Spiritually Dead Even While We Lived (Ephesians Sermon 8 of 54)
August 23, 2015 | Andrew Davis
Grace, Fullness in Christ, Total Depravity
Soul-Winning Made Easy?
In 1959, a pastor named C.S. Lovett wrote a book enabling people, helping people to evangelize. He used sales techniques that were common in the business world at that time to teach evangelistic techniques, and the name of the book was Soul-Winning Made Easy. So I just stopped and pondered that title in light of the text we're going to look at today. Soul-Winning Made Easy, friends, soul-winning, that is the genuine conversion of a human soul to faith in Christ is a supernatural act of sovereign grace by Almighty God. In every case. If you are a Christian today and you're listening to me, you are a miracle of God's grace. It doesn't matter if you are raised in a Christian home and you can never remember a time that you didn't know Jesus, or you might have lived for years in vanity and pride, and wickedness. It doesn't make a difference. If you are a genuine believer in Christ, God did a miracle of grace in your soul. And he deserves praise and glory and credit for it. And we are healthy as we understand that. There is no soul-winning ever made easy. Honestly, soul-winning is impossible for us. Absolutely impossible. It is not the work of an evangelist, or a pastor, or an apostle, it's not the work of a VBS teacher or a Sunday school teacher, it's not the work of a parent, a godly mother or father or a friend, a co-worker, a fellow student, it's not the work of any human being because it is a resurrection, a spiritual resurrection, something only God can do. On the contrary, no soul-winning is ever difficult for God, ever. There are no particularly hard cases for God. God doesn't have to particularly sweat any of them. They may seem difficult on our part, but they aren't. And so I think there's this one verse that sums all of this up, when Jesus had that encounter with the rich, young ruler, remember? And Jesus talked about how difficult it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said to His disciples, when they asked, "Who then can be saved?” He said, "With man, this is impossible. But with God, all things are possible."
God’s Power to Give Spiritual Life
And that's true, especially when it comes to this issue of a soul-winning and a genuine conversion. So as we come to Ephesians 2:1-3 we come to, I think, in the Bible, the clearest depiction of our spiritual condition, before we came to Christ. The clearest depiction of the spiritual state of people apart from Christ. I think perhaps Jesus's most stunning, most amazing miracle before He was crucified was His resurrection of Lazarus from the dead. And how He worked with sovereign power, how God worked with sovereign power to raise a dead man who had been dead for four days. And Jesus made this astounding claim before raising him physically from the dead, he said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die," then he called out to the tomb in a loud voice, "Lazarus come forth." And the dead man came alive. And he sat up still wrapped in grave clothes and came out of the tomb, still wrapped in grave clothes. That was His greatest miracle.
But again and again, Christ asserts in His teaching that the conversion of a soul is really a spiritual resurrection. That people can be dead even while they live. Yesterday we were walking around Duke's campus and Kyle showed me a statue in the Duke Divinity School, of the Prodigal Son and the father and the older brother, three figures in the statue, it's very profound, very moving. And so, the Prodigal Son is on his knees holding on to his father around his legs. And the father is pleading with the older brother, who's there with his arms crossed across his chest, and it just captures that moment. But you remember what the father said. "We had to celebrate, for this son of mine was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found." To one disciple who wasn't ready to follow Jesus, wasn't ready to immediately follow him, he said, "I've got to go bury my father," he said, "Follow me and let the dead bury their own dead.” And He also said in John 5:24-25, "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my Word and believes Him who sent me will not be condemned, but has eternal life. He has crossed over from death to life." And in the next verse He says, "I tell you the truth, the time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the son of God and those who hear will live.” So this teaching of a spiritual resurrection is well-established in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. So if you're a Christian today, God raised you from the dead, spiritually. And Ephesians 2:1-3 asserts this plainly.
