Please open your Bibles and Bible apps to Ephesians 2. This morning I want to talk to you about transformation, about the process of becoming that which we have never been before. In my 44 years of living I have set goals of becoming different things. At 18 I became a high school graduate. I had never known life outside of my parents’ home and refrigerator. Leaving for college was a big transition, one that forced me to continue my journey of becoming.
At 22 I became a college graduate. I had never known life without the routine of school. I had enjoyed being on the receiving end of great instruction. What would I do with all of that information?
I became a missionary school teacher. In that becoming, I transitioned from receiver to giver of information. During that becoming, as I lived in the Middle East, I changed and matured and developed into a person who had an increased world view and a greater sense of my responsibility to make an impact in this world.
At 26 I became a seminary graduate and a pastor. In that process of becoming I became a multi-tasker, a jack of many trades including music teacher, worship leader, hospital visitor, devotional teacher, and administrator of a whole lot of people. During that 12 year period of becoming, I grew into a shepherd, counselor, discipler, and preacher.
At 29 I became a wife. I had never been a wife before. I embraced new ways of communication and responsibilities to help meet the needs of another person and to learn what it meant to share a life, to share decision-making and to have increased responsibility for the support and encouragement of another person.
At the age of 31 I became a mother, and the becoming ramped up intensely as I became a nurse, caregiver, mentor, heart-shaper, discipliner, life teacher, and life planner.
At the age of 38 I became the recipient of an earned doctorate and the senior pastor of this church. With that becoming came greater expectations that I would have knowledge and answers, that I would demonstrate authority, and that I would live with accountability and integrity.
And at 44, I continue to work to become . . . and belong . . . and make a difference and contribution to the Kingdom of God and this community.
Each phase of becoming came with effort on my part. I studied. I planned. I prepared. I positioned myself to achieve. I set goals. I exercised my will. I worked, and I worked, and I worked. It’s not that I didn’t seek God’s leading. I did. It’s not that I didn’t know God was helping me. He was. But I did work very hard to make those things happen. So, while God gets the glory for my becoming whatever it is I have become, I do get some credit for the effort I put in along the way.
There is, however, a kind of becoming that no human can take any credit for. It is the kind of becoming outlined in Ephesians 2. It is the work of God and a gift of grace for which we should all have a deep gratitude and sense of awe which that should lead us to worship and greater devotion to Christ for the rest of our lives.
Ephesians 2:1 reads “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” There is nothing positive a person could say about our human understanding of being in a state of deadness. Dead people have no energy. They make no progress. They make no difference. They have no influence. They are without hope for a different experience because humanly speaking, death is final. Dead people can’t respond to anyone. It wouldn’t matter how loudly we spoke, a corpse would not hear us or respond to us.
The Apostle Paul says that before Christ we were “dead” in our transgressions and sins. Truth is dead people don’t even know they are dead. They aren’t conscious of their deadness, if you will. People who are spiritually dead aren’t initially aware of their deadness. Transgressions and sins are those thoughts and actions which are willfully done against God. You may live awhile without even realizing you are transgressing against God. And so, God, through the person of the Holy Spirit, comes to us to make us aware of our deadness. He brings conviction or understanding about our dead condition, and begins to shine light on how that condition can and should change.
Why does it need to change? Because the problem with being dead in your transgressions and sins is that it has eternal consequences. Spiritual corpses are cut off from God. They have to live this physical life apart from God, and then they go into eternity apart from God. And the unpleasant parts of life without God in this life pale in comparison to the un-pleasantries in eternity.
One challenge for spiritually dead people is they are alive. That is, physically, they are walking, breathing, talking, holding down jobs, often enjoying parts of life and are contributing to society. They don’t look dead, but they are in fact, in a spiritual sense, the walking dead. You see, dead people don’t know what they are missing. The same is true of spiritually dead people. They don’t know what they are missing.
It takes great effort on God’s part to help a dead person understand they are dead. Raising the dead took great power and demonstration in the Bible. The same power needed to raise Christ from the dead or Lazarus from the dead is the same kind of power that God exerts when He begins to raise a spiritually dead person to a new level of consciousness that they need the life Christ can provide.
If you are a Christian today, you cannot take credit for recognizing your deadness and coming to life. God, in His grace and mercy, because of His great love for you, came to you somehow, at some point, in some way, to let you know you needed new life. It was a gift of grace. If you aren’t a Christian today, God is using this message to help you see you are among the walking dead.
3b “. . . we were by nature objects of wrath.” You see, being dead in transgressions and sins is a big problem because that status puts us in a position where we are also objects of God’s wrath. Well, isn’t that cheerful news I am sharing on “Graduate Sunday”? God has something against us. God’s wrath must be a pretty horrible thing because I’ve caught the wrath of a few people in my day, and it was crushing. And their capacity to obliterate me is infinitely smaller than God’s.
