God's Workmanship | Saved by Grace
December 29, 2013 Series: Stand Alone Sermons
Topic: New Testament Passage: Ephesians 2:1–2:10
Good morning everyone! I trust you all had a great and joyful Christmas with your families.
Anyway, for those of you who do not know me, my name is Kevin Swartz and this is the first opportunity I have had to preach here at Damascus Road.
As I’m sure you have all heard when I get up here and do announcements that I always introduce myself as an “elder candidate,” and I wanted to give a brief explanation about what that means. At Damascus Road we believe that the Bible teaches that an Elder is pastor and pastor is elder. Those two terms are synonymous but scripture. This may be different from the church background from where you come from, but we believe that much of the contemporary, church-board concept of eldership is irreconcilably at odds with the NT definition of eldership.
They are the same thing.
The term “candidate” may be confusing, but the term means that I’m pretty much in training to possibly become a pastor with no guarantee that I will become an elder. This 1-2 years process is our effort to follow Paul’s instructions he wrote in 1 Timothy 5:22 where he says: “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands.” The NLT version of this same verse says a little more plainly: “Never be in a hurry about appointing a church leader”. As most of the qualifications for elders are character based (1 Tim 3), we believe it is important to take as much time as needed in appointing new elders in this church which is a good thing for us and for you as well.
So I have been coming to this church for the last 5 ½ years so I know many of you here already, but there are many that I do not know either. In that time, I have served in nearly every capacity possible at the church. I’ve cleaned toilets and vacuumed the church, taught in kid’s road, led a Road Group, taught classes and now I’m preaching.
And this is why today’s sermon is largely going to be introductory, giving you all a good background on myself and explaining to you who I am. Every elder, whether a candidate or not has gotten up here to give you an introduction about themselves, now it’s my turn. Although that will not be the only thing I talk about today.
In John 3:30, when John the Baptist’s disciples were complaining that everyone was starting to follow Jesus, he responded by saying: “He must increase, and I must decrease.” I am here to make much of Jesus. I hope you can all see that after today. That I am bringing myself down for the purpose of elevating Jesus. Putting him out there for all to see. Because it’s not about me. It’s about him and his story working through me.
This is not going to be a frivolous or “on the surface” type of story. But one that will delve deep into me and my past. There will be some hard and very difficult things said today so I want to pray beforehand that God’s word will be spoken here and the Holy Spirit will be present. Let’s pray.
So, if you would please, open your Bibles to Ephesians chapter 2. This is where we are going to be spending our time today. I chose this passage because it shows that salvation works for everyone. It goes to show the power of the cross and the work Jesus did for us while up on the cross. It’s something that I can relate to very well and I’m sure most of you can, in some sense, as well.
So let’s read chapter 2 verses 1-10.
This is God’s word.
Ephesians is, as some commentators have called it, the pinnacle of Christian thought. One of the most theologically rich NT books. Paul wrote this as one of his four “prison letters” along with Colossians, Philemon and Philippians.
Ephesians was written primarily to display God’s eternal plan for all humanity—both for Jews and Gentiles. The oldest manuscripts we have of Ephesians do not actually have “to Ephesus” in the beginning. This means to suggest, as some scholars have put it, that the message contained in the book of Ephesians was meant to be a circular letter and not intended for a specific destination or individual like most of Paul’s letters are.
It was not written in response to a certain person or individual but rather designed to be read in all churches in the area. This was such an important letter that many think Paul wrote it for the whole Christian community. Indeed, some of Paul’s ideas expressed in the book of Ephesians are quite revolutionary and some people are just hearing this for the first time.
Let’s go back and look at verses 1-3 for a moment. This passage doesn’t start off on a high note. In fact, it starts our pretty dark and bleak.
V. 1-3 I WAS MADE DEAD
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
This is how I once walked. This is how I lived my life. I chose to follow my sin and follow everything the world had to offer.
The ironic part about my story is that I actually grew up in a Christian home. I grew up in the church and most of my childhood revolves around Sunday school and Royal Rangers (the Christian version of Boy Scouts). I grew up listening to nothing but Christian music. God was the center piece in my life. It was all set up for me to walk with Christ down this long journey of life.
