Ephesians 2:1-10 – Sermon Manuscript

PLEASE NOTE: these are the notes I use to preach from, if you would like to hear them in context, please watch our YouTube video.

I’ve got some good news and some bad news. Which one do you prefer to hear first? 78% of people prefer to begin with the bad news. Studies has shown that starting with the bad news leaves people in a more positive mood than the reverse.

READ/PRAY

  1. You Were DEAD (1-3)

-Paul paints a stark picture here of our spiritual state. Our life before Christ was one of death. The problem was we didn’t even know it! We were able to walk, talk, carry on as if everything was completely fine, but spiritually we were dead.

-Scene in The Princess Bride where not as Miracle Max says in The Princess Bride “just mostly dead,” which according to him is “slightly alive. Unlike dear Westley, we were COMPLETELY dead. 

-I’m not sure if you’ve ever thought about that implication, but what can dead people do? Well, they can lay there, decompose, take up space. But can a dead person will themselves to life? No! 

-I know this is a morbid picture, but imagine going to a mortuary, you walk through to the back room where the bodies are. What would your response be to one of those bodies sitting upright and talking to you? I’m pretty sure that’s the plot of some scary movie that I will never see! 

-Before Christ, all of us are like those bodies in the back of the mortuary, we are spiritually dead. There’s nothing we can do to earn God’s love, there’s nothing we can do to bring ourselves back to life. And not only were we dead, but we were dead in something: trespasses and sins. We are dead in and because of our sins: completely separated from the only one who gives life. 

-I think there’s a tendency to miss this reality. We don’t understand the depths of our sin and separation from God, so we don’t view ourselves as spiritually dead. We’re often too busy comparing ourselves to others (our strengths vs their weaknesses) to contemplate that reality that apart from God we’re dead!

-“In which you once walked”

-Not only did those trespasses and sins keep us dead, but they also were the only way of life we knew how to follow. Before Christ opened our eyes to the reality of our sin “in sin” was the only way we could walk. 

-This word “walked” is a life encompassing word. It’s not just the action of walking, it’s the entire way of being. Before Christ, our only way of living and orientation was toward our trespasses and sins. 

-In other places, Paul describes it as being a slave to our sin. Similar to being spiritually dead, being a slave means you can only do that which your master demands and expects of you. It’s not a very freeing way of living. Paul also goes on to explicitly state who the masters of those who are spiritually dead are, he mentions 3 things: 

-worldly influences, Satan, and our flesh. Let’s look at those one at a time.

“Following the course of this world”

Paul here is referring to the ungodly trends and directions the world will try to move us. And for those who are dead in their sins, they aren’t even aware of it. 

It becomes as much a part of us as a fish is a part of the water. Just as the fish doesn’t even realize they’re wet, so those who are not in Christ don’t even realize the problems with the world, the culture, around them. And this is not just a modern-day problem, because Paul is writing this 2,000 years ago! But let’s think about the 2 predominant ways cultures can influence and lead people away from where they should be going. 

-During Paul’s time, and in other parts of the world today, the group always trumps the individual. For simplicity sake, let’s call this “The Eastern Way of Thinking.” A person’s sense of identity was completely wrapped up in their genealogy, their family, their history. Think of how Thor describes himself: Son of Odin. That carries weight to it! That also leads to a great sense of responsibility, because your actions reflect not only on you, but on your family. Now: there are some things that are good and can be applauded in this Eastern thought: 

we didn’t just appear out of nowhere, we do have a history, and that does shape and inform us today. 

-The problem with this thinking is dealt with extensively all over the NT – just because of your family history, you are not saved! So when you read in various places about Abraham being someone’s father, this is what they’re referring to. The course of the world for Paul and all those who were alive at this time is one of assurance by family ties. If you have a good family in the right bloodline, then you don’t need to worry.

-We have the opposite extreme in what I’ll call the “Western Way of Thinking.” The individual trumps the communal. Think about the Frank Sinatra song, “I did it MY WAY.” Our culture today places the emphasis pretty much exclusively on individual wants, needs, and desires. The way of thinking becomes “If I want to do it, by golly, I’m going to do it, and no one can stop me or get in my way!” This is also referred to as “expressive individualism.” 

This is where we have very loose abortion laws, no fault divorce, unconcern that anyone around us may be struggling, and only worry about me, myself, and I (Libertarianism isn’t the answer). No one else matters because I am an individual. 

-Just as the Eastern way of thinking has good things, so does the Western way of thinking. Yes, we are individuals. We all have unique gifts, strengths and weaknesses, just because our parents are gifted in an area doesn’t mean we’ll be gifted the same way. Individually, we all need to be saved. I think it’s helpful that many of us don’t look to our family heritage as a reason why I am a Christian. 

-The problem is when we take our individual identities into our community, which for us is the church. 

