I have known Jake Suderman since I was young. What I remember most about him is that he was an administrator at Lion's Manor. That was his vocation. More recently, I have discovered that he also had several avocations - tennis and wood working. Perhaps this isn't a good illustration because now that he isn't an administrator at Lion's Manor any more perhaps his avocation has become his vocation.
All of us have a vocation, the thing that is our main job, our main pursuit. We also have avocations. My vocation is being pastor, but I also enjoy going cross country skiing as often as I can.
Using this way of looking at things where would you place your faith in Christ? Is Christianity your vocation or your avocation? If it is the main thing in your life, where does the motivation come from? Does it come from duty or passion?
Once or twice I have met people who were dead, but were brought back to life. Perhaps they had a heart attack and flat lined, but were brought back or perhaps they had been in a severe accident and recovered from the accident. Often after an experience like that people have a new lease on life and it is not surprising that they make new decisions about what is important and what is not important.
The truth is that every one of us has experienced death and has been brought back to life. Has that experience caused us to make following Christ our passionately held vocation, the main thing in our life, because we love God so much? These are the questions which we must answer as we read about this renewal after death that has happened to every person who is a Christian. It is described in Ephesians 2:1-10.
The online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, defines "Zombie" as a term used to denote an animated corpse brought back to life by mystical means, such as witchcraft. The language comes from Haitian religious practices. In modern times, the term "zombie" has been applied to an undead race in horror fiction, largely drawn from George A. Romero's 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. The idea of someone who is living dead is a horrible thought and rightly assigned to horror fiction, but when I read the opening verses of Ephesians 2, I thought it was an apt description of what we once were.
In the first verse of this chapter our beginning position as people is that we were dead. Wood says, "The most vital part of man’s personality—the spirit—is dead to the most important factor in life—God." The verb used here describes not something that we chose or became, but something we were.
The cause of our being dead was our trespasses and sins. The word trespasses refers to the fact that we have fallen off the path, we have made a fatal mistake. The cause of our slip was sin, which at its root is hostility to God.
But what is really interesting is that although we were dead the text says that we were still walking about. Notice the interesting juxtaposition of the words "dead" and "in which you once lived." Because of sin, we were dead. But at the same time we were walking about, acting out in rebellion and disobedience. As we read that we realize that "zombie" or "living dead" are apt descriptions of who we were. Neufeld says, "Life apart from God is a living death….These dead are highly animated—they walk, trespass, and disobey."
The word "following," in verse 2, suggests a worldview, a lifestyle for those who are dead. Three phrases describe that lifestyle. It is according to the course of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air and according to the spirit now at work among those who are disobedient. These descriptions help us understand how those who are spiritually dead live, which is how we used to live.
They follow the course of this world or as Neufeld describes it, “the spirit of the age.” How would we describe this worldview? One of the primary aspects of it is that it is a self centered worldview. People live by what is best for them. For example, everyone wants the benefits which comes to them from the government but no one wants to pay their taxes. Everyone wants to buy things for the cheapest price possible, but everyone wants to sell their product at the highest price possible. So a pop, which probably costs a few pennies to make sells for fifty cents at Superstore because there is abundance of competition and sells for $4 at the MTS center because there is a monopoly. You say, well that is how a market based economy works, but we must realize that the reason it works is because it seeks to find balance on self centeredness.
There are many other values of this worldview such as those listed by Paul in 2 Timothy 3:2, "For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…"
Where do these values of the living dead come from? Paul goes on to say that the living dead are animated by "the ruler of the power of the air." There is an evil spirit at work, a power at work among those who are the living dead. I have often wondered how people can be so wicked. How can you murder your wife and your daughters as was reported in the court case in Ontario recently? How can you stay in power by oppression and violence as we have seen in Syria? How can you sell drugs which addict and could kill those you sell them to? Evil is provoked by an extremely evil power. Neufeld quotes Wink who says, "The very air humanity breathes is an atmosphere contaminated by the lord of evil and his lackeys (cf. Wink, 1984:84)."
Yet the next phrase shows that those who are the living dead are not so only because they have no choice. There is an evil spirit at work, yet it is at work among those who choose disobedience.
This is what it means to be the living dead. This is what all of us were.
Several of you have shared your testimony with us and we are looking forward to hearing many more. My testimony is very similar to others who grew up in the church. This is what often we hear, "I don't have a very exciting testimony. I grew up in a Christian home and when I was a teenager I made a commitment for Christ and have been living for Him ever since." Sometimes with such a testimony we may not believe that we ever were the living dead. We don't really believe that we were under the power of the course of this world.
