But God . . . (2)
Two older fellows were at the wake of a friend. One of them said to the other, “Jim looks good, doesn’t he?” The other said, “Well, he should. He just got out of the hospital.”
Listen, I have a news flash you for you. Dead people don’t look good! They may look more or less like the person they were depending on how much trauma they have been through or the skills of the mortician, but they do not look good. That is because the animating spirit that gave vitality to that person is gone and it is life that makes a person look good, not some clever arrangement of the facial features! Death, folks, is ugly, intentionally so.
Suppose you walk into room that contains two beds. A man is lying in each bed. You touch the hand of the first and his eyes open; he looks at you; he responds. You touch the hand of the other and there is no reaction whatsoever. You ask the first to sit up and he immediately does so. You speak to the second, asking him to sit up and there is no response whatsoever. You hold up an eye chart to the first and he tells you it is “E” at the top. You forcefully hold open the eyes of the second and hold up the eye chart. There is no response. Why is there such a difference in reaction to the same stimulus? Why, of course – one man is alive, and the other is dead?
Now, there are two things we need to get about this. First, the man who is dead is absolutely incapable of responding to any physical stimulus. But second, and this point is often missed, the one who is alive cannot help responding. He cannot not respond. If you do not believe these two propositions, just take a simple sewing needle. Now, plunge it into the arm of the dead man. What happens? Nothing! Of course, nothing happens. But now stick the man who is alive. What happens? Dude – a reaction! You may even find yourself picking yourself up off the floor, but you are surely going to get a reaction. He cannot not respond. Got it? So – when Paul, like Jesus before him, likens the unregenerate person – someone who has never accepted Christ as his or her Savior and Lord – when they call such a person dead, they mean two things. First, he or she cannot, simply cannot respond to spiritual things – don’t get it, can’t understand it, would never put God above self because there is not spiritual sensitivity. But second, if that person truly becomes a child of God, everything changes and from that moment on they cannot not respond to spiritual things. Doesn’t mean they get perfect or even close to, but change they will, must and shall.
Now – hold that thought. We are at verses 5-6 of Ephesians 2, but first the context. In chapter one Paul rhapsodizes over the fact that those who are “in Christ” have been chosen by God before the foundation of the world; they have been adopted, redeemed, forgiven, sealed and sanctified. Wow – Unbelievable privileges and all for me, right? Well, yes, but no. We get the benefits and the privileges individually all right, but God’s purpose in all of this goes way beyond just me. His primary goal in all this is in 1:10, “as a plan for the fullness of time (that is yet future for ultimate fulfillment), to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” In other words, in simplest terms God has a purpose to remove alienation, abolish sin and Satan and all who follow him and restore paradise. That’s the plan – and amazingly, against all common sense and in contravention of any conceivable worldly process or wisdom, God is using us, his church, true believers to bring this about.
Chapter 2 – we see that the process has already started, is already being modeled and worked out. This is being done in two ways – first by the removal of the alienation between man and God – verses 1-10; then second, based on the first, the removal of alienation between people. First a vertical solution – then a horizontal one.
So, we’ve been looking at verses 1-10. How does God affect that vertical relationship? Answer? By grace through faith in Christ alone. Solus Christus (only Christ), Sola Gratia (only grace) and sola fide (only faith) in the words of the Reformers. Amazing Grace in our title for these verses. We’ve also see that these verses divide into three parts – Dead men walking, verses 1-3, explaining why grace is needed in the first place. It is because all people are dead in sin, disobedient to God and ultimately incapable of helping themselves. Doesn’t mean that they are all bad, or that some aren’t better than others or that they never do any good, but it does mean that man outside of Christ is spiritually dead, living lives of selfishness, sinful to the core and unresponsive to God.
But then come verses 4-9, “But God”. Beautiful, wonderful, redemptive verses offering a lifeline to man outside of God. In these verses we are introduced to God’s passion; His power, His process and His purpose in saving mankind. Last week – His passion, consisting of His unmatched love and mercy – qualities He absolutely overflows with and most clearly demonstrated at the cross where He finally took the penalty of our sin upon Himself in the person of His son, Jesus Christ. This work on the cross distinguishes the God of the Bible from any other. He is the only one who has every given His own life for those of His creation. Where every other God demands; He gives. He wants to redeem us, and through Christ’s death and resurrection, He not only wants to but He can. So look with me at the mighty power of God that enables Him to take a completely spiritually dead person and raise him to a new life in Christ.