Why talk about God’s wrath? We can’t pretend it isn’t a reality. Even more crucial, perhaps, is that we can’t understand God’s love without understanding His wrath. We can never embrace how big the love of God is without understanding how angry sin makes Him. In that respect, God’s wrath becomes a measuring stick for God’s love. When we understand that what He desires to do to sin is obliterate it and when we see that He willingly gave His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross to obliterate the stain of sin and impact it has on our lives so that He could relate with us in love rather than obliterate us in wrath we are compelled to respond to His love. In human terms, let me describe it this way. In order for God to overlook our sin, He had to pour out His wrath on Jesus instead of us. Who of you would sacrifice your own child to keep someone else from getting what they rightfully deserved?
I love the lyric from “In Christ Alone” that says, “For on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied. For every sin on Him was laid. Here in the death of Christ, I live.” You and I live ONLY because Jesus took the wrath of God meant for each of us. If you are a Christian today, you cannot take credit for escaping the wrath of God. It was a gift of grace. If you aren’t a Christian today, God is using this message to help you understand you are under God’s wrath, but that He has made a way of escape for you.
What is the wrath of God? Does God just get enraged and fly off the handle, releasing and unleashing his power in a vengeful way against anyone He so chooses? Not at all. God’s wrath is the expression of perfect justice. God cannot be unjust. Injustice would be sin having no consequences. There have to be consequences for sin. There has to be a payment for sin.
When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden and were banished from the Garden, listen to what God did. Genesis 3:24 “After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” What was that sword? The sword was the sword of God’s justice which punished man by keeping him from coming back to the tree of life. Because of sin, Adam and Eve couldn’t, through their own efforts, live eternally in paradise. The sword of Justice would keep them from a human pursuit of eternal life. God judged Adam and Eve based on their actions and acted justly. I’m sure they didn’t like it. I’m sure they had many ideas about what God could or should have done. I am sure they thought of ways to rationalize their disobedience against God. I am sure they would have suggested alternative punishments in their mind as it would seem to them that losing paradise in the Garden of Eden was a bit extreme.
I am sure the residents of planet earth, as they were gasping for air and drowning in the flood during the time of Noah thought God had gone overboard in expressing His wrath and justice over the sins of the whole world. I’m sure when the people of Sodom and Gomorrah experienced God’s justice or wrath they thought it was extreme. I am sure the Israelites thought God had been extreme and harsh in allowing them to be carried off into Babylonian exile when He was expressing His wrath against their disobedience. But listen to me, as extreme as the wrath of God is, there is nothing more extreme than the love of God as He has made a way through the shedding of His own blood to give any of us who wants it a way to escape His wrath! It doesn’t get any more extreme than giving your own blood to pay the price for someone else’s wrongdoing!
God can only remove His wrath from people who accept His love in the sacrifice of Christ. Who wouldn’t want that? Have you become at one with God, or are you still an object of God’s wrath?
Verse 12 “Remember that at that time: You were separate from Christ. To live separately from Christ is to live separated from nourishment, from direction, from purpose, from peace. John 15:5 talks about those who are in Christ being in a Vine/Branch relationship. It is connection with the vine that enables us to produce fruit. In John 15:16 Jesus tells us as we are connected to Him we will bear fruit, fruit that will last.
You see, Christ has done more for us than just pay the penalty for our sins. He also, through the Holy Spirit, takes up residence in us, possessing us, if you will, to live His life through ours. Only those with the Spirit of God will produce spiritual fruit, the kind that will last.
If other people have experienced God’s mercy through you, it’s not you who has given mercy, but Christ in you. If other people have experienced God’s love through you, it’s not you who has revealed the love of God, but Christ in you. If other people have understood God’s Word through your sharing, it’s not your persuasive ability or apt communication skills that have yielded results, but it is Christ speaking through you. If others have come to desire to know God for themselves, as a result of watching your life, it is not your efforts, but Christ living in you, expressing His life through yours, which has drawn them to God. It is a gift of grace that God chooses to flow through us to reach others around us. He is the Vine. We are the branches. He is the reason there is any lasting fruit being produced in and through us.
If you are not in Christ, you will not produce lasting, spiritual fruit. It doesn’t matter if you attend church, give money to a church, help advertise the church’s events on your Facebook page, or if you serve in your community, recycle aluminum, or hug a tree, nothing good you can do will produce lasting fruit in and through your life apart from Christ. You may do a good deed, but like beautiful, shiny fruit it will begin to get dull and rotten. Rotten fruit isn’t very attractive. It is stinky. People clearly see it for what it is, rotten to the core just like we are apart from Christ.
