Sermon delivered on July 22, 2012.
Ephesians 2: 1-22
Common English Bible (CEB)
2 At one time you were like a dead person because of the things you did wrong and your offenses against God. 2 You used to act like most people in our world do. You followed the rule of a destructive spiritual power. This is the spirit of disobedience to God’s will that is now at work in persons whose lives are characterized by disobedience. 3 At one time you were like those persons. All of you used to do whatever felt good and whatever you thought you wanted so that you were children headed for punishment just like everyone else.
4-5 However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace! 6 And God raised us up and seated us in the heavens with Christ Jesus. 7 God did this to show future generations the greatness of his grace by the goodness that God has shown us in Christ Jesus.
8 You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith.[a] This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. 9 It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. 10 Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.
11 So remember that once you were Gentiles by physical descent, who were called “uncircumcised” by Jews who are physically circumcised. 12 At that time you were without Christ. You were aliens rather than citizens of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of God’s promise. In this world you had no hope and no God. 13 But now, thanks to Christ Jesus, you who once were so far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14 Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. 15 He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. 16 He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God.
17 When he came, he announced the good news of peace to you who were far away from God and to those who were near. 18 We both have access to the Father through Christ by the one Spirit. 19 So now you are no longer strangers and aliens. Rather, you are fellow citizens with God’s people, and you belong to God’s household. 20 As God’s household, you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 The whole building is joined together in him, and it grows up into a temple that is dedicated to the Lord. 22 Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit.
Have you been saved?
I can’t honestly remember the first time I was asked that question. I remember that I was very young when it was asked me, and I look back on it and I wonder why anyone would ever ask that kind of question to a young child in the first place, one who probably, or in my case definitely, didn’t really know what it meant. I know that when it was asked to me, I know that it didn’t make me feel good. It didn’t seem innocent at all. It was asked with an agenda behind it. It wasn’t asked honestly, openly, or kindly at all.
Have you been saved?
Those four words are full of meaning, meaning that we tend to overlook, take for granted, and at our worst, ignore. Those words are the cornerstone of an evangelistic kind of spirituality—which isn’t a bad thing! They’re difficult words, words that make up a probing, daunting, haunting and yes even scary question, one of tremendous importance, not to be cast off easily. However, as with many words, too much repetition and unthinking use has worn them down from a sharp, piercing, introspective, and healing scalpel of a question that can pierce your heart and open up your soul to the God of Grace, and has turned them into a blunt club of a question, that without good exploration or explanation becomes a weapon not of healing but of degradation and humiliation.
Have you been saved?
To be honest, I’ve often not taken these words very seriously, simply because I feel like they’ve been abused, reduced and diminished, perverted from their intended use. They’ve become a fast and easy way of separating who’s in and who’s out, loaded with guilt, shame, and at its very worst, mistrust and hate. Asking this question without really thinking about what it means, and what it could mean for who we ask, is a dangerous thing to do.
This is the second week in our sermon series on Ephesians, called “Be the Body.” Last week, I talked about what it means to be chosen; or rather, I talked about why and for what purpose we were chosen in the first place, specifically, because God loves us and wants us to be holy. This week, I want to talk about what God does for us so that we can become the chosen, specifically, saving us. I want to talk about what it means to be saved, and what it doesn’t mean, because honestly, I feel like there might be some confusion regarding this issue, at least in general if not specifically our little church. But really, who hasn’t at some point wondered what it means to be saved by grace?
We Methodists tend to think we have the market cornered in the grace department. It seems that John Wesley’s works, and much of our theology, seems to have an abundance of grace-talk. Heck, I couldn’t even do a sermon on predestination without turning it into a sermon about grace! We can’t be quiet about God’s grace, quite honestly. And that’s probably a good thing, I suppose. If we can understand grace better, and live out grace better, we might just have a shot at actually being good Christians in the process. I think that grace is perhaps the best way we can talk about salvation, too. If we can start from grace, salvation should make more sense.
The writer of Ephesians seems to follow that logic as well, believe it or not. The passage we read starts out with a rather poetic account of how we live without God, how we are when we live without realizing what God has done and is doing in our lives. He says that, when we didn’t know God, we were pretty much like dead people. And we read that, and we think, well that’s pretty harsh language isn’t it? You don’t just go around hearing people calling each other dead, do you? I mean, I might complain when I don’t feel good, or if I couldn’t get that much sleep last night, and I’ll say something like “Man, I just feel dead today.” But I don’t think that’s the kind of dead that Ephesians is talking about, at least not completely.
