I read a quote this week that struck me deeply: “We all, one day, will hear our last sermon”. That strikes a deep chord with me because I believe, with the Puritan Richard Baxter, that my task as a preacher is to “preach as a dying man to dying men”. I am struck by the seriousness of what this text is saying—your relationship with Jesus is a life or death issue. There are no neutral people here tonight; you are either spiritually dead or spiritually alive. And because this could very well be your last sermon—either because of death, your own stubbornness, or Jesus coming back tonight is a life or death issue. Every time I step up here to preach the gospel it is a life or death issue. As an old preacher (Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs) once said with each sermon you are either nearer or further from hell. And it is that way not because of any magical words I say; it really has very little to do with me. It is this way because of what is being proclaimed—the gospel message.
Tonight we continue in Ephesians. As we have looked at Ephesians we have titled it thus: God Redeems Broken People and a Broken World. We have looked at the amazing work that God has done in redeeming us. Yet, there has been something that has yet to be asked—“exactly how broken are we”? Is “broken” even the right word? And our answer to this question will have consequences. How much we really grasp, as well as enjoy, the fact that God Redeems Broken People will be determined by our understanding of exactly how broken we are. As John Stott has aptly put it:
“It is a failure to recognize this gravity of the human condition which explains people’s naïve faith in superficial remedies…A radical disease requires a radical remedy.”
Let me try to make this point by asking two questions—I do not want you to answer it out loud. 1) What will it take to change the world? 2) What will it take to change your life? But there is an assumption there isn’t there? That something is messed up and needs changed. In order to really answer that question you have to first answer this question: What is the problem that needs changed? So, what needs to change in your life? How you answer that question will affect how you answer the previous question.
Are you thinking of circumstances? If so, then your change will be superficial—actually, probably non existent. You will simply wait for the circumstance to change. And you will probably be discontent and even tempted to blame God or others until your circumstance changes.
Are you thinking of behavior? If so, then your change will be superficial. You will be like the Pharisees that clean the outside of the cup but neglect the inside—the deep heart change. You might change your behavior. You just might become quite the moral person. You just might look very Christian and very churchy. But inwardly, I bet things like pride, laziness, anger, lust, greed, etc. will be running wild.
Are you thinking of knowledge? If so, then your change will be superficial. You will be the puffed up person that Paul is talking about in his letter to the Corinthians. You will have knowledge, you will pursue education, you will read a bunch of books, you will grow in knowledge but real change will not take place. You will not be deeply in love with people and more importantly not deeply in love with Christ.
Are you thinking of self-esteem? If so, then your change will be superficial. You will be constantly consumed by thoughts of yourself, fixing your world, fixing how you feel about yourself, and have little time for anyone else because you are too busy watching Oprah or applying the latest 10 steps to self improvement.
The problem with each of these “solutions” is that it does not adequately get to the core of our problem. And when we do not understand the depth of our problem we will not offer correct solutions. As John Stott said “a radical disease requires a radical remedy”. All of those things that we mentioned can be good but they do not go deep enough. They are like offering Tylenol to someone with a brain aneurysm or cough medicine to someone with tuberculosis. So, if we really want change in our life we need to know the radical nature of our problem.
So, how messed up are we? What is our basic problem? And what is that radical remedy? Tonight we will look at Ephesians 2:1-5 to not only answer that question but also point to the remedy. We will 2:1-10 but only focus on the first five verses tonight.
So, how messed up are we? According to this text we are spiritually dead, we are enslaved, and we are condemned. I would say that if we really stopped to think about this we would come to see that our position apart from Christ is very dire indeed. But, I think there might be a few barriers that keep us from really seeing this text for what it is really saying.
The first barrier is that many of us have a very small concept of death. We do not like to think about death—so we do not. And because of this, especially in our teenage years we feel that we are immortal. So, when we hear a text speaking about spiritual death we kind of gloss it over and do not think about its implications.
The second barrier is what I will call the George Bailey barrier. George Bailey was the main character, played by James Stewart, in the Christmas film It’s a Wonderful Life. After very difficult circumstances George decides life is not worth living, and the world would be a better place without him, so he decides that he will jump off the bridge. Then George’s guardian angel Clarence stops him. What unfolds in the story is a picture of how life would have been had George Bailey never been born. George’s probably in the beginning was that he was unable to see the changes in his own life and the change that he brought about to the world. We are often that way, and especially the longer you have been a Christian, you tend to forget. Perhaps our tendency to forget is why the first instruction that Paul gives in this letter is to “remember”.
