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Faith Bible Church, NY
July 14, 1996
Dead Men Given Life
Turn with me this morning to Ephesians 2. We are going to try to get through verses 1-7 this morning. Paul is continuing to tell us what God has done for us in the Lord Jesus Christ. He began the book with a burst of praise for God and the wonderful blessing He has given to us. He ended chapter one by expressing his prayer response to these blessings and the Ephesians faithfulness to Christ. His great desire was for them to come to a greater personal knowledge of God and what He has done. Here in Ephesians 2 Paul continues that theme as he explains how our salvation came about. He takes from the past (what we were), to the present (what we are); to the future, what we will be.
Follow along as I read this section through verse 10.
2:1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly [places], in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [it is] the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
I don’t know how many of you remember your first real experience with death, but I remember mine. I am not talking about that acquaintance we all have simply from the fact that we see animals killed by the side of the road, but rather the first personal interaction with it.
For most of us that would probably be a pet that we loved. For me it was a guinea pig named Samantha. It bothered me that one day she just laid there in her cage. I picked her up and she was cold and stiff. I didn’t like it. My brothers and I had a little burial service for her in the back yard. But pets, as much as we love them do not compare to when a person you know and love dies. My grandpa Harris died when I was 13, but since I only saw him once a year and did not go to his funeral since it was in another state, that did not impact me to much.
It was when my grandpa Durfee died when I was 25 that I had to come to grips with the personal nature of death. He only lived a mile from us and I had spent a great many Saturdays over at his house while I was growing up. We would watch cartoons together (he like Road Runner), he would fix my bike and we would play games. When his health deteriorated in my late teens, he gave me his car. My family would take turns driving him and grandma around. While he was still able physically, I would go get him between Sunday School and Church so he could sit through the worship service, but tragically that did not last long. Then came visiting in the nursing home and the hospital. I still remember the seeing him the night before he died. I was the last one in the family to see him alive. As weak and frail as he had become by then he gripped my hand so hard when I prayed with him.
The next morning he was dead. I went with my mom to the funeral home. Forest lawn has a room where there are about 2 dozen caskets on display. That is quite a shock in itself. Then there was the viewing. Flowers were displayed around the casket, and as a WW I veteran he was entitled to a flag (which I still have), but the focus of my attention was on him. It was grandpa, but it was not grandpa. I had been talking with him only a couple days before. Now he could not hear or speak. He was not wearing his glasses. They were of no use. He couldn’t see. He could not hold my hand. His skin was cold. He could make no response. It was the empty shell of the man that I once knew. The real grandpa was now separated from me by a gulf I could not cross.
I bring all this up so that you will understand what Paul is talking about here. Paul is using the strongest terms possible to describe what God has done in us. The statement of verse 1 is concluded verse 5 with the verses in between only giving greater detail to what this means. “You were dead in your trespasses and sin, but God made you alive together with Christ.”
You were dead. There is no stronger term than that. You were not almost dead or seriously ill and in need of intensive care. You were dead. What does Paul mean? Obviously he does not mean that you were physically dead, but spiritually dead. That is the state of all men and women apart from Christ. That aspect of them that is eternal, their soul, is cut off from the source of life and they exhibit all the qualities of death. They are insensible and they cannot help themselves. A corpse cannot respond to anything and neither can it do anything for itself. As one commentator, John Eadie, put it. “It is a case of death walking.” If you will, apart from God humans are spiritual zombies. They go through the motions of life, but they do not possess it.
There are those even in “Christian” circles that do not like this doctrine. They think it harsh, cruel to think of man in this way. If we can get him coming to church where he can be in a good environment and learn some morality and how to live a good life then he will respond and become a religious man. Yes, the man may become a “religious man,” but will still be dead. This whole line of thinking is really no different that what the secular “experts” say. “Man is really good by nature and if we can just provide the right environment, give him the right kind of psychological help then he will be fine. Man is getting better and continuing to evolve into a superior creature all the time.”
The history of this century alone should prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that man is getting worse, not better. Certainly man has better technology. He has the capability of doing all sort of wonders, not just putting man on the moon or sending a space craft through the rings of Saturn, but of actually feeding everyone of the almost 7 billion people in the world. Yet we find that repressive governments (communism, totalitarianism) and dominating religions (Hinduism and its relatives, Islam and Catholicism), leave millions starving in crushing poverty. Man is also capable of the destruction of human life on an unprecedented scale, and I am not just talking about nuclear weapons. I recall reading somewhere, though I do not recall the figures, that more people have been killed by war and genocidal murder in this century than all previous centuries put together. Man is not improving and he cannot because he is spiritually dead and can do nothing for himself.
