At my home church, Belmont Chapel in Exeter, we have been working through a series in Ephesians. To supplement the weekly Sunday teaching my colleague, John Allan, has been adding additional material on-line. He has posted a series of bite-sized pieces of information about Paul’s letter at www.ephesiansdaily.org.uk along with longer articles at www.ephesians.org.uk. John has also been tweeting on the same subject. You can follow his posts at @ephesianstweet.

By way of coincidence I was asked to speak on the second chapter of Ephesians at Burnham-on-Sea Baptist Church where a friend of mine is the pastor. My sermon transcript is below and you can find my accompanying PPT here … PPT for Ephesians Ch.2 vs.1-10

You may find it helpful to have the text in front of you … Ephesians Ch.2 vs.1-10 (NIV)

SLIDE 1  William Randolph Hearst, the wealthy newspaper tycoon, invested much of his fortune in purchasing priceless works of art. One day, upon learning of the existence of an item which he very much desired to own, he instructed his agent to make enquiries as to its whereabouts. After some months of painstaking research Hearst’s agent reported back that he had managed to find that one particular artistic treasure. Upon enquiry, as to its location, the agent had the rather uncomfortable task of telling Hearst that what he was looking for was to be found in the private collection of no less a person than Mr William Randolph Hearst. This treasure had, so it transpired, been locked away in a warehouse for several years; Hearst had been searching frantically for treasure he already owned.

SLIDE 2  I mention that story because I think it helps to illustrate the main theme of Paul’s prayer that concludes the first chapter of this NT letter that you’ve been considering together in your morning services these past few Sundays, the verses immediately before the passage we read a little earlier. And it also helps us, I think, to understand why it is that Paul unpacks for his readers that breathtaking resume of all the spiritual wealth that is theirs because they are now children of God; those earlier verses in Ch.1, from vs.3-14, that one long unbroken, unpunctuated Greek sentence. Paul’s point, surely, is to give his readers an inventory of all the personal spiritual wealth that is theirs; given to them freely to possess, by God, through the saving work of Jesus Christ.

SLIDE 3  In fact, says Paul, all three persons of the Trinity were involved. The blessings of God the Father, reveal those who know and trust the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour to be, adopted, blessed and chosen. The blessings of God the Son reveal them to be delivered, enlightened and forgiven. And the blessings of God the Spirit reveal them to be gathered and hallmarked.

But all of these treasures need to be both understood and enjoyed if they are to make a difference in a Christian’s life, and so Paul prays for his fellow believers that they may know in greater measure the extent of the treasure that they already possess in Christ. The truth is that just like William Randolph Hearst all Christians throughout all generations are prone to forget what God has given them as treasure for their lives; we run the risk of looking for something we already own in Christ.

SLIDE 4  And, I guess, one reason why we might lose something of our understanding as to the nature of God’s lavish blessing and therefore run the risk of failing to grasp the enormity of what God has done for us, could possibly be because we have formed the wrong idea as to why it is that God bestowed His blessing on us in the first place. Do you think it’s possible that we could be tempted to think that we are deserving of God’s favour to some degree or another ?

Now in order to expose and challenge that possible train of thought Paul at the start of Ch.2 completely changes the focus of his writing. He moves quickly away from the breathtakingly wide panorama of God’s blessing and focuses down with pinpoint precision to reveal in stark uncompromising language the devastatingly bleak spiritual common denominator for all humanity. And he does this to remind us that we will never be able to praise and worship God as we should, thanking Him for what He has done for us in Christ, if we lose sight of the depths of sinful rebellion from which God has saved us. And that’s why I’d like us to consider our passage this morning by focusing in on God’s grace to us; the theme that has permeated our sung worship this morning.

The Bible has a lot to say about grace and Paul mentions the word twelve times in this short letter but there’s no way we have time this morning to even scratch the surface to reveal much about what the Bible means by such a multi-faceted doctrine as grace. But it’s clear from the verses that we have read, that the specific nature of grace that’s in view here in these verses is God’s saving grace. So whilst defining God’s grace in totality is notoriously difficult, I would suggest that we can have a good go at describing God’s saving grace.

SLIDE 5  One of the most helpful definitions I’ve come across to describe saving grace is found in J.I. Packer’s book, Knowing God. He writes this, ‘… grace means God’s love in action towards men and women who merited the opposite of love. Grace means God moving heaven and earth to save sinful humanity who could not lift a finger to save themselves. Grace means sending His only Son to descend into hell on the cross so that we guilty ones might be reconciled to God and received into heaven …’

So let’s take another look at our passage and see the works of God’s saving grace through examining the past, present and future experience of those who profess Jesus Christ to be their Saviour and Lord.

