Ephesians #2 – Saved by Grace

Ephesians #2 – Saved by Grace

Ephesians #2 – Saved by Grace
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Bible Reading: Ephesians 2:1-22

As we continue our journey through the New Testament book of Ephesians we are confronted with the same question that the Early Church in Ephesus was facing … how are we made right with God? Other religions had a long list of things to do (or not do) in order to get into God’s good book … but Paul in our reading from Ephesians chapter 2 wants to declare that the way of Jesus is different! We are not made right with God through our works (otherwise we will boast) but rather it is by Grace that we are saved! Our pastor Phil will be helping us explore together what is grace and why is it at the centre of the way of Jesus.

Last week we started a 6 week series working through the book of Ephesians chapter by chapter – and I was the lucky one to get to preach on Ephesians chapter 2 … because it is such a good chapter.

But let’s first remind us of the Ephesians context that Kevin shared a bit of last week in his sermon (and I will add a little more to).

The book of Ephesians was written by Paul to the church in Ephesus.  Ephesus was a huge city which was the epicentre of Romans and Greek religion at the time.  We spoke about how many of the cities (like Thessalonica and Corinth)  had many of the major regions but Ephesus was where the all the religious headquarters were.  This city was so important that Paul stayed at Ephesus for about 2-3 years on his last mission journey.  And now some years later when Paul has found himself in prison and he is writing back to the church in Ephesus.

But don’t forget that point about Ephesus being a really important religious hub … because we are going to come back to that.  First, a big picture look at this book.

Ephesus is six chapter long and is really split into two part of about three chapters each.  In the first part of the book (chapters 1 to 3) Paul remind the church in Ephesus about the amazing good news or Gospel of Jesus.  Paul highlights God’s love and the riches of God’s grace (our theme for this series).  He also proclaims God invitation to people – both Jews and Gentiles – to become part of God’s family, a spiritual body with Jesus was the head. 

Paul finishes this first section with the beautiful prayer:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.   Eph 3:20-21

And then in most English translation (except the NIV) chapter 4 starts with the word “therefore”.  If God has poured out his love and grace to us so generously through Jesus … therefore … this is what we should do.  Therefore – Paul in the last three chapters offers us some instructions for Christian living. 

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.  Let’s go back to the beginning of the book.  As Kevin showed last week, Paul starts his letter to the church in Ephesus with a poem and a prayer – both which beautifully highlights the blessings that God lavishes on us through Jesus.

Last week, Kevin in his sermon showed a video about South African Swimmer Chad le Clos who won a gold medal in the 2012 Olympic Swimming.  Chad’s father was being interviewed afterwards and he was just beaming with love and proudness for his son.  Again, and again, he was saying “Look at him.  My beautiful boy”.   It was a beautiful video … but … one might ponder, would have been as gushing with his love and compliments if his son hadn’t won.  Probably – I am not being critical of the father here but I am raising a question that the people in Ephesus was really struggling with that the time Paul wrote his letter.   Does God only love us if we do good?  Is God only pleased with us if we win?

You see – they had grown up being exposed to lots of different religions and in all the Greek and Roman religions (and you could argue in the Old Testament Judaism religion) that the gods only showed favour or showered you with love or blessings if you first pleased them by doing good.

The people of Ephesus were brought up in this idea that if you follow the laws, if you give the best sacrifices, if you participate in all the rituals … if you win the gold medal … only then will God be pleased … only then will God love you.

Can you see the tension here?  We would want to argue that we are more enlighten and don’t think this way … but … there is some interesting research about the modern day “good girl / good boy” syndrome.  Our society and schooling system holds up this idea that one of the best complements we can get is to be called a good boy or good girl … and we get called good if we do what we are told.  And as such, we start to apply that to God as well – that God only see us as good if we are meeting some moral standard or following the prescribed behaviour.

But Paul starts our Bible reading for today (Ephesus chapter 2) by reminding us that none of us are good.  None of us have reached the standards that God set.  All of us have fallen short (Romans 3:23) and consequently all of us are dead in our transgressions and sins (Eph 2:1) and a deserving of wrath (v3). 

