Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, May 26, 2018
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By Grace Alone

Ephesians 2:1-10

 The uniqueness of the Christian faith is that we understand salvation to be a gift of God, and not an achievement of human beings.  In one way or another, all other religious systems, at least those that I’m familiar with, begin with the assumption that salvation is something to be earned or achieved.  There are a variety of ways of earning it.  Some see obedience to certain laws or principles as the way.  Others see certain knowledge or understanding as the way.  But one way or another, other religions all base salvation on human achievement.

 We believe salvation is a gift of God.  And in these ten verses, Paul explains the basics of a Christian understanding of salvation.  

 First, on our own, we all dead and doomed.  Salvation is not something that we can even begin to achieve if we are dead to start with.  

 What’s your reaction to that?  Do you accept that apart from Christ, you are dead?  What about the world around us?  What do you think would be most people’s reaction if we told them, “Apart from Christ, you are dead!”  “Really, cause I feel okay?”  I think many people would reject that idea.  I think that because before I was a Christian, I rejected it.  It’s only now, with the benefit of hindsight, that I can look back on my life before Christ and affirm, “I was dead in my sins before Christ brought me to life.”

 Well, what do we mean when we say a person is “dead in their sins, apart from Christ?”  Because, obviously, a person is not physically dead apart from Christ.  What we mean is that while a person is alive physically, they are dead spiritually.  They are cut off from the source of life, God, by their sins.  

 Their “many” sins, as Paul says.  Again, what does the world think about that?  I suspect the immediate reaction of many is to say, “What do you mean many sins?  I’m not a bad person.  I’ve never killed anyone.  I’ve never cheated on my spouse.  I’ve never stolen anything.  Where do you get off talking about my many sins?”  

 The Greek word that we translate as “sin” is HAMARTIA.  The usual meaning of the word is “to miss the mark” or “to fall short.”  It would normally be used for something like a person shooting an arrow at a target and missing.  If we miss the mark, if we fall short, if we fail to be everything God created us to be and intends us to be,

then we are a sinner.  If we fail to reflect the love of God, then we are a sinner.  No one can say, without self-delusion, “I’m not a sinner.”  

 “You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil, the commander of the powers of the air.”  Why would Satan be called the “prince of the powers of the air?”  It had to do with the way Hebrew people understood the universe.  The Hebrews believed in three heavens.  The first heaven is the air, the atmosphere.  The second heaven is space, the stars and planets.  The third heaven is the realm of God and his angels.  And they believed that when God cast Satan and his fallen angels out of heaven, he cast them down from the third heaven to the first.  They believed the air was the home of evil spirits.  And these evil spirits continue to work to try to tempt us away from God.  And apart from Christ, we live under the rule of these evil spirits.

 Well, of course, our society no longer has such a view.  Most would call it superstitious.  But is a person living with addiction any more free or alive?  No.  And I think that to one degree or another, we all struggle with different forms of addiction.  We all have things that have a hold on us.  And we need help to break free from them.

 Apart from Christ, we are ruled by the passions of our sinful nature, literally, our flesh.  Flesh, of course, refers to our physical bodies.  But Paul used the word flesh to describe a way of living that is oriented away from God.  Without God, we are dead, powerless to overcome the passions of the flesh.  And we are doomed to death and after death, judgment.  We have no hope on our own.  Dead people can’t save themselves.

 But we do have hope because God loved us.  Even when we were dead in our sins, Christ came to us and died for us.  And God gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead.  We call this regeneration:  New life, a new beginning in Christ.  And it happens only by grace.  Dead people can’t bring themselves to life!

 We are already raised from the dead.  Now obviously our bodies are still dying.  But our spirits are alive before God.  The relationship between us and God that was broken by sin is restored, and we are alive before him.  And while we know that one day our bodies will succumb to the ravages of time, we also look forward to the day of the resurrection of our bodies.  

 So in a sense, we are already raised from the dead.  But then Paul goes on to say that we are also already “seated with Christ in the heavenly realms.”  What does that mean?

 Well, we are talking here about something that is a part of natural progression of grace.  Our salvation is all about grace.  It begins with God’s grace calling us to faith in Christ.  When we have faith, we are justified by grace.  And then we are sanctified by grace, made holy by grace.  The final step is that we are glorified by grace, made like Christ by grace.  But already?  

 Well, if we are already raised from the dead by Christ, even though we’re also looking forward to our own resurrection, then it can make some sense to say that we are also already glorified in Christ because we are united together with him who has ascended into glory.  But once again, I think this also has something to do with the cosmology, the understanding of the universe in the first century world.  

 Again, they believed that there three heavens.  The first, the air, was the realm of evil spirits.  The second, the stars, were the realm of Fate.  Most ancient peoples believed in Fate.  They believed their lives were at the whims of Fate.  If you were born “under a bad star,” then your life was going to be difficult.  They believed peoples’ lives were determined by the stars.  I guess some people still do if they bother reading those horoscopes in the paper.  

 By saying that we are already seated with Christ in the highest heaven, in some mystical way, Paul is also saying that we are free from the powers of the those two lower heavens.  Our lives are not ruled by evil spirits.  Our lives are not ruled by Fate.  God is in control of our lives and our salvation.  This is a word of assurance.  No power can threaten our salvation.  We cannot lose our salvation.  It cannot be taken from us.

 “So God can point to us throughout the ages as examples of the wealth of his grace, shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.”  All of this is a gift.  All of this is a gift of God to us, and not something that we can earn or achieve, so we have no grounds for pride or boasting.  

 It all came to us as a gift when we first believed.  And even our faith is a gift of God.  We would not have faith if it were not for the way that God, by his Holy Spirit, has led us to Christ.  

 As Methodist people in particular, we believe in prevenient grace.  Prevenient grace is the grace that comes to us before we have faith and leads us to faith.  This is our Wesleyan contribution to the understanding of God’s work of salvation.  We are led to faith by grace.  

 So all of this is a gift of God to us, and not a reward for anything good that we have done.  And this has always been God’s way.  Sometimes even we think that salvation is different in the New Testament than in the Old.  I’ve heard a number of Christians over the years say that “in the Old Testament, salvation is by law, but in the New Testament, by grace.”  No, both testaments teach salvation by grace.  God rescued the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt and brought them through the Red Sea before he gave them his covenant at Mt. Sinai.  Grace came before the Law.

 God’s grace leads to good works, and not the other way around.  Though we are still tempted to think the other way around.  Even as Christians, we can be tempted to think we have to earn God’s grace.  

 “We are God’s masterpiece.”  I like that.  It has a lot to say about how we should think of ourselves and treat ourselves.  Do we think of ourselves as God’s masterpiece?

 And we have been created anew in Jesus to do the good things God planned for us long ago.  God has a plan for you.  God has things for you to do.  

 Do we believe that?  I think the temptation we might have is to think that, “Well, God certainly has a plan for some people.  But I’m just an ordinary person.  I’m pretty sure God doesn’t have a plan for me.”  God does have a plan for you.  God has things for you to do, and he’s planned them out for you for a long time.  Are you seeking out God’s plan for your life?  If you are a believer in Christ, you should be.

 This is our understanding of salvation.  First, we can’t do it on our own.  We’re dead apart from Christ.  But because God loved us, he made a way through Jesus.  And if we have faith in Christ, then we need to be seeking God’s will for us.  So wherever we are along that journey, there’s a message for us here.  If we have no faith in Christ, we are still dead.  We need to come to life by coming to Jesus.  If we have faith in Christ, but no direction, we need to seek God’s will for our lives so that we can make a proper response to his grace.  And if we know God’s will for our lives, we need to keep walking that path.  

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