Recap of Previous Sermons
Now, we're going to look back at what you were before you were saved. But in order to do that, I want to just get some context. It's been a number of months now since we've been in Ephesians, and now I go back and just see what we already learned in Ephesians 1, and just do a little bit of review and bring us right up to Ephesians 2:1-3. The letter was written to Ephesian Christians. Paul greets them and then after that he just begins with praise and worship. "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” So it just begins with worship based on our salvation. “For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless in His sight. In love, he predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ. In accordance with His pleasure and will, to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the one He loves. In him,” in Christ, “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. And God lavished on us all wisdom and understanding through the indwelling Spirit that He has given us as a downpayment, guaranteeing our future full inheritance in Heaven." So that's what God has done with us.
And then Paul prays in Ephesians 1:15-23, the end of the chapter there, that the Ephesian Christians would understand things, that the “eyes of their hearts would be enlightened.” He wants them to know more about their salvation, and more specifically, about God's work in their salvation than they have before. So he prays that the “eyes of their heart would be enlightened.” I believe the, “eyes of the heart” is faith. And faith comes through the ministry of the Word of God, and so he just wants to minister truth to them so that they can see spiritually what God has done. And he prays, first and foremost, that they would just simply know God better. “In the knowledge of Him, in the knowledge of God.” But then he prays for three things, that they would know “the hope to which He has called them, the riches of their glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power at work in we who believe.” Then he takes up on that issue of power, he says, "I just want you to know how much power is at work in your life, spiritually. It's already been at work in your life." And he says, "That power is like the working of God's mighty strength which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead physically and ascended him through the heavens and seated Him at the right hand of God, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only the present age, but also in the one to come and God placed all things under His feet. And appointed Him, Christ, to be head over everything for the Church, which is His body. “The fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.” “Now that power that God the Father exerted in Christ is the same power that's at work in you because you were dead too.”
That's right where we're at, at Ephesians 2:1-3. And so, he begins by talking about their spiritual deadness. He wants them to know. And now here's the thing, we're going to be rummaging around in some of the most depressing dark, sad truths there can ever be about the human condition today. But this is what hit me as I was in BFL today. Richard, I was listening to you brother and it was great, but just something hit me, "I have to write this down." So I asked my wife for a pen, and she found one in her purse, which is a minor miracle, it's amazing, all the things in a woman's purse. But there it was. I mean, tissues are there... It's just... I won't go on, but anyway, just the pen. And so I wrote this down, "You will cherish the good news in proportion to how well you understand the bad news." You will cherish the good news of the gospel in direct proportion to how well you understand who you were apart from Christ. And your deadness and your lostness. And so, paradoxically, and this is the amazing thing, the more you rummage around in these dark depressing difficult teachings, the happier you're going to get as a Christian. It has power to free you and to bring you joy and energy in the Christian life. So let's look at what it says, carefully.
We Were Dead in Sins
We Christians Should Know What We Were
Beginning at chapter two, verse one, "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live." We need to know what we were, and he makes it plain so that we can know what we were, what kind of power has brought us to this amazing point already, and that kind of power is going to be with us to the end so that we are fully assured and have rich hope and great energy in the Christian life, but ultimately, so God will get the full glory for our salvation. That's ultimately what's going on, so we need to know this so we don't boast about all that we did. And so, he's telling Ephesian Christians, he's not telling non-Christians here, although non-Christians need to know these things, but he's telling Christians, "This is what you were, God's already been at work." Now in these whole, these 10 verses that you heard Wes read, and we're going to be going through them slowly. There's just so much truth in them. So five sermons, God willing, on those 10 verses, we're just going to be going through it. But there's not a single command and there is no imperative, it's all just truth. He's just telling us what's true. And notice, he says in verses 1-3, there's the "you" and "we" language. "As for you, you were dead... " But they can't keep on like that. And then in verse 3, "We were all like that." For all in that condition, there's no one different than the other. That's amazing for Paul was a very moral individual, very religious individual, and you can be morally, religiously dead, or you can be amorally irreligiously dead, it doesn't make a difference, you're dead apart from Christ.
