Alive By GraceRev. Philip Miller | May 7, 2023
Selected highlights from this sermon
All of humanity is born spiritually dead. But in God’s grace, through our faith in Christ alone, we can be made spiritually alive. As Pastor Miller walks us through Ephesians 2:1–10, he reminds us that our new life in Christ gives us a new purpose in life. We are redeemed to be conformed to the image of His Son as we walk by the power of His Holy Spirit. Even now, your Father has prepared good works that you might walk in them.
A few days ago, my dad and I were talking, and he said, “Son, you’ve really got to pick up your pace here in your preaching. If you only preach through one sentence a week you’re never going to get through Ephesians.” (laughter)
Our last two messages have been about one sentence each as we covered all of chapter 1 almost, so I’m going to take my dad’s advice today and I’m actually going to preach through two sentences. Look at me! Two sentences!
So, grab your Bibles. We’re going to be in Ephesians, chapter 2. We’re looking at verses 1 down to 10. You’ll find today’s reading on page 976, and the two sentences, in case you are wondering, are verses 1 through 7 (That’s one sentence.) and verses 8 through 10. That’s a second sentence.
And this is the Word of the Lord, Ephesians 2, verse 1:
“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. 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, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 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.”
Thanks be to the Lord for the reading of His Word.
A few years ago, a friend of mine had a near death experience, and by the grace of God he survived. And I asked him...I said, “How did it change you, this brush with death?” And this is what he told me. He said, “When you’re a dead man, and God gives you your life back, it means He has a purpose for you.” When you are a dead man and God gives you your life back, it means He has a purpose for you.
And then he went on to describe all the ways it had changed him. He rededicated his life to Christ. He was loving his family more intentionally. He was spending his time more wisely. The course of his life was changed because of his encounter. When you’re a dead man, and God gives you your life back, it means He has a purpose for you. That’s what Ephesians 2, verses 1 to 10 is all about. We were dead. God has made us alive, and that means there’s a purpose for our lives.
Dead, alive, purpose. There’s your outline for this morning.
Dead, alive, purpose. And if you are a follower of Jesus Christ today, this is your story. You were dead, you are now live, and you have a purpose. And if you’re curious about Jesus today, this is what He can do for you. He can take your deadness and make you alive with purpose.
So, let’s bow our heads and pray, and we’ll jump in. All right?
Heavenly Father, we pray today that we would catch a line of sight to the wonder of what you have done in resurrecting our dead lives and giving us meaning and purpose for the rest of our days and into eternity. We pray that in seeing what you have done we would love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, that we would be more and more like Jesus because of what you have done. We thank you for this life we have in Christ by grace. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray, Amen. Amen.
First of all, dead. (laughs) Dead. Let’s dig into the first two sentences. Why don’t we? Ephesians 2, 1 and 2: “When you were dead in your 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…”
Just pause for a moment.
So, Paul is writing to formerly dead people. Right? Formerly dead people. Of course, he’s referring not to physically dead people, but spiritually dead people. This goes all the way back to Genesis, chapter 3, when Adam and Eve rebelled against God and ate the fruit from the forbidden tree, the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Remember God had told Adam, “In the day that you eat of it you will surely die.” But when they ate of the fruit, something strange happened. They didn’t drop dead. They ate of the fruit and their bodies kept on living.
But something died that day. They died on the inside. Their spiritual vitality that was sustained through a living connection with God, when that connection was severed, when they broke relationship with Him in their sin, they began dying from the inside out. Their spiritual death would eventually rot them out from the inside and bring physical death as well. The spiritual death would metastasize into physical death, but its root was on the inside, spiritual death.
And as part of Adam’s race, friends, we all partake in his demise. We were each of us born physically alive, but spiritually dead, and we each ratify Adam’s rebellion against God through our own sin and our own disobedience.
As Paul writes in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.” First Corinthians 15:22 tells us, “In Adam, all die.”
So that’s where Paul begins. “You were dead.” Your story begins in a morgue. And he’s about to do an autopsy. Why did we die? Three causes of death.
Number 1, you were dead “in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.”
Trespasses. “Do not trespass.” Right? Trespassing is when you stray out of bounds. It’s when you cross the line you shouldn’t cross. It’s when you do something you should not have done. Trespasses.