The third barrier is that we do not necessarily feel dead so we do not see the great depth of the problem. This swings both ways. If you are a Christian you might look back upon the change that has taken place in your life but you do not see it as all that drastic. So, it’s hard for you to feel like you have been brought from death to life; so, again, you kind of gloss over the implications of this text. If you are not a Christian then you are looking at your life and thinking that things are not quite as good as they could be—but “death” seems like such a strong word to describe your life. You do not feel dead.
This leads to our fourth barrier, we can be tempted to think of ourselves more highly than we ought. We can be tempted to think that when this text says that we “were dead” or that we “are dead” that some people are “more dead” than we are. The ignorance of such a statement is even revealed in Microsoft Word. I get the green squiggles when I type “more dead”—it says that sentence does not make sense. Because once you are dead you are dead. Ronald Regan is not less dead than Abraham Lincoln. Dead is dead.
Now, because of these four barriers (and there are probably more—perhaps one being that dead people don’t hear so well) we often assume that we are not as bad off as we really are. My hope tonight is that the Lord might do a work of grace and cause us to get over these barriers. Let me be up front about what my hopes are for this sermon. First and foremost my hope is that God will use this as he sees fit…and use it to bring glory to Himself. And this is one of my hopes in that…if the Lord sees fit…it is my hope that everyone in here, including myself, will be hung over the pit of hell and will feel the absolute despair of life without Jesus. And I hope that not to be mean, and not to “scare you into heaven”, but so that when we see that from which we are rescued we will give God all the more glory for rescuing us. I want us to see, feel, taste, experience what God is saying to us in this text. So, how broken are we?
1) Apart from Christ we are spiritually dead
In our text it says, “And you were dead in your transgression and sins”. Let’s look at that for a moment. What does it mean to be spiritually dead? Now this dead does not mean morally and spiritually lifeless. That is clear from the other statements that are made about man apart from Christ. What this means is that we are dead to spiritual things. I have used this illustration before: Do you remember the scene in the movie Mr. Deeds were Adam Sandler takes off his shoe and we see his hideous black foot? Apparently he had lost all feeling in his foot and you could jab it with a fire poker and he couldn’t feel a thing. That is the same case with us spiritually. We are dead. We can hear the gospel numerous times and it will never take root. Yes, we have free will; free will to choose what we most desire. But if we are dead to spiritual things will we just up and believe? Will we treasure Christ though we are dead to him? Of course not, so that leaves us in a state where we will never believe.
Not only will we not believe, trust in, and treasure Christ but we will actively do just the opposite. This is why RC Sproul has said “to be spiritually dead is to be diabolically alive”. In fact what the Bible says is that everything we do apart from faith is sin. It says that apart from Christ all of our righteous acts are like filthy rags. It says that in our flesh we cannot please God. Listen to what Romans 8:6-8 says about the spiritually dead: 6) For the mind of the flesh is death, and the mind of the Spirit is life and peace; 7) because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God, for it does not submit to God's law, for it cannot. 8) And those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
You can clearly see what it means to be spiritually dead if you contrast it with being spiritually alive. I take you to this passage often but look at 2 Corinthians 4. It is a beautiful picture of spiritual death and God making us alive. In 4:4 it says that Satan has blinded their minds, “to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” In other words the spiritually dead cannot see the beauty of Jesus. Verse 6 simply states that God has done a work of grace and recreation and has “shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” In other words those that are spiritually alive can see the beauty and worth of Jesus. This is confirmed by what Jesus says about life in John 17:3, “and this is eternal life that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent”.
In our text here Paul says that we are “dead in our transgressions and sins”. Paul uses those two words for a specific reason. A transgression is crossing a known boundary. A sin is falling short of a specific standard. So what we have here are the active and passive aspects of sin--that which you do and that which you fail to do—the sins of omission and the sins of commission.
Here is the point being made about how broken we are. Our problem goes to the core of our being. We do not sin because we need more education. We do not sin because of our circumstances. We do not sin because we need behavior modification. We do not sin because we have a poor view of ourselves. We sin because we are sinners. We sin because our heart is messed up. We sin because we do not treasure Christ as we ought. For unbelievers this is your constant state. Yes, you can do “good” things. And yes, you are not as “bad” as you could be. Nonetheless, every thing that you do—even if it is helping an old lady cross the street is heaping up more wrath against you. Why? Because it is not done in faith—and it is not done in faith because your heart is opposed to God. You are still in rebellion. And you are in rebellion until you come to Jesus Christ.