Firstly then, we see this … SLIDE 6

1.            God’s grace is UNDESERVED grace (vs.1-3)

Let’s read those few verses again, ‘… as for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 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. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest we were by nature objects of wrath …’ (vs.1-3).

Paul clearly has no intention of holding back in his description of sinful humanity, and it’s a very uncomfortable, but at the same time, brutally honest and realistic description of life in rebellion against God. Paul describes our condition using three positional statements. Firstly he says … SLIDE 7

  • we were dead … in our transgressions and sins (vs.1)

Now what does that mean exactly ? Well, sin is trying to live as if God isn’t there and transgressions are the ways that we express our sinfulness through the specific wrongs that we do. So Paul tells his readers that when we live as if God isn’t there, it is then that we embrace death; because true life is only found when we live in relationship with God, who created us to know and love Him. And the overriding characteristic of dead people is that they can’t make themselves alive. Then Paul goes on to say …

  • we were enslaved (vs.2-3)  SLIDE 8

The oldest lie of all, and we see evidence of it right back in the Garden of Eden, is the lie that says we can find freedom by ignoring God. But it’s foolishness. It’s rather like a goldfish believing it would enjoy a freer experience if only it could get out of its bowl. But, you and I know that’s nonsense, because the goldfish would just die. The reality is that God is the source of our freedom and not the end of our freedom. So when we ignore God we give ourselves over to slavery. And Paul goes on to say that there are three types of slavery. SLIDE 9  Firstly, slavery to the world; where the norms and expectations of our godless society heap a variety of pressures upon us such that we end up conforming to certain modes of behaviour that are in conflict with God’s intention for our lives. Secondly, and more sinisterly, there is slavery to the devil; that one who is the hidden orchestrator of everything that is both evil and destructive. And then thirdly, there is slavery to ourselves, where we act upon instinct where every sinful action only serves to make the next sin easier.

And as a result Paul says, in vs.3 …

  • we were guilty (vs.3)  SLIDE 10

And being guilty, says Paul, finds us objects of God’s wrath. I guess God’s wrath isn’t something that we think or speak about much but it’s an important part of who God is. SLIDE 11 John Stott writes this definition, ‘… God’s wrath is His personal, righteous, constant hostility to evil … it is His settled refusal to compromise with it … and it is His resolve instead to condemn it …’. And yet, amazingly, as we shall see as we move into vs.4, God’s wrath is not incompatible with God’s love, since both the wrath that judges and the grace that saves are personal attributes of the same One true God.

SLIDE 12 So then, this is the human condition outside of God’s grace. We are dead people who cannot makes themselves alive; we are slaves who can’t free themselves; we are guilty people who cannot acquit themselves. And yet, the wonder of the good news of the gospel is that it is to undeserving people such as you and I that God pours out His grace, in Christ; which leads us on to our second point …

2.            God’s grace is SAVING grace (vs.4-6)   SLIDE 13

Right at the start of vs.4 our attention is grabbed by one very small yet unbelievably pivotal word; a word that alters everything, a word that acts as the fulcrum that re-orientates humanity; the word but. Paul writes, ‘… but because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ …’ (vs.4-5a). First of all we see the motive of God’s grace, it’s because of His love for us, then we see the source of His grace, its all about God’s mercy and then Paul tells us about the means of God’s grace, its the work of salvation that makes us, ‘… alive with Christ …’. And all of a sudden, all those things that we saw from those earlier verses as being humanly speaking unassailable difficulties, those things that keep us outside of God’s Kingdom, are remarkably resolved and transformed.

It’s important to notice that we aren’t saved by God’s love but rather we are saved by the outworking of His love; God’s love in action, His grace and His mercy as revealed in the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ.

