The Amazing Truth of the Gospel

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 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— 3 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. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

We have been going through the book of Colossians together, and last time we looked at Colossians 1:21-22. In those verses Paul moved from high descriptions of who Jesus is to more of an answer to the question, “What does this mean for us?” He brings us into the picture, brings us into the story of redemption, and does it in this way…

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him (Colossians 1:21-22)

I love that passage. God could be high, mighty, loving, merciful, the judge of the world, and all-powerful, and He could ignore us and our plight in the process. He could leave us out of His plan of redemption. But we see passages like this and say, “Yes! Thank you Lord, thank you for saving me. I don’t deserve it.” We don’t deserve to come before the judge of the universe and be acquitted, no way, but that has happened to the Christian.

There is a parallel passage to this one in Colossians, and it is in Ephesians 2. For today, I want us to go there and spend yet another week glorying in our place, as undeserving people, our place now in the family of God. If you are a Christian I am talking of you. If you are not, I want to say that this can be you if you repent and believe.

If you’re not already there, turn with me to Ephesians 2. I want to read for us again verses 1-10…

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 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— 3 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. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

As we look at verses 4-7, we see that it begins with the phrase, “But God.” These words, or this phrase, obviously suggest a connection with what precedes them. The word “but” is a conjunction, and it suggests a contrast. So here we have a connection as well as a contrast to the preceding verses, or between verses 1-3 and verses 4-7. Let’s look at these two words “But God” again in their context, because it is important that you see this transition. And remember, Paul is describing the former walk of all Christians, much like he did in Colossians 1.

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 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— 3 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. 4 But God… (Ephesians 2:1-4a)

We see in these two words the intervention of God in the lives of unregenerate men. God is not passive in our salvation. He is not wringing His hands in hope that someone might choose Him. I think that is the picture we get sometimes, that God is sitting idly by just hoping that man will, by his own will, choose Christ. No! That is not how Scripture portrays God. He is active, He intervenes in lives to give life.

Verses 1-3 show us primarily the helpless state of a lost person. We see that all people come into this world spiritually dead, in a state of alienation from God as a result of the fall of Adam. And we see how men are content in that state, spiritually dead, following Satan, how they walk according to the course of the world as disobedient children. Those verses are reminders that speak of us, they describe the course that we were on. We too were headed for eternal destruction, in a helpless state. Now that we have been made spiritually alive, we can look back and see where we were headed apart from God. We can now see how God stepped in and intervened on our behalf. And we can say of our own lives, “But God.” We see that connection and contrast in our own lives as believers.

In thinking of this passage, I picture a train barreling down a mountainside, out of control and full of people. There is no driver, no engineer. The people inside the train are having a big party, they are enjoying the pleasures of this world, the temporal things of this life. They are in total ignorance of their sure fate as the train speeds down the mountain with no one at the controls. It is headed for a terrible fate. That is what I picture in reading verses 1-3. And then we get to verse 4 and we read, “But God.” Our lives were out of control, headed for destruction, and God steps in, He intervenes, and by His power we are rescued and made alive. We pass from spiritual death to spiritual life. Do you see the significance of these words, “But God”?

Take for example Paul’s life, Paul the author of this book. You are familiar with his life before Christ, as an enemy of Christ and the Church. In Paul’s life we see a very vivid illustration of verses 1-3, as well as a vivid example of this transitional phrase in verse 4. In Acts 8 we see that Paul was following the “course of the world” under the control of the “prince of the power of the air” that we read about in verse 2. In Acts 7 we have the account of the death of an innocent man named Stephen. As Stephen began to preach the truth about Christ, as he began to proclaim the gospel of Christ, the people were outraged, even to the point of murdering him. They stoned him to death because of the hatred within them against God. And there was Paul: “And when they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him, and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Acts 7:28)

Saul, or Paul, witnessed this murder of Stephen, a devout man. But was Saul just passive? Was he neutral about this incident? No. Chapter 8 verse 1 says that Saul was in hearty agreement with putting Stephen to death. Not just in agreement, but in hearty agreement. Back in Ephesians 2:3 unregenerate men are described as “children of wrath.” I would say that is a good description of Paul at this point in his life. Acts 8 goes on to tell more of Paul’s depravity, it continues to illustrate for us the spiritual death of Paul and his alienation from God. It tells how he would ravage the church, how he entered into people’s homes and would drag out the men and women and imprison them. Much like what is happening in parts of our world today. Do you see how Paul’s life parallels the first three verses of Ephesians 2?

Paul did not stop there. Acts 9:1 tells us, “Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord went to the high priest and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” He never let up. He hated Christ, he hated the Church, his rebellion was against God. And let me ask you, do you see any sign that he would desire to follow Christ? No. He was beyond content in his persecution of Christ, he was zealous in his persecution of the Church. He was like the train, barreling down the track, out of control and headed for what appeared to be his final destruction – eternal death, eternal alienation from God. This was his condition, this was his state, and then something happened, something dramatic. You know the story: God Himself intervened. Paul was not searching for God, but God stepped in and halted that train, He intervened and changed Paul forever. That is what we see in this phrase, “But God.”

And so it was with your life. You were no different. I know that you did not show the outward manifestations that Paul may have in persecuting Christ and the Church, but you were just as much an enemy of God, you were just as spiritually dead. You also were “dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course or this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” And then, in steps 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).” What a contrast we have in these verses. If you are a believer you understand this contrast, because you have experienced this contrast in your life. It is not just conceptual to you, it is not just theoretical, it is not just a textbook type study. No, you have experienced it, you have lived it.

