Ephesians 2:1, 5 “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins . . . . God made us alive with Christ”
There are basically only two religions in the whole world. One begins with the free will of man and the other begins with the sovereign love of God. The first one keeps telling you what you must do for God, while the second one declares what God has done for you. The religion of free will pictures salvation as a possibility for all men if they are willing to cooperate with God in believing. The religion of free grace presents salvation as a certainty for that vast number of God’s people because God gives it to them as a gift. In the first category preachers are always saying, “This is what you have to do for yourself.” In the second category preachers are always saying, “This is what God has done for us.” Which one is correct? Which one can live in the light of this passage of scripture?
The opening words of this chapter present to us one of the most sober evaluations of the human condition that we find anywhere in the word of God. It is not a popular passage in the Christian church today, but our fathers took it very seriously. Our fathers have been mocked for the sobriety with which they judged the human condition. One professor used to define a puritan as “a man who cannot sleep at night because he is afraid that somewhere in the world someone might be having fun.” Our fathers in the faith really got a bad press from that man. Yet what do we see when we examine the fabric of our nation today? When Sir James Anderton retired as a police commander in the north of England he spoke of his early ambitions as a policeman, “by example and protest to change the course of things, and powerfully influence the community to turn from crime and criminal behaviour.” This had not occurred, and his conclusion at the end of his career was this, “I see around me today a great sea of wrongdoing that seems not to lessen in any way at all.” The law of the land has failed to change society for the good, though without it things would be indescribably worse. There are about 5 million reported crimes a year with 7% cleared up by the police. This crime-wave occurs at a time when the United Kingdom has never been so wealthy, and when there is compulsory education until the age of 16. Yet a new viciousness and coarseness is everywhere in Britain. Wealth and education have not been the answer to man’s malaise.
The population of these islands, even in poor times, has not felt so depressed as it does today. For example, prescriptions for depressants have spiraled from 12 million in 1990 to 26 million prescriptions in 2003. Unhappiness is fashionable. Misery seems more sophisticated and interesting than happiness. To many in our generation misery is a sign of depth and talent, while happiness is considered shallow and stupid. People drone on endlessly about themselves, pausing only to let other people do the same. I want to say to you that there is a vast difference between feeling depressed and being convicted of our sin. Miserable people feel victims; but the person who is being convicted of his own sin has taken on board his own responsibility for what he has done with his life. There is hope for such a person. That is the first step to new life. The Bible calls it repentance.
This passage describes to us the state mankind is in, what we need to be convicted about, and why we have every reason to be broken hearted about our condition. Let our sorrow be commensurate with our state before God and let us deal with it in the way God prescribes. So far in this letter Paul has been talking about such things as the plan of God the Father, the sovereignty of Jesus Christ, and the blessings that flow to the church from him, but now he turns to the appalling predicament of men in sin, without God and without Christ. He outlines for us graphically what it means to be a natural man, what is God’s verdict upon this kind of life. Paul is doing this because he knows that only as we grasp the depth to which sin has brought us, only then can we understand the glory of what God has done for us in Christ and his salvation.
Only as we have faced up to our need realistically, when we confront God’s truth about ourselves, only then can God’s salvation have any relevance. Then redemption will appeal to us as men and women who have been made in the image of God, and ruined by sin. Though this subject is in many ways so bleak, there is a tremendous thoroughness and profundity in the way Paul deals with it. He is going to lead us to the brink and show us the abyss. He is going to tell us of the degradation into which sin has brought us.
1. THE PLIGHT OF MAN.
I want us to look at this first great point that Paul makes in the opening verse of the second chapter of his letter to the Ephesians. “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins” (v.1). It was not the frequenters of the temple of Diana with all its priestesses who were in this state, no, this had also been the state of the Christian congregation in the city of Ephesus; once “you [Christians] were dead in your transgressions and sins.” All men and women are moribund by virtue of their own behaviour. They are under the dominion of death; these two ‘super bugs’, identified as ‘transgressions and sins’ are the reason for that. Since Adam fell they have spread virulently and are killing all mankind. You search the nations of the world in vain for spiritual life, the love of God, the life for God; it is totally absent from all men. They are in a state of spiritual death. Their contempt for God, their hostility to Jesus Christ, their refusal to listen to the Word of God, their resistance to the Holy Spirit – all such transgressions and sins have killed the life of God in the soul of man.
