This is an effort to put together something like a coherent reading of Ephesians 2:1-10, which was the Uniform Series text for today, and the topic of some exegetical notes earlier in the week.
Focus statement: Ordinary life, apart from God, is actually a form of death, no matter how “successful” or even “religious” it is. Our loving God saves us from this death by God’s grace in Christ Jesus, and empowers us to live a genuinely new life in Christ.
Outline for a sermon (maybe “New Life for the Walking Dead”):
We can easily understand the concept of “living death.” For instance, a popular image in our popular culture is zombies, “the walking dead” or the “undead.” But there have been many such images: an earlier generation had “the rat race,” sometimes we talk about “quality of life” as having gone negative, and we talk about people who “might as well be dead.” We are well aware of forms of life that are “alive” in name only, or that lack the substance of real life.
The author of Ephesians tells his audience that they, themselves were among the walking dead, even though they were normal people of their day. He says “we” (he and his companions, presumably) – “we” were in this same walking dead condition, along with everyone else. [We might infer this means that Jews – Paul’s group – and Gentiles – the Ephesians – are equally members of the walking dead.]
Spiritually, a life lived apart from God and lived according to a way other than God’s way is a life that is no better than death, a life that is effectively death – in trespasses and sins. Sometimes we think this means that God judges us and condemns us to death. But another way to think about this , that is just as consistent with this scripture, is that when we live apart from God we become “dead to God,” “dead to what is good,” and we have brought this upon ourselves by, in the process of, pursuing all the things of the life around us that are ultimately not worth pursuing, and failing to pursue God, who alone is worth pursuing.
So the author’s point in this passage is largely this: We were all literally among “the walking dead.” God saved us, making us alive, simply because God loved us and wants us to live. We have been saved from death by God’s grace, in Christ Jesus. God is SO RICH in mercy and love, in grace and kindness, that God saved us walking dead.
[If we think about it, we can see why it had to be this way: the “dead” are in no position to do anything for themselves. No one advocates self-improvement programs for the dead. No one suggests that dead people need to get to work on their revival skills. We would all recognize that as insane. Similarly, the theology of “salvation by grace” ought to be easy for us to understand. If it has been hard to accept – and in fact, it has been tremendously hard to accept this theology down through the Christian centuries! it is probably because we have had such a difficult time accepting the proposition that we were among the walking dead, what it looks like to be among the walking dead.]
The new lives we have, these are lives created by God for a purpose: to live and work in Christ, doing those things that are consistent with the life of Christ, namely good works that constitute a way of life that is distinctively different from the way of life – actually, the way of death – that was our earlier way of life.
While the way of life that takes off from this premise here is active, there is nothing to “do” about this good news but rejoice in it! We have been made alive together with Christ, raised with him, to new and good life. We can thank God for that; we can praise God’s glorious grace for being free, we can praise God’s love for being unconditional, we can praise Christ for being loving and faithful and victorious, and we can acknowledge the gratitude that is appropriate under the circumstances: by grace we have been saved, through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works. A pure gift. We have it already. We have it, and experience it, in full when we trust the news that we already have it, and realize that we are these people who have been raised from death to life. It’s like waking up: “I’m awake.” “I’m alive!”
Thanks be to God for that!