So when I turned 18 and graduated from High School, no longer under the supervision of my parents, I had two paths placed in front of me. 1. Walk with God, go to Bible College (I had a great opportunity at that time) get into the ministry or even missions or even study Biblical history which was and is my love in life. Or 2. Follow my sinful flesh and the ways of this world. I think you can already tell from my introduction as to which path I chose.
These were my 2 choices. I realize not everyone has the option of going to Bible College or getting into the ministry at all. But we all have the option of choosing to follow our sin.
Instead of going to free Bible College or even just free college in general, I chose to go into the working world, working on airplanes with my dad at a place called TRAMCO in Everett.
So now here I am, I’m 18, not really going to church much anymore except for the very occasional Sunday morning (mostly because of my work schedule) working in an adult environment (and being very impressionable) and now having the opportunity to move out with a couple guys as roommates. This is where it started to go downhill. My roommates were partiers, drinkers and over 21. Recipe for disaster. I did not jump right in feet first. Just a drink here, a drink there. Only drinking on weekends….only drinking 4 nights a week…you get the point.
It was at this time that all the opportunities of the world came upon me at once. Adult beverages, adult movies, meeting “new” women…everything that could appeal to an 18 year old male, I got. Since growing up in the church, much of this stuff was new and exciting to me. Never had a shot of whiskey before, never experienced that “drunken” feeling (which I loved), never saw sex on the TV screen. Now I had access to it all every single night. It became the “norm” for me.
Paul writes: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked,”
Here I was, walking in my sins, living a life apart from God and enjoying my sins more than I was enjoying God. I was, as Paul puts it, dead in my sins. That means I was dead physically, dead emotionally, and dead spiritually. Being dead in my sins means there was no joy beyond the moment I was in. There was no hope after death. This whole time of walking away from God was a path of temporary pleasure that would lead to eternal destruction and eventually death.
I did not restrain myself from anything! Verse 3 states: 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Paul uses the term “we all” here. This is speaking to both Jew and Gentile. While Ephesians is written largely to a Gentile audience, Paul is reminding them that the Jews were no better. Everyone once walked without Jesus. I walked without Jesus by living a life away from God.
I was actively “carrying out the desires of the body and mind,” here. That’s what my focus was on. My sin. I was very quickly becoming a professional sinner, a Romans 1 expert, finding every old sin and perfecting new ways to sin.
This routine that I was in of drinking, partying, indulging in sexual sins, lasted about 6 years or so. It during this time, at that same bar I always went to, that my life would be drastically changed, even though I did not know it yet. I met my future bride, Chanel. I think she actually asked me for a cigarette. That’s how we met. Romantic, huh?
She was not a believer at this time, in fact, she was more opposed to the gospel than for it. But that didn’t bother me at all. She was beautiful, like to drink and party, perfect match!
We started dating shortly after we met. After dating for a while we moved in together. We had some pretty rough times here. Fought a lot. Argued. But eventually I ended up proposing to her and she accepted. We had no idea what we were doing. Thankfully someone else did.
Skip ahead 2 years. We are now married, fighting constantly, having a real rough marriage, having constant problems.
I remember very clearly going to Forest Park in Everett to talk about our issues. I was ready for a divorce and almost wished it. I had plans in my mind made up. I would finish paying for her college and help her find a place to stay. Those were the plans I had in my head. But then she said: “We should give it one more try.” Really? I wanted none of it, yet there was a voice deep inside saying “Yes, give it another chance.” I couldn’t, at that time, understand that voice deep inside. So I agreed.
We moved in with a friend of hers, living out of a bedroom with two pieces of furniture to our name and a futon in storage. Chanel was in college and had to drop out and go work at Lowe’s because I had no job. This was right after 9/11 and I got laid off from Boeing, which I started working at a few years earlier.
We were broke, no real place to live, our marriage was hanging by a thread and no real cause for any joy. Then she dropped more “good” news on me…she was pregnant. Here was my rock bottom.
