It wasn’t like any other Saturday morning I had ever woken up to.  There was a surreality in the air.  As I walked out of my room as a 16 year old, in 1996, I knew instantly what was going on.  Dad was on the floor.  The paramedics were trying to restart his heart.  Later I would learn that they brought him back long enough for him to look my mother in the eyes and say, “I love you.”   I say it was surreal because I moved about in a haze.  I remember walking around outside in a stunned numbness until we piled into the car to follow the ambulance to the hospital.  We gathered in the waiting area and waited for the doctor’s prognosis.  I hoped for good news even as he approached us with his head down.  He started shaking his head even before the words, “He didn’t make it” came out of his mouth.  At least for the next two days, I expected a phone call from the hospital to let us know that there had been some mistake, and dad was really alive.  I kept waiting for good news, but the funeral came and went without any.  No good news.  It would be three more years, when I was 19, that  I would hear the only really good news there could ever be.


What makes the good news of the gospel good, is that there has been some terribly bad news that resides in our soul.  That’s what we are confronted with by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians. In chapter 2, he does not sugar-coat the bitter pill of truth. We are dead. The way that we believe that we are free-the pursuit of freedom through what makes us happy-has killed us. The pursuit of happiness in anything other than God is sin.  We often like to think that our sins affect no one but ourselves. But, we impact those around us as we flow in the course of this world.  


There are four ways that our sin relates us to others.  We lived in the throes of sinful passions.  

There are two areas of the flesh that Paul highlights:  the desires of the body and the desires of the mind.  When Jesus talks about us being slaves to sin, this is the primary way to interpret what he means.  We are enslaved to sins inside us. They are in our body and mind. Without Christ, we are cauldrons of selfishness, anger, or lust.  We may be too scared, or too shy, or too smart to act on our desires in the body, but they run rampant in our minds. We are enslaved to them.  


We followed Satan. Paul says in our sin we are “following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2 ESV). What’s even worse, is that we can’t take all of the credit for the desires that ruled over us. Satan was at work in us, massaging our desires to his whim.  It’s awful to think that the desires to move in with boyfriends, revel in gossip, and step over others in the advancement of our careers, that we might not have even been the source of those desires.  We followed him like zombies to the slaughter and never even knew it. Rather than worry about the satanic nature of something like a Ouija board, we should be concerned with the satanic nature of our selfishness.


We followed the course of this world. There is an irony about that rebellious nature in us to do what is wrong. In our rebellion, we’re just like everyone else. Our true individuality is found in Christ. Only when we are redeemed from sin do we find out what makes us truly unique. There is not a person that has ever been created that is completely independent and free from the grip of peer pressure.  Whether following the course of those who worked in order to make God and man think well of you, or rebelling against every rule there ever was, we’re just following the course of this world.  


We were dead to God. Sin does not affect just ourselves.  It affects every relationship that we have, but none more than it affects our relationship with God. Toward God, Paul tells us that we “were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). We were dead to the reality that there even was a God who could be known and communed with. We couldn’t connect to him or come to him. We had no desire to do so. We were dead to that desire and ability. There was as much a chance of any person coming to God to be saved from our trespasses and sins as for a dead person walking out of the morgue.  That verdict of “dead before God,” though living here on earth, is the shadow of the coming judgment of those who “were by nature children of wrath.”  Our entire existence was an affront to God, in every thought and every deed to the God who created for the express purpose of a relationship with him. We spurned that relationship and  proclaimed, “I am God.  I am the maker of my destiny.  I am the judge of my existence.” Because of this, God’s wrath justly abides over us.  That’s really bad news.  There is no worse news than a lifetime in this fallen world followed by an eternity of bearing God’s wrath in hell through his righteous judgment.  But whereas I had no good news in 1996 when my father died, there is good news today.  


Without anything first changing us–we remained dead in our trespasses–God changed our situation. In the gospel of Jesus Christ, God worked into history what he had already worked out in eternity. That’s the point of Ephesians chapter 1. His eternal plan is the salvation of those whose very existence is an offense to his supreme holiness, beauty, and satisfaction. God is the greatest victim there has ever been. He has been cursed, mocked, rejected, hated, belittled, and the list goes on forever due to the infinite nature of our offense against an infinite God.  Yet, that God became a man. He didn’t come to declare war with us. He came to become one of us.  He didn’t come to be like us in our sin, but to save us from what we were like as children of wrath.  Jesus, God incarnated, lived a full 33 years in direct opposition to every sinful inclination that we have ever had. He never committed one sin against God or man.  Every thought, every action, every feeling that he ever had glorified his Father.  He was perfectly sinless.  And evil men crucified him.  As he died crucified to the cross, a great transfer took place.  He took our sins on himself.  He took God’s wrath against us on himself. And he died to extinguish both. When we believe, that sinless life that Jesus created in his obedience is wrapped around us. Our sin goes to him. His righteousness goes to us. The Son of God died so that we might live and have his perfect life for our own.  


God raised Jesus from the dead to vindicate the holiness of Jesus Christ and show divine acceptance of his sacrifice. With the cause for wrath removed, and the wrath itself removed, God worked in us to make us alive to him. Paul calls this grace. We have been saved by this grace. We didn’t deserve it. We didn’t deserve Christ’s atonement. That’s grace. God works in our heart to make us new and to beget faith that receives Jesus as our sacrifice for sin. Our faith receives that perfect life of Jesus as our own perfect life, so that we are justified. We stand before God, alive to him, and perfectly innocent and righteous in Christ.  So, when God looks at us, he doesn’t see sin, or past sin, or any sin. He sees Jesus, fully perfect, fully righteous, fully innocent, and completely holy.  And God loves us and is totally for us because of Jesus.  The goal of redemption is God saving us so that when he looks upon us, he doesn’t see our sin, he sees Jesus.  The gospel makes God free to love us like he loves Jesus.    


