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October 9, 2011

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.Ephesians 2:1

Today we take the last step in grasping the scale of the human problem.  You may say, “Not again!  First, you tell us that we are sinners by nature.

Then you say that by nature we are under the wrath of God.  Now you say there is something worse.  I promise—this is it…

By nature we are sinners from birth.

By nature we are children of wrath.

By nature we cannot change our position.

That is the capstone.  That’s the worst of all.  I plead with you to take the Bible seriously here.  You may struggle, even as you hear these words.  I encourage you to stay in the struggle.

The Medical Examiner’s Report

Not trapped, but dead

“You were dead in your transgressions and sins.”  Ephesians 2:1

The Bible doesn’t say, “You were trapped in your sins.”  We spoke a few weeks ago about Aaron Ralston, whose arm was trapped under a falling rock.  He was stuck there for 127 hours.  He kept hoping that someone would come and help him, and when that didn’t happen, he resorted to an extreme act of bravery—he cut off his arm to save his own life.

A man who is trapped may be able to find a way out, even after 127 hours.

But a man who is dead is in a different position.  There is no hope for him.

He cannot move.  He cannot feel.  He cannot act.  While there is life there is hope, but when life has gone, the situation is completely hopeless.

If a man falls into a pit, you can throw him a rope.  He can grab it and you can pull him out.  But if he is dead in the pit, the rope is of no use to him.

Let me introduce you to my friend, Manny (the mannequin).  He’s a good looking fellow—tall dark and handsome, and he’s doing well in life—smartly dressed in every way.  But there’s no life in him.   He’s dead.

Suppose I say to him, “Manny, I have a message for you.  Live a life that honors God.  Live by the 10 Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount.  Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.”

He doesn’t seem very responsive.  It doesn’t help to speak to Manny about living a good, moral life.  He can’t do it.  He does not have the capacity to do these things.  He’s dead.

I’d like to have a talk with Manny, challenging him to become a Christian, “Manny, God helps those who help themselves.  He is gracious and kind.  He’ll forgive you.  He’ll make a place in heaven for you, but Manny you have to take the first step towards God.  Come on, Manny, take a step…”  Manny isn’t going to take the first step towards God.  He’s dead.

That’s enough foolishness with my friend, Manny.  But I want you to think about what God is saying to us here…

Not weak, but dead

“As for you, you were dead in transgressions and sins.” Ephesians 2:1

The Bible doesn’t say that the sinner is weak—the sinner is dead towards God.  That means he can’t act.  He can’t feel.  He can’t move.  He is without hope, “You were… without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).

No doctrine is more offensive to the sinner than this.  Even the wrath of God causes less offense than this.  No matter how hard a problem, a man will feel good about himself if he thinks he has the ability to get out of it.

Tell me I have a sinful nature, and I’ll tell you, “I will fight it.”  Tell me I am under the wrath of God, and I’ll tell you, “I will live a life that wins God’s admiration.”  But if you tell me that I am dead, that there is nothing I can do about my own position, you insult me.  I will not accept your doctrine.  Yet, that is precisely the teaching of the Bible.

Many people have bought into a view of sin that goes something like this:

“We all mess up in various ways.  Nobody is perfect.  We all have our problems.  But God is gracious and kind, and if we’re sorry and want to do better, He will forgive us and help us—and Jesus made all that possible.”

If you think that this is the size of the problem, Jesus Christ will not seem to you a very great Savior.  The wrong things we do are only the tip of the iceberg.  Here is the Bible’s doctrine of sin, and it will be a building block in your understanding of the Christian faith…

By nature we are sinners from birth.

By nature we are children of wrath.

By nature we can’t change our position.

By nature we’re completely hopeless, and that’s the inside story of human life… You may say, “Wait a minute—that makes no sense.  I have taken a step towards God—I repented.  I believed. ”  How did you come to do that?  Here’s the answer: God made you alive with Christ.

Verses 1 to 3 lay out the inside story of human life:  We were sinners from birth, children of wrath, unable to change our position—the situation is completely hopeless.  Then look at verse 4…

How Christ Brings the Dead to Life

The beginning of hope

“But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ…” Ephesians 2:4

This is what the apostle is saying to all his Christian readers.  This is what he’s saying to you, if you’re a believer, “Here we are dead in sins, unable to act for ourselves, and God made us alive in Christ.”  He did this “when you were dead in transgressions, [so] it is by grace you have been saved.”

A friend of mine who is a new Christian said to me recently, “I thought my salvation was all about what I did.  Now I see that it’s all about what God has done.”  And his face was glowing!

