And you he made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast.
In these last two messages we have been trying to be obedient to the command in Ephesians 2:12.
REMEMBER that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
Cherish or Perish
Remember that! Don't ever forget it. Once we forget our need for a Savior, we will not cherish him. If the motto of university faculties is "Publish or Perish," never forget that the motto of the Christian church is "Cherish or Perish." We have not been playing games with optional matters. This is essential.
If I do not cherish Jesus as my Savior, I do not have him as a Savior.
- "For we know that all things work together for good for those who cherish God and are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).
- "What no eye has seen nor ear heard, God has prepared for those who cherish him" (1 Corinthians 2:9).
- "There is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have cherished his appearing" (2 Timothy 4:8).
- "If anyone does not cherish the Lord, let him be accursed" (1 Corinthians 16:22).
- "Grace be with all who cherish our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternity" (Ephesians 6:24).
This is the Word of God! If we do not cherish him as a Savior, we do not have him as a Savior. And if we do not know and feel our need for a Savior, we will not cherish him.
Our Threefold Need for a Savior
But Paul longs for us to cherish Jesus Christ, and I long for you to cherish Jesus Christ this Christmas (and some of you for the first time!). Therefore he wrote and I have preached three things from Ephesians 2:1–3 about our need for a Savior. There is a downward spiral: Verse 1, we need a Savior because of our corruption in sin. Verse 2, we need a Savior because of our captivity to Satan. Verse 3, we need a Savior because of our condemnation to hell. Dead in sin, captive to an alien power, children of wrath.
Imagine yourself in any crisis in the world—captive to a gunman in a French court, streaking to earth in a crashing jet, frozen ten hours in a bank of snow, hovering on the brink with a Jarvik-7—whatever crisis you could imagine yourself in, I tell you on the authority of God's Word your condition right now in this room and at this moment is more critical and more urgent and more threatening without a Savior than anything you can imagine.
No one in the world is going to tell you this. Only God and his messengers care enough about you to warn you to flee from the wrath to come. And, as one of those messengers, I have warned you. And now may God give every one of us the grace to cherish what comes next.
4) But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, 5) even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6) and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7) that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Look at this!
- We were dead in sin, BUT GOD made us alive with Christ.
- We were captive to the prince of the power of the air and enslaved to the course of this world, BUT GOD raised us with Christ and made us sit with him in the heavenly places.
- We were children of wrath and deserving of an eternity in the torments of hell, BUT GOD, instead of pouring out wrath, will spend eternity showing the immeasurable riches of his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
Brothers and sisters, this is good news!
Nothing Is Impossible for God
O that men would reckon with God when their plight is hopeless! You say, I am dead. No hope. No hope. You say, I am captive. No hope. No hope. You say I am hell-bent and doomed. No hope for me. No hope. Well, read on! BUT GOD! BUT GOD! Yes, dead. Yes, captive. Yes, doomed. BUT GOD!
Isn't one of the greatest truths of Christmas the word of the angel to Mary?
"Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son."
And Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no husband?"
And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you . . . For with God nothing will be impossible" (Luke 2:31, 34–35, 37).
"How can I have a baby? I have no husband. I'm a virgin." That's right Mary, you can't. But now learn the most important lesson in the universe: reckon with the reality of God! A virgin can't produce a baby. BUT GOD can!
Reckon with God and His Promises in the Word
O that you would reckon with God! Consider now what the Word of God says concerning those who trust in him. Here is the way we will handle the text.
- We will put verse 3 over against verse 7—we were children of wrath, but God promises endless kindness.
- We will put verse 2 over against verse 6—we were enslaved to the spirit of this age, BUT GOD freed us to sit with Christ in heaven.
- And we will put verses 1 over against verse 5 and 6—we were dead in sins, BUT GOD made us alive with Christ.
1. Kindness in the Place of Wrath
First, notice what God gives in the place of wrath.
