Lesson 21:” A New Responsibility”
In any successful activity in life there is one absolutely essential element. No matter what else may be involved, (and there may be many other factors) without this one factor nothing of any value will be accomplished. And that one indispensable factor is purpose. We see it in business – every successful businessman can tell you what his bottom line goal or purpose for being in business is. We see it in ministry – every ministry that accomplishes something for Christ has its own distinctive purpose. We see it in sports. Any game that is fun to play or to watch has a clearly defined purpose; a goal to be reached (!)
Even in our personal life, the person who is well adjusted and successful in life is the one who knows where he is going; who has a sense of purpose in life. But most importantly of all, this principle is true of God Himself. He had a goal in creating the human race in the first place. The very first mention of human beings in the Bible is in Genesis 1:27, where we find God saying “Let us make man in our image.” although it is beyond the scope of this lesson, other scriptures tell us that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit have always had love, companionship and fellowship between themselves. So in this decision to create man in His image, He was expanding that fellowship that was already present within the trinity to include a whole “subset” of creatures with whom they could have fellowship. And He had a purpose in redeeming the human race when it fell into sin. And that is the subject of our passage today.
But there is something else that is important to understand first. Not only is it important to have a purpose, it is important to understand our purpose. A business can’t function effectively if the employees don’t really understand the purpose of the business. A game is just so much nonsense and meaningless action if you don’t understand its purpose. In personal life there are people who are frustrated because they feel that they don’t have a purpose in life or at least they don’t know what that purpose is. And again, and most importantly of all, you can never fully appreciate or enjoy your relationship with God unless you understand His purpose in it all!
Here in Ephesians, chapter 2, we have seen the wonderful truths of “An Assessment of the Past in verses 1 thru 3 and an appraisal of the present, verses 4 thru 10. And we saw in those first 3 verses that we were “dead in trespasses and sins” before we heard about Jesus Christ. And we saw in verses 4 thru 6 that God stepped into the picture and did something about that spiritual death: He gave us a new relationship in which we are made to be just like Jesus Christ in the sight of God the Father.
But in the passage to which we come today we want to think about a new responsibility that He has also given us, described in verses 7 thru 10. And this new responsibility demonstrates what God’s purpose was in saving us in the first place. Why did God bother to do anything about people who were “dead” spiritually? In the human realm when a person is about to die we do everything we can think of to forestall that death, no matter the cost or effort involved. But once death has occurred, there is nothing more we can do. We give the body a loving and honorable farewell, and we revere their memory, but we can’t bring them back again. But God stepped into that scene of spiritual deadness in verses 1 through 3 and completely turned it around! He “made us alive” in the words of verse 5. But why did He do it? Look at verse 7:
That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
God’s purpose in making us alive had one basic intent (although it has many side events) and that purpose is so that we can be a demonstration of grace! It was not because we deserved it, or because we somehow demonstrated our usefulness to Him, but because He is a gracious, giving God and He wanted to prove it. Now for us, of course, that is like someone wanting to demonstrate how good he is at giving gifts to people – a real blessing!
But there is something further to notice about this demonstration: think about the time of the demonstration as brought out in v.7a – in the ages to come . . .” The phrase “the ages to come” is often used in scripture to refer to eternity, when all of this earthly life has been completed. And here is another reminder that it is so easy for us to think in terms of this life only. We tend to get so bogged down in the day-to-day details of life that it is easy to forget that this “age” is not all there is (for good or bad.) But in that part of life which lies ahead, our focus and attention will be on Jesus Christ and His glory. So why not get our priorities straight now?
In the last part of verse 7 and going on through verse 9 we see something else about this demonstration, and that is the thoroughness of it. The last part of verse 7 gives a general explanation of how this demonstration will work – “in His exceeding kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” That phrase “exceeding kindness” is a reference to salvation. And it is another reminder that of all the blessings God gives us, the most important is salvation. Philippians 2:5 thru 11 best elaborates on this “exceeding kindness” of Jesus Christ:
Let this attitude be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant and coming in the likeness of man. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
He was in heaven with God, and He had every right to be there – and to stay there. But even so, He willingly gave up all of that to come to earth to die for us! This was “exceedingly” beyond what he would have been expected to do!
So that is the purpose of God’s demonstration of grace. But in verses 8 and 9 He gives the particulars of the demonstration.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.
These are some the most “basic” verses all of scripture. And what can we say about them that hasn’t already been said? But the fact that we have heard some good news before doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy hearing it again. The fact that we have eaten a good steak before doesn’t keep us from eating another one, (or having another helping of desert.) So let’s look at them again. We have already talked about the exceeding kindness” of Jesus. Now notice again the positive statement – “by grace you have been saved” in verse 8. But to underline it, Paul points out that even the faith to believe it is a gift from God. And then in verse 9 he turns around and approaches it from the negative standpoint: “not of works.” A dead man can’t do anything to bring himself back to life. And because we were dead spiritually, obviously there is nothing we can do to “earn” salvation.
And yet this is probably the biggest misunderstanding or misconception in all of Christianity. Most people simply assume that they have to work for salvation (though there are varying degrees of acting on that assumption) So God makes it crystal clear: not of works.” Now the question comes up, “why is that so important to God anyway?” And the last phrase of verse 9 answers “lest any man should boast. “One thing that most human beings are very good at is boasting. In most cases we will take the credit if we possibly can. But remember the context of this verse? Salvation is a demonstration of His grace. Therefore He must have all the credit. And if we could somehow earn even a part of our salvation it wouldn’t be a demonstration of His grace it would just be another of the never ending “awards ceremonies with which we are familiar in today’s “entertainment centered” world.
Now there are some very important applications to make about these two verses:
First, be very careful about taking credit or being proud of your spirituality. That would be like being proud of how well you can open birthday or Christmas gifts – once again, salvation is all by grace. SALVATION IS ALL BY GRACE!!
Second, stop and think about how miraculous this is” “New Birth!” A chance to start all over again! Don’t be demanding spectacular things from God – He already does them every day in your life (just keeping your heart beating and your lungs expanding and contracting if nothing else – and doing it throughout your lifetime!
And third, but most important of all, if you haven’t already, why not receive this unimaginable gift of salvation today. Just speak to God as if He were in the room with you (which, by the way He is.) Tell Him that you realize that you are dead in trespasses and sins and cannot bring yourself back to life. Ask Him to forgive your sins and come into your life in the person of the Holy Spirit. If you will do that the best you know how all of the things we have talked about in this lesson will become yours immediately. And Corinthians 5:17 adds an even happier note. It says:
If any man be in Christ he is a new creature. Old things have passed away, behold have become new.