“You” and “We”: Dead While We Lived
And Paul includes himself in that, you and we, we're all in this together. And so what does he say? "You were dead while you lived, you were the living dead." "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live." So you were biologically alive, but you were spiritually dead. So you may have been full of energy, you may have been active in pursuing many things. Laughing, playing, eating, walking, going to places, involved in great projects, doing things, achieving things. “Your bodies were fearfully and wonderfully made,” though you didn't know they were made by God, but your hearts were energetically pumping blood, your livers were cleansing the blood of toxins, your kidneys too. Your bones were the structure of your body as you were moving around doing great things, and they were pumping out also blood cells and just doing amazing things. Your brain was thinking thoughts all the time. Yeah, you were biologically alive, maybe even vibrant doing things. But you were dead. And he says, "They were dead while they walked." NIV just simplifies it to “live,” “even while you live.” But it's walks. So your daily life, it was a daily lifestyle of deadness. Of being dead, spiritually. And it's amazing how the spiritually dead don't know they're dead. Well, that’s the essence of the satanic deception, they don't know they're dead. And it's amazing how even Christians having come to life maybe don't really fully understand that they were dead.
The Nature of Spiritual Death
That's why Paul wrote verses to Christians. “Do you know, you were dead and now you're alive?” And so they just don't know the condition. “So what's the nature of this spiritual death while you are dead in your transgressions and sins?” he says. What is that? It has to do with the law of God. It has to do with God's moral commands. Ten Commandments, “You shall have no other Gods. You shall not make any idols. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Honor your father and mother. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor, or covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Well, we violated that law. Jesus said concerning the Ten Commandments, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not murder,' but if you're even angry with your brother in your heart, you've committed murder in your heart, you're guilty, you're in danger of the fire of hell."
And the same thing with adultery, "You've heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery,' but if you even look at a woman lustfully you've committed adultery in your heart." Jesus is just taking the Tenth Commandment on coveting and just extending it to all of them. It's a matter of the heart. Because you covet with the heart, all of it is a matter of the heart. God searches the heart and we have transgressed His law. And then the summary, Two Great Commandments, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart. With all your strength, all your mind, all your soul, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” We have not kept these commandments. We have transgressed, we were “dead in our transgressions and sins.” And the law of God stood opposed to us, and accused us. And what is the nature of this deadness? I think it has to do with being unable to respond. We think about it, when there's been an accident and you think about it, I am just amazed at EMTs and other people that come to accident scenes as a living, just day after day. I don't know how they do it.
But sometimes you know the situation where they're trying to ascertain. They think somebody may be dead, but the EMT will push the eyelids back and take a pen light and click it on and shine it in the pupils. And if the pupils are fixed and dilated, they say the person's dead. Well, that means they're on unable to respond to a stimulus. There's just no response. Well, that's the essence of our spiritual deadness. God is putting out rivers of evidence of His existence and of His glory, and of His invisible attributes through creation, and then even more clearly through the Word preached, people hear the Gospel, they hear all of this and they do not respond. Unable to respond. That's the essence of the deadness that we had. Like the parable of the seed in the soil, you remember “the seed fell on the path and the birds came immediately ate up. It has to do with the hardness of heart and unresponsiveness.” We “suppress the truth in wickedness,” “our minds were set on the flesh and therefore we did not submit to God's law,” Romans 8:7, "Indeed we could not." We were spiritually dead. The worst of all is when it comes to the Gospel, they hear the Gospel and there's just nothing there, there's no response. There's no sense of conviction of sin, no need for a savior, no crying out aloud to Christ to save them, no sense of impending wrath and judgement, no fear of these things. They're spiritually dead.
The Origins of Spiritual Death and Powerlessness
Now, how did this come about? Well, we believe biblically it's something that we wouldn't understand except that we're told in the Bible that the entire human race died in Adam. We sinned in Adam, and died in Adam spiritually, but then, individually, case by case that gets applied when we understand moral right from wrong through the law written in our hearts, and even more when the word of God comes. And when the commandment came, Paul says in Romans 7, "When the commandment came, sin sprung to life and I died." "Once I was alive apart from the command," Paul said, "but when the commandment came, sin sprung to life and I died." So as soon as you violate your conscience, you do what you know is wrong, you die spiritually. So that's it, and it's everybody all over the world. This is universal. It's every nation, every individual as soon as they understand right from wrong, they die. Now, this is a desperate spiritual condition. We are utterly powerless to change it. Just, that's why this language of spiritual death is used, there's nothing we can do to change it. It says in Romans 5:6, "You see at just the right time when we're still powerless,” powerless, “Christ died for the ungodly.” We were powerless we could not make a change in our condition. How can a dead person raise himself to life? How could that happen? How could you raise yourself to life? It's impossible, it's absolute complete helplessness.
