God's Wrath and Rescue

Audio Player


In Ephesians chapter 1 Paul wrote of the great purposes and plan of God, culminating in the universal headship of Christ (1:10), all of which is to be for 'the praise of his glory' (1:14). He now proceeds to explain the steps by which God will accomplish his purposes, beginning with the salvation of individuals in chapter 2:1-10.

Now some people think their salvation or rescue depends on them – on how good or religious they've been. But the Bible says that there won't be any good people in heaven – only forgiven people. Now for some of you that may raise questions, questions which this passage tackles, questions such as 'So do we contribute anything to our salvation?' 'Why do we need to be saved at all?' 'What are we saved or rescued from?' Alan Shearer has now 7 games to save Newcastle Utd from relegation. But what are we saved from? And 'What are we saved or rescued for?'
Well first Paul describes the natural human condition as he reminds the believers in Ephesus and so believers today that they and we were once in a state of spiritual death. So my first heading is


Look at v1-2:

1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air [that is, Satan], the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.

Notice that Paul uses the term dead – 'you were dead in your transgressions and sins' and therefore separated from God. And this term dead is important. It means that the former spiritual state of believers then and now was moribund, lifeless and inert.

Perhaps you've heard something like the following analogy. Fallen man is so overcome by the power of sin that he is like a person on his death bed, who has no physical power left to save himself. If he's going to be healed he can't possibly do it through his own strength. The only way he can be made well would be if the physician gave him the medicine that is necessary to restore him. But the man is so desperately ill that he doesn't even have the power to reach out and take the medicine for himself. So the nurse approaches his bed, opens the bottle of medicine, pours it into a spoon, and then moves it over to the dying man's lips. But he must, by his own power, his own will and his own initiative, open his mouth to receive the medicine.

Now this analogy is often used to support a common understanding of salvation. The idea isn't that man is still good enough to work his way into the kingdom of God through his own merits, he can't possibly get there without grace. The grace of God is as necessary, says this understanding, for salvation, as medicine is to heal this dying man. But according to this view of salvation a type of co-operation must take place between the patient and the physician for the healing medicine to have its effect. What happens is that God provides the medicine and he brings it to the dying man, but the dying man must co-operate by opening his mouth to receive it.

But the man is not critically ill, he is dead. Dead in his transgressions and sins. The man doesn't even have the power to open his mouth to receive the healing medicine. Rather, the medicine has to be injected into him by the physician.

Here's another analogy. A man is cast into the sea who doesn't know how to swim. He's clearly about to drown. He's already gone under the water twice, and is sinking for the third time. His head is beneath the surface of the water. All that is left above the water is his outstretched hand, and the only way he can possibly be saved is if God would throw him a life belt. God is so accurate in throwing this life belt, that he throws it right up against the palm of the man's hand. But for that man to be saved, he must close his hand upon the life belt in order to be pulled to safety.

Again some would say that man must co-operate with this grace that God presents to him in order to be saved. But surely from what Paul writes here in Ephesians the man is not going down under the water for the third time, but is already drowned, spiritually. He is dead. The only way he can be saved is if God dives into the water and pulls the corpse up out of the water and brings him back to life. With those analogies in mind let's look again at what Paul says in v1&2:

1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live…

Paul's not contradicting himself. He's describing man's spiritual state not his biological state. Now sure when we come into this world we are biologically alive. We have minds that function, hearts that beat, wills that choose. The problem is that even though we have the power to choose, we are dead to the things of God and as a result have no desire for the things of God. Instead we go our own way wilfully and freely. But with respect to God we are dead. As Paul continues in v2 this is the way Ephesians 2.2:

…in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.

It was an early Christian writer, Augustine, who said that man is like a horse and he has one of two riders. Either the horse is ridden by Satan or by God. But the horse doesn't run under its own steam. Sadly nothing is more natural to fallen man than to adopt, embrace and walk according to the ways of the world in direct contrast to the way of God. As I've already said this condition wasn't peculiar to the Ephesians. No this is the universal condition of fallen humanity, both Jews and Gentiles. And Paul now makes this very plain in v3:

3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

People continually indulge their sinful desires. We know this from our own experience and we see it reflected in the news everyday, from Lewis Hamilton to MP's expenses. These are the desires of a man's heart in his natural state. This is sometimes called the total depravity of man. What does that mean? Well it doesn't mean that man is as wicked as he could possibly be. Bad as we are we can still conceive of ourselves doing worse things than we do. Rather, it means that sin has such a hold upon us in our natural state, that we never we have a positive desire for Christ. In John 6:44 Jesus teaches that:

No-one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.

We are helpless apart from the grace of God. The word 'can' in that verse describes ability. It is God who enables someone to come to Christ. Our salvation is a gift of God. On this day April 5th thirty one years ago God brought me to faith in Jesus Christ. I was dead. I was not interested in God. When my mum said to me at the age of 14 wouldn't it be nice if you became a vicar Jonathan, I just laughed, both at the idea and at God. But God drew me to Christ. Yes he used others in the process but it was the Holy Spirit brought me to new birth in Christ, to repentance and faith. I'd been dead in sin, so Paul says v3:

Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

Human beings are not born morally neutral. We are born fallen, sinful and at enmity with God. We are born opposed to God and that is why, in our very nature, we are exposed to the wrath of God, and justly so. What is God's wrath? God's wrath is his active anger against the rebellion of mankind. God is angry because of our wickedness, and this consists of our wilful refusal to acknowledge the truth about him. Romans 1:18:

For the wrath of God [ie, the judgment of God] is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.