I. His Power
We have had no finite verbs in Ephesians 2 up to this point. Now, in verses 5-6 we have three of them. Everything else has been preliminary to this. God has seen our plight. He has had great mercy and love which caused Him to send His own son to die in our place and as a result, and only as a result of that sacrifice, He is able to make us alive, raise us up and seat us with Christ in the heavenlies. That, folks, is power. 5) even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6) and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
We have seen this power before in chapter 1 in the life of Christ. No one could deny the power of God displayed in Christ, both His ministry and His resurrection. It was visible, it was verifiable and it was attested by hundreds of witnesses. Now, he says, whether you realize it or not, what He did for Christ physically, He has done for you spiritually – and get ready, because that same power will be applied to you physically one day too. It’s a package deal and oh, what a deal.
Paul uses three wonderful words here. He coined them – to make a point. He took three well-known words and then he added the Greek prefix συν to each which means “with” and so Paul is saying God “made us alive with Christ, then he “raised us up with Christ”, and He “seated us with Christ”. So everything that happened to Christ has also happened to us if we are believers. This is God’s power at work in the life of every believer, so let’s look at what these three things mean.
A. Resuscitated With Him (A New Disposition – from self-centered to Christ-centered)
Paul’s first comment is that he has made us alive together with Christ. What absolute joy attaches to that statement! It is in direct and immediate contrast to our condition as dead in trespasses and sins as described in verse 1. Make no mistake. God is in the life-giving business. Jesus says in John 5:21 21) For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. Imagine what it would be like to be sitting by a loved one who has just passed away – unresponsive, unmoving, unfeeling – and there is nothing that you can do. But imagine the joy of somehow seeing that one suddenly begin to move and then to sit up, brought to life, fully responsive and engaged and joyful. Wouldn’t that be something? And that is just what Christ has done for us spiritually. If you are in Christ, you are as much a miracle as if you had been raised from the dead, for, in truth, you have been.
Paul says in II Cor 1:9: 9) Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. Isn’t that amazing? Even our sentence of death was intended to make us stop relying on ourselves and commit to Christ so that we could share in this life. That’s why it is so important to understand that outside Christ we are truly lost. Only then do we begin to truly desire salvation.
So depraved and dehumanized by drink was Melvin Trotter that he sneaked into the room where his baby lay in a little white casket, and removed the little white shoes from its feet. He went to a saloon, plopped the little shoes down on the counter and said, “Give me a drink! I’m dying for a drink!” The saloon keeper said, “Here’s a drink, but you go and put those shoes back on the feet of your dead baby!” Sometime thereafter Melvin Trotter came to know Jesus Christ. When he did, here’s what he said, “I loathed the life I was living. I tried my level best, but it wasn’t in me. There was not anything that I knew about that I had not gone through. I had taken cure after cure. I had taken everything known to science, and had made resolution after resolution. But just one glimpse of Jesus Christ, and I have never wanted a drink from that instant to this!” Folks, he had been made alive together with Christ, and it made a difference. It always makes a difference. Is there a difference in your life? Can you truly say that you are alive to Christ, that you love His Word, His people, His Person, His grace in your life. Are you alive to all that? If it is only dullness, deadness, lack of desire and maybe even antagonism, I must tell you, you have not been made alive together with Christ because just as physical life produces a response to the stimulus of this world, so spiritual life brings a response to the spiritual world of Christ.
If you’ve been raised with Christ, you are a new creature. You will absolutely see a difference if you’ve really come to Him. Paul says in II Cor. 5:17: 17) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. Here’s what D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says of that new creature: “He is not given a new brain; he is not given a new intelligence, or anything else. He has always had these; they are his servants, his instruments, his ‘members,’ as Paul calls them in the sixth chapter of Romans; what is new is a new bent, a new disposition, a new heart. He has turned in a different direction; there is a new power working in him and guiding his faculties.”
Beloved, Christianity is not mere doctrine or a sense of having been forgiven or even believing that God will forgive you. Christianity is Christ; it is Christ instead of me. It is Christ alive in his people, Christ in us. No one who has been made alive with Christ can ever be the same afterward. No one who has been united to Christ can ever again die to God or take up with old sins as before.
If we’ve been raised with Christ, we are suddenly alive to the things of God. His Word begins to make sense. We suddenly want to be around God’s people. There is a response that simply wasn’t there before. We get it. And if that hasn’t happened for you, there is only one explanation. You are still dead in your sins. Just as you cannot respond at all spiritually when you are spiritually dead, so you cannot not respond to Him if you are alive in Him. Impossible. And to be made alive with Him you have to give Him your heart.
