The Word of Life

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. We write these things to make our joy complete (1 John 1: 1–4).

Christianity is rooted and grounded in the reality of geography and history. We are not mystics. We are not feel good hippies. Christianity is not merely a philosophy of life; it does not simply offer psychological comfort to unhappy people. On the contrary, the message of the Christian Gospel is founded upon real Person who came from eternity, assumed our humanity, and dwelt in reality. Our faith does not rest upon abstract ideas or wishful thinking; rather, our faith rests upon a real man; the man who is God. The reason you must believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Saviour of lost mankind, is because it is true. The message we proclaim is a Person. Our message is Jesus Christ Himself the Word of Life whom John had seen with his own eyes, and looked upon as he was crucified, and had touched with his own hands. There is a reality to this message. It is not abstract. It’s not speculation. It is real. It is authentic. It is personal. The Apostle Paul could say, ‘We preach Christ’. My friends, we lose sight of the Gospel when we lose sight of the Lord Jesus. He is the sum, the centre, the very heartbeat of our faith. Our message is real. It is grounded in the narrative of Scripture. The shepherds who came to the manger looked upon the Son of God and held Him in their hands. The wise men came to visit the holy child; they looked upon Him and offered Him gifts. When Jesus gave His parents the slip in Jerusalem, the religious leaders in the temple heard the voice of the God-man as He spoke with them about His heavenly Father. His disciples and followers listened to Him as He preached the Sermon on the Mount, they heard Him preach the Good News, and they were amazed by the One who spoke with such authority and power. We are talking about things that really happened. We are talking about a person who really lived and died and rose again. The Christian Gospel is about a real person who could be heard, seen, and even touched.

    John, the author of this letter, is the disciple whom Jesus loved; the one who leaned upon the Lord Jesus at the last supper and felt the beat of His heart. He was the son of Zebedee, the brother of James; He was formerly a fisherman upon the Sea of Galilee, but He became a fisher of men to win lost sinners for Jesus. The Gospel of John, and these letters, and the book of Revelation were written by a man who personally knew the Lord Jesus Christ. He was one of His apostles and a dear friend to our Lord. So we are not talking about a paper pack novel here. The message of John is not fiction, it’s not sci-fi, it’s not fantasy. It is truth. The first letter of John was written for congregations across Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) in the late first century after the death of our Lord. That’s what I mean when I say we are talking about geography and history. We are dealing with facts. We are dealing with reality. John was an eye-witness to the ministry of the Lord Jesus. He had seen the Lord Christ heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and even raise the dead. He saw the glory of His transfiguration. He saw the face of our Lord shine with brightness of a thousand suns. He had seen that the Lord Jesus Christ is the radiance of the glory of God, the exact imprint of His nature; He had seen the face of the One who upholds the universe by the word of His power. He saw the bloody sweat, tears and the agony of our Saviour in the Garden. He heard Him crying out in Gethsemane to His heavenly Father. He saw the blood trickle down His face where the crown of thorns had been pressed into His head. He watched as the nails were driven into the hands and feet of the Lord of Glory. He saw the King of the universe crucified, dead, and buried. He saw the risen Lord Jesus. He touched Him. He saw the nail prints in His hands and feet and the scar of the wound where the spear had been thrust into His side. He even ate breakfast with the risen Lord Jesus. He saw the face of the One who had conquered sin, death and hell forever.

    Our Gospel is grounded in sense experience. It is based upon empirical evidence. John had heard the Lord Jesus, seen the Lord Jesus, looked upon Him, and even touched Him. These things are so real as to be tangible. Now we may not be able to see and touch the Lord Jesus today, but we have a written record of these wonderful truths in the Bible. ‘These things are written,’ says John, ‘that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name’ (John 20: 31). That is why John wrote His Gospel, that’s why He wrote these letters, that’s why he calls Him the Word of Life, and that is why He wrote the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Christianity does not ask you to abandon your reason and ‘just believe’. I am not asking you to give up your intellect and make a leap of faith in the dark. I urge rather to consider Christ, consider His person and work, read His Gospels, read the letters, read about Jesus Christ, think about Him this day as you hear the Word of Life preached, and then ask yourself: ‘what am I going to do with this man Jesus Christ?’