It is interesting, if that is our thinking, to realize how Paul structures this passage. When he begins he says, "you were dead." Who is he talking about? He may be talking about the Gentiles, who came from a wicked pagan background. He may also be talking about those who have recently become believers. It almost sounds like an accusatory "you" in which he could be saying, "you people who come from a pagan background were dead, but we Jews did not experience that." But as we read on, we discover in verse 3 that he is not making such a distinction. Whether he is talking about Jews or long term Christians, when he says "we," he makes it very clear that "all of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh."
Paul was able to boast about all the things which made him a righteous person. He was a Jew with a stellar pedigree, but he still calls himself the worst of sinners in I Timothy 1:16. He understood that in spite of the appearance of righteousness, he also had been among the living dead.
I think it is important for all of us to understand that we were among the living dead no matter what our testimony is. We need to understand that, as Paul says, all of us were at one time living in the passions of our flesh, which does not only mean in sexual sin, but also in selfishness and greed and many other things. We need to understand that all of us followed the desires of the flesh and senses and that it was, and perhaps still is, natural for us to do exactly as we please. We need to think about our life and discover what it was that made us dead because unless we understand that we were dead, we will never fully appreciate what comes next in this passage.
As the living dead, we were by nature, children of wrath. Neufeld says, "Wrath must be understood not as a divine fit of anger, however, but as God’s meticulous attention to and response to rebellion, oppression, and the defilement of creation." Every person who has not been made alive is spiritually dead and being dead means being under the judgment of God. The finger of God which pointed the way out of the garden of Eden was intended for us as well and we remain under the sentence of that judgment to this very day. Every person who is among the living dead is under God's righteous and justified wrath and so is eternally dead.
If we should hear, "They were in an accident, but no one was hurt," we would say, "That is good news!" If we should hear, "The tumor is malignant, but if we do surgery soon it is easily treatable," we would say "That is good news!" We like to hear that positive tone after the word "but." There is no more positive, more significant use of the word "but" than that in verse 4. "But God" is the best news we can ever imagine. Neufeld says about these words that they are "…arguably the two most important words in all of Ephesians. God has acted!
What is every bit as wonderful is the reason why God has acted. Three reasons are given in this passage.
God has acted because He is rich in mercy. Mercy is an emotion. It sees the suffering of others and wants to act. I have often noticed that when someone gets hurt, some people are quick to get up and do what they can to help. Others watch and assess the situation and enter in if they are needed. Those who are quick to help are people who have mercy. God not only has mercy, but is "rich" in mercy.
His mercy comes from an even deeper characteristic and that is "the great love with which he loved us." The love which God has for us is not an emotion which is aroused because of something attractive. Don't forget, we were the living dead. The love of God is the decision arising out of His very character which chooses to do that which is best for us.
His love has acted on us because of our great need. NRSV translates this passage, "…even when we were dead…" This suggests that God's love came to us even though we did not deserve it, much like Romans 5:8. I think the Greek, however, gives this a slightly different perspective. I would translate it "but God; being rich in mercy on account of the His great love with which he loved us, and we being dead in our transgressions; made us alive." I believe our being dead is the reason why God acted in love and mercy. He saw us in desperate straits. We were dead and his love and compassion sprung into action in order to help us out of that situation.
What did God do? He took us when we were dead and He made us alive. A number of years ago I got involved with the Billy Graham TV Telephone ministry. As a broadcast was shown on television, we would wait on the phones for calls to come into the center. The volume of calls increased about the time that the invitation was made. Many calls were for literature or for prayer, but often we would be helping a person through to a decision for Christ. When the call was over we would complete filling out the forms so they could follow up on the person. The forms were picked up and whenever a person had made a decision for Christ, they would ring a bell. After our time on the phones was completed, we would gather for prayer and give thanks for the lives which had been changed. The person in charge would often use the phrase, "a dead person has come to life tonight" when talking about those who had made decisions. I like that phrase for it describes accurately what happened. Whenever a person becomes a Christian a resurrection happens. A person who was dead is made alive by God. That is what has happened to everyone of us if we have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Marcus Barth writes, "…the dead have neither right nor hope, and yet God's riches are such that he calls the dead to life."
