When you look on Facebook and Instagram, you see that everyone is smiling. Everyone is having a good time. Everyone is enjoying life.
Now of course, on one level we know this is not true. No one posts a picture of their credit card bill with the caption: “I have massive credit card debt and I have no idea how I will ever get out from under it.” No one posts a picture of their child in a sports jersey with the caption: “Wow, he is really bad at this,” or, “Wow, her team is terrible! How will I endure this season?”
But leaving this fact aside, I do think the Facebook and Instagram pictures are a projection of how most people see their lives. We all want to think of them as being good and enjoyable. We have no shortage of interests, hobbies and activities that fill our time with things we enjoy. No matter what your job or profession is, we all have leisure time – time away from work – that people in previous centuries could not have fathomed. And the message of the world that we receive in advertising and the media simply supports and encourages this view. Life spent with friends and family; life spent hiking and exercising; life spent doing all of these fun activities is life that is really good.
This morning the apostle Paul drops a bomb into that happy, happy view of life. He says that if a person is not in Christ – if a person has not been united with saving work of the Lord Jesus through the Spirit – then he or she is a stooge of the devil hurtling towards the wrath of God on the Last Day.
Paul begins our text by saying, “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.”
Writing to Christians in the area of Ephesus, Paul talks about their life before faith in Christ. He says that they were not alive – not really. Sure, they were doing the first century version of the life that I have just described in the introduction to this sermon. But the apostle says that this was an illusion. Instead, they were dead in their trespasses and sins. They were not really in charge. Instead they were walking according to the course of this world. They were walking according to the prince of the power of the air. They were living lives under the control of the devil who was at work in them. And so by nature, like all of mankind, they where children of wrath. They were people who were destined to receive the wrathful judgment of God.
Now that is not a picture of life you are going to find anywhere in our world and culture. That is not the way the majority of the people around you see things. And Paul says that is exactly the point. Those who are not in Christ are living in ways determined by the devil -the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience who are by nature children of wrath. They are blind to the spiritual reality – which is the only truth that matters. They are like the people in the movie the Matrix, living in a reality that is completely false and completely enslaving.
You were once that way too. Conceived and born in sin, you were once dead in your trespasses and sins. You were once children of wrath – sinners who were destined for God’s wrath of the Last Day. But God was not willing to leave you there.
After describing the absolutely dismal spiritual condition we were in, Paul then says,“ 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.”
What do we learn about God and why he has carried out this dramatic saving action in Christ? It is because he is rich in mercy. His care and compassion for you moved him to do this. It is because of the great love with which he loved you. God loved you so much that he acted in this way. It is because of God’s grace – his completely undeserved favor that he has shown to us.
And so what has God done? The apostle says in our text that “God made us alive together with Christ … and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Then Paul adds that God did this “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
Now when we hear this, we are picking up on the conversation after it has already started. In the previous chapter the apostle had said about Christ, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” Those trespasses – that sinfulness – were not something that the holy and just God could ignore if we are to have fellowship with him.
And so in the fullness of time God the Father sent the Son into the world as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus Christ lived in our world as true God and true man in order to redeem us – to free us from sin. The cost of that redemption was his sacrificial death on the cross. Jesus gave his body into death and shed his blood as he hung on the cross bearing our sins and receiving God’s wrath that we deserve. He became the child of wrath – the One who received God’s judgment in our place. He died on the cross to give us forgiveness, and then those who had followed and loved him buried him in a tomb.
But God’s work in Christ was not done on Good Friday – not even close. Instead, Paul goes on in chapter one to refer to the “working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” On the third day, the working of God’s great might through the Spirit raised Jesus from the dead. He raised Jesus, the one mocked and scorned on the cross, and exalted him by seating him at his right hand.
God has done this in Christ. And that is why Paul can say in our text, “God made us alive together with Christ … and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” You have been baptized into Christ. You have shared in his saving death. The Spirit has given you regeneration, and made you a new creation.
You now live as one who is “in Christ” – an expression that Paul uses to mean that we have been united with Christ and the salvation he has won for us. And because this is so, the apostle can say that not only have you been made alive with Christ – he can say that we have been raised up with him and seated with him in the heavenly places. Because you are in Christ, you already have this now and so you are guaranteed that you will share in Jesus’ bodily resurrection and victory when Christ returns on the Last Day.
Because this is so, we have hope. In the previous chapter Paul expressed how he was praying that God the Father would give his readers insight to “know what is the hope to which he has called you” and to know “what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” In Christ, your future has already begun. And in Christ, God’s power is here for you in the present. Paul also said that he prayed that the Ephesians would recognize “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.”
The power of God that raised Jesus from the dead is directed toward you now through the work of his Spirit. This power is directed towards you to sustain and keep you in the faith in the midst of challenges, hardships and tragedies. It is God’s power to bear you up as his child and keep you as his own until the Last Day.
It is God’s power in Christ that has saved you. You have been saved because of God’s rich mercy. You have been saved because of his is great love. You have been saved by grace. Paul won’t let us overlook that fact. He says it twice in our text. As he says the second time: “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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
It has been God’s power and God’s grace that has done this, not anything you could have done. But the power of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ extends beyond just you and your personal salvation. The apostle says in the last verse of our text that we are God’s creation in Christ for good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
God’s resurrection power through the Spirit has made you a new creation. You have been saved by grace, so that now you can act graciously – so that you can show mercy, service and love towards those who have not earned it and can do nothing in return. God has saved you by grace with a purpose. His purpose is that your life in Christ through the Spirit will be one of sharing his love with others in the way you treat them and what you do for them.
After all, even when we were dead in our trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. We are not the same as we were before. We have been redeemed by Christ’s bloody sacrifice on the cross, and forgiven. God’s resurrection power has made us a new creation in Christ. Our life in Christ is to be one of loving and gracious service to others as we rejoice in the mercy, love and grace God has shown to us in Christ Jesus.