810-664-8565 office@fpclapeer.org
January 20, 2019


Passage: Ephesians 2:1-22
Service Type:

Two weeks ago, we began our exploration of Paul's letter to the Ephesians, and we saw how Paul begins with a sweeping panorama offering well over a dozen different descriptions, images, and metaphors for what it is Jesus Christ does for us in salvation, from promises of eternal life and forgiveness of sins... to teaching us a new way of living and sowing peace in the world. Last week, we focused on Paul's prayer in the second half of Ephesians 1, a prayer asking that we might likewise grasp that vision of Jesus changing the world... and thereby find hope. Today in week three, we explore Ephesians 2 as Paul describes how the life and work of Jesus necessarily involves a transformation of who we are.

Like he did at the start of this letter describing salvation, here too Paul launches an avalanche of images explaining what exactly it is God does for us in Jesus. In essence, Paul paints a giant before and after image here like a gym membership commercial. We're now entering week 3 of New Years' resolutions, and already I'm sure diet promises aplenty have died by the wayside. A comedian once remarked, “You know, I always see those before-and-after photos in diet commercials. But you have to think that on most old cameras, somewhere there's only the before photos, not afters. We only see the folks who remember to photograph themselves in the exact same pose six months apart. Who does that?” Here Paul puts on his best infomercial posture and presents his own before-and-after montage to describe the transformation we receive through Jesus Christ.

Rather than break down each of them individually, I find that most of Paul's before-and-after images fall into one of five types. So before Jesus, Paul says we were: 1) dead, 2) cut off from or even enemies of God, 3) cut off and hostile to each other as well, 4) following the ways of a sinful world or even the devil himself, and 5) captive to our own desires and passions. Our before photo is bad in every way: health-wise, vertically with God, horizontally with each other, going forward, and personally. And he always rounds off these “before” descriptions by cautioning readers to not puff themselves up, for “all of us” were once this way, every reader of this letter was once just “like everyone” else in a sinful world. And Paul's “after” types each tend to mirror those “befores”. After Jesus steps into our lives, Paul calls us: 1) alive, 2) at peace with God, 3) in harmony with each other, 4) citizens of God's own household, and 5) a new creation with a new God-given lifestyle of good works. And just as “all of us” were once that “before” picture, now this “after” promise is offered to all regardless of our origins, birth, or status. From dead to life; from God's enemies to God's people; from divided nations to people united in Jesus; from followers of the ways of this world to citizens of heaven; from captives to fleshly desires to a new creation made for doing good. In short, Paul here, like he did at the start of Ephesians, waxes poetic about how our faith in Jesus... must necessarily change who and how we are.

But I don't always seem that different. And I wonder sometimes whether this talk of transformation is just in a spiritual sense... or whether it means my life will be different today. If I look back at the text of Paul's letter here, I know he isn't only talking about what awaits me in the future, in eternity... because all of Paul's verbs are in the present tense or past tense. Paul is saying all these transformations—if I truly am a Christian—have already happened in me, that I'm not just at peace with God when I die but that I'm at peace with God now, that being a new creation isn't just an afterlife idea but a present reality I'm supposed to live. Yet it often seems like we barely change at all. Assuming you say that prayer of confession with me every Sunday, you're saying alongside me that you still sin, that you still give into the devil's temptations or the world's pressures. That doesn't sound much like a new creation, yet here we are each week confessing sins yet again. And I can't speak for all of you, but I at least don't always feel “on fire” spiritually, don't always feel particularly holy or one with God. Does that mean this past-tense declaration by Paul that I've been declared part of God's own house... does that mean it's not true for me? Over and over here in Ephesians chapter 2 Paul talks about God transforming our lives... but if we don't see that transformation all the time... does that mean we're not saved? Is there no hope for the screw-ups, the folks who lose hope, the people whose faith wavers in the face of grief or uncertainty? Is there hope for me? For us?

