Armed Forces: Ephesians 2


Author: Gareth Russell Date: Sunday, August 21, 2016 Campus:

Armed Forces: Ephesians 2
Grand Union Vineyard Church
Sunday 21st August 2016
 
Christians are most dangerous to the Devil when we are active and living in the freedom of character, freedom of purpose and freedom of seeing His gifts of the Spirit working through us in our day to day lives.
 
If you are a Christian here today, you are dangerous to the Devil.
 
If you are dangerous to the Devil, you will often find yourself in a battle.
 
There are countless times, I have seen when people have first become Christians, or when people have been baptised, or even when people are giving a talk here at church that things have happened in their life, or they have struggled in their thinking, or something has happened to their family to unnerve them, to distract them, or to discourage them.
 
That’s because all of us are in a battle. This series is aimed at equipping us for the battle, giving us the right mindset and tools to be able to recognise the battle and approach it with confidence, knowing that God has already won the war.
 
In Matthew 18, Jesus mentions the word “church” for the first time. 
 
He says, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
 
The author, Neil Cole highlights that “gates” are no an offensive thing. They cannot be proactive. Gates are almost always defensive, to keep things out.
 
We are in a spiritual battle and we need to be confident that “He that is in us is greater than He that is in the world”.
 
We are commissioned to take this fight to the gates of Hell, because Jesus has promised that “they shall not prevail”.
 
So, we must be proactive, taking ground one soul at a time.
 
Initiatives such as The Big Weekend, where we practically serve those in our community who need support, and MK Storehouse where we give clothing to those in poverty, they give us opportunities to go out and primarily meet a need, but secondary allow us to begin building relationship and explaining the motivation behind the love we show.
 
These initiatives we are convinced will help to begin the process of breaking down the strongholds in these individuals lives - addictions, fear, loneliness, abuse, anger, hurt - they can all be healed by the blood of Jesus Christ and they can all be given hope that He lives and wants to be in a living relationship with them.
 
The love we show must be a practical and active love, both internally and externally.
 
This morning, we are focusing our attention on the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
 
This book is one of my favourites and over the next few weeks we will be giving it some good focus, both on Sundays and in our Union Groups.
 
Let’s read the first ten verses of chapter 2…
 
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.
 
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  
 
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
 
Overall, this passage is a positive and encouraging and inspirational message….but it starts with a reality check.
 
We were dead in transgression and sin. 
 
We were slaves to the evil in the world.
 
By nature, we were deserving of the wrath of God.
 
This stuff doesn’t often get talked about in churches, because we think it might put people off. It’s all a bit hell and brimstone. Let’s soften it a bit.
 
But this is becoming a bit of a bug bear of mine. It’s becoming my soap box.
 
The reason is, I think if we dumb down how far we were from God. If we soften our separation from our Creator, then we minimise our need for a Saviour.
 
If people are comfortable in life, if they drive a nice car, live in a nice house, have a good job….and we only communicate that Jesus comes to those who are in need.
 
Those folks are going to turn around and say, “Well, I don’t have any need, so therefore I don’t need Jesus.”
 
But if we are clear that Jesus doesn’t just come to those in need, but to everyone and not just to bandage up our faults, but actually to bring fulness of life, then that is a completely different story.
 
And here at the start of this passage Paul is saying everyone, absolutely everyone, was dead in transgression and sin. Everyone, absolutely everyone were slaves to culture and worldly desires. Everyone, absolutely everyone deserved the wrath of God.
 
And let’s not avoid talking about God’s wrath.
 
The wrath of God is not some petulant response to our occasional faux pas.
 
The wrath of God is a disgust, even a hatred towards evil and towards sin.
 
Paul says in verse 3 - 4 “Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ.”
 
The wrath of God and the mercy of God, Paul believes are held together in God’s character.
 
