But God . . . (3)
We’re looking at verses 1-10 of Ephesians 2 under the title “Amazing Grace”. It divides into three parts. Verses 1-3 – “Dead Men Walking”. It speaks of our sin and the absolute impossibility of our helping ourselves. Verses 4-9 – “But God . . .” We will see in this section what God has done given that we could not help ourselves. Then verse 10 – “New Men Walking” -- life after salvation. Another way to look at these verses is man without God, but God and man with God. Or you could title them, our sin, our Savior and our service. It is clearly one of the great passages in all of Scripture and I hope that you are beginning to get the drift.
In verses 4-9 so far we have seen God passion – the mercy and love that drove Him to provide a solution for the unsolvable sin problem that man found himself in. Then we have seen his power – by which he has raised us up together in heavenly places and provided a new intimacy with Him. Today, we look at His process and His purpose.
III. His Process
Now we come to 2 of the greatest verses in all the Bible. This is the pinnacle. These verses are elegant in their simplicity and they offer hope in a world dead to God. We’ve arrived at amazing grace. We’ve already seen from Christ’s perspective our need for reconciliation and the fact that there was nothing we could do on our own to achieve it. But God has been moved by his passion, His love and mercy, to provide a solution. By His power, He has made believers alive, literally establishing us spiritually as residents of heaven where we will one day dwell spiritually.
Now verses 8-9 will explain His process for accomplishing this reconciliation between God and man. I have called this section “His Process” for two reasons. First it is His process because being God, He sets the rules. It is very common today, very common to hear – “Oh, there are many ways to God. He is not exclusive. What makes Christians think they have a market on God?” To that we can only humbly reply, while that may make sense from a human perspective, we don’t make the rules. God does. It is His process, not ours and it is decidedly narrow even by the words of Jesus Himself in His parable about the broad way that leads to destruction and the narrow way that leads to life.
Second, it is “His Process” in the sense that He is fully and completely invested in it and He does it all. It’s his process because it cost Him the life of His son. It’s His process because in our rebellion we would never come to Him apart from His call. It is His from start to finish. So how does God bring us from spiritual death to life? How does he reverse the curse of the Garden of Eden? How does He save us? Three simple but profound points: He does it by grace, through faith and apart from works. Here is the basis for the watchword of Reformation theology: sola gratia, sola fide, soli Deo Gloria (by grace alone, through faith alone, to God alone be glory). Let’s look.
A. By Grace
Look at verse 8: 8) For by grace you have been saved through faith. Note the words “you have been saved”. They are very interesting. The verb used here is in the perfect tense which in Greek indicates a past action with continuing results in the present. A good literal translation would be, “you are constantly in the state of having been saved.” It emphasizes nothing can take that away from you once it is achieved. It is yours forever.
Now, we might ask, saved from what? And the answer from this context, of course, is saved from the state of death brought on by sin. That is what we have been saved from. That is what he has just explained when he talked about being made alive with Christ and raised with Christ and seated with Christ. That is being saved.
And what is the objective means by which that happens? It is by grace. Love put into action – grace. Here is that wonderful word that we have seen before. Grace. What does it mean to be saved by grace? Listen closely now. You have heard this many times, but hear it again. Being saved by grace means that our salvation is based on God’s completely unmerited, unearned, undeserved, unfathomable favor. Being saved by grace is the opposite of being saved by merit. It is the opposite of being saved by inherent goodness which we might suppose we have or by strenuous effort.
The great nineteenth-century Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote, “Because God is gracious, therefore sinful men are forgiven, converted, purified and saved. It is not because of anything in them, or that ever can be in them, that they are saved; but because of the boundless love, goodness, pity, compassion, mercy and grace of God.” We’ve reached amazing grace!
C. S. Lewis once joined a group of academics just in time to hear the question posed, “What separates Christianity from other religions?” “Oh, that’s easy,” answered Lewis. “It’s grace.” And when he said that, the room fell silent. Lewis continued on saying that Christianity makes the unique claim that God’s love comes free of charge with no strings attached. Lewis cited that NO other religion on earth makes this claim.
