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Past, Present, Future Tense

Ephesians 2:1-10

One thing of which I have never been accused is an excess of humility and modesty. This passage from Paul's letter to the Ephesians certainly shows that all of us have a great deal to be modest about. It shows where we came from; it shows what God has made us into, and what we shall become. Our past is nothing to brag about; our present and future are God's doing. So we see that humility is not an act; it's an honest reaction to what God has done.

(Eph 2:1-10 NIV) 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 sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. {4} 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 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 workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Our Past

We were dead

Paul begins by telling us what we were: we were dead in our transgressions and sins. It is important for us to understand sin, for this has now become a church word and no longer in use generally:

·         It does not mean something particularly vile. It means that we have missed the target.

·         The problem in our day is the target. Paul would have understood this to mean God's own holiness and righteousness. The reason we don't understand the word is that we have substituted our own idea of righteousness (which grows weaker each day) for God's. For "wrong" we have substituted "abnormal" - and then changed "normal" by our excesses.

·         There are two phrases here: transgressions (by which we may take the idea of things we actively know are wrong, but do them anyway) and sins (which might, for the moment, be taken as those things we neglect to do). It is an old idea, but worth remembering. Just because we haven't murdered someone does not acquit us. There are those things we should have done.

And why does this make us "dead?"

·         First, we were dead because we had no hope of life. We were dead; all we had was the formality of dying left. The existentialist understands this quite well (and it's a good argument against existentialism): he lives on the "foundation of unyielding despair" (Bergson). There is no hope; we're all going to die; nothing can be done about it. The Christian knows better.

·         Also because we had no life of hope. Sin deadens the ideals; it causes us to despair of better things because it adapts us to the sleazy world around us. The cynic is nothing more than the burned out cigar butt of a former idealist.

We followed

We didn't wake up some morning and decide to have such a life. We just kind of fell into it; like sheep, we followed.

·         We followed the "way" of this world (other translations have the "course.") The path was there, everyone else was going down it, and like lemmings we went along.

·         So you went along:

·         You went along with the sins of the flesh, of wine and women.

·         You went along with the sins of the world; when the wine soured and the women no longer looked at you, you went for the material world.

·         Ultimately, you went into pride - for that is the sin of this world's ruler, and you were following him.

You followed Satan, without knowing who he is. The one thing Satan, the great deceiver, wants you to believe is that he does not exist (at least in our time). He is the "prince" of this world, but he stands condemned by God for his actions. And in this you can see one of the reasons that God calls you a sinner, even though you didn't feel like it:

Consider it - you have chosen sides. If you choose to side with Satan, it does not mean that you agree with him entirely. In the Second World War there were countries that chose to side with the Axis, but that did not make them totally evil. (For example, Rumania). But they suffered as losers just the same. Even though you don't feel evil, you have chosen to side with it unless you choose to side with God.

We gratified

Paul neatly divides our "gratifying" into two categories:

·         There are those things we did without thinking - see that word "craving?" ("Hand over the chocolate and no one gets hurt!") These are the passions of life.

·         But there are also our thoughts. Some times we sin in our rationalizations - "it can't be wrong if no one gets hurt." Some times we sin in our imagination (the true sexual organ is the mind, as the pornography industry knows). Some guys do read Playboy just for the articles.

The objects of God's wrath

Now consider the kind of person I have just described. What do you suppose God's reaction to such a person would be? Let me give you an example. When Admiral Bull Halsey sailed into Pearl Harbor just after the Japanese attack, he is reported to have growled, "When we get through with these people, the only place they'll speak Japanese is in Hell." Satan is at war with God; you joined him and you were destined to share his fate. But God did not leave it at that.

Our Present

If the lesson ended here, our fate would be bitter indeed. But it does not; we have been redeemed. Paul does not repeat the Gospel story to us, but he does make some points which are essential to our understanding of who we are and who we are supposed to become:

By God

All this transformation is made "by God." He is said to be "rich" in mercy - the word used is one which implies an overflowing richness, a richness in compassion. It is an active sense.