Now I’m scrambling. I eventually found a job at a ship yard in Seattle. We had plans to move out to a place of our own now that I was working and she was pregnant. Then I found out I was going to be laid off from this job, after 3 short weeks. This is where I broke. I remember very vividly, sitting at the top of a ladder painting a huge exhaust fan on a Coast Guard boat. I had safety sunglasses on so no one could see me. I just wept. Right there, on that boat, broken.
I was in a place, as Paul put it in verse 3, “a child of wrath.” Which literally means that I was worthy of receiving divine judgment. This is not a result of making bad choices mind you…it is a result of living a life apart from Christ.
This may be a place where some of you are at right now…where I was at that time. You are blind, dead in your sin, (believing you are alive), walking away from God, (believing you are God), following the ways of this world, (believing they are the source of life), following Satan. The truth is, whether you want to admit it or not, you are feeling unfulfilled by the passions of your flesh, by the desires of your body and your mind. The passions of this world may seem appealing to you…at first.
PRODIGAL SON? BOTH KIDS?
Let me explain it this way. There are a lot parents here. A lot of you know or at least can imagine what this is like. It’s like a parent taking their 3 year old to the grocery store. You are holding their hand because you care about their safety. While inside, they see the candy isle and start pulling you in that direction. But the whole time you are saying “no” and pulling them to the produce isle because you know, in the long run, fruits and veggies will leave them very satisfied for a lot longer even acknowledging that the candy seems more appealing, at the surface. But you try to reason with them to no avail. Even though you know what’s best for them, all they see is the instant gratification. They are not thinking about the long term. This is us, pulling away from God to go for the instant gratification. To go towards our sins. We even know his way is better, yet we insist on going our way. Because our sin seems so attractive, so fun.
I was walking in my sins, ignoring God, going my own way, much like the prodigal son.
In the famous story of the Prodigal Son there are 2 brothers. I was the younger one. Who partied away my lifesavings and thought I could do this on my own. I even knew what was right and didn’t care. It wasn’t until I hit rock bottom that I realized what I needed to do. I needed to come running back begging for mercy! Some of you understand where I was at because you were there as well.
There is also that older brother though: the self-righteous one…the one that couldn’t believe why his father would welcome that younger brother home. There are some here that my hear my story and think to themselves, “Thank God that wasn’t me!” The self-righteous ones are every bit as dead in their sins as I was. Just a little different. In fact, it may actually be tougher to convince them and show them they are dead because they don’t believe they are. There is more than 1 way to die in sin. I at least knew I was dead.
Luke 18:9-14 gives the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Much like the story of the prodigal son there are 2 trains of thought going on here, 1…the self-indulgent, who recognized his sin and repented…and 2, the self-righteous who thought he had no need to repent.
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed[a] thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
This is when I finally humbled myself and cried out to God, literally. Begging for help. It took all this for me to finally pray. It took all this to realize I could not do it on my own. I needed help. It’s amazing, looking back on it, how God orchestrated all this. Made me dead, hardened my heart, allowed me to go through all this….whatever phrase you pick, I went through it. All the while thinking I was alone, when in fact, I had someone with me the whole time. I was just blinded by my own sin.
We all have our story. We have all been through something like this. Each one of ours is a little different, but unique to us. This was mine and this was my rock bottom.
THEN…something amazing happened. God, in his infinite love he has for us, reached down and grabbed me by the collar, pulling me up out of my own personal darkness and set me in front of the light. This is NOT by my own doing. I had nothing to do with this. God’s grace and mercy poured out on this depressed, lost soul and breathed life into me even though I did not deserve it.
This is exactly what Paul is describing next in verses 4-7…
4 But[c] God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
This whole time that I was walking without Christ, God had his hand on me. “Even when we were dead in our trespasses.”
God didn’t kill me or destroy me. He didn’t leave me. He didn’t let me die. Even though he would have been well within his right to end my life because of my constant sin and rebellion. That’s what I deserved.
This is where the cross comes into play. For my life to end right here without grace or mercy would be to ignore what Jesus did on the cross. He died for a reason. He took our place. He took my place. He died so that we would not have to! He died so that we may have life. That should have been me up there on that cross but instead it was Jesus paying my penalty, which I deserve!