I've heard this said, and I don't know if people still say it, but I remember when I was in college, I remember after I came to Christ some of my fraternity brothers were talking to me and they said, "Christianity is just a crutch for the weak.” Do you realize how arrogant that statement is? "Yeah, I'm thankful I'm not so weak, I can get by without Jesus." Look Christianity is not merely a crutch for the weak, according to this text it's a resurrection for the dead. You flatter us when you say, "It's merely a crutch for the weak." I wasn't weak, I was dead, and it's a miracle of grace that I'm alive.
So this is a key piece of the puzzle and understanding the absolute sovereign power of God over salvation is something only God can do. So non-Christians are in a desperate spiritual condition as were we all. Ephesians 2:12, which Daniel quoted a few moments ago, "Without hope and without God in the world." We're surrounded by people like that. I mean, on the college campus, we were at Duke, we were at State yesterday, just looking around, just so much activity, but I just wonder how many of these people, how many of these students are dead, spiritually dead. Because I was thinking about this text and I was looking at people. Are they dead while they walk, dead while they live? I mean, there's just so much of this and they're without hope and without God in the world.
We Were Willing Slaves of Sins
Well, more than that, though, the text says, "We were willing slaves of sin." Look at the text again, Verse 1-3, "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins 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. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath." Now, if you know what to look for, you're going to see the three ancient enemies of the human soul right in this text, and they're in this order, the world, the devil and the flesh.
We Followed the Ways of this World
In our text, you'll see in that order, the world, the devil, and the flesh. First, the world, we followed the ways of the world, the text says. What does that mean in verse two? While the living dead are active, they're walking, they're following something. But what are they following? They're following the ways of this world. They're actively following. They're living, they're “walking according to,” it says literally in the original language, according to the ways of this world. There's a way of thinking. There's a way of living, and the crowd of non-Christians are like sheep for the slaughter, day after day, following after certain patterns that they learned, that they inherited. You know it's amazing to me how independent-minded and proud lost people are, and they think that they are masters of their own fate and captains of their own soul, as one poet put it. Well, they're just making it up in their lives, doing whatever they want to do. No, the text says they're actually following the ways of this world. That's what they're doing. They're just followers. They're walking a well-worn path to destruction, a broad gate and a broad highway that leads to Hell. The ways of this world is literally the age of this world, the mentality, the outlook, the assumptions, lifestyles, patterns of thinking, patterns of living. All of this is part of it. Now, it was handed down from generation to generation, the traditions that mix in, their ways of doing things, ways of living. And then you got some influence, a lot of influence from your parents, and then family as you were growing up, but you had classmates in school or however things just start to influence you, and you see the way things are in the world and you start to follow that way.
The ways of this world, they're just inherited. Day after day, millions of people all over the world are being indoctrinated in the ways of this world, so selfish patterns, self-indulgent thoughts, leading to addictive choices. And the world has a vast marketing side to it, trying to persuade you to follow in their thinking, to follow in their thinking, to indoctrinate you. Again, we were at Duke yesterday and came in there in the Bryan Center, in the Student Center, right on the first floor, you walk in to the right, there's the office for, I don't know what. I'll put in the words I think they embrace: "The celebration of sexual diversity." Sexual diversity, not just any kind of diversity. Now they're just zeroing in on that. That's one of the first offices you see when you walk in the student center.
They are indoctrinating, they are training, they are drawing people after the ways of this world. Jesus put it this way: "To what shall I compare this generation? They're like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to others. We played the flute for you and you didn't dance. We sang a dirge and you didn't mourn.” What does that mean? When the world says it's time to dance, you better dance. And the world says it's time to mourn, you better mourn. That's indoctrination. That's the ways of this world. It's training us to think like they do. And that world system is deep and it's complete. It involves philosophical assumptions, religious teachings. It teaches an anti-God way of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It defines life, it defines liberty, it defines the pursuit of happiness and hands that to you, and that's the way of this world.