Grace is more than God making salvation possible.  It’s more than God opening a door and then standing back to see who will come through.  How many would come through?  Zero—by nature nobody would come through.  An open door is no different from a closed door—to a dead man.

Grace means more than God making your salvation possible.  Grace is God saving you.  Here’s what has happened to you if you are a Christian:

“God, who is rich in mercy, made [you] alive with Christ, even when [you] were dead in transgressions…” (Ephesians 2:4-5).  How did this happen?  Turn to John 5, where we find Jesus’ words of hope…

Christ offers hope to helpless sinners

“Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”

John 5:24

Look at this marvelous promise.  Jesus speaks about a person who is in the realm of death, “crossing over from death to life.”  Death is where we all begin.  But it need not be where you end.

Christ holds out this marvelous offer: “Whoever hears my word, and believes Him who sent me has eternal life” (5:24).  The Son of God has life and He gives life.  New life, eternal life can be yours if you will hear His word and believe the Father who sent Him.

How can a person who is spiritually dead hear the word of Jesus and believe?  How is Manny (the mannequin) going to hear?  How is he going to believe?

Christ gives life to people who are spiritually dead

“Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.” John 5:21

Death is the end of all hope for us, but not for God.  The Father raises the dead.  And in the same way, the Son, who has life in Himself, gives life to whom He is pleased to give it.  How does Christ give this life?

Christ creates new life by speaking

“A time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.”  John 5:25

This is a miracle, a divine action of raising the spiritually dead, and Christ does it by speaking.  The first thing we learn about God in the Bible is that when He speaks, things that did not exist before come into being.  God said, “Let there be light” and there was light (Genesis 1:3).

Now, here is God the Son, God in the flesh, and when He speaks people who are dead hear His voice, and those who hear His voice live.  Christ comes to people who are dead in their sins and He says, “Let there be life!”  The dead hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear live!

This is what happened, physically, when Jesus spoke to the daughter of Jairus, who was just 12 years old and dead, “Talitha Koum” (Mark 5:41), which means, “Little girl, I say to you ‘Get up.’”  And when Jesus speaks, what happens?  Life comes into her and Jesus tells her parents, “You better give her something to eat.”

After Lazarus had been in the grave for four days, Jesus said, “Lazarus, come forth!” (John 11:43), and, “The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped in strips of linen, and a cloth around his face” (11:44).  The Son of God speaks and physical life is imparted to the dead.

When Christ speaks, He brings a new heart, a new mind and a new spirit—the Bible calls this the new birth.  The dead hear His voice and live!  Jesus is in the business of raising people who are spiritually dead, in the Gospels and even today—through His Word and by His Spirit.

That is why the Bible says that we are born again of the Word (1 Peter 1:23), and we are born again of the Spirit (John 3:6).  New life is generated in the person who was dead.  Matthew Henry [1] says…

“It is by the voice of the Son of God that souls are raised to spiritual life.

It is wrought by His power and that power is communicated by His Word.”

O Wretched Man

I recently got to know a member of our congregation, Keith Develasco.  He told me about his father, Joe, who was a Christian artist, living for many years in Park Ridge.[2]

Keith gave me a print of one of his father’s paintings, which now hangs in my office.  It’s not the most beautiful painting I have ever seen, but it shows the heart of what I believe.

The picture is called, “O Wretched Man.”  The man in the painting is dead, and he is looking at himself.  He is saying, “O, wretched man that I am.  Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

As long as he looks at himself there is no hope for him. Everything in him is death.  But if you look closely, you will see the hope in this picture: The man’s hand is on the Bible.  Life is coming into him from the Word of Christ.  The Son of God is bringing life into the place of death.

O wretched man that I am.  Who will deliver me from this body of death?

There’s an answer to that question: Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  As long as you’re looking to yourself, there is absolutely no hope.  Salvation does not come from within you—it cannot.

The life you need is in Christ and your hope lies in Him, “My life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).  Lay hold of the Word of God.  Lay hold of the Son of God.

To those who are drawn to Christ: Look to Him.  Ask Him.  Look to Him for what you do not have in yourself.  Ask Him to be for you, what you cannot be in yourself.

Do you lack feeling of love for God?  Look to Christ to give you what you do not have.  Do you feel that you cannot live this Christian life?  Look to Christ to give you the strength you do not have.