After a moment of shocked silence, one of the scholars in the room commented that Lewis had a point. He stated that the Buddhists, for example, follow an eight-fold path to enlightenment, theirs is NOT a free ride. He also informed the crowd that had gathered that Hindus believe in karma. Which means that your actions continually affect the way the world will treat you, and thus how God sees you; that there is nothing that comes to you not set in motion by your actions. Another scholar spoke up and observed that the Jewish code of the law implies God has requirements for people to be acceptable to Him and that in Islam God is a God of Judgment… that He is NOT a God of love. In Islam you live your life to appease His judgment! At the end of the discussion everyone concluded Lewis had a point. And it is true, only Christianity dares to proclaim God’s love for humanity is unconditional. Salvation can never be earned; it can only be accepted. As we have seen before. Every other God demands; the God of the Bible gives. Every other religion says, “Do this to get to God.” The Bible says, “Here is what God has done for you.” Christianity is all about amazing grace – blazing grace – out of control grace!
Christian acting groups have done this skit for years. A man dies and of course, St. Peter meets him at the pearly gates. Peter says, “Here’s how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you’ve done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in.” “Okay,” the man says, “I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart.” “That’s wonderful,” says St. Peter, “that’s worth three points!” “Wow, just three points?” he says. “Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithe and talents.” “Terrific!” says Peter, “that’s certainly worth a point.” “Only one point?” the man begins to sweat, “How about this: I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans.” “Fantastic, that’s good for two more points,” Peter says, “You are up to 6 points. You only need 94 other points.” Flabbergasted, the man cries out, “At this rate the only way I get into heaven is by the grace of God!” Peter says, “That’s all the points you need. Come on in!”
Now, I grant you, the entrance does not happen in just that manner, but the truth of the story is the truth of Ephesians 2:8. What breaks my heart and I’m sure the heart of God it that so many people simply will not accept that they can do nothing to inherit eternal life. They insist on presenting their dirty laundry – confident that because it is more white than stained that it will be acceptable. We forget who makes the rules! Beloved, it is by grace and grace alone that anyone is ever saved.
B. Through Faith
We’re back to verse 8: For by grace you have been saved through faith. Grace is the objective side of salvation. Faith is the subjective. It is that which activates. Grace is the “basis upon which”. Faith is the trigger. Grace is the engine. Faith is the starter.
What is faith? We make it unnecessarily complex. Faith is simply trust. Perhaps one of the reasons it seems so complex is because, simple as it is, there are many misconceptions about faith. We talk about all you have to do is believe. Just have faith. We have the fairytale Peter Pan version of faith – if you just believe hard enough, you can do anything including flying. Anyone who has lived long enough has probably had that nonsense knocked out of them, but other misconceptions persist.
One young schoolboy defined faith as “the act of believing what you know ain’t so.” H. L. Mencken defined it as “an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.” Then it really gets cynical. Ambrose Bierce said faith “is belief without evidence, in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.” One anonymous writer said that faith is “the boast of a man who is too lazy to investigate.”
All in all, I like J. I. Packer’s definition best. He said faith is “Forsaking All, I Take Him.” It’s an acronym. “Forsaking all, I take Him.” Faith is simply putting one’s trust in Jesus Christ and Him alone. Faith has content. It believes that Jesus Christ died and rose again and that I can have His righteousness for my sin if I will trust Him. But it is not enough just to believe that. I must place all my trust in that fact for eternal salvation. Forsaking all, including self, I take Him. Jesus said that to follow Him a man or woman must “deny self”, take up their cross daily and follow Him.
It is possible to believe and not be saved – to give intellectual assent and not be saved – to honestly believe that a man named Jesus died and even rose again and still be as lost as sin. James says, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder!” What’s his point? His point is that even demonic beings believe in God and they even have enough sense to shudder at the thought of His power – and yet they are not saved. Their “belief” does them no good. It is not accompanied by a complete submission of one’s eternal destiny upon Christ.