    1] Firstly, we learn that the Lord Jesus is from eternity (v. 1a). The text says, ‘That which was from the beginning’. Now the message and the person, as far as John is concerned, are ultimately one and the same thing. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself is the Good News. He is the message we proclaim. He is the Word of Life. He is the great Sermon of the Church. And so John is saying that the Lord Jesus Christ was from the beginning. He is taking us back to opening words of His Gospel, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made’ (John 1: 1–3). The Lord Jesus Christ is God. He is the second person of the Holy Trinity. He is one with the Father and the Spirit. They are co-equal and co-eternal. He was there in the beginning, before space was fashioned, before time began, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of Life, was there with the Father and the Spirit. The Lord Christ is eternally divine. It was by the word of His power that universe was made. The Word of Life is God the Son, the Creator of the vast Cosmos, and the Saviour of the World.

    The theologians would say that John has a Christology from above. He begins in eternity. He begins with the deity of our Lord. The Lord Jesus Christ was there from before the foundation of the world; He was there at the beginning of all things; He was there before the stars were made; before the galaxies spiralled out and formed this vast cosmos; He was there before the singularity; before the beginning of time. He was there in fellowship with His Father and the Holy Spirit even from the depths of eternity past before all worlds were made. We sing this truth in our hymns:

Thou art the everlasting Word,
The Father’s only Son,
God manifestly seen and heard,
And heaven’s beloved one.

 It’s a glorious thought! At the back of all created reality stands an infinite, eternal, and unchangeable Person – even the Word of Life, our blessed Lord Jesus. Christianity is not an impersonal religion. It’s not an abstract philosophy. Christianity is grounded rather in an absolute personality – the infinite personal Son of God whom we can know and love by faith. There is nothing worse in life than loneliness. It’s a horrible thing. You feel unloved, isolated, and miserable. The atheist wants us to believe that we simply a cosmic accident; the by-product of a chaotic universe; that we are completely alone in this vast cosmos. He says in his heart, there is no God. For him, reality is simply a vast, bleak expanse of emptiness. We here for moment and then snuffed out of existence forever. That is all we have.

    Surely, my friends, we must see that John is right. Is the human personality simply the result of time plus chance, or are we not rather the creation of an infinite-personal God? How do we explain that we are here in this universe as personal beings? How do we explain art and music, society, culture, science, and football? If we are simply a cosmic accident, then what’s the point? Why bother? Why live each day? Why is it so unreasonable to say that there is an eternal God who has made us, and loves us, and longs that we come to know Him by faith? The Christian believes that we were created for a purpose; to know and love this infinite and eternal Person; to serve Him and live for His glory. We ask these grand questions: what is the meaning of life? Why are we here? What is my purpose? As far as John is concerned, man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever; to glorify the loving Lord Jesus was there in beginning with God, and who indeed is very God of very God; the eternal Son of the Father’s love.

    And He is always there, He has always been, and forever shall be. He is always ready to listen to us. You may feel you have no one to talk to, you may feel completely lonely and helpless, without God and without hope in the world, but Jesus Christ is there and He is ever ready to listen to your prayers. Why not approach Him in faith and find in Him an eternal friend who sticks closer than a brother? You’ll find in Him an infinite person, the One who is the same today, yesterday, and forever; a friend who will never let you down. ‘Him that cometh to me’, He says, ‘I will in no wise cast out’. Why not come to the eternal Lord Jesus today and find in Him everlasting rest for your soul? He is the Word of Life; ‘In Him is life and that life is the light of men’ (John 1: 4a). He says, ‘Everyone who believes in me shall not perish but have everlasting life’. ‘Look unto me’, He says, ‘all the ends of the earth, and be saved, for I am God and there is none else’. Salvation is found in Him alone. Eternal life can only be given by the eternal Son of God. Complete joy, everlasting happiness, fellowship with God, and a home in eternity – these things are found in Jesus only. My friend, what are you waiting for? It is the most unreasonable thing in the world not to commit your life to Him? Will you not bow before the Lord Jesus and say ‘You are my Lord and my God’? My friend, you will never go to heaven unless you are prepared to worship Jesus Christ as the eternal God.
    2] Secondly, we learn that the Lord Jesus came into history (v. 1b). He is from eternity; He came into history. John says, ‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched’. Go back as far as you can imagine, before anything, before everything, and you will find the eternal Son co-existing with the Father and Spirit, before all worlds were made. The Word of Life did not come into existence as the baby child in Bethlehem; He had already existed from the very beginning; from eternity, He had enjoyed a personal, face to face, love-relationship with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. He didn’t become God at some point in time. He has always been God. But He came into history. I am reminded once again of the words from John’s Gospel, ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1: 14). He was not always flesh. He was not always a man. But He was always God. What John is saying is that the infinite, eternal, creator God came into space and time, took a body, and dwelt among us. He became flesh. The everlasting Word assumed a human nature. There was no subtraction of deity; only the addition of frail humanity. He didn’t give up being God when He became flesh. Remaining what He eternally was, He assumed a human nature. He became a real man. He took a real body and a reasonable soul. He came into the reality of history. He came into space and time. He came to Bethlehem in Judea and dwelt among us 2000 years ago. Paul says that ‘when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law’ (Galatians 4: 4). The eternal Son of God came into this world as a little child.

