The return of the promise! – Ephesians 2:1-10
By Pastor Lee Hemen
January 22, 2017
A promise is simply empty words if it isn’t kept. This is why my Father would remind us to “Never make a promise you cannot keep.” He understood that a promise is only as good as the one who keeps it. A man is only as good as his word.
Throughout Scripture we discover that God makes promises to his people and that he always keeps his promises. If he did not then we could not trust him to be who he is: always holy, always loving, always truthful, always faithful and so on. So we know that when he makes a promise, he keeps his word. Jesus promised eternal life and salvation to anyone who believed in him. Paul teaches the Ephesians just what this promise means for them and future generations. Many thought that God had left them but he had not; his promise had returned, had been fulfilled! Let’s discover what this means…
We forget our condition as it concerns ourselves and God. God is holy and we are not. Paul relates…
I. The promise reminds us of our condition! (Vv. 1-3)
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.
1. Paul now gets down to the nitty-gritty. Like a parent who patiently desires their child listen to what they are about to say he retorts, “As for you”! He wanted them to pay attention to what he was going to teach them. He reminds them that “you were dead in your transgressions and sins”. In fact, they were dead to God just as all of us are! When we speak of death we mean the absence of communication or physical contact with the living. Lest we forget we must understand the truth that anyone who is dead spiritually has no communication with God; they are separated and disconnected from God! We are therefore the living dead; alive in the world but dead in our transgressions and sins “in which (we) used to live when (we) followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air”. We either follow God’s ways or the ways of this world that is dying and under a different rule! Now Paul was not giving the Devil any power or authority that he does not have. He is a created being and in fact does not rule anything. This world, this “kosmos” in the Greek that God created is an ungodly fallen system and therefore is a “satanically” organized system that hates and opposes all that is godly. This is why Jesus taught, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:19 NIV) In this vein the Apostle John would write that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 John 5:19 NIV) and because of this Paul would write that “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NIV) He is “the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” And “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” We all lived according to the world and its desires and corruption! Therefore, “Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” The promise reminds us of our condition!
EXAMPLE: Politicians promise us a lot of things but few follow through. It has always amazed me why some vote over and over for the same person or political party expecting people to follow through on their promises but they still have crime ridden neighborhoods, poor schools and education, deteriorating infrastructure, higher taxes and unemployment. Perhaps it would do us well to remember we are voting for people just like us who are sinners by nature and by choice. This is why Paul reminds that the promise reminds us of our condition!
The wrath of God remains on anyone who does not come to Jesus because simply by his nature, which is holy, he cannot abide ungodliness in any form. However, Paul reminds us that…
II. The promise gives us a new life! (Vv. 4-7)
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
1. Paul knew immediately what God did for us and why: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions”. While God hates sin he loves us because he is “rich in mercy”, his “loyal love” (hesed)! We were and are objects of God’s wrath, yet because of his “great love for us” we are “made alive with Christ even when we were dead”! Why? Why would God who is holy, righteous, and just do such a thing? Pauls says simply “it is by grace you have been saved.” Double wow! The only way a spiritually dead zombie can talk to, communicate with, or walk in fellowship with is to be made completely whole and therefore be made alive again! And it is only “God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” (Romans 4:17 NIV) God’s freely given grace, unearned and unmerited favor, makes us alive in him through Jesus! How is this possible? Paul explains that the promise of God is fully enjoyed because “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus”! We are no longer dead and dying earthlings relegated to the dust of the earth but we are the living breathing citizens of heaven! This kindness, this grace, this mercy of God was given to us so that we might live as his children in this dying world. We are his ambassadors, citizens of heaven, living here in this realm of the dead and dying “in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” The promise gives us a new life!
EXAMPLE: Growing up in a family that did not have a lot, in fact we were poor. At one time we were even homeless for a while. We therefore grew up often buying used things like furniture, appliances, clothing and such. Getting something new was a treat. After realizing that I was indeed a sinner by nature and by choice and that God loved me so much that he sent his Son Jesus to die for me on a cruel cross to give me a new life, it changed me completely! Like the Prodigal Son I was lost but then I was found! Paul understood this as well and teaches us that the promise gives us a new life!
Gaining a new life in Jesus is an unimaginable gift. And this is what makes the world pause and wonder at the sheer magnitude of the gift God gives us. This is why Paul teaches us about…
III. The promise gives us the gift of God! (Vv. 8-10)
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
1. Paul gives his readers a final explanation of the wonderful truth that “it is by grace you have been saved”. This is a revolutionary truth that no other religion in the world teaches or offers. The grace of God is what the salvation of God is all about. It is the intrinsic testimony of the entire Bible. It is why Jesus came and it completely explains “the incomparable riches of his grace”, of God’s unmerited favor. And this grace is “through faith”. Scripture reminds us that “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV) Faith therefore is not something we can feel, do or earn, and it is not a “work.” We in no way merit salvation; faith is only the means by which one accepts God’s free gift of salvation! When we finally and willingly admit there is nothing we can do that God has already done for us! Paul also relates that “this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.” God’s gift is freely given by him alone and we can never earn it, pay for it, or be nice enough to get it. We cannot earn enough “brownie points” to get into the good graces of God let alone his kingdom. There are no heavenly scales whereby the good things we do outweigh the bad things we do. We are sinners by nature and by choice. This is why Paul would write the Roman church: “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:22-24 NIV) The payment to get in has already been done by Jesus through his sacrifice for us on a cruel cross! Nothing good resides in us at all so how in the world could ungodly people do anything good enough that would remotely be worthwhile to a holy God? And this is the point Paul is making because he understood that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” The good deeds we do come from our faith and this promise gives us the gift of God!
EXAMPLE: We have a creator who loves us and has given us all things in his Son. The promise gives us the gift of God! This is why Paul would write the Roman church: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39 NIV) And we will later read how he wrote the Ephesians that he desired that they would be able “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ”. (Ephesians 3:18) This promise gives us the gift of God!
The promise reminds us of our condition! The promise gives us a new life! The promise gives us the gift of God!
This article is copyrighted © 2017 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.