I had a friend once named Win Arn. He was an interesting character who got involved in many things. On one occasion he was photographing circus trapeze artists for some reason and was talking into giving it a go. I always suspected that the artists thought they had a “live one.” Anyway, he got talked into getting up on the trapeze and then making a transfer to a second trapeze. Of course, he had a net below. In telling the story later he emphasized that he learned two things. First, in order to grab a second trapeze, you have to let go of the first, and second, you don’t have much time to make up your mind.
That’s a pretty good illustration of faith, folks. Win could see that other trapeze out there. He believed that it would hold him. His mind was clear, but none of it counted until he actually let go of the one and grabbed the second. That’s faith. It can’t be Christ and you; it’s Christ alone. You have to let go of “you” and grab hold of Christ. Let go of “you” and grab hold of Christ. Have you let go of “you” and grabbed hold of Christ? I don’t know how much time you have. But neither do you – so why not make that transfer NOW?
C. Excluding Works
We come now to our third point under God’s process. Salvation is by grace; it is through faith, and now we see that it excludes any works. Nothing at all that man can do can add to the process. It is all of God.
Paul has been at pains to made this point all the way through this passage. Notice the first phrase 8) For by grace you have been saved. As we saw, the word grace itself means unmerited, unearned, undeserved favor. But look at the verb – “have been saved.” Even that indicates the truth we are not looking at. It is in the passive voice meaning, as you grammar experts will recall, that the action is done to the subject rather than by the subject. It’s not “you saved”, but you “have been saved.”
Now, let’s look at the clause at the end of the verse that we are studying now. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing. Some question revolves around what “this” refers back to. In English, the rules of grammar would dictate that it refers to the closest antecedent – faith, right? So Paul would be saying that even that faith is not your own doing. However, the Greek has a nuance here that is not visible in English. Now follow closely here. Every noun in Greek has a gender; either masculine, feminine or neuter. The word “faith” is a feminine word. But the word “this” is a neuter word. Ordinarily you would not have a neuter word referring back to a feminine word, so many take it that “this” refers back to the verb “saved” and thus envisions the whole concept of salvation. This is a very possible and acceptable interpretation.
However, while you would not ordinarily have a feminine word as antecedent to a neuter word, it does happen sometimes. And perhaps the greatest Greek grammarian of the past century, A. T. Robertson, says that while in general these words agree in gender, they do not always do so. It’s not an absolute rule. He goes on to say, “Paul’s words may be paraphrased thus, ‘I had the right to speak about “the surpassing riches of his grace” for it is, indeed, by grace that you are saved, through faith; and lest you should now begin to say, “But then we deserve credit, at least, for believing,” I will immediately add that even this faith (or: even this exercise of faith) is not of yourselves but is God’s gift.” Given the proximity of the words here, I believe Robertson has got it right. In Greek, just as in English, only the little word “and” separates “faith” and “this”. But however you interpret it, he is clearly indicating that this is nothing we can take credit for in any way, shape or form.
So Paul’s point is -- God gives the grace, and He also gives the faith. It is all a magnificent gift. A gift of God. In the original, the word “God” is given emphasis. It reads, “Of God, it is a gift.” How could we miss his point? No part of it can be claimed by the human recipient. It is all of God.
But just in case we still didn’t get it, Paul adds verse 9: 9) not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Now, do we get it? There are no works. You’ll recall that George H. W. Bush famously said during the 1988 election campaign: “Read my lips. No new taxes.” And then, when things got tough, guess what? New taxes. But that will never apply to God. When he says, “NO WORKS,” that is exactly what He means. So, if you are here this morning and counting on baptism or church membership or your good “works” outweighing your bad – or anything else other than the grace of God for your salvation, you need to reevaluate. It is all by grace through faith. Salvation is all about a turning of my heart to God, trusting Him completely for my eternal destiny, surrendering all my life with its good and bad, sin and ugliness – all to Him in exchange for the free gift of His salvation. That’s it. There is nothing more!