Lo, within a manger lies
He who built the starry skies.

    The child in the manger was a Supernatural Person. That’s the real miracle of the incarnation. The baby at Bethlehem was the Son of God in the flesh. There was never a moment when the Word of Life was not God, but there was a very definite moment when He appeared in the flesh. Yes His glory was veiled, yes His majesty was hidden from human eye, but that little child in the manger was upholding the universe by the word of His power. Here is God incognito. He came undercover on a mission to rescue sinners of lost mankind and bring them back to God.

    In our text, John is emphasising the reality of the incarnation by saying we heard Him, we saw Him, we looked upon Him, we touched Him. The Lord Jesus Christ was a real man. There was no unearthly glow about Him; there was no halo about His head. He was a real man. He had hair, skin, nails, teeth, bones, lungs, capillaries and organs like us all. He had a human heart, a human soul, a human mind, a human psychology. He was in every way a true man of reasonable body and soul, but this wondrous man of whom we tell was true almighty God. We believe that He is fully God and fully man in one glorious person. He is not half God and half man. He is not a demigod. He is not like Hercules or the Pharaohs of Egypt. He is very God of very God, and He is now a very real man. He is God and so mighty to save us. He is man and so gentle to sympathise with us. He is not a humanized God or a deified man, but a true God-man; upon whose Almighty saving arm we can rest and to whose compassionate heart we may appeal. His humanity means that He was fit to represent us, to keep the law for us, to go to the cross for us, to suffer and even die for us. He entered into full identification with fallen men and women (yet He was pure and without sin), and He carried our sins and our sorrows, He made them His very own, and He faced the wrath of God in our stead as our substitute upon Calvary, and thereby He procured an eternal redemption for all those who put their trust in Him. His perfect deity and true humanity mean that His obedience and sacrifice are of an infinite value for the people of God. You sins may be great indeed, but His saving love is greater still.

    The miracle of the incarnation is that the Lord Jesus Christ, the One who created the vast starry heavens, the One spoke light into being, the One who formed man out of the dust of the earth, came into space and time, was born as a little child, to rescue sinners of mankind lost. This child grew in wisdom and stature, and throughout the whole course of His life He lived in perfect obedience to His heavenly Father. We have failed God. We have broken every law. We have smashed every commandment. We are sinners, condemned and unclean. But the Lord Christ was spotless in every way. ‘He fulfilled all righteousness’ (Matthew 3: 15). The Lord Christ did everything which the Law of God required. He obeyed the Law on our behalf. Where we were disobedient, He was obedient. And His obedience extended even to His death. He lived the life that we should have lived, and He died the death that we deserved to die. Paul says to the Philippians, ‘And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death upon a cross’ (Philippians 2: 8). You see, the incarnation alone was not enough to save us; the Lord Jesus had to go to the cross and face the wrath of a holy God in our place. You will never understand the cradle without the cross. You will never understand the incarnation without the crucifixion. Our guilt, our sin, our shame was transferred and imputed to Him and He suffered the penalty which was due to us upon the cross.  He suffered as a real man. The Lord of glory was crucified. He suffered the agony of Calvary in His own body. The nails driven through His hands and feet caused excruciating pain; the cross made breathing immensely difficult and painful. He suffered psychologically; He heard the mocking crowds and the insults of the Roman soldiers. He could hear His mother weeping. And He suffered spiritually, in the depths of His being. He faced the wrath of a sin-hating God and in my place; he was condemned in the sinner’s room, and He sealed my pardon with His blood. ‘God made Him who knew no sin to be sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Corinthians 5: 21). The stain of sin could not be removed without His blood: ‘For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins’ (Hebrews 9: 22). The Lord Christ came into the reality of history. He came into space and time. He came to a place called Jerusalem and was crucified outside the walls of the city at Golgotha – the place of the skull. We are not dealing here with mysticism. We are not dealing with hocus pocus religion. These things truly happened at a particular moment in space and time. The Lord Christ died as a sacrifice for sin 2000 years ago upon a cross of wood. It was so real that if you were there at that time, you could have seen with your own eyes the cross of wood, you could have heard the crowds mocking, and the soldiers cursing, you could have watched as the Lord of Glory bled, and suffered, and died for sinners of lost mankind.

