Ephesians 2:1-10  From Death To Life

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1.  We've entered the new [school] year.  There are some who have started school this April and some who were promoted.  Or, there might even be some who have changed jobs or residences.  This is the time period when many see changes in their lives.  I suppose that breaks like these are good opportunities to better ourselves and our lives.  The message given to us today as we stand in this time of change is Ephesians chapter two.  In particular, I would like for us to take in the words in verse ten.  The following is written there.

2.

"Because we were created by God, what's more, we were created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God prepared for us aforehand, we walk doing those good works," (Ephesians 2:10).

3.  How wonderful are these words!  We didn't just spring forth by chance and exist just to die off meaninglessly.  The Bible teaches us we were created by God.  In saying "we were created" it means that the purposes of God are entwined in it. God wanted me to be in existence.  Because of the fact God willed [my existence], there is some purpose of God for me.  We were created for good deeds that God prepared for us before hand.  That's true even for this year that has begun anew.  There are good deeds for us that God has prepared ahead of time.  Whether we are male or female, young or old, able or unable, healthy or sick, God has a purpose for us and before us he has prepared good works we're supposed to accomplish.  [I'm not talking about] "the good deeds"[1] that society talks about.  It has nothing to do with the evaluation others give us.  It is what God wants of a person, it is the good works which he prepared for a person.

4.  Paul said, "We walk doing those good works."  We too want to live saying "Amen" to these words of Paul.  Because this very thing is but the walk of a saved person.  So, in the days that begin from here on, so that we live by the words given us, we want to hold deeply in our hearts once again the gift of salvation we are given by Christ.

Those Who Were Dead Because Of Sin

5.  With that, please look at verse one.  It says this there, "So then, you used to be dead because of your indiscretions and sins," (verse one).

6.  The phrase "you used to be dead" is not one we hear in every day life.  The Bible is obviously not talking here of biological, physical death.  So, in what sense then is it saying, "you were dead?"  With this phrase we are reminded of one of the parables that the Lord Jesus gave.  It is the one called "The Parable Of The Prodigal Son."  It is recorded in The Gospel According To Luke beginning at chapter fifteen and verse eleven.  Since it is a well known story, I will only give you the outline of it.

7.  A certain man had two sons.  The younger brother of them, one day, said to his father, "Father, please give me the portion of the fortune that I am to receive."  Not many days pass after that and the younger brother settles his share of the inheritance and sets out from his father.  Then, when he is far from his father, he ruins himself by partying and burns up his fortune.  He wasted all of it.  Then, unfortunately for him, that area was visited by famine.  He finally came by some work feeding pigs.  He was in such a miserable condition that he felt like eating pig feed.  That's the first time he remembers his father.  Then he would like to go back to his father.  He makes the long trip and comes up to where his father's house is visible.  Then, while his house is still far off, oh how the father recognizes him and runs to him!  The dad already forgave him who had returned home.  Then he embraced his neck, kissed him, and order the servants and had them set up a banquet.

8.  As I mentioned earlier, this is often called "The Parable Of The Prodigal Son."  But, the issue is not that he wasted himself in wild living.  It is that he had separated himself from his beloved father.  The wild living he did was nothing more than one result of that.

9.  Then, there is more to the story.  The older brother is angry.  The big brother is an honor student.  But still, he can't understand his father's feelings to butcher a cow and hold a banquet for the younger brother who has come back home shamelessly after such a long time out.  But, at that time, the father soothes the older brother in saying, "Well, though your younger brother was dead, he came back to life.  Though he had disappeared he is found.  Isn't it right to hold a banquet and celebrate?," (Luke 15:32).

10.  The boy's father said, "Though he was dead he came back to life."  The younger brother was not dead.  He had only been living in dissipation.  He was alive.  But, from the father's perspective, he was dead.  Because he was not in fellowship with his dad.  He was dead in his relationship with his father.

11.  Do you see the picture?  This is what Paul is telling us.  Someone may claim, "I'm certainly alive."  But, just like that younger brother was, if you turn your back on God's love, separate from him and lose fellowship with him, you're dead when you look at it from God's perspective.  If you're dead as seen from God's view, then you certainly are dead.  You are spiritually dead.  Paul expresses this as "you were dead in your indiscretions and sins."

12.  And if a person is spiritually dead, that truth becomes visible on the surface.  Paul speaks in verse two as follows, "We have followed the one who rules this temporary world, who has influence in the air, that is, the spirit who even now works in the disobedient, and we have walked committing indiscretions and sins.  Among such persons, we all too used to live going along with the lusts of the flesh, and acted according to the passions of the flesh and mind, and just as other persons, we were from birth persons who should receive the wrath of God," (verses two and three).

13.  A living fish goes up against the current of the river.  A dead fish floats with the flow of the river.  In the same way, if spiritually dead, then you are floating with the great currents of this world.  This one called "the one who rules this temporary world and who has influence in the air" is elsewhere the being called "the devil" (6:11).  He has powers that surpass a human being.  Whether we call this being the devil or whatever, people certainly often times experience being dragged around and seduced by this superhuman power.  That's the way it is, in this world a power is certainly at work to flush humans off into sin.

14.  Paul says, "In this way you were dead committing your indiscretions and sins."  And it goes on to say "We all too ..."  He had lived in a Jewish society strict in its precepts and practice of the law.  Outwardly, he had lived a serious life in good order.  But, to his surprise, he admitted that they themselves [as Jews] were no exception.  He says, "[we all too] used to live going along with the lusts of the flesh, and acted according to the passions of the flesh and mind."  The precepts of the law did not set him free from the ruling power of the lusts of this flesh.  Since he was spiritually dead, he was ruled by the power of the lusts of the flesh which drew him to sin.

