Purchase the CD of this sermon.
This powerful series will challenge you to understand your role in the body of Christ. Through the book of Ephesians, Pastor Philip will remind us of the joy and blessings God intends for believers to experience in the church as they live as a united family in Christ.
More From This Series
Take your copy of God’s Word and open it to Ephesians 2:1–7. If you’re visiting this morning, we are in an expositional series in the book of Ephesians, a series we have called Life Together. And this morning, we’re coming to look at verses 1–7, a message I’ve entitled “This Is Your Life.” And I think I’ll be able to explain that title as we work through the text.
Would you honor God’s Word and stand as we read? Remember that God has exalted His Word above His name, and while we don’t worship the Bible, our treatment of the Bible, our honoring of the Bible, our obedience to the Bible is a measure of our devotion to God. And so, we’re standing in honor of that and the joy of being able to read it and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, understand it and undertake it.
Ephesians 2:1–7: “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
So reads God’s Word. And you may be seated. When I was growing up in the UK, there was a television program our family loved to watch on British television. It was a program called This Is Your Life. It was hosted by an Irish commentator called Eamonn Andrews. The show was about surprising some athlete, politician, movie star and sitting them down and going back over their life and coming back to their present life. It was a wonderful program to get the backstory on a well-known figure within British society. And they would go back to their neighborhood or to their family or to their friends. They might interview a school teacher who thought they’d never amount to much. It was just a very intriguing and inspiring program. And after the sweep of their life had been documented, Mr. Andrews would take a red book, and he would always close the show by handing them the red book and saying in a kind of dramatic fashion, “This is your life.”
Now, as we come into Ephesians 2:1–7, Paul’s got his own version of This Is Your Life, because here Paul gives us a biographical sketch of every Christian. He works through the sweep of our experience in Christ. Here is the Christian experience—past, present, and future—explained in three chapters. In verses 1–3, he talks about what we were before we came to know the Lord Jesus Christ. In verses 4–6, he talks about what we are now that we are in a living relationship with Jesus Christ, cemented by faith. And then, in verse 7, he talks about what we will yet be because of Jesus Christ and His great and exceeding promises. Here Paul outlines the before, the after, and the hereafter of God’s grace at work in our lives.
If you are a Christian this morning, this is your life encapsulated. That’s what’s going on in Ephesians 2:1–7. Now, before we look at their past life and their present life and their prospective life—and that’s parallel to our own experience—let’s put the text in its context. As we often say here at Kindred, a text out of context is a pretext for misunderstanding or error. So, where are we at? You notice at the beginning of verse 1, we’ve got a conjunction: “and.” Paul’s continuing on a train of thought. And so, if we were to connect these verses to chapter 1:3–14, Paul discussed God’s plan of how He chose us and elected us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that He might adopt us into His family. And, to bring that about, He sent His son to redeem us through what He did and achieved on the cross. And that was made real to us through the work of the Holy Spirit.
And so, if we were to connect these verses to those verses, Paul discussed God’s eternal plan, and now he’s given us the details of the execution of that plan, of how people have been made alive in Jesus Christ and adopted into His family. If we were to connect it to verses 15–23, you’ll notice towards the end of Paul’s prayer for them, he talked about the fact that God is at work in them with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. Paul wants them to recognize that. The power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in them, raising them from the dead, bringing them to life in Jesus Christ. The power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in those who are now alive in Christ. So, I think that’s the context. That’s the threads that we’re tying together in terms of Paul’s thinking.
Now, before I leave this idea of text and context, I want to make you aware that verses 1–7 in chapter 2 is another long sentence in the Greek grammar. This is the third long sentence. The first was verses 3–14: 202 words before there’s a full stop. The second was verses 15–23: 167 words before there’s a full stop. And now, in chapter 2:1–7, there’s 124 words before there’s a full stop. You see, as Paul writes and as Paul meditates upon the gospel, he can’t but be excited about it, enthralled by it—so much so that he can hardly put his pen down as he writes about God’s electing, sovereign, free purposes toward us in the Lord Jesus Christ, as he thinks about what God is doing in the life of the believer, how we’ve come to know Him and can get to know Him even better as His work expands in our life. And now, He is reveling in the thought that we who were once dead are now alive in Jesus Christ. We who were once afar off are now made near.
