So far in our study of conversion, we have seen a beautiful picture of what happens in conversion from the Book of Ezekiel. It was then that we learned that conversion happens so that God’s glory will be known throughout the nations, entirely by His grace, and we are forgiven of our sin, given a new heart, given His Spirit to live within us, and he radically changes our wills. Then we turned to Romans and saw how God orchestrated conversion from beginning to end, and because of what He has done, if we are converted, everything in our life is working for our good and His glory (even if we can’t see it right now), nothing or no one can condemn us, and nothing or no one can separate us from the love that god has for us!
In this post, we are going to look at a before and after picture of conversion. We are still going to see some of the same things that we have seen the last two weeks, but there is more of a focus on the before than we have seen so far. What we are going to see this morning is that on our own, we are totally unable to be saved. God has to step into the picture to change things, and praise Him, He does! So as we look at this passage, we will see that although apart from Christ we are spiritually dead, with Him we are made alive, through Him we are saved by grace through faith, and in Him we are created for good works.
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. 4 But 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. 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.
Apart from Christ, we are spiritually dead. (1-3)
This chapter starts off by describing the life of the unconverted. That means that this is the condition of everyone, because there was a time that we were all apart from Christ. So if you are not saved, this is your current condition, and if you are saved, this is your past condition. Paul tells us three things to describe those in this state. First, he says that if we are not saved, we are a corpse. He says that we are dead! This does not mean that if you are not a Christian that you are not really physically alive but that you are spiritually dead. Also notice that this is not a future death that is being described as in Roman 6:23 when Paul says that we earn eternal death. This spiritual death is something that is possessed and is a present reality right now. When looking at this death, or any other death in the Bible, we need to understand that what is meant is separation. Death in the most literal sense is separation from physical life. Then we have the spiritual death that Paul talks about here which is separation from God, and the eternal death that he talks about in Romans 6:23 being separation from God in hell for all eternity.
Now there are a few things we need to realize about being dead. First, we are all equally dead. In other words, one corpse cannot be more dead than the other. So if, apart from Christ, we try to justify our lives by saying that we are better than so and so, therefore God won’t be as harsh to me, then we are wrong. Paul says that we all either are or were dead. Second, we are all totally dead. We are not a little dead, some dead, or as we learn from the Princess Bride mostly dead. We are totally and completely dead. But the problem is that most people do not realize this. They are like spiritual zombies. They are the walking dead who do not know they are dead! Third, being totally dead, we are totally unresponsive. Just like a body in the morgue does not respond to physical stimuli, the spiritually dead person does not respond to spiritual stimuli. So we cannot, nor do we want to, respond to God in this dead state.
Maybe you are saying, “Richard, this is looking pretty bad for us.” I would agree, but Paul keeps going. We are not only a corpse. We are also controlled by what Danny Akin calls the “Trio of Terror.” First, we are controlled by the world. Paul says that we were following the course of the world. In using the word “world,” Paul is talking about the system of values and way of doing things. So the unconverted person, either consciously or unconsciously, is controlled by the values and attitudes of this world. It’s kind of like peer pressure. The world goes in one direction and because of the state that we are in we cannot help but follow the leading of the world.
Second, we are controlled by Satan. Paul calls him the prince of the power of the air. It is not that hard to connect these two, because in 2 Corinthians 4:4 Satan is called the god of this world. So the unconverted are in the clutches of this “ruler” and follow in his opposition to God. Third, we are controlled by “the passions or lusts of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.” Lusts here refer to strong desires of every sort, and flesh refers to our fallen nature. So we are talking about any desire that is opposed to God and His will.
So we are a corpse and controlled, but we are also condemned. Paul says that we are “by nature children of wrath.” This means that we are those who are destined for wrath. Apart from Christ, we stand condemned. The sentence has been passed. And Paul is clear that this is true of all mankind. So we see that we are a spiritually dead person who is controlled by the world, Satan, and our sinful nature, and that we deserve nothing but God’s wrath. Even more, we cannot change a thing. We cannot make ourselves alive spiritually. We cannot overcome the world and the devil. We cannot change our nature. We just cannot do it! Maybe you say, “Richard, you are taking what Paul is saying too far.”