Made Alive With Christ

15.  Then, it is in this way that Paul speaks in regard to "you [plural]" and "us."  The Bible speaks very candidly of the real world of humanity.  If it were just "you" and "us" like this, there would be no hope at all in this life or in this world.  But, he continues speaking like this, "However, the abundantly merciful God ..."  That's where the hope the Bible speaks of is at.  Please look at verse four.

16.

"However, the abundantly merciful God loves us with a love that couldn't get any greater, and in accordance with his love he made us alive with Christ [though] we used to be dead because of our sins, -  It is by grace that you are saved - By Christ Jesus you have been resurrected and made to sit with him on a heavenly throne," (verses four through six).

17.  We have an abundantly merciful God.  We have an abundantly merciful God who has made us alive again [though] we were spiritually dead.  "Mercy" is defined as the love of God which is still directed towards those unworthy to receive his love.  In this time period where there's a lot of moving to other places, we probably notice everywhere the bulk of garbage here and there.  We even see things that look new thrown away.  In times like this there are few people wholeheartedly using repaired products that were broken.  Whatever we can't use ends up getting pitched.  But, God doesn't work that way.  God has not cast us off [though] we have turned our backs on him, separated from him, and completely lost our original state we ought to be in.  God loved us spiritually dead persons who were equivalent to a bunch of unserviceable garbage.  The Bible states that "he loved us with a love that couldn't get any greater."  And he made us, while we were like that, alive again and has taken us in his hand and has wanted to use us.  This is the mercy of God.

18.  The mercy of God took on a specific form in the history of humanity.  God sent Christ by that mercy.  In his mercy God put the burden of all of our sins upon his only son.  God dealt with sin in Christ and forgave us.  Because a person has been dead in indiscretions and sin, he or she is redeemed by Christ and forgiven of his or her sin and then is moved from death to life.  Because a person is separated from God and has been dead having lost his or her bond of love with God, he or she is revived in his or her fellowship of love with God and then comes back to life.  That's the way it is, a person can come back to life in Christ.  Anybody in Christ can live a new life.

19.  In chapter eleven of The Gospel According John is recounted the miracle story of when Christ made a man named Lazarus come back to life from the dead.  Christ made a man Lazarus come alive who had been dead for four days and already had begun to smell.  Please give it some thought before saying, "If he did that, I'll eat my hat!."  The figure of Lazarus of when he died, started to decompose, and as a result of that he emitted a rotting odor - isn't this really the very figure of humanity which is dead in its sin?  But, though [there may be] a person who is dead in sin and is rotting away, he or she is resurrected back to life by the mercy of God.  That's right, it is precisely because he is such a merciful God that we too have been restored to fellowship with God.  Paul expresses this as "By Christ Jesus you have been resurrected," (verse six).  It is the resurrection that is given to us.  And that's not all.

20.  He says, "[you have been] made to sit with him on a heavenly throne."  We know that Christ is sitting on the heavenly throne.  But, God sees us as well as persons connected to heaven in such a way.  Of course, we live on this earth.  But, in fellowship with God we are considered persons who belong to heaven.

21.  So then the important thing is that everything comes by the mercy of God.  It is not a reward for human works.  Thus, Paul says the following, "In truth, you were saved by grace in faith.  This matter does not come by one's own power, but is a gift from God.  It is not by works.  That way no one will ever brag of [his or her works]," (verse eight and nine).  Since it is a gift that comes by grace, what a person ought to do is only to receive it with thanksgiving.  The life in fellowship with God, the lifestyle that lives in the new life is a gift of God we ought to receive thankfully.

22.  It is the words in verse ten we read at the beginning that are being addressed to those who have so received salvation as a gift of God.  We are not saved in a walk of doing good deeds.  That's not how it is, rather, the life itself that is a walk of doing good deeds which God has prepared for us beforehand is nothing other than a gift of God that is given by God's mercy.  Therefore, I would like for us to respond with thanks for the life that we live with God which has been so given to us, and I would like for us to respond with an Amen to this phrase, "We walk doing those good deeds [that he prepared for us in advance]" and so begin this new [school] year.

End Note

1."Zenkoh" means good deed or good conduct.  It means a good turn, charitable deed, benevolence as well as good behavior.  I heard a Japanese preacher say, in Buddhist thought, if the only good thing you ever did was not smash a spider, then the spider's thread is enough to reach down and pull you out of hell.

Coincidentally, I ran across this quotation the week after I translated this message:

The Original Kumo no Ito

...the story Kumo no Ito ("The Spider's Thread") by Akutagawa Ryunosuke (1892-1927).  Akutagawa is best known for his retelling of Japanese legends and historical incidents.  His works include Rashomon and Yabu no Naka ("In a Thicket"), which were used by film director Kurosawa Akira as the basis for his famous 1951 film Rashomon.

In Kumo no Ito, a wicked man dies and goes to hell, but Buddha has mercy on him because he had committed one good deed in his life - refraining from stepping on a spider that was in his path.  As a reward for this single good deed, Buddha lets down a single thread of spider's web from heaven.  The sinner grabs the thread and begins climbing up to heaven, worrying all the way because the thread seems so fragile.  When he discovers that other sinners are trying to follow him up the thread, he yells at them to let go, and the thread immediately breaks, dripping them all back into hell.....Akutagawa apparently first learned of this story when he read Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov.  In the Russian version of the story, the sinner's good deed was giving a onion to a starving beggar and it is a giant onion that comes down from heaven.  Yet, both versions end the same way - the sinner's essential selfishness is unchanged, and the means of escape from hell disappears.

Excerpted from the explanatory introduction to Obatarian cartoon as found in Mangajin CD Mangajin No. 1, Mangajin, Inc., P.O. Box 77188, Atlanta, Ga 30357-188, US and Fox Productions, Inc.

 
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