So, Paul writes one thought about Christ and the gospel, and then it rolls into another thought. One idea is piled up on top of another idea because there’s a glory to the gospel that doesn’t allow him to take a breath or to put his pen down. Since he’s writing about the indescribable gift of Christ, he scribes with an indescribable enthusiasm. I like what William Barclay notes in his commentary on Ephesians. Listen to this: “The claims of grammar give way to the wonders of grace.” This wasn’t good composition, grammatically speaking, but it’s wonderful theology. It’s a soul thrilled by the thought of God’s election and redemption, God’s grace and mercy. The claims of grammar give way to the wonders of grace.
I hope this morning that you find yourself lost in wonder, love, and praise. I hope this morning that you can say with John Newton, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” Gipsy Smith, the Welsh evangelist was asked the secret of his impact, to which he replied, “I never lost the wonder.” That is the secret, to never lose the wonder—to never forget where you were when God found you, to never forget where you are in relationship to where you were, and to never forget where you will be in relationship to where you are and where you were. When you and I camp there, when you and I swim in those waters, we get a thrill, and we say, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (Psalm 103:1).
So, let’s come and look at this passage under these three headings: their past life, their present life, and their prospective life. And let’s learn some lessons for ourselves because this is your life encapsulated.
Look at verse 1: “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world.” Paul wants to remind them that they once were without God, without hope in this world. That’s what he says in verse 12, and that’s an amplification of what he has written in verses 1–3. Now, the reason Paul starts with their past is because you and I will never appreciate how good the good news is until we appreciate how bad the bad news is. Paul starts with the stark, bleak terms of the human condition apart from grace, and he does that so that indeed he might highlight the glory of what we are in Christ. J. C. Ryle said, “Christ is never fully valued, until sin is clearly seen.” And that’s what he’s doing here.
We’re going to get to this glorious reality that we’re now in Christ, that we’re forgiven, that we’re accepted, that we have a joy that’s unspeakable, and that we have a peace that’s indescribable. That’s all ours, but we’ve got to remember where we once were to appreciate where we are and what we have. Look, if you go into a jewelers, as the jeweler’s going to maybe show you a bracelet or a necklace or a ring—where he wants you to see the splendor and the sparkle of the particular diamond or the particular gem—he will typically roll out a black velvet cloth, and then he will set the ring or the bracelet or the necklace onto that to contrast. That black background allows you to appreciate the sparkle of the gem, the splendor of the stone. Paul’s doing that. He wants you to understand the splendor of God’s grace. He wants you to catch the sparkle of gospel truth, and he’ll do that against the black cloth of our past sinful life.
Now, you’ll notice as we look at their past life, or our past life, three things, just quickly. Number one, they were dead. Did you notice that? Verse 1 and verse 5, you “were dead in trespasses and sins,” but He made you “alive together with Christ.”
That’s a sobering, striking, shocking assessment of our condition, naturally apart from grace and a relationship with God. You and I are very much alive physically, but we are alienated, according to Ephesians 4:18. We’re “alienated from the life of God.” Our sin and our transgressions have separated us from God. From the moment we’re born, there’s a disconnection between us and God. Death is the absence of connection. Death is the absence of communication. And that’s true of our relationship with God apart from Christ. You and I are dead, alienated from the life of God, cut off from the source of life itself. First Timothy 5:6 has this interesting contrast, that you can be dead while you’re yet alive. And that’s true of you, and that’s true of me. Paul is acting as a spiritual coroner, and he tells us that the cause of death was transgression and sin that separated us from God (Isaiah 59:2).