-A couple implications of this: 

-first, don’t waste your time comparing your gifts or strengths or weaknesses to someone else. News flash, they’re not you and you’re not them. God brought us both of you for a reason, to use your gifts for God’s glory, and strengthening and equipping the body, the church. 

-The second piece is the tendency to view the whole church only through your lens of interests. So if a specific ministry has significance to you, then it must be the most important thing in the whole church, right? Same as the previous idea, we have a wide assortment of ministries that combine together to make up this church. We also need to realize that some of these ministries are seasonal, depending on the people God has brought to our body at that time. “For everything there is a season” Eccles. 3:1. Just be aware of that, don’t be discouraged about it, don’t get too fixated on something that is meant to be a tool, instead fix your attention on the one who never changes!

-Both the Eastern and the Western way of thinking have strengths AND weaknesses. The Bible calls us to not completely follow either way, but follow God’s way, which is contrary “the course of the world.” 

-One author quipped “You can recognize ‘the ways of this world’ wherever sin seems acceptable and righteousness seems strange.” (Fruit of the Spirit) And who is behind this, attempting to orchestrate this negative “course of the world”? The devil. As Paul continues: 

“Following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sonsof disobedience.”

-Throughout the NT, the devil is referred to as: “the ruler of this world” “the ruler of the demons” “god of this world” Ephesians HEAVILY emphasizes the spiritual realm. But anytime we talk about the spiritual realm, we need to be careful because we don’t want to OVER emphasize it, or UNDER emphasize it:

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” CS Lewis

-So we don’t overemphasize the devils work, nor do we want to underemphasize it, because there’s other things that are at work to lead us into sin.

-In Jewish thought at this time, the devil and his followers operated in “the air” the sphere between earth and heaven: spiritual realities happening around us all the time! And this influence is “now at work” 

-“Sons of disobedience” a way of referring to one’s character of life. Again, Thor son of Odin. Just do you get this: being called a son of disobedience is NOT a compliment. But think about the opposite as well, for those who are In Christ, we are now sons of God. Not demeaning to women, just talking about the way the world worked at the time, only male children received an inheritance from their fathers. Our primary allegiance and focus has completely changed!

-“Among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.”

-This is the third and final way we were dead in our trespasses and sins. 

-For many of us, the devil doesn’t need to waste his time on us, because we’re too influenced by our fleshly passions. Our own wants, desires and needs no matter the cost. “Expressive individualism” found a prayer that would work in our cultural context today! 

-Nothing is left out, flesh, body and mind. Remember how Jesus said we can sin with our thoughts too? It’s not a matter of merely external obedience, it’s radical transformation. Paul has vice lists in a few of his writings, we’ll be looking at one of them in a few weeks in Eph. 5:3-14. But a summary is: the opposite of the fruit of the spirit. Those are the works of the flesh, the sins that we so easily give in to. 

-We’ve seen 3 different ways that influence us to remain dead: as one commentator stated “The world dominates from without, the flesh from within, and the devil from beyond.” (Kent Hughes, 65)

The implication of our being dead:

“Were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

-All of us were sinners by nature, and by choice as we’ve seen in the past couple verses. 

-By nature refers to our state at birth. Paul expounds more fully upon this idea in Romans 5, where he says “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” (12) Our nature, our orientation, from birth is toward spiritual death in sin. 

By choice – we all have sinned (Rom. 3:23)

-We saw earlier “sons of disobedience” similar idea “children of wrath.” 

-An early church heresy that continues until today is this idea that we need to separate the God of love from the God of wrath. A popular pastor a few years ago said we need to “unhitch” the OT from the NT and only teach the New. As we’ll see in a minute, apart from God’s mercy and grace, we only have wrath. We don’t get to pick and choose the characteristics of God we like and throw out the rest. YES, he is love, AND he is holy, AND he is wrathful, AND he is kind and slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. His wrath is his just condemnation against sin. This isn’t the way we tend to see wrath today, which is often unbridled and unhinged, no, this is the just consequences for enmity against a holy and righteous judge. 

-This is our original nature, before Christ we were only deserving of condemnation, of his wrath, that’s the bad news. But now we come to the best news ever. 

-Here’s the deal, God’s wrath MUST be dealt with. There MUST be a payment made, there HAS to be restitution. All of us are sinners by nature and by choice, and the penalty for that HAS TO be paid. So for those who are “In Christ,” it has been. The debt we could NEVER pay has been paid in full.

2 of the most important words in the Bible, the best news possible:

  1. BUT God (4-7)

-All of those negative things that make us deserving of God’s wrath find their answer, their resolution, their demise in God’s mercy, love, grace, and kindness. 

-“Mercy” is a term that is used throughout the OT, which is tied to the notion of his covenant faithfulness, or steadfast love (hesed).

