Ephesians 2:1-10 - Jesus His Gift of Grace
Gentle natured Gregory, passed into eternity this week, aged 69, forgotten and alone in a cell of the women's jail in Dade County, Miami. Married four times with six children he had once been a celebrity and successful pediatrician, a big game hunter he had once shot 18 elephants in a single month.
But Gregory had succumbed to alcoholism and his license to practice medicine was suspended. Haunted by self doubt and unable to live in the shadow of his father, he had died in a women's jail, in high heels, a transvestite. In 1951, when he was just 19, Gregory's father had blamed him for his mother's death from cancer and did not speak to his son for the next ten years before killing himself in exactly the same way Gregory's grandfather had done before him. In 1953, Gregory's father wrote a short story about a Spanish father who tried to be reconciled to his son who had run away from the family home to Madrid. Now remorseful, the father took out an advert in a national newspaper "Paco meet me at Hotel Montana noon Tuesday, all is forgiven, Papa." Paco is a common name in Spain, and when the father goes to the square he finds eight hundred young men names Paco waiting for their fathers.
Gregory's obituary appeared in the Times Newspaper this week because he was the youngest son of Ernest Hemingway. Father and son, Ernest and Gregory knew all about the destructive power of what Philip Yancy calls "ungrace". Ernest Hemingway's devout parents, regular churchgoers, detested their son's lifestyle. Eventually his mother refused to see him.
One year for his birthday, she mailed him a cake along with the gun his father had used to kill himself. Another year she wrote Ernest a letter explaining that a mother's life was like a bank. "Every child that is born... enters the world with a large and prosperous bank account, seemingly inexhaustible." The child, she continued, makes withdrawals but no deposits during the early years. Later, when the child grows up, it is his responsibility to replenish the supply he has drawn down. Hemingway's mother then proceeded to spell out all the specific ways in which Ernest should be making "deposits to keep the account in good standing:" flowers, fruit or sweets, a surreptitious paying of Mother's bills, and above all a determination to "stop neglecting your duties to God and your Saviour, Jesus Christ."1 Hemingway never got over his hatred for his mother or for her saviour. It seems his own children have also paid dearly for that lack of grace.
Paul Tournier, the Swiss physician and psychiatrist, in his book, Guilt and Grace, tells of countless patients who have come to him burdened by guilt who could have walked free of mental anguish had they known forgiveness. Desperate for grace, like Hemingway all they encounter is shame, the threat of punishment, and a sense of judgment. Based on a life time of medical practice, Paul Tournier insists, "I cannot study this very serious problem of guilt with you without raising the very obvious and tragic fact that religion - my own as well as that of all believers - can crush instead of liberate."
Where does this reputation of joylessness ungrace come from? The humorist Erma Bombeck provides a clue:
"In church the other Sunday I was intent on a small child who was turning around smiling at everyone. He wasn't gurgling, spitting, humming, kicking, tearing the hymnals, or rummaging through his mother's handbag. He was just smiling. Finally, his mother jerked him about and in a stage whisper that could be heard in a little theatre off Broadway said, "Stop that grinning! You're in church!" With that, she gave him a belt and as the tears rolled down his cheeks added, "That's better," and returned to her prayers." Erma says, "Suddenly I was angry. It occurred to me the entire world is in tears, and if you're not, then you'd better get with it. I wanted to grab this child with the tear-stained face close to me and tell him about my God. The happy God. The smiling God. The God who had to have a sense of humor to have created the likes of us. By tradition, one wears faith with the solemnity of a mourner, the gravity of a mask of tragedy, and the dedication of a Rotary badge. What a fool, I thought. Here was a woman sitting next to the only light left in our civilization-the only hope, our only miracle-our only promise of infinity. If he couldn't smile in church, where was there left to go?"2
Somehow through history the church has managed to gain a reputation for its ungrace. As a little girl prayed, "Dear God, make the bad people good, and the good people, nice."
Guilt exposes a longing for grace, and sadly sometimes the church is the last place someone so desperate will find it. How ironic that Ernest Hemingway, spurned by his religious family, as messed up and confused as he was, an emotionally abused child who abused his own children, nevertheless, probably understood the gospel clearer than all of them when he wrote, "Paco meet me at Hotel Montana noon Tuesday, all is forgiven, Papa." For that's a pretty good summary of the Bible.
Its the reason Jesus is God's Gift of Grace. That is our theme this morning. Please turn with me to Ephesians 2:1-10. In these verses Paul is speaking of grace. Reminding the Christians in Ephesus how they came to know Christ - before, during and after. Paul is also describing the spiritual condition of each one of us, of every human being who has ever lived. We are all some where in this passage, so as we work our way through these verses, ask God to show you his heart for you.