SLIDE 14 And God’s saving grace means that God gives us mercy in exchange for judgement (vs.4). God gives us life in exchange for death (vs.5), and God gives us freedom and dignity in the place of slavery (vs.6). Such is the transforming power of salvation. And then thirdly we see that …

3.            God’s grace is RICH grace (vs.7-10)  SLIDE 15

Paul goes on in these verses to make it clear to us that God’s purpose in salvation is not merely to save us from a lost eternity. As great a work as that is it’s not the entire story, since the ultimate purpose of salvation is that for all eternity the church might glorify God’s grace. And once more Paul is keen to stress the reality of the hopelessness of our condition without God. Salvation cannot be earned through our personal endeavour since it is a gift from God. Salvation is God’s finished work and we cannot add to it, and whereas sin worked against us, God works for us. And our lives now and throughout eternity are living examples of the, ‘… incomparable riches of God’s grace …’ (vs.7)

But there’s something more that we can’t ignore since there is work going on, albeit not work that attains our salvation, but let’s read that last verse again. SLIDE 16 Paul writes, ‘… for we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do …’ (vs.10). There’s a dual work that God continues to do in the lives of all those who love and trust him. God is working in us through His Spirit. Whereas Jesus finished the work of salvation on the cross, the work of the Holy Spirit continues day by day as God seeks to shape everything about us to make us more Christ-like.

If we were to turn back in our Bibles to John’s gospel and Ch.11 we would read the story of Jesus bringing Lazarus back to life, and I often think of that story as a very visual reminder that the work of salvation in my life isn’t the only important experience. You’ll know the story I’m sure. The grave having been opened, SLIDE 17 Jesus stands at the entrance and calls to Lazarus to come out. And whilst the miracle of bringing Lazarus back to life is amazing it’s Jesus’ next words that are just as crucial, ‘… take off the grave clothes and let him go …’ (vs.44). In affect what Jesus is saying is, this man is alive, so now free him so that he can live. We need to ask God to get us out of our grave clothes and ask Him to help us put on our grace clothes. That is the work of God in us through His Spirit. Previously, as we saw in vs.2, it was the devil that was at work in us, but now it is God, through the person and work of the indwelling Spirit.

SLIDE 18 The story is told of Michelangelo the great Renaissance artist who having accepted a commission to carve a marble figure for the tomb of St Dominic in Bologna travelled to the cathedral in Florence in order to see what pieces of marble the masons had available that might be suitable. To the surprise of the masons, Michelangelo chose a block of marble that had remained unused for over thirty years. Other sculptors had attempted to use it, including Agostino di Duccio, a renowned sculptor, but with no success. But Michelangelo stood by his choice and arranged for the block of marble to be delivered to his studio where he set about working hard with hammer and chisel. One afternoon a young boy, hearing the noise of splintering marble looked in to see what was going on. Upon enquiry as to what was happening Michelangelo suggested that the boy come back to the studio in a few weeks time. Upon his return the boy saw standing in the same spot as that uninspiring lump of dirty rough-hewn marble, an angel. The boy was thrilled and running over to the sculpture he asked, ‘… Sir, tell me, how did you know there was an angel in the marble ? …’. Michelangelo replied, SLIDE 19  ‘… in every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to other eyes as well as mine …’

But I said just now that it’s a dual work that God continues to do in our lives and we see evidence of that in the final half of this last verse since not only does God work in us but also God works through us.

SLIDE 20 There are the good works that God has purposed that we should be doing. These aren’t works that bring glory to ourselves but rather these are the things that we do that prompt people to question what motivates us. These are works that bring glory to God and point those who don’t know the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ in their lives as yet towards Him. This is a re-statement of what Jesus said previously in words from the Sermon on the Mount that we read near the start of Matthew’s gospel. SLIDE 21 Jesus said, ‘… let your light shine before me, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven …’ (Matthew Ch.4 vs.16). These are actions born out of lives and hearts that are overwhelmingly grateful to God who saved them.

SLIDE 22 There’s so much more we could say about this passage and I was intending to point you towards a story in the OT that in narrative form wonderfully illustrates these verses that we have considered this morning but I think I’ll put up the reference and encourage you to go home and read that story for yourself and let you draw the parallels and explore the richness of the analogies it reveals.

SLIDE 23 So let’s simply close by reviewing what we have learned together this morning. Without God you are I are without hope. But through the work of salvation as an act of God’s mercy and grace our lives can be transformed if we turn away from our rebellion of God, admit the hopelessness of our situation,  admit our sinfulness and accept God’s offer of rescue. We were dead, enslaved and guilty. But we can be made alive, free and acquitted from the judgement and punishment of God’s wrath. The question is have we ?

SLIDE 24 Let me leave you with a few questions to take away and think over. Is sin working against you because you have not as yet experienced Christ’s saving power ? Are you experiencing God’s work for you, in you and through you ? Are you wearing grave clothes or grace clothes ? As a Christian are you living out the position you have in Christ through seeking to serve Him ?

May God continue to pour out His grace to us as we continue day by day to know him more and more.

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Whilst Easter offers a great opportunity for us to focus in on the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ we should never forget or diminish the impact that the reality of the resurrection should have upon our Christian lives day by day.