-Lamentations 3:22-23 “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

-Mercy is God’s forgiveness to not hold us accountable for our actions. But it’s not just mercy, God is RICH in mercy! God has more mercy than he knows what to do with! God has enough mercy for every sin all of us have ever committed, or will commit. His mercy is more! PLUS grace!

-Notice as well, that his mercy is tied to his love. Mercy AND love. We get mercy because of God’s love. We saw that a couple weeks ago in Eph 1. In love God predestined us for all these gifts here!

-When did all this take place? When we were dead. So we saw in the first 3 verses the past tense verbs (were), that’s where we used to be. Before Christ we were… and even when we were in that state, God. Because we are now “In Christ” there are now 3 realities about us. Spiritually we have been brought from death to life, and because of that Paul explains it this way: 1 – made alive, 2 – raised up, 3 – seated in the heavenly places. All 3 are “With Christ” 

1 – “Made us alive together with Christ.”

-First things first, we’ve already established that there’s not much someone’s who dead can do. Which means that needs to change! So we’re first brought to life! 

-So often when we talk about becoming a Christian we approach it as an add-on. “I tried all these other things, and then I tried Christianity and I liked it best.” We’re reminded here that Christianity isn’t something we can add on to our lives, it’s a complete and radical shift FROM death INTO life. That means that EVERYTHING changes from that moment on. One author stated “Christianity is not about becoming a nicer person, nor is it about starting a new religious routine. It is about becoming a new person.” (Tony Merida, 48) 

-At the very center of these things that we are “In Christ” is the reminder that over all of this is God’s grace. Grace is God’s unmerited favor, it’s the reminder that we couldn’t accomplish any of the things that God has done. It’s all because of him! Remember: what can a dead person do? Nothing! There’s nothing we can do to earn our salvation. It’s all grace, a free, undeserved gift. We’ll see this pop up again in the next section. God’s rich in mercy, and lavished his grace on us as his children. What else could we ever need?

2-“Raised us up with him.”

-After we’ve been brought to life, we are raised up with him. Because we are now “In Christ” we are with Christ in his resurrection. This term “raised” should remind us of Christ rising out of the grave. He has defeated sin and death so that we no longer need to be slaves to our flesh and passions. 

-Do you understand the implications of this? You don’t need to wallow in self-pity of misery anymore! Since you’re now in Christ, earth is literally the closest to hell you’ll ever be! 

-This idea of being “in him” can be hard to understand. A good way to think of it (albeit, on a MUCH less significant scale) is like the Olympics. 3 out of 4 years I don’t give a rip about swimming (more like 1 week every 4 years). But every time the Olympics come around, I become, or maybe became, obsessed with watching all the swimming events, largely because of a guy named Michael Phelps. Now: I am not a swimmer, I can barely make it from 1 side of the pool to the other, but Michael Phelps represents me and all of us at the Olympics, so we’re ALL pulling for him. We are all “in him.” As I mentioned, this is a far smaller scale because this doesn’t have eternal consequences. But just as we are all pulling for “our” athlete to win at the Olympics because he represents us, so are we brought together “In Christ” to participate in all that he accomplished. He did what we couldn’t so that we could celebrate with him. 

3-“And seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

-This is referring to Christ’s exultation. This is the final “In him” we’re made alive, raised up, and now seated WITH HIM, that is Christ. Spiritually we are seated with Christ in heaven, in our eternal home, where we will spend eternity with God. Just as Christ said on the cross “It is finished.” There’s nothing else we can do or need to do to change our position, spiritually. Christ has already accomplished it! 

-Once again, notice the tense of these verbs: PAST: MADE, RAISED, SEATED. It’s already happened! Yet we don’t experience that reality yet. This is where we have a tension. We live in this period between Christ’s comings, where we don’t yet see everything as it truly is. The war is over, but the battle wages on. This should make us long for the day when our spiritual reality matches our physical reality, but until that time we remain faithful. 

-Even studies/conversations about the end times are supposed to give us hope, not make us despondent. Here’s what EVERY person believes: Jesus is coming back! I once heard a pastor say “we’re not on the planning committee, we’re on the welcoming committee.” God didn’t tell us what would happen so that we would live in fear about whether or not we’re in the end times (spoiler alert, we are, and have been since Jesus ascended!), God told us what all of human history looks like from his perspective. Another spoiler alert, He wins! At the beginning of eternity He’s in the same spot He’s sitting now: on His throne. And guess who’s also sitting there with Him? Anyone in this room who’s “in Christ.” Nothing can change that.

-Now that we’ve seen the 3 spiritual realities because we are “In Christ” Paul continues on to the WHY question:

-“So that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

-The reason we are in Christ is so that God’s grace can be made manifest in and through all of us, for eternity. 

