Pastor Gary Wong, March 14, 2021
4 But God, because he is rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in trespasses. It is by grace you have been saved! 6 He also raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. 7 He did this so that, in the coming ages, he might demonstrate the surpassing riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 Indeed, it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared in advance so that we would walk in them.
Are you handy? Are you able and willing to make simple repairs around the house? I can install window shades, unclog a toilet, and assemble one of those prefabricated pieces of furniture from a kit. But I wouldn’t dream of tackling one of those projects that you see on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. In this popular TV show, a family in tough circumstances receives a complete renovation of their home at absolutely no cost. In rare cases the existing structure can be saved; but usually the crew decides to demolish the old house and build a brand-new home. An army of volunteers then works around the clock, using donated supplies and furnishings from local businesses. In less than a week, a grateful family is ready to move into their dream home.
In today’s lesson, the apostle Paul speaks about a makeover that—if it were put up for bid—every contractor would pass up. One by one, they would shake their heads and say, “Thanks, but no thanks. I’m good; but not that good. I don’t see how anyone could fix it. It’s a disaster!” Even the best builder in the world wouldn’t even try it because what needed to be done was impossible. Paul, of course, isn’t talking about a physical house made of wood and stone. Rather, he is talking about a spiritual makeover of our souls. And did we ever need a makeover! We needed a complete overhaul from attic to basement. That’s because our souls were fatally flawed. You may have heard the expression “a man’s home is his castle.” Well, friends, our castles were crumbling wrecks right from the start.
The Bible teaches that from the moment we were conceived, we lived in a home that already stood condemned by God because of the sin we inherited from our parents. But to make matters worse, we continue to trash our spiritual homes every day with our countless sins. For instance, when we curse or carelessly use God’s name, it’s as though we are grinding mud into our wall-to-wall carpet. Every time we lie, listen to or spread gossip, it’s as though we are punching holes in our walls. Every time we disrespect our elected leaders, which is a sin against the Fourth Commandment, it’s like we’re throwing a brick through our living room windows. The list goes on and on. What’s worse, we don’t seem to care. By our sins we are showing that we don’t value what has been given to us. To the contrary, we boastfully assert that we deserve everything that we have; and that we have the right and the freedom to live our lives however we please.
Sadly, many are too blind to see what damage sin has done and is doing to their souls. But whether we realize it or not, our sins put our souls in mortal danger. Now, when a house has been trashed beyond repair, the owner has the right to condemn it to the wrecking ball. But what happens to the soul that is trashed by sin? It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the owner of that soul also has the right to condemn it. So, who owns us? The prophet Ezekiel records these words from the Lord: “For every living soul belongs to me” (Ezekiel 18:4). In other words, God owns our souls, because God gave us our souls. The Lord gives life to every human being.
Because God created us, body and soul, he has every right to deal with us as he pleases. So, what should our holy God do to us who trash our souls with the filth of sin? Ezekiel records God’s devastating decree: “The soul that sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). Ezekiel puts God’s just judgment against sin in simple, easy to understand terms. Basically, if you sin, you die. Yet, so many people fail to see that because of our trespasses and transgressions, we were facing a death sentence. Many foolishly think that God isn’t serious about his law. Many people mistakenly view God as a kindly, forgetful grandfather who, even if he were to see us doing something wrong, wouldn’t have the heart to punish us. While it might be helpful to picture our spiritual condition in terms of a house that is being trashed and in desperate need of repair, we need to understand that our situation was much more dire. Our spiritual houses were on fire and its flames were threatening to consume us. The Apostle Paul bluntly describes our spiritual condition this way: “We were dead in transgressions and objects of God’s wrath” (Ephesians 2:3, 4).
Since we were objects of God’s wrath, we deserved to feel the full force of his fury and righteous anger. We deserved (like one of those condemned houses on Extreme Makeover) to be bulldozed, smashed, and pulverized into dust. Yet, all of us are still living, breathing, and walking on the face of the earth. The question, then, is why? Why didn’t God, whose righteousness demands that sinners be punished, immediately send us to hell? Paul gives us the answer in the first verse of our text: “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions” (Ephesians 2:4,5). Friends, this truth is so amazing, so unexpected, that we will want to treasure it and ponder it in our hearts every day of our lives. Please realize that there was no earthly reason for God to do what he did. There was nothing in us or about us that God should have spared us from his righteous wrecking ball. Rather, we were the most unlovable creatures in all of God’s creation. We showed our lack of love for God by our countless, thoughtless sins. So why did God choose to save us? God was moved purely and solely by his great love for us. He looked at the wretched condition of our souls and took pity on us.