1. Before : The Need for Grace (2:1-3)
2. During : The Effects of Grace (2:4-6)
3. After : The Reason for Grace (2:7-10)
1. Before : The Need for Grace (2:1-3)
Paul starts by reminding us of our condition without Jesus Christ.
1.1 We are Dead (2:1)
"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins"
Without Jesus Christ we are dead spiritually. We possess no natural spiritual life, and we can do nothing about it. When Paul speaks of death here he means separation. First spiritual, then physical and eventually eternal. So the non-Christian isn't spiritually sick, he's dead! He does not need resuscitation he needs resurrection. There is no spiritual difference between a good moral religious person and an IRA Terrorist. Without Christ, they are both spiritually dead. Not only dead but also,
1.2 We are Disobedient (2:2)
"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."
The clearest sign that a person is dead spiritually, is the way they view Jesus and the way they treat other people. The events of recent weeks have provided us with ample evidence that the ruler of this world is at work among those who are disobedient. Lets not make Islam the scapegoat or think terrorism is the cause of the conflict. The ruler of this world is just as active in the white racists attacking Muslims as he is in the fundamentalists targeting Westerners in Pakistan.
People reveal their disobedience toward God just as much by polite indifference to the Gospel as in political terrorism. In the eyes of God both are hellish, because God has called everyone to respond to his advertisement. "meet me... all is forgiven, Papa." Dead and disobedient.
1.3 We are Depraved (2:3)
"All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts."
That doesn't mean people are as bad as they could be, just not as good as they should be. The word "depraved" doesn't mean a person only does evil or that they are incapable of doing good. It simply means they can't earn their salvation, or ever meet God's high standards of holiness. Dead, disobedient, depraved.
1.4 We are Doomed (2:4)
"Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath."
Without Jesus we remain objects of wrath. The sentence has been passed, but God in his mercy has taken the punishment we deserve upon himself, if we will but accept it during the limited time of the offer. You know what grieves me most about a funeral? Its not the death, its the frequency with which a family will choose the deceased favourite song - Frank Sinatra's, "I did it my way". That is why without Jesus we are dead, disobedient, depraved, doomed - this is our human condition. This is the reason we need grace.
2. The Effects of Grace (2:4-6)
"But because of his great love for us, God,..."
Notice the way verse 4 changes the flow of the argument so abruptly. "But because...". The emphasis is upon God's initiative, his grace. His free, unmerited, unfathomable, incomprehensible, unconditional, undeserving, grace. I'd like to show you a scene from a film which explains grace in action. (show scene from Les Miserables. Victor Hugo understood grace so well. Valjean, imprisoned for 19 long years for stealing bread to feed his family, longs to escape his past but the world does not readily accept ex-convicts and he faces rejection where ever he goes. On being burgled and beaten, the Bishop could have treated Valjean in one of three ways, just as God could treat you, and we do treat other people.
The Way of Justice
First, he could have treated Valjean with justice, which is what his housekeeper wants. He could have given this criminal what he deserves; no more, no less. How often do we hear the cry for justice today? In this case the spoons would have been returned and Valjean imprisoned for the theft and grievous bodily harm. With his criminal record he could have been executed.
The Way of Mercy
Second, the Bishop could have treated Valjean with mercy. Mercy is giving him less than he deserves. In that instance he could have said, "Return the spoons but I won't press charges." That is being merciful, and the best of our world will at times show mercy.
The Way of Grace
But the Bishop demonstrates neither justice nor mercy. He treats Valjean with grace. He gives this criminal a very expensive, utterly undeserved gift. "Yes of course I gave him the silverware. But why did you not take the candlesticks? That was very foolish. Madame Jillou, fetch the silver candlesticks. They are worth at least 2,000 francs. Why did you leave them?" That is grace. Receiving a totally undeserved gift. No wonder Jean Valjean can only stutter out "Are you really letting me go?" And if you are not stunned by God's grace then you have either not really understood your plight or the extent of his love. "Why? Why are you doing this?" We should cry out like Valjean. He cannot comprehend such undeserved love and generosity. And nor indeed can Madame Jillou who could so easily represent the Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus day and much of the religious world today. You can see from her face that she thinks it is a scandal. It is lunacy, that a guilty person should be treated in this way. "Why? Why are you doing this?" The Bishop replies, "Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, with this silver I have bought your soul and now I am giving you back to God." What is the effect of this grace?
2.1 We Become a New Person 2:4-5
"But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved."
The Christian is literally a new person. Born all over again. Like Valjean, we have been "made alive", by God's grace. The past is forgiven and forgotten. That is why the early church gave new names to people when they became Christians. They were new people. That is why this church is a condemnation free zone. All is forgiven. A new person.
