In his book Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World C.J. Mahaney asks a very penetrating question that I want you to think about. “Imagine I take a blind test in which my task is to identify the genuine follower of Jesus Christ. My choices are an unregenerate individual and you. I’m given two reports detailing conversations, Internet activity, manner of dress, iPod playlists, television habits, hobbies, leisure time, financial transactions, thoughts, passions, and dreams. The question is: Would I be able to tell you apart? Would I discern a difference between you and your unconverted neighbor, coworker, classmate, or friend?”
Are you any different from those in the world? Are you any different from your classmates that do not love Jesus? Let me tell you up front where this question is coming from. Ephesians 2:1-10. In Ephesians 2 you have the description of those that are dead and how they walk and you have the description of those that God has made alive and how they walk. They are different; which means that if you have truly been born again then you walk according to Ephesians 2:4-10 and not Ephesians 2:1-3. If you are no different from the world and you are no different from those that do not love Jesus then something is radically wrong.
That is a dangerous question to ask. It is dangerous because there are ways that we can wrongly answer it. If we use the wrong framework for answering that question then we will be in trouble. There are those that have no saving relationship with Jesus that would say they passed C.J.’s test and there are those that have a saving relationship with Jesus that would say they have failed miserably C.J.’s test. So, we need to be careful to have a biblical understanding of how we go about answering that question. It is important question. We need to answer it, but we need to be answering it correctly.
Let me give you a brief history of the Old Testament to help us understand a religious group that was around in Jesus’ days on earth. God chose a people for himself. These people rebelled. God continued to lead them. The people kept rebelling. This is a perpetual cycle in the Old Testament, with occasional times of repentance and restoration. All in all it outlines God’s faithfulness to his people. Towards the end of the Old Testament times God sent his people away in exile. They lost their home country. This is the story behind many of the Minor Prophets in the last twelve books of the Old Testament. God sent them away because of their sin. Now fast forward about 500 years and you have a group called the Pharisees. The Pharisees interpreted God’s actions correctly and responded appropriately—we need to be more faithful to God and serve Him alone. We need to obey God with everything we have within us; nothing wrong with that.
But we see what happened in Jesus’ day with the Pharisees. They no longer were concerned about a passionate relationship with God but had fallen into a cold and dead formalism. Rules became their god. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
That Pharisaical spirit has ran like a thread all throughout our history. Usually as a response to rampant worldliness, sin, and the like the church decides to become hermits and concerns itself with rules and eventually falls into dead formalism. They keep rules but neglect the heart. This is, in many ways what happened in the days of Martin Luther. Now what does that Pharisaical spirit look like in our day? It looks like the lady that refuses to play with the devil’s cards but instead decides to gossip about other church members. It looks like the guy that only lets his kids watch Veggie Tales and listens to only Christian radio but inwardly is filled with anger and pride toward all those that watch those secular shows like the Beverly Hillbillies. It looks like the guy that makes certain to votes Republican, pickets at abortion clinics, and takes a stand on all the big social issues but never reaches in his pocket to give a quarter to a homeless guy.
The Pharisaical spirit has a list and lives by that list. It’s a long list of do’s and do not’s. So you ask someone with the pharisaical spirit (or even someone that interprets Christianity wearing Pharisaical sunglasses) this question: “Are you any different from those in the world? Are you different from those that do not love Jesus?” What then does the Pharisaical person do? He reaches in his pocket, pulls out his list and starts doing some calculating. He considers the externals. The music he listens to—yep, it’s all Jeremy Camp, Avalon, Underoath, INLOW, Steven Curtis Chapman, Flame, LeCrae, and Shane and Shane. The television he watches—he tries to scan his mind to remember if he saw any bad movies lately, or stopped on a bad show, (of course bad being defined by his own standards). He makes sure he has only watched Veggie Tales and that Jesus movie from the 80’s.
And this is what happens with the person that has a Pharisaical spirit. Either he wins and gets filled with pride because he is not like the world and he could answer our question the way every good follower of God should. Or he loses and is filled with despair and hopelessness. He lost. He beats himself up because he remembers watching that movie that he should not have. He remembers the sexually explicit lyrics he listened to. So, he feels bad about himself. Well, for a little while. And then he gets that Pharisaical resolve back and decides to go on a mission—of course all by the flesh, and all relying on external’s as his standard.