When God says, not a result of works, so that no one may boast, it is crystal clear that even faith, the act of believing, is not a work. Otherwise we could one day reach heaven and boast, “Yes, I was saved by grace, but I added the faith.” No you did not. You will not be able to boast that. God has specifically eliminated that from any possibility.
The old hymn had it right:
Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress,
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the Fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee.
The great church father, St. Augustine, said it this way; “Even our fidelity is a gift. ‘If we but turn to God that itself is a gift of God. My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.”
Think of it this way, Beloved. No life ever comes at the instigation of the one being born, does it? Not physical or spiritual. When that new baby is born, and enters this strange new world and looks around, he immediately says to himself, “Whoa – I’d better get breathing! Don’t seem to have Mom to depend on anymore and if I’m going to survive, I’d better get with it.” Smart baby, huh?! Knows if he’s going to stay alive, he’s got to breathe, right? Of course, not. That baby knows nothing. He breathes because he gets whacked on the bottom and in a reflex action to the shock, he breathes.
It’s no different spiritually, folks. We were dead in sins. We are made alive at the mercy of Christ who sparks the faith within us that brings about salvation. Yes, from our side it looks like we are the ones. I do not dispute at all the perception that it is us putting our trust in Christ, making that decision. It is proper that we speak of it that way, but the truth behind the scenes is that it is all prompted by God Himself. If you’re feeling the shock of God’s slap today to be initiated you into his family by faith, by all means, thank Him and respond, for it is indeed him knocking at your heart’s door. Take the gift. Take it and thank Him eternally.
IV. His Purpose
We’ve looked at God’s passion, power, process and now His purpose. We take a very proprietary view of salvation. Obviously the point is to get me saved! To get me alive from the spiritual death I was in. But God takes a broader view. While He is absolutely and infinitely interested in us as people and as individuals, He has a striking and dynamic purpose in mind that far exceeds the interests of any one individual. Verse 7: so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
The plural ages pictures for us the timing. It is one age supervening upon another like successive waves of the sea, as far into the future as thought can reach. In the light of this meaning it may thus be claimed: Throughout time and in eternity the church, this society of pardoned rebels, is designed by God to be the masterpiece displaying his goodnessm -- to memorialize in all ages the remembrance of so great a goodness. The new life now begun will endure forever, to display the wonders of His goodness.
We are his sparkling jewels. A Roman matron when asked, “Where are your jewels?” calls her two sons, and, pointing to them, says, “These are my jewels.” So also, throughout eternity the redeemed will be exhibited as the monuments of “the marvelous grace of our loving Lord,” who drew us from destruction’s pit and raised us to heights of heavenly bliss, and did all this at such a cost to himself that he spared not his own Son, and in such a manner that not a single one of his attributes, not even his justice, was eclipsed. It is brilliant and wonderful.
Listen – if you have taken your salvation for granted, or it has become kind of “no big deal” to you – or if your love has grown cold – or if it all seems commonplace – Beloved, we must think again. This is how big a deal God thinks it is. We will be on display forever as a continuing lesson and indication of His overwhelming goodness, kindness and love – trophies of His grace.
Look at the verse again. For all ages to come He will show the immeasurable [mega abundant] riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Paul uses similar language in Romans 5:20 when he says: 20) Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. Do you get it? Where sin left us hopelessly and helplessly dead to God, grace came in even more overwhelming abundance to effect our resurrection, giving us undeserved and unwarranted life! Folks, we are jaded. We understand neither our sin nor His grace, but consider that what Christ has done in us is going to be on display for eternity to make the point with all created being how wonderful God is and it should light a fire of gratitude in our hearts. This is what He died for – so that this miserable, wretched, hopeless sinner, Dave McNeff, could be here in God’s presence, a trophy of the grace of God. It should drive us all to our knees.
Hardened sinners will be there. Murderers like Paul and Moses – trophies of God’s grace. Prostitutes and thieves and rapists and sleazeballs and defrauders and felons will be there, side by side with their victims in many cases – all trophies of His grace because it will be evident that they could never have qualified on their own. Only the grace of God could have brought them there.
