Ephesians 1:15-2:10 (ESV)
15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
2 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 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, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
A couple of weeks ago, Leonard and I were discussing current events and the Church’s reaction to those events. Much has happened lately and we do not make the preaching of the Word follow the events of the world around us. After all, the Scriptures speak to all of life and we need to be bringing our thoughts captive to what the Word says rather than having the Word simply follow what’s on our mind.
That said, as we were talking, something was plain to both of us and that is the broader Church’s understanding of the nature of man is severely impoverished. What I mean by this will become plain as this sermon unfolds but the long and short of it is that the Scriptures have much to say about who man is and the Church has mostly lost her way in today’s culture because she has forgotten what God has said about who we are as man and woman created in His image.
I believe this passage in Ephesians is critical if we are to truly understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Without it, we have no sure footing in understand who we are as Christians and what has been accomplished for us by Christ.
I might have preached on the entire first Chapter but this sermon might have grown extremely long and complicated if I had attempted that.
Nevertheless, it is important to know that what has preceded verse 15 of Ephesians 1 is Paul giving God glory for what God has accomplished for His people in Christ. That term, in Christ, occurs repeatedly and speaks to the eternal plan that unfolded in history as God condescended to save a people for His own possession in Christ. The Father so loved His own from all eternity that He planned to save us with the Son and the Spirit. The Son was sent into the world to accomplish redemption for His people. He suffered, died, was buried, and rose again accomplishing that redemption. The Spirit is the Lord and giver of life and applies the redemption that the Son has purchased for us.
All of this sure from all eternity. All of this made sure by Christ. All of this sealed by the Spirit as an imperishable inheritance. It is all God. All for His purpose and His glory and abounds to our good because we had no part in Him casting His love on us. We’re just inheritors of grace.
And so Paul picks up in verse 15:
15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might
Paul is a prisoner in a Roman prison and his reaction to the faith of the Ephesian Church is one of thanksgiving. This may seem a small thing to us to hear that someone has faith in Jesus Christ. After all, we hear it so often that a person has faith in Christ that it can become a common thing.
The truth of the matter is that it may not be rare but it is not at all natural to have faith in Jesus Christ and love for the saints. It may not be rare because there are many people who have been saved by the Gospel but that does not make it a natural thing. Again, one of our problems is that we tend to think of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as something that arose out of ourselves. We think it is simply natural for a person to be exposed to the facts of the case and come to the right conclusion.
The truth is that trust in Christ Jesus is super-natural. It is from above. Paul gives thanks to God and not to the Church for their faith in Christ and love for the brethren. So much so that he doesn’t cease to give thanks to God that people have faith and love.
He then tells them that he prays continuously for the Church that the Spirit of wisdom and revelation would be given to us. That we would have the eyes of our hearts opened up to understand what God has done for us in Christ.
This is not book knowledge that we gain simply by studying the subject more deeply. This is not mystical knowledge that we attain by letting go of this world and achieving by some spiritual discipline. This is revealed Truth. This is Personal truth. This is a prayer that a Person, the Holy Spirit, would be so kind and gracious as to open up our hearts that we may understand spiritual truth that we can only have if He shines the light of Christ into our hearts.
Christ compared the Kingdom to many things and, in some parables, described the Kingdom as something so precious that a man is willing to sell everything he has to possess it. That is how much the Kingdom of Christ – Christ Himself – is worth. The glorious inheritance that Christ has procured for us is worth so much eternally that, when we see it for what it is truly worth, all other treasures pale to nothing. Paul is praying for the Church that the Spirit would give us the knowledge of this reality.
I can describe the riches of the inheritance of Christ until I’m blue in the face but neither you nor I can make each other see what its true value is. It is a Personal work of the greatest possible power. Paul even uses three Greek terms all together to try to express how powerful the power of God is in this work. He runs out of adjectives trying to put into human terms how powerfully God has worked in eternity to secure salvation and make the truth of that inheritance known to us.
How mega-super-awesome is this power. Paul continues in verse 20 saying that this same power:
20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
This power raised Christ from the dead and He is now seated at the right Hand of God exercising supreme dominion over all rule and authority and power.
Think of a ruler.
Think of an authority.
Think of a ruler.
Think of a name.
Christ is above and in authority over all of them.
This is not only for the present age but for the age to come.
Now I don’t want to get complicated but this is something we need to understand.
The “age to come” is not simply referring to something that is future.