So, we see that the first description of our brokenness is that we are spiritually dead. To be spiritually dead will require a radical remedy. But that is not the only thing that is said about our condition.
2) Apart from Christ we are enslaved
Notice how Paul phrases verse 1 and 2. You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked. How do dead people walk? Again this confirms what we said earlier and what Sproul said that “to be spiritually dead is to be diabolically alive.” What does it mean to be diabolically alive? It means to live like the devil. The picture that is set before us is that we are enslaved. Or perhaps a better image might be that we are like lemmings.
You have heard of lemmings have you not? It is of course, a myth that they engage in mass suicide. And really it’s not quite as simple as the entire group following one idiot lemming. But I think that is somewhat what happens. Once the population of lemmings gets too big a large group of them decide to migrate. So by the thousands they migrate. Problem is they usually do not stop going. They typically keep migrating until they hit the ocean where they keep swimming until exhaustion and drown. But, for years lemmings have been the typical example of “If your friend jumped off a bridge would you”? So, that is why I use them as an example because it is a pretty decent picture of what Paul is saying in our text. We are like lemmings enslaved to our sinful impulse, following all the other lemmings, and being led by the chief lemming--Satan.
The picture that is painted for us in this text is that we are enslaved to three things: sinful society, Satan, and self. All three of these are interlinked and work together to lead us to destruction. When Paul says, “the course of this world” what he means is that apart from Christ we suffer from cultural bondage. We follow the ways of the world. We laugh at what the world laughs at. We strive for the things the world strives for. It is an entire system that is set up in opposition to God.
In high school I must confess I loved the band Rage Against the Machine. Their lead singer is Zack DeLarocha. He is hugely politically active. He is part of all kinds of groups that try to “buck the system”, “stick it to the man”, etc. One of the things I like to say about DeLarocha is what really his slogan is…”Come on everybody lets not conform”. Think about that. It’s what Mark Driscoll has said about rebellion. “Everybody is in rebellion. You cannot claim to be a rebel and do what everybody else is doing. If you really want to be a rebel read your Bible because nobody is doing that”. Apart from Christ we think that we are expressing our individuality but the truth is we are being robbed of our individuality. We merely follow the course of this world. You think you are free but really you are enslaved to the culture.
The second thing that we are enslaved to is Satan. Satan is who is being described here in these descriptions. It will not serve our purpose tonight to consider exactly what is meant by him being the “prince of the power of the air”. We will get to that, but not tonight. The point being made in this text is that Satan has a powerful influence in the life of unbelievers. As we have already seen from the text we read earlier he blinds the minds of unbelievers keeping them from seeing the truth. The point is simple. Satan is at work. He is using the world system and he is using our own selfish impulses. Those outside of Christ are living in the kingdom of darkness and serving the king of darkness.
The third thing that we are enslaved to is our self. And I really think that this is the central problem. I say that because look at what God changes. He does not yet fully conquer the devil—although he disarms him in the life of the believer. And he does not change the outward circumstances or the pervasive culture. He does call us to be salt and light—but he does not annihilate the darkness nor the prince of darkness—at least not yet. But what I find interesting is what he does do. He changes us. That is why I think the foundational problem is really our own wicked hearts that sit in opposition to God.
This is what is being said in verse 3, “among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind”. What does that mean? It means much the same thing that we discussed with spiritual death. This means that we do what we want. And what we want is not Christ. We want to exalt ourselves. We want to be the center of the universe. We want to gratify all of our desires. We want what we want. And this drive in us enslaves us. We are in bondage.
Hopefully you can see that we need a radical remedy. We are dead and we are in bondage to sinful society, to Satan, and to self. That means that we will not even try to get out of our condition. It means that you like your condition. It means that you think death is really a good thing. But there is yet one more thing about our condition that we must look at.
3) Apart from Christ we are under wrath.
Paul closes out this section by saying that we “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind”. What this means is that you are not born in a happy state with God. This means that you were born under wrath. It means that you did not get this condition because you committed your first sin. It means that you committed your first sin because you were born with this condition.
You could really take this text one of two ways. You could say that even as children we are guilty before God. And I think that is what this text is saying. Or you could lessen it a little and say that we become children of wrath when we actually commit sin. The principle and possibility for sin is present in a child but they do not become children of wrath until they knowingly commit sin.
