Sunday, August 7, 2016
Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity - Eph 2:1-10
We have a family friend who calls it “passive income.” He uses this term to describe the various ways that a person can get free travel and lodging. Airlines, of course have their frequent flyer programs in which flights earn miles or points that can be applied to receiving free flights. Hotels have similar programs in which multiple stays at their hotels can earn you a free stay. And then different credit cards have tie-ins with airlines and hotels. As you use the credit card to buy things you get credit toward free travel and lodging.
Now most everyone likes to travel. And what can be better than free travel! If it is fun to go somewhere, and it is that much more fun when you know that you paid nothing, or next to nothing. My parents are both now retired. They are both in good health. And so quite sensibly, they are using this time to do some traveling. And when it comes to “passive income,” they’ve got it going. It is amazing how often they take a trip and a large portion of the travel and lodging is free or costs them very little.
This kind of travel is free. It doesn’t cost any money. But that doesn’t mean that there is no effort involved – no work. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Before my mom retired, she went to a free seminar that was presented at Indiana University. There a woman gave a presentation on how to maximize the use of these kinds of opportunities. She shared insights into how things worked, what is available, and how to use it most efficiently.
Now that my mom is retired she avidly pursues this. It’s like a fun game – almost a hobby. But it also involves a lot of effort. She has created spread sheets to track all the different places where she is building points or miles. She knows that if they are planning on taking a trip to place A and using airline B as they stay at hotel C, then they need to use credit cards E and F right now, while paying each one off right away. My mom keeps track of it all. On the other hand, my dad says half in jest that these days he’s afraid to pay for anything without checking with my mom – he gets in trouble if he does not use the correct credit card that will help earn the next free trip.
Passive income gets you free stuff. But it still requires work – it requires effort on our part. As the saying goes, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” That’s the way the world works. You have to do something, to get something.
In our epistle lesson this morning, the apostle Paul leaves absolutely no doubt that this is not how things work with God. Instead, when it comes to salvation, Paul says that it is completely free. It involves no work on our part. In fact we aren’t even capable of doing any work. In our text, the apostle shares really bad news about us. And he also shares the most wonderful good news about our salvation.
Paul begins our text by talking about the Ephesians’ past. He writes, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
This is a really ugly picture. And the bad thing is that his description applies to us as well. Paul tells us three things about our life apart from Christ. First, we were dead in our trespasses and sins. Apart from Christ a person may be living physically. But in fact they are spiritually dead because of sin. They have no life with God and that means they are dead.
Second, the apostle tells us that apart from Christ we were under the control of the devil. He was our lord. We marched to the beat of his drum. And he was leading us to only one place – to our eternal destruction – because he is a murderer.
And third, Paul says that apart from Christ a person simply lives according to the passions of the sinful, fallen nature. We carry out the desires of our body and mind – whatever our base instincts want.
A person in this situation is spiritual road kill. Dead, rotting by the side of the road – capable of doing nothing. From our side of things, that’s the end of the story. But then Paul goes on to say, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
Paul says that God did something. He did it because of his mercy; his love; his grace; his kindness. He made us alive together with Christ. He made us alive by first killing Christ in our place. In the previous chapter Paul said of Jesus: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.” Jesus was the sacrifice for our sin, and so now we have been freed to be the children of God.
But God did more than that. Paul says in our text that God, “made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” On the third day, through the work of the Holy Spirit, God raised Jesus from the dead. He defeated death and began the life of the resurrection – life that can never die again.
Now you know that apart from Christ’s return, you are going to die. And when you look around this morning it doesn’t look like you are seated with Christ in the heavenly places. What Paul means is that in baptism the Holy Spirit has given you new life in Christ. He has joined you to the crucified and risen Lord. Already now, the resurrection of Jesus is yours – that’s how certain your resurrection on the Last Day is. And so Paul can say that you have been raised with Christ. What’s more the Spirit has made you part of Christ’s body the Church, and so because Christ is seated in the heavenly places, you have a place there too.
It was God’s mercy; God’s love; God’s grace; God’s kindness that did this. It is a forgiveness and salvation received through faith in Christ worked by the Holy Spirit. And so Paul says in famous words: “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.”
On your own you could do nothing. And so in his grace and mercy, God has acted in Christ to give you forgiveness and eternal life. But then, Paul has one more thing to say. He says the thing that we sometimes forget; that we sometimes ignore. He says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” The apostle says that we are God’s creation in Christ. Everything that we are is tied up with Jesus. It is God who has made us a new creation through work of the Holy Spirit. God has saved us in Christ, and now God has a purpose for us. We are his creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works.
God has saved you by his grace so that now you can act graciously toward others. He has saved you apart from doing, so that now you can do for others. He has saved you in Christ, so that now you can be Christ to others.
What does this look like? The later chapters of this letter are filled with descriptions. Paul says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. He says, “Husbands, love you wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.” He says, “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” He says, “Fathers do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” These are the kinds of works you have been created in Christ to do.
Now Paul begins our text this morning by saying, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.” He describes it as something that was the case until God saved us in Christ; until he saved us by his grace through faith; until he made us his creation in Christ Jesus for good works. Yet we know that sin is not something that was truly only of our past. It’s also something we still struggle against. We can’t listen to these statements from the apostle about living as Christians without also recognizing the ways that we haven’t done this.
We are a new creation in Christ. But we are also old man – the fallen, sinful nature still plagues us. That is what the now and the not yet of God’s saving action in Christ means for our life. That is the challenge that will exist until God’s saving action reaches its consummation on the Last Day when Christ returns in glory.
The apostle Paul knew this. That’s why he says in chapter four, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.” And after describing this way of sin he reminds the Ephesian Christian that instead they had been taught, “to put off your old man, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
To put off the old man is to confess our sins and repent. It is to return in faith to our baptism for there we have the forgiveness of sins. And there we also have the source of the Spirit’s work in our life to enable us to strive to be what God has made us to be. It is through baptism and the other Means of Grace that the Spirit leads and strengthens us to put on the new man – to live as God’s creation in Christ.