God’s mercy moved him to act. Thank God for his love and mercy, because God did something that only he could do. So how did God save us? He did it through his one and only Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus left his perfect home in heaven to live in our sin-filled world. Jesus—and only Jesus—complied with all of God’s rules for occupancy. In other words, Jesus kept God’s law perfectly. But even though Jesus never sinned, he was unjustly condemned to die a gruesome death on a cross. Our Savior was nailed to a tree where he suffered the punishment that we so richly deserved. With his work complete, Jesus gave up his Spirit and died. Then Jesus—who had laid the foundations of this earth at creation—was laid in a tomb. Fortunately, that was not the end of the story. For on that first Easter Sunday morning, the angel rolled the stone away to reveal an empty tomb. God raised Jesus from the dead. Those who believe in him will also be raised with him and one day will be seated with our Lord in the heavenly realms!
We, who once were objects of God’s wrath and dead in our transgressions, are now alive. The question to which Paul now turns is who gets the credit for this complete turn around. Paul definitively answers that question when he says, “it is by grace you have been saved.” Now, the word grace is near and dear to the heart of every Lutheran. You and I have been taught that grace is God’s undeserved love for sinners. Unfortunately, our sinful natures like to think that we can—even if only in a very small way—contribute to our own salvation. Consequently, Paul clearly and forcefully tells us what grace is and what it isn’t. Simply put, grace is a gift. Everyone knows that a gift isn’t something that we’ve earned; a gift is something that has been given to us free of charge, simply because the giver wants to give it. Our faith is a gift from God. At the same time, our salvation is, in Paul’s words, “not from ourselves … it is not by works.” Remember, we were dead in our transgressions. Everyone knows that a dead body is incapable of doing anything. Therefore, since our salvation isn’t something that comes from us and it isn’t a work that we do, who gets the credit for our salvation? You know the answer. It’s God. That’s why Paul concludes his discourse on grace by reminding us that there is no basis for boasting about our salvation. Just as the builder, not the building gets the praise, so God gets all the glory for our salvation. It is all God’s doing; we are simply the undeserving recipients.
How, then, do we respond to God’s gift of grace? The last verse of our text tells us: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which he prepared in advance for us to do” (v.10). In other words, God created us for a purpose. Since we are his workmanship, we are to live our lives for him and do the works that he has prepared in advance for us to do. When we were spiritually dead in our sin, we had no desire or ability to please God. But now, through Jesus, we have been given a new lease on life—not just for this life, but in the life to come. As new creations, we want to thank and praise God for his indescribable gift. How can we do that? First, we can strive to do his will by loving the Lord with all of our hearts, souls, strength and mind and by loving our neighbors as ourselves. We can honor God with our bodies by not filling ourselves up with the filth of this sinful world; rather we can fill our minds with godly things. We can go to the Lord’s house, and together with our fellow Christians worship and serve our Savior. We can encourage those who have been absent from church to return and renew their relationship with their Lord. Finally, we can tell others that there are many rooms in our Father’s heavenly house; that there is a room for every person who believes in Jesus as his Savior.
Friends, I’m sure that the families on Extreme Makeover are very grateful for their new homes and their new start in life. How much more grateful are we and are moved to praise and glorify God who has given us eternal life and a home in heaven! Let us praise God who has made us alive in Christ. It is by grace that we have been saved. Amen.
“By Grace I’m Saved” (CW 384)
Text: Christan L. Scheidt, 1709 – 61, abr.; tr. Composite
By grace I’m saved, grace free and boundless;
My soul, believe and doubt it not.
Why waver at this word of promise?
Has Scripture ever falsehood taught?
So then this Word must true remain:
By grace you, too, shall heav’n obtain.
By grace! Oh, mark this word of promise
When you are by your sins oppressed,
When Satan plagues your troubled conscience,
And when your heart is seeking rest.
What reason cannot comprehend
God by his grace to you did send.
By grace! On this I’ll rest when dying;
In Jesus’ promise I rejoice.
For though I know my heart’s condition,
I also know my Savior’s voice.
My heart is glad; all grief has flown
Since I am saved by grace alone.