Opening illustration: Can a man be officially alive after being declared legally dead? That question became international news when a man from Ohio showed up in good health after being reported missing more than 25 years earlier. At the time of his disappearance he had been unemployed, addicted, and hopelessly behind in child support payments. So he decided to go into hiding. On his return, however, he discovered how hard it is to come back from the dead. When the man went to court to reverse the ruling that had declared him legally dead, the judge turned down his request, citing a 3-year time limit for changing a death ruling.
That unusual request of a human court turns out to be a common experience for God. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians tells us that though we were spiritually dead, God “made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:1, 5). Yet declaring and making us spiritually alive was a deeply painful matter for God. Our sin and its consequent spiritual death required the suffering, death, and resurrection of God’s Son (vv.4-7).
It’s one thing to show evidence of physical life. Our challenge is to show evidence of spiritual life. Having been declared alive in Christ, we are called to live in gratitude for the immeasurable mercy and life given to us. (Mart DeHaan, ODB)
Let us turn to Ephesians 2 in our Bibles and catch up with Paul’s address to the Christians living in Ephesus on why they are dead and only Christ can make them alive …
Introduction: If you're like me, you've had a debate with yourself about when to go to the doctor and when not to go, because things will probably clear up on their own. Not knowing when to go has terrible consequences. The Heart and Stroke Foundation says, "Thousands of Americans die from heart attacks every year because they don't get medical treatment quickly enough. Learn to recognize the signals of a heart attack, so you can react quickly to save a life." People die because they think that they're only experiencing some other type of pain, when they're really experiencing something far more serious.
A similar thing happens spiritually. Today’s text contains a number of things that most people don’t really believe. If the passage before us is right, then a lot of us have misdiagnosed our condition, and the consequences can be fatal.
Why did God make us Alive?
1. Saw our DIRE CONDITION (vs. 1-3)
In these first three verses, the apostle Paul gives us a true picture of the human condition. It's something that we're going to struggle with. This is a repugnant teaching, and for years people have objected to this. Ever since the Enlightenment, people have argued that children are born innocent, and we mess them up with our culture and education. Blaise Pascal struggled with this more than ever.
So what is the human condition? Paul unpacks it in three ways. First, he says, humanity is dead. "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins." We are spiritually dead. We are not in danger of death; we are not half-dead; Paul says we are actually dead. John Piper says, we're in the morgue, not the doghouse. In the doghouse, we can whimper, say sorry, and throw ourselves on God's mercy. But what can you do in the morgue? Nothing. This is the human condition. We are completely dead in our sins.
There are really three views of human nature out there. One is that humans are well, and there's nothing really wrong with us. They talk about the greatness of human potential. The second view of human nature is actually the most popular. It's the view that humanity isn't well; it's probably sick. We are capable of great evil, but with the right education, the right upbringing, we'll be okay. We're capable of choosing good or evil, and with the right effort and training, we can choose to be good most of the time. This is by far the most popular view, not just in the world but probably also in the church. If you believe that we're only sick, then what we need is someone to be our example or our teacher.
This leads to what is called Pelagianism, which is our default way of thinking, but it's also dead wrong. This taught that Adam's sin set a bad example, but it didn't affect the rest of us. Human nature is fine, and we can choose good or evil ourselves.
But here Paul says that we're not well, and we're not even sick. There's nothing we can do. We can't make the first move; we can't do anything. We're dead. We're completely hopeless. Theologians call this total or pervasive depravity. Every human has been affected in every area life, so that no part of the human person - mind, emotions, conscience, will - is unaffected by sin. Paul says that this is our condition. We're not well; we're not sick; we're actually dead in our sins.
It gets worse. You may be wondering how it could possibly get worse. Paul says that humanity is not only dead; humanities enslaved.
It's bad enough that we're spiritually dead, but the news gets worse. Humanity is enslaved to three forces over which we have no control:
• One is the world - "the ways of the world," Paul says in verse 2. We're all influenced, far more than we think, by the society's attitudes, habits, and preferences. We're products of our culture - fashions, newspapers, and so on. But many of our culture's values are alien to God and his standards.
• We're also sabotaged by the devil, "the spirit that is now at work in those who are disobedient." This is even more important for us to realize, because we often underestimate the power of the spirit world. Some overestimate Satan's influence; we probably ignore it too much. Satan has been defeated by Christ, but doesn't surrender without a struggle. He's a murderer and a liar, and he still continues his work.
• Then there's our flesh - what Paul calls "the cravings of our sinful nature...following its desires and thoughts."
So humanity isn't sick, it's dead. And it's not just dead. It's in bondage to the world, the devil, and the flesh. But wait - it gets worse.
Paul also says that not only is humanity dead and enslaved; it's also condemned. Verse 3 says, "Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath." We read this and think, "You've got to be kidding. God's wrath?" Yes, wrath. Last month, we heard the news that the wife of a pastor in the east coast was murdered. I felt a lot of emotions, but one of them was wrath. Granted, it was not a completely just wrath. When you see the awfulness of sin, then it's completely just and reasonable that the holy wrath of God should be against it. God's wrath is consistent, just, controlled, and judicial. Paul says that by our very natures, we are all deserving of the wrath of God.