I’m not sure our sinful minds and hearts can actually grasp the idea of grace and mercy. I know for a fact I don’t. I’m still not sure I can fully appreciate everything Christ did for me on that Cross.
So in my story this is where I started walking a little differently. Not because of my own doing. I started turning away from my sinful self. Not completely. Not all at once. I did not all of the sudden stop sinning. Looking back on it, it was actually a slow process. From my breaking point to the place where I am right now is about 10 years.
In that time, I still had my idols, still do. I haven’t conquered them all yet. In fact, I won’t conquer ALL my idols. We will never be at that place where we are “sin free.” The Christian life where you are actively walking with the Lord is like a big game of “whack-a-mole.” The moles are our idols. Each time we think we conquer one…another pops up. Sometimes 2 or 3 at the same time. Then when we conquer the “new idols” our old ones pop back up that we thought we conquered. This is a battle.
But why? Why would God allow me to go through that life earlier? Why would he allow his child to walk in a way that he knows is not good for me? To display the mercy and grace of God that much greater. To glorify and magnify his name.
Glorify literally means to lift up, to proclaim, to praise!
Magnify means “to increase in size, volume or significance.” I think it’s pretty clear what we need to do.
Verse 7 gives the answer to the question “Why did God save us? “, 7 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.
To bring glory and honor to the name of Jesus is our life’s pursuit. To teach and show others of his grace, to bring Jesus to all who have not heard him. To show that Jesus is the only way to salvation
It took me a while to learn this. But things started to become a little different. My unbelieving bride decided it was time to give her life over to Christ. To become his servant. I eventually started going to church on a weekly basis. I don’t want to paint some rosy picture here. My life did not become great. It still had its moments, my marriage didn’t repair itself overnight. My sins left a scar. I still thought only about myself. It was all about me still.
This whole “regenerative” process, for lack of a better term, is actually still working itself out in me. I’m not done. The end of my story is not yet written.
We will close it out with verse 8-10
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Looking back at my story…Why did Jesus save me and my marriage? Why did he forgive my sins and give me a second chance at life? God didn’t save me and then take me home. He didn’t say “all is well now” and then sit down and enjoy my happy life. No. In fact, it is just beginning! Why would he do all this?
That others might be saved and God be praised! God be thanked!
God made me alive so I could live for him. So that I could glorify his name. This is just now starting to take shape. I started, a few years ago, teaching classes. Getting more and more involved in my church. Eventually leading me to the place where God had the elders approach me and ask me into eldership candidacy. This is where I am right now. This is where I am walking at this point in time.
If God can change this sinner, this man who was into all the pleasures this world has to offer (porn, alcohol, drunkenness, promiscuity,), if he can save a wretched sinner like me, and use me for his own purpose: to glorify Jesus Christ, he can do it for you also.
God worked in me so I would work for him!
We are all created, formed, forgiven and restored in Jesus FOR doing the good things God planned for you long ago.
Verse 10 starts out “For we are his workmanship…”
We are carefully crafted, by God, for God, to carry out his will…even if it’s not our will or even if we don’t understand it!
Paul also writes in Romans 8:28: “28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, [a] for those who are called according to his purpose.” ALL things work together for good…I love that verse.
Through all the pain, through all the sin and rebellion, God was using all that to write my story. This is how it looked for me. It will probably look different for you. We all have our stories and each one is different than the other. But they are that way for a reason. God knows what will bring us back to repentance.
Psalm 51 is a very well-known Psalm, one that David wrote after he got caught in his sin and was finally led to a place of repentance. In verses 13-17, David writes the whole point of repentance….
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
This could easily be me speaking this Psalm. In truth, this is what I am doing today.
This may be my only sermon ever. I may never get up here again as long as I live. If that is indeed the case, then I would feel like today is lost without giving you the gospel. Today would be a failure if you didn’t leave here without the understanding that Jesus took our penalty, took what we deserve, and placed it all on himself. He died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, to take away the wrath that we so deserve!
And it’s because of Jesus that our story doesn’t end with us being dead in our sins…if we repent and believe. Repent literally means “to change your mind.” Change your walk! Follow Christ and believe in his name and you will be saved.