6-Week Series: Against All Odds


Summary: We are on earth to demonstrate God’s glory and goodness to the world by our lives and actions.

Why on earth are we here? What is the purpose of life? Rick Warren, the author of The Purpose-Driven Life, said to TV news personality Bill O’Reilly that this is the key question that he hears over and over again as he goes around the country talking to people about their lives. And my preaching prof at PTS agrees with him. That’s why he assigned my study group one of the most depressing novels I’ve ever read in years, a book by Doug Coupland called Girlfriend in a Coma, whose basic message is "nobody believes in the future." Everything is meaningless, nothing is connected, there is no pattern or purpose to life. As Christians, this is the question we have to answer for the world.

But what if we can’t even answer it for ourselves?

What if when we look around ourselves we all agree with the author of Ecclesiastes?

"I applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind. What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.... What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity." [Ec 1:13-15, 2:22-23]

Pretty depressing world view, isn’t it. But believe it or not, I LOVE the book of Ecclesiastes. Because it reminds me of how meaningless the world actually is -

if we don’t know Christ.

I’m sure you’ve all seen the popular advertising technique of "before" and "after" pictures. They’re probably most common for diet products, but I’ve also seen them for hair and make-overs. The "before" picture is almost always the least flattering picture possible - probably altered at least a little in Photoshop to make it look even worse. And the "after" picture is the exact opposite - the most flattering possible. The goal, of course, is to get you to spend your money on the not-too subtle assumption that you can purchase the same improvement that you see between the two pictures

Paul uses a similar tactic in this chapter of his letter to the Ephesians - but to a somewhat different end. He paints two pictures for us - one before Christ and

one after. He then brings it all together in verses. 8-10 and tells us what the goal of this comparison is. Before Christ, we

"were dead through the trespasses and sins in which [we] once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else." [v.1- 3]

That’s not a very flattering, picture is it. In fact, it’s hard to imagine it being much worse! The very first word Paul uses to describe us is dead. And although the usual "before" picture isn’t very attractive, deliberately so to get us to buy the product, at least there’s someone home. You may look awful on the outside, but the message is that the real you, the beautiful you, is within your reach. This before picture is much worse than that. Without Christ, we are spiritually dead, dead on the inside, no matter how much we pretty up the exterior with coats of paint and misdirection.

Paul’s second take on our before state is one of slavery, although he doesn’t actually use the word. The picture shows us being controlled by three things, which is the same as saying we are enslaved by them. We are shown "following the world, following the ruler of the power of the air, following the desires of flesh and senses."

Now what does that mean? First, the world. Our whole environment, our culture, our society, and even our laws work to keep us dutifully following the crowd. You name the sin, I can give you an example of how society encourages us to embrace it as a good - but you don’t need me tto do that, any one of you can create a similar list. Of course there are the obvious ones, lust and greed anger are stoked daily by shows glamorizing violence and casual sex and easy money. From Desperate Housewives to Wheel of Fortune, we are encouraged to keep our eyes away from God and on the cheap and tawdry pleasures of the moment. But the most insidious message of all is the one that says that breaking the rules - any rules - is the way to personal fulfillment. From "Have it your way" to "No rules - just right" we are encouraged to believe that we can chart a good course through life on instinct and impulse. Eugene Peterson puts Paul’s famous admonishment in Rom. 12:2, "Do not be conformed to this world" this way: "Don’t get so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking."

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