October 8, 2017
Ephesians 2:1-7, 10; Isaiah 61:10
Today we are looking at a simple question that should have a simple answer. Yet, the more you talk to people, you realize the answer isn’t as obvious as we may think it is. The question is, “How are people saved?” it’s a straight forward question, but people have many different answers to it.
People will say that all good people will be saved. If you want to go to heaven you just have to be a good person. Then you’ll be saved. That make sense. Why would a good person not be saved? I’ve been to a few funerals where the preacher talked about how good the person had been. But the question is, how good is good enough? If all God demands is that I be a good person, how much of my life needs to be good? Is it 90% or above? Is it like school where C’s get degrees? Or do I just have to have a passing grade? So like 51%? In this view people dress themselves up in their good works trying to earn heaven. If I need to be a good person to get to heaven, can I ever be sure that I’ve done enough to get there?
Other people will say you have to live up to your religious standards. So whether your Jewish, Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, you just have to live up to their commandments or laws. They dress themselves up in their religious affiliations and hold to their standards. But if they examine their lives, they realize they haven’t lived up to the standards of their religion. What happens then? They say it is no big deal. They can splurge a little bit. But then again, if you’re not going to follow the standards how can you be sure? Then people begin to feel guilty and unsure if they are saved or not and eventually they’ll despair.
Finally, some people say they just go along with the crowd. Whatever the masses are saying at this point, that must be right. So they think that dressing themselves up in a political affiliation and trying to impact the world with the rest of their political party will save them. There are plenty of examples in history where the masses were absolutely wrong. Take Nazi, Germany for example.
So if we can’t rely on our goodness, our religious standards, or on the masses to get us to heaven, how are we saved? That’s what we are going to talk about today. If you remember last week, we talked about how Scripture alone is the only truth that we have. So let’s look at the truth, not our feelings or what others say. But God is going to tell us today that it being saved is a gift.
God’s gift isn’t earned.
2 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 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. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time,gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.
This is a tough section of Scripture for us to hear. This is one of those sections where you kind of cringe a little and wish it wasn’t in the Bible. See, we want there to be something about us that is loveable. We want there to be something that attracts God to us. We want there to be something that God sees in us that causes him to love us.
That makes sense to us. We need to have a reason for someone else to love us. That’s why people get all nervous about first dates. We want this person to like us so that if we like them, we can go on another date and maybe we end up fallen in love. But, I need to give them a reason to love me. That’s how our relationships work, and sometimes we think that’s how it is with our relationship with God. I need to give him a reason to love me and save me.
But notice what Paul says. “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” And who was working in us? The ruler of the kingdom of the air and the spirit who works in the disobedient. Who is that? Satan. Spiritually speaking this is how we are born into the world. Born dead and Satan working on our spiritual corpse.
Boy, we don’t like to think of ourselves as that, do we? Death isn’t attractive. A corpse isn’t something we like to look at. That’s why when it comes time for a funeral the deceased gets make up put on and they get put in a suite or dress. In other words, we dress up the dead so death is more attractive.
But if you want to see what death is really like, just drive down 183 sometime and stop next to some road kill. You will see a corpse that cannot do anything. The animal that used to be full of life now lays still and can’t move. It begins to rot as the laws of nature begin working on it. It’s cold, and it smells horrible as maggots surround it.
That picture right there is how we are spiritually when we are born into this world. When Adam and Eve sinned, the human race died spiritually. We all became infected with sin, and now when we are born we are born spiritually like that dead road kill. Not very attractive is it? Not very loveable.
And there’s something inside of us that realizes this. And so we try to dress up our spiritual corpse in hopes that God finds it more attractive. We hope that by dressing up our spiritual corpse it will make God love us and more willing to save us. So what do we do? We dress ourselves up with our works. We try to live the best we can and with each good work that we do we think that we become even more attractive to God. Soon we begin to look at other people and we become a little arrogant and judgmental, “Wow, at least I don’t do what that person does.” Or, “I can’t believe they wouldn’t do that. How could they be so insensitive and not help?” We become more concerned about what other people are teaching and doing and how they are wrong instead of recognizing our own state. We can even fall into this when it comes to church affiliation. We can become judgmental and think that we are more attractive to God because we are part of a certain Christian denomination.
But realize that all we are doing when we do that is dressing up our spiritual corpse and saying, “My corpse smells better and looks better than your corpse.” But at the end of the day a corpse is a corpse. It doesn’t matter how good it looks. We are still a spiritual corpse. No matter how hard we try, we can’t save ourselves. No body how creative we get we can’t make ourselves any more attractive to God. When it comes to being saved it is a gift from God.