Sins. Sins means missing the mark. It means falling short of the target. It means you didn’t do the thing you were supposed to do.
So, all of us are in this sense dead in our trespasses and sins. All of us have failed to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. All of us have failed to love our neighbor as ourselves. We’ve missed the mark. We’re sinners, and not only that, we’ve been selfish and prideful and mean and hurtful. We’ve crossed the line. We are trespassers as well. That’s how we once walked, he says. Those were our embodied choices, our habituated practice. We were dead “in the trespasses and sins in which we once walked.” So, in other words, our death is of self-inflicted wounds, in a sense. We did this to ourselves. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” So that’s the first cause of death, self-inflicted wounds.
Secondly, the second cause of death, is that “we were following the course of this world.” Following the course of this world. We were dead, and we were just going with the flow. Everybody was doing it and so we did it too.
First John 2, verses 15 to 16, say this: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.”
You see friends, sin is not just an individual thing. When sinful human beings come together, we build culture, and that culture, the culture of the world of sinful humanity together, becomes a kind of environmental force that shapes us and acts upon us so that if we just go with the flow, go with the culture, the culture of this sin-cursed world, we will end up not in life but in death.
We were dead because we were “following the course of this world.” It was our cultural environment. We were swept along by the deadly current of this world.
The third cause of death here is that we were “following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” So, we were dead under the oppression of spiritual darkness, satanic tyranny. Remember, the Ephesians believers, the Gentiles in particular, had turned away from magic arts in order to come follow Jesus. So, they were very spiritually engaged. They turned from their magic arts and practices in order to follow Jesus. They knew of the power of Satan and his minions.
As Paul will say in Ephesians 6, verse 12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, and against the authorities, and against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” In other words, our sin, the sin of “the sons of disobedience” that he describes here is symptomatic of a far deeper, far more pervasive, diabolical agenda, because Satan is hell-bent, friends, on destroying humanity. He is a terrorist. Satan cannot defeat God, so he goes after His kids. He holds us hostage to get at the Father’s heart.
So here we are. We were dead. We were “following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” We were under satanic tyranny, held hostage by his oppressive power.
So, what was the cause of our spiritual death, Paul? Three things. We had self-inflicted wounds. It was our trespasses and sins that put us here. Secondly, it is a world-inflicted death because the world was leading us astray, and we went along with it. And it is a Satan-inflicted death because that tyrant had taken us hostage.
Now by the way, do you see how robust the Bible’s understanding of sin and evil is here? This is so nuanced. Human choices, cultural influences, and supernatural oppression. Behind evil in sin you always find human choices, cultural influences, and supernatural oppression. And all three are simultaneously at work in a way that doesn’t negate the others.
Let’s illustrate. Let’s say I come from a long line of angry men. Okay? And so, I get angry with my kids because my dad got angry with me, and his father got angry at him. That’s all we know. Am I 100% responsible for my own sin, my anger? Yes. I am 100% responsible for my sin.
Are there cultural influences from my family system that are making me prone to anger? Yes. Yes. The Bible says that the sins of the fathers are visited on their children to the third and fourth generation.
Are Satan and his minions at work in my anger, trying to destroy me and my family? Yes. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood.
So, here’s the reality. I can’t hide behind my family culture. I can’t say, “Well, I’m just from this family and we get angry. That’s just who we are.” That’s not taking responsibility. I can’t say, “The devil made me do it,” because that’s not taking responsibility, and yet I would be naïve if I thought I just walked into the world empty-handed and I was just building my life and my own story without any cultural influences from my family, or any spiritual oppression going on in my anger. I would be naïve if I screened those things out.
Friends, do you realize this gives you such a lens to see the great problems, the spiritual death that is ravaging our lives, our families, our neighborhoods, our city, our nation, and our world. There are human choices that matter. There are cultural influences at play, and there is supernatural oppression at work. Which is why, by the way, our politicians can’t seem to find solutions. Because the political left sees the problem as cultural influence, environmental factors, and systems, and so their solutions are always about “good resources will make for good people,” and they tend to downplay individual responsibility. The political right sees the problem as largely human choices, individual responsibility. And so good accountability will make for good people, just make an example of those bad apples, and they tend to downplay the cultural influences that are at work in shaping evil in our society.