You and I are born separated from God. You and I are born cut off, alienated from the life of God. There are three conditions when it comes to life. You’re either healthy, sick, or dead. And there’s three perspectives on men and women. Some people look at humanity, and they say, “You know what? It’s healthy. Man is basically good and over time will progress to something better.” Others would say, “No, that’s too optimistic. That doesn’t comport with the facts. Just read your newspaper, and you’ll see that things aren’t good. Society isn’t healthy. Now, man’s sick, man needs help, but he can be nursed back to health. The right environment, the right laws and everything will be right with the world. Good education, good legislation, and we’re headed in the right direction.” A person can be well, or they can be sick. But there’s a third possibility: a person can be dead. And that’s the Bible’s sober assessment of our condition. We’re not well. We’re not sick. We’re dead. We’re alienated from the life of God.
That’s our condition. And it’s not a pretty one, and it’s not a good one. Whether we can help ourselves depends on the problem we’re facing. And, according to Ephesians 2:1–3, our problem is not that we’re a little misguided. Our problem’s not that we’re culturally deprived. Our problem’s not that we’re psychologically impoverished or financially disadvantaged. Our problem is we’re separated from God and dead. And if you’re dead, you’ve got a God-sized problem that only a resurrection will fix. And resurrection is something only God can do. Hold that thought.
They were dead. Secondly, they were disobedient. Notice how they’re described at the end of verse 2, as “sons of disobedience.” That’s a Hebraic way of speaking about the fact that disobedience was the dominant characteristic of their lives. And that’s to be seen in the fact that with the world, they were headed in the wrong direction before Christ. With the world, they had sided with the kingdom of darkness. And while in the world, they expressed desires that neither hungered or thirsted after righteousness.
Paul wants the Ephesians to remember the fact that while they lived in Ephesus apart from Christ, not only were they dead and alienated from the life of God, from the source of life itself; they were disobedient. Now, he gives depth and perspective on that. Notice in verse 2: “in which you once walked according to the course of this world.” They once conducted themselves after the pattern of a world in rebellion against God. When Paul uses the word “world,” he’s not talking about the planet but a philosophy of life that governs the planet, a planet in rebellion against God. And they were once part of that. They once loved the world and the things of the world; the love of the Father wasn’t in them, and they didn’t do the will of God (1 John 2:15–17). Their values were derived from what the world considered important at that moment. Their behavior conformed to the prevailing culture, the acceptable norms of society, and they were slaves to the world’s standards and styles.
This is a very dramatic picture. They once conducted themselves, they once walked according to, they once conformed to the course of this world. They went along to get along. They fitted in. They weren’t the free agents that they thought they were. Here’s maybe the best way to describe it. I don’t know if you’ve gone to a concert or a soccer stadium or something where there’s a mass crowd. And as the game ends or the concert finishes, thousands of people begin to flood out into the concourses. And, if you have been there, you better have your wallet with you, and you better have your kid in your arms, cause there’s no going back. That press of the crowd, it almost lifts you off your feet and carries you along. A mass of people going in that one direction, and you feel the pressure of the crowd.
And you know what? There’s no turning around and going against that flow of humanity, and that’s kind of our picture. We just were carried along. Whatever our friends did, we did. We caved to the pressure. We pretended to be cool when we were simply slaves and conformists to all that was going on around us. I don’t know how many times my mom gave me that talk about “Philip, if your friends put their hand in the fire, would you?” Because she could see I, as an unbelieving son, was going along with the course of the world.
Secondly, they were not only in love with the world, apart from Christ; they were under the sway of the God of this world. Notice what he says: “in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.” You ever notice that the Bible describes the devil as the god of this world?
He’s a real character, you know. He’s a person. He’s an entity. And he energizes all the evil that’s going on in the world. In fact, 1 John 5:19 says what? That this “world lies in the lap of the wicked one.” Or maybe a modern translation would put it: This world is “under the sway of the wicked one.” He’s the pied piper of sin, and we follow along. If they were imprisoned to the ways of the world, the devil was the jailer. And he was a vicious, aggressive domineering jailer, who, according to 2 Timothy 2:26, kept us captive at his will. The devil aggressively deceives with worldly philosophies, distracts with worldly pleasures, dominates with worldly pressures. He’s the pied piper of sin.