It is very important that we understand what Paul is talking about here because we cannot underst and the greatness of what God has done and what our salvation means if we do not understand the condition from which we came. Remember that Paul has just finished telling them that his prayer is that they would understand “the hope of His calling… the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints… and the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe” (1:18,19). Understanding this doctrine is part of that prayer. In addition we will neither serve God nor respond to un-saved man properly if we do not understand the state that they are still in. How can we understand the world around us if we do not properly understand the spiritual condition of those in it?
Now in saying that all men and women apart from Christ are spiritually dead does not mean that all non-Christians have fallen to equal levels of debauchery or that they are not capable of doing actions that could be called “good.” Jesus Himself pointed this out in passages such as Matthew 7:11 where He says, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” Or in Luke 6:32 where He points out that “even sinners love those who love them.” What Paul is saying is that apart from Christ man even doing “good” things is incapable of doing them for the right reason, glorifying God.
While all non-Christians have not degenerated to equal levels of evil, they are all still spiritually dead. Coroners pick up bodies in all sorts of stages of decay, but every person they put in a body bag is dead. The decay of death, both physical and spiritual, manifests itself in different degrees, but there are no degrees to death itself, physical or spiritual. All men fail to measure up to God’s perfect standards (Rom 3:23).
Let’s clarify a little more what Paul means here to be dead. It is best explained by contrasting it with what it means to be spiritually alive. Martyn Lloyd-Jones defines this for us well: “life is to know God, to be in relationship to God, to enjoy God, to correspond with God, to be like God, to share the life of God, and to be blessed of God.” The opposite then, spiritual death, would be ignorance of God (Eph. 4:18), at enmity with God (Rom. 8:7), shut out from God (2 Thess 2:9), cut off from the life of God (Rom. 11:22), under God’s condemnation and wrath (Rom. 1:18). Spiritual death means being incapable of accepting or understanding spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14).
That is the condition that everyone in this room was in at one time and some may still be there. The things of the world held your attention while the things of Christ were not either not interesting, valuable or both to you. The non-Christian finds reading and studying of the Bible of no personal value or interest, yet the same person will find the reading of material about his hobbies or the newspaper of great interest. He or she may like to talk about the weather or sports or hobbies or politics or gossip, but they bow out of conversations that talk of the soul, life and death, heaven and hell, Jesus and salvation, and God’s hand in the affairs of men.
As the spiritually dead are confronted with the things of the spirit one of two things will happen. Either God will work on their heart and draw them to Himself or they will go further in their rejection. Non-interest will turn to hate. That may nor may not become a rabid hatred, but they will not want to be in a place where they have a sense that what is being said is against their lifestyle. This does not mean they do not want religion, but in religion they can still be in control. I like what Martyn Lloyd-Jones said about this, “Of course he is prepared to have some sort of religion, but only as long as he can control it, control what is said and for how long it is said, and such like things. Ah, yes, there must be a time limit on God’s things; but not on the world’s things. That is hatred of God.” This only proves Paul’s point in Rom. 8:7 “the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able [to do so].”
The spiritually dead have no righteousness in them, because apart from Christ man can have no righteousness. His own efforts at it, as Isaiah put it, are like filthy rags in God’s sight (Isa. 64:6). They believe lies and lie because the truth is not in them. They are selfish and hate those who do not give them what they want. Again, this does not have to be displayed in its worst extremes for even the most common displays prove the point. You do not have to raise telling falsehoods to an art form to be a liar (and we certainly live in an age when there are a lot who have done this), all you really need to prove you are a liar is tell a creditor “the check is in the mail” when it is not or say to someone on the phone, “Joe is not in right now,” when Joe is sitting right there. You do not have to shoot someone down in cold blood to prove you are a murderer, Jesus said cursing and name calling proves that point (Mt. 5:21-24).
How is it that man finds himself in such a helpless position? It is because of sin. Notice what Paul says here: “You were dead in your trespasses and sin.” Paul uses two words to describe the reasons for man’s dead state. Trespasses and sins.
Trespasses are outward transgressions. It means to “make a false step” and refers to stepping off the path of life that is found in doing God’s will and making our own path by our own will. Sin is the more broad term and means “to miss the mark.” It has more of a connotation in this passage of the inward direction. You could say that man sins – i.e. “miss the mark” of doing, thinking, being what God says he should because he steps off the path of His will and do our own will. We outwardly demonstrate what is already true inwardly.
You were not dead because you committed sin but because you were in sin. It is not for any particular sin that made you dead, it was because you’re very nature was sinful that you were spiritually dead. In other words you were not born alive and then died the first time you sinned, you were born dead because were already a sinner by the nature you inherited from Adam. This is what Paul is referring to in 1 Cor. 15:22 – “For as in Adam all die…”, and in Romans 5:12-21 where he points out that “through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin…(12) “by the transgression of the one [Adam], death reigned through the one… (15,17) “through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men… (16,18)” “through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners…(19).”
