Tonight I want us to think not only about God but about the world. And I want us to look at Paul's letter to the Ephesians chapter 2 verses 1-10. And I've called our study for tonight God and the Living Dead. There is huge confusion in the world today. And it is called 'Post-modernism'. Modernism lasted from the European Enlightenment in the 18th century and the age of scientific confidence until this century. But Modernism has now been succeeded by Post-modernism, which is really another name for 'nihilism' - or the despair of reaching any truth, or discovering any morality. Its conclusions therefore are, 'believe what you like and do what you like' - a recipe, indeed, for chaos.
Listen to the Post-modern atheist, Professor Richard Dawkins and his view of the universe: "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference."
That is nihilism - and Dawkins is currently being paid by our taxes to teach this vision of a pointless universe at Oxford University. In time that philosophy of nihilism gets commercialized into a 'pop' version when it is sufficiently crude and unpleasant to sell to teenagers.
Take the shock-rocker Marilyn Manson and his culture of 'hatred', his T-shirts saying, 'Kill your parents', his declaring himself the Anti-Christ, his parading naked women on dog leashes, and his throwing a champagne party for his girl friend's abortion. Two of Manson's fans who had drunk in this 'pop' version of the philosophy of nihilism were Eric Harris and Dylan Kleobold. They were young men from fairly successful middle-class homes. They lived in Littleton, Colorado and went to Columbine High School.
You know what happened. Armed with pipe bombs and at least seven guns, they murdered a number of their fellow pupils. One, was Rachel Scott. She was killed, apparently, because she had a bible. Then they shot 18 year old Valeen Schnurr nine times for believing in Christ and left her with permanent nerve damage. Then they shot 17 year old Kacey Ruegsegger for being a believer - they shot her in the face and shoulder but she too survived. And then they got to 17 year old, Cassie Bernall. One of the boys put a gun to her head and asked: 'Do you believe in God?' She paused for a second, and then she answered, 'Yes'. The gunman stared at her and asked, 'Why?' Before she could reply he pulled the trigger and shot her through the temple, killing her instantly.
The issue in America is the same as here. It is not about guns - although it seems stupid you can buy guns over the counter. No! it is about an anti-God, anti-Christ drift in our culture. And if Christian people don't pray and work and evangelise it is going to get worse. But there is great hope. In Colorado there has been something of a spiritual revival following these murders which have been seen as martyrdoms. This has not been reported in our media. There were amazing scenes at the funeral of Rachel Scott, with thousands in attendance. And one evangelical teen rally in Michigan turned into a Cassie Bernall festival with 73,000 present.
Well, that is the real world. T.S.Eliot once said: 'humankind cannot bear very much reality.' And he was exactly right. Tonight, however, I want us to face that reality of the real world as it is clearly stated for us by the apostle Paul in these verses (1-10) of Ephesians 2. So
First, THE HUMAN PROBLEM.
How does the bible see the human problem? Look at verses 1-3:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 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. 3 All 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.
So Paul is pretty pessimistic about the natural human condition. And he is saying that this is the condition of everybody - not just of two disturbed youths in Colorado, or Marilyn Manson or Richard Dawkins. It is the condition of all of us by nature. Paul starts off by talking about 'you' - verse 1 - 'As for you' - the Gentile readers of Ephesus. But then in verse 3 he talks about 'us' - 'All of us' - the Jewish Christians. But at the end of verse 3 he talks about 'the rest' - 'Like the rest' - everyone else. He is talking about the condition of everyone - everyone who is without God. This is the universal condition of men and women. And their desperate problem is identified in three ways.
First, they are dead.
He says (verse 1) they are 'dead in ... transgressions and sins.' That is the fundamental problem. Darwin may say the problem is that the world is not sufficiently evolved. Marx may say that the problem is one of class. Freud may say that the problem is the frustration of our drives for nutrition, power and sex. The bible says the problem is 'transgressions and sins'. So what are those 'transgressions and sins'? Between them they cover every form of human evil. A transgression is a positive crossing of a boundary God has set. A sin is a negative missing the mark. Paul is saying, that from God's perspective we are both rebels and failures. And as a result we are 'dead', spiritually speaking. This is the natural human condition and the fundamental problem with the world.
