not saying one man, or one kind of man, was dead in his sins, but they all were-we all were. Even if we were religious from the womb or never did anything too bad.
Dead tells us what every Christian in Ephesus used to be, and not only in Ephesus. It describes the former life of every Christian, whether he grew up in a bathhouse in San Francisco or a church house on Second Street, in Niles.
This is the offense of the Gospel, and what made the Pharisees so mad. How could Christ welcome prostitutes and gangsters into the Kingdom of God without encouraging their bad behavior? If they saw themselves as prostitutes and gangsters, they would understand and rejoice!
WHAT THEY WERE-CONFORMED
You'd think dead would be bad enough. It isn't, and Paul doesn't leave it there. These people were not only separated from God, they were conformed to the world-and not 'the world' as created by God, but 'the world' as it is now. In another place, he calls it this present evil age-
In which you once walked, according to the course of this world.
What they walked in were their trespasses and sins. They were not guilty of every sin, but of the sins of their time and place. Sins, like hemlines, change with time and differ from place to place. They're fashions, but unlike the wide ties and platform shoes we wore back in the `70's, they're going to do more than embarrass us! They're deforming us, mutilating us. You were not made to gawk at women or hold grudges or love money or ignore your children or kick dogs! When you do, you become more and more like fallen world and less and less like your Father in Heaven.
San Francisco and Berkeley are two of my favorite places. I love looking at the freaks and nut-jobs in the Haight or walking up and down Telegraph Avenue. They all reject the conformity of 'normal society', and all claim to live on their own terms and by their own lights, but did you ever notice how much they resemble each other? Hundreds of people marching to the beat of their own drummer.in lockstep! All going to the same rallies; all mouthing the same beliefs-all walking according to the course of this world.
I wish they were the only people doing this. In fact, everyone outside of Christ is doing the same thing. They're just wearing different clothes and piercing differing parts of their body.
Back in Paul's day, Jewish unbelievers and Gentile unbelievers were living very different lives on the surface, but underneath, they were both living by the rules of their cultures, and neither by God's Grace.
WHAT THEY WERE-SLAVES
The people who live by the rules of their world also live under the thumb of the devil-
In which you once walked, according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the children of disobedience.
Scholars differ on whether the spirit refers to Satan or to an impersonal spirit-'the spirit of the age'. I lean toward the former, but it makes no real difference because the spirit of the age is itself the creation of the devil. Or, to be more exact, it is the devil's distortion of God's creation. If you've read or seen Lord of the Rings, you know the orcs or goblins had once been elves-beautiful, wise, and good creatures, whom the Dark Prince tortured and poisoned into becoming his wicked slaves. This is what the devil has done. He has taken good things-love, beauty, sex, food, words, images, music, religion, freedom, tolerance-and twisted them to his own purposes.
When we were not disciples of Christ, we were slaves of the devil. Unknowing slaves, perhaps; enthusiastic slaves; slaves who never felt freer. But slaves nonetheless.
WHAT THEY WERE-WRATH
Paul has one last nail to drive into the coffin of their pride. They and we were-
Children of wrath.
This means they-and we-were under the wrath of God. This is true of 'bad' sinners and 'good' ones too. For outside of Christ, there is no other place to be but under His wrath. I seldom preach hell fire and brimstone and never-I hope-without feeling for the dear people who are liable to it. But make no mistake about it: the wrath of God is no less true of His character than the love of God is. And do not hope than hell is any less real than heaven. Whether we should understand the terms, lake of fire, unquenchable fire, outer darkness, utter darkness, the chains of darkness, and the pit where there is no water more literally or less I do not know. But I do know this: no place described by such terms can be anything but a nightmare.
Before they trusted Christ, the Ephesians were subject to this wrath. They felt some of it already in their consciences, and if God had not reached down to them in mercy, they would have felt all of it in their bodies and souls.
Why does Paul go on and on about what the Ephesians used to be? Some men would do it to make them feel guilty and to gain leverage over them. No one is easier to control that a guilty person. This is not what he's after. He wants them to remember what they were so they would stop looking down on the others, and thus, promote the unity of the church. If thinking too highly of yourself-or of your little group-in the church breaks the church, then thinking more soberly of yourself and your friends will put the church back together.
I say, 'church' here because it is Paul's main concern, but it is equally true of all Christian fellowships, including marriage, family, friendships, denominations and so on.
Is it right to dwell on your ungodly past? Some preachers make this the highest good, and until their people are unhappy they cannot be happy. But they're as wrong as they can! Why should freemen dwell on their past slavery? Why should people in remission live in the dark days they had cancer? Why should adults with good families go back in their minds to the bad families in which they grew up? This is no way to live.
Unless you're looking down on others and thinking you're better than they are.
When Israel was worried about the powerful forces they would have to contend with in the Promised Land, God told them they didn't have to fret because they were His People, His Treasure, the Apple of His Eye. But when they were feeling rather too pleased with themselves, He told them something else-
Your father was an Amorite and your mother was a Hittite.
In other words, they're just as 'Gentile' as anyone else. Good lesson for them, for the Ephesians, and for us.
WHAT THEY ARE
In vv.4ff., Paul makes an about-face. After telling them what they were, he tells them what they are, vv.5-6-
God.made us alive together with Christ.and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
The people who used to be dead and in the service of Hell are now-
Alive together with Christ.raised up together.and made to sit together in the heavenly places in Christ.
