Lively Former Corpses
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Please read Ephesians 2:1-10 in your Bible. I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.
Sin is the cause of the “Walking Dead,” God raises the dead to receive salvation and life.
It’s a free country (at least at the moment) where everyone’s entitled to indulge their interests as they see fit. However, speaking solely for myself, I don’t understand the popularity of zombies. What had been for decade a minor sub-genre of horror, zombies have grown in popularity and become big business. For example, in 2011, NBC news estimated Americans spent $5 million on zombie entertainment products.
Money is one numerical way to gauge popularity. In our time, another way to assess trends and objectively gauge popularity is to track internet searches. I found some data that is seven years old - a eternity in pop culture - but I found the popularity of the undead has been growing since 2010. By this measure, West Virginia was the state most interested in zombies, with South Dakota being tenth most interested.
When something becomes this popular, people want to explain why it has become so big. The most obvious reason for the popularity of zombies is people’s fascination with things that are horrible, gross, and evil. It’s like going to a hockey game hoping for a fight or a race hoping for a spectacular wreck.
A less obvious reason is that zombies don’t require a lot of thinking or feeling. Their motivations are simple and the response of the living is simple. We all want life to be less complicated. Watching this stuff may require a stout gag reflex, but it won’t challenge your brains too much.
Some internet commentators want to dive more deeply into the zombie phenomenon and see zombies as being symbols of what’s wrong with modern American culture. Or modern Americans.
Which interests me because today’s Scripture passage employs a symbol not unlike zombies. Please read that correctly. I am not attempting to legitimize “zombie culture” or say that it is in any way biblical. I’m simply pointing out that Paul depicts life without Jesus Christ as dead people walking.
“BC” (Before Christ) persons have a form of life, but have no real life. They are in bondage to forces beyond their control. In the real world, people can be saved from zombie-like living, but only God can do it. In this zombie-like state, they are insensitive to God, blindly pursuing just about any else instead.
1. We were dead in our sin. (1-5)
We were “dead men walking” in ungodliness. (1+5) Literally and metaphorically, DEAD means separated from life, which is found only in God (see Colossians 2:13). In this passage, Paul uses death as a metaphor for a spiritual condition; a person as unconscious and unresponsive to the word and will of God as a dead person is unresponsive to everything.
The words TRANSGRESSIONS and SINS are two words for the same thing: the cause of our spiritual death. In Romans 5:17 Paul explained this spiritual death is part of the curse of being Adam’s children but in Romans 6:23 he wrote that it’s our own fault because of the sins we chose to commit. Adam’s sin brought death into the world, but we have condemned ourselves by our own choices to bring it into our personal experience.
We were “under the influence” of three masters.
#1 - We were following the WAYS O/T WORLD (1). We were under the influence of the culture around us; bowing to peer pressure, fashion, and media without questioning whether the popular thing was the right thing. The WAYS OF THIS AGE (2) is an equivalent expression. Both refer to this present time; between the creation of this world and the world to come. Both terms refer to a culture that has aligned itself against God (see John 15:18-19 and 1 Corinthians 3:19) and antagonizes those who truly want to love and serve Him.
#2 - We were serving Satan. (2) We were under the influence of our Enemy, Satan, the RULER OF THE KINGDOM OF THE AIR. He was tempting us and sending trials our way to distract and discourage us.
Paul is in agreement with John’s Gospel that Satan is the RULER of the worldly systems that oppose God (see John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). THE AIR describes the sphere of Satan’s influence; it covers the earth but falls short of heaven. This language reflects Jewish belief that demons flew in the air and the pagan belief that evil spirits flew around. In both Hebrew and Greek the word for SPIRIT can also be translated as “wind”. The influence of the spiritual evil ruled by Satan is expressed in NOW AT WORK IN THOSE WHO ARE DISOBEDIENT.
#3 - We were serving selfishness. (3) We were under the influence of self-centeredness; an orientation typical to humans. When we are very immature, a certain amount of self-centeredness helps us survive and grow. But as we mature, we must become God-centered, discarding childish and selfish ways.
Paul used the term SINFUL NATURE (“flesh”) to denote the part of our inner nature that has an appetite for doing wrong. It is one way self-centredness manifests itself. It is like a separate entity within a person that constantly tempts and misdirects us away from God and toward sin.
