How and Why God Saves – Ephesians 1:17-2:10
Confession of a Worship Leader
I fill that strange roll in a “contemporary” church of “Worship Leader” (which I believe is a problematic title, but in this setting is mildly useful, because you all know what I mean.)
Each week I look across the congregation as I use song, prayer, scripture, and words to try and stir affection and a response to God for who He is and what He has done, and each week I see some who are very in tune to their need for God’s Grace, and who respond with joy and gladness (which can look like many different things, outwardly, by the way), but I see many, many who seem to be missing it, enduring the music, prayer, scripture, to get to the sermon (which they don’t seem to enjoy much either), and my heart yearns for them to catch a glimpse of the Resurrected Savior, high and lifted up, glorious, mighty, and wonderful!
I fear for these people who demonstrate a lethargic response to God’s work.
Now I’m not talking about dancing around, cheering, clapping, jumping up and down, and being generally emotive, we have different personalities and wirings, and besides, all of those things can be as mindless and faithless as the lethargic coldness.
I also understand that people go through seasons of life, and some weeks we are just beaten down and tired. But when I see a pattern, week after week, of lethargy and half-heartedness, I fear. I fear for their soul, for their eternal destiny. I fear that they don’t know my Lord and Savior.
My prayer for these people is Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian believers:
Paul’s Prayer for the Ephesians
Ephesians 1:17-19a …that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe,
I believe that if God gave them the grace, the wisdom and revelation of knowledge of him, that they would light up. And I believe that for you as well.
I believe we’ve been told a subtle lie that steals our joy and cripples our faith.
The lie: that God exerts the Immeasurable Greatness of His Power and goes to incredible lengths for the benefit of believers
Stick with me. I promise that I’m not a heretic here.
That statement is true, God does save sinners from a very real Hell, to which people go in punishment for their willful rebellion against their Creator, “He does bless them with every spiritual blessing”. But this statement is only partly true. It stops short of being the complete picture. Failure to grasp the full picture turns this truth into a lie and leads to a weak faith, and a weak Christian walk. We need to look at WHY he blesses us.
In his letter to the churches in Asia minor, what we have as Ephesians, Paul teaches us that God exerts the Immeasurable Greatness of His Power for the purpose of showing The Immeasurable Riches of His Grace.
We see this by thinking carefully through Ephesians 1 & 2, a familiar passage (“by grace you have been saved through faith”). So, walk through this with me for a moment, I have something wonderful to show you.
What is the immeasurable Greatness of his power?
Ephesians 1:19b-23 according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
I’ve heard these verses summarized wonderfully this way: “God lifted Christ out of death, the lowest of low possible places, and placed him far above the highest the highest powers and authorities that ever have been and ever will be.” In other words, God worked more power than has ever been or ever will be worked.
I’m going to skip over many other wonderful details in this statement and move on to the fact that He exerts that same power toward His children:
His Power, Toward Us
Ephesians 2:1-6 And you were dead in 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 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.
This says we are, by nature, spiritually dead, enslaved to the world’s system, the devil, our hormones and our warped minds, and because of this we have earned God’s wrath. We are in the lowest possible place…
Pretty bleak, yes?
And then, the two most amazing words in the entire Bible:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, 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 places in Christ Jesus,
What amazing news! We have all rebelled against God! We deserve nothing but God’s wrath! But He loves us, and so has mercy on us, and raises us out of our spiritual deadness into life with Christ.
In short, He works the exact same power that He worked for Jesus Christ, toward us.
And not only did He overcome our rebellion against Him, changing our hearts by His Grace to turn us from enemies to children, as if this were too small a thing, He raises us up and seats us with His son “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come!”
This is incredible news! In fact so incredible as to be distracting. In our overwhelming joy, our heads spinning, we blow past the next, more important verse. Because He doesn’t just save us, and then we all live happily ever after. He saves us for a reason:
He Saved us SO THAT
Ephesians 2:7 SO THAT in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.