The language is so devastating; no one in the world can exclude himself. What could be more final than the state of death? How radical is Paul’s assessment of the human condition. He is not saying that we are sick, or that we are weak, or have a life threatening disease. That is not the problem today; we are in deeper trouble. We are actually dead. The real truth about us in God’s sight is that we couldn’t be in a worse condition. Man is in as low, and helpless, and impotent a state as possible. A weak person could be made strong; a deceiver could be taught the truth; a person loving darkness might be educated to love light; a sick person can be nursed back to health. But a corpse . . . ? We have a saying, “Where there’s life there’s hope.” Is there a flicker of life? Is there a heart beat? Is he still breathing? Then put him on a life support system and place him in intensive care, and then he might recover. But what can anyone do to change a person once he is dead? The top medical men in the world, with the latest state of the art equipment and the most expensive drugs are all helpless. God alone can raise the dead.
Then you see the paradox? Paul goes on to tell us that these spiritually dead people ‘live’ in their sins, and they ‘follow’ the ways of this world. He says that they have ‘cravings’ that need gratifying; they have ‘desires’ and ‘thoughts’ and yet, all the time, they are dead. They are in this strange condition of living death, and this is what their transgressions and sins have done to them. Why does Paul choose the awesome word ‘dead’ to describe our spiritual condition? Let us seek to answer that question and turn this truth of man’s spiritual death in a number of directions:
i] Death affects every part of us.
There is no part of us left unaffected. The soul or spirit is dead. The heart is not a heart of flesh but a heart of stone. The mind is dead to the influences of God. Our consciences are dead to the voice of God warning us when we behave abominably. Our very bodies indicate the inroads death has made. Mortality is written across the whole human race. No one can escape from it. There is not one who has the elixir of perpetual youth. The wages of sin is death. Our very wills are dead. Our wills are not free; they are chained to transgressions and sins. There was once a ministers’ meeting in Toronto, and a scholar addressed them. He claimed that there was a spark that was present in every single person and that it was the duty of ministers to fan it into life. There was a fundamentalist preacher there who was bold enough in the question time to challenge this interpretation. He used Scripture very skillfully and comprehensively to present its own verdict on man. He expostulated with the speaker, didn’t he know that man was dead in trespasses and sins, that he was born in sin and from the womb he went astray telling lies, that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually, that in his flesh dwelt no good thing, that none seek after God. “The leopard cannot change its spots,” he said, “and this so-called spark of goodness doctrine is not only a myth; it is a lie; it gives man confidence in himself. It dethrones God and exalts man to be the Captain of his soul.” It was very well done and all of us would have said Amen to his words.
Then the modernist got up respond. “I commend you,” he said, “on your response and your knowledge of many Scriptures. I have only one question. Do you believe that man has the ability, in himself, to either accept or reject the gospel of Christ when it is presented to him?” Without a moment’s hesitation the fundamentalist replied, “Why, of course I do.” “Right,” said Mr. Liberal, “well, what is this ability in man that gives him this power?” The Arminian fundamentalist looked a bit puzzled as he replied, “Why, that is man’s free will.” The modernist smiled and said. “Exactly! You call it free will, while I call it the spark of goodness. You say we should do all we can to get man to exercise his will to make a decision, and I say we should fan the spark into a flame. Regardless of all you said in your statement, we both agree that the determining factor in becoming a Christian is man’s own power of choice, and we’ve both got to find the best methods of inducing him to use that ability in the right way.”