Well let’s briefly survey the New Testament and see what the consensus of God’s Word is:
Mark 7:7—we worship in vain.
Mark 7:9—we reject the commands of God.
John 3:18—we are already condemned
John 3:19—we love the darkness
John 3:20—we hate the light
John 6:44—we cannot come to God unless He draws us
John 8:34—we are slaves to sin
Romans 3:10—no one is righteous
Romans 3:11—no one seeks God
Romans 3:12—no one does good
Romans 3:18—we do not fear God
Romans 6:17—we are slaves to sin
Romans 8:7—we are hostile to God
Romans 8:9—we cannot please God
1 Corinthians 2:14—we do not accept the things of the Spirit
Galatians 1:4—we are prisoners of this evil age
Galatians 3:10—we rely on the works of the law
Galatians 5:16-18—we gratify the desires of the flesh
Galatians 5:19-21—we follow the works of the flesh
Ephesians 2:12—we are separated from Christ; have no hope and without God
Ephesians 4:17—we walk in the futility of our minds
Ephesians 4:18—we are darkened in our understanding and alienated from God
Ephesians 4:19—we practice every kind of impurity
Colossians 1:21—we were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds.
2 Timothy 2:26—we are in the snare of the devil
1 John 1:6—we walk in darkness
1 John 1:8—we are self-deceived and the truth is not in us
1 John 1:10—His Word is not in us
1 John 2:11—we are walking in darkness
1 John 2:15-17—we love the world
1 John 3:4—we make a practice of sinning
1 John 3:8—we are of the devil
1 John 3:10—we are children of the devil
1 John 3:14—we do not love, so we abide in death
1 John 3:15—we are murderers
1 John 5:21—we are idolaters
Do you get the picture? The consensus of the whole New Testament agrees with what we have said so far. We are a corpse that is controlled and condemned, and there is nothing that we can do about it. Are you depressed yet? Don’t be! Because what we couldn’t do, God did!
With Christ, we are made spiritually alive. (4-7)
It is crucial that we understand the position that we are in and the wrath of God because of it before we can truly appreciate the rest of this passage. At the beginning of verse four, we have, in my opinion, the two greatest words in the Bible. They are the gospel in two words: “But God!” If it wasn’t for God stepping in and doing what He did, then there is no way that we would be saved. Praise God for the “but God” of verse four!
So what did God do? First, He “made us alive together with Christ.” Conversion is a spiritual resurrection! We who were once dead are now alive! Not only are we made alive, but we are also raised up with Christ and seated with Him in the heavenly places. Notice the parallel with Ephesians 1:20, “…that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places…” And if we look back at verse nineteen, Paul talks about the “immeasurable greatness of his power” that made verse twenty possible. So noting the parallel, we see that the divine power that can make an unbeliever have life, be raised, and be exalted with Christ is the same power that presently operates in us after conversion. So we have been given life! More than that, we have been united with Christ! More than that, our citizenship has changed from this world to heaven. John Calvin wrote, “It is as if we have been brought from the deepest hell to heaven itself.” Praise God for the “but God” of Ephesians 2:4.
But I want us to notice verse four and verse six because they give us the reasons behind why God did what He did. In verse four Paul tells us that God who is rich in mercy and because of His great love with which He loved us did what He did. First, let’s look at His love. We read in 1 John 4:8 that God is, by nature, love. That’s just His nature. So because of that, according to Romans 5:6-8, He sent Christ to die on our behalf and pay the penalty for us, even though we were in the condition we were in, which leads us to His mercy. It is in His mercy that He does not give us what we deserve. As we saw earlier, we deserve His wrath. But because of His great love with which He loved us and His rich mercy, He chose not to give us what we deserve. Instead, He stepped in and made us alive, raised us up, and exalted us with Christ in the heavenly places.
