But God

Series: God's New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Oct 9, 2005

Ephesians 2:4-7

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The Lord's Day Morning
COMMUNION SUNDAY

October 9, 2005

Ephesians 2:4-7

“But God”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Ephesians, chapter 2, as we continue to study this great letter of the Apostle Paul to the Ephesian church, but to Christians everywhere because every word of Scripture is given by inspiration and every word of Scripture is profitable for our growth in grace and in righteousness. And so this word is a word from God to us as His people.

We've been looking at this book for a number of weeks now, and the last time we were together we were looking at the first three verses of Ephesians 2, which describe our predicament. They describe us as being dead in sin, as being spiritually dead, as being under the just condemning judgment of God, as deserving the penalty for our sins, as being by nature children of wrath, as people who by our instincts are indulging the desires of the flesh and walking in the way of the world. And this is the predicament that Paul paints, not simply for some people in Ephesus or for Jewish Christians in Ephesus, or for Gentile Christians in Ephesus, but the Apostle Paul makes it clear that this is in fact the predicament for every man, woman, boy and girl in the world. Every human being in this world apart from Jesus Christ is under the just, condemning judgment of God. That's our predicament. And Paul has described it in bold and clear terms in the first three verses, so we naturally ask, ‘In that circumstance, where does our hope come from? Where do we find a glimmer of hope in this dark picture? We look around us and we see this fallen world, and we see the effects of sin in this fallen world, and we see the misery experienced by millions of our fellow humans. Where does the hope come from?’

Well, that's what the passage that we're going to be studying today is all about. If you’ll allow your eyes to glance at verses 4-7, those verses begin Paul's answer to the predicament that he described so clearly last week, and I want you to notice the juxtaposition. The first words in this chapter in many of your English translations are And you.... Those words begin the first three verses. Paul is out to describe your predicament as a human being, apart from Christ, under the just condemning judgment of God.

But notice the first words of verse 4: But God.... In other words, this passage is about the movement from death, under the just judgment of God for our sin, to life in Jesus Christ, because of His finished work, and so the Apostle Paul is moving us through the divine actions which rescued us out of our predicament and brought us into the freedom and life of sons and daughters of the Lord Jesus Christ. So let's look to God in prayer before we study this passage together. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, we thank You for Your word. We thank You that it is truth, and we thank You that this truth is very practical: that You mean it for men and women and boys and girl;, that You mean it to build us up in grace; that You mean it to guide us in life; that You mean it to change the way we look in the world; to reorient the direction of ours lives; that you mean it to equip us for every good gift. So by Your word of truth encourage us today first in a realization of who You are, and then, O God, show us how we ought to respond to the truth of who You are and what You have done for us in Jesus Christ. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.

Hear the word of God.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, 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 placed, in Christ Jesus, in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

So, if you embrace the truth that all men and women apart from Jesus Christ are dead in trespasses and sins, deserve to be condemned for those sins, are walking according to the course of this world (not walking in the way of righteousness, not walking in the path of peace, not walking with God, but walking in conformity with this world), are indulging the flesh and the desires of the mind, are setting their affections on the wrong things, are by nature children of wrath...where does the hope come from? Where is a message of hope for people in that kind of predicament? And the Apostle Paul begins to tell you where that hope comes from with two little words: But God.

He describes our situation in verses 1-3, and then in verses 4-7 beginning with those words But God, He points us in the direction of our help. If the Psalmist could ask, ‘I lift my eyes up to the hill and I wonder from where is my help going to come,’ the Apostle Paul is answering to the Psalmist and to you and me, ‘Your help is not going to come from you; it's going to come from God.’

And so I want you to see four things in particular that the Apostle Paul teaches us in Ephesians 2:4-7. First of all, I want you to see the direction from which he says our help will come; secondly, I want you to see what he tells us that God did in order to help us in our circumstances; thirdly, I want you to see what he says God's motivation was for doing this; and then, fourthly, I want you to see what he says God's purpose was in doing this.

