Scripture Reading: Acts 9:1-19
Sermon Title: The Dead Made Alive (part 3)
Sermon Text: Ephesians 2:8-10
Those who live according to salvation by grace do not boast
Those who live according to salvation by grace walk in good works
I provide this manuscript as a courtesy. I do not follow the document word for word during the message. I also do not write the document with the intent of publication; there may be grammatical errors throughout. Unfortunately, there is not always time to proofread. I choose to use my available time for studying, finding ways to explain the truths of Scripture while keeping a balance of time for visiting and discipleship of people in the church. Thanks for understanding.
The transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly is an amazing work of God. Before it transforms into a butterfly, the caterpillar’s primary mode of transportation is crawling. It is not an insect which attracts much attention. We seldom stop to look at all the beautiful caterpillars and watch their movements.
But, caterpillars transform. The process is a miracle in itself. After it is initially hatched, the caterpillar grows imaginal discs which are a group of specialized cells. The imaginal discs develop and mature with each grouping destined for a specific butterfly function such as head, thorax, and wings. When the imaginal discs are in place, the caterpillar then wraps itself in a cocoon and digests itself. During the metamorphosis, the only portion of the caterpillar which survives the digestion are the imaginal discs. They use the remaining digested ooze to fuel the cell division to form the butterfly.
When the butterfly emerges, it no longer is a creature which crawls upon the ground. The creature flutters, and flies to the amusement and joy of those who find them. The caterpillar is transformed and becomes a new creature known for the ability to fly and its beauty. Whereas we don’t stop to marvel at caterpillars, we definitely enjoy watching the flight of butterflies.
There is an even greater transformation which takes place all around us, but not everyone has eyes to witness the change. The transformation is that which takes place when God saves His people; when sinners are transformed to saints. We read about this transformation in Ephesians 2:1-6.
Before transformation, sinners are an object of scorn in the spiritual realm. They are beings who are detestable in their nature, self-centered, feeding on their lusts, and living under the influence of the enemy of God. They crawl on their bellies in their filth. They are spiritually blind to their condition and have no concept of anything beyond their existence. Like the caterpillar, they are focused upon what lies beneath their feet.
Though they live and breathe physically, they are a dead, spiritual corpse. They have no hope for life. They are so revolting that even their Creator has no desire for them, but instead, they are an object of His just wrath. They have a target on their back which angels identify as a person destined for destruction.
But, because the Lord God Creator is rich in mercy, and because He is gloriously loving, even though these people are sinning enemies of His kingdom, the Creator shows them compassion. God joins them in union with His beloved Son. The Son is rich with life and goodness and everything they need. Their dead spirit becomes alive. God raises them from their existence of crawling in filth and seats them with His Son in the heavenly places in Christ. They go from the lowest place of shame, weakness, and death to the highest place of honor, power, and life. There is no greater transformation than the transformation of God’s elect. It makes the transformation of the butterfly look trivial.
Why does the Creator do this? So that in the ages to come, throughout all eternity, He might show to all of heaven and earth, the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
The transformation of the butterfly glorifies the Creator. But, the transformation of the sinner to saint is a glorifying work which is the talk of the angels. The salvation metamorphosis of transforming a sinner to a saint is a trophy on the shelf of all achievements. It is far above all the gold medals, achievement awards, silver cups, garlands of roses, or any other recognition. The trophy of God’s achievement is inscribed with these words: “God’s grace is most glorious”.
Today, we look at a description of God’s intention behind transforming sinners to saints. God is aiming for two specific intended outcomes.
The first intendend outcome is this, that we:
8For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
So that no one may boast. In clear and certain terms, the Apostle Paul tells us our salvation is not anything we have done ourselves, but it is a gift from God.
Salvation is a gift of grace. Because salvation is a gift and we have nothing to do with our salvation, we have no reason to boast. What are areas in which we might boast?
The verse is very clear, salvation is not of ourselves, it is a gift of God. Gifts are not earned. Nobody owes us a gift. If we think we are owed a gift, we don’t understand what it means to receive a gift.
