Ephesians 2: 4-22
For those of you who were not able to be with us last week, I am working on a sermon series that will take us to the end of August – working our way through Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus – otherwise known as the book of Ephesians. You know that most weekends I preach on the Gospel reading, which this year come mostly from Mark’s gospel.
But I am setting aside the readings from Mark – focusing on the book of Ephesians – and selecting instead Gospel readings whose messages compliment each week’s readings from Ephesians.
So today is the second sermon in that series. If you missed last week’s message – or if you want to review it again – and I’m sure you do – you can catch it on our church’s website – zionontheweb.com.
Our reading today from the second chapter of Ephesians contains a set of verses that I submit to you as being among my top ten favorite in all of Scripture. I have included these verses in your bulletin so that you can refer to them as I talk. So be prepared to do just that. If you remember from last week, I said that the first three chapters of Ephesians are just dripping with grace. Well, today’s reading is just that. A study in grace.
So with all of that being said, I want to talk to you today about grace – and faith and works – and the role that each has to play in our daily walk with the Lord.
Now – for those of us who call ourselves Lutheran Christians – these verses are a part of the foundation of our strongly held beliefs that it is by grace – in other words – God’s undeserved love and favor – by God’s grace we are saved through faith. I’m referring now to Ephesians chapter 2, verses 8 and 9.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Now I know there are a couple of – well I call them church words – words here that when I use them, I cannot take for granted that everyone understands what we in the church mean when we use them. So let me unpack a few of these words.
I’ve already defined grace as “God’s undeserved love and favor.” But when we go back to verses 4 and 5, we learn more about this amazing grace that God shows us. Listen!
“But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.”
Folks – un-forgiven sin is a killer! But here we have a picture of our loving, gracious God – reaching down to us – loving us – making us alive together with Christ – even when we were dead in our sins. Quite frankly – that’s what sin is. That’s what sin does. Sin separates from God. Sin kills.
Folks – does it seem to you – as it does to me – that we can do a lot – in fact we do do a lot of things – sometimes we even go out of our way to do some things – that separate us from God. We can and we do. Whenever we are self-centered. Unloving. Harshly or unfairly critical. You name it – when the self is turned in on the self – those are the times that we have the capacity to give ourselves over to all kinds of sin – and quite frankly – we have been given the freedom to do just that. We can exercise all kinds of freedom in ways that separate us from God.
But there is one thing we cannot do. We cannot separate ourselves from God’s love. We cannot keep God from loving us. The book of Romans says that nothing – absolutely nothing – can separate us from the love and grace of God which are ours in Christ Jesus our Lord.
That’s why I love these verses – 8 and 9 – of Ephesians chapter 2. Because they speak so strongly about God’s grace. But verses 4 and 5 are real treasures too! Let me repeat them. “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.”
Don’t miss those two phrases that mean the same thing as grace. Remember? Dripping with grace here. “Rich in mercy”, and “great love.” By the way, I love that word mercy. Mercy – you know the word mercy. Mercy is what we get even though we don’t deserve it. Again, all because of God’s grace.
And all because of Jesus. That’s why I chose John 3:16 for our Gospel reading. “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
You see, the truth is this: God is rich in mercy. God has a great love for you and me. But God needed a way to bring us who are already dead in our sins back to life again. So he gives us Jesus – who, through his life – his death – and his resurrection – makes this new life that we now live – a very real thing.
Okay. I’ve spent a lot of time talking about God’s love, mercy and grace. But now let’s focus on that other church word – faith. Let me just say that faith believes, faith receives, and faith trusts – that the promises of God really are for you.
Since faith believes – and faith receives – and faith trusts – can we say that it is faith that activates God’s grace in our lives? I think it is enough to say that faith says “I accept the fact that I am accepted.” Faith says, “I accept the work of Christ on the cross done on my behalf.” Faiths says, “The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are for me!”
Okay? Fair enough? So we are saved by God’s grace through faith. But now there’s that church word saved. When this verse talks about being saved – it tells us that we are saved NOW – we are saved NOW from the penalty of our sins – through the forgiveness of our sins. Remember what I told you last week about forgiveness? When God forgives – God – what? God Forgives. That’s right. Unlike my wife. When I do something she doesn’t like, she forgives, but she doesn’t forget.
So we are saved. In other words we are given a guaranteed place in heaven. We are saved from our sins – saved for eternal life – by God’s grace received through faith.
These are important things for us to know. I say this because there is always that question among Christians – even among us Lutherans – the question that asks, “So what role do good works play? Do our good works contribute in any way to our being saved?” Glad you asked.
As wonderful as verses 8 and 9 are – and I know that some of you are familiar with these verses – perhaps many of you even have them memorized. But we often stop at verse 9, and neglect the very important verse 10 that states, “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
So here’s the connection. Listen! Since we are saved by grace through faith – what we are given is a new understanding. A new perception. Verse 10 gives us this new understanding of the link between grace and faith and good works:
“For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
Let me make this clear. We are not saved by some combination of faith and works. No. However – we do the things that we do as Christ followers simply out of thanksgiving to God for all that God gives us – for all that God does for us.
Our reading today from the book of James makes this clear when it says, “Faith without works is dead.” By God’s grace – received by faith – we are saved. But it is our good works that reflect the fact that we are already saved – that we are loved – that we are accepted by God.
And isn’t that a wonderful thing! Thank God that your salvation – thank God that my salvation – do not rely on the type – or the quality – or the number of good works that we do. But since we were made for good works – when we do the things that we are called to do – essentially to show love towards God – to show love towards our neighbor – that we do these out of thanksgiving to God for the glory of God and for the benefit of others.
A few weeks ago, I ran into one of our members who, quite frankly, I have not seen here at worship in several years. And of course, I reminded her of that fact. And her response was, “Well, I’m still a good person. I’m not a bad person, I’m still a good person.” And I reminded her that it’s not a matter of whether you’re a good person or a bad person. It all depends on God’s grace.
Folks – just being a “good person” – whatever that means – isn’t going to cut it with God. The fact is, on our own – try as hard as we might – we can never do enough. We can never be good enough.
And that’s why it all depends on grace. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift of grace – received by faith – which is only made possible through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Thanks be to God!