We Were Willingly Dominated by Satan
And secondly, we were willingly dominated by Satan. It says in verse two, "In which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the king of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” So behind this world system, this anti-God world system, is this seething, malevolent, brilliantly intelligent individual, this created being, called the devil or Satan, who is the king of the kingdom of the air. The Bible teaches us about him. That's who Paul is talking about in the text here. He was a created being, created powerfully, created intelligently, created beautifully, created morally good, but at some point, he desired to take over God's throne and he fought a battle and he lost, and he was thrown to earth along with the angels who joined him in his rebellion. In Revelation 12:9 says, "The great dragon was hurled down, that ancient serpent called the devil or Satan who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the Earth and all his angels with him." So those are all the names, the “great dragon,” “ancient serpent,” “devil,” “Satan,” and he's got angels with him, what we call demons, and they are spiritual beings, and they have set up this world system. And he's incredibly powerful, he's clever, he's intelligent, he's called the “god of this age.” He “masquerades,” it says, “as an angel of light.”
And it says in 2 Corinthians 4:4, "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the Gospel, of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” “He is the ruler of the kingdom of the air. He is a spirit, and he's at work in those who are disobedient.” Now we're going to have this more unfolded for us in Ephesians 6, where we're told, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” So, we were slaves of Satan. We were in chains, in hidden, spiritual chains by Satan, and by his demons. And the only thing that can remedy that is a transformation by the power of God in which the blindness that this god of the age has put on us is healed by Jesus. Praise God. John 9, "For judgment, I have come into this world so that those who see may become blind, but those who were blind may be able to see." And it says in 2 Corinthians 4:6, "For God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." We see the light of Christ because Jesus heals the eyes of our hearts. But Satan is actively tempting people. He's drawing them to disobey. He's drawing them. “He's the Spirit at work in those who are disobedient.”
We Indulged in the Lusts of the Flesh
So we have the world in verse 2. We also have the devil in verse 2, and then in Verse 3, we have the lust of the flesh. “All of us also lived among them at one time and gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.” So what is the flesh? The flesh is a sinful tendency. The lusts of the flesh are desires that come from that rebellious heart, that seeking pleasure and satisfaction and meaning and purpose in life from sin. That's the essence of the flesh. It takes natural drives and desires like a desire for food, a desire for drink, a desire for pleasure, a desire for sex, a desire for possession, a desire for achievement and a good feeling that you get in achievement and pushes all of those things beyond boundaries set up by God. So, the desire for food becomes gluttony. The desire for drink becomes drunkenness. The desire for possession becomes materialism. The desire for a feeling of achievement becomes pride and arrogance. That's the flesh. It's inside all of us.
So we have these three enemies. You've got the world and the devil on the outside hammering on your soul, and then you've got the flesh, inside, responding and drawn to those temptations. That's the condition that we were all in. “All of us also lived among them.” And there are these lusts and these desires that come, and we tend to think of the lust in terms of like sexual temptation or drugs or other things that just pull us toward that, but even there's the lust of the mind, the lust of the mind. I was reading in National Geographic, which in many respects I enjoy reading, but when it comes to issues of origins, not so much. And there was this author, Brian Switek, wrote an article for National Geographic entitled "Evolution is Beautiful." So I said, "Alright, bring it on. I've read these things before. Let's do it.” Here it is. “We are creatures of time and chance,” okay? Another word for chance is luck. “How wonderful is that? Out of all the innumerable possibilities in the history of life on Earth, a string of lucky circumstances billions of years long, transpired in such a way as to allow the origin of our species, and this unintended state of nature makes a humble bee pollinating a flower, a sunrise, the division of a cell, the jagged outline of a mountain in twilight.” This is good writing. I was enjoying this except the overall message. “The petrified record of the dinosaurs and everything else in existence, all the more spectacular because it's all a lucky chance that might not have happened. None of that was ordained to exist and yet evolution and other ongoing natural processes have nonetheless generated phenomena which are not only beautiful but comprehensible to us.” Ah, we can understand them by science, see? Therefore, there is no need for the supernatural to invoke or to appreciate wonder.
