You Say You Want a New Year’s Revolution?
January 19, 2017
By Ed Young
One day I met a man in his late 60s, and I introduced myself to him and he introduced himself to me. And he said, “I’m graveyard.” I said, “Your name is Graveyard?!” He said, “Yes. That’s what they call me.” And I said, “Would you mind telling me why people call you Graveyard?” He never really answered the question. I did, though, think it was a very unusual name.
Today, we’re going to look at something that is definitely unusual. We’re going to look at how we get out of the great graveyard of sin. The Apostle Paul is talking in past tense in Ephesians 2:1-3, “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 flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.”
He says we’re spiritually dead. We’re in the graveyard. Someone who is dead can’t do anything of himself to please God. Just as a person physically dead does not respond to physical stimuli, so a person spiritually dead is unable to respond to spiritual things. A corpse doesn’t hear conversation. It has no appetite for food. He feels no pain. He’s just dead. This person is dead because of transgressions and sins.
The Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23); not just physically, but spiritually as well.
So the unbeliever is not sick; he’s dead. He doesn’t need a resuscitation; he needs a resurrection.
I know that sounds morbid. But this means our world is one vast graveyard filled with people, the walking dead.
This person is also disobedient. His disobedience to the will of God. When Adam and Eve sinned, they experienced immediate spiritual death and ultimate physical death.
There are three forces that encourage disobedience.
The world system puts pressure on each person to try to squeeze this person into its mold. Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
The devil is the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience. He’s at work in the life of each unbeliever. Satan influences the lives of all believers and seeks to influence believers.
Also the flesh. That’s the third force. The flesh refers to the fallen nature we’re born with. A dog behaves like a dog because he has a dog’s nature. Why does a sinner behave like a sinner? Because he has the nature, she has the nature of a sinner.
This person in Ephesians 2:3 is also depraved. His actions and appetites are sinful. He’s incapable of doing anything that would merit salvation.
This verse also says that he is doomed.
Three words I want you to pick up: BY, THROUGH, and FOR. We’re saved BY grace THROUGH faith FOR good works.
Ephesians 2:4 talks about the love of God. “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy…”
God would love even if there were no sinners, because love is a part of his very being. Love is one of God’s intrinsic attributes. When this love is related to sinners it becomes grace and mercy. These riches make it possible for sinners to be saved. We’re not saved just by God’s love, but by mercy and grace.
Mercy – he does not give us what we deserve. Grace – he gives us what we do not deserve. All this was made possible because of Christ’s death on the cross for our sins.
Ephesians 2:4b-5 says, “God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”
Jesus raised three people from the dead – the widow’s son, Jarius’ daughter, and Lazarus. These physical resurrections are pictures of the spiritual resurrection. But our spiritual resurrection is much greater because it puts us in union with Christ. The Bible says God made us alive with Christ.
Ephesians 2:6-7, “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 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.”
We’re not raised from the dead and then left in the graveyard. When Jesus rose again, he wasn’t just sitting there in the tomb scheduling counseling sessions. Our physical position may be earth, but our spiritual one is in the heavenly places in Christ.
God’s purpose for our redemption is not simply to rescue us from hell. His ultimate purpose in our salvation is that for all eternity the Church might glorify God’s grace.
Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Since we have not been saved by our good works, we can’t be lost by our bad works. Grace means salvation is completely apart from any merit or works on our part.
It says we’re created for good works. Workmanship is poiema – we get the word “poem” from it. It means that which is made, a manufactured product. Which means our conversion is not the end; it is a beginning.
His purpose is to make us more like Christ. Christ finished his work of redemption on the cross, but he arose form the dead and returned to heaven. There he carries on his unfinished work of perfecting his Church. Christ is equipping us for our walk and our work here on earth.
He uses three tools – the Word of God, prayer, and suffering. As we read God’s Word, understand it, meditate on it, the word goes to work in our lives to cleanse us and nourish us. As we pray, God’s spirit works in us to release power. And as we suffer, the spirit of God ministers to us. Suffering drives us back to the word, prayer, etc.
So the same resurrection power that took you out of the graveyard of sin can daily help you live for Christ and glorify him. God worked for us on his cross and he’s working in us to conform us to Christ. God cannot work in us unless he has first worked for us and we’ve trusted his son. Also, he cannot work through us unless he works in us.
The Bible shows many examples of this. God spent 40 years working in Moses before he could work through Moses. Joseph suffered for 13 years before God put him on the throne of Egypt, second to Pharaoh. David was anointed king when he was a young guy. But he didn’t gain the throne until he had suffered many years as an exile. Even the Apostle Paul, the writer of this anointed email, spent 3 years in Arabia after his conversion, being prepared for his ministry. God has to work in us before he can work through us.
