Welcome to part 3 of our series New Year, New You. More than 275 times in the Bible, God speaks of new things. We’re zeroing in on four of them, four strategic new things God wants to bless you with; four new things that will make for a better year, a better life, and ultimately a better you.
This week we come to how we walk—how we once walked, and how we are now called to walk, as those who have received the new heart that only Jesus can give; as those who are cooperating with God in the renewing of our minds. Today, we come to a key Bible passage about how we walk. More than 200 times, the Bible speaks about our walk. We read of some who walked in the ways of their forefathers, others who refused to walk in the ways of God. There are those who walk according to the stubborn inclination of an evil heart and end up going backward instead of forward. We read of walking by faith, not sight. And many more.
Jeremy Bentham was an interesting character. In his will, he left his fortune to a London hospital—but with a catch. He was to be present at every Board meeting. For the next hundred years after his death, it is said, the skeletal remains of Jeremy Bentham were dressed in 17th-century garb, whereupon he was wheeled into the boardroom once a month and placed at the head of the table. The Minutes of those meetings would always include this line: “Mr. Jeremy Bentham, present but not voting.”
[Source: Kent Hughes, Ephesians, 66]
Today we come to a passage that shows when we were spiritually dead, God made us alive with Christ.
We will be projecting the English Standard Version this morning because it faithfully translates a key word in this passage, which is all about our walk. We need not only the new heart and a renewed mind. We also need to begin a new walk. Here’s why. In Ephesians chapter two, Paul begins with a shocking statement, essentially that…
Apart from Christ, we were spiritually bankrupt. (2:1-3)
If you are taking notes, I’m using the image that we were spiritually bankrupt. Everyone understands bankruptcy. You have nothing to offer, nothing to bring to the table. Only debt. Paul uses an even more shocking image, stating that before Christ came…
We were dead.
“You were dead in the trespasses and sins…”Ephesians 2:1
We were alienated from God. We were lost. We were separate from God. Later in this same letter, Paul says we were “excluded from the life of God.” However you say it, the picture before trusting Christ is dire.
We are not morally good. We are not morally neutral. We were created in God’s image, and can do beautiful and powerful things because of that—but sin has covered over, marred, hidden much of God’s image within us, much like the Sistine Chapel ceiling’s Michelangelo masterpiece was dulled and obscured by candle soot prior to its restoration.
This is a hard teaching, a stumbling block for many. But it’s the essential backdrop to how good the good news of Jesus truly is.
I want to step back from the passage for a moment to urge you to begin the ‘thru the Bible in a year’ reading plan today. I introduced it last Sunday; this year we’re going to read thru the Bible together. Get some buzz going. On social media post verses that stand out to you, insights, questions about something you read. And to do that, we are going to use the “Read Scripture” app.
This flows from Romans 12 where Paul urges us to daily offer ourselves to the Lord for the renewing of our minds. That happens first and foremost by getting God’s Word into our thoughts.
As Ephesians chapter two opens, there’s already a tie-in from this coming week’s Bible reading. Today in the plan you will read the first three chapters of Genesis, where we hear God’s warning to Adam & Eve that if they violate the one restriction he has put on them for their good, they will die. They do break his command, but they don’t die. Or do they? They die spiritually. Banished from Eden, they lose the life with God that they had. That has been humanity’s experience since then. That’s Paul’s point. Apart from Christ, we are East of Eden—separated from right relationship with God. In that sense, we were dead. Second, Paul points out…
We were disobedient.
“…the trespasses and sins 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—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind…” Ephesians 2:2-3a
Apart from Christ, Paul says, spiritually we were the walking dead: there was movement, but not life. Key to this passage is how we walk. He begins here in verse 2 with how we once walked, how we used to walk. He’ll circle back to our walk at the end of the passage.
We were spiritually dead, we were disobedient, and therefore…
We were doomed.
“[You] were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Ephesians 2:3b
Everything so far is like a doctor’s appointment where he or she tells you you have cancer, which left untreated will take your life. But then you hear of the treatment that can heal you. That’s where Paul is taking us.
Verses 1-3 are like a diamond vendor using black velvet as the backdrop to showcase the brilliance of the diamond. We need to see the backdrop of our sin in order to appreciate the awesomeness of the Savior.