In order to combat any personal lethargy regarding the nature and the extent of  the importance of Jesus Christ’s bodily resurrection from the grave that first Easter Sunday I’ve been re-reading once more the Easter story as written for us by the gospel writers and I’ve re-read a book by Eugene Petersen.

In Psalm 116 vs.9, the author writes, “… I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living …” This book, Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life by Eugene Peterson (NavPress, 2006, ISBN 1-57683-929-X) explores the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection and the impact of Christian spiritual formation by resurrection, in response to an increasingly accommodating church and secularized version in the broader culture. Peterson focuses readers on three areas of life – wonder, meals and friends – all of which are seen to be anchored in one of the Ten Commandments (Sabbath keeping) and two of the church’s sacraments (communion and baptism), in order to remind us of the wonder of God’s presence and workings in our lives; recall the importance of breaking bread together; and recover our identities through a company of friends. Peterson begins by asserting that the workplace is the primary location for spiritual formation by resurrection, and that keeping the Sabbath – as a detachment – is the primary way to cultivate wonder in the workplace. Secondly, the preparation, serving and eating of ordinary meals are formational for living the resurrection, while the Lord’s Supper is the sacramental focal practice. Lastly, the company of ordinary resurrection friends helps to insure spiritual formation through the focal act of holy baptism – where people are named and known in the context of Christ-like community. Peterson’s words are biblical and refreshing. Living the Resurrection would be a great book to encourage, if not revive, those commissioned to ministry – which is all of us – even as it serves as a reminder of the who and why behind the what and how of ministry life – something all of us can afford to hear and act upon.

I’d thoroughly recommend this book. As it says on the back, ‘… if you celebrate Christ’s resurrection only one day of the year, you’re missing something BIG …’

respond-icon1 Earlier in the book of Isaiah we read these words from God recorded by the prophet, ‘… my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed …’ (Isaiah Ch.56 vs.1). How aware are we of God’s closeness ?

read-icon Reading for today – Isaiah Ch.66 vs.1-13 : http://www.zondervanbiblesearch.com/TNIVOTNT/Isaiah/66

crossprepare-icon1 As we reach the end of the book we are given a glimpse of how God’s closeness is revealed for us. What is close is salvation, an act of rescue and deliverance. Biblically, however, salvation is not just from something (sin, death and separation) but also it’s to something (forgiveness, life and a restored relationship with God). Worshipping in the temple had given the Jewish people a good understanding of God, but God is greater than their conceptions of Him (vs.1-2) and it’s when He comforts us with  His intimate presence that we really begin to get to know Him (vs.12-13). For Isaiah there was a time close at hand when the LORD God would be close to him. For us that’s already a reality if we know and trust Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.

If you sit down and think about the complexities of the problems besetting the societies in which we live you’ll probably come to the swift conclusion that the notion of solving even some of them appears unlikely. But the central verses in our passage remind us that nothing is too complex for God. Nations aren’t changed overnight – unless the LORD does it (vs.7-8) and we are required to shown an active faith in God that really believes He is capable of anything and everything. A faith that relies on God’s promises (vs.9).

Eugene Petersen in his paraphrase of the Bible, The Message writes John Ch.1 vs.14 like this, ‘… the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood …’. In what ways are we planning to help reveal God’s closeness to those amongst whom we live and work this Christmas ?

respond-icon1 When Jesus taught, ‘… the kingdom of God is near …’ (Mark Ch.1 vs.15), at least in part what He was saying is that God is closer than you may think. In another sense however He’s only as near as you want Him to be. Which aspects of our daily lives invoke God’s nearness and which, because of our choice, see God’s influence remote ?

read-icon Reading for today – Isaiah Ch.65 vs.17-25 : http://www.zondervanbiblesearch.com/TNIVOTNT/Isaiah/65

prepare-icon1 Political parties and social movements imagine that we can, through our own efforts, build a utopia, an ideal world. The Christian knows that, however many high points there may be on the way, the ultimate end to which all history is moving is a new creation. One danger of praying for the revival of the church is forgetting that God doesn’t plan to turn the clock back to way things used to be. We’re should be insulated from nostalgia through our understanding that God is working not towards revival but towards renewing and replacing (vs.17). To drive home the point, the word create appears three times in vs.17 and 18, but the new creation is something that people have to positively choose to enter. Steadfast, determined rejection of God the Father’s mercy and Jesus’ sacrifice is the ultimate tragedy for humankind (see vs.13-15). What’s on offer in the new order is a new name (vs.15); an end to life’s sorrows (vs.19-20); and lives of fulfilment and blessing (vs.21-23). The LORD will be close (vs.24) and Satan will be defeated (vs.25). As one 19th century preacher once put it, ‘… Father, revive the church for the sake of the lost but don’t delay Your coming …’.