    John emphasises the reality of these things. ‘I saw Him’, He says, ‘I saw Him in the Garden in an agony for my sins. I heard Him cry in anguish from the cross, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”(Matthew 27: 46). And I looked upon Him as He was crucified for sins not His own. And I watched as He struggled to breathe, and bled from hands, and feet, and side. And I saw the King of Glory crucified, dead, and buried. And I saw that great big stone they rolled over the tomb where His body lay. And I saw the empty tomb and the folded grave clothes’. My friends, ‘could John ever forget the invitation of the risen Lord to His bewildered and frightened disciples, who were convinced they were seeing a Ghost? “Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Luke 24: 39)’ (David Jackman). There is a glory to be seen in these things. John says in the Gospel, ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory; glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1: 14). Oh my friend, have you seen the beauty and glory of Christ? There was glory in His birth, and glory in His life, and glory in the Garden, and glory on the cross, and there was glory in tomb, and glory in that upper room. Have you seen it? Have you seen His glory? Moses great desire was for God to show His glory. ‘Show me thy glory’, He said. That was His prayer. Have you said that? Will you make that your prayer? Oh Lord, give a sight and sense of Thy glory!

    The Lord Jesus Christ is the most blessed, the most glorious, the most wonderful man who has ever lived. He is altogether lovely. He is the lily of the valley and the rose of Sharon. His hair is white like wool, His eyes are a flame of fire, His feet glow like burnished bronze and His voice is the roar of many waters. He is the fairest among ten thousand. He is great and glorious. He is merciful and mighty. He is worthy to be loved, and worshipped, and adored. He is worthy indeed to receive the best of our love – the cream of it; the quintessence of our affections. Will you not love Him? Will you not worship Him? Will you not come and bow the knee before Him? Why not come to Him? He desires to save lost sinners. He took such pains to come and rescue lost mankind. He says, ‘Come to me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’. Come now, come today, come and find a Saviour glorious. Come and see the glory of the King!
    3] Thirdly, we learn that the Lord Jesus was proclaimed by the Apostles and the early Christians (v. 2–3a). The Church of Jesus Christ is a missionary Church. The first Christians couldn’t keep quiet about Jesus. John says, ‘the life was made manifest to us, and we have seen it, and we testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and made manifest to us; and that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you’ (v. 2–3a). It was not enough to see and hear; they had to testify and proclaim the Word of Life. They didn’t tell stories about themselves, they weren’t selfish, and self obsessed, they told others about Jesus Christ. He was their great concern. They proclaimed the Word of Life. ‘Have you heard about Jesus?’ they would say. They had a message to proclaim. They had a Gospel to tell. Paul says to the Corinthians, ‘For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 2: 2). They weren’t cool. They didn’t follow the latest trends. They had no stage lighting; no fancy music. They didn’t have the latest gizmos and gadgets, or hip-hop preachers wearing trendy jeans. They didn’t print Church growth manuals; or depend on American courses and programmes. They simply had this message: Jesus Christ and Him Crucified. They talked about Him. They worshipped Him. They sang His praises. And the Gospel spread throughout the whole world and multitudes were saved. Do you remember when David prepared to fight Goliath? Saul suited him in best armour and gave him the finest weapons. And David couldn’t move! He had too much stuff to carry and worry about. Oh my friends, do we not very much need to shed Saul’s armour and take up the five smooth stones of the Gospel and watch giants come crashing down?