Here’s another connection to this week’s Bible reading. Tomorrow, you will read of Noah’s ark. Just as in Noah’s day, so today the door of God’s mercy is open. Today but not forever, it is time to enter through the door and be saved from the wrath to come. Jesus is the door, into the ark of salvation. See what’s going to happen as we begin reading through the Bible together? We’re going to start seeing connections come to life and experience more vividly awareness that God is speaking to us, to you.
Here’s where the passage turns from darkness to light. Apart from Christ, we were spiritually bankrupt. But…
With Christ, we are spiritually alive. (2:4-7)
Just like Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, calling the dead man out by name, so today, Jesus shouts to you, “RoseMarie, come forth! Renu, come forth! Ryan, come forth!” Every day, Christ calls people who are spiritually dead, and they come to life!
Listen to how Paul explains this marvelous mystery. First, he says…
Praise God, he is rich in mercy!
“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…”
“But God” is the greatest turning point in the Bible. We were as good as dead, but God stooped down, stepped out, and called us out of the grave. Why? Because he is rich in mercy, out of his great love, without us doing a thing to deserve favor, God intervened. Just like he raised Jesus from physical death, he raises from spiritual death all who trust in Christ.
This is what we mean when we sing of amazing grace. This should leave you speechless, in awe.
John was at Azusa Pacific University for his son’s graduation. His wife was also going to speak at commencement, so they were invited to a special gathering of a few people. There the college president called forward three graduating students and told the others how for the next couple of years, these graduates were going to serve the poorest of the poor in India.
The students thought they were going to be prayed over—which they were. But something happened that they didn’t know was coming. The school’s president turned to them and said, “I have a piece of news for you. There’s somebody you don’t know—an anonymous donor—who is so moved by what you’re doing that he has given a gift to this university in your name, on your behalf.”
John turned to the first student and said, “You are forgiven your debt of $105,000.” The kid immediately starts to cry.
John turns to the next student: “You’re forgiven your debt of $70,000.”
He then turns to the third student: “You are forgiven your debt of $130,000.”
None of them had a clue this was coming. They were ambushed by grace—that somebody they hadn’t done anything for would pay their debt in full. That, Paul says, is what God has done for you and me, for everyone who receives his gift of salvation. Praise God, he is rich…in mercy.
[Source: adapted from John Ortberg, “Patch ‘Em”]
Second, Paul says…
Praise God, he will show this kindness forever!
God out of sheer mercy made us alive together with Christ, “…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.”
The word Paul uses when he says God raised us up with Christ is the one from which we get the word sync. When we were out of sync with God, he synced us up through Christ!
Like Lazarus, we rise from death into a whole new life. Like Lazarus, he puts a song in your heart and has given you a story to tell—the final S in BLESS, Share your story. Tell someone this week what God has done for you, what the Lord is doing. Invite them to join you in the Bible reading plan. It never gets old hearing testimonies of God at work.
And note that this is not a short-term deal. Forever God will show us his kindness! In the coming ages, we will be living portraits of his power and forgiveness. Forever we’ll have stories to tell, and glory to show, about God’s kindness toward us.
Apart from Christ, we were spiritually bankrupt.
With Christ, we are made spiritually alive. And third, Paul marvels that…
In Christ, we are God’s workmanship. (2:8-10)
We’ll get to that amazing pronouncement in a moment. Before we get there, let’s break down what Paul declares here. First is the wonder that…
God saves; we simply believe.
Among the most loved and treasured promises in the Bible is this one, Ephesians chapter 2 and verses 8 & 9:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…”
God saves you by his grace when you believe. You don’t earn it and you can’t take credit for it; salvation is a gift from God. It is his sheer gift. GRACE: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.
Saving people is all God’s idea, and it’s all God’s work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it.
By contrast, L.L. Bean sent out a promo e-mail a while back that had this as its subject line:
“Double Coupon Dollars: Our Gift to You.”
But then the first line within the body of the e-mail was, “Earn Double Coupon Dollars.” Earn them.
That’s not a gift. That’s a gimmick. Jesus is no gimmick. The drop-to-your-knees revelation from God is that He saves. Salvation is God’s gift, paid in full by Jesus. God saves; we simply believe. Second…
God is great; we humbly receive.
Salvation is the gift of God, Paul says…
“…so that no one may boast.”