And neither side, left or right, sees the problem with supernatural oppression. They just don’t pay attention to it at all.
And friends, listen. As long as your diagnosis is reductionistic, doesn’t take all the factors into account, your prescription will be reductionistic as well. The only answer to spiritual death arising from human choices, cultural influence, and supernational oppression is a solution that addresses all three sources of evil at once. And what solution is that? Well, you’re going to have to wait for it because Paul is getting there. Okay? It’ll come. I promise.
Now, in verses 1 and 2 Paul seems to have his Gentile readers primarily in focus, the non-Jewish contingent of his audience. They were the ones who were “following the course of this world” and the “prince of the power of the air.” They were the ones with the magic arts that laid down their books as they converted to Jesus. But Paul quickly points out that the Jewish followers of Jesus were just as bad off as the Gentiles were when it comes to their own trespasses, and sins, and disobedience. Look at verse 3: “among whom we ALL... (So now he’s counting Jews and Gentiles; he’s talking about everybody.) ...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.”
Paul gives a very similar line of argument in Romans, chapter 3, verse 9 when he says, “What then? Are the Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin.”
Romans 3:23: Again, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” which means that ALL people, Jews, and Gentiles alike, are children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. We’re all in this death state together.
Now, I know it’s hard to imagine, but God’s wrath is actually a function of His love. God’s wrath is actually a function of His love. Think about it. A loving father gets angry at those who inflict harm upon his children, doesn’t he? A loving father gets angry at the self-destructive choices and behaviors that his own children are making that are ruining them. A loving father gets angry at the ego and selfishness and hard-heartedness that estranges a child from their family, from the relationship with the father. And friends, all of us, Jews and Gentiles alike, religious, and irreligious people, we have all inflicted harm on other people, God’s children. We have all engaged in self-destructive behaviors. Our sin is ruining us. We have all estranged ourselves from God with our selfishness and ego, and hard-heartedness, and friends, if God were to just wink at all of that, just pretend it’s no big deal, He would not actually be loving, would He? His wrath is, in fact, proof of His love.
And here is the bottom line. Apart from grace, we are hopelessly dead. Apart from grace, we are hopelessly dead. What can a corpse do to save itself? Absolutely nothing! Right? Why? Because it’s dead. Right? It’s dead.
Point number one, dead.
Point number two, ALIVE. ALIVE. I love this.
Verse 4, “But God” (Aren’t you grateful for the way this sentence begins? “But God.” Oh, the wonder, the miracle, the hope!) “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.”
Just look at the contrasts here. You were dead, but now you’re alive. You were in your trespasses and sins. Now you are in Christ. You were bullied by Satan, and now you are seated in the heavenly places. You were anticipating wrath and now you’re awash with mercy. (applause) And God did it all. God did it all. When we were hopelessly dead, God made us alive together with Christ. Why?
Why did He do it? Three reasons, three grounds.
Number one, because of the riches of His mercy.
- Where we deserved death, He gave us life.
- When we deserved hell, He gave us heaven.
- When we deserved nothing, He gave us everything.
Why? Because God is rich in mercy. It’s who He is.
Second reason, because of His great love with which He loved us. Friends, when there was nothing lovable about you and me, God loved us with an everlasting love. Why? Because God is love. It’s who He is.
And the third reason, “By grace you have been saved.” Friends, the difference between mercy and grace.
- Mercy is not getting what you do
- Grace is getting what you don’t
In His mercy, we are not left for dead. In His grace, we have been raised to walk in newness of life. Why? Because God is full of grace. It’s who He is.
In God’s mercy, love, and grace, friends, He has made us alive together, Jews and Gentiles together with Christ, one new man in Him. We’re going to talk more about that next week. But we have been raised up with Christ in His resurrection life. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is powerfully working in us. Remember back to chapter 1, verses 19 and 20. And now we have been seated with Jesus in the heavenly places which, remember back to chapter 1, verse 21, is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.” Jesus has been enthroned over all the supernatural powers in this universe.
