A couple of weeks ago, I offered a sermon at my church within a series on Paul's letter to the church in Ephesus. Even though my previous posts reference sermons on chapters 1 and 4, I want to make chapter 2 available for you also. Truly, chapter is the Gospel. It is the Good News of hope and reconciliation for our sin and transgression.
During this Thanksgiving week, I feel grateful that because of God's great love for us, we no longer face the wrath of God and consequence of death for our sin and transgression. May know that good news awaits for those who believe because God's great love for you!
Read my sermon below, titled: "Because of His Great Love for Us!"
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. Ephesians 2:1-3
In his opening statement, Paul outlines the central problem of every human being: the problem of pain and brokenness in our world, as a consequence of our sins and transgressions against God.
This is not easy to hear. It is bad news. In fact, we hedge a considerable amount of distractions around us in order to keep ourselves from acknowledging this reality.
Yet, you must come to know and accept this problem that each one of us owns. Paul writes about this elsewhere in another one of his letters to a church in Rome, saying, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23
Sin is a real concept and one that Paul treats with a great deal of intentionality in his second chapter. You must know, therefore, that no one can escape the reality that Paul outlines in verses 1-3. No one is immune from it. In the eyes of God, everyone sins and transgresses against God the same. No one sins or transgresses more than the other. Nor can any amount of wealth or hedging or productivity or accomplishment distance us from the harsh truth that our sin and transgressions separate us from God.
Paul writes that sin occurs by our very nature. To break free from our sin would be akin to us breaking our skin free from our bone. It just isn’t possible.
Sin is a part of you and me.
Some of you know this and believe this truth. But for others, the concept of sin and transgression may be new for you and perhaps confusing to understand.
Think about it this way: have you ever thought to yourself, “The world is not how it should be”? As if to say, deep down in your gut, you suspect that somewhere, somehow, something broke within the core fiber of our society, our culture, and our being. You may not be able to articulate it, but you can point to it when you see it.
We all have hurt one another and ourselves, prime evidence that we have strayed away from and offended God. It is these actions, as Paul states, that signify a deeper, fundamental issue...
That our sin and transgression broke what God purposed for us from the very beginning, and this truth marks why you feel like our world is not how it should be.
Recall what Paul wrote at the very outset of his letter in chapter 1, verse 4: “For God the Father chose us in Jesus Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” That was the original intention of the Father - for us to live holy, set apart lives, without any fault or pain or hurt, without any blemish, and in perfect relational harmony with one another and with our Heavenly Father.
The stated issue in chapter 2, verse one, however, claims that our sin and transgression, which first appeared long ago, now results in our death, a circumstance that God never desired for us. Death is never mentioned in chapter 1, verse 4. But the death that Paul means in chapter 2, verse 1 is a spiritual death, as he goes on to unpack later in chapter 5. This death means a life without God, a meaningless, purposeless existence. This is the radical antithesis of what Paul lays out in chapter 1.
Have you ever wondered or questioned your purpose? If you answer yes, then that alone is an indicator of your sin and transgression, for God’s purpose was never for you to question your purpose.
To gain a fuller sense of the original, intended purpose of God for you, we must go back to the very beginning... to the creation story from the Book of Genesis chapters 1 and 2.
Throughout the whole creation narrative, the writer of Genesis bears witness to God as Creator, the author and perfecter of everything known and unknown. The writer states that as God moves from the massive creation of the universe into the particularities of creation... the crown, the pinnacle, and the most pleasing of all things that God created... is humanity, you and me. We are the only objects of creation into which God breathed life - his own breath was used to bring us life - no other created object received such care from God. We are the only objects of creation that God created in his own image. You and I bear the very likeness of God on our hearts. We are the only objects of creation with whom God expressed his deepest satisfaction.
This is great news. In fact, Genesis 1 and 2 speak to the very essence of our being as ones created by God, providing us the most unfathomable and wonderful purpose and meaning in life! In the following chapter, however, the author records a terrible rip in the fabric of creation... a tear caused by us, the very ones with whom God desired before time began to share life.
The author squarely focuses with a laser like intensity on the root cause of how we ripped the fabric of creation and thereby separating ourselves from God. Genesis chapter 3, verse 5 states, “And you will be like God.” This is the core, underlying motivation that influences every one of our sins and transgressions.
For some, this manifests itself in dramatic ways. While for others, it is a simmering stew underneath a seemingly normal, uneventful, ‘good’ life. Wherever you might find yourself on this spectrum, all of us in some capacity desires to live out our days as the god over our own life.
And for a variety of reasons: some want power, some want control, others desire security, others may want worth - whatever it might be... This core desire broke what God wanted so much for us - to live in perfect harmony with himself and one another.
To live like God over our own life gives us a false impression of an elevated position of authority and rule over God and thereby others. It is not real, even though it may seem so; living like a god over your own life is not a genuine existence. Rather, it is a false perception of reality that ultimately corrupts all things good, including our relationships, sense of self, and belief in God. Our sins and transgressions ultimately separate us from the true life - the real life - that God desired for everyone of us. Thus, in verse 1, Paul can say of every person who has ever lived and will ever live after us... you were dead in your transgressions and sins. You were separated. You were disconnected from the source of life and everything real. And this includes everyone.