    Our message is very simple. Ours is a Gospel for sinners. It is a Gospel for the helpless and hopeless; a Gospel for men and women ruined and broken by the fall. It is Good News; it is the best news that sinners of lost mankind will ever hear. ‘It was our sorry case that caused the Word of Life to come down; our transgressions called out His love for us, so that He made haste to come and help us, and appear among us. It is we who were the cause of His taking human form; it was for our salvation that in His great love He was both born of a Virgin and manifest in the flesh’ (adapted from Athanasius). It was for our sins that He went to Calvary. And it was for our shame that He died. It is by His blood and sacrifice that we have peace with God. He so loved us, He so desired to save us, that He was willing to give His last to rescue us and bring us back to God. You may feel that you are the worst sinner in the world; you may feel beyond redemption; but there is hope for you. Indeed there is hope for every sinner who comes to Jesus Christ in true faith and true repentance. John holds forth the Word of Life to us. This is the message the Church of Jesus Christ has been called to proclaim. We bear witness and we testify to His saving love and matchless grace.
    Christians are called to be missionaries in this world. If we are not missionaries, then we are impostors. We are called to tell others about Jesus Christ and His wonderful love. We may not have great gifts and many talents, we may not have Saul’s clunky armour, but we have all that we need in Jesus Christ. We have a wonderful message to proclaim. As the Angel said to the shepherds, we have ‘Good News of great joy, which shall be for all the people’ (Luke 2:10). Oh that we might be more willing to tell others about Jesus! There are sinners each day passing into the night. Let it not be said that anyone should perish for lack of knowledge concerning Jesus Christ. Are we going to be like that worthless servant who buried His talent in the ground? Are we going to be like Jonah, the runaway preacher, who refused at first to take the Gospel to Nineveh?

     My friends, there are sinners perishing, thirsting, longing, dying – and all stand in need of Jesus. ‘To be without Christ is a terrible thing! Oh the dreadful condition of a man without Christ! He is naked and without anything to put on; he is sick and without a physician; he is famished but there is no bread for him; guilty and there is no righteousness for him; vile and no fountain to wash in; lost and without a Redeemer; damned and no salvation for him’ (John Elias). The man without Christ is the most miserable man on earth. But we have the Word of Life and any man without Christ need not be so any more. He can have Christ this very moment. You might feel yourself to be a rotten sinner, but the Lord Christ is willing to wash you with His own blood, to clothe you in the robes of His own righteousness, and present you faultless before the throne of mercy. My friends, we must not think harsh thoughts of Jesus Christ. He is the Word of Life and He is willing to give eternal life to all who call upon His name. ‘For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved’ (Romans 10: 13). Eternal life is found in Jesus only and to know Him is life eternal. Do you know Him? Do you love Him? Do you trust in Him? He says, ‘Whosoever believes in Me shall not perish but have everlasting life’ (John 3: 16).

     Believers, let us long for lost sinners to be saved! Let us do everything to proclaim and testify concerning these things. This is a matter of utmost urgency in our generation. When did we last drop a tear for the lost? When did we last pray for lost people? Have we no concern for our neighbours, for our friends, our colleagues, even our enemies? What of our family members who are without God and without hope in this world? There is but a step between them and death and hell, and if they unbelieving, they will perish eternally, and be lost forever. Can we not pity men and women in this state? These things should move us to tears. Oh let us seek God for compassionate hearts! Oh that His Spirit would move us to win souls for Jesus! Oh that He would move us to pray for sinners of lost mankind! Oh that He would unseal our lips and fill our hearts with a message of love for broken people! Do we live with lost people? Do we see them at work or on the street? Do you sit with them and talk with them? Have you ever said, ‘I’m a Christian; I believe in Jesus’? If their houses were on fire, you would surely run and help them? Will you not help them when there is but a thread of life between them and eternal condemnation? 

The desire of these early Christians was for others to come to know and love the Lord Jesus Christ. ‘This we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father with His Son Jesus Christ’ (v. 3b). The Gospel is a beautiful message. It draws us together into a living love-relationship with God Himself and with the Son of His love. We live in a society that is so cold, individualistic, and self centred. It’s all about me, myself, and I. But the Gospel brings us in to a community of believers who love God and who love one another. Men ought to look at us and say, ‘See how they love one another’ (John 3: 35). And oh let them see above all how much we love the Lord Jesus Christ. ‘For we are never nearer Christ than when we find ourselves lost in a holy amazement at His unspeakable love’ (John Owen). My friends, there is great joy in living this way. John says, ‘And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete’ (v. 4). Is your joy complete? What do we know of this complete joy by experience? There is fullness of joy to be found in Christ; there is joy in telling other about Him, and there is joy in living lives of love and holiness for His the sake of His glory. ‘And though you have not seen him, yet you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy’ (1 Peter 1: 8). Oh that we might love Him so and know such joy unspeakable! Amen.