-Did any of you ever play show-and-tell growing up? The premise was simple: you bring in something you like to show people, and then tell them about it. The crazy thing is what God does for show & tell is: look at us! WE are God’s demonstration of grace and kindness to the world. This is why God extended his mercy and love to us, so that we could be a witness to the watching world.

That means we actually have a job to do: tell others what God has done! Throughout the Bible, the gospel message is compared to a light. What do you do with a light? You use it to extinguish the darkness! Think of the old song you learned: “This Little Light of Mine, I’m Gonna Let It Shine!” We DON’T hide it under a bushel, we let it shine! SO SHINE! Share with others what God has done in you and through you. Share your story of how God brought you from death into life, how his grace mercy and love transformed you and can transform anyone. On author stated it this way “No one is beyond the reach of God’s regenerating grace, and no one is beyond the need for God’s regenerating grace.” (Merida, 48)

This leads us to the final point:

  1. GRACE Through FAITH (8-10)

-Paul reminds us that all of these things that are true spiritually are true because of God’s grace. As we sing in the hymn Amazing Grace “’Twas grace that brought us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home.” Everything we have is because of God’s riches of grace. 

-God’s grace is what allows us to be saved. Saved from what? Saved from our “death in the trespasses and sins in which we once walked”

-Paul then describes the means by which we are saved, which is a gift of God’s grace: faith. 

Faith is believing in God and trusting in him. Belief + trust. 

-Think of a tightrope walker. Now I am deathly afraid of heights so even saying that phrase makes me queasy. But let’s imagine we see a tightrope walker go back and forth over the Grand Canyon. (I would ask the question: what kind of fool does it multiple times, but anyway…) We’ll say he’s the best tightrope walker in the world. Now one of those times he’s going over the Grand Canyon he brings someone from one side to the other on his back, and then walks up to you and asks if you’d want to go over with him. Would you? My response would be a quick ABSOLUTELY NO! I believe he could bring me with him, but I don’t trust him to actually do it. It only takes one slip, or me messing something up and we’re done. The wonderful thing about faith in God is he CAN’T and WON’T let us go. We have every reason to both believe and trust him. 

-“And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

-And because it’s God doing it, we can trust completely. Once again, what can a dead person do? Nothing! But God can even resurrect the dead! We read of him doing that physically in the Gospels, but he also does it spiritually. We need the reminder that there’s nothing we can do to be saved: it’s all God’s work, it’s all God’s gift to us.

Ezek. 34 dry bones

-“not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

-Paul doubles down on the idea that we can’t save ourselves. There’s nothing we can do to earn our salvation. Think about that. Nothing. 

-Jonathan Edwards said it this way, “You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.” 

-This is freeing! It levels the playing field. If we added something to our salvation that made it possible we’d spend the rest of our lives comparing to those around us. But God doesn’t let us. Everything in salvation is a gift of God so that we can’t boast in anything except the cross: where we are all equal. None of us is any better than the other.

-Therfore, because it’s all a gift of grace, Paul can conclude:

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

-This word “workmanship” is one that means a work of art (poema poem). The NLT translates it as “masterpiece.” We’re the pinnacle of everything he’s done. We’re the Sistine Chapel of everything God has made! Just as God, when he created humans said it was VERY good. Now that he has re-created us by grace, it is VERY good! For those “In Christ” there have been 2 creations: physical life, and spiritual life. 

-Remember what we saw earlier about works not adding anything to our salvation? Now we see the purpose of those works. 

-One of the big statements of the Reformation was “faith alone.” But the Reformers refined that and said, “It is faith alone that justifies, but the faith that justifies is never alone.” So while the works are not the root of salvation, they are the fruit

-God has good works that we are to do. We are to live lives that are holy and blameless as Paul says in Eph. 1. Our works cannot add anything to our salvation, but once we are saved, we now demonstrate that new life BY our good works. 

-This often feels like a tension, and is where many of us end up sliding into legalism. We MUST obey and do these good works. The problem is when we correlate these good works as something added to our salvation, that they somehow make us more righteous and holy before God. Don’t forget: spiritually we are ALREADY seated with Christ in the heavenly places. ALREADY. That’s not changing! But that future reality of us being positionally in Christ must also be manifest in our present reality. 

John Newton, author of Amazing Grace who experienced a radical transformation because of Christ: “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I wish to be, I am not what I hope to be, yet by the grace of God I am what I am.” 

-Just to remind us that it is all God’s grace, Paul says the good works we’re called to do were prepared by God beforehand. Before what? As he says in Eph. 1:4, “before the foundation of the world.” God not only sovereignly orchestrates our salvation, but the demonstration of that salvation in our lives today. That demonstration is what Paul says we are to walk in. This brings this whole section to a close, as the bookend to the opening verses: We once walked in death, but God in his mercy saved us and brought us back to life. 

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