According to verse 3, Paul writes, “All of us lived among those who were disobedient at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.” Paul is guilty. I am guilty. You are guilty. Everyone is guilty - every human being ever - minus Jesus - is guilty of straying from and offending God.
Now, if you did not think that it could get any worse, here is the really bad news: Your sin and transgression - your stray and offense - against God yields a consequence: which is: the very wrath of God.
The end part of verse 3 states, “we were by nature deserving of wrath.”
You wrecked what God intended for you long before time began. And just as one who commits an infraction must face a consequence, the weight of your infraction bears the most severe penalty. You deserve death for your sins and transgressions. You perpetrated the greatest offense of all by turning away from God and becoming your own god, and as a result, your action warrants the most severe consequence - a life forever apart from your Creator, worthless and without meaning or purpose.
Chapter 2, verses 1-3 paint a bleak picture of our lives. It is hard news to hear. In fact, if you take what Paul says seriously, it is worst news ever. I would be remised if I did not acknowledge how much I hate to share this news with you. I feel pained to share this with you - I feel pained to remind you of it...But you must know it and come to believe it for yourself in order to grasp why Jesus matters. If you miss this truth or gloss over it or refuse to believe it, then you miss the very TRUE and AWESOME and STUNNING turn of events that happen next...For while we pretended to live as the god of our own life and therefore under a kind of enslavement to our sin and transgression... For while we adhered to distorted reasonings that left God completely out of the picture, causing us to deserve the wrath of God...The main point of verses 4 and following of chapter 2, however, states that God refuses to stay out of the picture...
I hope you believe the truth of the worst news ever because what I am about to share with you now is THE BEST NEWS EVER:
But because of his great love for us,
God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
God made YOU ALIVE in Christ, even while you were still dead in your sin and transgression, even while you still made yourself the god of your own life, even while you fully embraced the core desire illustrated in Genesis 3, even while you lived a life completely separated from God, even hostile toward God... God not only chose you, gave you a plan, and provided you with an inheritance, but God also MADE YOU ALIVE... God resurrected your life from spiritual death the moment that the Father resurrected his son, Jesus, from physical death, thereby providing you with the opportunity for the fullest life possible!
Paul even says in the next verse that God provided you a seat with Jesus in the heavenly realms. In fact, God did this for you even while you lived your life as the walking dead - like a zombie, dead inside, divorced from all hope that anything good could ever happen to you.
But all the while the grace of God made the reality of a full life and a place in the heavenly realms with Jesus possible for you then, right now, and until your last breath.
I know so many people who believe all sorts of things about God that do not add up to the full image, character, and essence of God that we see in the person of Jesus, as recorded in Scripture. You might know people like that also. You, yourself, might be one of those people.
But in less than 500 words, contained within the first 2 chapters of Ephesians, Paul lays out a robust appeal for your life, containing the work of the Father for you, the truth of your brokenness, and the means of your salvation - all intended to provide you with a rock to stand on during times when you may face opposition from others or even personal doubt.
Can you imagine what would happen if we as a church seriously believed the implications of these 2 chapters for our life and community? Can you imagine the transformation that would happen? Can you imagine how God would use us? Can you imagine the peace and hope that you would possess? I think about it all the time! I think it would be unbelievable. I think Marin could become the brightest place on Earth where others could look to the churches and Christians of our community for evidence of what a LIFE MADE ALIVE IN CHRIST truly looks like!
Let me close with the final thought that Paul uses to conclude this passage. It reads,
“For we are God’s handiwork created in Christ Jesus do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
In the original Greek, the word that Paul uses for ‘handiwork’ is the Greek word ‘poema,’ meaning ‘expression of something created.’ It is an artistic term. The term poema carries with it the connotation of the artist breathing life - or transferring a part of its own being as the creator into the object being created. This should sound familiar to the creation story of when God the creator breathed life into humanity.
The term ‘handiwork,’ as we read it in our English translation, does not quite capture the essence of the Greek term ‘poema.’ Interestingly, our English language, however, adopted the Greek word poema and derived from it our current word English, ‘poem.’ Thus, more so than the term ‘handiwork,’ the term ‘poem’ gets closer to the heartbeat of what Paul wants to say. Great poetry always embodies some indispensable quality of the author. In fact, one would say that great poetry gives you a glimpse into the heart of the author.
The same is true of the Father for you.
You are God’s poetry.
Even while you were dead in your sins and transgressions, separated from God, and deserving of his wrath, God still made you alive in Christ - even though none of us deserved it - because you are his poetry. His image resides in you. When the Father sees you, he sees himself.
Therefore, turn from living life like your own god, and discover the real life available for you. So as for you, the poetry of God, you were created in Christ Jesus to do good works this week, which God prepared long ago for you to do. So go, find those good works to do, and be God’s poetry in our community.