1) You think you are much better spiritually than you are and 2) You think God is way less loving than He is. Now don't get offended, that's true of all of us. It's part of the human condition. But Paul in Ephesians 2:1-10 wants to set us straight (as he usually does!). He wants us to understand the expansiveness of sin and the relentless, resurrecting power of love.
Hear this, dear friend: You are more sinful than you thought, but more loved than you ever dreamed.
Let’s start with an example to prove my point about how we think of ourselves. Ask a room full of people to raise their hands if they are a bad driver. Guess what you’ll get? Maybe a couple people will agree they are bad drivers; everyone else thinks they are good drivers. Maybe not the best, but certainly not the worst. The problem is, if you have driven on roads with other drivers you see that many people’s estimation of their driving is quite a bit off!
If we take that into the spiritual world it sounds something like this: “Well, I know I am not perfect, but I’m not that bad.” Paul, on the other hand, says, “You were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you once walked...” Seems like our estimation of ourselves and Paul’s is a little off! What Paul is saying is that our ability to respond to the call of God is the same as the ability of a corpse to respond to the instruction to get up and dance. It is not “unlikely”; it is impossible. Our spiritual deadness is expansive and Paul wants us to know that. He says we were dead in our “trespasses and sins” (v.1) and he uses these terms intentionally to describe our spiritual deadness. We have both done what we shouldn't (“trespasses”) and not done what we ought (“sins”). In other words, God has set a boundary like “Do not covet” and we cross it. Think of it like a “no trespassing” sign. He posted the sign; we crossed the barrier. But not only that, God also calls us to a righteous standard--love your neighbor as yourself--and we fail to live up to it. Our sins are both those of commission and omission, as theologians categorize it.
But Paul is not done describing this spiritual deadness. He tells us it's all around us (“the course of this world,” v.2), it's pressed upon us by its leader (“the prince of the power of the air,” v.2), and lest we resort to blaming other sources, he also notes that it's within us (“the passions of our flesh” and “desires of the body and mind,” v.3). Finally, spiritual deadness is also our predicament from conception (“by nature children of wrath,” v.3). Now, hopefully you feel that there is no escape. Hopefully you feel the deadness that resides in you and all around you.
Like our driving example, we want to create categories:
A few bad people - Hitler, Stalin, and Michigan fans.
Mostly pretty good people (and we always put ourselves in this category, by the way).
And a few great people - Mother Teresa, MLK, Jr., Billy Graham, etc.
Paul, on the other hand, has only one category for all of mankind - “children of wrath.”
If you want to know if you really believe what Paul is saying here, then let me ask you a question. Have you ever said something like, “I can’t believe a person would do something like that...” or “I can't imagine doing something like that...”? What we are doing when we make those sorts of comments is living according to our categories again. We are making sure people know that “I may be a sinner, but I am certainly not as bad as THAT sinner!” But when we minimize the reality of our spiritual deadness we minimize the work of Christ for us. If we want to feel the full weight of the love of God for us, let us first feel the full weight of our deadness. We were all, from birth, children of wrath.
As verse 4 begins, something absolutely amazing happens. In the darkness of our spiritual deadness, hopelessness, and despair, we hear words we only dreamed of, “But, God...” It's something like a contestant on America’s Got Talent hearing their fate in the judge cuts round. “Well, you know this was really difficult. You know we had more singers this year than ever and all of them were extremely talented. Your last audition was really disappointing, and that played a big role in our decision. We don't want people who get cut to stop pursuing their dreams...” and then they pause as the contestant sinks further and further into depression. Then they say, “But you won’t have to worry about that because you’re going on to the next round!!!” They can't believe the words they just heard. From depression to joy in one short sentence. From death to life, we might say.
It's the same thing here, only way, way better. “But God...” is the ONLY thing that is worth hearing at this point. “But these principles...”, “But you can...”, “But hard work...” and “But focus on the positive” are all completely hopeless and not good news at all. “But God...” on the other hand is full of hope and future. If HE does something about this situation there is hope. Principles, encouragement, and better focus won’t help dead people. They need the power of the resurrection. And that's exactly what they get!
From death to life by the love of God. Pretty astounding, isn’t it?
Ephesians 2:5 is going to sound familiar. God has “made us alive together with Christ, and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places.” That sounds a lot like what God did with Christ in Ephesians 1:19-20, “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.” The same exact thing that God did with the dead Christ, He has done with us. When Paul says we are “in Christ” he really means we are “in Christ.” We have the same status, have received the same resurrection, and are seated at the same place. Once dead in our trespasses and sins, now ruling and reigning with Christ. Almost unimaginable, isn’t it?
“Why would God do such a thing?” you might ask. Good question. Paul says it's “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7).
You mean to tell me that he does all this so that he can keep showing us more and more grace and kindness and love? Yup! He is committed to you knowing him in the fullness of who he is. So he is going to spend eternity pouring out the endless riches of his love upon you.
He is rich in mercy (v.4), he had great love for us when we were dead (v.4), he is full of grace and abounding in kindness. But those aren't just personality traits without a direction or target. Those are directed right at us, and not just once, not just in one or two installments, not just temporarily, but overflowing-ly for eternity. From death to life by the love of God. Pretty astounding, isn’t it? May this cause your affections to be forever drawn to our great God. He loves you more than you can comprehend and he’s going to dazzle you with it for eternity. Amen.