That liberal was being 100% consistent with his basic and wrong presupposition, and the fundamentalist was the one who was totally inconsistent. The failure to see the obvious truth that a phrase like ‘spark of goodness’ and another phrase like ‘free will’ is much the same thing drove a wedge deep into the evangelical church a two hundred years ago, and it allowed modernism its massive spread and grip on the pulpits of our nation. As long as men believe that they have a ‘spark of life’ that they can fan into a flame when they choose to do so then they will go on feeling that they are not actually dead in sin. Then salvation is not due to the grace of God alone, but it is grace cooperating with man who decides to fan the spark, when he chooses. But the Bible will not tolerate that interpretation. Every part of man is affected by his being dead in transgressions and sins.
ii] Death renders men powerless to the influence of the word of God.
There is the beauty of God’s moral law. Men stand under God’s great imperative to love God with all their beings. That command comes in all its simplicity, and profundity, and divine authority. Sometimes the commandment comes with all the persuasive eloquence of New Testament teaching, and endorsed by the perfect life of the God-man Christ Jesus, and yet you can preach it as simply and majestically as possible so that it seems the most glorious commandment a sinner ever heard – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind, and all your strength.” It is utterly magnificent, and yet it falls on the ears of the living dead. There is no way they are going to respond without first being given life.
You take that great concern to love your neighbour as yourself, and the same principle applies. It may come in all its breathtaking demands, and with its power to attest and commend itself to the conscience as the very best kind of life. Yet it is coming to dead people, to human beings totally devoid of the ability to respond and give effect to God’s directives in these great areas.
Or you take it this way; you come in the preaching to the theme of the glories of Christ; you draw men’s attentions to the fact that the eternal Word of God condescended to take frail flesh and die. You show a congregation that Jesus was holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and in his perfect life was obedient to God even to the death of the cross. You tell them of all the operations of his love as he was led to Golgotha, and constrained to lay down his life for the sins of the world. What intense anguish he suffered! What dereliction, when God forsook him, the sin-bearer, and subjected him to his holy anathema. Yet Jesus because he loved us so much refused to come down. He stayed there on the cross as our Substitute and Saviour until the last penny of our great debt was cleared. You tell them that now he lives; he has the whole world in his hands; he sits at the right hand of the majesty on high and pours out all his graces upon the church. You tell them of all the blessings that have come to them through Christ. You point this out to men and women as clearly and earnestly as you can, and yet the reality is this, that your hearers are dead in their sins. It is a most glorious and moving message and yet they are dead. It is the divinely revealed sublime word to the world, and yet men are corpses. To them there is no beauty in Jesus that they desire him. There is as much beauty to them in a piece of driftwood, bleached by the sea and sun lying on the beach of Aberystwyth as there is in the Son of God Jesus Christ. They are utterly dull and unresponsive to that kind of gospel proclamation. You describe Chaucer’s English and they understand that. You describe computer hardware and they understand that. You describe genetic research and they understand that. You describe nuclear fusion and they can understand that, but go and tell them of the glories of God in the face of Jesus Christ, preach it with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven; declare it with the eloquence of an Edwards or a Whitefield, and to them it is still like a piece of wood cast up by the Irish Sea on the South Beach.
Or again, you can stand before these men and women and warn them of the peril of a lost eternity, and the nearness of Christ in the offer of the gospel. Summon them to trust in Christ, and call them to repentance. Explain to them what salvation is and why it is so desirable to have the Saviour. Tell them that the danger is very great, and plead with them to come to Jesus. Beg them to come; urge them as though God did beseech them by you, expostulate with them; argue with them concerning the folly of staying away from him; use every power and resource at your command to persuade them to come to Christ, but they are yet men and women dead in trespasses and sins. They cannot see it. They cannot believe it. They cannot turn from their own set of beliefs because they are dead, and so utterly unresponsive to all you are saying. They are blind to the glory of what you have shown them. They won’t heed your warnings and entreaties. They are dead, and so they are powerless. Rejecting Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour is not a passive ‘non-action,” but a deliberate choice. It is deliberately choosing to say no to the Lord and yes to self. No one is neutral in respect to God and his authority. Unbelief is just as much a deliberate act of mind, heart, and will as faith is. Unbelief is active faith in yourself. That is the second implication, and then:
iii] Death leads to an ongoing process of corruption.