One of the things to remember about salvation is that it presents mankind as belonging to a group.
Man is born in sin and in bondage to sin. He belongs to this present age.
This present age is like a realm, which is under the Curse of God for Adam’s sin.
This present age includes all the systems and powers and authorities that are under the Curse of God an in rebellion to Him.
The age to come is not merely something that is future but is among us.
It is the age of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. It is in and among this present age but doesn’t belong to this present age.
Believers in Jesus Christ belong to the age to come because they have been made partakers of Christ.
Believers are no longer slaves to this present age but have been set free and belong, ultimately, to the age to come.
We struggle with sin now because we dwell, in the here and now, amongst the dominion of this present age but our true citizenship is in the age to come.
I know that’s complicated but let’s all sum it up as saying this: Christ is head and ruler over this present age and the age to come.
Even that which is presently under the rule of sin and darkness is under His authority and He reigns now over everything that is and will be.
In fact, beloved, one of the things that Paul reveals is that all these things that are unfolding – in this present age and the age to come – are for the sake of the Church.
You heard it correctly and that’s what Paul is teaching in verse 22.
The Church may seem small and pitiful.
It may seem weak.
It may seem out of touch and will be accused of not being on the right side of history by the word – by this present age.
But all these things are placed at the feet of Christ for the Church’s sake and that means that whatever trials may come we have confidence that is will be for the Church’s good because Christ is reigning.
Christ so identifies with His Church that He has purposed that He will not be fulfilled until His Bride is perfected.
Christ cares for and identifies with His Bride, the Church, in such a way that He considers all suffering that the Church receives as being His suffering.
It is persecution against Him when one of His own is martyred.
His purpose as the Redeemer and Bridegroom will be filled when His Church is fully gathered in history and presented to Him.
But now the letter from Paul takes a turn as Paul remembers where the people of the Church came from.
It wasn’t the well that Christ came for but the sick.
It wasn’t the righteous that Christ came for but sinners.
Paul reminds us who we were before God called us:
2 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
You can’t really get your arms around grace if you’ve never considered the state of where you had fallen.
You were dead in trespasses and sins.
In Adam, you sinned with Him and were both guilty and responsible for that sin.
The Scriptures testify to this guilt over and over.
Mankind is not in a state of needing more information to live an upright life.
Mankind is in need of life because it is in spiritual bondage and death.
We followed the course of this world as we were born into sin and darkness.
We performed deeds in keeping with our nature.
You may find this truth hard to swallow.
After all, nobody can deny that people apart from Christ do good things by building schools and hospitals. By caring for the poor. By doing all sorts of things that are kind to their children and neighbors.
Yet, this is where the powerful Spirit needs to reveal something true about men and women and boys and girls that we cannot see with our natural eyes.
All, in spite of the virtuous things that they do, are slaves to sin and are, by nature, objects of wrath.
Born in Adam, apart from Christ, all are under the wrath and curse of God.
They are enemies of God and follow the course of a world that is organized against Him.
They still bear the image of God and so they portray much of the glory that reflects their Creator.
And yet it is like the Admiral of a fleet that has switched his allegiance to another king. He does not destroy the ships of war but makes sure they are in great working condition so they can be used to fight against the King he once served.
So it is that those in this world follow the course of this world and use their gifts to help those who follow the course of this world.
Their gifts are from God and they use them for their own ends – to bring goodness to themselves and to those in this world.
But those gifts are not used to God’s glory and they do not recognize Christ as their Lord.
They will mimic their Creator and claim that they can create reality by their words and claim a universe after their own imagination in opposition to the way that God has ordained it.
We once walked in the course of this world.
It seemed logical.
We knew who the good guys were and the bad guys were.
We were the good guys.
But the Word of God reveals that all, in the course of this world, apart from race, gender, country, or culture are under the wrath and curse of God.
We may have been running the course in different ways but they were all variations of a theme of those arrayed against the Creator of the Universe.
In light of this reality, the grace of God appears in verse 4:
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 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, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
It is the most glorious word in the Scriptures.
It is a conjunction that interrupts the sure destruction of God’s enemies.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us…
There is nothing here that speaks of us taking that first step in God’s direction.
The abyss between the Creator and the creature is too great.
We made no gestures of peace in His direction.
We didn’t even think or care that God might be our enemy and that we were children of wrath.
WHILE WE WERE DEAD IN OUR SINS AND TRESPASSES…
He made us alive together in Christ.
