“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
I was having a conversation with my Student Minister the other day that started when I played for him a song I have discovered recently that captures the story of Scripture and the Gospel better than any other I’ve ever heard. Over the course of the conversation, he made the observation that Ephesians 2:1-10 is one of the best statements of the Gospel in the whole of the Scriptures. I’ve read the passage several times, but not recently. So, when I started a new Bible reading plan and the very first passage was Ephesians 2:1-10, I took it as a good sign I should re-familiarize myself with it. I’m glad I did, because he was right. Let me take you through it over the next few days. It starts grim here, but gets a whole lot better really quickly as the Gospel does. Here goes nothing.
One of the things that has been a major animating force for followers of Jesus for roughly 2,000 years is Jesus’ call to proclaim the Gospel. We want to see people accept the Gospel and experience its transforming power in their lives. This, of course, begs the rather obvious question of what exactly the Gospel is. Well, a more literal translation of the Greek word behind our English translation is “good news.” You probably already knew that. But that itself just raises another question: The good news about what? What is the good news? An answer to that question is not something we are going to answer in full over the course of this one post. Whole tomes have been written trying to define the good news. But at the risk of wildly oversimplifying the matter, allow me to summarize the good news in a single sentence. The good news – the Gospel – is that salvation is available in Jesus Christ for all who would receive it.
Now, if you are in a place of life in which you desire to be saved from the brokenness and trouble unfolding and multiplying all around, the fact that there is salvation available is very good news. And it gets even better. As we will talk about later in this week, you don’t have to do anything to earn or deserve this salvation. You don’t have to somehow make yourself worth saving. It is given to you as a gift of grace if you will receive it. This is good news indeed.
But as good as the news of the Gospel is, it’s not all easy news. In fact, some of it is hard news. Really hard news. Let me push this just a bit further: As good as the Gospel is on the backside, the first thing anyone has to wrap their heart and mind around in order to receive it is downright insulting to someone who isn’t ready to try to do that. You see, the Gospel begins with two assumptions about us that aren’t very much fun to accept as true. The kick is, though, until we are ready to accept that they are true, we can’t really receive the Gospel. Oh, we can give lip service to it. We can celebrate the good news part of it. But until we embrace these two ideas in the very center of our souls, its power for us is not going to be fully unleashed. I would even be willing to go so far as to say that until we are ready to accept these two assumptions as right and true about ourselves, the Gospel won’t really do anything for us at all.
So, what are these two terrible ideas? You may want to be sitting down for these. If the heart of the good news is this offer of salvation, then the first thing the Gospel implies is that we are in need of saving. It means that you and I are in a bad situation. Now, some folks don’t have any trouble accepting that notion. The brokenness in their life is so readily apparent there is no real reason – or ability – to deny it. These folks tend to struggle more with feeling unworthy of the salvation of Christ than embracing their need for it in the first place.
But not everybody’s life is broken like that. Yes, we all have brokenness that manifests itself in one way or another, but there are not a few people whose brokenness is of a kind that doesn’t necessarily cause the kind of tragic life disruption that something like an addiction to drugs or alcohol does. Sure, they’re broken by sin, but at a glance, you probably can’t see where or how. They have a good job. Their family is intact. Their kids are successful and healthy and happy. They don’t have any major health crises going on in their lives. Given where the culture is, they’re not likely to go to church anywhere unless they’re committed followers of Jesus, but maybe they live in a part of the country where cultural Christianity is strong enough they claim the title even if they don’t really know what that means. Maybe they like the idea of being called a Christian, but they’ve never actually heard the Gospel.
Maybe a lot of things. But here’s the truth: You need saving. If you haven’t embraced the full Gospel with your life, you need saving. Your very life is in danger. Actually, from what Paul writes here in Ephesians, it’s worse than that. It’s not just that your life is in danger. Your life is already forfeit. When someone is apart from Christ, death is all there is. Paul, talking to his audience about their lives before Christ didn’t say they were merely in a bad way and Jesus came along to give them some help. He said, “you were dead in your trespasses and sins.” You were dead and deserving of wrath because your death was a chosen state of affairs in direction contradiction and offense to the author of life. In other words and again: you needed saving. Perhaps you need saving.
This, though, brings us to that other offensive assumption. If you need saving, what does that imply? Nothing. There’s no implication here at all because it’s right out in the open. If you need saving, you cannot save yourself. If you could save yourself, you wouldn’t need saving. In fact, it wouldn’t be called a crisis demanding salvation at all. It would just be a bump in the road or a personal crisis or something along those lines. Yet what was the word Paul used to describe our state apart from Christ? He said that we are dead. If you are dead, you can’t save yourself. Because you’re dead. Dead people don’t do anything. Because they’re dead.
In the Gospel we find the offer of salvation, but we can only accept this incredible offer if we first understand that we need it. We can’t accept something we don’t think we really need. To receive the salvation of Christ but set it on a shelf in case we ever decide we actually need it does us no good at all. Until you and I are willing to embrace the truth that we are dead in our sins apart from Christ, the Gospel will never be for us anything more than a fun story for folks who are in really bad shape. We will continue to move forward, attempting to do life on our own, until we finally crash headlong into reality’s firm walls. We will come to the end and discover that we really were dead all along, and all thoughts to the contrary were delusional fantasies which profited us exactly nothing.
This first part of the good news, then, isn’t easy. I wouldn’t dare suggest otherwise. As a matter of fact, at first it doesn’t really feel all that much like good news. But if we will accept it, the news starts to make a turn for the better really quickly. We’ll start talking about that, though, tomorrow. See you then.
By the way, just for fun, here’s that song I was talking about. The band is The Gray Havens, and the song is called This My Soul. Listen carefully to the words. As I said before: I haven’t ever heard a song that so perfectly captures the story of Scripture and salvation as well as this one. The lyrics are genius.