B. Raised with Him (A New Priority – from temporal to eternal)
Now, let us look at verses 5-6 again: 5) even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6) and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” He has raised us up with him. We are raised with Christ. Please get this now. Just as real as His resurrection from that tomb, so real is your resurrection, and mine, from the enslavement to sin that was our life. We may still sin, but we don’t have to anymore. We’re raised with Christ. This language sounds very like Paul in Romans 6:4 where speaking of baptism he says that what is symbolized is that we have died to sin and been raised up so that “we too might walk in newness of life.” Do you see it – we weren’t raised up to go right on living just like before. Not at all the plan. We were raised so that we too might walk in newness of life. Things change when we accept Christ.
Paul uses our exact word in Colossians 3:1, and it is even more instructive for our purposes. Now, get this. Listen closely. There we read: If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Here we have specific application attached to the fact that we have been raised up with Christ – and the instruction is, seek the things above. In essence, this is very clear guidance for living the resurrected Christian life. Set your minds on things above, on heavenly issues and concerns. Those truly raised with Christ will see a change in priorities from a desire for things temporal to a desire for things eternal.
Listen – we are in this world, and we have to be concerned about things here, right? You cannot, as the Millerites did about 170 years ago, sell everything and go wait on a hilltop for the return of Christ. He’s coming back all right, but unless your timing is spot on, you are going to starve! You have to work. We have to get cars fixed and lawns mowed and children reared and insurance claims filed and bills paid and maybe even take in the occasional basketball game, right? We’re in this world and we can’t ignore it. Neither did Paul or the Ephesians or the Colossians.
But the guidance is, make your priority something else. Don’t let the good get in the way of the ultimate. All of the things I just mentioned and thousands more, whether good or bad, are just parts of the cemetery in which we find ourselves. None of them will last. 50 years from now, none of it will matter, let alone 1,000 years from now. So the instruction is, don’t spend all your time and energy and resources on those things. Seek things above – seek as your priority in life things that have eternal value. Seek your own spiritual growth. Seek your children and your grandchildren’s spiritual enlightenment. Seek things that will matter in 50 years, and in 100 years and in 1000 years. That’s his point. You now have a capacity for that.
Jesus said it this way in Matthew 6:30-33: 30) But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31) Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32) For the Gentiles [here representing the living dead, those living in Zombieland – those with no spiritual sensitivity or life who seek only this transient world’s good and pleasure because it is all they can respond to] The Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33) But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Make God your Lord and Master and Priority.
You see, in the midst of all that we are doing to stay alive in this world, there is to be a priority given to learning, living and teaching principles of the kingdom of God. We must not get overwhelmed and committed to transient things. It will kill us.
I shared with our Young Married’s group a few weeks ago the story of Dale Webster. Dale Webster is a pretty average guy in some ways, but pretty extraordinary in one. As of May, 2008, every single day for the past 32 years, 59-year-old Dale Webster has launched himself on his surf board into the 50 degree water of blustery Bodega Bay in northern California and gone surfing. He’s caught waves during howling storms, while wracked by kidney stones and once, within snapping distance of a Volvo-sized great white shark (“never paddled so fast in my life,” he says). He’s gone through 35 wet suits and as many surfboards. He delayed marrying his girlfriend, Kaye, for ten years because Guinness World Records doesn’t recognize feats witnessed solely by relatives. It started when he was surfing one day in 1976, leap year, and it just occurred to him: Why not keep going daily until Feb 29 of another leap year – say 2004? It became his obsession. Never a vacation inland – totally dedicated. When he actually made that 28 year mark, Guinness assigned the record to him, all the media were there, parties abounded, and he thought it was over. Then – the next morning – absolutely alone this time with no reporters, not cameras, no friends, just a steady rain, he went surfing. And before he knew it, he kept right on going. 32 years and counting now. He says, “It started out as a string, then a streak, then a quest. Now it’s almost like it’s become a toll – how much it’s taken of my life.” Yet – he keeps on going. He says, “For me it comes down to this. [You’ll love this]. We have this short time on earth – what are we going to do with it?” What indeed? Go surfing every day?! Really?!
I hope that you choose differently. Now, that is an extreme example, but don’t you see that we could all find ourselves in the position of having been miraculously raised together with Christ himself – and for what? What are you doing with your life? Are you just muddling through? Listen, I want you to get this. We may think we’re not doing something so foolish as surfing our life away, but I tell you to do nothing but just “go along” – to give all our time, attention and priority to temporal things that are over when our physical life is, is just as foolish. In the midst of the necessities, pleasure and joys of this life, a priority needs to attach to seeking things above, spending time with Christ, working for His kingdom in whatever capacity He gives us. We are just flat out missing it if we are not setting priorities according to His guidance. We have been given a life; surely we don’t want to stand before Him one day and report, “I wasted it.”