The great Christian writer John Stott says this, “We need, I think, to be more grateful to God for His wrath, and to worship Him that because His righteousness is perfect he always reacts to evil in the same unchanging, predictable, uncompromising way. Without his moral constancy we could enjoy no peace.”
 
What Stott is saying is that if we worshipped an unpredictable God who could fly off the handle at any little or big thing we did, we would have no peace in knowing who God is.
 
But, we know that God’s reaction to sin and to evil is His wrath.
 
We also know that God’s reaction to us is to make us alive with Christ, because of His great love for us.
 
Verses 1-3 tell a pretty dark and depressing story of who we were. 
 
And then comes verse 4.
 
With two words that work almost to shine a beaming torch light in our darkness. Two simple words, “But God…”
 
We were the objects of wrath, but God out of the great love He has for us had mercy on us.
 
We were dead, and dead men don’t rise but God made us alive with Christ.
 
We were slaves in a situation of dishonour and powerlessness, but God has raised us with Christ and set us at His own right hand, in a position of honour and power.
 
There is this incredible contrast between what we are by nature and what we are by grace.
 
By nature, we are dead, enslaved, under God’s wrath.
 
By grace, we are alive, free, and loved by the God who created us.
 
We should not ignore our sinful nature, we should not minimise the evil we have done and may continue to do, but we also must never put aside the glory of God’s mercy and grace.
 
You see, the beauty of this is that none of us can claim to have earned our own salvation. Because we fell so far short of the glory of God, it was only through Christ that we could be saved.
 
As it says in verses 8 - 10, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
 
If you walk into any portrait gallery, you will see the walls adorned with various faces painted by famous artists.
 
More often than not, people are less interested in who the person in the portrait is and more interested in who painted the portrait.
 
It’s the same with us. 
 
God is painting a beautiful portrait with you, he is moulding you and shaping you, he is growing you and stretching you, he is continually showing his grace and mercy to you. You are his handiwork.
 
When people look at you, when they view your life, the point is not that they are stand back in wonder at how amazing you are. The point is that they see what God has done in your life and continues to do in your life.
 
We’ve been using a lot of Olympic footage in talks over the past few weeks and I am going to continue that this morning.
 
Last week, a couple of American divers were interviewed after winning gold and this is what they said.
 
[play clip]
 
These boys knew who they were in Christ. They knew that without God they would never have been in this situation.
 
And the beauty of all of this, is that it takes the pressure off.
 
Our relationship with God is a gift from God.
 
The fact that we are forgiven is a gift from God.
 
The fact that we have purpose is a gift from God.
 
For your birthday or at Christmas, you don’t run around buying presents for yourself. Presents are given to you by someone else.
 
God has chosen, in His great love for you to give you the gift of life, the gift of freedom, the gift of love, the gift of peace and joy.
 
Now we must live in the reality of that gift.
 
Too often we revert to type. We go back to our own strength, to our own thinking, to our own perspective, to our own history.
 
When the pressure is on, we forget to go back to God.
 
God knows the plans he has for you, in those last verses Paul writes that God has prepared in advance what He wants you to do.
 
God’s vision is not your vision. God’s perspective is not your perspective. God’s strength is not your strength.
 
He knows the journey you are head, he knows that you have a hope and a future.
 
You might say, I don’t see that Gareth. I don’t feel that.
 
Sometimes we don’t feel it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not real. The Bible is a book full of truth. There is literally no lies in the Bible and when our feelings are down, when we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, we sometimes just have to remind ourselves of these truths. We need to sit down, with the Bible open, reading God’s promises and choosing to believe them to be true.
 
Today, you may be a Christian, you may not. You may be in a tough place in your life, or maybe you are flying.
 
This morning, I think God wants to remind us that who we were is not who we are now. I think He wants you to know that your past does not affect your future. I think we need to remember how evil and wrong our sin is, but how deep and complete His mercy is.
 
We once were lost, but now are found. We were blind, but now we see.
 
Our chains are gone, we’ve been set free.
 
That is something to be thankful about.

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