Ah, it’s easy to make fun of the Pharisee isn’t? He’s such an old codger. When is he going to understand grace and our freedom in Jesus? Look at everything he is missing out on. What a lame duck. Doesn’t he know that there is so much more out there? This guy needs to understand grace.
And thus we are introduced to our second strain that has constantly been present in history—those that ignore God, view him as unconcerned about their lives, and those that live lives that reflect that belief. Earlier I spoke of the cycle in the Old Testament. What do you think caused that cycle? It was none other than worldliness. This is what Spurgeon said about that cycle:
“Never were there good times when the Church and the world were joined in marriage with one another. The more the Church is distinct from the world in her acts and in her maxims, the more true is her testimony for Christ, and the more potent is her witness against sin.”
Typically, especially in Christianized church circles it comes from a misunderstanding of God’s graciousness. We see this even present in the New Testament. As Paul is talking about grace many wrongly assumed that it meant the more you sin the more you exalt God’s grace. This is why he asks the rhetorical question in Romans 6:1, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound”? And it is a faulty belief like this that we see as a reason why Paul qualifies his statements in Galatians 5, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve on another.” And again we see this present in the church at Corinth. They really latched on to this idea of Christian freedom. And because of it they engaged in all sorts of sexual immorality and their church serves where such chaos that Paul said, “It’s better if you do not meet together”.
Just as the Pharisaical spirit is typically a response to worldliness, the worldly spirit is a response to the dead formalism of the Pharisaical spirit. What does this worldliness look like in our day? If I could be blunt it looks like many of our lives. We are unconcerned about holiness. We are not broken for sin. We laugh at the Pharisee because we identify with the worldling. We think he’s stupid for tithing mint, dill, and cumin. We think he’s stupid for only listening to only Christian music and for making sure to only watch Christian movies. Meanwhile, we look like the world, we think like the world, we love the things the world loves, and we think that is a virtue. But I want you to notice again what Jesus said to the Pharisees. Notice how he says, “These you ought to have done without neglecting the others”. Listen to what God says to us through the apostle John—you cannot get around these words, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
How would the worldly man answer our question? Are you any different from those in the world? Are you any different from your classmates that do not love Jesus? He would probably answer with pride—no, I’m not, thank God. Or perhaps with indifference, I did not know that I was supposed to be different. Or maybe he would say, yeah I think I am worldly—boy, I sure am thankful for grace. What marks the worldly man is a lack of struggle against sin and worldliness. It is indeed a love for the world and the things in the world. He fails C.J.’s test but he really is not all that concerned about it, there is no brokenness for sin.
You see the Pharisee looks at the worldling and compares himself to him by externals and thinks he could answer the question in the affirmative. Yes, I am different from him. Look at my iPod…well you can’t I do not own one I am not worldly. And he looks at the worldling judges him casts him off to hell and never deals with his own heart. The worldling on the other hand laughs at the Pharisees legalism. Could it be that the worldly man is laughing at the Pharisee’s legalism all the way into hell and the Pharisee is checking his list and judging the worldling all the way into hell? Could it be that neither understands grace and does not understand grace because they have not received it?
Tonight as we look at Ephesians 2:1-10 (and primarily verses 7-10) I want us to try to provide a biblical framework for answering those questions. More than just giving you information it is my prayer that the Spirit of God might change you through His Word. It is my prayer that we might ask the question whether not we are living in Ephesians 2:1-3 or Ephesians 2:4-10. It is my prayer that you might be motivated toward holiness—but not the legalistic kind. It is my prayer that you might find freedom in the gospel—but not the worldly kind of freedom. Again, as we read this text consider the contrast between 2:1-3 and 2:4-10.
READ EPHESIANS 2:1-10
Let’s consider briefly where we have been so far in Ephesians. As we opened up this letter we noted that its central theme is that God’s Redeems Broken People and His Broken World. The first three chapters are about what God has done, the latter chapters are how we live in response to that. So far, as we looked at 1:3-14 we noted the Electing Love of the Father, the Redeeming Work of the Son, the Sealing and Confirming Work of the Spirit. Then we moved to 1:15-23 and looked at the prayer that Paul has for the Ephesians and for us: that God might open our eyes so that we “get” the gospel—so that we “get” what has happened to us in verses 3-14. For the last three weeks we have been in 2:1-10. At first we looked at the radical disease that we have (dead in sin; enslaved to sinful society, Satan and self; and under the wrath of God). And we also looked at the radical remedy of the gospel. Last week we looked at the power of God in curing our radical disease and as we looked at that we noticed the power of God in evangelism. He can change anyone—no sinner is too hardened and that includes you.