Thirdly, you’ll notice that while we were among the world, swayed by the culture and the evil one, we conducted ourselves, verse 3, in the lusts, the passions, of our flesh—fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind—and were by nature children of wrath.
Here’s the trifactor. Did you notice it? The world, the devil, and the flesh. We were dominated by all three: pressured by the world, manipulated by Satan, driven by our desires—all apart from grace, all apart from Christ, all apart from the glory of God. What is our flesh? It’s not our skin; it’s our unredeemed human nature. It’s that part of us living apart from the lordship of Jesus Christ. And so, Paul is saying in your past, you were enslaved to the sinful impulses of your sinful nature, and you did what you wanted, when you wanted, how you wanted, to the measure you wanted, with whom you wanted. Because of all of that, you’re a child of wrath. You were living outside the grace of God and beneath the glory of God.
To study the life of C. S. Lewis is interesting. To chart his path to Christ is sometimes confusing. But, as part of his conversion experience, he talks about a time when he came to recognize who he was by nature, apart from grace. He says this: “For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose. And there I found what appalled me; a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was legion.” He’s making reference to the man in the Bible, Legion. The guy was demonically possessed and cut himself, an awful spectacle and specimen of humanity. And this tenured, educated professor of Oxford takes a good look at himself. “My name was Legion.” I’m living without God at the center. I’ve been driven by selfish, self-seeking pleasures.
That’s what we are before Christ meets any one of us. We are dead. We are disobedient. Finally, we are doomed. This has been building up. If you’re a child of disobedience, if you’re living according to the fashions and the pleasures of this Christless world, if you are being swayed by the mortal enemy of God, are you surprised that you’re an object of God’s anger and wrath?
Paul says that we “were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.” Apart from Christ and alienated from the life of God, we live under God’s condemnation. Doesn’t Jesus talk about that in John 3:36, of how the wrath of God abides on us like Damocles’ sword? Before we became a Christian, every day we lived and every breath we took, we were in jeopardy of eternal damnation. What if the thin thread of time had been cut and the Damocles’ sword of God’s wrath had fallen on us justly? It’s a frightful thought, isn’t it? That’s what Paul’s getting at. He says, you know what, we are objects of God’s wrath. We are vessels, one day to be filled with God’s wrath (Rom. 9:22).
God is loving, undoubtedly loving, wonderfully gracious, but He’s also just. And He must punish sin and lawlessness and that which is beneath His glory. And He will punish sin, and He has punished sin, amazingly, in His Son. For it pleased the Lord to bruise Him and wound Him. And if you put your faith where God put your sin, you can pass from death unto life, and you will not come in to judgment. But if you and I don’t take shelter at the cross, you and I are in jeopardy of God’s wrath, which is good and righteous and just.
Now, this isn’t a pretty picture, is it? It’s not a flattering depiction of human nature. The Bible doesn’t buy into “men are healthy” or “men are sick.” The Bible tells us men are dead and diseased and apart from God. That’s our past life. Now, before I leave that, I’m struck, are you not, that Paul spends time here looking back. He reminds them of what they were apart from Christ, and the purpose is to help them measure the depth of God’s mercy and the height of God’s grace toward them.
Ian Hamilton, in his commentary on Ephesians, says this: “The writer to the Hebrews urges his readers to leave the elementary principles of Christ and go on to perfection. He’s not, however, calling them to forget the elementary doctrine of Christ. We cannot hear too often what the gospel of God’s grace in Christ saved us from. We need to rightly remember what we once were, that we might never lose our sense of indebtedness to God and the overflowing grace He has shown us in Christ.” That’s verse 2, right? This is what you once were. Do you remember that? Do you remember the jeopardy? Do you remember the rebellion? Do you remember the offense? Do you remember the grief you caused your creator? And to remedy it, He had to send His Son, but He didn’t spare His Son, amazingly. Look at verse 13: “You who once were far off,” you’re now “near.” It’s a good thing to look back and to see what you were apart from Christ and where you were and the jeopardy you were under and what you are now.
