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God's Purpose for Sinners

Date: Mar. 28, 2021

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Ephesians 2:1-10

Key Verse: Ephesians 2:4-5

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.

Have you ever been a failure? Have you ever tried something and made a mistake, only to see the result flop? Have you ever willingly made the wrong decision, even though evidence says that you should do something else, and it went as bad as possible? Then, congratulations, you are human. Human failings are far more prevalent than human successes. During the siege of Constantinople in 1453, the Byzantines left the gate unlocked, which allowed the invading Turks to get into the city and conquer them. You might also remember a little maiden voyage in 1912 of a ship called the Titanic. In in 1964, there was a grad student who accidentally killed the world’s oldest tree at over 5,000 years, when he chopped it down to retrieve a stuck tool. In 2005, a Japanese trader sold 610,000 shares for 1 yen instead of 1 share for 610,000 yen, like he was supposed to. In 2016, the French bought $15 billion worth of train cars that are actually too wide for more then 1,300 railway stations. It will cost over $50 million to upgrade the stations to accommodate the cars. In each of these failures, someone was at fault and had to suffer the consequences. The same thing happens when we fail. If we fail in school, our grades will reflect the failure. If we fail at work, then we face consequences there too. Every time we fail, we have to deal with it. Dealing with those consequences can be hard. We may have to make reparations and if anyone was hurt during our failure, then we will have to face those we hurt to help them to heal. There are many people that deny their failures in order to avoid the consequences, but it doesn’t change the fact that they still failed. We have all failed, especially in God’s eyes. God created us for great things, but we fall so short because we don’t listen to him. So, what are God’s plans for those who constantly fail? Let’s find out in today’s passage.

Our passage, this week, piggy backs of off last week’s passage. At the end of the passage last week, Paul exhorted Christ being raised from the dead and now being seated in heaven where everything is put under his feet. Jesus is in the highest of positions with everything obedient to him. Christ is the greatest of all, but Paul pivots when he starts with this portion of his letter. “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.” (1-2) Paul goes from talking about Christ who is the greatest to referring to the reader, saying we are dead in our transgressions and sins. Transgressions and sins are words that really show our failures before God. Anything that falls short of God’s will and direction is a sin. Anytime we go against God’s will, we are sinning against God. We sin against God when we do wrong and when we fail to do what is right. These are both failures to live up to God’s plans for us. This means that when we hurt someone or are mean, we sin against God, but also when we see someone hurting someone else or being mean and we do nothing. Those are both sins against God. Now the passage says that we are dead in our transgressions and sins. When we go against of God, we go away from God. When we go away from God, we go away from the source of life. If you disconnect from the life source, then you get closer to death, because without life, there is death. If we march towards death, we are as good as dead. Therefore, if you sin against God, you are as good as dead. Even with God’s first rule, we can see that the consequence for disobedience is death, not because God is vengeful and petty, but because he knows what will happen. In the garden of Eden, God told Adam to eat from any tree except for the one in the middle, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If he ate from that tree, he would surely die. Up until that point, humans were immortal, but because they walked away from God’s direction and ate the fruit of the tree, they became mortal and eventually died. It wasn’t the fruit that killed them, it was their disobedience.

The passage also mentions that the readers were dead when they used to live according to the ways of the world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air. The ways of the world are ways that are different than the ways of God and the ruler of the air is Satan. Paul expands on this in next verse, “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” (3) He uses the phrase “gratifying the cravings of our flesh”. Now, Satan doesn’t want for anyone to follow or serve God. He would much rather prefer that we would follow anything other than God. So why not have us follow ourselves? We are so selfish anyways. It is going to be a piece of cake to get us to do it. And sure enough, it is. We were created from the stuff of the earth, so we have an animalistic nature, and our bodies are very much like that of animals. Animals tend to live through instinct and making sure their physical desires are met. We have very similar bodies, and it can take us just a push to fall back into those tendencies, but God created us a bit different than the animals. We were given more than they were. We were given a spirit that resembled God’s own spirit because we were created in his own image. With this spirit we can know things like beauty and love, which no animal can truly comprehend. We have fear and doubt, like animals, but we also have the capacity to overcome, push through and be better for it. We don’t have to live the same way animals do, we have a higher capability, but Satan wants for us to deny that and live according to the desires of the flesh. When we deny the image of God within us, we throw his gift in his face and are very much deserving of his wrath because of it. His precious gift was trampled upon every time we give in to our carnal desires. Who wouldn’t be upset by that?