So, friends, in the mercy, love, and grace of our Father, we have been brought into union with Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
And so not only have we been united with Christ in His death and His resurrection life, Paul says we have been united with Him in His ascension and enthronement in glory where He is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty in heaven above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion.
Friends, the spiritual forces of darkness that used to dominate spiritually dead people, our lives, the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that’s at work in the sons of disobedience, those demonic powers now answer to the crucified, resurrected, ascended, and exalted Christ. They answer to Him. (applause) He is seated in the heavenly places, above all rule, authority, power, and dominion. And friends, listen, listen, listen. If we are seated with Him in the heavenly places, those powers have no authority over your life. (applause) Oh, they can mess with you, but they cannot dominate you any longer.
As Paul says in Romans 16:20, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” (applause) So friends, this is what this means. God has made you alive in Jesus Christ. He’s raised you to walk in newness of life. He’s seated you in the heavenly places above all rule and authority, above all powers, and it is all because of grace. Because of grace, we are gloriously alive. Because of grace, we are gloriously alive.
I came across this quotation from John Owen in a book he wrote. He’s one of the Puritan writers from a bygone era. He wrote this little book, “Sin and Temptation.” Here’s the quotation: “The Spiritual Life which I have is not my own. I did not induce it, and I cannot maintain it. It is only and solely the work of Christ. It is not I who live, but Christ lives in me. My whole life is His alone.”
That is good. And friends, when you’re a dead man, and God gives you your life back, it means He has a purpose for you.
From DEATH to LIFE with PURPOSE.
Let’s talk about purpose, point number three.
Purpose: For what purpose has God shown us His mercy, His love, and His grace, in making us alive together with Christ? What was His purpose? Verse 7, “so that (There’s your purpose language.) in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
(Chuckles) This is amazing. So, God made us alive by grace (Yes?) in order that He might show us more grace. We are saved by grace for grace. Grace is the means of our salvation, and grace is the end of our salvation. God intends to spend eternity unveiling vista upon vista of the “immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” All of eternity, friends, will not be enough time to explore the furthest reaches of His boundless grace! Glory will be an endless supply of ever abounding grace upon grace, upon grace, upon grace.
Verse 8, “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.”
What can a corpse do to save itself? Absolutely nothing. Friends, our life in Christ, our salvation, this grace in which we stand, this faith by which we take hold of Christ, it is all by grace. It is all by grace. It’s not of our own doing. It is a gift of God. We get no credit. We contributed nothing. We didn’t work our way into this salvation. Oh, but this salvation is going to work its way through us.
Verse 10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
I love this. God’s the workman. He’s the one doing the work. We’re the workmanship. We’re the project. God gets all the credit for taking a spiritually dead corpse and raising it to walk in newness of life. It is by grace, and it is for grace. His purpose all along was to make us this new creation in Christ Jesus. We are His creation.
Second Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is gone, the new has come.” And as a new creation, friends, we are now called to walk in newness of life into the very good works that God has prepared in advance that we should walk in them. So, we didn’t walk our way into salvation, but now that salvation is going to walk its way out in our lives.
It is faith alone that saves, friends, but the faith that saves is never alone. We work out what God works in. And if we are to walk in newness of life and do these very good works that God has prepared for us, we’re going to need something. We’re going to need the riches of his immeasurable grace and kindness toward us in Christ Jesus every day of our lives. Yes? Now and forever, we’re going to need tons of grace.
And it’s so good to know that that’s what God wants to do all along. He Himself is on the job. He is the workman. The is the Creator. He is the Grace-Giver. We’re His workmanship. We’re His new creation. We are adopted children by grace in Christ. And friends, through grace we have transforming purpose. Through grace we have transforming purpose.
Friends, God’s got a perfect path for you. He’s got a perfect path for you. He has called you and enabled you, and equipped you, and filled you with the Spirit, and poured out His mercy and grace upon you in order that you might walk in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that you might become more and more like Jesus inside and out, that you might be transformed from glory to glory as you become in Christ the person you were always meant to be, a son, a daughter of God.
Friends, you were born for this. You were made alive and resurrected for this. You have been graced by God for this. And you are destined for glory for this.
Philippians 1:6, “He who began this good work in you will carry it on to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.”