I. Let's start with Paul pointing us to the direction of our help.

You've already seen the bold contrast between verse 1 - “And you...”...here was your situation: dead in sin, dead in trespasses and sin; by nature children of wrath, walking according to the course of this world; under the dominion of Satan; dominated by the world, the flesh, and the devil. That's the picture of you, apart from Jesus Christ. Where does Paul say our help comes from? “But God...” (verse 4)...even when we were dead in our transgressions, But God. In other words, Paul says your help comes through a decisive intervention in your situation by God Himself. When you could do nothing else, He came to your rescue. And the Apostle Paul's message is very important, because it is not a message to you that your help comes from something in you... your help comes from something that you can contribute to your situation. No, your help comes from the Lord.

We’re all very familiar with the quotation that Benjamin Franklin made famous in America, “God helps those who help themselves.” Now, apart from the merits of what Franklin was trying to say by that particular aphorism, understand that that's really bad theology when it comes to salvation. Because if we're dead (and in salvation God helps those who help themselves), where does that leave you? Still dead! Because the dead can't help themselves!

And so the Apostle Paul is saying your hope of help does not come from within you; it comes from God. God is the source of your help. God is the source of your hope, because he's not preaching what my friend Phil Ryken has called “Franklinity” (that's a combination of Benjamin Franklin and Christianity, thus “Franklinity” - God helps those who help themselves), he's preaching the sovereign grace and mercy of God in salvation: that God in His mercy took the initiative and came and rescued us when we could not help ourselves. That is the great source of hope.

And notice that if you don't understand that as Christianity's answer to the source of human hope, then you don't understand anything about Christianity; and, consequently, when Christian preachers and teachers today confuse the source of our hope with something in ourselves, they are fundamentally betraying the mercy and sovereignty and initiative of God in salvation that is so beautifully set forth in Scripture, and actually they’re robbing you of a great message of hope and comfort that is soul-stirring. It is praise inducing, it is life-changing, and it moves us to real, effective action, because we realize that our hope is not found in ourselves, it's found in God. The Lord is good, but Paul is telling us here God's goodness has exceeded Himself in the way that He has dealt with us as sinners. He has unexpectedly come and blessed us in a shockingly glorious way in salvation. So the first thing that Paul says is that your hope doesn't come from within you, your hope doesn't come from something that you have done, and certainly your hope doesn't come from something that you have deserved. Your hope comes from the good and gracious God who has reached out to you in mercy to save you from your sins.

II. Now, the second thing that the Apostle Paul directs our attention to here is what God has done, and you see it encapsulated in that little parenthetical statement...most of your Bibles probably actually have it in parentheses at the very end of verse 5: “...(by grace you have been saved)....” So Paul says what does God do, since we as human beings are in this predicament of being under the just condemnation of God for sin? God saves us.’ And the Apostle Paul explains what he means by God's saving us in three particular ways: God, first of all, makes us alive, the Apostle Paul says. Notice how he puts it in verse 3: “He made us alive together with Christ.”

And then look again at verse 6. Secondly, “He raised us up with Him....” Now, we’ll think about what that means in just a few moments, but just concentrate on the phrase. First He made us alive; secondly, He raised us up with Him; and then, thirdly, He seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. And so the Apostle Paul is saying that God saved us. He gave us the gift of life. He freed us from death. He made us alive together with Christ. He not only did that, but He raised us up with Christ (that's not referring to the resurrection of Christ, but to the ascension of Christ) and seated us in heavenly places with Jesus Christ. And so the Apostle Paul is explaining to us here this magnificent redemption that has been given to us by God in Jesus Christ. And notice how it parallels something that we're going to say in The Apostles’ Creed in just a few moments.