But you know what I think will have even more impact? A lot of just regular good people will be there – not all by any means, but many. Why will they have the greatest impact? Because they are hardest of all to save. Did you know that? Perhaps you are one. Reprobates understand that they are sinners. Good people have a hard time accepting that verdict. That’s why they are so hard to get saved.
Many years ago in London there was a large prestigious church had three mission churches under its care. On the first Sunday of the New Year all the members of the mission churches came to the big city church for a combined Communion service. In those mission churches, which were located in the slums of the city, were some outstanding cases of conversions — thieves, burglars, and so on — but all knelt side by side at the Communion rail. On one such occasion the pastor saw a former burglar kneeling beside a judge of the Supreme Court of England — the very judge who had sent him to jail where he had served seven years. After his release this burglar had been converted and become a Christian worker. Yet, as they knelt there, the judge and the former convict, neither one seemed to be aware of the other. After the service, the judge was walking out with the pastor and said to him, “Did you notice who was kneeling beside me at the Communion rail this morning?” The pastor replied, “Yes, but I didn’t know that you noticed.” The two walked along in silence for a few more moments, and then the judge said, “What a miracle of grace.” The pastor nodded in agreement. “Yes, that man is a marvelous miracle of grace.” But the judge said, “I was not referring to him. I was thinking of myself.” The pastor, surprised, replied: “You were thinking of yourself? I don’t understand.” “Well,” the judge replied, “that man is a miracle, but the truth is when he heard about Christ, it was evident to him and everyone that he had nothing to offer; he knew he must have Christ’s righteousness if he was to have any. But look at me. I was taught from earliest infancy to live as a gentleman; that my word was to be my bond; that I was to say my prayers, to go to church, take Communion and so on. I went through Oxford, took my degrees, was called to the bar and eventually became a judge. Only God’s grace could show me my sin in the midst of all that. Pastor, it was God’s grace that drew me; it was God’s grace that opened my heart to receive it. I’m a greater miracle of his grace.” Are you a miracle of God’s grace this morning?
It’s decision time, folks. We’ve seen the awful condition of man without God. He may be the life of the party humanly speaking, but without God he is as dead as a doornail spiritually.
But God . . . But God. God has provided a great salvation. We’ve seen His passion by which He is willing that no one should perish but that all should come to repentance. We saw His power – all that went into raising Christ from the dead and seating Him in glory He is ready to apply to any willing heart. We saw the process – by grace through faith excluding works. You couldn’t get through heaven’s gates if you were baptized a hundred times and spent your whole life feeding the poor and disabled. But that door will open instantly the moment you say, I can’t, but He can, please do!
The big question this morning is, have you? Have you invited Him in? Have you said, forsaking all, I take Him. Have you opened your heart to the great and merciful Lord? Please don’t make excuses any more. Don’t worry that someone else will think you strange if you admit your need for Him. Don’t spend an eternity away from Him for fear of being ridiculed now by someone you won’t even know in 2 years. Don’t find yet one more excuse to not need Him. Don’t push Him away.
It was almost 1:00 in the morning when the phone rang. Dr. Leo Winters, the highly acclaimed Chicago surgeon, was abruptly awakened. There had been an accident and his skilled hands were needed for immediate surgery. The quickest route happened to be through a rather tough area, but with time being a critical factor, it was worth the risk. At one of the stop lights his door was yanked open by a man with a gray hat and a dirty flannel shirt. “I got to have your car!” the man screamed, pulling him from his seat. Winters tried to explain the gravity of the situation, but the man would not listen. When the doctor was finally able to get a taxi to the hospital over an hour had elapsed and it was too late as the patient had gone to the chapel wondering why the doctor never came. Dr. Winters walked hurriedly to get to the chapel and when he entered he saw the father . . . was wearing a gray hat and dirty flannel shirt. Tragically, he had pushed from his life the one person who could have saved his son.
If the Bible is true – then there is only one person who can save you from the sin you were born with and have chosen to harbor since the day you reached accountability. Without Him, you are lost, dear one. But God . . . He’s ready to deliver you – now! Take Him.