You are not a sinner because you sin, you sin because you are a sinner. Your action only proves what was already in your heart. A person is not a liar because they lie, they lie because they are liars. A thief is not a thief because he steals, he steals because he is a thief. The same is true for any other sin. Jesus said in Matt. 12:35, “The evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil.” He added to this in Matt. 15:18-19, “the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.”
The Pharisees accused Jesus of being born entirely in sin (John 9:34), but the truth is that only Jesus was not born in sin, all other humans have been born in sin. David described this fact in Psalm 51:5 saying, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” In other words, from the first moment of my existence, my conception, I was already a sinner.
What is the consequence of being spiritually dead? You can do nothing yourself. The remedy is beyond anything you or any other human can do anything about. It will take something that only your creator can accomplish. And that is precisely Paul’s point. You were dead in your trespasses and sin… but God (vs. 4,5) being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).
Think through with me some of the ramifications of this truth. First in terms of what it means to us who are already Christians and then in terms of those who are not.
First, it demonstrates beyond any possible counter argument that salvation is the work of God alone. You were dead. You could not respond even if you wanted to do so. No other person could help you. Only God could do what was needed for you to be saved. He made you alive. You cannot split up all the different aspects of salvation into neat little divisions and label them 1,2,3 etc. for salvation comes all in one package: redemption, regeneration, conversion, justification, sanctification, adoption, etc. However, it is because of these verses that I believe that regeneration by the Holy Spirit must precede faith on the part of the individual. A dead man has no faith and cannot conjure up no faith. He is dead.
Paul’s desire was for them and us is to marvel at the riches of God glory and the surpassing greatness of His power, and certainly this makes us do that. Salvation is all of God’s grace. We have been given unmerited favor, we have received what we do not deserve. We who were dead in trespasses and sin have been made alive unto righteousness and holiness.
The first ramification then is the praise we should give God for the grace He has given to us. The second stems from the fact that we have been made alive.
I will expand on this point in a few weeks when we talk about the purpose of our salvation, but just think a minute what it means to be spiritually alive? As I pointed out earlier “life is to know God, to be in relationship to God, to enjoy God, to correspond with God, to be like God, to share the life of God, and to be blessed of God.” The whole point of our existence then revolves around God for it is only in Him that we have life. Life is no longer self centered. That is a mark of those who are still spiritually dead. Being a live means I am now able to do God’s will and not my own.
The question then is how are we doing in being alive. Are we striving to be in good spiritual health? Are we eating a good diet of spiritual food and giving our spiritual gifts good exercise? Or have we taken for granted what is ours and become fat and lazy. I’ll tell you, there is nothing more miserable than a spiritually fat and sassy pew potato! Some Christians act like they have spiritual anemia, others act as if they have gone into a coma. Jesus said that He came to give us life and that we might have it abundantly (John 10:10).
If your spiritual vigor is waning, then get back on track and make sure you are eating right and are exercising properly. You must spend time in the Scriptures. Not just reading them, but studying them. How many of you would last if you ate just one meal a week? Yet how many of you think you will do well spiritually by just showing up here on Sunday mornings and listening to me for 45 minutes. Get into the Word so that you can know for yourself God’s revelation of Himself. You also need to be spending time in prayer and in service. What ever your gifts are, you need to using them and I can guarantee you that it is more than just teaching a class or just cleaning the church once every couple of months or just doing whatever. Your life must revolve around serving Christ in a multitude of different ways in and out of the visible church ministries.
If you are in more desperate condition than a shape up regimen will provide, then call on the spiritual doctors: myself, the Elders and some other gifted individuals. We are here to help you get to where you need to be as part of the body of Christ. Maybe you need encouragement, maybe admonishment, maybe both. Our desire is to do as the Scripture says: admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak and be patient with all men (1 Thess. 5:14).
But let me go on before we run out of time. What about ramifications concerning non-believers?
The first ramification is that they are helpless. We cannot expect them to act like Christians. (I don’t even expect Christians to act like Christians, just saved sinners). That does not mean that we accept or even tolerate their sins. We must proclaim God’s standards and call them to it. We must even call for justice to be done, but at the same time we are doing those things we had better be extending to them grace and mercy.
We must never forget that though we have been saved and are alive now, we were once in the same condition that they are in. Do you not have compassion for them? Will you not pray for them? Can we do less than extend to them the gospel of Jesus Christ while pleading that God will have mercy upon them and call them to Himself?
I don’t have to like the immoral things other people do whether that is the President, my congresswoman, my neighbor, my relative or even the guy who cuts me off while I am driving. I do have a responsibility to let them know God’s standards and hold them to those standards, but even more I need to understand their miserable, wretched condition and implore God on their behalf to give them what He has given to me. Can I really do any less and still call myself a Christian and a follower of Jesus Christ? You can be sure that when we start losing our compassion on sinners, no matter how vile they maybe, then pride is lurking at the door and we will soon have an encounter with the evil that still lurks in our hearts.
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