My belief is that the SINFUL NATURE is the part of our inner life that was CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST (GLS 2:20) and no longer lives. This extreme selfishness that seeks satisfaction through sin no longer affects the believer because it is dead. We still struggle with sin because our human nature is with us in the form of our bodies. Human nature is more oriented to self-centeredness than sin; it is not always encouraging evil actions. Human nature is more the weakness and limitations imposed by our physical frame than a frequent source of sin.
The result of the influence of the “Three S’s”: we were OBJECTS OF WRATH. (3) WRATH means two things.
In the short term, it means alienation from God. Until forgiveness is obtained by repentance, prayer is useless. God will not tolerate sin and will distance Himself from sinners.
In the long term, God’s WRATH will be poured out on the wicked and unbelieving on Judgment Day. Their choices will land them in hell.
The phrase LIKE THE REST is meant to take in the entirety of humanity. All of us are born under a death penalty because we inherited a sin nature from Adam. God’s unique solution to the problem of sin is Jesus substitutionary sacrifice on the cross and it alone is effective to solve the problem of sin.
2. We live because God gave us grace. (4-10)
Grace is the answer to the problem of sin. We can approach our need for grace by asking three questions Paul answered for us. The first is this, “What did God do for us?”
God the Father MADE US ALIVE WITH CHRIST. (5) This is the key thought of the passage. This one verb (the Greek word is 14 letters long) supplies the main action for the passage: resurrection. The change wrought in us by salvation is so dramatic and so complete that it feels like a dead person being raised to life again. On the one hand, death is an apt symbol for life without Jesus. Before Christ, we are as lifeless and hopeless as a pile of bones. On the other hand, with Jesus, we are saved; the bones come to life again: we have hope and a future.
GOD also RAISED US UP WITH CHRIST. (6) Paul saw the believer as having participated in the crucifixion of Jesus, to the effect of his/her sin nature being killed. This phrase takes things a step further to say each believer has participated personally in the resurrection of Jesus too.
GOD…SEATED US WITH HIM IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS IN CHRIST JESUS. (6) Here Paul makes it sound as if we’ve already been taken to heaven. We have to learn not to get too wound up about verb tenses in the Bible. Instead, we can be excited to know that the benefits of God’s GRACE are not just for the future, but have also redeemed our past and give us a confident future. We can have experiences of heaven in this earthly life (see 1 Corinthians 15:47-49; 2 Corinthians 12:2-3; Galatians 4:26; Philippians 3:20).
In 1:20 we learned that Jesus was exalted to sit in the place of authority and access; at the RIGHT HAND IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS. Paul repeated that language here to give the faithful further encouragement; “Heaven? You are there already, dudes!” Especially in Ephesus, he wanted the believers to know they were not subject to spiritual evil of any kind; they already enjoyed heavenly authority being in relationship with Jesus Christ.
Lastly, Paul reminded them of their origins; WE ARE GOD’S WORKMANSHIP. (10) This word could just as easily serve as part of the answer to the next question. God acted to save us because we are His. But it is also part of the list of things God has done for us - He created us. The word WORKMANSHIP could just as easily be translated “creation.” However, the word also conveys skill, intelligence and achievement in execution, like “masterpiece,” “handiwork,” or “work of art.”
Verse ten is a counterpoint to verse nine: verse nine says we are saved by GRACE, not by WORKS, which would seem to render WORKS unimportant. Verse ten reveals that WORKS do play an important role in life after salvation. In fact, they are the very reason God created us. We were CREATED IN CHRIST JESUS TO DO GOOD WORKS, so a well-spent life was part of God’s plan before the universe was created. This interpretation is supported by a second phrase that means exactly the same thing: WHICH GOD PREPARED IN ADVANCE FOR US TO DO.
When we consider all of Paul’s teaching, we realize two things about GOOD WORKS. One, GOOD WORKS is not the same as fulfilling the Law. Instead, Paul meant for us to do things fulfilling the Law of Love and demonstrating the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) in everyday words and deeds (1 Thessalonians 1:3). Two, God chose both His people and how His people would behave. This is what Paul wrote in 1:4; HE CHOSE US IN HIM BEFORE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD TO BE HOLY AND BLAMELESS IN HIS SIGHT.
Paul’s second answer is to this question, “Why would God save such creatures?” When you take notice the descriptive words in v. 4, GREAT love…RICH mercy…INCOMPARABLE RICHES of grace, it is clear God is generous with His people!
God showed us grace BECAUSE OF HIS GREAT LOVE. (4) LOVE is the word that best summarizes the character of God in BOTH Old and New Testaments.