Because of the great love with which He loved us.
From all eternity.
That, beloved, is grace.
Spiritually dead children of wrath.
That’s whom God saved.
We were dead in our sins and trespasses.
But God loved us.
He didn’t love a plan.
He didn’t love an idea.
He loved us – you and me – a particular people.
If you have trusted in Christ then it is because God knew you by name and sent His son into the world to save you.
Insert your name here.
Because of the great love with which He loved Jack, even while Jack was dead in sin and trespasses, He made Jack alive together with Christ.
That’s the Gospel.
And that “alive together with Christ” means that when you turned from your sin and laid hold of Christ’s feet you were brought into the very body of Christ.
You were adopted as the Son of God and given all the riches of the inheritance with Christ.
You were set free from sin’s bondage.
The Spirit of Christ is given to you and the indestructible life of Christ reigns in you that you might walk in newness of life.
And we must be reminded that God ultimately did this to give full display to His mercy.
This may be hard for us to accept because we naturally think that God exists and does everything to ensure that our goals are achieved.
But God purposed salvation ultimately for the glory of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.
He glorifies Himself by displaying the riches of His mercy toward His enemies.
He glorifies Himself by making us His children.
He glorifies Himself by making His Church His beautiful possession and by judging the world for its sin.
It is only against the backdrop of the darkness of a fallen world that the mercy of God stands in the sharpest contrast.
The Spirit of Christ reveals the riches of our inheritance by causing us to praise God for the mercy He has shown to us as we recall what we have been redeemed from.
The Spirit reveals to us how marvelous it is to be loved by God when we were once His enemies and dead in our sins and trespasses.
The problem of evil has never been justifying God for the bad in this world.
The Scriptures know nothing of God having to give account to men for sin and misery.
The Scriptures reveal that sin and misery is due to our rebellion.
The problem of evil is how does a holy God do anything other than destroy His enemies who are under a Curse of their own making?
The problem of evil is solved in Christ and the grace that God reveals to His enemies.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
In the end, beloved, everything about salvation is grace. It is not of our own works.
We lay hold of it by faith but even that, as the passage teaches, is a gift.
The reason we believe is because the powerful Spirit reveals Christ and the riches of the inheritance to us.
We only know to turn from our sin and cling to Christ because we have received life and light from the Spirit.
Because of this, there is no room for boasting.
There is no room for looking at the world around us and thinking that the people of the world are some sort of alien species that we know nothing of.
This is the problem that much of the modern Church has.
It had the spirit of the Pharisee who looked at the tax collectors and sinners and thanked God that they were not like those men but were decent men who did what God commanded.
There was no sense of a supernatural act where God had rescued them from the same darkness.
The sinner was of another class of man not disciplined or righteous enough to be of the Church.
Pick your public sin that the culture once thought was revolting but now celebrates.
It doesn’t matter the sin.
Many Christians thought of such sinners as aliens – as another breed of men – not like them.
But then they got to know some of these people and realized they were image bearers of God and could be kind and generous.
What is the result?
Many Churches are now collapsing on their self-righteous Gospel because they never understood that they once walked according to the same pattern.
They never had a Gospel that reminded them that they were once children of wrath.
They never had a Gospel that reminded them that they were redeemed by Christ not for who they were but in spite of who they were.
It is only the true Gospel that removes all boasting and sees all men as needful of rescue from the age to come.
We’re all born in sin.
We’re all born in bondage to this present age.
It manifests itself in self-destructive patterns that may even have some genetic components to it.
The Gospel reminds us that this present age doesn’t have the last word on who we are.
It reminds us that following the course and patterns of this cursed world is not the only thing that God has for His people.
It is the reminder that the Gospel is the power of God – the mega-super-powerful power of God to rescue men, women, boys, and girls from this world’s course and usher them into the person and work of Christ.
For we are no longer the workmanship of the world.
We are no longer patterned by the Curse.
We are God’s workmanship and we are being conformed to something beautiful that He may display the full riches of His grace and mercy to a watching world.
I pray that the Spirit Who so powerfully rose Christ from the dead would awaken the dead to life.
If you have never known the life of Christ and have only lived as slaves of this present age then I bid you come.
Come to the throne of grace. Come out of this present age and into the age to come.
There you will find Christ a ready Savior.
There you will find joy everlasting.
Come and die to yourself.
Come and live forever.
Let us pray.