Even if that is permitted the point is still the same—apart from Christ we are under God’s wrath: His terrible fierce wrath against sin—and the sinner; His fierce anger and hatred toward sin. We get a glimpse of the outpouring of God’s wrath in a picture in the Old Testament—from the prophet Joel. Joel lives in a day when locusts are consuming the land. They are leaving it utterly barren. These locusts are devastating. They eat everything. They destroy the economy. Everything about this locusts invasion is horrible. He paints a picture of it like this, “Eden before them a barren wasteland behind them.” They destroy. And then Joel sees God speaking through this locust invasion. If locust can do this what will happen if God Almighty is bent on destruction? And this is what God’s wrath will be like. It’s a picture—but a decent one.
So, this is a summary of what is happening in verse 3. And I would like to challenge you to do something this week. Think about what your life would be like apart from Christ. Think about your past and if given the imagination you might consider your future. Think of everything you would have missed or will miss. Think about spiritual death. Think about being enslaved. Consider what it is like to not have freedom. Consider what it is like not to have a relationship with Jesus. Think about it. Dwell on it. And then, if you be in Christ, breathe a sigh of relief. Come to see that your rescue required a radical remedy.
Let’s imagine that we have a dead person laying on the floor. What will it take to give him life? Let’s say I start teaching him a bunch of facts. Even facts about Jesus. What will happen? What if I start telling him how amazing he is and that he needs to have more confidence in himself? What will happen? What if I start encouraging him to change his behavior and stop acting so dead? What will happen? What if we try to change his circumstances and make him more comfortable? What if we write him a check and pay for his bills? What will happen? What will give this man life? Can this man live?
This is the question that was asked of Ezekiel in Chapter 37. And what was his response? Ah, Sovereign Lord you know. Only you know God if dead men can be brought to life. Why? Because Sovereign Lord only you can bring dead people to life.
II. The Radical Remedy
And we will spend far more time on this next time but I want you to notice what happens to dead people. If you are in Christ this is what has happened to you. Chapter divisions, which again are not part of the original text, are sometimes unfortunate. This is one of those times. Because of that big giant 2 on our paper we often fail to see how 2:1-10 is connected to the tail end of chapter 1. But it is…and it is beautiful.
Do you remember last week? We looked at Ephesians 1:15-23, at Paul’s prayer. We saw that Paul’s prayer is really that the eyes of our hearts might be opened so that we can see Jesus. And we noticed that God wants our hearts to be enlightened in three specific areas: 1) that we would know the hope to which we are called 2) that we would know the riches of his glorious inheritance and 3) that we would know the greatness of his power toward us who believe. We noted that Paul really spends quite a bit of time on that last point because it is very significant. He gives an example of this mighty power of God that is at work in us and toward us. He gave the example of Christ. And remember what he said about that: Christ was dead, the power of God raised him, and the power of God seated Him at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly places, and the power of God put Him over all things.
Do any of those same themes appear in our text tonight? Of course they do. Notice verse 1—dead. Notice verse 5—made us alive. Notice verse 6—and raised us up and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Notice the connection between the “age to come” in 1:21 and the “coming ages” in 2:7. Paul is showing how the mighty power of God that raised Christ from the dead is the same power of God that raised believers from spiritual death and gives us new life.
What is the only thing that could raise this dead man? Life. God is living. God is Life and God imparts life. And this is what He does. He gives us new life. He causes us to see the beauty of Christ. He rescues us from slavery and bondage. He redeems us. He forgives us. He no longer looks to us with wrath but now with love. And He does all of this not because of anything we do but because of His rich mercy. He does this because of His deep love. No other reason. He does this because He wants to. “But God” that is your only hope. That God might do a work in you.
If you are in Christ then realize this. Live in this. Realize that your only is and has always been the power of God in your life. Realize that he intends to change you deeply and that is precisely what He is doing. Pray that God might help you to see the beauty of the gospel a new.
And realize this about other people to. Realize that you are in the midst of dead people. Do not expect them to live as if they have life. Expect death and offer mercy. Give them mercy. Pray for them. Love them. Pray that God will raise the dead.
And if you are unbeliever tonight you need to know that your situation is desperate. There is a good chance that you will not give a rip about what we have talked about tonight. You either do not believe it, you do not care about it, or you are not ready to submit to what God is saying. No difference the way of your rebellion—you are in rebellion. Know that we have described your present condition tonight and not what you were. I am going to pray now that God might raise you to life. And if you begin to see the beauty of Christ—if something breaks in your calloused heart then cry out to Him. Cry to him for mercy.