But, some may look at the verse and say: “The verse says, ‘by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works.' My faith is believing and believing is not work. I do not believe I may work to be saved. But, I know my faith saves me.”
Yes, faith is needed for salvation. To be saved, we must believe Jesus Christ is the only way we may be saved. We must believe His blood shed on the cross is the sacrifice for our sins. We must believe Jesus died for us, and when we believe this, we receive His righteousness. All this is true. But, having faith is also a gift. The gift refers to the entire phrase; “salvation is by grace through faith.”
To understand this, we must remember what Scripture says about our spiritual condition before salvation. We are spiritually dead before Christ. How could we have done anything, including having the ability to have faith? Scripture tells us that before salvation, there is not one person who has understanding. There is none who seeks for God. There is none who does good. There is none who has a fear of God (Romans 3:10-18). All are spiritually dead. Everyone lives according to the lusts of the flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind (Ephesians 2:1-3).
As soon as we think we are involved in some way, whether because we made the right decision or because we turned our life around to follow Jesus, we miss the entire point of these verses. When we think we were involved, we are automatically making ourselves out to be a better person than those who heard the gospel and rejected it. We made a good decision, and they made a bad decision. We heard the gospel, processed the information, and our intellectual faculties told us to do what is good.
There is none who thinks about God, pursues God, or has any understanding of spiritual matters. There is none who understands, not even one.
Our scripture reading looked at the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, who is the Apostle Paul. We are all like the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus. In our ignorance and spiritually dead condition, we think we are doing good, but we are not. The Apostle Paul was not pursuing Christ on the road to Damascus; however, Christ was pursuing the Apostle Paul.
God had a specific purpose in Paul’s salvation experience. Jesus spoke to Ananias and told him Paul was a chosen instrument to proclaim the gospel. Paul was THE man of God’s choosing to plant churches throughout the Roman Empire. In choosing Paul, God gave him a salvation experience foundational to preaching the gospel of grace.
In Paul’s transformation experience, God made salvation by grace very clear to the Apostle Paul. Paul heard the gospel preached by Stephen and rejected the gospel. He even stood watch over the garments of those who stoned Stephen to death for preaching Christ. Paul hated Christ and had letters in hand giving him permission to imprison Jews who put their faith in Jesus (who were called “The Way” at the time).
On the road to Damascus, Jesus spoke to Paul, saying “Saul, Saul” and Paul’s response was, “who are you, Lord?” He recognized the authority of the voice from heaven, but He did not recognize who was speaking. He did not know the voice because He didn’t know Jesus. By contrast, when Jesus spoke to Ananias and said, “Ananias,” he answered by saying, “Here I am Lord,” not “who are you, Lord?”.
In Paul’s transformation, God did not reveal to Paul a list of specific works he had to do to gain salvation in Christ. And, God did not send Peter or another Apostle to preach the gospel and reason with Paul to bring Paul to a decision. God changed Paul’s heart. If God had not imposed His will upon Paul, we have no reason to believe Paul would become a Christian.
Paul was spiritually dead as he traveled on the road to Damascus. Dead men are unable to do any work, and dead men are unable to reason and come to a decision. God miraculously saved Paul as a gift from heaven. Paul’s conversion to Christianity is a complete work of grace.
Imagine being Paul and talking about getting saved. “I was on my way to persecute believers. I took one step, and I was hating Jesus. I took another step and He called my name, and all of a sudden, my eyes were opened. My physical eyes were blinded, but my spiritual eyes saw the Lord Jesus Christ in all His glory. My salvation is because of grace. The next step I took was not a step towards hell, but a step towards heaven. God saved me. I have nothing to boast about.”
God revealed to Paul through his conversion salvation experience exactly what needed to be communicated to all the churches. There is nothing Paul did to be saved. Paul’s salvation is a gift from God and God used Paul to preach the gospel of grace. Paul preached grace with conviction because it was his experience.