Tonight we look at grace. We look again at what the gospel has done and we look at where the gospel is going to take us. We look tonight at grace. Grace is what is missing in both the Pharisaical spirit and the worldly person. The problem with the Pharisee is that he forgets that God is the author and finisher of salvation. The problem with the worldling is that he forgets that God has saves for the purpose of changing people making them holy. So tonight I offer two things about grace and its power to change.
I. Grace changes you because grace is from God
The title of this point is really rather silly. It is silly on two fronts. One if you understand what grace is then obviously it comes from God. And it is also silly because if you know that it is from God then you know that it is something that changes—it is something that has power. This is the argument of John in 1 John.
I am not sure if you remember the letter of 1 John but it was written to a church that had a heresy running wild in their congregation. This heresy denied who Jesus was, it denied the impact of sin in the Christian life, and it created either a beat yourself up type of Pharisaical spirit or an eat, drink, and be merry type of worldly spirit. So, this heresy caused this congregation to ask—who is really saved? How do we know if we have rightly believed? What is the mark of a true follower of Jesus? And 1 John is the answer to that question.
Foundational to that letter is John’s belief that the Holy Spirit changes you. You cannot have the Holy Spirit and be unconcerned about holiness. If God lives in you and has given you this new life then you are changed; so, if you want to know if you have rightly believed in Jesus then look at the evidence of the Holy Spirit in your life. This is why John says in 3:9, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” He is not talking about sinless perfection here. What he means is that your attitude toward sin is changed. You cannot take a Pharisaical, “I’m okay look at my list” type of view in which you minimize the battle of sin in your heart. But you also cannot take a careless worldly approach to sin, “ah, grace will take care of it, sin is no big deal, and everybody does it”. The Christian life is an all out war and hatred of sin. It is a battle. It is agreeing with God about your sin.
Now Ephesians is going to have a different tone because it is not written to people that are struggling with heresy. It is not written with the same tone as Galatians where they are abandoning the gospel for a works-based religion. It is not written in the same tone as 1 Corinthians were they are abandoning the gospel for worldliness. It is written as an outline of the wonderful work that God has done in salvation. But nevertheless, Paul’s point in all of this is to say that grace indeed changes you. But Paul really wants everyone to know that salvation is from God. He is outlining for those in Ephesus and every believer that comes after what happens in salvation. And he wants everyone to know that ever bit of salvation happens by grace.
Now, what is grace? Someone has once said that G.R.A.C.E. is Great Riches at Christ’s Expense. That is a pretty fair definition. I like how Jerry Bridge’s defines it: “Grace is God’s free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgment. It is the love of God shown to the unlovely. It is God reaching downward to people who are in rebellion against him”.
Grace is God’s free decision to treat sinners the way that they do not deserve…it is his decision to treat sinners with the love and affection with which he loves His Son Jesus. It is his decision to raise them from the dead and bring them to life. It is his decision to raise us up with Jesus and to seat us in the heavenly places. It is God’s decision to treat those of us that deserve hell as sons. Anytime you see an action of God in the Bible on our behalf it is grace—free, undeserved, a gift and a gift not because we are worthy or deserve it but a gift because the giver is phenomenal.
This grace is what Paul means when he says in our passage, “For by grace you have been saved”. Verse 8 is a tad confusing because of the way that it is constructed in the original language. Let’s take a look at that. For by grace you have been saved…that part is clear. Then Paul says you are saved by grace through faith. Faith is what links you to grace. Faith means believing what God says. Faith is the only fitting response to grace. Faith believes what God says about your sin and believes what God says about Jesus. Faith believes the radical disease and it embraces the radical remedy.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing.” And here we have a difficulty in the text. What does “this” refer to? What is not our “own doing”? Is it faith? Well, that would seem to fit somewhat with the rest of Scripture. That faith also is a gift of God. But there is a problem with that…it does not grammatically fit. Now, it can. That is a possibility, but is not likely. I’ll save you the Greek lesson—and just say that it is possible that “this” could be referring to faith but it is not likely. Well then is the “this” referring to grace? Again that would not make much sense in the context. Why would Paul say you are saved by grace and this grace is not of yourselves? That’s what grace means.