‘By grace you have been saved’ (Ephesians 2:1–10)

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians teaches the highest theology in the whole of Scripture. It sets forth with great clarity the sovereignty of God in the salvation of sinful people. It speaks to us of man’s plight and desperation in sin. Paul is at pains to tell us that man cannot save himself. He is utterly helpless. The only hope of a man dead in trespasses and sins, says Paul, is the power of God.

    Paul’s theology of grace expressed so beautifully in this letter is the hope of every true believer. Grace, according to the Apostle, is not some charming or pleasing sentiment. On the contrary, the grace of God is the exercise of His divine omnipotence in saving sinners from their miserable condition. It is the power of divine grace alone that saves men and women from sin, and death, and hell. Paul is saying that none but God can speak with the voice that wakes the dead. Grace isn’t merely divine favour, it is divine power. It is not merely the sunlit majesty of a beautiful lake; it is the advance of a mighty ocean. To be saved by grace is to be rescued by the hand of the Almighty God.

    The passage before us is divided into two clear parts: (i) man’s misery in sin (vv. 1–3), and (ii) God’s grace in salvation (vv. 4–10). The structure of Paul’s argument is crucial for understanding the Gospel message itself: for it is against the night sky of human depravity that the stars of God’s grace shine brightest. God saves sinners. Grace is not a reward for the righteous. It is a gift of mercy for poor and miserable sinners. It is from wrath and condemnation that we have been saved. How terrible a thing it is to abide under the wrath of God! It is like an unquenchable flame burning within the conscience of man. But when God comes to us in grace and pardons all of our sins, then we begin to see something of His beauty, mercy, and kindness. He becomes our highest happiness, our delight, our love, and our joy. We are raised beyond the tomb of sin and death to the full enjoyment of the living God. ‘God does not appear now in the fire or in the earthquake, but covered with a rainbow full of mercy’.[1] Grace is His darling attribute. It sweetens His holiness and sovereignty, and makes Him appear precious and delightful in our eyes.

1] In the first part of our text, Paul speaks to us of man’s misery and desperation in sin (vv. 1–3).
He uses two words to describe the plight of man: ‘trespasses’ and ‘sins’. The word trespass (paráptōma) means to cross a boundary without permission. If you have ever read the Lord of the Rings by Tolkien, then you will know that the Hobbits Merry and Pippin would often trespass the boundaries of Famer Maggot’s fields to steal his carrots and mushrooms. God has given us boundaries in His Law to keep us on the straight and narrow way of holiness. Whenever we break the Law of God, we are trespassing and deviating from the way He wants us to live. We are doing the things we ought not to do. Trespasses are sins of commission. They are deliberate actions against God Himself.

    Sin (hamartia) is an archery term for missing the very centre of the target. God asks us to obey Him perfectly and perpetually. We refuse. We stamp our feet like little children and shake our tiny hands in the face of the Almighty and say, ‘I’ll do it my way’. We miss the standard of God’s absolute righteousness. We fail to live as God commands us to live. Paul is teaching us a theology of sin. The Shorter Catechism puts it simply for children to understand: ‘Sin is any transgression or any want of conformity to the Law of God’. The highest commandment in the Law is that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. God is to be the highest object of our affections, but as sinners we love our selves and the things of this world more than we love God. We wilfully break His laws and we don’t live lives of holiness for His glory. Our sins offend Him deeply. The Lord Christ wept over the sinful stubbornness of Jerusalem. If I may say this with reverence, sin breaks God’s heart. Oh that we would gain a sense of how terrible and odious a thing sin is! Oh that we would experience that spirit of brokenness for our sins and the sins of the world! How can we look upon the ruins of mankind and not shed a tear? How can we not weep when we see what has become of mankind? Man who was made but a little lower than the angels, who was crowned with glory and honour in Garden, and made in the image and likeness of God Himself.  Thomas Boston laments our sorry state with tears:

Happy were you, O man! Heaven shone upon you and earth smiled; you were the companion of angels and the envy of devils. But how low is he now fallen; he who was created for dominion and made lord of this world! The crown is fallen from our head; woe unto us, that we have sinned! Oh! How we have fallen! How we are plunged into a gulf of misery! The sun has gone down upon us and death has come in at our windows.