Fortunately, we weren’t stuck in God’s wrath. Our sins and transgressions make us deserve God’s wrath, but we didn’t get what we deserve. “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.” (4-5) God had mercy upon us because he loved us with a love that was so great that he was willing to do anything that would save us from the fate we were running towards. We were like children running toward a street that is filled with traffic. With no intervention, we would have been hit by oncoming traffic, but God, in his great love, saved us from that fate. But it is more than that. We are not just running towards death while in our sins, we are dead. We have been hit by traffic and run over multiple times. We are lying dead in the street, bloodied and lifeless. We were dead in our transgressions, but we are made alive with Christ because of God’s great grace for us. It is by grace we have been saved. We are no longer dead but made alive in Christ Jesus.

People like to minimize their own sins. We like to think that we aren’t so bad of a person or at least we aren’t as bad as some other people. In fact, I have been equating sin with failures to soften the blow of reality some. We have to first acknowledge our sins in order to see the severity of them. Being in sin means that we have walked away from God and we are dead. We can’t even make comparisons about our sins. We can’t make excuses for our sins because no matter how severe or benign our sins may appear to us, each and every one of them makes us dead. One person isn’t more dead than another. There is dead and there is alive. We cannot sugar coat our sins. If you sugar coat poison, you are still dead. You are not less dead because you refuse to acknowledge the truth. Every sinner is dead in their transgressions. The only way we are made alive again is when we are plugged back into the life source, only because of Jesus.

This life is not merely physical life. We can be walking and breathing, but still dead. When we are made alive with Christ, a shadow is lifted from our lives. Our dark thoughts and fears can be changed to hope and the knowledge that we are no longer dead. There are so many people out there who are lost because they are dead in their transgressions. They are still walking around, but they have no hope or purpose. They know that they have messed up their lives but are just pushing through to try to make it feel like they are alive, but inside they are dead. They feel there is no hope for redemption for them. There are people that feel that they are just too bad and have failed too much to be saved. Death is the end, and no one escapes death. However, through Jesus even the dead can be made alive. Jesus died on the cross and was raised again. Surely, the one who did that could raise us from our death and give us new life. There is hope for everyone in Christ. There is no amount of sin that cannot be forgiven. There is no amount of dead that cannot be made alive.

But there is more than just being made alive. “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.” (6-7) Not only are we made alive, but God also raises us up with Christ to be with him in the heavenly realms. We are given a new life, a greater life than anything we had before. We are given a new purpose and part of that purpose is to show the incomparable riches of God’s grace. The world will know that, if there is hope for a person like you or like me, then there is hope for anyone. If a person, so broken and hopeless as myself, can find salvation through God’s grace,…if he could forgive my sin and pour out his blessing on me, then there is hope for everyone. I am not unique in God’s grace. It was nothing that I did to deserve his grace, but it was a gift from God to me.

As the passage says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (8-9) There is nothing that we can do to be saved from death. It is a gift from God. All we can do is accept it. God does this so that no one can boast. If we had to do something to be saved, then we would take all the credit. If we have to raise ourselves up, then we would say it was our strength that saved us. Fortunately, we aren’t saved by doing anything. How can the dead do anything to make themselves alive, anyway? Just look at the graves and tombs. They can’t do anything. They are lifeless and so are we. We cannot do anything to earn our salvation, but it is given as a gift that we only need to receive. And we receive it through faith. That is the only thing we can do: accept God’s gift to us by faith. There is no ritual to perform or ten step process to accept the gift. We don’t have to make ourselves perfect or even slightly better. We just accept a gift like it is Christmas or our birthday.