His LOVE is unconditional, positive, and always moves us toward greater good and maturity.
We have been offered GRACE because GOD…IS RICH IN MERCY. (4) The merciful side of God’s nature is explained in Exodus 34:6-7, where we read that God only holds the sinner guilty, not his family. He forgives sin.
This word was understood by Bible writers to mean “covenant love;” that God is faithful to keep His promise to love us, even when we are unfaithful to our promise to love Him. GRACE, MERCY, and LOVE have a lot of overlap in Paul’s writings. There’s no need to create strong differentiations between the three words. As we saw in chapter one, this passage also underscores the fact that God took the initiative to save us even though we are completely unworthy (see Titus 3:5).
God showered us with GRACE that HE MIGHT SHOW THE INCOMPARABLE RICHES OF HIS GRACE…IN CHRIST JESUS. (7) God’s purpose is always to draw us to Him. When the Bible talks about God’s “glory,” that’s what it means. God’s GRACE brings glory to Him because He is so generous with forgiveness. His act of creating t human race and then saving us from ourselves is to resound throughout eternity as the greatest deed ever.
God offers GRACE to complete our original purpose: we were CREATED TO DO GOOD WORKS. (10) GOOD WORKS are not a means to salvation, but a product of salvation, a means of deepening our spiritual maturity, and a proof that our claims to salvation are genuine. When we do the GOOD WORKS we were created to do, it is for God’s glory and our pleasure. GOOD WORKS bless everyone!
The third and final question Paul answered in this passage is “How did God do this for us?” Paul’s answer was two-fold.
First, God saved us by His gracious offer of salvation: BY GRACE YOU’VE BEEN SAVED. (5+8) God deserves to be the focus of our lives, the object of our gratitude because He saved us by His grace, not our merit. Paul wrote this twice (in verses five and eight) to make sure we don’t miss this essential truth. GRACE means we are spared the WRATH of God (3) because God has guaranteed our salvation. Neither this day nor Judgment Day holds any fear for us.
In verse eight Paul provided a little more explanation; God’s GRACE is ours BY FAITH. Having FAITH does not make us any more deserving; it is the sole means by which we can be saved. By FAITH we believe GRACE is available and receive it ourselves. IT IS NOT OF YOURSELVES; IT IS THE GIFT OF GOD can refer either to GRACE or FAITH or both. Which is interesting; we can’t really even have faith on our own; God supplies that too!
Second, GRACE is God doing for us what is impossible for us to do for ourselves (8-9). Saving ourselves is not even a possibility: that’s what the phrases THIS IS NOT FROM YOURSELVES…NOT BY WORKS mean.
- Good WORKS won’t save us.
- Keeping God’s law won’t earn eternal life for us.
- Attempting to manipulate spirits by practicing magic (as the pagans of Ephesus did) won’t accomplish a single thing.
- Positive thinking and impulse control have value in this life, but are powerless to save us.
Why is it important for us to recognize that salvation is purely God’s action? SO THAT NO ONE CAN BOAST means that no one should think they’ve earned or somehow deserve God’s grace or are in any way deserving. That would be a fatal error, the worst kind of self-deception possible. To think we can gain heaven on our own two feet would be to deny our need for a Savior and thereby cheat ourselves out of salvation by not seeking and finding true faith. FAITH gives credit where it’s due and relies on God’s power, not ours.
Sin is the cause of the “Walking Dead,” God raises the dead to receive salvation and life.
God saves us from enslavement to the “Killer S’s” of sin, Satan, and self. He does this in order to grant us true freedom to live in love; this is true life. We must acknowledge the truth in order to live and to help others find life. Part of that truth is that we were in a trap and had no way out that we could employ as an exit. Jesus is God’s means of leaving the trap and living.
Paul’s message must’ve seemed strange to the people of Ephesus. They were used to thinking of gods and spirits as beings whom you appeased to avoid their wrath or bribed with sacrifices to manipulate them into giving blessing. As Paul presented Him, God did not operate in either of those ways. People today are still surprised to find that God is not what they expected. Too many reject a caricature of God without having any experience of Him or even of His Church.
Paul taught that sacrifice and praise were grateful responses to God’s prior acts of love and gracious gift of salvation. His faith is not a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of exercise, but the humble acceptance of a generous gift. Once accepted, that gift makes all the difference in the way we want to live.
God offers life. Choose to accept it and celebrate it by doing good. Let’s be the lively people of God, not the “walking dead.”
O Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New
Testament: Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold