Lent 4 Ephesians 2:4-10
ILCW B 2018
When something breaks, I usually try to fix it myself. Most of the time I can repair wiring, plumbing, do some mechanical repairs on the car, fix broken toys, things like that. This didn’t come without a lot of trial and error, mostly error, but all those errors have earned me the degree of being a jack of all trades and a master of none.
Sometimes I realize I'm in over my head, but it’s hard to admit defeat, so I try anyway. This is probably why my family got me a coffee mug years ago that reads, "If you can't fix it yourself, you might as well make it worth the repairman's time."
There are things I can't fix about life, too, and neither can you. That one thing- the major thing- is what we are. We are born in sin and beyond repair – all of us. Look at the world around you. Look at what’s posted on Facebook and other social media. Listen to the news. Look at your own life. Everything about us is broken, and even when some of it gets a temporary fix, it just breaks again and again. The human race has done its share of trial and error for thousands of years only to prove that we can’t get it right and we never will.
But someone has gotten it right. He explains it right here in this book, the Bible. He didn’t do it by trial and error. He did it by starting from scratch and making it right the first time. He created us in Christ Jesus, his perfect Son, to be his for time and eternity. Even in a broken world, where we live as people broken by sin, we are his workmanship, made by grace and made to serve.
1. Made by grace
A few verses before this text Paul said, "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins." By nature we are DEAD- there's no spark of life in our soul. By nature we are HOSTILE- we have nothing but hatred, resentment and distrust toward God. By nature we are BLIND- we cannot see what we're doing to ourselves and we can't understand a word God is telling us about our problem. It doesn't take a PHD to figure out where this life is headed. “We were by nature objects of God's wrath."
“That just can’t be true of me,” we think. But it is. "If we claim to be without sin" -including making sin look less than what it is- "we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." In love, God does not hide the truth from us. He is painfully honest. "Your life is a disaster. No matter what you do, you have no hope of saving yourself." The truth hurts, but "Faithful are the wounds of a friend." (Proverbs 27:6)
God’s honesty has shown us that we are in way over our heads and moves us to sing, "Not the labors of my hands Can fulfill thy laws demands Could my zeal no respite show Could my tears forever flow All for sin could not atone Thou must save, and thou alone" God simply could have shrugged his shoulders and walked away. It isn’t his problem. But we needed something only he has. We needed his love to see beyond what is so unlovable. We needed his mercy to pity us. We needed grace to give us the opposite of what we deserve. What we needed is exactly what Jesus did. Jesus made our problem his problem. He became sin for us and the object of God’s wrath in our place. He repaired our broken relationship with God by removing guilt with his own bloody hands. Not because we deserved it but because of his great love for us: "It is by grace you have been saved." It had to be grace.
Some years ago a little girl in Texas fell down a well shaft in her back yard. Imagine being wedged tightly into a cold dark hole many feet underground – like being buried alive. Soon every TV in America was tuned in to watch rescue workers scramble to save her. They brought in the heavy equipment and began drilling a new tunnel next to her. Finally, after two agonizing days of frantic effort, a rescue worker was lowered into the new tunnel. He carved a hole over to the well shaft, reached in, and pulled her free. Without his help, she surely would have died.
When God’s grace reached us through his Word we were in a much darker hole, but it was too late. We were already dead in sin. But God, who is rich in mercy, worked a MIRACLE on our dead, hostile, blind souls through the power of his Word. “He made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions... it is by grace you have been saved through faith." At the same time he "raised us up with Christ" and reserved a place for us in eternity by "seat(ing) us with him in the heavenly realms". From desperation to glory – we are God’s workmanship!
By grace God has brought me over from death to life. He is with me today and I will be with him in eternity. I know this is certain because not a shred of it depends on me. I am certain because God does everything possible to make me sure he has saved me:
- by reminding me of my adoption into his family through baptism
- by repeated invitations to his table for bread and wine, body and blood for the forgiveness of sins
- by regular conversations with me on the pages of his Word
- by opening his ear as I pour out my heart to him in prayer
“We are God’s workmanship”, made completely by God’s grace, not as trophies to display on a shelf, but “ created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
2. Made to serve
Your life is not an accident of evolution. You are a walking miracle of grace! God made you alive with Christ and now “works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose." What do we do when someone has rescued us from a miserable existence of trying to find our value in the eyes of others? How do we respond to someone who has delivered us from the dog-eat-dog, back-biting, stab-you-in-the-back-to-get-ahead scramble to make something of ourselves and seeing others as obstacles in the way of our happiness? How does our thinking change when we’ve been plucked from a life that ends in with a single-page obituary and an empty funeral eulogy of human praises, earthly successes, and hopeless tears? What do we say to a Savior who snatched us from deceiving ourselves on the way to hell and shows us the way to true life by giving us heaven instead?
Your life counts for something because now it can be used for the purpose God created it. Instead of the old way of asking, “What’s in it for me?” Jesus moves us to ask the question he asked on the way to the cross: “What’s in it for others?” A life that we would otherwise squander on ourselves and leave behind at the grave has been redeemed – bought back – to be used again for God’s purpose – our bodies and minds, our marriages and families, our friendships, our time and talents, our financial blessings – whatever we have and do, all to the glory of God, all saying “thank you” for his amazing grace.
I’m sure most of us have heard of John Newton, who lived in the mid-1700’s. His father was a shipmaster and sailing was a big part of his life. He was drafted by the Royal Navy but tried to desert. He was severely beaten and demoted. Bitter and angry he got involved with slave traders. He couldn’t get along with the crew and finally ended up as a slave himself. He was later rescued by a friend of his father’s. On the way home the ship he was on ran into a terrible storm and nearly sank. This terrifying experience led him to begin thinking about death and where his life was headed. He started reading the Bible and became a Christian. When he was 39 he began serving full-time ministry in the Church of England. There was no explanation for this abrupt change of heart other than the grace of God. He once wrote, “I am not the man I ought to be. I am not the man I wish to be, and I am not the man I hope to be, but by the grace of God I am not the man I used to be.” When he died, his gravestone bore his humble confession: John Newton, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ preserved, restored, pardoned and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy.” We know him best today through his hymn, “Amazing Grace.”
The Apostle Paul, by whose pen the Holy Spirit wrote such amazing words about God’s grace, knew exactly what John Newton was talking about, and so do you and I. It is by grace that each one of us has been saved from our dead-end collision with hell. By the grace of God I am not who I used to be, and neither are you. By God’s grace each of us can say with Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20) Amen.