4 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. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 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.
God’s gracious gift of life comes through his death.
This is the amazing part. Even though spiritually speaking we were in the condition of that road kill, filled with the deathly traits of anger, failures, immoral, and selfishness, God had great love for us even when were we dead in transgressions. There was nothing loveable about us, and yet God loved us. It is by grace, God’s undeserved love, that you have been saved. That he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
I’m sure by now all of you have heard of the terrible events of the past week in Las Vegas. A shooter rained down bullets onto a country concert killing many people. As the shots started, a man named Sonny Melton from Tennessee, shielded his wife. He was shot and killed, but she lived. That’s some of the greatest love that any of us know in this life.
And in a way that is what Jesus did for you and me. Spiritually speaking we were dead. We couldn’t get ourselves out of the way of hell. We were going to die if someone didn’t save us. But Jesus died in our place. Just like Sonny covered his wife and died so she could live, Jesus took our place and died that we might live too.
But God’s grace is incomparable. It’s far and beyond any loving action we see on this earth, and that’s because there is nothing we did to earn this love. There was no reason God should love us, and yet he did. Jesus saw us in our sin, and he said, “I will take your sin and give you my life.”. There on the cross we see God’s incomparable grace as Jesus died not for his sins, he was perfect, but for your sins, my sins, and the sins of the world. All so that we might live. It was at that cross that he took the punishment we deserved, and he willingly took our place. Why? Because of his grace. We had nothing to offer him. He died. You live.
See, when it comes to being saved, it is completely a gift from God. It is completely by God’s grace. We have nothing to do with it. God does it all and he gave us the gift of life through his death. But his grace is so comprehensive that he wasn’t just content to make us alive but he clothes us as well.
10 I delight greatly in the Lord;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
He saw the rags we were wearing, and he said, “Here, let me give you a new wardrobe.” And he clothed us in garments of salvation. In other words, he clothes us in garments of heaven. And he arrayed, or dressed us in robes of righteousness.
We don’t need to dress ourselves up with our good works to try and be more attractive to God. We don’t need to dress ourselves up by following religious standards to be loved by God. We certainly don’t need to dress ourselves up with the crowd. Those rags could never hide the ugly scars that used to describe us. It could never cover up failure, quitter, cheater, drunk, addict, anger, greedy or any other characteristic of a spiritual corpse. But God, in his grace, said, “Let me clothe you. Take my robes of righteousness. Take the garments of salvation and put them on.” Now when God looks at you, he doesn’t see the sins that used to describe you. Now he not only sees a spiritually living being, but he only sees someone who is loved, forgiven, and righteous because of Jesus. This is all done for you by God. He makes you alive and he clothes you. All of your salvation is done for you by God himself. And Paul closes this section by saying that.
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
It is by grace you have been saved. Not by your own works, but only by God’s grace. How we are saved doesn’t take our works into account at all. It is all by God’s grace.
His gracious gift comes before our works.
10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works,which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Paul finally brings up our good works. But notice it’s at the very end after he has established how we are saved. It’s solely by God’s grace we are saved. Then we do good works.
You can kind of think of it this way. I know it is hard to believe, but Christmas is coming up. Would you ever write thank you cards for the gifts you received before actually receiving the gifts? How do you know what gift you will receive? How do you know who will give it to you? That’s not how it works.
Once we receive the gift then we write the thank you card. That is how it is when it comes to us being saved. God gives us the gift of salvation and then we write him a thank you card with our life. And the best part is that we don’t have to figure out a way to say thanks. God has prepared good works for us today in advance to say thank you to him.
When we serve here at church or give your offering to church, when you help your neighbor, when you do devotions at night with your kids and say prayers, as you serve your spouse’s needs, these are all opportunities that God has prepared for you in advance to do to say thank you to him for his gift of grace. It’s our way of saying, “Thank you, God, for saving me.”
As the chaos happened that night in Vegas, a bartender looked over and saw a woman on the ground. He didn’t know her, but he ran over to her quickly. He had no reason to help. No reason to run over there. But he did. She had been shot in the stomach. Out of instinct he pressed down on the gun wound to slow the bleeding down. The woman begged him not to leave her, and he said he wouldn’t.
That woman is now in the hospital recovering. She said that if it wasn’t for that man, she would not be alive. She would be dead right now. She feels like she gained another son that dark night.
God had no reason to help us. No reason to come down and save us. But he did. On one dark Friday afternoon, Jesus died in our place, and that day we gained a Father in heaven. That day we gained a Savior who has clothed us and dressed us in his righteousness. It is by grace you have been saved. Amazing Grace, how sweet, the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind but now I see.