I was back home last week, and I’ve always made it a custom to find a morning or two to just go for a walk around the estate. I grew up in a tough neighborhood, grew up in the middle of the troubles, got into a little trouble myself. And I like to go to places, to my old haunts, where the memory of sin is stirred up—but only for the purpose of reminding myself, as I look around that place and my pals, there go I, but for the grace of God. God has so changed my life, been so kind and so wonderful. I need that therapy. I need to do that, that I might remember the hole from which I have been digged and the rock from which I have been human.
If you’re a college football fan, you know something of the life and story of Bear Bryant, one of the winningest football coaches in college history; he coached Alabama. One particular evening, he’s at a particular function, and someone points out that his new T-shirt has a tear in it, to which he replies, “I know, I put it there.” That was his custom. Every time he had a new T-shirt, he would rip it. He did it to remember from where he had come, from the backwoods of Arkansas, from a little Podunk town. And look at the heights he has reached, the fame he has known, the things he enjoys. But you enjoy it more and appreciate it more when you understand where you once were.
That’s their past life. Secondly, look at their present life. Paul now moves from pessimism about man to optimism about God. I stole that line from John Stott. You’ve got this wonderful transition in verse 4: “But God.” Two little words that contain the whole gospel. See, in those two words, we are reminded of the intervention of God into the human experience within history. “But God.”
Harold Horner of Dallas Theological Assembly said of those two little words, “Great differences are suggested by the words ‘but God.’” See, we’re dead in our sin and trespasses, and we are disobedient, and, therefore, we are doomed. But God. We’re moving from the before to the after. This is a new chapter in a person’s story.
I love what Greg Gilbert says in his book on the gospel. He says this: “But. I think that must be the most powerful word a human being can speak. It’s small, but it has the power to sweep away everything that has gone before it. Coming after bad news . . . it has the power to lift the eyes and restore hope. More than any other word that can be spoken by a human tongue, it has the ability to change everything.” Did you ever think about that when you think of that little word “but,” that conjunction? It has the power to sweep everything before it. Here he gives you a couple examples. What if you heard: “The plane went down. But no one was hurt.” That changes things, doesn’t it? That’s a positive perspective. “You have cancer. But it is easily treatable.” The power of that little word. “Your son was in a car wreck. But he’s fine.” But God. And that little word sweeps away all that has gone before.
God’s about to make alive those who were dead. God’s about to forgive, through the blood of Jesus Christ, those who were disobedient. And God is about to condemn His Son, the just for the unjust, that we might be brought before Him and given a righteous stand. Having plumbed the depths of man’s sin, Paul now rises to the heights of God’s goodness and mercy, God’s off-the-charts love, and God’s beyond-the-bounds grace. You’ll find those phrases in verses 4–6.
Now, as time allows me, just a couple of things about our present life. The first thing that strikes you about our present experience, now that we’re in Christ, is we’re alive. That’s in contrast to being dead. We’re no longer alienated from the life of God. We’re no longer cut off from the source of life itself, God Himself. We are now in a living, growing, never-ending relationship with the God of life. Amen. Some of you don’t look that alive, but that’s okay. We are alive. Made alive. I remember the moment, about quarter to nine, 20th of January 1978. It’s the hall of Antrim Road Baptist Church, and at that moment I put my faith in Jesus Christ. And in that moment, my life begun in Christ—true life, never-ending life, satisfying life when I was made alive.
