What is grace? Christians talk about it, sing about it – we even name our church after it. But what does it mean? Grace is unmerited favour. Grace is undeserved kindness. When you receive something you don’t deserve – whether from God or someone else, it’s called grace. God demonstrates his grace to the world in a 1000 different ways. Every time the sun shines or the rain falls causing the grass to grow, that’s grace. When you take a bite of that new season apple and taste its sweetness, you’re experiencing God’s grace. When you’re in the company of friends and their laughter and friendship warms your heart, that’s God’s grace at work.
But there’s a special way in which God displays his grace that is nothing less than extraordinary. It’s way off the charts. It causes the angels to gasp. It’s found in Ephesians chapter 2. Paul starts out with this:
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins…” (Ephesians 2:1)
Paul is talking about our spiritual condition before we knew Jesus. It wasn’t like we were sick and needed some medicine. He’s not saying we took a wrong turn and you needed some guidance to get on the right path. We were dead – completely unresponsive. Dead people can’t see. They can’t hear. And they can’t move.
It’s a habit of mine, when I’ve finished my morning run, to walk through Richmond cemetery. It has of lifting my spirits. Because it doesn’t matter how bad my week has been, I can see it’s worse for others. And every day I walk past the same people. They haven’t moved. They are still lying in the same place they were the day before. Nobody has jumped ship. And I think, “Maybe if I shout real loud, they might hear. Six feet under isn’t that far away.” But they’re not going to hear. They’re not going to respond because they are incapable of responding.
That’s the point Paul is making. Without God’s intervention, we were utterly dead – spiritually unresponsive. We might have gone to church. We might have done a lot of good things. We might have been kind and helpful. We might have been a hardworking, law-abiding citizen who did not cheat on his taxes and regularly gave to charity. But when it all comes down to it – in our heart of hearts, we did not want God in our life. We certainly didn’t want him ruling our affairs.
Then, comes verse 4.
Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones says the two opening words of verse 4, in a sense, contain the whole gospel. It’s like a light getting switched on in a darkened room. We are dead and He then God turns up. God breaks in. Grace intervenes and explodes into our darkness and brings us life.
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!” (Ephesians 2:4–5)
We have been saved by grace! There was nothing good in us that deemed us worthy of saving. It’s not like God said, “See, that guy down there. He’d be great PR for me. He’s got a lot of influence. I’ll save him.” No, the bible says he’s chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.
Take my own case – a farm-boy, a Fitter-Turner from Dannevirke (I mean, can anything good come out of Dannevirke?), raised in a dysfunctional family with a controlling mother and emotionally detached father. By age 16 I was almost an alcoholic and by age 18 I was considering suicide. I can just imagine the conversation in heaven: God looks down says, “How about him?” The angels shake their heads in disbelief – “You’ve got to be kidding…” Then God reaches down into my deadness, grace intrudes into my darkness and my dead, unresponsive heart comes alive. I hear Jesus calling, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” I hear the gospel warning, “While you have the light, believe in the light so that you may become sons of light.” I am faced at that moment with a choice – to believe or not to believe. I am surrounded by darkness and before me is a light I cannot see. I make my choice. I believe. The chains of sin are broken. My heart is free. I am alive to God for the first time in my life. I sense his presence. I hear his voice. And I know – no matter what happens from here on – no matter how much I mess up or how often I fail or disappoint him, I am his child of God, forever.
Why did God do all this? Why did he save me? Why did he save any of us? Paul tells us why:
“so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:7)
God reaches down into our darkness, He raises us from the dead and lavishes us with his love so that His glory might be displayed; so in 10,000 years from now angels and saints who are in heaven, might see you and declare:
“Look what God has done. See what his love has done. See what his mercy has done. See what his grace has accomplished in raising this dead person to life. hallelujah. Jesus – words cannot describe how awesome, how breathtaking, and how beautiful you are.”
Now that doesn’t mean life suddenly becomes perfect. We live in a broken world. Bad things happen. Some of us are sick. Some of us have cancer. Sometimes God heals the cancer; sometimes he doesn’t. Ultimately it won’t matter because we all get a refit one day, right? We also struggle with sin. We do things we know we shouldn’t. That’s the old sin nature at work. The tree is cut down but the roots go down deep – roots of guilt and shame and selfishness and greed and pride. And every now and then they show up. I have that problem. God has done a work in me, he’s made me new, but sometimes the old Peter shows up unexpectedly and gives the people in my household a terrible fright. But God gives grace even for that. His Spirit lives in me and teaches me how to deal with that.
But the point I want you to see here is that salvation – in all it’s past, present and future aspects, is all of grace. Look at verses 8 and 9 –
“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9)
Salvation is a gift of God’s glorious grace. You can’t earn it. You can’t buy it. You can’t make yourself worthy to receive it. You must just believe it. And then finally in verse 10 –
“For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)
So far we’ve learned we can’t do anything to save ourselves – right? It’s all of God. You can do nothing. God must do everything. But now that God has intervened, now that you’re a new creature in Christ you’re moving along a different highway. God has saved you for a purpose. It’s not to sit back and enjoy the ride. You have work to do. But they are not your works, just like it’s not your salvation. They are works that God has prepared beforehand that you should walk in them.
God has shown you mercy; you in turn are to show it to others. God has lavished his grace on you, now you are to be an instrument of grace to the world.