So, more than likely what Paul is saying is that “salvation” the whole process (which includes faith and grace) is not from us—it is not something that we conjure up—it is something that God gives to us. So, yes, I believe from this text—and others that faith also is a gift from God. Faith happens after grace. Faith happens as a response to God’s grace. Faith happens when God in his grace causes the dead man to come alive. And when faith happens justification happens. That is why Paul says “By grace through faith”. No, you will never be made right with God apart from believing in Christ. And no, you will never believe in Christ apart from the grace of God awakening your heart to believe. So—what do you worry about from your side of things? You do what the Bible says—faith and repentance. You believe the gospel.
We continue with our text, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast”. That means that human energy does not accomplish your salvation. And this is where I think we need to understand that when Paul is talking about salvation he is not just talking about that one past event that happened…he is not talking about a specific day necessarily. He is talking about the entire process of salvation. He is talking in Ephesians 1 and Ephesians 2 language—salvation is our being brought into this cosmic plan of redemption. Salvation is being brought in on the process of God redeeming broken people in a broken world. So—what this means is that this entire process is by grace through faith. This is what those with the Pharisaical spirit miss. They forget that the entire Christian life is lived by grace. In essence they forget the Cross. And because they do not live it by grace through faith they live the Christian life in the flesh. And that is why you see all of the works of the flesh cropping up.
So what does this mean in your battle with sin? What does this mean as far as answering C.J.’s question? It means that when the Spirit of God brings conviction you do not attack it like a Pharisee in your own flesh. It also means that when the Spirit of God brings conviction you do not deaden like a person in love with the world. It means you agree with God and you change the channel, you resist the urge, you throw out the CD, you refuse to respond to someone in anger, you fight the bitterness. It means that you battle worldliness and any aspect of sin with the Cross of Christ. It means you rest in the fact that God has done a work of grace. It means that you get on your knees and brokenness and you cry out to God in repentance, but you do so in faith. You do not sit there in despair but you believe that the price for your sin of worldliness was paid for Jesus on the Cross. It means that you preach the gospel to yourself. It means that you believe what Paul says here that salvation happens by grace through faith.
I like what John Owen says about our battle with sin. “When someone sets his affections upon the cross and the love of Christ, he crucifies the world as a dead and undesirable thing. The baits of sin lose their attraction and disappear. Fill your affections with the cross of Christ and you will find no room for sin.” That is what grace does—grace causes you to be enamored with Jesus.
II. Grace changes you because grace has a destination
Grace has a goal. Grace is not simply to pardon you and to clean you up and to make you a good person. It does that. But primarily grace is meant to get you to God. Grace has a destination in mind. Even though it hurts I like what John Piper says, “Christ did not die to forgive sinners who go on treasuring anything above seeing and savoring God. And people who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God. It’s a way of overcoming every obstacle to everlasting joy in God. If we don’t want God above all things, we have not been converted by the gospel”.
Now, I would like to qualify what Piper says in that last sentence just a tad. I think he should add the world “ultimately”…”If we do not ultimately want God above all things…” Because, the way it is written sounds like if you do not have a 100% 24 hour consuming desire of God over all things then you are not saved. If I had a 100% 24 hour consuming desire for God then I would never sin. And I know that Piper does not mean that…Piper believes biblically that we will continue to struggle with sin. But, his point still stands the grace of the gospel has a goal in mind—to get us to God. And part of that “getting us to God” is the rooting out of sin and unbelief. That is what we see is happening in our text. We see one side of this in verse 7 and one aspect in verse 10.
1) We are meant to be an eternal display of God’s grace and kindness
Verse 7 is one of my favorite verses. This verse is what lies as the foundation for 2:1-6. You were dead, you were enslaved, you were under wrath; but God made you alive, raised you up, seated you at His right hand. Why? Why did he do that? Well we have learned that He did it because of His love, because of His grace, and because of His mercy. We know from this text that He does it because when He sees us He sees our union with His Son Jesus.