The consequences of sin and transgression are dreadful. Paul speaks of four in particular. He speaks of these things in the past tense in order to remind the Ephesians of the miserable estate from which they have been saved.  

    1] Firstly, our relationship with God was completely ruined. Paul says that we were dead to God. We were spiritually separated from the presence of the divine being. Isaiah says, ‘Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear’ (Isaiah 59:2). The great tragedy of the fall of man is this loss of communion with God. In the state of sin, we have no fellowship with the divine being. We have no personal love relationship with our God. And without God, we were dead, lifeless, helpless, and hopeless. There was no awareness of the glory and majesty of Christ, there was no experiential acquaintance with His sufferings and death, and there was no sensitivity to the life and activity of the Spirit of God. There was no spiritual vigour in the soul. Fallen man is like a ruined castle, devoid of life and activity. He is ruined by the fall. He is dead in sin. He has no love for God, no desires for holiness, no longings for Christ. He walks in darkness. The problem that we are facing in society is not merely apathy or indifference. It is not even that man is spiritually sick, and needs a little help. Man is dead to God, utterly dead, in trespasses and sins. And so, nothing but resurrection power will remedy the plight of man. Nothing but a supernatural work of the Spirit of God can breathe new life into the dry bones of lost sinners. We must pray for this. We must seek God for such a revival of religion. We need Spirit empowered preaching and Spirit filled congregations. We need the breath of God to revive His Church, to sanctify His people, and save lost sinners.

    2] Secondly, we were enslaved to the world and her pleasures. Paul says, we were ‘following the course of the world’. We were not unwilling slaves. Men love the sinful bondage of this world. When Paul uses the term ‘the world’, he is speaking of the values and ideologies of society, of the culture and age in which we live. These values change and shift over time. Even within a society, there can be many different worldviews and philosophies among men, but there is one thing that unites them. The distinguishing mark of worldliness is disdain for God Himself. Men will turn to idols and gods of their own making, or they will make gods of themselves and suppress the knowledge of the true and living God in unrighteousness, rather than obey His voice. They will live for the debase pleasures of sex, drink, drugs, and wild living or they will live for the higher pleasures of art, politics, and education, but they will not live for God and for His righteousness. They follow the crowd. They follow their social situation. They have their pop culture, their soap operas, their sports channels, their glossy magazines, and horoscopes. They mindlessly walk into the darkness of hell without a thought for the eternity of their souls. My friends, we must sound the alarm! We must urge men and women to see the seriousness of their predicament and flee to the Lord Christ for mercy! How terrible it would be for us to leave men drowning in sin! How selfish it would be to keep a Gospel of free grace to ourselves! What’s the matter with us? Where are the tears for lost sinners? Where are the urgent prayers for God to save? Where is the missionary heart of the Church?

    3] Thirdly, the prince of the power of the air held us captive. He chained us to this present world and her fleeting pleasures. All the ways of Satan are pure malice and spite. He hates God and he hates God’s people. He flatters himself and calls himself the ‘prince of this world’. He thinks he owns the place and, sadly, men are deceived by his wicked devices. He has the ‘power of the air’. The air or atmosphere covers the entire globe. In other words, his influence is global. His armies of fallen angels prowl the earth, seeking to devour the souls of men. It is his spirit that works all that is evil in this world. He has a finger in every pie. He is there at every gathering of world leaders. He has a seat in parliament and in congress. His influence is pervasive. He works no good in earth. He holds kings and rulers, politicians, and journalists, men and women, as his children, his sons and daughters of disobedience. He has them under his thumb. But we have a Saviour who is infinitely greater than the ‘prince of this world’. We have the King of the Universe on our side. We have the Lord Jesus, the One who has beaten sin, and death, and hell. We have the Lion of the Tribe of Judah who has crushed the serpent’s head. We must look to the Captain of our Salvation for strength to go into all the world and preach the Gospel.