Jesus lived the life we never could (perfectly loving God & people).
Jesus died the death we should have died (the wrath of God poured out on him).
Jesus rose to life to open the way (as the first of all who would rise from the dead).
It’s all him, nothing we do. When someone gives you a gift—your first bicycle as a kid, a special piece of jewelry, maybe even a car—the last thing you do is then brag about yourself. You go viral about how generous the giver is! So it is to be among us. God is great. We humbly receive what came at great cost to him, that now offers us as a gift.
Twenty-five years ago Andy and his wife traveled to South American to complete their adoption of a little girl. The country they traveled to was rife with corruption, violence, and political chaos.
So when Andy and his wife arrived, anyone who could profit from their compassion kept upping the fees related to adoption. When Andy threatened to bring them to the attention of the U.S. consulate, a stranger found him and warned there would be serious consequences if he did so.
But Andy refused to leave without his daughter. He had never met the girl. She couldn’t get herself adopted. She hadn’t done anything to deserve a family embracing her as their forever daughter.
But Andy stayed, negotiating with corrupt officials, sacrificing ridiculous amounts of money, even risking his life to bring that little girl home.
That’s the kind of daring, radical-love pursuit that God engages in for people today—for you. For the next person who will come to Christ and be baptized here. Like Maria, there’s nothing we can do to earn God’s love. It’s all about what he has done to bring us to himself.
[Source: Adapted from Matt Woodley, The Gospel of Matthew: God With Us (InterVarsity Press, 2011), pp. 248-249]
God saves; we simply believe.
God is great; we humbly receive.
God is working his plan; we get to walk it out.
God not only saves. He then infuses you with new purpose, to walk out the good works he has already planned for you to do. Ephesians 2:10 declares…
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10
In the original Greek there’s no period at the end of the last verse we read. What it says without pause is, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast, for we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
It all goes together. Good works are not the root of our salvation. They are the fruit of salvation. [repeat]
The Message paraphrase says God saves us “to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.”
God has a plan. His plan is to save. And his plan is that once you are saved, you’re saved to serve, to walk out good works that reflect gratitude for the gift we’ve received.
Paul makes clear that if you are trusting in Jesus for right relationship with God, God is already working on you, and in you, so that he might work through you. New heart, renewing your mind, and now the new walk.
We are God’s workmanship, a Greek word that was used for any work of art such as a song, a poem, beautiful architecture, a statue, a painting, and so on. The only other time it’s used in the New Testament is in Romans 1:20 referring to the created world itself. Creation testifies to the Creator, by its beauty and intricate design and function. You are a new creation, called to testify to God’s greatness by the good works you walk out. We are to walk out what God is working in us.
The whole passage is a great contrast between two ways of walking: walking like we used to, like society around us, versus walking in the good works that God has prepared for us to do. Applying that for a moment just to the Dad & Daughter Dance, everything has been prepared for us. Someone else did all the advertising. Someone else handled all the registrations. Some else will check Dads and their daughters in as they come for a wonderful evening. It’s not a stretch to guess that this is a good work that God has prepared beforehand for us to walk in it. Join me. It’s going to be fun. And we’ll get to do good for a bunch of families.
In the audio version of this presentation we ended with some music, with a great backstory. A snippet was played from the best-selling solo album in jazz history, the all-time best-selling piano album of all time—Keith Jarret’s 1975 live performance in Cologne, Germany. There’s an amazing back story to the album that ties into today’s passage. Jarrett had asked for a specific model of concert grand piano to be provided for the performance. It wasn’t. Because of a misunderstanding, the opera house staff put out for the concert was a much smaller model used for rehearsals. It wasn’t in tune. The black keys in the middle didn’t work. The pedals stuck. The day of the concert when Keith discovered the error, he tried playing a few notes. His producer did the same. They said nothing. They circled the piano several times and then tried a few more keys. Then after a long silence, the producer told the opera house representative, ‘If you don’t get another piano, Keith can’t play tonight.'”
They weren’t able to get another piano. Keith Jarrett played anyway, that piano. And that’s what you’re hearing right now. From an out of tune, banged up instrument, a master brought forth a masterpiece.
So it is with all who follow Christ. God saves you by his power, according to his great mercy. And he does so not so that we then sit, but so that we walk out the good works he has prepared for us to do; to make him known, by the good we do.