God is proving something to the universe. He is showing off something about who he is to anyone who is paying attention (which is, or will be soon, EVERYONE and EVERYTHING). He is showing off “the immeasurable riches of his grace”. He says:
“LOOK and how AMAZING is my GRACE!
Look at how Gracious I am!
See how forgiving, how merciful, selfless I am.”
“I love Matt Heerema, for Christ’s sake!! (see, God can say that and not be swearing…) I love that despicable, self-centered, fool so much that I picked him up, dusted him off, and made him a prized possession.”
I am a GRACE TROPHY. God has set me, and all of you Christians in the room, on his mantle (the heavenly places?) as a TROPHY of his greatness. I would not be alive, much less standing here tonight, if God were not outstandingly merciful. (I’d love to tell you about it…)
This answers those old common objections: “Why would God love me? There’s nothing lovable about me.” or, “You don’t’ know what I’ve done, I don’t deserve to be forgiven…”
That is precisely the point. You DON’T deserve it. I love hearing people who are honestly struggling with these doubts, because they have a more accurate picture of their condition than most of us.
There is no sin that is too great to forgive because God’s forgiveness has nothing to do with the size, nature, or circumstance of your sin. God’s loving us, and saving us, really has only a little to do with us at all. It’s all about HIM. It’s about Him showing eternity just how amazing He is. And He is infinitely amazing.
Jesus is not the means to an end. He is the end! Do not try and use Jesus solely as a means to escape hell, or as the means to a blessing. It will not work. Not wanting to go to hell does not save you. Only a loving relationship with the risen Christ saves you!
We should not desire Jesus so that we can have forgiveness and escape hell.
We should desire forgiveness so that we can be in relationship with Christ. We should desire escape from hell so that we can be with Jesus forever!
My whole thought is easier to see and ridicule in the so-called health, wealth, and prosperity “gospel”. Where faith in God leads to power to be rich, power to get healthy, power to overcome your obstacles in life. Most of us here probably scoff at that, and if you don’t, please see me afterwards, I’d like to pray for you.
Probably a little more subtle and prominent in our neck of the woods is the desire to have faith in God so that your marriage will improve, your children will grow up on the straight and narrow, or maybe you’re using the church as a means to have a social group that finally actually cares about you, or to meet some emotional need.
The Gospel is CHRIST focused, not us focused.
If the “gospel” you are believing is not focused on Jesus as the end, I fear you may be believing a different gospel. Which is not the gospel at all and will not save you, and will eventually burn you, in this life and especially the next.
Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Grasping this lights up your Christian walk, shows your life to be of ultimate significance because God has planned the work for you to do.
But I fear that many of us have twisted these words around to say “by faith we are saved, through grace.” In fact many of you might not even recognize the difference in what I just said.
This subtle shift makes God a responsive, needy, passive actor, waiting helplessly for us to believe before he can do anything. On the contrary. Salvation comes at His initiative, His calling, on His timing, by His action, by His power, and for His purposes.
Even those good works aren’t about you being a good, moral person, ultimately, are they?
Matthew 5:16: In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
This perspective brings humility and gratefulness, and kills pride and self-centeredness because you didn’t deserve, earn, or buy this, it was given to you as an undeserved gift, because of His Mercy, by His Grace, and For the purpose of Glorifying and worshipping and living for the only being in the universe worthy of those things: Jesus Christ.
This is amazing news to His children, isn’t it? That the all worthy, all glorious, God of the universe, who sits on a throne far above all rule and dominion and greater than any name that has ever been named, loves YOU and desires to let you share in that glory.
So I urge you, wherever you are in life, whatever your goals, or focus, change them. Set them on the glorious ruler of the universe, give up living for yourself, stop trying to use God as a means to your own end, and instead entrust your whole world to him, put your plans in his hands, lay your future and your goals at his feet, and find out that he has something even better, more difficult, but far more rewarding in store for you.