One of the pleasures of time at the beach is making sand castles. I always like to make them with a moat. Then we fill the moat with water and put a little boat in the moat. Of course the fun isn't over at that point because the really fun thing is to make one little break in the moat and watch the water rush out towards the lake taking the boat, the walls and anything else in its path with it. The power of the water carries everything in its path with it.
We could think in a similar way about what God has done. What He has done He has done in Christ. The phrase "in Christ" which we have noted repeatedly in chapter one makes its appearance again in verses 5, 6, 7 and 10. As we accept what God has done in Christ, we are swept along with Christ into a complete victory.
There are interesting Greek words used to describe how God made us live. He made us alive with Christ. The word "alive with" is one word. The same word pattern is used with the word "raised up with" which means that we have been raised up with Christ and also "seated us with him" which means that we also are seated with Christ on His heavenly throne. The action of Jesus to give us life sweeps us along with Him in making us alive, raising us from the dead and seating us with Him in heaven.
Neufeld enthuses, "To claim believers have been raised and seated with Christ in the heavenlies conveys to readers that they are pitted against that realm of death and its ruler from a position of superiority—in and with Christ, to be sure."
How are we swept along with Christ in this great victory over death? Ephesians 2:8-10 are well known verses among believers reminding us that we are saved by grace. Although we know from many other verses in Scripture that we need to respond to God's gift by trusting Him, this may not be one of those verses. Twice in this passage it says, "by grace you have been saved" and in verse 8 it is very clear that "it is not your own doing." The emphasis is clearly on God's work. The phrase "through faith" may not even refer to our faith, but to Christ's faithfulness. The Greek word translated "faith" is often translated "faithfulness." Because of the context I believe that this is a good translation because it reinforces that we are saved by God's grace because Christ was faithful to Him.
There is a very good reason why we need to emphasize God's work in making us alive. It reminds us of the power of the fact that we were dead and that the only way in which we can escape that is through a God made resurrection. We must be made alive by God. It was absolutely impossible for us to make ourselves alive.
Since that is true, we also understand that we have no ground for boasting about anything. Here is where we who have grown up in the church need to take particular note. Sometimes we do boast. When we observe the brokenness of an addiction, we boast, perhaps inwardly and silently, that we have never made that mistake. When we see the devastation of lives shattered by broken relationships, we inwardly congratulate ourselves that we have been smarter than that. But can we really do that? When we understand that we were dead and that we have no hope of being alive apart from what God has done, then we have no ground to boast like that. The common thread of every person in this church is that we were dead and we are alive only and solely by the grace of God. We praise you Jesus!
Yet the power of this grace is not without consequences in us.
Verse 7 tells us that all of this happened "so that," which suggests a purpose for His work of grace. Different translations put a little different spin on this verse, but both yield a wonderful result. The differences arise because of a difference in the meaning of the word "to show" which can also be translated as "demonstrate."
In TEV we read, "He did this to demonstrate for all time to come the extraordinary greatness of his grace in the love he showed us in Christ Jesus." What this suggests is that because of the amazing wonder of what God has done for us in Christ, all of future history will be an opportunity to retell the story and relive and celebrate the "extraordinary greatness" of God's grace.
The Message translates it differently when we read, "Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus." The emphasis here is that since God has already saved us by grace, He will continue to shower grace upon us for the rest of eternity.
I like both because it tells us that now that we are alive, God will continue to bless us and we will, for all eternity, have reason to give glory to God.
Since we have been made alive, these are the consequences and they are wonderful.
The other consequence is that we now live in a new way. God who made us alive, has a plan for our life. God has re-created us to do good works. Since we are no longer the walking dead, but those who are living, we live in a new way.
This new way of life is "to be our way of life." Just as there was a worldview, a lifestyle attached to being dead, so there is also a lifestyle attached to being alive. It is quite different and as we continue our study of Ephesians, we will begin to see some of the ways in which the lifestyle of good works is to be lived.
Of course we share in responsibility to choose to walk in that way of life and we will emphasize that as we continue to look at this book, but the passage before us is not about our responsibility, it is about what God has done. Even in regards to the good works which must characterize a person changed by Jesus, God has prepared these good works for us to do.
This passage is about what God has done. Through the obedience of Jesus, God has taken a corpse and given it life. We are that corpse and God has raised us to do good works. How do we respond to such grace, such kindness? I suggested at the beginning that Christianity must be our vocation - the reason we live and the reason behind all we do.
May the reminder that we were dead and are now alive draw us to a deeper love for God and inspire us to give our lives to Him completely. May the reminder of the grace of God cause us to ask how we can respond to God's goodness.