These are very bad news. This isn't about a particularly bad segment of the population; this is about all of us.
Piper says that nobody really believes this:
The first thing I want to stress today is that these three things are not what you will find out about yourself in the newspaper or TIME or NEWSWEEK. They are not part of our cultural assumptions about mankind. Virtually no one, outside a fairly small group of evangelicals, seriously believes –
• that without a Savior, all people are dead in sin and incapable of any spiritual good; and
• that without a Savior, all people are captured and blinded by an evil, supernatural person named Satan; and
• that without a Savior, all people are under the wrath of God and sentenced to eternal torment in hell.
There are two fundamental reasons why these things are not believed:
• because they are unflattering to human nature, and.
• because they have to be learned from God not man.
Because we don't believe this, we're open to superficial solutions that never really deal with how serious our condition is. If we misdiagnose our condition, then the results are disastrous.
The late pastor Jack Miller from Philadelphia, used to say, "Cheer up, you're worse than you think you are." The reason that Jack Miller could say this is because he knew what was coming next. What's coming next could be the two greatest words in the whole Bible. Paul has truthfully told us what our condition is.
2. Imparted the ONLY REMEDY (vs. 4-7)
There are the two greatest words in all of the Bible: "But... God..." They're especially great when you realize that God didn't have to do anything. He could have left us in our natural state: dead, enslaved, and condemned. But then come these amazing two words. One of the best sermons that you could ever listen to come from the Welsh preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He preached on these two words and said, "These two words ["But God"], in and of themselves, in a sense contain the whole of the gospel." They tell us what God has done, and how he has intervened in what would otherwise be a hopeless situation.
What has God done? He has "made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in transgressions." Notice when this happened: when we were dead. It's not like we were in the middle of getting our lives back together, or after we had made the first move. It's while we were still dead that God raised us into new spiritual life.
Verse 6 also says that we've been raised up with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly places. What Paul is saying is that we share in Christ's resurrection, ascension, and his reign. We were dead, enslaved, and condemned; now we're alive, free, and enthroned.
Why did God do it? Notice that it is not because of anything related to us. It is not because we are great or awesome or even cute! It wasn't prompted by our merits; it's entirely prompted by His own character. That's why we read about his love, mercy, grace, and kindness in this passage. We are saved entirely because of the undeserved favor of God, who has responded to us despite our desperate condition.
Remember what Jack Miller said? Let me give you the rest of what he said. "Cheer up: you're worse than you think you are, but God's grace is greater than you could ever imagine!"
3. Knew the IMPLICATIONS (vs. 8-10)
Paul says repeatedly in these last verses that all that we have in Christ is by grace. If we've been made right with God, it has nothing to do with us. Paul even says that the good works that we do as believers are a result of God's initiative. We can't take credit for them either. They are what God prepared in advance for us to do.
He applies this to us by saying that nobody can boast. Since we can take none of the credits, we can do none of the boasting. Those of us who trust Christ don't have to pretend we're better than we really are. We can face the truth about ourselves, because in our sin, we have found God's grace, and that is more than enough. We can't take any credit.
The final thing: You see how we are saved: "by grace ... through faith alone" [sola gratia, sole fide, soli Deo gloria]. Even our faith here is a gift from God; it's not anything we can take credit for. What is faith? I'll put it as simply as I can: belief and trust. If you believe what we've talked about today - that we're naturally dead, enslaved, and condemned, but that God has acted through Christ to save us because of his grace and mercy - then that's good. That's belief. But you also need trust. Trust is a heart response. It means responding to this message, casting yourself upon Christ, and accepting his work on your behalf.
Illustration: Years ago, a drunken man in Chicago headed toward Lake Michigan to drown himself. As he stumbled past the Pacific Garden Mission, someone helped him through the open door. He collapsed in front of the preacher and fell asleep. The superintendent cared for him, gave him a bed, and explained the Gospel to him the next morning. That day Harry Monroe was transformed by the grace of God. Later, he was to preach the Gospel from that same platform where once he had slept in a drunken stupor. Mr. Monroe became superintendent of the mission, and when he died, it took all day for people to pay their respects. A newspaper editorial described him as one of the most useful men in Chicago. Mr. Campbell then raised this penetrating question: "What made the difference? The world would not have missed the penniless derelict if he had jumped into the lake, but God saw great value in him!"
Application: All glory for our change goes to God. He provided us with salvation. We do not need to do good works to merit salvation, but we should do good works because we have received salvation. This is God’s plan for every believer.
• Have you been saved and changed by God’s grace?
• Is your life marked, not by perfection, but by a profound change and by works that glorify God?
• Are you doing everything God has called you to do?
• Are you grateful to Him for His work of grace in your life?