We might still be hesitant to accept that God’s grace is greater than our sins. But a funny example is seen in this passage. Bob pointed this out to us last night. The word “transgressions” occurs twice, but “grace” appears three times. God’s grace is greater than transgressions. No matter who we are and how much we sin, God’s grace is greater. Above it all is Christ, who is mentioned five times in this passage and is equal to God, who is also mentioned five times.

In fact, when Christ is mentioned, he is mentioned as “with Christ” or “in Christ”. But what does it mean to be in Christ or with Christ? It is kind of a strange concept. In one measure, it means through Christ. We are made alive through Jesus and what he did. Jesus went to the cross for our sins. The punishment for sin, any sin, is death, but Jesus took that punishment for us and died the death that we deserved for our transgressions. He gave us an opportunity for a blank slate and a new life without the burden of our sins. He took our greatest consequence on his own innocent body. Jesus died and was buried, and on the third day, he came back to life, resurrected. He appeared to his disciples and ascended into heaven, where he sits to this day, waiting for his return. Jesus paid the ultimate price for us. He died for us to give us life. He poured out his blood by dying in the most horrific way, so that blood could wash away our sins. When we accept that Jesus did that for us, we have salvation. We are with Christ; we are in Christ. He has opened the door for us and showed us the way.

That is the initial step, but afterwards there is more because we start to change. All we have to be is dead in order to accept salvation, but once we accept it, we become alive. That is a change. As long as we remain in Christ, we will continue to change. That means that we have to get to know Jesus more. We have to know what he is like and strive to be like him. We have to get closer and closer in a relationship with Jesus and let him influence us for the better. If we accept Jesus’ gift of salvation but continue in our ways of following our own desires, we are throwing that gift away and choosing death instead of life. We have to dislike the sinfulness that we were so filled with and seek the life-giving warmth of Jesus. Near the beginning of this message, I mentioned that we have an animalistic part and a part that is from the image of God. When we are in Christ, we no longer want to fulfill the desires of the animalistic part and the image of God begins to shine through more and more.

So, what does God do with failures? What is God’s purpose for those who fail? Does he ignore them or forget them? We like to write off people who fail. Their failures come to define them and their legacy. But not God. God like to take those dead failures and make them alive. He puts them to good use to show creation the greatness of his mercy. God can take the useless and the dead and chooses to make them useful and alive. He doesn’t just recycle or upcycle us. We are renewed. Many times, when we reuse something, it is a haphazard attempt, like taking an old water bottle and using is for something else like a vase for a flower. It is still very obviously a water bottle, and it is just trash being reused. God is not like that. He is not reusing trash. He is doing full on recycling. He takes the trash and turns it into something amazing, stronger and better than it could ever be. We are the wood from a falling apart barn being used to create furniture. We are the water bottles that are turned in to reusable bags.

However, it is more than that. We are the worthless, the distraught, the frozen with fear, the impaired, the detestable, the scorned, the lost, the hopeless, the abused and the lifeless. Yet, we are God’s handiwork. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (10) We were nothing and hopeless, but because of Jesus and what he did, we are God’s creation once again, and we were created to do good. We were created to do mighty things and those mightiest of things is to show the world that it is possible to be alive in Christ. The mightiest thing that we can do is be proof of God’s power, to be proof of his mercy and grace. There are people out there that need to know how much he loves them, how much he gave up for them. These are the good works God has prepared in advance for us to do. We need to share our story with those around us to help them see what Jesus has done for them. It is a purpose that we were made for. It is a purpose that uniquely suited to our experiences. We were dead but are now alive in Christ. There is a change in us that can be seen and heard. Where there was once death and despair, there is life and hope

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The Greatest of These is Love

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Key Verse: 13:13b

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