And this leads us to Ephesians 2:10. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
We are not saved by faith plus good works, but by a faith that works. Works in verse 10 have two qualities. They’re good works, in contrast to works of darkness.
It’s sad to see how believers minimize the place of good works in the Christian life. We preform these good works to glorify God, not ourselves. TO make his name famous, not ours.
These works, though, are not only good. I love it. They are prepared.
One of the things that the devil wants to do – yeah, he likes for us to deny the gospel. But his favorite thing is for us to distort the gospel. Galatians 1:6, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.”
We have all kinds of esoteric cults, sects, and interpretations of things that are sometimes called the gospel – but they have no relation whatsoever to the gospel. In America, people want to have religion and you don’t find it, just keep looking. You’ll find it.
It’s like a massive drive thru. The person on the other end says, “May I help you?” And you just pick what you want. You need to find out what God has said, what the gospel is about. When you say there is only one gospel, it sounds narrow-minded, intolerant, exclusivist.
I like what Adrian Rogers says. That he likes being narrow-minded in a lot of areas. When I go to the bank, I want my banker to be narrow-minded. When I’m flying on an airplane, I want the pilots to be narrow-minded. When I go to a doctor, I really do like a narrow-minded doctor. When I go to the pharmacist and get medicine, I really do want a narrow-minded pharmacist.
It’s so paradoxical that in the most important realm of all that deals with our relationship to almighty God and our eternal destiny, there are large blocs of people that think we have no right to be narrow-minded.
Many people don’t even understand the gospel, and they’ll talk about it. They’ll say, “That’s the gospel truth!”
The word “gospel” means good news. We have to understand, though, that the gospel must come from God or it’s not the true gospel.
People will say, “It doesn’t seem rational or fair that Jesus should be the only way to God, so I just reject it.” Or, “It doesn’t seem right to me that men should suffer in eternal hell, so I reject that.” Or, “It doesn’t square with me intellectually that you’re saved by grace and not works.”
Ephesians 2:8-9 has always been a slap, an insult to the pride of man. When it comes to the gospel, you lay your intellectual pride in the dust and you see what God has said. God doesn’t love us because we’re valuable. We’re valuable because God loves us.
Notice the grace mentioned in Ephesians. It is a seeking grace. We got saved because God first sought us. We love him because he first loved us, the Bible says. Well the reason you sought him was because he first sought you. He took the initiative.
ILLUS: I saw a beautiful girl in our ninth grade Bible study class. We started talking, and then I told her those three words that were a game changer. “I love you.” I took the initiative. She loved me because I first loved her.
You get thirsty. And when you get thirsty you drink water. Now you know you would not drink water unless God made you thirsty. You wouldn’t sit around intellectually and say, “Well, you know. I’ve got to put some liquid in me before I get dehydrated and die.” God knows that if he wants you to have water, first of all he must build a thirst in you.
Now spiritually, God has built a thirst for God in you. And that thirst for God has made you thirsty for God. And you love him because he first loved you. You respond to him because he first called to you. That’s grace. And that’s initiative-taking, seeking grace.
Those three massive words – BY, THROUGH, FOR. By grace, through faith, for good works. I don’t work in order to be saved. I work because I have been saved.
Grace means that it is all of God and none of man. None of man and all of God.
There are three kinds of religions in the world. Two are wrong, and one is right. One kind of religion is spelled “DO”. If you do this and do that, then maybe you’ll be good enough and God will save you. But the Bible says it’s not by works of righteousness.
Another kind of religion is spelled “DON’T”. Don’t do this and don’t do that and don’t do this and don’t do that. And maybe, just maybe, when you clock out, God will save you.
But I’m going to tell you that Christianity is spelled “DONE.” Jesus, when he died on the cross, said, “It is finished.” That means it’s been paid in full. There is nothing you need to do except receive the finished work on Calvary.
So basically in the first section, Paul looks at the condition of man. As we look at these first three or four verses in Ephesians, those are some of the most difficult truth in all Scripture for us to believe. The sinfulness of sin.
It’s tempting to tone it down, to decaffeinate it. But as a consequence we have no realistic outlook on where we are. It’s only because of God’s greatness and his power that has cured this condition.
It’s extremely difficult to believe that we are dead. We are dead through trespasses. This is a word which comes from a basic Greek word which means “to miss your step.” I could miss a step walking off this stage. Though my intention was right, the result of my action was wrong. No other philosophy can ever explain human life adequately.
We are disobedient. Well you must have something to obey in order to be disobedient. And that is truth. It’s amazing what a commitment we have to disobedience.