What a wonderful thought. Paul’s dialing in on the transformational nature of the gospel. Paul’s reveling in the saving work of God in Christ. Listen, Christianity is not about turning a new leaf. Christianity is about receiving a new life. God doesn’t want you to improve yourself. God wants you to repent of your sin, and He’ll do a work in your life that’ll be so glorious you won’t begin to imagine it at the moment you trust. One writer said this: “He gave us the gift of spiritual life. We did not ‘turn over a new leaf’ or ‘try harder’ to be good. A Christian is not a person who has gone through a twelve-step programme of self-reformation, but a new creation in Christ,” where all things pass away and all things become new.
I remember the morning after I got saved that Sunday night. When I opened my eyes, I knew I was different. It seemed the world around me was different, and I began to take my first steps in new life in Jesus Christ. And, to borrow the words of an old hymn, somehow it began to be the case that the sky was a softer blue and the earth was a sweeter green and something lived in every hue that my Christless eyes had never seen—because I was alive to the God of life, alive to the glory of His person in creation, the marvel of His love put on display in Jesus Christ.
Listen to me this morning. Christianity is not turning a new leaf. It’s receiving a new life. Jesus said you must be born again (John 3:3). Jesus said in John 5:24, if we put our trust in Him, we’ll pass “from death into life” and we’ll “not come into judgment.” Jesus said in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.”
My father talked with fondness about when he was a young Christian, he went to a particular meeting in Belfast called the Coalman’s Mission. It was an interdenominational meeting of Christians from all around the city. It was down in the docks in Belfast where the coal was brought in. It was really a mission that had been set up to reach sailors and seamen, but God was doing a work there. There was a glory to all that was going on, a joy. People flocked to those meetings, and the meetings were run by a particular man called Sammy Spence, a man with a history but a history that had been removed in Jesus Christ. He was quite a character, and he was quite a communicator of God’s Word, in his own unique style. And, in terms of uniqueness, he used to drive around Belfast in a hearse. That was his car, a hearse. He did it deliberately because he had kind of blocked out the windows of the hearse, and he had written on those windows “from death unto life.” That car was a mobile pulpit, telling people that that’s what a man experiences, that’s what a woman experiences, that’s what Sammy Spence experienced when he put his faith in Jesus Christ.
Here’s the second thing, and then we’ll get to our third thought. We are accepted. We’re not only alive; we’re accepted. Even when we were dead in trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ. By grace we’ve been saved. Now, notice these words: “and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” There’s a lot there, and I’m not going to do it justice, but here’s what we’ve got.
Got a question. Where is the Lord Jesus now? Well, do you know your Bible? You’ll know that He’s at the right hand of God, seated. Hebrews 1:3: After He “purged our sins, [He] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” See, after six weeks, Christ ascended to the right hand of God, and He sat down. What Paul is saying here is that through union with Him—in Him or with Him, in union with Him, through faith in Him—where He is, we are.
Did you notice the language? See, Jesus was made alive, Jesus was raised and ascended, and Jesus sat down at the right hand of God. And Paul is saying something striking, that in union with Him, what happened to Him happens to us. We were dead in sin, but we’re made alive. We’ve been resurrected spiritually, so to speak, and someday when/if our bodies perish, we will be resurrected physically. And now we’re in union with Jesus Christ, and we enjoy and operate in the realm of the heavenly places. And all that Christ has achieved and won on behalf of His people is ours, every spiritual blessing God blesses us with. We looked at that. And someday we’ll sit where He sits, because He’ll say, “Sit with me on my throne.” Crazy stuff, huh? Christ is our representative, and what has happened to Him has, in a very real sense, happened to us through union with Him.
Maybe the best way I can explain this: When Lionel Massey scores the winning penalty for Argentina, only one man kicks the ball, but all of Argentina wins. And that’s true of us. When the captain of our faith, Jesus Christ, died and rose, we died and rose with Him. His win is our win. Or maybe another analogy with this. Imagine an English girl marries an American guy. She changes her nationality. She moves to the United States. And when she’s asked what the difference is in her life, she replies, “Well, from now on, I’m on the winning side of the American Revolution.”
