A sermon by Harry Goodhew
Good morning! I guess we’re all permitted to have a favourite Bible passage. I certainly do. But the fact is that I keep changing my favourite. As circumstances change I find that particular passages take on a new and special significance. So then I have a new favourite.
How does work with you? Do you have a favourite passage or verse?
While I have current favourites there are some that remain as ‘bed-rock’: passages that give me my continuing basis for living and believing.
I remember a master at my school telling us that after the death of his mother he picked up her Bible and found that it automatically fell open at Psalm 23. The pages where it appeared bore evidence of numerous tears spilt over the words. It must have been a ‘bedrock’ passage for her.
Do you have any ‘bed-rock’ passages?
Let me introduce you to one of my ‘bedrock’ favourites.
“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 flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 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. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Do you recognise it? It’s the first ten verses of the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
I value it and keep returning to it because of what it teaches me about God and about me.
First up, it teaches me who and what I was, and what I am in myself, that is, by nature.
Like those to whom Paul wrote, I was dead in my transgressions and sins, in which I used to live when I 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. … Like the rest, I was by nature deserving of wrath.
This is a powerful reminder of my relationship to God and to all that has to do with him before he drew me to himself. I was dead, totally impotent in setting myself right spiritually and incapable of pleasing him.
The value of this is that it teaches me that I was, and am, totally dependent on God and his kindness for my life before him. And what I was then, I am still today: that is, I am totally dependent on him for every atom of my continuing life as his child.
The recognition of this fact of spiritual life is one of the greatest incentives that I know for approaching God in prayer. All that we might display by way of true repentance, genuine faith, and loving obedience flows from God’s work in us: he works in us to will and to do his good pleasure. Yes, it is we who repent, believe, and lovingly obey God but he works this in us. This must be so because apart from him we are, spiritually speaking, dead.
My next encouragement from this passage is that it tells me why my situation before God has changed. The reason for the change is God and his love. Listen to what Paul says.
“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 … God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus”
How wonderful are those two little words “but God”. I was dead, “but God” did something. In his amazing and totally underserved love he has made those who look to him “alive”, alive to him in a new and wonderful relationship which he has established. He has raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms. We are the objects of Divine Love. Having been made alive to God in Christ, we now have, as well as an earthy life, a hidden life that has its seat in Christ and in the heavenly realms. It is eternal life: the life of the Age to Come.
Take a little time this morning to reflect on that truth. If you look to Christ as your Saviour and Lord you have been the subject of a grand work of God, a work generated by love. That loving Life-Giver looks on you in Christ with the deepest and most wonderful affection. He really loves you and his throne is always attentive to your praises and prayers.
Note too that the best is yet to come. It tells us that in the coming ages we will experience his kindness to us in a degree that is described as the product of “the incomparable riches of his grace”. What that will be like is the subject of the last two chapters of the Bible which, in highly symbolic language, paints a picture of wonder and beauty, and of unsullied and unbroken fellowship with God in peace and joy.
I love the picture of that future painted by C. S. Lewis in the conclusion of the Chronicles of Narnia describing the destiny of the children who featured in the stories. He writes:
“All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before”.
Never forget how much God loves you.
At the heart of this passage and the thing which takes me back to it again and again, is a twice repeated statement: perhaps stated twice so it will not be missed. Paul writes:
“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.”
“ … it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.”
All our salvation from first to last is from God. It flows from his grace, his underserved mercy and kindness. He accomplished our deliverance, renewal and future joy in the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and by the work of His Spirit within us.
Please do notice that our being saved by grace through faith covers every aspect of our salvation. It involves our spiritual rebirth, our day-by-day loving obedience, and our final enjoyment of glory.
Perhaps, for me, the most wonderful part of the whole section is the closing sentence – “For we are” as another translation puts it, “God’s workmanship” “ created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
I, sinful, faithless, foolish I, have been taken up by God as a piece his creative work so that being crafted by him I can learn to live the way he wants me to live. That is breathtaking. All the commands, exhortations and encouragements of Scripture are the external guidelines God gives for my new life and for yours. The impelling energy to move in the pathway that they describe comes from his Spirit. That is why day-by-day, hour-by-hour, and moment-by-moment we are to look to him with the confidence, calling on him that he will work in us to will and do his good pleasure.
When we fail, we can go to him and acknowledge that we will always fail without his Divine aid, then ask his forgiveness, and seek his work in us that we might do better in the future
You and I must continually stir up our faith that God will always honour his promises to us. To remember, that to trust him is our greatest wisdom. To be constantly with him in recollection of his presence with us, and in conversation with him in prayer, is each a wonderful privilege for us and an absolute necessity for our faithful walk with him.
Who can fail to be moved to love such a loving and saving Father, one so gracious and so good as to make certain of our salvation by his own Divine operation. What we could not and cannot do, he undertook to do for us and in us. This is why I regularly return to this passage.
I leave this bed-rock favorite of mine with you and hope that it will encourage you as it encourages me. Take some time to read the passage over in your own Bible and think of all that it says to you.
No one can measure the love and grace of our heavenly Father. Remember how Paul put it: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
His grace does give us all we need, and in the ages to come it will give us more than we can ever imagine. We too will live in “the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before”.