You say, 'this is ridiculous. How can you call people "dead" when they are very much "alive" - take footballers like Alan Shearer with his two more goals yesterday; or scientists - even like Richard Dawkins; or beautiful people like models and film-stars or, if they are your cup of tea, the Spice Girls?' Paul would reply, 'they are no different to the rest of us. If Christ has not saved them they are certainly dead, just as we are dead without Christ'. They may have great physical, intellectual and entertainment potential. But in the area that really matters - which is not the body, the mind, or the personality but the soul - without Christ, they have no life at all. They are spiritually dead. That is so self-evident. Such people are not interested in learning about Christ or in studying God's word or in meeting with God's people or seeking the Holy Spirit's guidance for their lives. They are not concerned for God's honour when it is defamed or God's standards when they are flouted. So according to the bible, such people, if without God, are 'the living dead'.
Secondly they are in bondage.
They are enslaved to that trio of 'the world, the flesh and the devil'. Look at verse 2:
you followed, [says Paul], the ways of this world.
People naturally go with the crowd. Are you doing that? Sadly too many haven't the moral courage to say 'No!' when they need to. They are in bondage to the world. And people, by nature, are like that. Then look at verse 3. There is bondage to the flesh in
... gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.
That is when appetites for food, drink and sex are given free reign. In themselves food, drink and sex are good. They have been created by God. They are gifts to be used as God intended but not for gluttony, drunkenness or sex outside marriage. Nor is it just physical appetites. There is also a mental dimension. We follow not only the 'desires' of our sinful nature but also its 'thoughts'. These are wrong attitudes and ambitions and plans and false analyses and those foolish utopian dreams of politicians that leave out God. Then people are in bondage to the devil. Look at verse 2 again:
you followed [not only, the ways of this world, but also] ... the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.
We haven't time to go into the details. But the bible is clear that there is a devil. It is clear that the evil in the world is more than the sum total of every human piece of wrong-doing. There is more. There is a 'super-plus'. And that 'super-plus' is not an 'it' - a force; but a 'he' - a personal intelligence. So people by nature are spiritually dead and in bondage to the world, the flesh and the devil.
Thirdly they are objects of wrath
Look at the last part of verse 3:
Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.
God is a God of judgment. He exercises his 'wrath' as it is called here. Nor is this incompatible with his love. The very next verse talks about God's great love for us. No! God's wrath is not something arbitrary, like the anger of a bad parent who sometimes gets cross over little things and then lets big things go unpunished. God's wrath is his consistent anger against all that is wrong and destructive and contrary to the truly 'good life'. Our God doesn't say, 'all the killings in East Timor and Kosovo, and drug abuse and rapes, and the hypocrisies, lies, meanness and selfishness of people can be ignored.' What sort of a God would that be? No! He is a God who consistently is against sin and evil. And he judges it. And by nature we are all under that judgment. We all fall short of God's standards. We are all 'objects of wrath'.
Now some people say, 'I can't go along with that.' Well, this is what the bible teaches. There is a hell as well as a heaven. You say, 'well, then, this is a pretty depressing picture.' It is, but it is true to life. But unlike the Post-modern world the bible is not only negative and pessimistic. It is also positive and optimistic. It is not just about the human problem - although it gives you the best account of it of any.
It is secondly and importantly about THE DIVINE ANSWER.
And the divine answer is that God has acted to change the human condition. This is what Paul talks about in the next verses in chapter 10 of Ephesians. Look at verses 4 and 5:
But [that is one of the greatest 'buts' in the whole of the bible ... but] because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved.
By nature we are spiritually dead. But God's answer is new life.
