"Following the Son" - Heather Tomlinson writes based on a talk by Peter Baker, minister of Lansdowne Baptist church in Bournemouth, at Keswick Convention 2013
From Eph 2:1-10
Ephesians 2 has to be among the most well-trodden paths of the New Testament. When you read it, you know you've been here before many times. So what's it all about?
In one word - transformation. At the core of the Christian faith is an amazing change. In Christ, we offered a new nature, a new identity, and a new destiny; a complete makeover. It's nothing less than a 'death to life' experience.
We are chosen, adopted and sealed. Sometimes we can wonder, am I worth bothering with? Who thinks, "I'm valuable and my life matters"? Does a teenager, confused and angry with the way life is going? The unemployed person who feels themselves to be useless? The single mum who struggles to manage life? It can be tough to imagine our lives can be valuable to anyone, let alone God. But the God of the Universe had a plan, that you would bring Him honour and glory in every minute of every day, past, present and future. And what a future we have in Jesus Christ. That's what this passage reveals.
Verse 1 tells us in no uncertain terms, that before we were in Christ, we were dead in our transgressions. The universal human condition is described in the most unflattering terms; 'you were dead'. It can be translated more accurately, 'the walking dead'.
This is the tragedy of the human story. We are a people created by and for God, yet we are living without him. As rebels we were unwilling to fulfil the law of God. Verse 3 tells us that we were deserving of God's wrath. As moral failures, we were cut off from the life of God. CS Lewis wrote about his conversion in Surprised by Joy:
"For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose. And there I found what appalled me; a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was legion".
We were held in chains in a prison. There we were, rebels and slaves. But Paul turns a corner, and sees who we are by grace. In verses 4 and 5 he tells us that because of God's great love for us, He who is rich in mercy made us alive in Christ. We who were dead, have been made alive. We who were imprisoned were raised with Christ. We who were condemned are seated with Christ. This is grace, a revelation of divine love; a spiritual transformation equivalent of life from death. This is what grace does. It rescues. It delivers. It changes the trajectory of a person's life. From now, until infinity and beyond – the Father wants us, the church, to be a display of his grace. Using the imagery of verse 10, we are and will be God's masterpiece. We are God's workmanship, his craftsmanship, his handiwork.
Have you ever thought of yourself in that way before? We will be God's masterpiece, his work of art! In the coming ages (verse 7), creation will not ask about us, 'and who is that' - rather they will ask, 'who is the artist?' What beauty, what majesty, there is in the artist! This is Paul's point - every brushstroke is designed, every good work, will evoke wonder and praise in the next [world] - as a display of God's grace.
In this passage, it might be surprising to you that works are so important. We are not saved by good works, as verse 8 makes clear. But we are saved FOR them (verse 10). This is why in the rest of Ephesians, Paul talks about how the works of grace should be applied. The way we speak with people and deal with them, the conversations, the integrity of our work ethic - these are on the canvas which God wants to make of our lives, to display his glory and grace. That's why when you go fell walking this week, it is possible to worship - it all belongs to him. Also in our relationships. Our daily routines. Our basic responsibilities as parents, employees and citizens of the environment. In the process, we can offer them all to God as acts of worship.
The great Artist, the Creator himself, wants those who have been raised with Christ to live in and for grace. And grace makes music of what remains. Grace weaves together the struggles and challenges we face, and creates something beautiful out of them; something which at the end of time will display the incomparable riches of God's love.
We are walking, talking and breathing new creations. I know, we stumble and fall. We mess up. We don't always get it right. We carry on bearing marks of our previous mutiny against our Creator. But we are, in principle, new. Maybe not yet fully in practice - there's a long way to go, isn't there. But the Master Artist is drawing his picture. It will be for the praise of His glory and grace.
Father, may your brushstrokes in our lives show that you are making something beautiful in us. Amen.