C. Reclining With Him (A New Intimacy)
Now we see in verse 6 the third thing that God has done for us – in Christ Jesus. Notice that all of these things are in Christ Jesus. This speaks, as we’ve noted before, of the fact that it is His death and resurrection that makes this all possible. So, number 3: 6) and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. So – just as God the Father raised Jesus, took Him back to heaven and seated Him at His right hand physically, so He has seated us spiritually now and physically later with Christ in heavenly places as well. This is very special, folks.
Now there is no question that this is the seat described in Psalm 110:1 where we read, “1) The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” This is a verse often quoted in the New Testament. To be spiritually seated with Christ in the heavenlies is to have security, privilege, resources, rejoicing and accomplishment. But that is not the primary meaning. We see the primary meaning of “seating” with Christ in John’s gospel. Follow me closely.
Turn with me to John 13. This is the beautiful account of the Last Supper included by the apostle John in his Gospel? Do you remember how he describes himself as reclining next to Jesus? As John describes it, Jesus had announced that one of the Twelve would betray him, and Peter, disturbed at this revelation, motioned to John to ask Jesus which of the disciples he was speaking about. John then wrote of himself, 25) So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” 26) Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. John was seated (reclined, really, as they did in those days) by Jesus and was therefore the one who received the revelation. Now read Ephesians. “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 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” (vv. 6–7). That place, in Christ at the right hand of God the Father, is the place of intimacy and revelation. It is where God opens up his heart. And notice: It is where we are now. We are seated with God in Christ in the heavenly realms now. Now God is speaking to us intimately. This is the great privilege Paul had chiefly in mind as he composed this portion of Ephesians.
Now, we only get this by spending time with Him – in His Word and in prayer. We must learn to be with Him. It is vital. It is the nerve center for a Christian existence. On writer has said, “We must never allow the authority of books, institutions, or leaders to replace the authority of knowing Jesus Christ personally and directly. When the religious views of others interpose between us and the primary experience of Jesus as the Christ, we become unconvicted and unpersuasive travel agents handing out brochures to places we have never visited.”
Beloved, it’s just like Mary in the first sermon I was ever privileged to share with you from Luke 10. Remember how Mary chose the good part, sitting at the feet of Jesus. It’s our privilege to know him in just the same way. When we don’t take advantage, the only person who loses out is us – us, and, of course, any other family members, friends, acquaintances, people to whom we might share the gospel if we were right with him – our whole world now that I think about it, misses out when we miss out. Beloved, don’t miss out. You’re seated with Him in heavenly places. Act like it. Talk to Him. Listen to Him. Be intimate with Him.
Let me close with this. A pastor once asked his flock, “What would you like people to say when you are in your casket?” A thought-provoking question, right? One person answered, “I’d like them to say that I was a fine family man.” “Well,” said the pastor, “that’s a fine ambition. Anyone else?” A second person responded, “I’d like them to say that I went out of my way to help others.” “Another fine ambition,” said the pastor. “Anyone else – what would you like people to say when you are in your casket? How about you, Mr. Jones.” Mr. Jones thought for a moment and then he said, “Well, I’d like them to say, ‘Look! I think he’s moving.’”
We all want to live. Are you living? See, if we are dead, we cannot respond to God. But if we are alive, we cannot not respond to God. So, is our disposition moving from self-centered to Christ-centered? Are our priorities moving from temporal to eternal? And do we seek intimacy with Him. If we are true believers, we will be – not perfect, but surely progressing.
Two or three years before the death of John Newton, slave trader turned Christian and writer of Amazing Grace -- when his sight was so dim that he was no longer able to read, a friend and brother in the ministry called to have breakfast with him. Their custom was to read the Word of God following mealtime, after which Newton would make a few short remarks on the Biblical passage, and then appropriate prayer would be offered. That day, however, there was silence after the words of Scripture “by the grace of God I am what I am” were read.
Finally, after several minutes, Newton spoke, “I am not what I ought to be! How imperfect and deficient I am! I am not what I wish to be, although I abhor that which is evil and would cleave to what is good! I am not what I hope to be, but soon I shall be out of mortality, and with it all sin and imperfection. Though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor yet what I hope to be, I can truly say I am not what I once was: a slave to sin and Satan. I can heartily join with the apostle and acknowledge that by the grace of God I am what I am!” Then, after a pause, he said. “Now let us pray!”