As you look at verse 7 notice the word, “so that”. This is a word that tips us off to the fact that this is what is grounding the entire passage. This is the reason for everything that comes before it. So, why does God do everything in 2:1-6? He does it “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus”.
Coming ages is probably not necessarily a reference to time that is way out there. It is probably referring to everything that is future from the moment he has done this. So, what it means is that every day that once was a tomorrow is meant to “show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus”. What does that mean? It means that your life is a giant billboard that shows the grace and kindness of God.
Now if we look at what this is saying from God’s perspective it is saying that He will be glorified for His grace and kindness forever by what He is doing in the life of us rebels. As one commentator has put it “throughout time and in eternity the church, this society of pardoned rebels, is designed by God to be the masterpiece of his goodness.” God is glorified through his activity on our behalf. For all of eternity praises will ring and worship will be directed toward the God that pardoned rebel sinners.
Now if we look at what this is saying from our perspective we see the unimaginable blessing of this. If we are meant to be the billboard that shows God’s immeasurable grace and kindness then how do you think that happens? It happens by us receiving immeasurable grace and kindness. It means that God for all of eternity will continue to relate to us with grace and kindness. It means that we will forever be enjoying that which is joy itself—namely God. It means that grace happens to display the worth of God—and to do that by getting rebels to worship before the face of God in their enjoyment of Him forever.
Again this fact of our being an eternal display of God’s grace and kindness has something to say to both the Pharisee and the worldling. To the Pharisee it says it’s not by your effort that the beauty of God is displayed. The beauty of God is displayed in His grace and kindness to you. To the worldling it shows you that your purpose in life is not to be spent on the world…your purpose in life is to be enamored with God. That is why there is no place for sin. Sin is looking away from God and finding a treasure in something else. Worship is finding God as your treasure. We are made to marvel at the infinite worth of God for all of eternity. To do anything less is ripping you off and falling short of the intention that God saved you for. God saved you to enjoy Him not to be seduced by the fallen world.
2) We are meant to be a present display of changed lives through grace
Verse 10 is kind of an odd verse. In verse 9 Paul says that works have no place in the Christian’s standing before God—but then he says in verse 10, but yeah they do. What he means in verse 9 is human exertion, human effort, and fleshly attempts at pleasing God. You cannot get to God by what you do. You get to God by grace. And then in verse 10 he says basically this—and grace changes you. Grace is as phenomenal as creation. He creates you again but this time with a heart for Him. And this time it is created for good works—good works that He has prepared beforehand that you should walk in them. What does this mean? I have to be honest and say that I am a tad confused by what Paul means by these good works being prepared beforehand. I know that it means that when God saves us He saves us not so that we can keep sinning but so that we might be changed. And I think that this aspect of beforehand is Paul’s way of keeping us rooted in grace. So that we come to understand that all of salvation is by grace through faith. But what God is saying to us is that there is a marked difference between those that live in Ephesians 2:1-3 and those that live in Ephesians 2:4-10. Notice the walk in verse 10 and the walk in verse 1.
Again we return to that “blind test”. Have you been changed? Here is how you go about answering that question. If you look at those questions and have to say that you look quite a bit like the world then you need to ask yourself a follow up question. Is there a battle? If there is not a battle then you need to be really concerned. I am not saying that you are not saved, I am merely saying that I cannot give biblical evidence that you are. As we have seen here in Scripture, grace changes you. If you do not see the process of change happening in your life then you need to be concerned. Of course the way this concern expresses itself is at the foot of the cross. You do not go on a quest to conjure up feelings of concern. You go to Jesus. Now, if there is a battle then that is a good thing. But do not rest. Continue engaging in battle. As we continue going through Ephesians we will be given tips for battle. For now, it is enough to say that the war was won on the Cross and victory in individual battles will be won there too.
If you passed the test then you also need to ask a follow up question. Are you serious? If you are dead serious, and are checking your heart for Pharisaical tendencies and find none then you need to be thanking God for the change he has brought in your life. You too need to go to the Cross and thank Jesus for what He has done and what He has produced in your life. God is the Hero of your story that is what Ephesians 2:1-10 is all about.