Before we come to the Lord's Table as professing Christians we're going to profess what we believe, and we're going to use The Apostles’ Creed as a wonderful, short, biblical summary of many of the important things that we believe as Christians. And in that creed we're going to say three things in particular about Jesus Christ. After we have confessed together that “He was crucified, dead and buried...and descended into hell”, we're going to say three more things about Him. We’re going to say that “He rose again from the dead” on the third day; we're going to say that “He ascended into heaven”; and we're going to say that “He sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” That is, His resurrection, His ascension, and His session (or His being seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, ruling all things in heaven and earth). And so we're going to confess in The Apostles’ Creed that we believe that Jesus was resurrected; we're going to confess that we believe that Jesus ascended into heaven; and we're going to confess that we believe that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty ruling the world by His word and Spirit for the sake of His people. That's a glorious thing to say.

But I want you to notice what Paul says here. Paul doesn't simply say that Jesus was raised and ascended and is seated at the right hand. What does he say? He says that you have been raised from the dead, and raised up into glory and seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. How? Having by faith trusted in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit has united you to Jesus Christ so that everything that is Christ's is yours. That's salvation. That is what God is saying: that in His mercy He has saved you by giving everything that belongs to Christ to you. He has given you the benefits of Jesus’ death and burial and resurrection. He has given you the benefit of Jesus’ ascension. He has given you the benefits of Jesus’ heavenly session, ruling at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. He has saved you from sin and from the condemnation of sin, and He has given you all of the benefits that flow from what Jesus has done on your behalf.

Now why does the Apostle Paul tell you that? Because those realities change everything about your life. You know, right now I've met yet more friends who have been in our midst from New Orleans. My guess is at least for the next ten years (and probably for the rest of their lives) our friends from New Orleans and from the Coast are going to name as a life-changing event which they never ever forget and which has unalterably redirected the course of their whole lives, these great storms. Just as many of you would have identified yourself years ago as a survivor of Camille, there are going to be many people for years to come who say ‘I was there on the Coast of Mississippi’ or ‘I was there in Louisiana’ or ‘I am a survivor of Katrina, when she hit in 2005.’ It's a life-changing experience that in part has lent something to the definition of who you are, and the Apostle Paul knows that there are many stories just like that amongst the Ephesian Christians. Maybe some of them could have said just a few months hence ‘My dad was taken away from my family, and he was sent into exile to work in the salt mines because he was a believer in Jesus Christ, and the Roman government saw that as a threat to the emperor's rule, and I've never seen my dad since; and I've always wondered if I was ever going to see my dad again.’

And Paul knows that there are fifty stories like that in the Ephesian church about events that have changed their lives and shaped who they are, and here's the Apostle Paul saying, ‘Friends, no matter what you've gone through, no matter how demoralizing it may have been, no matter how hard or bitter or painful it may be, I want to tell you about three events that are bigger than those events that define who you are, more important than the geography in which you were born or the schools that you went to, or the friendships that you developed, or the vocations that you went into, or the services that you’re involved in now.

These three things define who you are as a Christian. You were raised from the dead in Jesus Christ...you remember Paul teaching you that in Romans 6. You died with Christ. When you trusted in Him, you died with Christ. And, you were raised again from the dead with Him; and, you ascended with Jesus Christ and you are seated with Christ in the heavenly places even now. The Apostle Paul is saying those things which Jesus did for you are defining for you because you trust in Him for salvation. His story becomes the story of your life. His blessings become your blessings. His salvation is for you. “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin, that...” what? “That you might become the righteousness of God in Him.” And so the Apostle Paul is saying ‘Ephesian Christians, no matter what is going on in your life right now that you think defines your life irretrievably, I've got three bigger things that define who you are as a Christian: you've been raised from the dead with Christ. You’re no longer in bondage to sin. You've been raised to the freedom of sons. You have ascended in the heavenly places in Jesus Christ.