That’s the great love with which he loves us—with the love he has for Jesus. That’s the point of Ephesians 2:4, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us” (ESV).  He loves us with the love he has for his Son. God loves us with the love he has for God. God loves us as though we were God the Son. That is a great love. That is an infinite love. God created this world in order to bring about the gospel so that he could love the Son through us as he loves us through him.  Everything about creation and our redemption is wrapped up in Christ to glorify Christ.  God’s plan of creation and redemption is a Christ-centered plan. 


Any religion that teaches that man becomes a god has it wrong.  We don’t become gods when we die. We are loved like the Son of God and receive all the inheritance of the universe that belongs to Jesus.  We enjoy the very love of the Trinity.  We become one with the love of the Trinity.  We are grafted into the love of the Trinity.  Peter makes this point in his second letter.  “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature (we partake of the divine nature of love), having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:3-4). When God loves us with the love of the Son, he glorifies the worth of the Son. God has created the world and the gospel to show the love that he has for the Son. Yet, that love with which God loves us, doesn’t stop with us.  It is to flow through us to those around us. God’s aim is to fill the world–the universe–with the glory of the knowledge of the love that he has for the son.  


God works in us to instill a love for his Son. Whereas before we walked in trespasses and sin with Satan at work in us, now we walk in good works with God at work in us-so that Jesus is glorified by us. It is the working out of God’s great love. That great love that God manifests in making us alive with Christ mainly goes on here, in the heart, in the soul, in the mind. That’s not all that God aims to do with his loving us with the love of the Son of God. He wants us to manifest that love in good works. Paul makes sure that we understand the foundation of our good works. Our good works are not the foundation of our salvation. We are saved by grace through faith, which is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). By faith we receive all the benefits of being in Christ, but we don’t earn the benefit of Christ. We don’t earn God’s favor. Therefore, we can’t boast. Our boast is in Christ.  


With that as the foundation, now we can talk healthily about the necessity of our good works.  We have to follow the progression from eternity to heavenly present in order to find the works that God has for us. We have been elected in Christ before the foundation of the world with the love with which God loved the Son. We, as a humanity, were dead. Christ fulfilled God’s righteous requirements for us. Then, if we have believed in Christ through repentance, then we are alive. All of that is grace and we didn’t do a thing to make God love us. So, what’s next as we live here in expectation of Christ’s return and the God of heaven?     


Good works. In Ephesians 2:10, Paul tells us that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Paul has labored for two chapters to convince us that God’s love for us doesn’t rest on anything we ever do, but on everything he does, so that we’ll be motivated to do good works to glorify Christ and not ourselves.  Those good works aren’t to merit his favor, but to show the love with which he loved us. I may define this too broadly, but I’m going to risk it. A good work is anything, I mean anything, that makes Jesus Christ look great.  That is the motivation to make Christ look great.  It is the love of God for Jesus Christ working its way through you for every good work.  That doesn’t always mean that the recipient of that good work knows the motivation, but that motivation to exalt Christ is at the core.  A good work is us channeling the love that God has for his Son toward those around us.  When that is the case, can you see how evil it would be to use works to make yourself look good before God, when you’re supposed to make Jesus look good?      


God has prepared good works for us to do before we were ever born.  And when we walk in obedience, we will joyfully accomplish them. You are not at the job you are in, the marriage you are in, the family you are in, the church you are in, or the city you live in by accident. God has placed you wherever you are to show forth his love for his Son.  Let’s say you are in a hard marriage. He is just unlovable sometimes (or all the time). He just pushes everyone away with her anger. She tears you down.  You are God’s gift of grace to that person.  Now, you shouldn’t tell them that.  You should show them that.  Show it by loving them with the love of God.  Refuse to quit on them.  Refuse to let them push you away.  If you don’t believe that God has placed you there to show love, then you would quit just like anyone else would have quit.  This is the connection Paul makes in 5.28, we should love our spouses as we love our own bodies. “He who loves his wife loves himself.” God’s love for us should impact every relationship around us. It should impact our marriages. But, God’s love shouldn’t stop with us, or our marriage, or our families. God has ordained us to walk in love manifested in good works.


We shouldn’t passively expect God’s good works which he has ordained to fall in our lap. We should actively seek them out, asking, “Who can I love?  How can I love more? How can I show the people around them the love of Christ.”  This is the example that Jesus gave us in John 5.19, “So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”  When you walk into work, or into your house, or into church, you ought to be asking, “Father, what are you doing here?  How can I join with what you’re doing and make Jesus look great?  How can I manifest the great love of God?” Jesus lived like this and we are to be conformed to his image.


This great love of Jesus that God has for the church conquers the rebellion of sinful hearts and causes rebels to praise the God that they hated and rejected. That’s my testimony.  I preached from Ephesians 2 on my 31st birthday. I didn’t blink an eye at the opportunity to go and speak about the great love of God on my birthday. Why is that?  I spent first 18 years of my life living in Ephesians 2:1-3.  Since 1999, I have been living and loving the reality of Ephesians 2:4-10.  This great love of God is the greatest birthday gift ever.  What a gift to be so radically changed so that I love to stand and say, “It’s not about me.  It’s all about Jesus!  Our birthdays aren’t about us, they’re about Christ!  He loved me when I was unlovable.  What’s the point of celebrating another year on earth if wrath abides on us?  If not for the “but God” of Ephesians 2:4, we wouldn’t be here today.  That is a great love.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4 ESV).