So we don't need to invoke a god. Indeed we don't need to thank a god. Do you see how God has been robbed of His glory in this? See, God made all those things that are listed in there and He deserves to be thanked and praised. But what he's saying is, "I am attracted to. I think evolution is elegant and beautiful and attractive." That's the lust of the mind, philosophical systems, etcetera. These things draw the cravings of the mind. So also a successful corporate raider can just love the way he has hatched a scheme to take over a multinational conglomerate, buy it, and then break it up into little bits, sell it off and make a billion dollars. And he's just on his private jet just cackling with delight at the great idea he had. The lust of the beauty of the cleverness of the plan, all of these things.
Paul Specifically Mentions “Will of the Flesh
And Paul specifically mentions here the will of the flesh. The will of the flesh enslaved us. Your flesh had a will. And so, people talk about free will. Let me tell you something, okay? Whenever somebody asks me, "Don't you believe in free will?", I always ask the same question, "Free from what?" Because your will never be free from your nature. It'll never be free from your heart. And thank God it's not free from His powerful influence either for me as a Christian. And so, we were slaves of our will and “we were by nature,” the scripture says, “objects of wrath.” That's the final thing he says. Romans 3 teaches the same thing. Ephesians 2, universal enslavement to depravity. This is true of all of us.
Universal Status as Objects of Wrath
It was true of the law-abiding, self-righteous Pharisee, who was advancing in Judaism beyond anyone else of his time, but it's also true of everyone else. It's true of ISIS jihadists who are beheading people. It's true of atheists who are pumping out atheistic philosophies on college campuses or in books. It's true of Planned Parenthood executives that are making money on baby parts. All of us, all of us lived like that. There's no difference, and that's very humbling, isn't it? And to God be the glory, because what it means is people from those categories, all of them, can be saved by the Gospel, and we can have good hope in that. We were by nature objects of wrath. What does that mean "by nature?"
What it means is the way we were living, the way we're thinking, everything about us, was crying out for death and judgment to come down. It's like we were designed like a lightning rod to ask for, beg for, a strike from God. And God in His amazing mercy and patience did not strike us but saved us. “We were by nature objects of wrath.” What that means is every single day we were apart from Christ, we were storing up wrath for the day of God's wrath when His righteous judgment will be revealed. Well, when is that? Well, it's coming. We don't know when. But Judgment Day is coming. It comes after death and it comes at the end of the world. Judgment Day is coming and that day is a day of wrath, a day of the condemnation of those who are outside of Christ. On that day in Matthew 25:41, "The King Jesus will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me you who are cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'"
Jonathan Edwards in probably the most famous sermon ever preached on American soil, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, was meditating on Revelation 19:15. This is what he says. So Revelation 19:15, “we read of the wine press of the fierceness and wrath” of Almighty God. The words are exceedingly terrible. If only it had been said the wrath of God, the words would have implied that which is infinitely dreadful, but it is the fierceness and wrath of God, the fury of God, the fierceness of Jehovah. Oh, how dreadful that must be. Who can utter or conceive what such expressions carry in them, but it is also the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. It's as though there would be a very great manifestation of His almighty power in what the fierceness of His wrath should inflict as though omnipotent should be enraged and focused on our destruction, the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
Now, we were by nature under that wrath. And I've reached now, in Ephesians 2:1-3, the end of the verses that I'm going to look at today. One preacher put it this: Ephesians 2:1-3, we've reached the edge of human capability, the edge of what we were, and we were dead and lost and under wrath. But you know I can't leave it there.
Next week, I'm going to preach a sermon which has a two-word title, "But God." And so this morning as I was going over this sermon, I just said, "Oh, how could I possibly... I didn't intend to leave it at that,” but just look at the verses that follow: "But God, being rich in mercy because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. By grace you have been saved and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus so that in the coming ages, he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."