Salvation is obviously for our benefit, but we would be wrong to stop there because for God there is much more. The final and true cause of conversion is the glory of God! As we look at verse six, we see that conversion takes place “so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” So in other words, God is going to receive glory for all eternity by putting His work on display for all to see. So for all eternity we will proclaim “the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us.” This is a little different than mercy. In His mercy, He does not give us what we deserve. In His grace, He gives us what we do not deserve. So not only do we not receive His wrath, which we deserve, but we also receive His salvation, which we do not deserve. So God is glorified for all eternity because of the salvation that He has given to us! That is the final and true cause of our conversion. While it is for our benefit, it is ultimately for His glory!
Through Christ, we are saved by grace through faith. (8-9)
These two verses are some of the most popular verses in the Bible, and the message that they teach is extremely important in our understanding of conversion. These verses show us very clearly the means of salvation and the roles God and us play in conversion. We are told that we are saved by grace. This shows us that salvation is entirely the gracious work of God. Then we are told that this gracious salvation is received by faith. So God owes us nothing, but offers us salvation totally by His grace. Then we receive that offer by faith.
But then Paul says that this is not our own doing, but it is the gift of God. So we have to look at both sides of this, God’s and ours, and try to understand it. Paul says in the beginning of the verse that we receive the gracious offer of salvation by faith, but now he says that it is not our own doing but a gift from God. What He wants us to understand is that even our response of faith is a gift from God. Otherwise, salvation would be in part by our own works, and we would have some ground to boast in ourselves. As Paul says in the next verse, we have no reason to boast, because it is not because of anything that we did, do, or will do that we receive salvation. It, as a whole, is completely and totally the gift of God. Jonah 2:9 says, “Salvation belongs to the Lord.” As John MacArthur says, “Faith is simply breathing the breath that God’s grace supplies.” The only boasting that is done should be done in Christ for what He has done for us (1 Corinthians 1:31).
In Christ, we are created for good works. (10)
In the beginning, God created man. In Genesis 3, mankind fell into sin. God, in conversion, recreates man. As 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” Here Paul tells us why we were recreated. It is good works. So we are saved for His glory, because of His love and mercy for us, and by His grace to work! We are not just supposed to sit back and rejoice in the fact that we are saved. We have to be about the good works that God has prepared beforehand for us. So while good works cannot produce salvation, they are subsequent and resultant God-empowered fruits and evidences of it. This goes back to what we learned in Ezekiel. We now have radically different wills. When we are taken out of the wretched state that we were in apart from Christ, we are changed radically and completely to perform good works in Christ. Conversion is apart from works but unto works.
So we have seen that apart from Christ we are spiritually dead, with Christ we are made spiritually alive, through Christ we are saved by his glorious grace through faith, and in Christ we are created for good works.
If you are reading this and you are saved, then you should be praising God for what He has done in your life. We have seen a reminder of the total sinfulness and lostness from which we have been redeemed. Knowing that it is totally by His grace towards us and for His glory, we praise Him and thank Him for making us alive, raising us up, and uniting us with Christ in the heavenly places. Praise God for the “but God” of Ephesians 2:4. Without it, we would still be spiritually dead, controlled by the “Trio of Terror,” and deserving of and destined for God’s wrath.
If you are reading this and you are not saved, you have seen what God’s Word says about your current situation. You are spiritually dead, controlled by the world, Satan, and your sinful nature, all of which are opposed to God, and ultimately you are destined for God’s wrath to be displayed against you. But the great news for those of us who are saved is great news for you as well. Even though you are in that current state, God wants you to know that He loves you and according to 2 Peter 3:9, He wants you to receive His offer of salvation. Are you in that position? If you are, please do not put off making a decision. If God is working on your heart right now, respond before it’s too late.