As I said, all the transformations Paul describes—dead to living, enemies to friends of God, sinners to do-gooders—all these changes are in the past tense here. But whose past? There's the key. It’s not quite our past! Paul is not telling his readers here: “Wow, Ephesians. You worked really hard there, and now you're all done! You got yourselves from death to life! Good job.” No. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing. It is the gift of God, not the result of works.” Again, knowing this letter was written to be read by Christians all over—some of whom Paul has never met before—Paul can't speak firsthand to how good or bad, how sinful or holy their living. But if the transformation is due to the actions of Jesus Christ already doneback in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension into glory—then that is quite a different kind of transformation. And for us here today, nearly 2000 years after the earthly life of Jesus, centuries after this letter was written... this transformation Paul talks about going on in our soul and lives... this was achieved long, long before any of us. We are born, live, and die some 2000 years after Jesus walked this world, yet this past historic event still holds transformative power over our lives. This historic event continues to affect us in the future, continues to radiate outward transforming human lives across all time and space. So yes, there are days or even years when it can seem like we spiritually just spin our wheels, when we will never become the disciples Christ desires. But our salvation is not in jeopardy, because our being perfect here-and-now isn't exactly the transformation Paul means here, because we aren't the ones doing the transforming.

Let's return to the before-and-after images Paul presents here. The “before” is life in sin, life without hope, life without knowledge of God's ways. All our stories begin that way, all of us once lived that way, as Paul himself says. The problem we have in dealing with setbacks and failures as disciples... is that we confuse justification... and sanctification. Justification is that key transformative moment, when Christ on the cross shouts out “It is finished,” when God declares us forgiven and redeemed. Justification is when we are declared as such. Sanctification... is the lifelong process by which we actually become what God says we are in justification. To use a metaphor, justification is when the preacher declares a couple married... and sanctification is the many years of each partner learning how to actually be a married couple. Or to use the language of foreign affairs... sin is like being a refugee, a stranger in a strange land without a home, yearning for deliverance. Justification is being handed citizenship papers and a passport and being told, “Congrats, you're an American now.Sanctification would then be the process of learning how to actually be an American, learning our history and society and ways; a process that would change you over time but never be finished, as there is always more to learn and do. In our faith, we are all sinners to begin with, enemies of God and each other. This is Paul's “before” picture here. But then Jesus enters the scene, and we are declared a new creation. This is the change Paul keeps describing over and over here: dead to life, enemies to friends, lost to found, sinners to new way of life. That is the instant of justification, our being saved by grace through faith. And now, as people transformed... we embark on the lifelong journey of sanctification, of becoming the saints God named us as, of living up to the transformation God already gave us in Christ. God said, “Let there be light, and there was light,” Genesis says. And in our souls, God says, “You are my people.” Our lives on earth as Christians is the witnessing of that new reality slowly dawning as the first sunrise did eons ago. Our stumbling steps of faith and discipleship are the flickering beams of the dawning of God's kingdom.

We once were like the dead. We once were separated from God and divided amongst ourselves. We once were slaves of sin and captives to our own fallible whims and desires. We all were once this way. But Jesus gives us justification in God's sight, declares us forgiven and a new creation. And now in sanctification in all the days that follow... we slowly morph into what God declared us to be. Some days it may feel a slower transformation than others. Some days we may seem to even go in the other direction. But Paul tells us here in Ephesians 2:10, “We are what God has made us...” This new creation is already you in the eyes of the Lord, you are already saved and loved: that is justification. And then Paul says we are thus, “...created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” And now as that new thing God has made you, here is your new way of life: that is sanctification. This new life is foreign to us, and like an organ transplant we may have difficulty accepting this new thing at first. But if God is the doctor who gave us new life-giving body parts, our task as patients of the Great Healer is to live in gratitude for the gifts we've been given, as a patient might employ physical therapy and make better use of the time they've been given. What that means for us spiritually, as Christians, is that our calling is to give thanks to God that the major work of saving us, transforming us... to thank God that's already declared finished in the long run, that our justification before God is past tense... and to then show our thankfulness by living out that reality, by living up to the new creation we've been told we are already here in the present tense. Sure, we will fail at that as a new citizen might struggle to learn her nation's language. But as Paul teaches here, the joy is that we've already been declared God's own people. Now we have the gift of witnessing ourselves, through hard work and prayer and faith, slowly become what God already declares us to be: children of the Almighty. Amen.


News & Events

News about our upcoming events


Connect With Us

Follow us for info and updates