We have no reason to boast. What we should boast about is God’s grace. God’s grace puts life into proper perspective. He removes the obstacle which prevents us from seeing Him; our ego. God sets the world into the right order in which He is the source of good and we are the recipients of His goodness. Before salvation, we believe ourselves to be self-sufficient, like Saul. After salvation, we believe God is the giver and we need Him, like Paul.
Think about our need for salvation. We are human beings. Which of us can decide to add another day to our life? What about giving ourselves eternal life? Do we have the ability to make ourselves holy and pure after we have sinned? We are unable to remove our sin just as a leopard may not remove their spots. Do we have the strength to escape the corruption of this world? Do we have the authority to grant ourselves to be seated at the right hand of God? Of course, we are unable to do any of these things. We may not boast.
Only by God’s grace and being joined together with Jesus Christ, in union with Him, are we able to transcend this world. God’s grace opens for us the treasure of the riches of Christ, so we may attain eternal life, perfect holiness, escape from this world, and be seated at God’s right hand in heaven.
Boast in the glories of God’s grace. To boast in oneself is utterly ridiculous.
God’s first intention is that those who live according to salvation by grace may not boast in their salvation. God’s second intention is this:
10For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)
Again, Paul uses the phrase “so that.” God saves us so that we may walk in the good works which God has prepared beforehand.
The word workmanship means product. The verse could read, “we are God’s product.” We are not a product like an impersonal product like a chair or an automobile is a product. We are a masterpiece of God’s creative handiwork. We are a living breathing creative work of God. The caterpillar transformation to butterfly is a workmanship of God and our transformation of sinner to saint is a workmanship of God.
God is the Creator and author of life, and God created us in Christ Jesus for good works. God took us as dead sinners and joined us together in His Son.
Christ’s riches overflow and abundantly meet our every need. The dead are given life eternal by the Son. The weak are made strong by being joined to Christ. The guilty find complete forgiveness for every sin. The unrighteous are joined with the Son and His righteousness washes us whiter than snow and fills us with goodness and holiness. Those marred by scorn and shame are raised to great heavenly heights of honor and glory.
No longer are we like the caterpillar, crawling upon the earth, but in Christ, we become a new creature. In Christ, all things are like new. We are truly born again as a different, beautiful creature able to walk in good works which we were never able to do before our salvation.
This is the theme of the New Testament:
In Christ, we are a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
We have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer us who live, but Christ lives in us; and the life we now live, we I live by faith in the Son of God (Galatians 2:20).
For we have died, and our life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3).
Walking is a Jewish expression for living. Walking is a lifestyle, not a specific duty or temporary action.
Before we were in Christ, we walked according to the course of this world, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.
Our walk as sinners did not bring us into favor with God, but just the opposite. Our walk was the object of God’s anger. The problem was not just our walk, what we did, the problem was the walker, the one who was walking. Our walking was motivated and directed by our sin nature. It is impossible for a sinner to walk favorably before God.
Sinners need to be born again. The self-centered, self-righteous, self-indulgent, self-serving, selfish, lustful, complaining, grumbling, angry person, needs to be transformed.
God transforms us and makes us alive. We are His workmanship, His product, created in Christ Jesus for good works. Christ empowers us to do good works. We have the righteousness of Christ so we may do righteous acts. God gives us the mind of Christ so we may discern good from evil. In Christ, we are given power over sin, so we no longer walk in sin. Christ gives us new desires, so we no longer indulge the desires of the flesh.
What takes place is what the Bible says in the letter to the Romans:
(paraphrased) We are joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For while we were in the flesh, our sinful passions were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. We have died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit. (Romans 7:4-6)
There is one thing clear from reading and understanding the Bible, and that is, grace impacts and changes lives. People don’t get saved and live as they were. When we are God’s workmanship, His product, we will do good works. This is God’s will and no one may resist God’s will.