The effect of death is not immediate annihilation, rather, operations come upon and within the human physique and there is dissolution, putrefaction and decay setting in. I think we find in the Bible a testimony borne to the fact that the natural man’s condition worsens and becomes more grave as the years go by. You see it particularly in the book of Psalms, for example, in the very first psalm we are told of a man progressing from walking with sinners, to standing about with them, and finally sitting in their company as they scorn God. There is that progress in declension. You see it again in Psalm 19 where David says, “Who can discern his errors?” (v.12). To think that we need insight to discern the nature of our own sins! Then he mentions three categories, and each one is worse than the one before. “Forgive my hidden faults” (v.12). We start there, with conduct and words that I’m not even aware of as sins – sins that are hidden even from my eyes. Then he goes on, “Keep your servant from willful sins; may they not rule over me” (v.13). This is behaviour we know is unacceptable yet we go ahead and do it. Willful sins! But then he goes one step further and he speaks in the next verse of his deepest concern, “great transgression” (v.13). What is this ‘great sin’? It is apostasy. That is how Moses describes the people dancing before the golden calf – “the great sin.” That is how Jeroboam’s apostasy is described – the great sin. You see the progress? It starts with hidden faults, and then it progresses to willful sins, and then it ends in apostasy.
In how many lives is a growing declension evident? There was a time when King Herod would go along to listen to John the Baptist. He heard his preaching and good was done to the King, but later there came a time when Herod had him arrested, and the King had his head cut off. How far from God the King went. There are people we know who once wouldn’t be comfortable with the atmosphere and conversation of a pub who now go there without any discomfort. Once they were attracted by the Christian gospel, drawn to Jesus Christ, and they enjoyed being with the Lord’s people. Today they hear the gospel but they’re not being improved by it, or softened by it, or converted by it. They are apostatising. So death leads to an ongoing progression in corruption.
iv] Death comes to people in many different forms.
To some death comes very suddenly, their car loses control and they are killed in a moment, while for others it is very different, there is a long dying. So it was with those whom Jesus Christ met. Jairus’ daughter was a short time dead. When he entered her bedroom she had not been dead for an hour and there was little sign of deterioration in her appearance, while the widow of Nain’s son was in his shroud and his body on the way to the graveyard. While Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days when Jesus came to his tomb. Dead for different periods, and yet all three were in exactly the same condition. Was one more dead than another? No. Was one less dead than another? No. All equally dead, but not equally corrupted. In the world you know of some people like Jairus’ daughter and you would imagine them to be sleeping, while others are like Lazarus, and are stinking, but all are dead. So it is with men and women; some have lived very responsible lives in the eyes of the world, models of respectability, while others have lived like the man who murdered the two little girls in Soham utterly depraved in their conduct, needing to be protected from other criminals who hate what they did. There are many different forms which sinners take, but all men are equally dead, though they are not equally defiled.
Some people’s sense of conscience is stronger than others, but there not one person without a conscience. Suppose the day you were born God hung an invisible tape recorder around your neck. Every time you said either, “You should have done such and such a thing,” or “you shouldn’t have done such and such a thing” the invisible recorder went bleep bleep bleep and recorded what you said. In the day of judgment, imagine God getting out your own personal tape with your own words of moral judgments on it and saying to you, “I want to be fair in judging you. Therefore I’ll judge you on the exact standards that you professed to believe. I will use your own words. I won’t use the Ten Commandments, or the words of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. I’ll use what you yourself fervently acknowledged (by judging others) was right and wrong.” Could anything be more fair? Would we not all be found guilty before God. Wouldn’t our own words condemn us all, however righteously we had lived?
Or again think of how one form of sin will often exclude another form of sin. The miser will be delivered from the sin of wastefulness. The workaholic will be delivered from the sin of laziness. Mr. Pride of Position will often exclude immorality for fear of being caught. Shakespeare said it well: “I see it has pleased Devil drunkenness to give place to Devil wrath.” So that death in their transgressions and sins will come in many different forms, but it reigns across the whole of mankind. All men and women dead in transgressions and sins.