In verse 3 at the end it says that "We were by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind." By nature we were so rebellious against the law of God that we were suitable objects of God's wrath.
Jesus' Merciful Warnings of Hell
Every Christmas when I sit in front of our living room fire, and watch it consume paper cups and marshmallow bags and hot dog wrappers, I cannot help but think of hell. It isn't fire and brimstone preachers who put these images in my mind. It is Jesus Christ.
He's the one who warned the church most vividly to cut off your sinning hand rather than go with two hands to hell (Matthew 5:30); that all evildoers will be thrown into a furnace of fire (Matthew 13:42); that the goats on his left hand will go into eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46); that there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12). Again and again he warned that it is appointed unto man once to die and after that comes judgment (Hebrews 9:37). And these are not the hostile harpings of a country preacher. They are all mercy—just like the glass doors on the front of our fire place are mercy to little Barnabas.
God's Merciful Promise
But now, in typical biblical fashion, after the merciful warning comes the merciful promise in verse 7. For those who trust Christ, God commits himself to the following purpose:
. . . that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Notice how Paul piles up words to make a deep and lasting impression on our hearts. God's settled purpose is to be gracious to those who are in Christ Jesus. And lest we miss the sweetness and gentleness and gladness of the word "grace," he adds the words, "in kindness toward us." Now ask yourself this question: If there were one person in all the universe the benefits of whose kindness you could choose, who would it be? Would it not be God? You might be able to think of a thousand things that would be kindness to you. But then your imagination would run out. But God's imagination will never run out.
Help for Faltering Imaginations
And to make this clear Paul uses the word "riches." God's purpose is to spend the "riches of his grace in kindness on us." And then to assist our faltering imagination he adds the word "immeasurable" or "surpassing" or "incomparable." How rich is God? I read in the paper recently that Queen Elizabeth is worth about four billion dollars. Now if you got a letter in the mail from Queen Elizabeth which said that she had taken an oath by the blood of her son to spend her riches to show you as much kindness as she could for the rest of your life, wouldn't you get excited? And her wealth compares to God's like a grain of sand to the Sahara Desert.
But that's not all. She could only show you kindness for a few years—ten, thirty, sixty maybe. But look what Paul says God intends to do for you? "That in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness to us in Christ Jesus." How long is an age? And how many ages are coming? Well, the answer is simple: all of them that lie in the future are coming. So it doesn't matter how long one of them is.
Do you know why Paul had to say it this way? Because that's how long it will take God to run out of fresh ideas about how to show you kindness. When eternity ends, God will have run out of ways to show you kindness. Now tell me, when does eternity end?
The Meaning of Christmas
This is the meaning of Christmas: Christ came into the world to die for sinners so that God would have a people who would value the riches of his kindness forever. Are you one of those? How can you not be one of those, when you compare the wealth of God with the wealth of Queen Elizabeth?
We were by nature children of wrath, BUT GOD has promised us eternal kindness instead.
2. Freedom in the Place of Captivity
Second, notice what God gives in place of captivity to an alien power.
Captive to Satan
According to verse 2 we all once followed the course of this world. We were in step with the times, in tune with the world, at home in the spirit of the age. The reason for this is that Satan is at work in the sons of disobedience.
There is a personal, supernatural reality called the prince of the power of the air, and he has easy access to the hearts of the disobedient. And so he easily keeps their behavior in his approved channels—sometimes moral, sometimes immoral, but always self-centered. He blinds their minds to the glory of Christ in the gospel and so protects his captives from the rescue operations of the church.
Seated with Christ in Heaven
That condition is hopeless—just as hopeless as a virgin trying to give birth to God. O that we would reckon with God! Captive to an alien power . . . BUT GOD (verse 6) "raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places."
Now what does that mean? We are all right here in this room, aren't we? Or are we? What did Tony Bennett mean twenty years ago when he sang, "I left my heart in San Francisco"? Well, he meant that San Francisco still holds his affections. San Francisco is always pulling him back. San Francisco governs his tastes. He may look like he is in Chicago. But Chicago has no claim on his affections. It's a foreign land. He is not interested in being like the natives of the windy city.