Read the passage again carefully noting all of the positive words that serve to re-inforce the reality that God will fulfil all His promises and complete His plan.

How ought a fresh realisation of that influence our daily lives ?

respond-icon1 In Isaiah Ch.63 vs.15 the cry was for the LORD to look down, and yet in so many situations our hearts cry is that we need the LORD to come down. We require constantly to learn that only His presence and intimate involvement will bring about change in our lives. Ask yourself, if God was to withdraw His Spirit from your life how much of what you do and say would be unaffected ? (Note : whilst that can’t happen if you’re a Christian, that fact isn’t a reason for complacency !)

mountainread-icon Reading for today – Isaiah Ch.64 vs.1-9 : http://www.zondervanbiblesearch.com/TNIVOTNT/Isaiah/64

prepare-icon1 In many ways, this is the model prayer for revival. It’s good to be specific in our requests when we pray, but the danger is that we focus too much in our prayer time upon trying to give God hints and suggestions ! This reading reminds us that there is the vital need to simply pare right down to the essentials when we pray. These verses are a passionate cry for God to renew His presence amongst His people, to shake the earth again, as He did at Mt Sinai (vs.3, compare with Exodus Ch.19 vs.16-19). God is always present yet is seems clear that God can withdraw His powerfully felt presence, for example when we have sinned (vs.7), in order that we might seek Him again. The things that mark out this prayer are; a passionate desire for God Himself (vs.1-2); a remembrance of His mighty acts in the past (vs.3-4); honest appraisal of ourselves (vs.5-7); and an appeal to the Father, on the basis of His revealed character, not to abandon His children (vs.8-12).

Passionate prayer often comes from people who know themselves well. David wrote, ‘… all my longings lie open before you, O Lord …’ (Psalm 38 vs.9).

Do the desires of vs.1-2 find an echo within all of our lives, and if so, how do they shape our prayer life ?

respond-icon1 This reading follows a passage describing God as a warrior. It’s a recurrent theme in Scripture – that our God persistently fights against evil and for the good of His people. Think of instances where such imagery would prove to be helpful.

read-icon Reading for today – Isaiah Ch.63 vs.7-19 : http://www.zondervanbiblesearch.com/TNIVOTNT/Isaiah/63

prepare-icon1 God always acts in our best interests, but we are only occasionally aware of His actions. That’s why the Jewish people attached such importance to remembering what God had done for them. As they retold their history, God’s essential character became clear to them once again: His compassion and His kindness (vs.7); His identification with His people (vs.9a); His love and mercy (vs.9b); His power and guidance (vs.11-14).

People seeking spiritual direction are often encouraged to draw a timeline, marking all the spiritually significant moments of their life. Like the nation of Israel we too learn more of God’s character when we focus on what He has revealed to us through our history. It’s the revelation of His character that forms the impetus for our intercession (vs.15-19).

The people of Israel forgot God when times were easy. Compare vs.10 of this chapter with the words in James Ch.4 vs.4-6.

What are the lessons we need to learn today ?

respond-icon1 Have you ever found you just had to say something, and couldn’t stop it pouring out ? Can you remember what it was you were speaking about ? What was it that moved you so powerfully ?

read-icon Reading for today : http://www.zondervanbiblesearch.com/TNIVOTNT/Isaiah/62

sunrise-thumbnail2prepare-icon1 When we have seen what God wants to do, it changes us. In many ways, faith deprives us of a false peace, in that it’s impossible to settle for what is when you’ve seen what will be. The nature of faith is to look forward in hope (Hebrews Ch.11 vs.13-16). What the prophet has seen is God’s restoration of His people (vs.1-3), through the restoration of their relationship with Him (vs.4-5). The response of faith is to cry continually out to the LORD for the arrival of that day (vs.6-7). It’s easy to settle for what we have, or for a little more, but God is looking for people who won’t rest until the fullness of His purpose is acheived. Is that the kind of people we are ?

The advent season calls us to ‘… prepare a way for the LORD …’ (Isaiah Ch.40 vs.3-5), a work of intercession that demands perseverance of service that can only be achieved through reliance on God’s refreshing love. God wants to delight and rejoice over us … do we allow Him to do that ?