2. THE POWER OF GOD.
Death requires a miracle of deliverance. That alone can help you. You have a dead man on your hands, and so you don’t send for a teacher. You do not even send for a doctor, you send for an undertaker, the mortician, or an embalmer, because there is nothing anyone can do in terms of ordinary procedures. In terms of natural law the man is a lost case. He is a hopeless cause because he is dead. It is the same thing, Paul is saying, concerning the sinner; he is dead in his transgressions and sins, so dead that nothing but a miracle can save him. Teaching is not going to give him life; example is not going to make him come alive; the sacraments are not going to do it; no liturgy, no sweet or inspiring music is going to do it; the most inspiring orthodox sermon will not do it. Only the workings of divine power can do it, and that is the conclusion of Paul’s argument here. We were in a desperate state, but “God . . . made us alive with Christ” (v.5).
Let me use a ridiculous example. Suppose you met a man who had been dead for twenty years walking down the High Street towards you and he greets you, “Good morning, friend! It’s a beautiful day.” Would you conclude that that man had got tired of being dead and “decided” to ask a great doctor to perform a miracle and give him life? Never. You would rather gasp in amazement, “Man, what happened to you? Who brought you back to life?” You would see that he was alive because he was walking and breathing, but you’d know that these were evidences of a miracle having been performed on him from without. He had not returned from the grave by his own will power.
I wonder today where do you think the remedy lies for your condition? What kind of technique do you think I can apply, or this church- at the end of the day – to deliver you from your death in sin? Do we all realise that only the power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead can raise us? The power that in the beginning made the heavens and the earth must work in us if we are to be rescued from the state we are in. What I need in my life in order to become a true Christian, filled with the life of God, is not some superficial reformation, not some rearrangement of prejudices, not some cosmeticising of the way I conduct myself. I must have the Almighty Power of God to home in on me, and affect the very depths of my soul. You may be a perfectly respectable person, very religious in your own way, and a morally righteous man, but what does God say? He says that our condition is so bad that only a miracle can save us. Only the intrusion of his own grace, the invincible efficacy of his redemptive mercy – that alone – can give us life. We cannot reconcile ourselves to God. We are unable to see the glory of Christ. We cannot exercise faith in the Lord Jesus. We cannot even cooperate with God’s grace because we are dead. All that can help us and meet our need is the outpouring of God’s incalculable power. He must make us alive or we stay dead.
Some preachers are often tempted to use human inventions to convince, cajole, button hole, or sweet talk men into the Kingdom of God. It is so sad because those devices are all the manipulation and the engineering of men. Soft lights, engaging music, walking to the front, hands laid on our heads, and the prayers of people in our ears – all these things put together can’t give one soul life. They can create a religious mood; they might produce the tingle factor, but that is not the same as the life of God coming into our hearts. Augustus Strong once said that one of the proofs that the Bible was divine was that it had withstood so many years of bad preaching. More often than not, God saves men in spite of our efforts, not because of them, even with the best of preachers. You may have heard some evangelist vainly attempt to tell you, a dead man, how you can give yourself life. It is an utter and total futility to give three easy steps to anyone to do something that only the Triune God can effect. Your hope and faith cannot lie in anything that you alone can do. In other words, you are not able to save yourself. God must save and God alone. But don’t protest and cry out, “Who then can have life from heaven?” Jesus himself will tell you, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Let me catechise you. What does God give us in salvation? “Forgiveness of our sins,” someone says. Yes. “The imputed righteousness of Christ,” says another. Yes. “A new status as the sons of God,” another says. Yes. God gives us all of that and much more. We also need spiritual life, persuasion, conviction, desire and ability. It is the Holy Spirit who provides all this for us. We give Christ the glory for his work upon the cross, and we give the Spirit the glory for his work in our hearts. We need both. Our sinful souls need to be given the double cure, cleansed of sin’s guilt – that is the work of Christ, and freed from sin’s power – that is the work of the Spirit. We are not given the exact details of how this occurs to our dead souls:
“I know not how the Spirit moves
Convincing men of sin;
Revealing Jesus through the word,
Creating faith in him. (D. M. Whittle, 1840-1901).
