Week Commencing 8th April 2018 With a PDF found here
Notes for next Sunday’s sermons on Ephesians 2:1-10
Week 2: BY GRACE
As we explored last week, Ephesians reveals Paul’s pastoral heart for the church, reflecting the spiritual blessings and deep sense of reconciliation and grace Paul himself received from Jesus. Such themes are constant in his letters. As we begin chapter 2, we see the connection between the Risen Lord and changed lives. For Paul, Christ literally took him from the death of his sinful ways as a persecutor of the church to new life and ministry for his church.
After exhorting the community of faith to grow in their knowledge of God together, Paul reminds them now that a transformed life is possible only through the Good News (Gospel) of God’s grace in Christ.
DAY 1: Read Ephesians 2:1-3
Paul begins this chapter with the less-than-cheery reminder: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins”. The Ephesians had been in a “miserable condition by nature”, dead in their sins, and separated from the love and presence of their Maker and Perfect God. Though they were physically alive as human beings, their spiritual state had been imprisoned by darkness and death, their habits and behaviours contrary to God. They’d conformed to the evils and idols of the unbelieving world. And so Paul wanted them to remember how they used to walk in such disobedience, gratifying the cravings of their human nature (which is what ‘flesh’ means here) and following its selfish desires and thoughts.
It’s not difficult to imagine such a desperate, self-centred, miserable condition or character: literature is full of such examples. Think of Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” or Hamlet or Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s plays. Each pursued their own comfort at the expense of others; each wanted nothing but to rule his own life and control others, to be his own god and order his own destiny.
And yet, Dickens’ gives us a beautiful example of ‘conversion’ in that after the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future visit him, Scrooge sees with new eyes. He’s given another chance to make things right. He can either remain a cranky awful man or he can listen to the wisdom of the ghosts and redirect his heart. Though Scrooge, Hamlet, and Caesar are fictitious characters, they represent the reality that all humanity has a choice. We deserve wrath, as Paul says in verse 3, because of our hard and selfish hearts. In what ways have you seen the darkness of your own heart and followed the ways of this world? Ask God to show you and to bring you into his marvellous light.
DAY 2: Read Ephesians 2:4-5
After seeing the truth of his ugly heart, Scrooge changed the course of his life. He became generous and loving and happy. Hamlet, though, could not bear his own darkness and in his final desperate act, murdered his uncle, reminding us that some people would rather stay stuck in their sin than confront it.
Paul, too, had a choice to make when Christ himself confronted the Apostle and dramatically changed the course of his life! (See Acts 9) No wonder Paul was able to write, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.” The glaring choice for all of us is whether to stay “dead in our transgressions” or to turn to the God of love. Some in our culture would rather not acknowledge the darkness of their hearts and so ignore the “great love God has for us”. They miss out on his rich mercy and remain spiritually lost. We all know friends or family who are still there, ignoring the goodness of our Lord.
But we cannot judge. You know the phrase, “there but for the grace of God go I”? How true it is! And that’s exactly what Paul says in v. 5: “it is by grace you have been saved”. Only God’s grace—that is, his mercy, love and forgiveness—can bring every human out of his own darkness and into the freedom of new life. How? Because Christ took all of our transgressions, sins and pains on the cross so that we could enter each day as new people, loving and generous! He is a God of second chances, desiring that we be made alive with Christ. In what ways has Jesus changed you? Thank him now for the promise of new life!
DAY 3: Read Ephesians 2:6-8
As if God saving us by grace weren’t enough, Paul goes on to explain more of the spiritual blessings we receive as his children: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus”. This wonderful verse gives us not just a promise of new life in the here and now, but a hope of the future life with Christ. He has secured our place with him. If we have acknowledged him as Lord, we can be confident that when we leave this earth, we will be with God! In the same way God raised up Christ from the dead, so, too, has he raised us with him in the heavenly realms. That hope is our anchor, a sustaining truth whenever we might be tempted to pursue selfish gain or to follow after the ways of the world again.
Likewise, if we have turned from our transgressions and received God’s grace through Christ and His Spirit, our hearts begin to long more for His Presence, and for his heavenly ways. “Sin is the death of the soul”, writes one commentator, “a dead man in trespasses and sins has no desire for spiritual pleasures. (But) Grace in the soul is a new life. A forgiven sinner becomes alive in Christ and desires a life of holiness.” In other words, once we’ve tasted the goodness of God’s mercy and experienced the hope of life eternal with Him, everything else pales in comparison. We will want to live for him. It’s like the words of the old hymn, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face. And the things of this world, will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”
DAY 4: Read Ephesians 2:9, 10
The thing about God’s grace is that it is just that: grace. It is a gift that we can never deserve and for which we can never take credit. Paul knew that in powerful and personal ways. By grace, we have been saved. By grace, we have been given faith, and by grace, we have new eyes to see the light and love of Jesus. As one preacher said, “The only thing I’ve contributed to my salvation is my sin.”
Because of the magnificent, undeserving gift of grace through faith in Jesus—and not through any of our own abilities or spirituality or even Bible knowledge—we cannot boast of our new life, or of our eternal home. We simply believe and respond, and live a life of love as, “God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Some translate handiworks as poemia, from which we get the word poem. We are God’s poetry, then, written in advance to offer words of grace and mercy to others, to come alongside the undeserving with hospitality, to pray for the broken hearted, and to create works of beauty and light for this often dark and hardened world. How can you be God’s handiwork for others? How can you live out the Gospel? Pray for our church that we might be known as a place of mercy, grace and new life because of the historic and eternal life of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Matthew Henry Concise Commentary, ESV Study Bible notes.
Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”; The International Bible Commentary, FF Bruce.