Don’t sit there looking at yourself.  There’s no hope there.  The hymn, “Jesus the Name High Over All” is about His power, and what He is able to do for all who look to Him…
Jesus the prisoner’s fetters breaks,
And bruises Satan’s head;
Power into strengthless souls he speaks,

And life into the dead. [3]

This truth encourages me, drives me and sustains me, more than anything else, in the work of evangelism.

It is always worth sharing the Gospel

“Son of man, can these bones live?”  Ezekiel 37:3

In a vision, God took the prophet Ezekiel into a valley full of dry bones, where nothing is living.  And God asked him a question, “Can these bones  live?”  Ezekiel said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know” (37:3).

Then the Lord told him, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord’” (37:4).  I suspect Ezekiel had spoken to some pretty unresponsive congregations, but how can dry bones hear?

Ezekiel spoke the word of the Lord, and as he did, the spirit of God began to move.  God said to the bones “I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life” (37:5).  That’s how it happens.

God brings new life into places of death, and He does it through the Word.  That doesn’t mean someone will be converted every time you share the Gospel.  Some falls on stony ground, and some falls on good soil, producing 30, 60 or 100-fold.  God brings new life through His Word.  It’s always worth sharing the Gospel.  You never know what God will do.

Motivation doesn’t come from looking at my Gospel presentation.  That only brings despair.  I don’t know of any greater motivation for sharing the Gospel than this: Christ imparts spiritual life through His Word.

There is hope in Christ for the worst of sinners

When I was studying theology back in London, I remember learning about the Engel scale.  It was trendy in those days.  The idea behind Engel’s scale was that some people seem relatively far from God, while others seem quite near to some kind of personal faith.

Engel’s scale was an attempt to chart a person’s spiritual position over time.  At a particular point in time, an unbeliever’s position was somewhere along the left side of the range (from -10 to -1), a person passed from being an unbeliever to being a believer (at the point of conversion) right in the middle of the scale (at 0), and believers were somewhere along the right side of the scale (from +1 to +10).

One way in which it was used was to help missionaries and churches focus on people most likely to be responsive.  It’s a wise thing to place our efforts in the most likely area of fruitfulness.

But I remember sitting in class thinking, “This makes absolutely no sense to me.”  If it is true that we’re all spiritually dead until Christ breathes life into us, what’s the difference between -1 and -10?  If -1 is dead, then -5 must be very dead and -10 extremely dead.  But where’s the difference?

The rich, young ruler (Mark 10:17ff) would have been a -1 on the Engel scale.  He came to Jesus all moral and interested in eternal life.  But he went away hopelessly lost, because he’s completely dead.

Saul of Tarsus would have been a -10 on the Engel scale.  He absolutely hated the things of Christ.  But he heard the voice of the Son of God and he was gloriously converted on the road to Damascus (Acts 9).

If you are a Christian today, the miracle that has happened in your life is as great as what happened to Saul of Tarsus!  If you don’t believe that, maybe it’s because you don’t believe you were completely dead.
Maybe, like me, you came from a Christian home and came to Christ in a simple way, early in life.  It was no harder for God to save Saul of Tarsus than it was for Him to save you.  The miracle was exactly the same—a resurrection from spiritual death.

Your salvation was no less a miracle—no less a distinct intervention of God—than what happened to Saul of Tarsus.  You were dead and you’ve been brought to life.  There are no degrees in this.

You may have come to church today far from God.  Maybe you are antagonistic to God.  You may even wonder why you’re here.  You do not need to take a long journey to come to Christ.  Christ is able to make you a new man, a new woman today.

The resurrection of Jesus happened in a moment.  God raised Him, and He is able to do that for you today.  He is able to give you a new mind, a new heart, new desires, new affections, new power, new direction and a new spirit.  He is able to make you a new creation—that’s what conversion is.

You may have been in church for the last 30 years, and you’re just like the rich, young ruler—very religious, but the life of Christ is not in you.  You need a miracle of grace in your life every bit as great as Saul of Tarsus.

Talk to God—tell Him you have seen your need in a whole new light.  And as you hear His word, believe in the Father and in the Son.  He will give you eternal life.  You will not be condemned…

“Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me
has eternal life and will not be condemned;
he has crossed over from death to life.” John 5:24

If you hear His voice today, do not harden your heart.

 

[1] Matthew Henry, “Commentary on the Whole Bible,” p. 989, Hendrickson, 2008

[2] Joe DeVelasco’s works have been widely appreciated; one of them is displayed in the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.

[3]  Charles Wesley hymn, “Jesus the Name High Over All,” 1749

 

© Colin S. Smith

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By Colin S. Smith. © Colin S. Smith. Website: UnlockingtheBible.org



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