Introduction – Morgan Freeman is searching for God on the National Geographic channel.
I was flipping between the baseball network and the NBA playoff and I stumbled upon the Morgan Freeman’s, National Geographic series about God. In this series Morgan Freeman travels around the world talking to religious authorities, observing rituals and asking big, big questions. I love Morgan Freeman only slightly less than I love God so I watched for a few minutes. Now I haven’t seen very much so I cannot comment on all that happens in the series, but this episode was about “who is God.” And at one point he goes to a service at Joel Osteen’s church and he treats it with the same openness and respect that he does all the other things he observes.
After the service he asks Joel, who is God the mega-church Pastor replies “He is the creator, he gives us purpose.” Osteen went on to say that he wanted people to know that God was near them and would help them. He wanted people to be free to call on God at any time.
Morgan Freeman, who does not consider himself religious, grabbed hold of the notion that God is inside of us and suggested that what he saw was “faith in the God in you.” He went on to talk about God being the best part of himself — God is the best part of me, the me I want to be, that is God. Now who knows how edited this all is and I can see what Morgan is thinking. God should bring out the best in me, or make me a better me. But I think he has some crucial things backwards
We are going to look at Ephesians 2 and ask:
Who are we from God’s viewpoint?
Who is God?
How does that change our lives?
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions (cross the line) and sins (miss the mark), 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[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.
The situation was bad: We were all spiritually dead, influenced by the world, the enemy and our sinful nature.
Paul is writing to people who have already made the decision to follow Christ. They live in a Greco-Roman culture filled with the occult, mystery religions and Emperor worship. But now they follow Christ. So when Paul says “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins” he is describing their old life. It is similar to a doctor coming into the hospital room of a patient who is recovering from an illness and telling him “you almost died.”
In their old life they were trapped in transgressions and sins. These are two words that describe disobedience to God. In short, transgressions happen when we cross a line and sins happen when we miss the mark. Together they reveal how we break the laws of God both consciously and unconsciously. Sometimes we aim to do the right thing only miss our mark and hurt others in the process. Other times we transgress. We don’t care what is right, we just want our way.
This dual disobedience is active in every culture and in every era; it is evident in the difficulties we, as a people, have in doing any good things. Whether it is two people working to keep a marriage together or two nations trying to bring peace out of war, our selfish desire to transgress and our ignorant acts of missing the mark often mess up the best laid plans for doing good.
Paul says that there are three things that kill our spiritual lives: the culture, the enemy of God and our own sinful nature.
Paul says that we are dead when we followed the ways of this world. Every culture on the planet, both now and in the past, has good and bad elements. In some way each culture reflects the will of God and yet opposes God. One culture may honor the elderly but at the same time be misogynist. Another culture may value personal accountability but be overly materialistic. Paul seems to be saying here that if you only listen to your culture you will go further down the road of sins and transgression.
Paul says that those who walk in the way of the world are also following the “ruler of the kingdom of the air. The spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” Christians believe that there is not only evil in our world, but a personal spiritual being opposed to God. Paul calls him a ruler and Jesus calls him the devil. To modern people few things seem more ridiculous than a devil who flies around tempting people to be satanic. And it does seem like something from a horror novel at times. But scripture is clear from Genesis to Revelation that the devil exists. He is an angelic being actively opposing God. Jesus confronted him and warned us against him, so it is hard to be a Christian and not accept that reality. However, it is important to realize that Satan does not need you to believe in him or even to follow evil. He only has to get you to follow yourself rather than God. Unfortunately, is not a hard sell.
Paul says that all of us (even Jews like Paul) followed the sinful ways of the culture and the “cravings of our flesh… following its desires and thoughts.” It sounds like Paul is saying that physical appetites are bad, but that is not accurate. When Paul talks of the flesh he is not describing our physical bodies but our sinful dispositions. Our flesh is our sinful nature, that part of us that wants our own way, that wants to exalt ourselves over others and wants to meet our normal human appetites in sinful ways. Having sexual desire, hunger or ambition is not wrong. The Enemy and the culture turn those into lust, addiction and pride.
This is the condition of humanity. We are by nature spiritually unresponsive to God. We are caught up in our own sins and transgressions, following a world that ignores God and being led away by his enemy Satan. This is why Paul says we were by nature “deserving of wrath.”
But God does not oppose us, punish us or ignore us. Instead God saves us.
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.
The solution was radical love: God intervened because of his love, grace and kindness to make us alive in Christ and examples of his grace
Into this situation of spiritual death God has made us alive in Christ. When you read Ephesians 2:4-7 you can see at least four things that motivate God. His love, mercy, grace and kindness cause God to act on our behalf. He makes us alive even when we are dead; there could not be a clearer statement about our helplessness and God’s mercy than this. We were actively walking away from God in the “way of the world” and God intervened to stop us, make us alive and put us on a new road. I have always thought of being a Christian as being a “forgiven follower of Jesus.” That is true, but Paul says that we have been “saved.” Salvation is much more than forgiveness. Paul expresses this by revealing that we are not only with Christ and in Christ at his death, but also in his resurrection.
Forgiveness is like being declared “not guilty” or more accurately, like having your conviction pardoned by a governor. Imagine a drug trafficker being convicted and then being pardoned: that is forgiveness. Being told that you have been pardoned because there is a group people trying to establish legitimate businesses in the city, and that they want you to be a leader among the young people giving them work rather than illegal activity, that is salvation. Salvation is forgiveness plus a whole new life serving a new master with new authority and new purpose. God’s whole motivation in this is love and grace. He loves us and he wants us to be evidence of his gracious character.
God is not inside us, at least not while we are spiritually dead, and that is a good thing. God is outside of us so he can rescue us. He is beyond us but he comes to us so that he can give us new life and show us the way.
The other motivation for his rescue is the new life he has for us. This aspect of our salvation is the closest to Morgan Freeman’s assumption that religion is about God in us or the best part of us. God does dwell in us and he does make us new people, but only after he has rescued us.
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.
God recreated us by his grace so that we might do good works he prepared for us.
This statement about what God has done for us is worthy of a whole sermon all by itself. It is that profound. But before Paul gets to the reason for our salvation he reminds us again that this was not done according our effort or even our worthiness. We have been saved by grace. It is a gift of God. It is not because of our works. God in his love has saved us and we respond in faith. That is all. When we do respond in faith we become God’s handiwork and now we have a new purpose. We now “walk” in the good works that God prepared in advance for us to do.
In a special like Morgan Freemans’ it is common to see what is similar in religions. All religious people pray. They all have worship rituals and most seek to make a you a better person. But this phrase “not by works” is what makes Christianity different. In almost all religions the thrust is about what we will do to appease or make ourselves acceptable to the gods. But narrative of the Bible is that God has come to us, by his grace. He does not tell us what to do to be worthy of him. He comes to forgive, atone and give us new life. Christianity is about what God has done for us. After he has rescued us he gives us new, good works to accomplish. But we do this not to gain salvation, but to fulfill our purpose as his children.
God is creator and re-creator.
He does good and remakes us to do good as well.