Monday, August 24, 2009

This week's sermon: Alive for a Purpose

Ephesians 2:1-10.
Paul wants to make absolutely sure we know the facts about our salvation. He begins by reminding the Ephesians and us that before Christ, we were dead. And he gives us some details about why we were dead. We were living in sin, following the ways of the world and the spirit of disobedience, we were gratifying the cravings and thoughts of the sinful nature. And he caps it all off by saying that we were by nature objects of wrath. That is not a very promising picture. We were dead wrong in our way of thinking and living. Dead.

What sets dead men apart from live ones? Well, for one thing, they aren’t expected to accomplish much. Not many dead men with to do lists, or five year plans. Why? Because dead men can not DO anything. Houdini, a famous magician, he did all sorts of magic tricks and illusions, and he was famous for his escapes. But what you may not know about Houdini was that he was a major antagonist of spiritists of his day. They claimed to have the ability to contact the dead, and Houdini thought that was preposterous! So he promised his wife that if it were at all possible he would return after he was dead and contact her with a specific message from the other side. He did this to prove it was impossible. This year will be the eighty-third anniversary of Houdini's death, and in spite of the fact that his followers have held séances every year, it has yet to happen. Why? Because dead men can’t do anything. To be dead is to be powerless, and by Paul’s description, our lives before Christ were ineffective, rotten and powerless. That is why we are saved by grace, because in our deadness, we could not do anything about our condition, we had no way to save ourselves.

In verse 4, it says, “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—by grace you have been saved”(NRSV). Paul says that in our rotten, sinful, ineffective lives God, who should have been wrathful towards us, instead had so much love for us that he made us alive in Christ. He loved us even when we were in sin. He saved us by his grace. He raised us up and seated us with Christ in the heavenly realms. Instead of objects of wrath, God made us recipients of his kindness in Christ, so that he could demonstrate the incomparable riches of his grace. Wow, that is amazing, that God would choose, not because he was obligated, but because he loved us with such a great love, to breath life back into these dead men and turn them from incapable, smelly, worthless corpses into living, glorified, beings fit to be seated with his son in the heavenly realms.

Everything that was said earlier about being dead is now true in the opposite extreme. Before we were dead, now we are alive. Before we were powerless, now the very power of God that raised Christ from the dead is at work in us. Before we were following the ways of the world, now we follow Christ. Before we were objects of wrath, now we are beloved children of God and co-heirs with Christ.

In this passage are some familiar verses. Paul closes this section of thought with this summary, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—not of yourselves it is a gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast”(NIV). But wait, there’s more. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”(NIV). In three neat little verses, two sentences, Paul sums up our salvation and continued life in Christ.

It is these three verses that I want to focus our thoughts on this morning. These two areas are the most highly picked at areas of our faith: our salvation and our continued life in Christ. There are two extreme camps called “Grace” and “Works.” One side would emphasize verses 8-9 and skip 10. The other would do the opposite. So just to clarify what the Bible says on the issue, let’s read those verses again. Our salvation comes by grace through faith. It is free, not earned; but life in Christ requires action! Dead men can do nothing! Don’t expect them to! Anyone who makes a to-do list for a dead man is a fool. The same is true for us when we tell our unsaved friends what they ought to do to get themselves out of their bad circumstances and fix their own lives. Once we are alive, however, we must live! Life is required for action, and action is required to sustain life. When scientists were seeking to define life, one thing they decided was that in order for something to be alive there had to be movement, growth, some kind of action, even if it is microscopic. No movement, no growth, no life. It is the same with the Christian life. If there is no movement, no growth, no action taking place it can only be concluded that there is no life. That is why James says, “Show me your faith without works and I will show you my faith in what I do”(Jas2:18NIV), and “Faith without works is dead”(Jas2:17NIV).

God did not make us alive, in order for us to die because we succumb to the effects of spiritual stagnation. We are not to be spiritual couch potatoes! He made us alive for a purpose. And verse 10 says this plainly. We are God’s workmanship; he created us to do good works. What good works? The ones we think up? The ones other people tell us to do? No, the ones God also prepared in advance for us to do. Some of those things are standard. God gives basic instructions on what to do with this new life in his word. Primarily we are responsible to walk with the Lord, to grow in a personal relationship with Him. And we are all responsible for living as his witnesses to those who do not believe. But more specifically, God has a reason for breathing life into each one of us.

II Corinthians 5:17 says that if we are in Christ we are a new creation, the old has gone the new has come. As he recreated us, God built in us the things we need in order to do the tasks he wants us to complete. And conversely he has prepared those things for us to do with each one of us in mind. God has created you for a purpose and has prepared a job for you to do! That means it is a perfect fit. God does not call all of us to do everything all of the time. Sometimes God calls us to a certain task or to a certain ministry for a season. Then he moves us on to the next task, the next season. Just because you were called to do something back there does not mean that it is still your responsibility—now it does not mean that it isn’t. But that is why we can’t just get our marching orders once, and consider it good. I know some people who only talk about what God did in their lives way back when, what he called them to thirty years ago. What is he doing now?

Ask a soldier how important it is to be in contact with their superiors. Sometimes orders for position, action, and waiting change daily, hourly, or even on a minute-by-minute basis. We can’t afford to take it for granted in our Christian walk that God’s orders for us individually are the same today as yesterday, let alone last week, last year, or ten years ago. We know the basic code of conduct, and we may even know the mission we are on, but that alone cannot tell us our specific role in today’s operations. We have got to be connected to headquarters, and we have to be open to change.

I believe that all of us today have unique God-designed potential that will enable each one of us to carry out the work God has prepared for us to do. Following the message is a short life inventory and prayer. I encourage you to pray over and answer the questions, and commit today to walk in the good works God has prepared in advance for you to do.

Life Inventory:
Ephesians 2:10 “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.” NRSV

1. What has God created YOU to do?
What are your specific talents, abilities, gifts, interests, vision, resources? What do you love to do?

2. What has God created FOR you to do?
Look at your current ministry to your family, neighbors, co-workers, in the church. What can you lay down? What do you need to pick up? What specific opportunities for ministry is God making available to you that match with your resources in question one?

God, "I am grateful for all you have done for me in Creation and in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, and I offer back all of the gifts you've given me for the use in your service. Amen
Prayer by Richard Nelson Bolles from LEADERSHIP/90
Used by Permission

No comments: