I hope you have enjoyed the previous two lessons in this series. Today we begin studying Chapter 2 of Ephesians, the section labeled Made Alive in Christ. Remember that, if you are online, you can interact with this lesson either on-line at revmkg.wordpress.com or on the “Ebenezer Presbyterian Church” Facebook page. I welcome your questions, comments, and interaction in our on-line Sunday school. Then again, I suppose I should call it our “Weekly School”! Not a computer person? Drop me a note at the church address below or send me a text.
This past week was World Communion Sunday. As Americans, we tend to thank God for our blessings but forget that those gifts aren’t meant only for our comfort and benefit. As we partook of the elements, commemorating Jesus’ death on the Cross for our forgiveness and adoption into the family of God, the congregation was challenged to remember those, our brothers and sisters in faith, who lack even the simplest of comforts of living or even the smallest amount of religious freedom. Pray for the pastor in Iran who has been condemned to death for not recanting his faith in Christ. Pray for the people throughout our world who are dying of starvation. Pray for the orphaned children in Africa whose families have been decimated by AIDS. There is so much to pray for in our world, and there is so much we can do as a people so richly blessed by God. Pray. Listen. Give.
Where we pick up the story: Read Eph. 2:1-3. The author of the epistle begins this passage by outlining our first state: dead in transgressions and sins. Perhaps the sinfulness was not so much things we had done, but the very state, as verse 2 says, of being disobedient.
To believe in forgiveness, we must first believe in the need for such. Perhaps that is one reason we in America find it so hard to submit to the Gospel of Christ. We grow up living “good” lives, doing “good” things (or maybe not-so-bad things), and wonder what we did that was so terrible that would describe us as “dead in sin.” However, it is not the deeds done that define the need for forgiveness, but rather the inner person described here, with an attitude of self-determination and self-reliance, in other words, self-righteousness.
Question: Take a moment and ask yourself, what attitudes in my own life center on my own power to “pull myself up”? How do these attitudes affect my relationship with Christ?
The first piece of our beginning state is the belief that we are sufficient in ourselves. I believe this is the very foundation of the “ways of this world,” as stated in verse 2. We have all heard the “religious” adage, “God helps those who help themselves.” The truth, however is that this is not found in the Bible at all. While God does expect us to be responsible, self-reliance in itself says, “I do not need God.” Consider Jesus’ temptation (Matthew 4). In each instance, Jesus was tempted to choose His own way, his own path, rather than the path God had chosen. Had Jesus chosen to answer these temptations by taking His own path, there would be no salvation, no perfect sacrifice, as He, too, would have been in rebellion to the Father.
We chose to follow the ways of the world, to trust the wrong “spirit,” called here the ruler of the kingdom of the air. Many people today refuse to believe in such a spirit, denying the existence of a “devil” who is at enmity with God, of a tempter whose purpose is to thwart the will of God and destroy God’s creation. Whether you believe in an actual devil, or evil spirit, or in a system of worldliness that draws us away from God, you must believe in this: Our former state was separation from God. Because we were unable to save ourselves, we needed another way, one found in the person of Jesus Christ.
The Way of Grace: Read Eph. 2:4-10.
Previous generations had a saying: “You made your bed; now lie in it.” We were wallowing in that “bed” of rebellion and self-will and were “deserving of death,” but God was not content to leave us there. Because the God of all creation loved us, he sent his Son, Jesus, and “it is by grace you have been saved.”
Question: What is grace? Is it “grace” if we have earned the gift?
When the writer speaks of “grace,” it isn’t being charming or attractive, although that is one definition of the word. The writer is talking about a special favor, something unmerited, something that cannot be earned.
No matter how penitent or how hard we tried, no matter how good we would behave, we were lost, up the creek without a paddle, with no ability to find our way back. This is the problem with self-righteousness. We believe we can guide our own ship, but we have no way to do so. When the Ephesians accepted the truth of their inability to save themselves and turned, instead, to Christ, they became the recipients of this grace, the unmerited forgiveness paid for by Jesus Christ.
When you turned to Christ for salvation, because of God’s great love for you, you were forgiven not because of anything you had done, but because of what Christ had done. This is the crux of our salvation: that it did not come because of anything we did, not our good works, not our good intents, but only by the grace of God.
Question: “Not of works, so that no one can boast.” What are the areas in our lives when we revert to “works-righteousness,” when we begin to rely on ourselves rather than on God’s grace to carry us?
God is not an earthly parent who can be impressed by a compliant or even conniving child, but is over all and knows all. Therefore, when we receive salvation from God through Christ’s sacrifice, we receive a gift that cannot be purchased, maneuvered, or manipulated out of God’s hand. We had nothing to offer that could restore the relationship. In spite of our weakness, when we turned to God in relinquishment of our own way, God raised us up out of the mire, completing the work of salvation, making us complete in Christ. Because the entire work was done by God, we have no ability to boast except in Christ and His sacrifice.
Friend, if you are “in Christ,” you have been re-created, reborn, changed into “God’s handiwork,” not through any work of your own, but only through the gift of God. You cannot earn God’s mercy. You cannot buy God’s love. All you can do is believe, believe that Christ died for you, and through that death and resurrection He has forgiven and will forgive you. Finally, the works that we are now to do are not those to catch God’s eye, like a well-timed smile. The works that God “prepared in advance for us to do” (v. 10), are those done in response to the grace already received. We reply with love by serving the One who redeemed us.
If you do not now know this grace, this Savior, I invite you to meet Him today.
Mary Kay Glunt, Pastor
Ebenezer Presbyterian Church
P.O. Box 393, Greenfield, MO 65661