But I know that it happens and that it has happened to many of you. Let me give you some instances of God working:
i] The example of Lydia encourages us.
In Acts 16:14 we find the only place in the New Testament which uses the phrase “opened heart.” There the Bible gives the whole credit for the opening of the heart to the power of the Lord, and not to Lydia’s will. Lydia was a seller of purple. She was an entrepreneur who came from the city of Thyatira but she was also a convert to Judaism. That is what Luke is referring to when he says that she “worshipped God.” Paul went to a gathering of women there and began to speak to them all, but as Lydia heard Paul we are told, “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message” (Acts 16:14). Here was one woman with some attention to the gospel. She had never heard anything like Paul’s message that day. She pricked up her ears, and concentrated with her mind, and she drank in all that Paul was saying. She did that. She believed in the Jesus whom Paul told them about. She wanted him as her Lord and Saviour. She desired him and must have him for herself. She willingly and freely chose him. That was her own response, and it was a most willing response. Her life was opened wide to Jesus Christ.
All along what was God doing? He had brought Paul to Europe, closing every other door, and directing him to Philippi to meet this very woman. God had taught Paul the message of the gospel and had given him courage to tell it like it is. But God did something more, he opened Lydia’s heart as she was listening to Paul’s message. He made it possible for her to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. She was dead in transgressions and sins. Her natural heart was averse to God. Her will was in bondage to sin and spiritual death. She had to have the power of God working in her to bring her out of the graveyard. That bestowal of life and energy was God’s alone! Luke makes this transparently clear in Acts 16:14: “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” The cause of her open heart was 100% divine not human. The effect of an open heart is faith in Christ. God’s grace not only supplies forgiveness of sins, but it also supplies the power that operates in our souls that makes us desire forgiveness through Jesus Christ. He works in us both to will, and also to do. Lydia said to herself, “I will listen to this man. I will do what he says. I will receive Christ as my Saviour” That was because God had opened her tightly closed heart.
ii] The example of Lazarus also encourages us.
In John 11 we are told of a man called Lazarus who had died. His sisters sent for Jesus, and the climax, recorded in verse 43, is when Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb of death. The next verse is amazing for what it doesn’t say as much as for what it does say. I believe that everything about Christ was totally unaffected by sin and so imagine hearing the most euphonic, voice in the universe saying to a pile of putrefying flesh, “Lazarus, come forth.” Did you ever notice that John shows no kind of amazement when reporting what happened next? All John says us, “The dead man came out,” as though it were no big deal. It is almost as if he said, “What do you expect to happen when he whose words are spirit and life speaks to a dead man?” You expect the man to come out of the tomb of death! Can you imagine the Sun newspaper reporting the resurrection of Lazarus? It would use every superlative in the book and make up some new ones. Its reporters would be out-of-breath and ranting that it was “unbelievable.” All John says is, “The dead man came out.”
I sometimes imagine three men standing by the tomb of Lazarus before Jesus arrived. One is sweating and shouting earnestly into the tomb. “Lazarus, Jesus loves you and wants to save you from that awful tomb. He has done all that’s necessary for you to be saved and he can do no more. It is now all up to you and your free will. If you’ll just give Jesus a chance and take that first step, he’ll be able to give you life and bring you out of death.” That is a bit of a caricature but it is exactly what many evangelists do preach today. The problem confronting this ignorant man is that Lazarus is dead, and he can’t hear or move. Lazarus needs a power that is the ability to get up and come out.
I see another man standing there looking with disdain and contempt at the first man as he shouts and begs for Lazarus to “accept this great deal that Jesus offers.” This second man is writing a book for an obscure press and the theme of the book is, “Since men are depraved and unable to believe, and since God is going to save his elect, it is useless for us to exhort or plead with sinners to trust Christ because that might suggest to them that they have the power to choose Christ.” We have some of those men in the world today.
