Holy Living In An Unholy World,

The Way We Were

By Dr. Robert Jeffress

Pastor Kent Hughes relates a story about Jeremy Bentham, the 19th-century philosopher.  

When Bentham died in 1832, he ordered that his entire estate be given to University College Hospital. There was, however, one stipulation: his body was to be preserved and placed in attendance at all the hospital board meetings. Duly carried out, Bentham was wheeled up to the board table every year, and the chairman says, “Jeremy Bentham…present but not voting.”  

Dead people are incapable of any kind of response—good or bad. They could never vote for anything. What is true in a board meeting is also true in the spiritual world. As we are going to discover this morning, we are born into this world spiritually dead. That means that we are incapable of ever voting for or choosing God. No matter how many times a person hears the gospel of Jesus Christ—no matter how clearly or forcefully it is presented to him, he will never choose to become a Christian on his own. 

Why? Because dead people don’t vote. “Well, then,” you ask, “How is it that anybody ever becomes a Christian?” Paul answers that question in Ephesians 2, where we will discover “The Way We Were.”

Ephesians 1 shows the wealth of blessings that already belong to every Christian. Verse 3 says God has already blessed us with every spiritual blessing through Christ Jesus. 

We spent several weeks looking at what God has already done for us—He chose us, He adopted us, He redeemed us, He forgave us, He revealed to us His plan, He gave us an inheritance, and He secured us. Or, to put it another way, in Ephesians 1:3–14, Paul explained the purpose of our calling, which is to glorify God. In Ephesians 1:15–23, Paul expounded on our appreciation of our calling. Now, in Ephesians 2:1–10, Paul enunciates the motive for our calling, which is the unmerited grace of God.

Remember that God is not bound by time—He sees the past, present, and future all as one. So, from God’s point of view, these things have already happened to us, which is why some of these verbs describing God’s blessings are in the past tense even though they are still future from our perspective.

But in the first 10 verses of Ephesians 2, Paul describes what God has done for us from our point of view here on earth. One way I know Paul was not a Southern Baptist preacher is that he outlines his message in two points instead of three—although there is a poem at the end that we will get to next time. 

The outline is very simple. Verses 1-3 describe our condition before we were saved, and verses 4-10 describe our spiritual condition after we were saved. Or put another way, verses 1-3 describe “the way we were”—dead to God; verses 4-10 describe “the way we are”—alive in God.

As with verses 3–14 and 15–23 of chapter 1, verses 1–7 of chapter 2 form one long sentence in the original Greek. The subject is God (v. 4). Three main verbs control the sentence: “made . . . alive” (v. 5), “raised . . . up” (v. 6), and “seated” (v. 6). The object of the sentence is “us” who are “with Christ.” With that as background, let’s jump into the details.

1. Our Desperate Situation (Ephesians 2:1-3)

Before we can truly appreciate what God has done for us, we need to comprehend our hopeless situation apart from Christ.

We were “dead” in our trespasses and sins. This is an absolute, literal, and universal statement. It’s not a figure of speech, an equivocation, or an exception. Paul means that everyone who hasn’t placed faith in Christ is living in a real and present spiritual death.

Now, this doesn’t make sense. How can dead people walk in their trespasses and sin? James Boice says it this way. “Even though the non-Christian is dead toward the things of God, he is actually quite alive to sin. He is actively trying to satisfy the desires of his flesh.” 

Now think about what Paul has said about the condition of every human being born into this world: we are by our very nature the object of God’s certain and eternal anger, we are slaves to sin, and we are spiritually dead, which means there is absolutely nothing we can do to change our eternal destiny. I don’t know about you, but I cannot imagine a more desperate or depressing condition.

2. God’s Loving Liberation (Ephesians 2:4-7)

First, notice what God did for us.

  1. He Resurrected Us (Ephesians 2:4-5)
  2. He Released Us (Ephesians 2:6a)
  3. He Reinstated Us (Ephesians 2:6b)

The Greek word for “mercy” is eleos. It’s the same Hebrew word you might have heard of: hesed. It refers to God’s loyal love, which none of us deserve. Remember, Paul said what we deserve is God’s wrath. But because of His “great agape,” God showed us mercy.

It’s been said that mercy is not receiving what we do deserve, but grace is receiving what we don’t deserve. And none of us deserved the newness of life in Christ—salvation. And yet, because of God’s great love, He poured out grace in our lives.

That’s what God has done for us. We were originally created in the image of God, but because of sin, that image has been broken beyond repair. That doesn’t mean that we have no value at all. There is some value in a broken pitcher—it could be used for an ashtray. But it is worthless so far as carrying milk is concerned.

In the same way, human nature is worthless as far as going to heaven is concerned. Yet people keep trying to mend their broken natures through good works and religious rituals. But it is hopeless; we are broken beyond repair.

But here is the gospel. Even though we were dead, depraved, and doomed, God stepped in not to rebuild us or to reform us but to recreate us—to give us the very nature of Jesus Christ himself. 

God being rich in mercy because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ; by grace, you have been saved.

Full Passage: Ephesians 2:1-7