Note the present tense. Today, in the world, God is acting in judgment in response to the way that human beings wilfully ignore him. And there'll be a future day of judgment. Romans 2:5:

5But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.

Now this may come as a bit of a shock to some of you - all this talk of an angry God, after all doesn't the Bible tell us that God is love, so how can he be angry with that which he has made? Well God's love and God's anger are not to be thought of as expressions of his nature in exactly the same way. What I mean is this: God from all eternity has been love, God is love. But for God to express his anger, something or someone outside of God has to do something to provoke it – and that thing is sin. I.e. no sin, no anger. Also God's anger is not like ours. We tend to get angry because we feel hard done by. And often our anger is wholly disproportionate. But whereas our anger tends to be fitful and selfish, God's anger is measured and often greatly restrained and is concerned with justice. But also God's anger and his love are not opposites. He is angry because he loves. The opposite of anger is not love, its indifference. So you have a father and mother with a son and daughter. The children get into stealing, lying, lazy habits, destructive habits. Which is the parent who really loves them? Is it the one who with a shrug of the shoulders says, Oh it doesn't really matter, it's their life, who am I to interfere? And so they go from bad to worse. Or is it the parent who is angry with what they are doing to themselves and other people and will do all that they can to help the children to a better way of life and that will sometimes involve sanctions, punishment, when reason seems to fail. Who would you rather have as your parent? So it is with God. Call it righteous anger if you like- a divine disgust at what evil does to his children and what evil his children do to each other. Tell me could you honestly believe in a God who smiles just as benignly on Adolf Hitler and Mother Teresa with equal affection? As someone once said: The real question is not 'How dare a loving God be angry?' but rather 'How can a loving God feel anything less?' So from what do people need to be saved? From our sin which deserves death, from God's wrath from judgment and eternal punishment in hell. And the good news is that God does save, he does make people alive with Christ, which is my 2nd point


Ephesians 2.4:

4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

The grace that brings us life comes to us at the very time we were dead in transgressions and sins. God made us alive with Christ. We were dead. We couldn't do anything to help ourselves. So what can we contribute to our salvation? The answer is nothing.

If you're a Christian ask yourself: Why are you a Christian? Is it because you're better than others? Is it because you were more intelligent? If so then you have something of which to boast. But this passage says you have nothing of which to boast. You were a debtor who couldn't pay your debt and while you were dead in your sin, it was God who made you alive with Christ. It is by grace you are saved.

What is grace? Grace is simply 'unmerited favour' or 'undeserved benefit'. It is God's Riches At Christ's Expense. Christians should never look at non Christians with a spirit of contempt. We have nothing of which to boast. We are rescued not because of merit or good works, but by grace and by grace alone. By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Paul continues in Ephesians 2.6-7:

6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

God doesn't just make us alive with Christ. He also raises us up with Christ and seats us with him in the heavenly realms. You say now ? – but how? Well because we're united to Christ, we've been exalted with him and we're sharing his throne in the heavenlies. Our physical position may be on earth, but our spiritual position is in heavenly places in Christ. Why? Well (v7) God's purpose in our redemption is not simply to rescue us from hell, as great a work as that is. His ultimate purpose in our salvation is that for all eternity the church might glorify God's grace. So if God has an eternal purpose for us to fulfil, he will keep us for all eternity. Since we've not been saved by our good works, we can't be lost by our bad works. Look at v8. Salvation is a gift not a reward Ephesians 2.8:

8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God 9not by works, so that no one can boast.

Salvation can't be of works because the work of salvation has already been completed on the cross. This is the work God does for us and it is a finished work. We can add nothing to it. When Jesus died in our place on the cross, taking the punishment we deserved for our sin, the curtain in the temple was torn in two, from the top to the bottom, signifying that the way to God is now open. One sacrifice, the Lamb of God, has finished the great work of salvation. God did it all and he did it by his grace. There's a line in the hymn we're going to sing later – Rock of Ages – which goes like this:

Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.

The only merit that can get me into heaven is the merit of Jesus Christ. Paul says emphatically in Romans 3:20 and Galatians 2:16:

No-one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law. A man is not justified [declared not guilty] by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.

But some misunderstand justification by faith alone. They say if justification is by faith alone then all we have to do is believe and we're not required to perform good works. Well in v10 Paul quashes that heresy, called antinomianism, which brings me to my final heading.


Another saying that came out of the Reformation is this: 'justification is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone'. In other words true faith will inevitably manifest itself in the performance of works of obedience. 'Faith without works is dead', as James puts it.

You see the Bible doesn't teach faith plus works equals justification but rather faith which leads to works equals justification. That is, if a person is justified, he is not justified on the basis of the works, by the works or through the works. But he is justified to the works. Ephesians 2.10:

10For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

We are not saved by good works but we are saved for good works. The purpose for which we have been chosen and rescued is to be conformed to the image of Christ, to be servants of God, to be people of obedience who live lives of godliness and righteousness, to be salt and light in the world and to serve him and one another in the church, for his glory. What good works have you been created in Christ to do?

Back to top