The third man is a preacher of the gospel. He prays, “Oh, God of grace and power, bless your Word by attending it with the power of your Holy Spirit.” He then says, “Lazarus, I command you in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord to believe the gospel.” This man knows full well that Lazarus is dead and does not have the ability to hear and believe. However; the man is also fully convinced that the gospel words about Jesus are indeed “spirit and life” and those words, blessed by the Spirit, can actually give Lazarus the ability and power to hear and believe. That is what God is called us to do. He hasn’t called us to ridicule his gospel and power by exalting the sinner’s so-called “freewill” above the power of God. Nor has he called us to major in criticizing Arminians if we have little heart and effort to evangelize lost sinners. He has called us to preach to all, and freely offer Christ and his saving grace to sinners, and, at the same time, earnestly pray that some will “hear his voice” in the power of regeneration. Then they will be able to sing these words:
“Lord! I was dead, I could not stir
My lifeless soul to come to Thee;
But now since Thou hast quickened me
I rise from sin’s dark sepulchre.” (William T. Matson, 1833-1899)
iii] The power of Christ encourages us.
Listen to these words of the Lord Jesus in John 5:24-26: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself.” Notice where Jesus begins. He is describing a service exactly like our Sunday service in Wales, one of millions being held on this Lord’s Day all over the world. There are sinners dead in transgressions and sins everywhere and they are hearing the word and it is telling them that God has so loved the world he has given his only begotten Son and whosoever believes in him will not perish but will have everlasting life.
Then during the service, by the prayers and praise and preaching blessed by the Lord, some of those sinners also trust in Christ. They truly believe this gospel, and then Jesus tells us in John 5:24 three things are true of them all. Firstly, they have eternal life. Secondly, they are delivered from condemnation. Thirdly, they have passed from death to life. That is God’s salvation. Then the Lord Jesus goes on to say something else, that that was beginning to happen even at that time in Galilee, as he stood and preached and talked to the apostles: “I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live” (Jn. 5:25). It was happening everywhere. A dead sinner like Zacchaeus, an avaricious tax-collector, climbed a tree to see Christ. Cheats don’t climb trees to see Jesus unless a great spiritual change has taken place in their lives. A five times married Samaritan woman talked with Jesus and left everything to bring her friends to meet him: “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (Jn. 4:29). A lot of them did come to hear him and we are told, “Because of his words many more became believers” (Jn. 4:41). They turned to the woman and they said to her, “‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world” (Jn. 4:42). Jesus raised Lazarus, and this was a sign of the power that is his to give life to those who are dead in transgressions and sins.
Then Jesus gives the reason for this transformation from death to life: “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself” (Jn.5:26). Does the Father has some life-support system that keeps him alive century after century? Is there something bigger than God that keeps God going? No. He has life in himself. He is the self-sufficient eternal God of life. So too the Son of God has life in himself, and he can sovereignly give that life to whom he will, life to the woman of Samaria, life to Zacchaeus, life to Lazarus, life to Jairus’ daughter, life to 3,000 in the day of Pentecost, and life to people in meetings like this all over the world now, who hear the good news of God’s gift of a Saviour and in their response of hearing and believing show they have been given life. The Lord Jesus even says that this is an earnest – a sure indication of the great future day of resurrection: “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out” (v.28).
The God of grace is also the God of power. All the people described to us in the book of Acts were willing to be saved. They willingly opened their hearts. They willingly left the state of spiritual death they realised they were in. They willingly sought the mercy of God. Who and what made them willing? How can a dead sinner with a mind opposed to God be so changed that he wants to be saved unto holiness? God sends forth his life-giving Holy Spirit and makes us willing.
I want you all to come to that point today. “Lord make me willing in a day of your power! Lord do your own work. We entreat you and beseech you to do it. Lord help us to do our work, to listen diligently to the word of God and search the Scriptures to see whether these things are so. Then if they are so, bend us, and break our hard hearts and replace them with hearts of flesh. Give us life or we will die.
I beg your prayers, men and women, that the word of God may be divinely victorious. I stand back that God may work, and then come forward that God may work through me. To him be praise for ever and ever. Amen
29th February 2004 GEOFF THOMAS