You get the point. When you and I put our faith in Jesus Christ and identified with Him and find ourselves in a living union with Him, like a branch in a vine, all that He is and all that He has achieved is ours to enter upon, experience, and enjoy. We are alive, and we’re accepted. And we’re enjoying all the fruits and accomplishments of Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, present intercession, and promised return.
Let’s move to the last thought: their prospective life, or their future life. You don’t want to miss this. This is striking. Notice verse 7. You see, verse 4: God has been “rich in mercy.” God has displayed His love toward us in the death of His son, burial, resurrection. We have put our faith in Jesus. Our sins have been forgiven. We’ve got the promise of eternal life. We’ve enjoyed a spiritual resurrection. Someday we’ll enjoy a physical resurrection. We’ve been made alive. We’ve been raised with Him. And then, notice this word “that.” For this purpose, God has made us alive in Jesus Christ. God has saved us by His grace. God has shown us His mercy for this purpose: “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Wow. Paul pulls back the curtain on the believer’s future. So, we’ve gone from before to the after, and now we’re dealing with the hereafter, the “after” after the after.
This is what still lies ahead for us, that God is going to show us His grace in an exceeding manner for ages to come. God’s grace will be on display in our lives throughout eternity. Our journey across time and space and out into eternity will be a traveling and ever-expanding exhibition of God’s kindness and favor to sinners. One of the commentators points out that it was the practice in the ancient pagan world to dedicate statues and trophies won in battle to gods. So, if you went into an ancient temple, you’d often find spoils of war, trophies, treasures put on display, exhibiting the power of that kingdom and the glory of their god or deity.
And I think Paul’s saying that this world and the world to come, which is a theater for God’s glory, that you and I, saved by grace, will be an exhibit, a traveling, ever-expanding exhibit of the amazing grace of God in the life of a sinner—because He made us alive, He’s keeping us by His power, and someday we’re going to enter into an inheritance that can’t be corrupted and doesn’t fade away. That’s beautiful, isn’t it? That’s a wonderful thought. God wants to put us on show, not for our glory but for His. We’ll enjoy it immensely, but it’s for His glory. You’re going to be an exhibit throughout eternity, across time, to God’s amazing grace, God’s marvelous mercy. You’ll be an exhibit to angels. You’ll be an exhibit to demons. You’ll be an exhibit to men. You’ll be an exhibit to the new earth and the new heaven. And it’s all to His praise and all to His glory.
That takes us back to chapter 1, doesn’t it? God is doing all of this “to the praise of the glory of His grace” (v. 6). Verse 12: “to the praise of His glory.” Verse 14: “to the praise of His glory.”
John Stott, in his commentary, tells a wonderful story about a retired principal at Cambridge University. There was a service to honor his years, and a portrait had been commissioned and now was being unveiled as a token of appreciation. The man was the Reverend Paul Gibson. A well-known artist had been commissioned to paint a portrait of his. And when the portrait was unveiled, Gibson himself was struck by just how good a job the painter had done. And he said this: “In the future, when people look at my portrait, they won’t ask, ‘Who is that man?’ They will ask, ‘Who painted that portrait?’”
And I think we may be getting into where Paul’s at in verse 7, that in our glorified state, at God’s right hand, enjoying pleasures forevermore, with the grace of God continuing to do its work, continuing to unfold in our life and in the enjoyment of an ever-expanding knowledge of God and an enjoyment of His gifts—the question won’t be “Who are you?” The question will be “Who is He? The one who did this?” We are to the praise of His glory.
John Newton, who experienced God’s amazing grace, talked about how people would gawk at him. Now a minister in the Church of England, he said this: “Once I was a wild thing on the coast of Africa, and Jesus caught me and tamed me. Now people come to see me the way they come to watch the animals in the zoo.” That slave trader was now a minister of the gospel. How do you account for that? Grace. Amazing grace. And people came and looked at his life like he was an animal in the zoo, like an exhibition. And, my friend, angels, maybe even the very demons of hell, the souls of those made perfect, and perhaps even the very creation, the new creation, will marvel at us as we exhibit God’s grace in justification, sanctification, glorification.