Who has been seeing the recent World War II series on TV? This week they showed you live pictures of the concentration camps and piles of emaciated dead corpses. It was terrible. Those piles of dead could do nothing to change the situation. Similarly the spiritually dead can do nothing to change their situation and become spiritually alive. But God can do something and the good news is that he has taken action and done something. Look at verse 5 again and, then, verse 6:
[But God] made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.
Do you see what God has done? He has 'made us alive with Christ' (verse 5); he has 'raised us up with Christ' (verse 6) and he has 'seated us with him in the heavenly realms' (verse 6). This refers to three great events in Jesus saving work - his resurrection, his ascension and his heavenly session. When we say the creed in church as we often do, we state our belief that: "on the third day he rose again, he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father." And Paul is saying that God, in an amazing way, as it were, joins us with Christ so that we experience something of those victorious events.And that resurrection of Jesus, with the empty tomb and the appearances to the disciples, proves all this is not myth but reality.
Now, if you have not understood much tonight, at least try to follow at this point. Because this is the heart of everything. Let me explain by asking a question. What is fundamental to the Christian faith? I will tell you. It is not going to church, or reading your bible, or being moral, or writing home once a week to your parents - important as those things are. No! what is fundamental is a faith-union with Jesus Christ himself. It is not that you admire him or believe certain facts about him or seek to keep his standards. It is an actual solidarity with him. It is being 'in Christ'. And by that union with him you share in his new life in all its dimensions. You say, 'how do I unite myself with Christ?' Answer, by faith. Look at verse 8:
it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.
As Paul has already said in chapter 1 verse 7:
in him [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace.
Christ died on the cross to bear God's wrath and judgment on your behalf. 'In your place condemned he stood,' as the hymn puts it. So by faith, you accept God's analysis of the human condition. You say: 'that is me - I am spiritually dead in trespasses and sins. I want to be forgiven and I want that new life. I want to go God's way.' By faith, you pray or say to God, 'I have sinned and I see that Christ has died for me. I want Christ to come into my life by his Holy Spirit.' And you say, 'come Lord Jesus'. The exact words are not important. What is important is that you see your sin. You see that Christ is your saviour. And you seek to be united with him by his Spirit.
One final question - why? Why does God want to give us new life in Christ? Why does he want to reverse our natural human condition?
First, let me say what is not the reason. It is not because of something in us. Verses 8 and 9:
this [is] not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
What that means is that this new life or God's salvation has nothing to do with your, or my, efforts to be good. People get this so wrong. You contribute nothing to your salvation, except, as Archbishop William Temple used to say, 'your sin'. It is not that God gives his grace and then you add your bit, and if that is OK, 'bingo'. That is absolutely not so. However bad you have been or however good you have been, whatever your past, by faith you receive everything in terms of forgiveness and acceptance with God and new life 'not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.' That means you can have great confidence. Your life with Christ does not depend on you being good enough, but on what God has done.
So, my second point - God acted because of what God is like in himself. Verse 4:
because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive.
He acted from (verse 7) ...
the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
And, my third point, God acted because he does want you to live as he intended. Look at verse 10:
For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
God has a great plan for your life. How important that you discover it. Many of you are starting out on a new phase of your life. What is your goal? This says you should follow God's leading. And you can only live as God intended when you have his new life. Doing good works and living right are vital. But they are the consequence not the cause of new life.
I must conclude.
There are only two options. Either you can live as you were born and just drift along in the natural human condition - spiritually dead; in bondage to the world, the flesh and the devil; and an 'object of wrath', as Paul puts it - or under judgment. Or you can live as God intended - accepting his solution which is new life in Christ. And that does not come from what you do, but 'by grace ... through faith' - it is entirely dependent on what God has done in Christ. And that is evidence that our God is not a tyrant but a God of love and kindness. But he does want you then to live with that new life as he has planned and that will be in the best interests of everyone - it is a win-win situation. The choice is yours.