It concerns me to sometimes hear the gospel presented in a way that almost leaves God out. Sometimes the gospel is presented and it is a cold set of facts, “You do this, this, and this, and you are in.” But we must know that it is God who is at the center of salvation. It is He who must intervene, it is He who provides the power to bring us to saving faith, it is He who is the author of our faith. If you are not a believer, then it is He you must seek, He is the one whom you must seek with all your heart. It is He that you must beg to save your soul from eternal alienation from His favor. Seek Him and you will find Him, the Scriptures tell us. Never stop seeking Him. He is your hope, He is your only hope for life.

God is at the center of our salvation. And as such He displays for us many of His divine attributes through this process of salvation. He reveals to us His character through the process of salvation. And I want us to look at three of His attributes, or three aspects of His character, as is shown in our text this morning. First I want you to see God’s love, salvation is by love. Secondly, God’s grace. Salvation is by grace into life. And lastly, I want you to see that God’s salvation of man is with purpose.

First, God’s love: our salvation is by love. “But God being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us…” Salvation is from spiritual death. God’s mercy is described as rich, which means it is over-abounding, without measure, and unlimited. The problem with reconciliation with God is not on the Lord’s side. The two words we have looked at, “But God,” show where the initiative was in providing the power of salvation. His desire is to be rejoined with the creatures He made in His own image and for His glory. 1 Timothy 2:3-4 says, “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” The rebellion and rejection is on man’s side. We must never forget that. Man is condemned ultimately for his sin of unbelief. Because God is rich in mercy toward us and has great love for us, He provided a way for us to return to Him. God is not the Author of sin, but He allows it so that He might display His mercy through us.

Salvation for God’s glory is by the motivation and power of God’s great love. He reaches out to vile, sinful, rebellious, depraved, destitute, and condemned human beings and offers them salvation and all the eternal blessings it brings. Man’s rebellion is therefore not only against God’s lordship and law, but against His love. Man’s rebellion is against His love. John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friend.” Compassionate love, for those who do not deserve it, makes salvation possible.

Secondly, salvation is by God’s grace and it is into life – “even when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” Above all else, a dead person needs to be made alive. A dead person needs life. And every man is born spiritually dead. That is what salvation gives – spiritual life. Salvation is a gift. That is what grace is, a gift from God to us. 

When we became Christians we were no longer alienated from God. We for the first time became spiritually alive through union with the death and resurrection of Christ, and thereby for the first time became sensitive to God. Paul calls this walking in “newness of life.” For the first time, we could understand spiritual truth and desire spiritual things. We can now seek godly things, the things above rather than the things that are on earth. That is what results from being alive together with Christ.

Lastly, I want you to see that salvation has purpose. It has purpose in regard to both us and God. The most immediate and direct result of salvation is to be raised up with Him. Verse 6, “and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places.” We as a part of the body of Christ, we who are in Christ share in His exalted position.

When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, His first instruction was “Unbind him, and let him go” (John 11:44). A living person cannot function while wrapped in the trappings of death. Because our citizenship through Christ is in heaven, God seats us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus. We are no longer of this present world or in its sphere of sinfulness and rebellion. We are no longer in the sphere of the course of the world which is controlled by the prince of the power of the air. We have been rescued from spiritual death and from that realm, and have been given spiritual life in order to be in Christ Jesus and be with Him in the heavenly places. We have entered into a new realm with Him. 

The word translated “seated” in the Greek is in an aorist tense, which emphasizes the absoluteness of this promise by speaking of it as if it had already fully taken place. And some day we will receive the “inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved for us in heaven” (1 Peter 1:4).

And then we come to verse 7. We have here a purpose clause. It says, “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” The phrase “so that” indicates that the purpose of our being exalted to the supernatural sphere of God’s care and power is that we may forever be blessed! Do you see that? God’s purpose is that He might shower His kindness upon us forever. But I want you to see that it is not only for our benefit. God’s greater purpose in salvation is for His own glory, for His own sake. It is obviously for our benefit, but it is first of all for God’s glory because it puts on display for all eternity the surpassing riches of His grace. Through His endless kindness toward us in Christ Jesus the Father glorifies Himself even as He blesses us.

Grace and kindness reflect God’s character. It is who He is. And God displays His glory by making His character known. When we speak of glorifying God, we mean making His character known to all around us. That is glorifying God. And He also glorifies Himself. That is the highest good. And He has chosen to display His attribute of kindness, which is of grace, by lavishing it upon us for all eternity. We have become the objects of God’s infinite kindness. From the moment of salvation throughout the ages to come we never stop receiving the grace of kindness from God.

What will eternity in heaven be like? The bottom line is we cannot fathom what it means that God, for all eternity, will lavish His infinite kindness upon us.

The whole of heaven will glorify Him because of what He has done for us. Revelation 7:10-12 says, “and they cry out with a loud voice, saying ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’ And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God saying ‘Amen, blessings and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.’”

I don’t know to what degree we can grasp this. Think about it. There we were (speaking of believers), we were on that train barreling down the mountainside in total ignorance of our condition. We were spiritually dead, blind to the sure destruction that was ahead. We were content on that train of death, we were right where we wanted to be. And just as we came around that final bend, God steps in. He, by His power, steps in and intervenes. He stops the train, which is our lives, and saves us by the strength of His might. Because of “His great love with which He loved us.” He took the deadness of our souls and made us alive together with Christ. He reconciled us to Himself. He saved us by love and into life. And if that was not enough, He took us out of the sphere of the prince of the power of the air and instead seated us with Himself in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

Why? For what purpose did He do these things? He did it in order that in the ages to come, for all eternity, that He, the God of the universe, might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. That is amazing! He did so that He might display His own glory by making us the objects of His eternal kindness. Praise God! That is the gospel. That is the good news.