It is also said to be grace. Grace is frequently defined to be the "unmerited favor" of God. There are two key points to make about this:

·         First, and most obvious, is that it is unmerited. We did, and can do, nothing to earn it.

·         Next, it is also God's choice. It is not that we just didn't quite make it, and God was making the best of a bad set of choices. Quite the opposite. As Paul told the Romans,

(Rom 9:15-16 NIV) For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." {16} It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy.

We were not the best of a bad lot; we are simply the ones on whom his favor rests. It is purely his mercy; we had nothing to do with it.

Made Alive

We are said here to be made alive with Christ. This is certainly a reference to the Resurrection; it is to say that if He lives, then we shall live too. Note, please, that this is biological life that is called out. Paul is always explicit about the coming resurrection of the body. But it is not just a biological resurrection - a life which could end again. It is a spiritual one as well. It is both.

Nor are we just to mull around and watch the weather. Indeed, we are to "sit" with Christ. The word in that time was a royal one; only royalty sat on chairs (remember that they reclined at the Last Supper?). This is an echo of the royal priesthood we are, and will become.

Our Future

When we speak of our future, we speak in two senses: our future at the resurrection, and our future in this life. Paul covers both here:

At the resurrection

Little is said (or can be; we cannot comprehend it) about the resurrection. But again we see the riches of his grace, expressed through Christ. The word used as an adjective to those riches is "exceeding." The Greek is interesting; it is the word from which we get our English word, "hyperbole." It is as if Paul cannot find words to express how great it will be.

In this life

We are saved; saved by grace. If you will think of grace as the power of God for our salvation you are not far wrong. There are three common errors concerning grace; all of them neglect this aspect of power:

·         First, having accepted God's offer of grace, some of us assume that therefore we have become the "good guys" - and therefore God owes us something. We somehow have placed God in our debt, and (in our prayers) we can collect on the favor any time. Kindly remember: we didn't do the work. He did. He owes us nothing; he gave us everything. That's grace.

·         The second error is to decide that - since we are saved, and God does it all - there is nothing left for us to do. We can go on as sinners just as before; after all God will forgive - it's his hobby, you know. To say it is to see the flaw. We are in time; we are growing, one way or the other. The tadpole becomes a frog, or it dies. It does not stay a tadpole. If it doesn't become a tadpole, it is either dead, or it wasn't a frog in the making to start with. If we don't mature as Christians, maybe it's because we are dead - or weren't really Christians to start with.

·         The third error is to just simply accept grace - and this is ingratitude. Have you ever had a child receive an expensive gift and treat it as nothing? How do you think God feels about your thanklessness at his grace?

We are saved "through" faith. If grace is the Colorado River, then faith is a Los Angeles faucet. It is the mechanism by which we receive grace, not the cause. The word used is "gift" - it also means sacrifice - and it comes from God.

God's workmanship

Living things mature. If we are his workmanship, his creation, then we are to mature as He wants us to mature. In this regard, he gives us "good works." Please note two things:

We are created to do good works:

·         First, so that the world will know the workman by his works. How will the rest of the world know God if we will not show Him?

·         Next, so that life might have a purpose. After all, if God has done everything, why are we still here? So that we might do his will, which is to do good works.

·         But these works are to be done without boasting - for our creation is from God. He works in us both to do and to will his good pleasure.

Which God prepared for us to do

·         By his providential care he has provided work for us to do. Do not complain that there is a lack of good work for you, or that you do not know your calling within his kingdom. He will provide any number of opportunities for you to do his will. Indeed, you will have quite a selection.

·         The phrase here is better translated "walk in" his good works. The sense is not so much of one good thing as a continuous life of good works.

There it is. We were sinners; we are saved; we are growing in good works, looking forward to the day when we shall be resurrected at His coming again. If that is not cause to be thankful, then thankfulness cannot exist. Praise God for this! As the song says,

"We are made a channel, where His grace is poured - for the glory of the Lord!"

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