Why, if new life in Christ is an actual reality, do Christians continue to live so much like others who don’t claim to follow him?
-Why aren’t they different or at least more different?
Why, if Christians are truly new creations, do they continue to struggle with many of the same things they have always struggled with?
-If this is real then why aren’t they “fixed”?
Why, if this gospel stuff is real…aren’t Christians more consistently happy, joyful, optimistic, generous, courageous…nice?
-Why doesn’t this ‘work’ better?
I’m talking about both individual Christians and collections of them…into local churches.
If you make a truth claim, which Christians do “If anyone is in Christ, they are new creations, the old has gone the new has come.” 2 Cor. 5:17
Then you ought to be able to back up that claim with evidence.
But what if the evidence is there…but it’s not believed because it is incomplete, or a work in progress?
We spent 6 months in Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth…they were not a model of Christlikeness…but Paul and Jesus loved them dearly.
-And they endured in a very difficult societal setting…and they kept the faith for their time and place.
So maybe it’s like saying…
“This training program doesn’t work…I can only run a mile after all this time”
“Where were you physically when you began the program?”
“I had never left the couch before.”
Maybe we are measuring progress wrong.
I’ve known men, who at the end of their lives were still not Jesus…they could still be a bit “judgy” or grumpy, language still salty…but from where they had started from…the work of God in their lives was incredible.
The ending point of their lives was unremarkable…unless you measured it based on where they had started from…then it was unexplainable in human terms.
And then about collections of Christians into churches…I seen what is done by the local church, out of the public eye, behind the scenes…all the time.
*I watched the church in action in the little town of Neosho, MO when my niece died…it was quiet, it was powerful.
*I see these quiet deeds of goodness…offline…all the time.
Not perfection…but I see people working together sacrificially for the good of others…I saw it last week…I see it every week.
But still, sometimes(maybe often) when we look at our own lives…we become dismayed because of what we believe to be insufficient transformation…what are we to believe, feel about that?
I shudder to think of who I would be without Christ, I’ve been changed by him…but I shudder sometimes when I think of whom I still am with Christ.
Maybe we are waiting for something to happen, that already has (we have been saved and transformed, past tense)…we have access to new power for change….but for various reasons we are not accessing that power.
And it could be that we are waiting for God to do for us… what he has empowered us to do ourselves…and indeed expects us to do?
Historically there have been several reactions to the lack of practical evidence of new life in Christ (both as individuals and as local churches.)
One has been to reframe transformation so that it is all future tense.
“I can explain why I don’t look at all like Jesus even though I claim to follow him…salvation is all in the future…after I die…I’m still alive…so don’t expect to see much now”
Salvation can become entirely about escaping hell when you die…never mind whether or not it makes any difference in a person’s life now.
The other reaction has been to conclude its all or mostly fraudulent, it’s a game being played…and those playing it, know it’s a game they just won’t admit it…thus you hear of people leaving the faith after years.
But the third position is to believe, as Scripture teaches that our salvation is “already/not yet”
- I believe that the transformational power, eternal life, is not all future tense…it is now.
- None of this is a game to me…I see the beauty and power of the church…here and in many other places.
But the church, like the Christians who comprise the church, is a work in progress.
Today we are in Ephesians 2, we are going to begin with the more famous verses in this chapter, 8-10.
Once we look at these three verses we will then walk through the chapter as a whole.
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—
Faith is not the gift referred to here, the gift is grace.
Faith itself, is not meritorious, or an act of earning…it is how we receive the gift.
Tim Keller says it like this…
“Faith is simply the attitude of coming to God with empty hands. When a child asks his mother for something he needs, trusting that she will give it, his asking does not merit anything. It is merely the way he receives his mother’s generosity.”
The child is doing something (showing faith in its mother), but it is not meriting or earning anything.
God has given us the capacity to come to him with empty hands and receive the gift of life.
Then just to be crystal clear Paul writes…
9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
This salvation is by God’s grace, not your own efforts…boasting is excluded…our only boast is in the cross of Christ.
Because there we are boasting of what he has done not what we have done.
But why does he repeat, so quickly, what seemed to be clear already?
“You are saved by grace, it is a gift of God not from yourselves…it’s not by works.
We got it Paul…grace, gift, not works.
But Paul knows the human heart is determined to believe that our lives can be good enough for God.
We are okay with a bit of grace, maybe a lot of grace…but total grace…absolutely no earning, deserving, boasting…we don’t tend to be okay with that.
But that, in fact, is the reality of our situation.