What a change! The people who were spiritually dead, in the world, under the thumb of Satan, and subject to God's punishment, are now united to Christ, and with that, are now free from all of the above. The life we now have is the real thing-the Life of the Resurrection, the life Christ has in heaven.
This is wonderful theology, but Paul is putting it into the service of church unity. Who is alive in Christ? Me and my special friends at church? Or the whole Church? You don't have to be an expert in Greek grammar to pick out the words, us and we. Eight times they appear in vv.4-10.
Paul is not saying, some Christians are alive and exalted with Christ. But all of us are-including the ones who get on my nerves!
How can we look down on people who are, in some mysterious way, in Christ with heaven? How can we think we're better than they are? How can we hold a grudge against them? Or think they're hopeless?
HOW WE CHANGED
How did we change ourselves from what we used to be to what we are? I got my grammar wrong, didn't I? Paul says we didn't change ourselves-nowhere in vv.4-10 do we find anything like this. What we find throughout is.God, v.4-
We also find why He effected the change in us, vv.4,7,8-
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us.that in the ages to come, He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us.For by grace you have been saved.
It seems Paul is reaching for a thesaurus to find the words to spell out his meaning-God's love, mercy, grace, and kindness-are the things behind our salvation.
But what about us? Surely we had something to do with it, no? No, vv.8-9-
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.
What about faith and good works? They have something to do with our salvation, don't they? Yes they do. Vv.8,10 tell us what-
By grace you have been saved, through faith.
Faith sounds like something we do to qualify ourselves for God. But, a moment's thought, will say otherwise. Faith is an anti-work, it is simply taking what God has for us. We no more 'earn' salvation through faith than a boy 'earns' his Christmas present by being good all year (never mind the song!).
As for good works, they, too are God's gift. The works we do are His workmanship in us.
From first to last, salvation is from God and given to us because of His love for us.
I said, 'us'-not 'me'. If I have no more of God's grace than you do, how can I think too much of myself? And, if you have no less of His grace than I do, how can I think too little of you?
Church unity cannot exist as long as we are earning God's favor by being good or doing good. Let's face it, there will also be some who do more than others, and if they're doing it on their own (even in part) no wonder they look down on the rest of us. But what if they-and we-do it all by grace? What happens then? We stop being proud of ourselves and critical of each other, and start being thankful, patient, and loving. The very things we need for church unity!
APPLICATION TO PRESENT CIRCUMSTANCES
This pretty much concludes the doctrine of chapter 2. From v.11 on, Paul applies it to the circumstances of the church in Ephesus in the middle of the First Century.
The sorest spot in that church, and all the others at the time, was between Jews and Gentiles. To the Jews, it seemed incredible that Gentiles could be on equal footing with them by faith in Christ alone, and without the customs of the Old Testament, things like circumcision, dietary laws, and the Feasts of Israel. While we approve of their confusion, we have to understand it. The things they were for were in the Bible, the only Bible they had at the time, and now Paul comes around saying-
Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcison is nothing, but the keeping of God's commandments is what matters.
Paul is himself a devout Jew, but he gives this kind of thinking no quarter in the church. He turns first to the Gentile believers and tells them they used to be nobodies to God, but they're somebodies, v.13-
But now in Christ Jesus, you who were once far off have been made near by the blood of Christ.
The nearness he has in mind is not only nearness to God, but also nearness to His Ancient People, the Jews who believe in Christ. This must have thrilled the Gentiles and maybe less the Jews.
He goes on to explain how this togetherness has been achieved. It's not by sitting around a campfire singing, Kumbaya! Christ Himself did it by going to the cross, and taking with Him-not only the sins of the world, but also, the Laws of Israel that separated Israel from the nations, v.15-
Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace.
Having knocked down the wall that was between us, Christ, though Paul and others, v.17-
Preached peace to those who were afar off and those who were near.
Not only 'far from God', but from each other.
As if this were not enough, our Lord gave the Holy Spirit to everyone who believed, and in doing so, He gave us all access to the same Father, cf. v.18!
There is one family of God and it knows no ethnic boundary. Most Jews at the time did not believe this, but some did. They believed very firmly in the promises of God that other nations would come to walk in the light of God's grace. But what they couldn't see-no one could till it was made a fact-is that we would come to God and belong to His people without adopting the customs of Israel, thus making the Church what God wanted it to be from the start-universal!
He makes the same point in vv.19 to the end, drawing a magnificent picture, the People of God are God's Temple, with Christ as the cornerstone, and the church, with all its faults, becomes what the Temple was, only better-
The habitation of God in the Spirit.
This recalls the day Solomon dedicated the first Temple, the one in Jerusalem only. It was a wondrous place, designed by God Himself, and built to His specifications. Thousands of animals were offered on the altar, and then Solomon, the wisest man in the world, led the people in prayer, at the conclusion of which, the Spirit fell from heaven and burned in the Temple with such brightness that the priests had to flee from their lives. God had moved in.
Now, He's moved in here. Not the church building, but the church, His people.
The priests of Israel were like anyone else; they had people whose company they enjoyed less than others; they even had their enemies, people they despised and hated. But I wonder if anyone was hating, despising, or ignoring on that day? I wonder if the ugliest priest didn't look pretty good when the Holy Spirit fell on Him?
The Spirit has come upon us, on all of us. This means we have to love one another-as we are-and so, endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. If only we remembered what we used to be and what we are now, and why, we would.
The love of God be with you all. Amen.
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