We have basic desires of the flesh, which God has created. Hunger, thirst, sex, the desire for attention, the acquisition of goods and the enjoyment of pleasure. All these things. And there’s nothing wrong with them in and of themselves. But Paul uses a phrase “The desires of the body and of the mind.” It is a subdivision of these passions of the flesh.
There’s nothing wrong with eating, but obesity or starving yourself? Sleeping is great, but if you sleep too much it can interfere with your life. Sex is great, but if we do it in the wrong way, you see where it takes us.
The wrath of God (Ephesians 2:3) is basically the law of inevitable consequences. The fact that what we do will have consequences.
If I decided to walk into that wall, I would suffer the wrath of God. The wrath is designed to awaken me to make me realize that I’m violating a basic law of my own nature.
Why is it that we accept the wrath of God in those physical terms and don’t really struggle with it, but when it moves into the moral realm we get upset. We say “It’s not fair. “Why shouldn’t I run off with my neighbor’s wife?” “Why shouldn’t I lie, cheat, etc.?” “Why should I experience any evil results from that?” But evil results will come. Inevitable consequences.
It’s the guilt of man which draws forth the grace of God. It’s our misery which calls forth his mercy.
It’s funny how our image of ourselves is so much better than we actually are. Go back in history and read about the struggles of man. The Middle Ages. The Golden Age of Greece. Back in the Persian Empire. We’ve all been struggling with the same issues.
Paul says God made us alive together in Christ. The grace of God and not the activity of man. There’s not one thing which man adds. Second, we’re raised up with him. Third, we’re made to sit in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus.
If I could bring a dead body here and if we had the power to bring this body back to life, that would go viral. Paul says this is the exact same thing that happens in the life of a man, the inner life of a man when he passes from death to life.
Think about the process of birth. Becoming a Christian is likened to being born again. It starts with conception. But the mother doesn’t know anything about it. She doesn’t feel that. Yet, something has started inside her body that will change her life and maybe the course of human history.
A change takes place when someone is born again. The self-centeredness ends. Someone becomes a Christian and says, “I want to tell someone about that.”
We are raised up with him and made to sit with him in the heavenly places. What happened to him is what happened to us. The fact of the death of Jesus, the mouth was open, eyes were glazed, it cast a gloom over the apostles. That is an exact parallel of what happened to us when we were made alive in Christ. It was the death of our fallen humanity, there came a new life.
God’s purpose in doing this is that he might have a display case in which his own grace, the glory of his character and being can become evident.
Boasting in your faith would be like boasting in the fact that you reached out to receive a check for $2M. You walk around and say, “Isn’t it wonderful that I had what it took to reach out and grab that check?”
Grace definitely is a mystery. As we think about Ephesians 2:10, everything we possess as followers of Christ is ours through and by the grace of God. We’ve earned nothing. We’ve received. We deserve nothing. We’ve received. We’ve purchased nothing. We’ve received.
God doesn’t expect us to repay him for grace. He does expect a return on his investment.
No artist paints a painting to hide it in the closet.
To discredit the God of salvation and his power to totally change lives, you must rid the world of those he has changed. You must empty the church, the golden streets of heaven, and you must silence every testimony of grace.
The new life God creates within us will always work its way out through us in our works. Whatever is on the inside of man always works its way to the outside.
Understand the three words, and don’t get them out of order. BY, THROUGH, FOR. Grace is something no one deserves. God can deal with us according to justice. He can give us what we deserve. He can deal with us according to his mercy. That is, he doesn’t give us what we deserve. But God has done something totally and radically different. He’s chosen to deal with us by grace. Thereby he gives us what we don’t deserve.
Faith is the flipside of the coin of salvation. Heads is grace and tails is faith. Think of salvation like a gulf. Two rivers flow into that gulf – the river of faith and the river of grace.
Faith is not a good work you do for God. Faith is God’s work he does in you.
It’s not believing in something. Faith is believing on something.
Children believe in the tooth fairy. I believe on the Lord Jesus. You can believe in a chair and believe that chair will hold you up. But you don’t believe on the chair until you sit down on it.
Works aren’t the price of your salvation, they are the proof of your salvation. Good works don’t produce salvation; salvation produces good works.
Once you establish a relationship with God through Christ, he isn’t finished with you. He’s just starting with you and he has great things for you to do. He’s got good works he has prepared beforehand so that you would walk in them. The world says, “You’ve got to work so you can make something out of yourself.” God says, “I’ve got to make something out of you so you can work.”
Several times our Doberman will go into our pantry, pick up an entire loaf of bread, chew through the plastic, and eat it. One time I said, “Dutch, I should put you in crate city. But I’m not going to do it.” That’s mercy. Grace would be “Hey Dutch, here’s a big glass of milk to wash down all the bread you’ve eaten.” That’s grace. It means receiving something you don’t deserve.