You can pass a hundred people on the street and not notice any of them until you see someone who is different from you. The person may be of a different race, obviously more wealthy, or clearly poorer. This person may be unusually unpleasant looking or especially good looking. Perhaps it has to do with the way he or she moves, limping along or walking with confident, graceful steps.
When you encounter someone who is different, you find yourself responding to him or her in one way or another. You might be attracted, perhaps even enough to attempt a conversation, or you might be repulsed, sufficiently to look away or even cross the street to avoid contact.
Everyday we find ourselves responding to others. As well, we are aware of the responses that others have to us. This shouldn’t surprise us. God, too, responds to people and we are made in His image. Though we are sinful and He is holy, we still carry elements of His likeness – like the ability to relate to others. He relates to His human creatures and invites them to relate to Him.
In Ephesians 2:4-10, we read about God’s response to our human condition. Last time I spoke with you, we saw from the verses just before these, that spiritually speaking, we are dead. Not only were we far from God, we were heading away from Him, as we followed the course of this world and the way of Satan. You might think that God would just turn away from us, as we might turn away from someone who was particularly unresponsive, offensive or insulting to us. But this is one of the great differences between God and humanity. We tend to love only those we see as good, or beautiful, or powerful and despise the rest, but God is able to love and does love the wicked, the ugly and the weak. “How does God show His love for such people?” you ask. Let’s read and find out.
Ephesians 2:4 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
These verses make it very clear how God responds to us in our spiritually dead condition. The first thing we see is that He loved us. We hear lots about love these days. Sometimes people will tell you that all love is the same. That’s not true. Think of the love a mother has for her child, the love a son has for his father, the love of two good friends, the love we have for others who are like us and share our values, the love a pastor has for his congregation or that a teacher has for her students, the love of a couple of young teenagers, and the love of an older couple who have been married for thirty years or more. While they have some aspects in common, these loves are very different.
We could easily be mistaken if we think God’s love is exactly like any of them, though it may be similar in some ways to all of them. First of all, when we say that God loves us, we recognize that His love is rooted in Himself, not in us. Think of the people you love. The reason you love them usually has something to do with them. They might be family members, or interested in the same things you are. They might be especially physically attractive. They might have expressed their love to you first. But God doesn’t love us because of anything good or admirable in ourselves. God loves us because it is His nature to love. Then, when we do come to love God it is because He loved us first.
Now, when we love someone, we are motivated to do something about that. Our love makes us want to reach out to them in some way and this is exactly what God does when He sees and responds to us. Let’s look at some of the things God does for those who respond to His love.
First of all, He makes us alive. This only makes sense. When those we love die, we long to have them back, for them to be alive again. Of course, in our physical world this doesn’t happen. However, spiritually it is a different matter. God loves us and hates to see us dead in our trespasses and sins. He not only longs to have us alive again, He can actually do something about it. This is possible because the death sentence under which we live has been carried out on the Lord Jesus Christ. He was executed in our place. Since He died our death, God offers us His life. Notice that Paul reminds them that they were saved through God’s grace. God turns dead sinners into living saints because of His love and grace as expressed through His willingness for His Son to pay the penalty of death on the cross.
The next thing Paul mentions here is that God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly places, and again he emphasizes that this is “in Christ Jesus.” This can be confusing because clearly, we’re still living our lives here on earth and we are not physically sitting on heavenly thrones in the presence of God. So what was Paul trying to tell his friends about what God had done for them?
The first thing that we can observe is that when God saves us, there are two realities we have to face. One is that we do continue to live out our natural lives on earth, glorifying God by living the life of faith and reflecting His love and grace to those around us. This means that while we are surrounded by physical death, we display God’s spiritual life to those around us. That might be through things like being delivered from illness, or keeping the faith through a long period of pain and suffering. It might mean that God glorifies Himself by allowing us to prosper, or He might choose to give us the privilege of trusting Him every day for the food we need for that day.
The second thing about this idea of being exalted to sit with Christ in the heavenly realms is that there are two aspects of it, one present, one future. In the present, we are there with Christ by faith. We can speak to God in prayer with the confidence that He is not far away, but right here with us. We can rest from the labours of trying to gain favour with Him because we have already been accepted by virtue of our being “in Christ.” In the future, we will enter into the full experience of our position in Christ, because, free of the constraints of our physical bodies and earthly lives, we will be present with God in a way we can only dream of now. We will be free from sin, both internal and external. We will be able to relate to God in a wonderful new way.
Paul mentions a secondary aspect of our eternally being in the presence of God in the heavenly realms. God’s purpose is not just to bless us, though He does that. His purpose has much more to do with displaying His glory to all the creatures He has created. One of the ways He will do that in the coming ages is to show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Other beings, whether they be angels, demons or ones of which we know nothing at this point, will look at us and see how great God’s grace is. God will take delight in pointing to us to show the depth of His love, the extent of His mercy, and the breadth of His grace.
In the next verses, 8 and 9, Paul repeats and develops something he mentioned earlier – the fact that we are saved by grace. This is important because God’s purpose in loving us, giving us life and giving us an eternal place in heaven is that He might be recognized and glorified for being the great God that He is. Let’s consider these verses again: “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.”
Paul was concerned that Christians might start thinking that God saved them because they were worthy, or that they had done some great thing or made some great sacrifice, or that they were simply so good that God had to save them. If we start thinking like that, we steal God’s glory. He becomes our servant – One who does what we want. Paul wants us all to know that there is nothing about us that can possibly make us worthy of God’s love. In fact, God’s love reveals things about His character and nothing about how deserving of it we might think we are.
Lastly, in this section, Paul has something good to say about “good works.” Even though they are of no use in attracting God’s attention and motivating Him to save us, they do have a place in the Christian’s life. In fact, God created us to do good works. When He wants to bless someone, He often uses His people to do it. When He wants to encourage someone, He’ll send one of His children to that person to do the job. When He wants to teach someone something, He’ll send one of His servants who has studied His word to pass along the instruction. And on and on it goes. We all need to be sensitive to God’s Spirit as He guides us to the people and situations where He wants us to minister.
So when I read these verses, I ask myself, “When people observe my life, what do they see?” Paul makes it clear that my life as a believer should have a major impact on my behaviour. If I really believe that God has saved me, given me a place of privilege in the heavenly realms, and wants me to demonstrate His grace not only in the future but in the present, I’m going to be careful how I live.