Boasting, of our own goodness or efforts is excluded.
We DO nothing to earn or deserve God’s gift.
Now to verse 10.
10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
I learned verses 8,9 when I first starting walking with Christ…I learned verse 10 a bit later.
But if you take 8,9 without 10 then you will end up with a potential imbalance.
You need all this together to get the full picture.
New life in fellowship with God is his creation and cannot be our work…but the essential quality of this new life is in its good works.
New life in Christ shows up in our lives…in the good that God has prepared in advance for us to do.
This statement, doesn’t by necessity mean that Paul is referring to the details of all the specific good things God has planned for you to do.
It’s not that that conception of detailed preplanned good works is wrong.
It’s just that the language of this verse points more to the whole course of a believer’s life.
Not to the details but the overall direction.
God has predetermined the direction of a Christian’s daily life in Christ…he has saved us to do good in line with who Christ is and who we are now.
Here it is the overall “what” kind of life not the details of that life…that Paul is speaking of.
Why is that distinction important?
Because we can get locked up wondering “I wonder if God wants me to do this good thing next Tuesday at 2:00? I wonder if that is a good work he preplanned that for me?”
“I wonder if he wants me to share my faith, be generous, show love, forgive…”
Yes…he pretty much does…do the good.”
I am not saying God doesn’t have a will regarding the details of our lives…I’m saying we don’t need be frozen in place pondering those details.
This doesn’t answer the question as to what I do with the details of my life(I only have so much time, energy, money)…it takes wisdom, and attentiveness to the Spirit, and community with others to know how to live in the details of the good.
But the point here is that God has saved you…to be different and to live a different kind of life…that life, for all us…has been pre-determined…it is part of the package of becoming a Christian. An essential part in fact.
We are his workmanship (the word means a completed piece of art)…created in Christ Jesus (formed after his image) to do good works.
This means God wants us to live as Christ would live were he living my life here and now.
How would Christ live in this job, in the body, in this challenge, in this illness, in this prosperity?
What we know for sure…God has determined that if you are a Christian you should go live like Christ in your day to day life…this should be happening more and more over time.
You have been saved by grace through faith, not your own good works…in order to go and do good works that glorify God and bless others.
So, what we have in 2:8-10
You are NOT saved BY good works, you ARE saved to be HIS workmanship TO do good works.
His entire letter to the church at Ephesus works out this balance.
This balance, does in fact work in our lives.
We fully trust God’s grace for everything.
We fully launch out into life, trusting his power in us, and taking full responsibility to sacrificially do the good he has called us to do.
We can take no credit for what God has done for us and in us…and we take full responsibility to live a life for the glory of God and the good of others.
This is called a…win/win scenario.
We are accepted, no matter what we do…or don’t do.
But this reality doesn’t make us passive, slackers…we are not grown kids living in God’s basement…indulging his grace because we can.
Grace, God’s unearned favor for salvation…is also used to describe God’s “new power” in Christ to change…to obey.
Grace saves us and grace energizes us to active participation in the good he is doing in the world.
We are created as new creations…to participate in the creative, restorative work of God.
This of course means evangelism…sharing the good news, but it means anything we do for the glory of God and the good of others.
I listened to a long-time friend, talk last week…As I listened I understood that he is “seeing” his wife in ways I have not known to be true of him before.
-He wasn’t trying to impress and he wasn’t trying to earn anything…either from God or his wife.
-Clearly, he wanted to love her deeply…this was not who he was before, not like this…this is now who he is.
God is doing this.
You can’t earn God’s favor…but you can now participate in what God is doing…in all kinds of ways.
Because God is doing things in us…so he can do things through us.
With this framework, let’s walk through this chapter.
Verses 1-10 describe a new life in Christ.
Verses 11-22 describe a new community together in Christ
- As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,
We were made in God’s image to be alive as children in his family…enjoying his presence, rejoicing in his direction.
There was freedom and also the warning of the loss of freedom if we disobeyed.
This warning was not some silly testing as if God is playing games with our lives.
“I’ll randomly hang this fruit here just to see if they will mess things up”
The warning was… “If you go your own way, you will suffer the consequences of trying to live apart from me.”
And those consequences were and they are terrible.
They are not life at all…they are spiritual death.
So, you “were” past tense…dead in your 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.
Three things describe the old life:
- We followed the ways of the world. (world here means an entire social value system in opposition to God)
There is a documentary called “The crime of the century” about the terrible cost of the opioid crisis in America.