Back to verse 12: (You were) excluded from citizenship in Israel and (You were) foreigners to the covenants of the promise.
Why is it important to become a citizen in Israel? Why is it important that we not be foreigners to the covenants of the promise? As God’s chosen people, Israel has the distinction of being the recipients of God’s blessing, favor, presence, and protection. The way God chose to relate to Israel was intimate and special; differently from the way He related to the rest of the nations throughout history.
Those not born Jews are called Gentiles. Spiritually speaking, Gentiles were on the outside looking in. Those who were born Jews were born into spiritual privilege. God had made eternal promises to the Jewish nation through Abraham. Those outside of that covenant were outside of the promise. But through Christ, we too, have become heirs to the promises of God.
I Peter 2:9-10 9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Scripture teaches that those of us in Christ are now grafted into Christ. As verse 13 says, “We have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” We were far away from God, but we have been brought near. Hallelujah! We have a new identity. We are the children of God. The promises made to Abraham are also ours to claim. We have redemption. We have forgiveness. We have eternal life. We have direct access to the Father. As one author has said: In Christ we have . . .
A love that can never be fathomed,
A life that can never die,
A righteousness that can never be tarnished,
A peace that can never be understood,
A rest that can never be disturbed,
A joy that can never be diminished,
A hope that can never be disappointed,
A glory that can never be clouded,
A light that can never be darkened,
A purity that can never be defiled,
A beauty that can never be marred,
A wisdom that can never be baffled,
Resources that can never be exhausted.
Jesus is our all in all!
We didn’t and couldn’t do anything to earn any of those wonderful things. They have come to us as a gift of God’s grace. If you aren’t a Christian, you don’t possess any of those things I just listed.
Paul goes on to say, (You were) without hope (You were) without God in the world. I don’t know that there is any worse emotion than hopelessness. That is a dismal experience, to be without hope. To be in the world without God? I can hardly fathom that existence. I have never not known God’s leading, empowering and protection over my life, and I never would want to experience that state. Life is so hard, even with God.
I could never imagine life without Him. I wouldn’t want to. Hope makes a difference in the way I process every facet of life. For the Christian, at the beginning of every journey, hope holds the promise of great blessing. For the Christian, in the midst of any difficulty, hope holds the promise of healing and a brighter tomorrow. For the Christian, hope even makes a difference in the way we get through grief, I Thessalonians 4:13.
We didn’t expend any effort that resulted in hope coming into our lives. If we are in Christ, our hope is the result of the gift of God’s grace in our lives. Without Christ, people live with an earthly hope, a reliance on “luck” or “fate” rather than a surety that God is with them and that He will work all things together for their good.
How about verse 22 which helps us understand that before Christ, (You were) empty, but you have been filled by God’s Spirit! (vs. 22) Graduates, young people and those of us who are more mature, hear me today. The greatest takeaway you could get from this message involves the gift of God’s Holy Spirit that is vital to you and me becoming anything that glorifies God.
It is the Holy Spirit who creates newness in your life, enabling you to become holy and pleasing to God. Real change is impossible apart from a relationship with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit reveals truth to us. We will never know what we should become unless we possess the Holy Spirit in order that He may tell us what God’s desires are for us. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin and leads us to repentance. The Holy Spirit becomes an internal Guide to keep us on our path to holiness. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord,” 2 Cor. 3:18.
Those of us who are in Christ, who continually seek more and more of God and who ask to be filled with the Spirit, we are those in whom God’s Spirit is at work . . . not because we have done something to merit the Spirit’s presence in our lives, but because of the gift of God’s grace in sending the help we need through His Holy Spirit. Scripture after scripture talks about receiving the “gift” of the Holy Spirit. You don’t earn the Holy Spirit, just like you don’t earn salvation. His presence in your life and His empowering is the gift of God’s grace to you.
Those who are not in Christ are not filled with the Spirit of God. They won’t be overcomers. They won’t be empowered to live a Holy Life. They won’t be transformed into the image of Christ. Pray, “Dear Father in Heaven.” Pray, “Dear Jesus, My Savior,” but don’t forget to pray, “Precious Holy Spirit” because it is the work of the Spirit you need in your life this side of salvation.
What takes us from “you were” to “you are” is the grace of God. (vs. 8) No self-effort. Only God’s gifts.
The way I see it, there are two groups of people who could respond this morning; those who have experienced God’s grace and those who still need it. Those who have received it can come and thank God for the gifts of grace He has given and for the transformation He is working in their lives. Once you were, but now you are. Aren’t you thankful? Those who haven’t received it need to come and experience it. You’ll never regret it.