The writer of Ephesians says that we were like dead people because honestly, in his opinion, there wasn’t much real living going on in our lives. We didn’t act or think or do anything unexpected. Our lives were just like everyone else’s life. We weren’t really living. According to him, we were living like everyone else and did whatever felt good to us. It’s kind of funny, then isn’t it? We did whatever we felt like, but the kicker of that what we feel like doing is actually whatever everyone else is doing. We were just a face in a crowd. We didn’t do anything special. We were boring conformists, unoriginal and dead inside.
We lived lives that weren’t really lives. We couldn’t figure out how to live in a way that didn’t lead to destruction. And that’s really a sad thing, isn’t it? Everything we do without grace is ultimately destructive, destructive of others and destructive of ourselves. Even stuff we think will be good tends to backfire, doesn’t it? The problem is that things we think are good tend to be selfish things, or things without any kind of moderation. Our tendency is to live to excess, and that leads to destruction. Excessive waste, and Excessive greed. Excessive violence and Excessive pride. Excessive laziness, and even Excessive busy-ness! We can’t help it! What we want is everything to excess, and that path will lead us to destruction.
But that’s why we have the good news. Specifically, the good news of Jesus Christ, and of the Father and of the Holy Spirit. The good news is while we were dead, spiritually, emotionally, even physically, Christ gives us new life. God raised us up from our dead-ness, our conformity, our excess, our unthinking ignorance, and gave us new life. Emphasis here is on the word new. New life means we are different from the dead. New life means a life of balance, not of excess. New life means new wisdom, meaning we can’t go back to the old way of thinking. New life means we aren’t dead anymore.
And that, my brothers and sisters is salvation. It’s salvation that we didn’t earn, that we can’t earn. I already said earlier, without the grace of God everything we do leads to destruction. With the grace of God? Everything we can do leads to creation, to new life, and to a life characterized by being closer to God. We are God’s good work, God’s creation who God chose to make in God’s image, and who God chose to give new life to be God’s holy body. Salvation, my brothers and sisters, is recognizing that God chose to love us, and by God’s love we are saved from destruction, saved from true and eternal living death to live life as God intended for us to live. God saved us from ourselves, so that we won’t live for ourselves but for God.
Wow. I just have to step back for a second and think about that. Without God, we are dead. I am dead. You are dead. With God, we are truly alive. And the coolest part is that God wants us to be alive, and we don’t have to do anything to earn this love. Nothing. And not only that, we can’t possibly earn it. And God loves us enough to offer us a way out, a way out of our death, a way out of our living hell, and that’s love. That’s compassion. Our salvation is love itself. Self-giving, self-sacrificing love. Our salvation comes from God, and God planned for these good things to be the way we live our life.
That love though, means more than just our personal salvation. It’s more than just you or me. It’s a community salvation. It’s not an “I’m saved.” It’s a “we’re saved.” The writer of Ephesians wants to emphasize that as well. He tells us that because we used to be the outcasts, we used to be the gentiles, the goyim, the less-than-human, Christ came to us, and brought us near to God so that we would no longer be orphans, no longer be outcasts, no longer be dead, no longer be less than human.
Christ moved us. US. Christ moved us closer to God, and in the process broke down whatever separates us from one another. In breaking down the barrier to God, Christ broke down the barrier that separates us from each other. Christ is our peace, and gives us peace. He reconciled us not only to God, but to each other, by the grace of God God’s self, found most profoundly and most powerfully in the cross. Because the Father sent the Son to die on the cross, we have been given access to the Holy Spirit of love, life, and peace with one another.
To go back to the beginning, it absolutely breaks my heart when I hear a Christian using salvation as a means to separate themselves from other people. As a means to give themselves pride. “I’m saved by Christ, but I couldn’t care less about you unless you’re saved too.” It breaks my heart that this attitude is out there. It’s so against what salvation is all about. Salvation is not about separating us from them, the Christians from the non-Christian, the chosen from the unchosen. Salvation is about showing love to your neighbors, and your enemies. Especially if they aren’t Christian. That’s the people that need Christ’s love the most! That any Christian could actively hate a non-Christian is absolutely mindboggling to me, because being a Christian is about showing the love that Christ gave us to other people.
That’s what salvation should mean. Salvation is not just getting a reservation in heaven. It’s more than fire insurance. Salvation is not for when you die. Salvation is so that you can live! Salvation is profoundly life-centered, life-affirming, and life-giving. Salvation is nothing less than being loved by God enough to live life as a loved person, and that means showing love to one another. Christ uses us to show himself to others, by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are called to be the body of Christ, a body saved by grace, and that it’s all about we, not about me. It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about us, because it’s about God. We are saved by grace, that’s not in question. The question is whether or not we live life like we are alive, and not dead. So are you living life like God loves you? Are you living life to the fullest? Can we be the body?