The lives lost and ruined were to a large degree the results of a culture of greed and selfishness…with no regard for what is good for human beings.
This is and has been common for human cultures…throughout time.
In his book, “From shame to sin: the Christian transformation of sexual morality in late antiquity” historian Kyle Harper describes…
…the terrible ways that slaves, prostitutes, and anyone other than roman citizens were treated as sexual objects…during the times of the NT.
There were, at the time of the NT, about seventy million people in the Roman empire…and about 7 million, 1 in 10 were slaves…and they were often treated…women, men, children…as sexual objects not persons.
Harper’s award-winning book demonstrates how the Christian faith transformed deeply embedded and deeply evil social norms
Yes, that transformation includes God using deeply flawed 1st century churches…like the one in Corinth, or Ephesus….to bring widespread good.
We are surprised when cultures show themselves to be evil…we should be sad, but not surprised.
We should be enormously grateful that in Christ we can escape the gravitational pull of cultural evil…in all its forms.
And we can be used God to bring transformation and beauty.
- In our former lives we followed the ruler of the kingdom of the air (A spiritual being)
He animates cultural and personal evil for his own purposes.
He is, an enormously evil creature.
He is followed without people knowing they are following him.
- We followed the cravings of our sinful nature.
A craving is a deformed desire…to follow our sinful nature is not freedom it is cruel slavery.
Paul counters all this with a mighty reversal of direction….it begins with “But God”
“Wow, that is horrible…depressing…”
Paul jumps to “Yeah, But God…”
There’s all that…then there is God and what he has done in Christ.
The ESV translates verse 4,5
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
He ends with a powerfully concise summary of salvation “by grace you have been saved.”
Two things stand out in this statement:
- Salvation is entirely of grace…an undeserved gift
- It is an accomplished act (the verb tense is perfect: a completed action with continuous and permanent results)
Verse 6…gives some of those results…they are both present and future tense:
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.
So, God has past tense with present tense impact…
“Raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms”
“So that in the age to come his grace would be put on eternal display”
What does that even mean?
We are seated with Christ in heavenly realms?
I know it’s not just flowery, spiritual mumbo jumbo…it is practical in its application…it was for Paul…we must ensure that it is for us.
Let’s jump ahead to where we will be on Sunday December 12…Colossians 3…To help us understand his idea…
3 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
So, this is that balance of present reality with future reality.
The already but not yet…reality of the kingdom of God in our lives.
Since this the gospel is real, your future is certain…what will happen then has already begun now…
So we are to actively put to death what belongs to our “earthly nature”
And then…actively put on, like clothes…what belongs to our new life in Christ.
“…as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.
So, part of what this means(seated in the heavenly realms)…at the very least is that we are to…
Live now in time, what is true for us in eternity…at salvation our destiny changed…now, start living out of that destiny.
Back to Ephesians 2…and where we started.
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
You have been saved by God’s grace…now go live out that salvation in your life.
So…remember where we began this morning?
“Does being a new creation in Christ actually impact my life now or does it just mean I go to heaven when I die?”
Of course, it impacts your life now…of course it is much more than “I don’t go to hell when I die”
It means I live now “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Human eternal destiny has become a cartoonish thing… which is terrible because we all have an eternal destiny and it is not a cartoon it is a reality.
For nominal Christians it is often…
“If I have to leave this earth…I guess it’s better to go to heaven (whatever that means, but it’s probably not as good as here).
“If I have to leave this earth, I guess don’t want to go to hell (whatever that means, it might be worse than here).
Christian destiny is to live “Your kingdom come, your will be done…as earth as it is in heaven.”…that kind of life now…a life that doesn’t end when we die.
A life where the good king is reigning in and around you…and bringing back the goodness of life lived with him in your inner self and in your relationships.
*You are saved by Grace not works…to a life of good works in Christ…and being a part of God’s eternal restoration plans right here and right now…to do good.
It starts with you as an individual…your relationship with God.
But it doesn’t end with you as an individual…God has planted you in his new people, the church.
You cannot maximize God’s good in you or through you…apart from being a connected part of his body…the local church.
I’m going to walk quickly through verses 11-22…you can read them this week in the daily devotions (if you don’t get them and want to you can see how to subscribe on our website)
In these verses he speaks to the non-Jewish believers there in Asia Minor and reminds them of the good news of how God has made them a part of his family.
Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.
“Yawn, okay…sounds good.”
“No hope, no God…brought near, barrier destroyed, wall of hostility also destroyed…got it.”