2.2 We Receive a New Position 2:6
"And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus."
The very moment we surrender to Jesus we become children of God and live in his presence. Eternal life does not begin when we die, it has already begun for those who trust in Christ. For now its by faith not sight, but no less real. Physically we are still earth bound, limited by space and time, but spiritually we have already entered eternity, and have a new position with Christ. As children of God we have access to the Father. We don't have to make an appointment to see one of his subordinates, we don't have to pray to one of the saints or to Mary to put in a good word for us, as his children we have access 24 hours a day seven days a week. We are now already with Christ. So keep your head up, you are a child of God. That is why we do not play ecclesiastical games with special positions or special titles or special clothes. The words we say to the newly baptised are these. "We are children of the same heavenly father, we welcome you." Lets practice it. We become a new person, we receive a new position.
2.3 We See from a New Perspective (2:6)
"And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus."
Our position with Christ gives us a whole new perspective on the world. Progressively we see the world in a different light, from His point of view. Behaviour we once thought was OK has to change because now the Holy Spirit indwells us. As we read the Bible, and as we listen and talk to our Father we learn to see things His way. This world is no longer our home. Heaven is our home. Our presence here is temporary so don't get too attached. The need for grace. Dead, disobedient, depraved, doomed. The effects of grace. He has made us a new person, a new position and a new perspective. Why?
3. The Purpose of Grace (2:7-10)
"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... For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
The Church on earth is a visible, living demonstration to the entire universe of the incomparable riches of God's mercy. We have here one of the clearest descriptions of how we come to faith. Notice that we are saved by grace, through faith, for good works. Its important we get it in the right order. 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.
3.1 By Grace = the origin of our salvation
3.2 Through Faith = the means of our salvation
3.3 For Good works = the evidence of our salvation
We are not saved by our good works, but for them, and even they have been prepared for us to fulfill. Do you know the good works that God has prepared in advance for you to undertake for him? That is why he has given us talents and gifts to build his church and extend his kingdom. We each have a unique part to play at Christ Church. Your gifts matter. Find them and use them for they demonstrate your salvation.
The Greek word for "workmanship" is poiema from which we get our English word "poem". Coming to Christ is just the beginning. The beginning of a beautiful relationship of love and service within God's family. The rest of chapter 2 goes on to describe how God has called us to be one in Christ, one family, one people, one church, the very dwelling place of God on earth. A haven of grace. But the grace of God only becomes real to us when we see ourselves standing before God as Valjean stood before the bishop: utterly guilty with no resources to draw on; facing a terrible punishment for what we have done to him. Until we see ourselves in that state, we won't see the amazing generosity of God's gift of forgiveness to us through Christ's death on the cross for us, paying for our sin himself. At the heart of grace then is the fact that it is undeserved. I have done nothing to earn it. Faith is accepting that gift.
It is saying 'thank you' and receiving what is offered. It is turning to God, as Valjean turned to the bishop. In utter weakness, in total dependence and receiving what we do not deserve: deliverance from a terrible sentence and punishment. And like Valjean, it should leave us stunned, saying, 'Are you really letting me go? Why, why are you doing this?' Victor Hugo also wrote these words: 'Life's greatest happiness is to be convinced we are loved.' In Les Miserables we see that the utterly-undeserved forgiveness and generosity which Valjean receives from the bishop does indeed touch his soul at its deepest part. It unlocks his heart and unleashes his potential. What a picture of the new Christian - Valjean is ransomed from fear and hatred and becomes a human being of remarkable generosity and mercy, touching numerous lives. He is transformed by grace and it all stems from the new identity he found when the bishop calls him 'brother' and 'bought his soul and gave him back to God.'
So we can go through life knowing the wickedness of my heart and yet looking at the cross and saying to myself, as Galatians chapter 2, verse 20 puts it: 'The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me.' Neither spiritual death, nor physical distance can separate us from His love, nor defeat the power of His grace. Living by grace is to find my identity, my ultimate worth as a human being, in the love of God, who knows exactly what I am like and yet loves me unconditionally. How can we not treat others with the same grace that God in Christ has shown us?
C.S. Lewis put it like this, "To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you." How tragic that neither Gregory Hemingway or his father Earnest appear to have found the grace they so desperately needed. Have you? Have you received the gift of God's grace? Have you found the grace of God overwhelming? Have you realised you are more wicked than you ever imagined but more loved than you ever dreamed? Then respond today. There may not be a tomorrow. In Christ God is saying to you today"meet me... all is forgiven, Papa." Lets Pray.
I am grateful to Rico Tice and Philip Yancy for material used in this sermon.
2 Yancy, p. 32.