Brief Proclamation of the Good News
“But God” stepped in and changed everything. “But God” willed to save us and not to condemn us. “But God” sent Christ for us who took our punishment in our place and died on the cross. “But God” motivated by the great love with which he loved us. “But God” refused to give us up in our wickedness and our sin to what we truly deserve. “But God” who raised Christ from the dead physically, raised us from the dead spiritually and will someday raise us from the dead physically too. “But God.” So as I was going over that, I was just absolutely melted at that point, filled with thanksgiving. And so by way of application, can I just urge you, if you're a Christian, meditate on these until you are happy and blessed and melted and thankful, because God has stared down into the black hole of what you were and chose to save you in Jesus.
If you are sitting here listening to me and you just are, your heart is thrilling because of Jesus and you're just so thankful to Jesus, that's because God by the Holy Spirit has worked that in you. Give Him all the praise and glory. And like I said at the beginning of the sermon, your cherishing of the good news will be in direct proportion to your understanding of the badness. Understand it, then. Go with what Paul says here. Go over these verses again. They have the power to set free a heart into worship and thanksgiving. They have the power to slaughter a complaining Spirit, amen? I mean, this week, you're going to face adversity. You're going to have problems this week. Things aren't necessarily going to go perfectly your way. Think about this: “You were dead in your transgressions and sins” if you're a Christian, but God raised you from the dead and you're alive now. Just give him thanks in the middle of that time.
Also, this has the power as a Christian to make you more forgiving to other sinners, doesn't it? I mean, you see how God has dealt with you, how gracious He's been with you? How can you not be gracious to others even if they aren't converted? I mean, you read about ISIS people beheading, or planned Parenthood people profiting, or atheistic people writing and teaching and all that, and it can get you angry, and I understand all that. But understand that's who you were too. And just yearn for those people to hear the Gospel that someone would go and be willing to even perhaps die to bring them the Gospel. Another thing this does is it teaches us what evangelism and missions really is. We have a limited role, but we have an important role. Our role is to get the message of the Gospel out to people who are dead in their transgressions and sins.
Our job is to deliver that message. It is God's job to raise him from the dead spiritually. Now we can't measure success by those conversion rates or anything. That's up to God. So that's what evangelism and missions is, so celebrate that. Also, understand the same three enemies that enslaved you and had you spiritually dead, they're still attacking you now. It's why you still have problems in your life now. The world, the flesh, and the devil are still at it, and that's why you struggle with sin. Just be aware of that. But know this: You've been delivered. You don't ever have to sin again. You're free from the world, the flesh and the devil and its effective reign over you. You have been set free from sin and are now a slave to God.
And then finally, if I could just speak to you, if you are not a Christian, if you came in here, maybe you were investigating, maybe you were invited today, maybe you're a student at one of the universities, maybe you came in off the street and you know you're not a Christian. You know you're on the outside. These verses describe who you were when you walked in here. Maybe they don't describe you now, though. Maybe just in this 45-minute time, you've seen yourself for the first time of who you really are under the law of God, under the just judgment of God, and under the wrath of God, and you have fled already in your heart to Christ. You don't need to do anything. You're not saved by works, but by faith, by the grace of God through faith. We'll get to that in Ephesians 2:8-9, "For by grace are you saved through faith, not by works." So I just am pleading with you trust in Christ. Flee to Christ through faith. Cast all of your sins on him. Cast all of your burdens on him. He is a great and a majestic Savior.
Close with me in prayer, if you would. Father, I'm just melted, thankful, joyful at this incredible assessment of who I was apart from Christ, and I just want to thank you for saving me and each of my brothers and sisters that are in this place now. Thank you. And Lord, I just want to say please give us thankful hearts day after day, enable us to rejoice even in the midst of dire circumstances. Oh Lord, enable us to rejoice. And God, give us a heart for the lost that are around us, oh Lord. I pray for the college campuses here. I pray for Duke and I pray for NC State and I pray for UNC Chapel Hill and I pray for Central. I pray for these four universities. They're real close to us. Lord, I pray that there would be an amazing work of your sovereign grace to bring many students to faith in Christ this year. And God, I pray for each one of us, oh Lord, that we would be faithful to take the Gospel to those who need it so desperately all the while knowing that we were saved by the same grace. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.