We don’t understand how desperate and dark things were in the world then (and in so many places now)
One first century expert wrote “The Greco/Roman world lived under a dark cloud that deepened into an unrelenting gloom by NT times.”
Life was brutal, full of trouble, uncertain, and the future was thought to be firmly fixed by a dark fate that left humans with no real choice…
This is the still the case for many in our time.
Many people felt that the best thing of all would be to not have been born at all.
Paul writes that they were without God…he doesn’t mean that refused to believe in him… but that they didn’t have real knowledge of the true God.
They had their gods…but these gods were fickle, merciless…worse than no god at all…they gave them no hope.
They had to face the trials and sorrows and perplexities of the world without the knowledge of God to make sense out of the whole.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility
In Jerusalem, between the temple proper (the place where God had dwelt) and the Court of the Gentiles (basically a bazaar, where Jesus turned over the tables)….was a stone wall.
The wall had an inscription in Greek and Latin saying that any non-Jew who went beyond the wall was subject to death.
I’ve seen signs on military installations in secure areas that read “Do not enter: deadly force is authorized.”
You are not supposed to be there…we can kill you in you come in here.
That was the sign on the wall that kept non-Jews from the presence of God.
These Gentiles were not authorized to enter into the presence of God.
But Jesus Christ has torn down this wall…opening the way for all to come into the family.
It is interesting that Paul was finally arrested and condemned by the Jews in Jerusalem on the basis of a false accusation that he took a guy named Trophimus, from Ephesus, beyond this barrier…into the temple proper. (Acts 21)
He didn’t do that…but they arrested him on that charge.
Don’t you know they all knew this story back in Ephesus and it made Paul’s statement here come alive.
“Hey I knew that guy they accused Paul of taking into the temple, Trophimus, I went to middle school with him.”
But the barrier between them and God was gone…by the blood of Christ it had been abolished.
As was the barrier between them and the Jews…Jesus is their peace…two peoples are now one in him…all people become one in Christ in the church.
I’ll read the next few verses and then summarize…
15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
The gospel had changed age old hostility between the races into fellowship.
Jesus is the peace that brings a new humanity together into one body, the church…its happening all over the world.
Hostility between the races makes the news…if it bleeds it leads.
Peace between the races isn’t making the news…but it is happening.
*What is the wind that blows in your life?
Is it the wind of Discouragement, doubt, feelings of God’s perpetual displeasure regarding your ongoing failure or lack of progress?
-You look at yourself and see your failures…you feel like a fraud…but yet you are not playing at this, you really wish you would change.
-You hate your sin, your failure.
-Then lean into “for by grace you have been saved by faith, this is not of yourself…it is God’s gift.”
-Breath in the grace of acceptance.
-You don’t have to earn…his grace covers your ongoing failures.
Is it the wind of complacency, laziness, spiritual apathy?
-You grow when the heat is on, when its off…you slide
-You enjoy God’s acceptance, but you tend to presume on it as well…your life has no sense of urgency to it…especially when the pressure is off.
-Then lean into “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.”
His grace that saves is also his graces that empower for change…for active participation in what he is doing in the lives of others.
Let me read the last 4 verses and make give one more thought for application:
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
I have listened to and have too often participated…in the pandemic of criticism the past two years
Criticism of what? Virtually, everyone and everything.
But there are two kinds of critics…they are so different I hesitate to use the same word to describe what they do.
There is the builder of beautiful things who critics his work in order to increase the beauty of that work.
An artist, a musician, a home builder…they critic their work to perfect its beauty.
*There is a tile over there by the fake fireplace…I would have left it…close enough for me.
*Our builder, wouldn’t have it…he critics his own work…he wants to build more beauty.
That is one kind of critic…the one building beauty.
Then there is the critic who doesn’t build, he just critics.
They critique because they can, or feel they must…but nothing beautiful or enduring comes from it.
Paul critiqued the church…because he was building something beautiful…of course Christ was building it…but Paul was being used by him to do good works.
Paul was often dismayed by the church…and he was not afraid to criticisize it.
But he did so like someone building something beauty.
He keep in his mindseye…the future beauty of the church as he looked at its current reality.
Look at verse 22
22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
I said that we, as individuals are a work in progress…and this collection of individuals together, our local church is likewise a work in progress.
We are “being” built together into a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Build beauty…in families, in your workplace, in your gym, in your neigborhoods…in your church…in your own head, heart, life.
“By Grace you have been saved AND We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works”
Salvation is a gift from God.
Salvation is transformation in us by God.
Salvation is participation by us with God.