The ultimate victory is absolutely assured. That's why it's so glorious, isn't it, that as Stephen is losing his life on earth, being stoned to death because of his profession as a Christian, what does he look up and see? He looks up and he sees Jesus at the right hand of God. But what's Jesus doing? He's standing up. Now, normally in the New Testament Jesus is seated. Why? Because that indicates that He is sitting as a judge and ruler over the world. But Jesus is standing. Why? Because He is standing in honor of His servant, Stephen, who is coming into His presence.

And you live in light of that victory which is assured. You will be welcomed into the presence of God through Jesus Christ. And you light of the fact that you are seated with Christ. What does Paul constantly tell the disciples of Jesus Christ? That you will judge the world with Christ. And the Apostle Paul says these things are defining for you as a believer. You've been redeemed! You've been saved from sin! God has done these things for you in Jesus Christ.

III. But Paul doesn't stop there. He goes on to tell you why it is that God did this.

What motivated God to do this? Did God look down on us and say ‘You know, they are just so wonderful that I just can't help Myself’? Or, did God look down and say ‘You know, some people down there are just better people than other people’? Or, did He look down and say ‘There are some people that are trying really hard, and I'm going to bless them’? No. Isn't it interesting that when Paul tells us why God did this (in verses 4-5), he does not mention anything about us? Not a word! There's nothing about us there! Look at what he says: “God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us...” [then look at verse 5] “...made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)...” [verse 7] “...so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Jesus Christ.”

So what is Paul saying? Paul is saying ‘Why did God do this? Because of God's mercy, because of God's love, because of God's grace, and because of God's kindness. This is what motivated Him. Not something in us. Not Him looking down and saying we're so lovable ‘I've just got to do this.’ Or we're so worthy ‘I've just got to do this. Or, we've tried really hard, so ‘I've got to do this.’ No, because of God's mercy, love, grace and kindness.

Because of God's mercy (His compassion toward us, His pity on us); because of God's love (His own self-generated concern for our well-being); because of God's grace (because of His undeserved favor to us); because of God's kindness (because of that spirit of generosity and overflowing that wells up from the heart of God)...because of these things God did it. In other words, these benefits which have accrued to us from our salvation are all due not to anything in us, but to God. It's Him reaching out to us in mercy, love, grace, and kindness. That's the motivation.

That's so important, my friends, because if we think that there is something in us that evoked God's love and kindness and forgiveness for us, then we will also be able to recognize that something in us could undermine that love and kindness and forgiveness of God to us, and the only thing that grounds our assurance is the recognition that God has loved us because He loved us. And so, as there was nothing in us to invoke that love in the first place, so also as we trust in Christ there is nothing that can separate us from that love of God which is in Jesus Christ. It is not something that we can lose. It is permanent and it is secure because He reached out to us in that love first. We love Him, as John says, because He first loved us.

IV. But that's not all. Paul goes on to tell you what God's purpose was in doing this, and he tells us that His goal, His purpose, His end, the thing that He was doing this with a view to was the everlasting display of His grace.

Listen to verse 7: “...So that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” In other words, when Satan stands up at the Last Day and asks again the question that he asked Job, is God worth living for? God will be able to say ‘Look at this multitude that no man can number. None of them are here because they deserve it. If it were up to them, they would be enduring the just condemnation of a righteous God; but, in them I have displayed My love, My grace, My mercy, My kindness. They are the evidence that I am worth living for. I'm worth everything. They are the display of My grace. They are the evidence, the public witness and testimony that I am a God of grace and mercy.’ And so God will be exalted by this display of His grace and mercy, and that's what we are. We are living, breathing, walking, talking tokens of His grace and mercy. None of us deserve God's mercy. We are living testimony that God is merciful even to sinners like ourselves.