Friends, do you realize what this means? It means that by grace you can break the cycle. By grace you can break the cycle. You don’t have to do all the sins that have come before you. You don’t have to be just like your mama or your daddy. You don’t have to follow the pattern of the world around you. You get a new start by grace through the power of the Holy Spirit. You can break the cycle in your family tree.
Do you realize that God is addressing here by grace all three roots of evil and sin? They’re, all three, addressed here. In terms of supernatural oppression Jesus has broken the power of Satan. He is seated and enthroned above all the powers, and we are seated with Him, which means they don’t have dominion over our lives anymore.
In terms of cultural influence, He has made us a new creation. He’s taking us out of this old world with its decay and sin and its culture of death, and He’s brought us into a new creation that is destined for life and glory, and you get to live from the resources of the new creation. And in terms of your own human choices, He’s given you His grace, a new way to walk, a pattern of life as He fills you with His Holy Spirit, so you learn to stop doing what you want to do and start doing what the Spirit wants to do in and through your life. He’s prepared good works for you to walk into if you would just say yes.
So, by grace, you see, God is rooting out evil from all of its deep sources. The powers of darkness have been dethroned. The world and its allure has been dispelled. Our way of walking in life has been displaced. We are now made alive together with Christ. Jesus is changing everything. God in Christ is rooting out evil. It’s in the very source of our being. He’s turning death on its head. He’s reversing the curse. He’s reconciling all things to Himself. All the sin and death and spiritual oppression that Adam let in here God is setting to rights in Jesus Christ.
First Corinthians 15:22, “As in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.”
Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”
As we read a few weeks ago in Ephesians 1, verses 9 and 10, for all along this has been God’s “purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in himself, things in heaven and things on earth.’”
And it’s already begun in you and me, who have trusted in Jesus Christ, by grace through faith in Him.
- This grace has made us alive.
- This grace is growing us up.
- This grace enables us to walk.
- This grace keeps us going.
- This grace takes us home.
- This grace will make us glorious.
- And it is grace upon grace upon grace that will be our story from beginning until end.
And friends, grace grows godliness. Don’t you see that? Grace grows godliness. Friends, God has purposed that you will one day stand before Him holy and blameless and glorious. One day you will see Jesus face-to-face, and you will be like Him for you will see Him as He is. And even now, your Father has prepared good works that you might walk in them, to be conformed to the image of His Son as you walk by the power of His Holy Spirit. And every step of the way it is grace.
- By grace you are alive in Christ.
- By grace Satan has been overthrown.
- By grace death is defeated.
- By grace sin is forgiven.
- By grace you are God’s workmanship.
- By grace you are called to walk in newness of life.
- By grace you have good works that God has prepared for you to walk into.
- By grace we walk in obedience.
- By grace we are conformed to the image of Christ.
- By grace we keep in step with the Spirit.
- By grace we strive with all His energy that so powerfully works in us.
- By grace we work out what He is working in us.
- It is grace that gets us in.
- It is grace that grows us up.
- It is grace that gets us to glory.
- And in the end, it is grace, upon grace, upon grace forever more. We are alive by grace. (applause)
Friends, when you’re a dead man, and God gives you your life back, it means He’s got a purpose for you. So go live it out in the power and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen?
Father, who would have thought you could take this sin-cursed death-warmed-over life that is ours apart from grace, and you could make us alive, that when we admit we are sinners and believe that Jesus has done everything to make us right with you, and commit our lives to Him and say, “Be my Savior, be my Lord, be my everything,” You change us. You raise us up with Christ. You give us glory and an inheritance and an authority that is unbelievable. It’s hard to imagine this could be real and true, and yet it is. Your Holy Spirit is in us, sealing us for this destiny in life, animating our inner being and giving us power to live. So Father, help us to keep close to your Holy Spirit, to walk with Him, to keep in step with Him, to go when He says go, to stay when He says stay, to stop trusting our own hearts, and our own thoughts, and our own impulses, and to say yes to your leading in our lives. We need your grace. We need grace that’s greater than all our sin. We need grace that’s greater than all our stubbornness. We need grace that’s greater than all the death that ever was. Father, we need glorious grace, and we thank You that it is ours because we are alive in Christ.
We give Him all the praise and glory today. In His name we pray. Amen. Amen!