BUT – verse 4 starts – BUT … because of God’s great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in transgressions … even though we had not been good enough … even though we had not won the race or met the mark.  For it is by grace you have been saved.

Sit with that for a moment.

Because Paul doesn’t stop … he expands it even more.

Yes, we are all spiritually dead – but out of grace because of God’s love for us God made us Spiritually alive.  And in verse 6 Paul goes on to say that not only are we made alive, but God raises us up so that we can be seated with Jesus in the heavenly realms in order that we might experience the incomparable riches of God’s Grace expressed to us in the kindness of Jesus.

God loves us so much that not only are we saved and made spiritually alive, but we are blessed with the riches of God’s more than we could ever understand.

And just to make sure that we completely understand this point … Paul writes one of these all-time classic bible verses – Eph 2:8-9

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

As I said, that verse stand for all people, for all time – but can you see how powerful it was to the church in Ephesus.  Growing up in Ephesus, every other religion in town was saying you had to work for your salvation, that you had to do certain things, adhere to certain standards, meet certain criteria to be saved … and Paul says that in Jesus … it is by Grace that you have been saved.  You are not saved by anything you have done, you have not earned salvation or deserve salvation … you are saved by Grace … it is a gift from God so that no one can boast.

I know I am preaching a message that most of you have already heard before – but it is profound.  We are saved not by what we do, but through our faith in Jesus.  It is like God is holding out a beautiful gift of salvation and all we need to do is accept it.  It is like God has burst a cross shaped hole in the wall that separates us from God and all we need to do is walk through it.

So does that mean our actions are irrelevant?  What we don’t need to be good?  In terms of salvation – yes.  There is nothing we can do that will make God save us more, and there is nothing we can do to make God save us less – God has already done what was need to be done to offer us complete salvation … all we need to do is accept it.

Although, we need to remember that there is a therefore coming in chapter 4 – that is God has done all this for us … therefore, this is how we respond in the way we live for God.  And Paul hints at this therefore in verse 10 of our reading.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

The works is a response to God’s gift of Salvation.  But we will come back to that in chapter 4.

I could finish the sermon here – but I better just spend a moment the second half of our bible reading.  Here Paul uses an image of being brought together as a family – that not only are we reconciled with God but we are also reconciled with each other.

The Bible Project does a really great summary video of Ephesians and they use the phrase “Covenant Family” to explain this image … how God through the covenant wants to bring people together within God’s family.  That is what Kevin talked about in his sermon last week – how we have been chosen by God, and adopted as God’s children.  However, under the Old Testament covenant there was this understanding that this family was about the Jews. 

As Paul says in verse 11 and 12, for the Gentiles there was not only separation from God but as a non-Jew, they were excluded from the covenants without hope and without God in the world. 

But Jesus has destroyed the barrier between Jew and Gentile and made the made the two groups one.  As verse 14 says, Jesus purpose was to create something new – and in one body reconcile all people to God through the cross.  Consequently, vs 19 we are no longer strangers but fellow citizens, members of the same family, being brought together in the arms of forgiveness and grace.

As we wrap up this sermon – if you are going to remember one thing from this sermon – it is the reminder of just how powerful word Grace is.  Grace refers to that amazing experience of receiving an unconditional gift.

Grace is a word for the way that God treats us – how God loves us, forgives us, saves us and brings us together in God’s family … no matter who we are or what we have done – God offers all this to us through grace.

Grace doesn’t make sense in our worldly thinking.  Grace is about God giving us a second chance when we don’t deserve it.  Grace is about God being generous when he doesn’t need to be.  Grace is about God going to extraordinary lengths to save us, not because we have earned it, but rather just because he loves us – all we have to do is accept it.

Let me read you Ephesians 2:8-9 one more time, But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our sins — it is by grace you have been saved. It is not from what we have done, it is the gift of God.

I hope that you got the simple message of today.  God Grace is shown to you by the fact that God loves you – unconditionally. 

God though this grace offers us forgiveness, love, salvation, life … all we need to do is accept it.

May we all accept it anew or for the first time today.