That is the way it is with us when we are converted. God takes our heart and puts it in heaven with Christ. Colossians 3:3 says, "For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God." So just like it is with Tony Bennett and San Francisco, so it is with us and heaven. It's heaven that holds our affections. It's heaven that's always pulling us upwards; it's heaven that governs our tastes. We may look like we are in the world. But the world has no claim on our affections. It's a foreign land. We are exiles and aliens.
Freedom from the Spirit of the Age
In a word, when we are converted, God frees us from the spirit of the age and the god of the age. It's as though we had been kidnapped and brainwashed and made to think we were really citizens of the enemy territory. And then the king's intelligence finds you and shocks you out of your stupor, and you suddenly realize that what the enemy has to offer would never satisfy the deepest longings of your heart. Your heart is in the homeland. But the king says stay for now, and, though it may be dangerous, live like an alien in love with the homeland, and when you come home, bring as many with you as you can.
Don't you really want to be FREE from the spirit of the age? Why would anybody want to be jelly fish carried around by currents in the sea of secularism? You can be a dolphin, and swim against the currents and against the tide. Jelly fish aren't free. Dolphins are free.
The Meaning of Christmas
This is the meaning of Christmas: Christ came into the world to die for sinners so that God would have a people who are free from the prince of this world and the spirit of the age.
Once we were captive to an alien power, BUT GOD rescued our hearts and put them in heaven and made us free from Satan's tyranny.
3. Life in the Place of Death
Third, notice what God gives in place of deadness in sin.
According to verse 1 we were dead in trespasses and sins. That is, we were spiritually impotent. The corruption of sin was so deep that we had no spiritual inclinations at all. We may have been open tombs of immorality, or we may have been whitewashed tombs of religiosity. But there was no spiritual good within us.
BUT GOD, when he walked by my open grave, instead of turning away from the stench, he said to his Son, "I want that mess alive. Will you die for him?" And he said yes. And that's how I got saved. And that's how you got saved—or can get saved.
And that's the meaning of Christmas: Christ came into the world to die for sinners so that God would have a people who are spiritually alive and holy.
Once we were dead in sin, BUT GOD made us alive!
Once we were captive to Satan, BUT GOD made us free!
Once we were children of wrath, BUT GOD has promised to spend eternity unwrapping the riches of his grace in kindness toward us!
How Can We Have These Riches?
O that we might all reckon with God this Christmas! But how? What can we do to have these riches? Verse 8 points the way: "By grace you have been saved THROUGH faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast."
If life from the dead is given to you by grace, and freedom from Satan is given to you by grace, and the hope of eternal kindness is given to you by grace, then there is only one possible way to receive these things—through FAITH. "By grace are you saved through faith."
Faith in the Face of Temptation
And here's what that means. It means that from here on out you will trust in your heart that the death of Christ has covered all your sins, and guaranteed all the promises of God on your behalf.
So, for example, if you are tempted to steal, instead you'll put your trust in the promise of God that "He will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19). And you don't deny that promise by stealing.
And if you are tempted to lie to get yourself out of a jam, instead you will trust the promise of God that "The Lord withholds no good thing from those who walk uprightly" (Psalm 84:11). And you will not deny this promise by lying.
And if you are tempted to take revenge for wrong, instead you will trust the promise of God, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord" (Romans 12:19). And you will not deny the truth and value of this promise by taking revenge yourself.
By grace are you saved through faith. So I urge you all to trust Christ. Trust him with your sin. Trust him with your relationships. Trust him with your job. Trust him with your health. Trust him with your money and leisure. And trust him with your future—all the way to eternity.
For he is a great God of wonders! He makes the dead to live. He sets the captive free. And he will spend eternity lavishing the riches of his kindness on those who trust him.
©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For Internet posting, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org