The gift of grace is a transforming work by God. The gift is opened and the Holy Spirit comes out of the box and takes possession of the believer. Those who are saved by grace are not struck with a feather-duster. Instead, they are hit with 50,000 volts from a defibrillator. Grace is spoken to bring forth a new creature by a God who speaks and brings forth stars with the power of His word.
Am I ordained to eternal life because I am saved by grace? The answer is yes, if it is my desire is to walk in good works. A salvation which does not result in good works is not saving faith: it is not the faith of God's elect: it is not faith at all according to the Bible.
God’s work takes place in the heart of the believer. The new creature in Christ is born again. God changes the heart. With the heart, one believes and is made right before God (Romans 10:10). God promised to give His chosen people a new heart and a new spirit. God promises to remove the heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19). If God makes us good on the inside, it shows on the outside by the way the person walks.
We are not to judge whether or not someone is saved. However, Jesus does tell us to be fruit inspectors. We may not see the heart of someone, but we certainly can look at their life and see if there they are bearing fruit.
Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” Good works are not the root of our salvation, but they most definitely are the fruit of our salvation.
What does the fruit look like? What are the works God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them? Those who live according to salvation by grace take notice of other people. They notice when people are hurting and in need. In noticing other people, those who live according to salvation by grace begin to care by developing a compassionate and merciful nature. The biggest change after being transformed by grace is to become more God-centered and others-centered. We learn how to love God and love others and thereby, we fulfill the law of God. We walk in good works.
Gone is the spiritually dead caterpillar and in its place is the beautiful and delightful butterfly. The proud becomes humble. The selfish becomes generous. The angry become peaceful.
God’s work produces people who may be trusted. We become people who are dependable, peaceful, and loving. Those who are in Christ turn the other cheek and walk the second mile. We are to be good listeners, who cry alongside those who cry and rejoice when others rejoice.
Spiritually dead people believe the universe is in place to serve their needs and desires. Those who live according to salvation by grace walk in the universe the way God desires.
We are not completely transformed. It is easy to look around and see Christians who still live in the flesh. In God’s wisdom, He does not change us immediately but changes us from one degree of glory to another.
As I look at my life, I see too much pride, too much selfishness, too much anger, too much of my old self. I fall far short of the ideals I write and talk about. I am not the person I want to be. However, I do have confidence that God, who began this work in me, will continue until He is done. I am His workmanship, not a product of my own making.
I have nothing to boast about, neither do you. In Christ, we walk in good works which God prepared beforehand. Let’s do as our Savior instructs, and that is to let our light so shine before men, that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father who is in heaven.
God creates us as new creatures, so we can participate in the joys of being joined together in Christ walking in good works. We get the joy and our Lord gets the glory.
What have we learned in the past three Sundays as we looked at Ephesians 2:1-10.
We learned we were spiritually dead people without Christ and we are unable to save ourselves.
We learned that God imposed His will and saved us by His grace, even though we were dead in our sins. God saved us because of the riches of His mercy and the greatness of His love.
God joined us together with Christ and the riches of Christ made us alive, raised us up from this world, and seated us at the right hand of God in the heavenly places in Christ. We went from the lowest place of shame and deadness to the highest place of honor and life.
God did this for the praise of His grace. We are not to boast in our salvation because it is all of God. It is His work and we are His workmanship.
Salvation is not a one-time act but an ongoing work of God. God is not done when we are saved, but He is just beginning. We are a product of God’s work and God desires for us to find joy and satisfaction in the good works He prepared for us to walk in.
This passage in Ephesians is written to awaken us to who we are in Christ. God wants us to know the hope of our calling, the glories of our inheritance as His saints, and that He is working His power toward us for His glory.
We are no longer caterpillars crawling on our bellies not being able to see above the tree-line. We are transformed as butterflies, flying above the things of the world, living as new creatures in Christ.
We are given vision to know God has prepared for us good works for us to walk in; as people who are alive, raised, and seated with Jesus Christ. These words are meant as an inspiration to consider who we are in Christ. God wants us to know that we are now free to live as children of honor and glory.