Look, as we finish and wrap this up, notice the inexhaustible nature of God’s grace, that in successive ages He’s going to put on display the surpassing, incomparable riches of His grace in us, exhibiting the work of Christ through us. This grace is boundless. It’s not rationed out. There’s no cutoff point. Remember what we read in John 1:16: “From His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” Remember we said the image there is of a stream of water. And if you pick a point on the riverbank and you mark that point, it seems like one endless stream of water. But it’s not. It’s water replacing water. It’s water in the place of water.
And that’s the picture of John 1:16, that you and I experienced grace replacing grace replacing grace. It took grace to save us. It took grace to make us alive. It takes grace to make us gracious. It takes grace to keep us from temptation and help us move through trial and grief. It takes grace to keep us from the enemy who wants to destroy our lives. It will take grace to resurrect our bodies. It will take grace to glorify us in a state of perfection. And then that grace will continue forever and ever and ever, world without end. It’s inexhaustible.
Maybe we should have got here in the first five minutes and dismissed you, but here’s where we’re going to close. From the moment of our conversion and out into a limitless future, you and I will never stop needing grace or receiving grace. How beautiful is that? That’s why the hymn writer says, “Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise.”
God’s grace is an ongoing activity in your life. Grace doesn’t just give us a push. Grace accompanies us, underwrites every step of the journey. Grace is an ongoing work, and that’s simply an initial push. Grace is God, who begun a good work in us, continuing it all the way to completion. And, in the ages to come, He will show and keep on showing the surpassing, exceeding abundance of that grace.
Let me finish with this story. Spurgeon tells of a fellow minister called Rowland Hill who was giving a hundred pounds—a ton of money back in those days—for a poor preacher in the slums of London to underwrite his ministry. And Rowland Hill decided that was too much to give at any one time. So, he decided to dole it out. And he sent the man every week or two five pounds in an envelope, and it was wrapped up in a piece of paper that was marked with these words: “More to follow.” Got that? Within a couple of weeks, and then a couple of weeks later, he got another letter, five pounds in it. “More to follow.” And that went on for weeks and months until that hundred pounds was exhausted.
Spurgeon says this: “Every blessing that comes from God is sent with the same message, ‘And more to follow.’” Over successive ages, He’s going to put His exceeding, rich grace on display. “‘I forgive you your sins, but there’s more to follow.’ ‘I justify you in the righteousness of Christ, but there’s more to follow.’ ‘I adopt you into my family, but there’s more to follow.’ ‘I educated you for heaven, but there’s more to follow.’ ‘I give you grace upon grace, but there’s more to follow.’ ‘I have helped you even to old age, but there’s still more to follow.’ ‘I will uphold you in the hour of death, and as you are passing into the world of spirits, my mercy shall still continue with you, and when you land in the world to come there shall still be more to follow.’” Amen.
Father, what a vein of gold we have stumbled across this morning. As we mine the Scriptures in the book of Ephesians, we thank You for this wonderful sentence, long and deep and broad in its implication and application. Thank You for showing us our life in three verses. And, if we’re saved this morning, this is our life—past, present, and future. So, help us, O God, to appreciate where we are in relationship to where we were, and help us not to give up—because there’s more to follow, and You have still a work to do in us. And You want to put Your grace on display in our life, both now and across successive ages, that will bring glory and praise to Your name. Lord, help us to get up and go on, because there’s always more to follow.
There’s never an end, always a beginning, in the Lord Jesus Christ. And, Lord, if they’re here this morning, those who don’t know you, help them to look in the mirror of the Word of God. They may not like what they see, but help them to recognize they’re dead. Help them to recognize they’re disobedient. Help them to recognize apart from Christ they’re doomed. And help them this morning to simply be a good corpse and invite the life-giving work of God through faith in Jesus Christ, making them alive with eternal life. Lord, help us never to lose the wonder of it all, that God would love me. In these things we pray and ask in His name. Amen.