I love the story that John Stott tells in his commentary on Ephesians. It's a story about one of his professors at Cambridge who was honored on his retirement by the board and faculty of his college with a beautiful portrait that had been done of his likeness that would be hung in the hall where he had taught for most of his life. And when Dr. Gibson was giving his words of thanks and appreciation at the unveiling of this beautiful portrait, Dr. Gibson said this: “In the future, when people see this painting they will ask the question, not ‘Who is that man?’ but ‘Who painted that portrait?’” It was an expression of his appreciation for the artistic skill of the portrait maker. He had done such a wonderful job that his work would draw attention to itself. But it's also a beautiful picture of what God is doing in us. God's grace has been manifested to us not so that we are the center of attention, and that people are asking ‘What about that man? What's his name? What about that woman? What's her name?’ but ‘Who did that work of grace in him? Who did that work of grace in her? Who saved that woman? Who saved that man?’ We are the display of His workmanship in salvation.

And so the Apostle Paul has pointed us to our hope: it's in God.

He's told us what God has done: He's saved us. He's raised us from the dead. He's caused us to be ascended with Jesus Christ and to sit in heavenly places with Him.

He's done this because of His own love, and nothing in us.

And He's done this for His own glory, so that His grace might be displayed in us for all time.

So the Apostle Paul has given us something that anchors us in hope, even in this fallen and tragic world. May God grant that we would really believe what he is teaching here. Let us pray.

Our Lord and our God, we thank You for this word of truth and hope. Bring it home to our hearts, we pray, for Christ's sake. Amen.

Let's take our hymnals in hand and prepare to come to the Lord's Table, singing Bonar's wonderful hymn Here, O My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face.

[Congregational hymn]

Please be seated.

As we come to the Lord's Table let us attend to the words of institution given us by the Lord Jesus Christ and passed on by our Lord to the Apostle Paul, recorded in I Corinthians 11. Paul says to us

“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy word.

The Lord's Supper is a sacrament, a covenant sign, a visible sign of God's word of promise to us in Scripture. God gives us these covenant signs to strengthen our faith. He appoints them as means of grace, as a way to grow us up in maturity as believers. And so, the Lord's Supper, as one of the two new covenant signs (baptism and the Lord's Supper) is given to us to strengthen us in grace, to confirm and assure us of God's promises in His word. And so as we come to the Lord's Supper, we benefit from it by faith. We commune with Christ by faith. The Lord's Table, therefore, is for those who are trusting in Jesus Christ. And so I want to invite to this Table, the Lord's Table, those who trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel, and who have joined themselves to the body of Christ, His church.

If you are not a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ who has put your trust in Him alone for salvation, if you are not a believer who is identified with His church, do not come to the Lord's Table. Rather, wait, and think, and pray, and then repent and believe the gospel, and the next time we gather come with your fellow blood-bought sinners, brothers and sisters in Christ, and take of this table that celebrates what He has done for a multitude that no man can number.

Let's set apart these common elements for a holy use in prayer. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, we thank You and bless You for Your provision of Jesus Christ for salvation for all who trust in Him alone. We thank You that by grace we have been saved through Christ, and that even our faith is a gift of God. We come this day asking You that by faith You would grant us assurance and strength by Your word and promise; that You would grow us up into maturity, even as we believe Your word and have that word confirmed to us by this covenant sign; and that You would receive all the glory for it. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Since the Lord's Supper is for professing believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, it's appropriate that we confess our faith in Him as we come to this Table. So let's do this by using The Apostles’ Creed. Christian, what do you believe?

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,

Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,

Born of the virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, and buried.

He descended into hell.

The third day He rose again from the dead.

He ascended into heaven,

And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic church;

The communion of the saints; the forgiveness of sins;

The resurrection of the body;

And the life everlasting.

Amen.

It is also appropriate that we recite to the Lord and to one another the words of The Ten Commandments as we come to the Lord's Table. Now, by reciting the Law directly adjacent to coming to this gospel ordinance of the Lord's Supper, we are reminded both of our need for the forgiveness of sins (because we have broken the law) and our provision for the forgiveness of our sin in the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ, who obeyed this whole Law. Then we also have the opportunity to remember that it should be our.... [Tape ends]

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