Amazing Grace

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Ephesians 2:1-10

It may be a long time since you had to answer a question on a test but I’d like you to think today about some questions that are far more important than anything you’ve ever thought of before.

Friends, as you read these words from Ephesians 2, see if you can sense the contours of God’s amazing grace.

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 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 seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come 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 the result of works so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Ephesians 2:1-10, nrsv

Yes, amazing grace. When I think about these words, I’m drawn to what I believe was perhaps the greatest confessional statement of personal Christian faith ever written. It’s expressed in two questions. The first is: What is your only comfort in life and in death? What would be your answer to that? Here’s the great one that echoes down the centuries from this confession of faith:

My only comfort in life and in death is that I with body and soul am not my own but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins and delivered me from all the power of the devil and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head. Therefore, by his Spirit he assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and eager henceforth to live for him.

Heidelberg Catechism – Question & Answer #1

That’s something, isn’t it? Our only comfort.

But now here’s the question that especially bears on what we’re thinking about today from Ephesians 2. That second question is: “How many things do you need to know in order to live and die in this comfort?” And there are three: “First, how great my sins and miseries are. Second, how I can be saved from my sins and miseries. And third, how I can show true thankfulness to God for such salvation.”

HOW GREAT MY SINS AND MISERIES ARE

I believe the writers of this great witness to the Christian faith must have been focusing on this passage when they wrote that confession. Let’s think about it together: “first, how great my sins and miseries are.” Is there any passage anywhere in the Bible that so opens the depths and reality of our sin and need the way these verses do? Listen to the first thing that’s said: “Dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived.” Paul is saying that our sins and miseries are such that we are spiritually dead. You know how we can be alive in one respect and dead in another? We say that about a very sound sleeper. Bright lights, persistent prodding, loud music doesn’t wake this man. We say of him, “He’s dead to the world.”

At a more somber level, I remember standing in a hospital years ago next to the bed of a man who had been struck in the head by a swinging steel beam. He looked in other respects healthy, but there was a fixed stare in his eyes. He would never again be responsive to what was going on around him because of an extensive brain injury. You could say of him that he was “dead to the world of the mind.” Now here the apostle is saying that this is our condition because of our disobedience, because of our estrangement from God, because we’ve been cut off from the source of our deepest life, we are spiritually dead through trespasses and sins.

Further, he says, we are following the course of this world, as though a strong current is bearing us along. We are simply drifting with it, having no control over our own direction. We are a people who find out what the world is thinking and think it, find out what the world is doing and do it, find out what the world is wanting and want it. We simply drift.

But more sadly, we are following “the ruler of the power of the air.” Though we seem to be simply drifting along, we are actually being manipulated and directed by the powers of evil who gain control over human beings because of their disobedience and distance from God. Though we think we are following our own desires, we are actually all the while the devil’s dupes, all the while being controlled and manipulated in what we do.

And at the darkest, deepest level, the apostle says that we are “by nature children of wrath” as all the rest. As chronic disobeyers, we are under the overhanging wrath of God and hastening toward a judgment from which we cannot deliver ourselves. How great our sins and miseries are! The apostle has sketched that for us in an unforgettable way.

HOW CAN I BE SAVED FROM MY SINS AND MISERIES?

Now how can I be saved from my sins and miseries? Listen to what the apostle says: “But God who is rich in mercy out of the great love with which he loved us. . . .” This is the fountain of our salvation -God’s great love and mercy toward us even in our sin and need. In spite of our misguided rebellion against him, he loves us immeasurably.

We are saved by Christ’s death and resurrection. Even when we were dead through our trespasses and sins, he made us alive together with Christ. It’s because of Jesus’ death for us and his resurrection on our behalf that we can be delivered from our sins and miseries. It is because of the forgiveness which God grants to us through Christ that we may know reconciliation and peace with God. And it is also by God’s making us alive together with Christ. We are not only sinners who need to be forgiven. We are the spiritually dead who need to be made alive. The wonder of God’s plan is in causing his Son to die for us and then raising him from death. He raises us also with Christ from the depth of our sin to a new and abundant and wonderful life.

Some of us know what it is to be brought from death to life. I remember an experience I had when I was in college. I went down a long slide at Lake George, New York. With some degree of bravado, I hurtled down the slide backwards and I got disoriented in the water. I wasn’t a very good swimmer. I knew I could swim under water for a certain distance. And so when I landed in the middle of the lake I started swimming under water. I thought I was headed toward the shore, but in reality I was going out toward the middle of the lake. It was a good friend of mine who saw my plight. He dove in, swam out and brought me to safety, from death to life. In a far deeper way Jesus Christ has done that for us, bringing us from death to life by his death and resurrection and the power of his Spirit.

Think of it this way: We can be saved from our sins and miseries out of God’s rich mercy and love, by the death and resurrection of Jesus, through God’s forgiveness, because he has made us alive together with Christ. But all of this becomes reality in our experience when we receive Jesus by faith. Faith is the empty hand that reaches out to receive the sheer gift of God’s grace. So we can be saved from our sins and miseries because of God’s amazing grace as we receive Jesus by faith. And it’s by grace alone, the apostle tells us, Christ alone, faith alone, apart from any works on our part.

I’m thinking of a lady I know down in Georgia who sat in a series of Bible studies where we talked about that. Salvation is through Scripture alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone. As she listened, she realized that though she had been a member of the church for some time, she had always been depending on her own performance as her final hope. It suddenly dawned on her that it was all of grace, it was all through Christ, it was all by faith. She says that with that realization, she knew that she had been born again. That’s how she, and each of us, can be saved from our sins and miseries.

HOW CAN I SHOW TRUE THANKFULNESS?

How can we show true thankfulness to God for this salvation? By praising and thanking God forever in the ages to come. We can do it by never boasting or imagining that we are worthy. We can do it by living out the good works which God has prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Thus we live and die in this great comfort. So the questions for all of us are: Have we realized how great our sins and miseries are? Have you taken this seriously that in God’s sight you are spiritually dead? Conformed to this age? Under the power of the Evil One? Going your own way? A child of wrath? Under the judgment of God? Have you realized that? Have you confessed it?

And then, second, have you realized God’s amazing grace toward you in Christ, that totally apart from anything you have ever done or ever will do, God loves you? God gave his Son for you. God offers you forgiveness and new life as you simply trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. Have you realized that, that it’s totally his grace? And finally, have you thanked him? Are you seeking in gratitude to honor him in obedience and good works?

It’s a marvelous thing to think about how these good works are those that God has prepared. The cake you bake for a sick friend was prepared in heaven’s kitchen long ago. The things that you are moved to do in response to the needs of others are in response themselves to God’s grace and the working of his Spirit in your heart. You are living out the purpose of God as you walk along in faith and obedience and love. And thus, you express your gratitude to God for such a salvation.

It’s our prayer here at Words of Hope that none of you who are hearing this message today will be without this great hope, that none will be strangers to amazing grace. Will you today recognize how great your sins and miseries are, how you can be saved from your sins and miseries through Christ, and how you can show true thankfulness? Will you trust Christ today and enthrone him as your Savior and Lord?