    4] Finally, Paul says we were children of wrath like the rest of mankind. Paul is speaking about us. We must never think that we are better than other men. We were condemned. We were the children of wrath. We lived in the ‘passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind’. In other words, we lived as we pleased without a care for God. We were enslaved to sinful desires and thoughts. And therefore the wrath of God was revealed against us. God is righteousness and holy. He cannot look upon sin. Now His anger is not malice or spite. It is justice. His wrath is what every man deserves for sinning against a holy God. It is not like the wrath of sinful men. When men get angry, they are vicious, wild, red faced, hot tempered, and flustered. But God is like a judge at court. He is cool, calm, dignified and of right mind. His judgements are perfect and all His ways are just. This divine judgement comes upon us all. We are all guilty sinners by nature. We have all inherited the guilt and corruption of our first parents. We are sinners ‘like the rest of mankind’. When Adam fell, we all fell with Him. We went down like a line of collapsing dominoes. None are exempt from this condemnation. ‘There is no one righteous, no not even one’ (Romans 3:10). All mankind abides under the wrath of God. There is no room for spiritual pride in our Churches. Have we become like the Pharisees? Do we stand in condemnation of all others and yet not feel ourselves to be sinners? Are we white washed tombs full of dead men’s bones? Like the city of Nineveh, we must all fall upon our knees in sackcloth and ashes with tears in our eyes, for we were the children of wrath but we have found mercy and grace in God. Where is our poverty of spirit? When did we last drop a tear for our sins? The miners who came up from the mines to hear Whitefield preaching in the open air in Bristol listened and the tears fell from their eyes making white gutters down their coal-black faces. Oh for such a work among men today!

II] In the second part of our text, we see God’s grace in saving sinners of lost mankind.
Paul can no longer restrain himself from speaking of God’s mercy and grace. ‘The great throbbing heart of this marvellous missionary, a heart so filled with compassion, can wait no longer’.[2] Paul desires above all to tell the Ephesians the way of salvation. ‘But God’, he says. God Himself is the author of salvation. It is His work. It is His prerogative. Nothing but divine intervention can rescue fallen men and women from their plight and rebellion in sin. We were dead in trespasses and sins, but God came to us in resurrection power and rescued us. Salvation is of the Lord. We don’t earn it. It is not an award. It’s not a prize. It is a gift of mercy: ‘God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ’. There is something truly wonderful about this. It is a remarkable work of God. We have this backdrop of sin, and misery, and death, but God intervenes. But God comes to the rescue. He comes in the person of Christ to save us. For us, He takes a body like our own; He shoulders our sins and sorrows, He makes them His very own, He carries them all the way to Calvary, and suffers and dies alone. The Son of God condemned in our place for our sins. That’s grace! That’s mercy! That’s love!

    Do you know our God is rich in mercy? There is an ocean of divine pity in the heart of God for helpless sinners. So often we have a mean view of God, we think harsh thoughts of Him, and we imagine that He is reluctant to pardon sinners. Don’t you see? We were dead in our trespasses, but God had mercy upon us. God knows nothing of penny-pinching when it comes to showing mercy. He is rich is mercy. There is an abundance of mercy in the heart of God for repentant sinners. There is no sinner too foul for Him. And what is the source of His mercy? Paul says it is ‘the great love with which He loved us’. It is not merely love, it is great love. There is a plenitude of love in the heart of God. Indeed, God is love. There is so much love in His heart for sinners. Indeed, it is a love beyond human comprehension (3:19). We stammer for words to fathom its height, its depth, its everlasting breadth. It is His deep, passionate concern and care for His elect children in Christ. It is a love that will not let us go (Romans 8:39). It is a love which comes to us when we are utterly helpless and without hope. It is a love for the unlovely and unlovable. It is a love for the worst sinners and the best sinners; a love for wicked sinners and splendid sinners. It is not that God’s love comes to us when we were doing rather well for ourselves. His love comes to us when we are most destitute and miserable. But God demonstrates His own love to us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)! The Lord God drew close to us in love and mercy even when we were dead in our trespasses and sins and made us alive together with Christ.

    It is not merely that God helps us, or gives us a spiritual boost. On the contrary, He resurrects us! He creates new life in our dead hearts. Can these dry bones live? Can the dead be raised to life? We are dealing with something extraordinary. The same power which brought Christ back from the dead is at work in our hearts. We call it regeneration. It is a new birth. It is the life of God in the soul of man. The New Birth is as remarkable as when the Lord Christ Himself broke the chains of death and rose in glory and in might. If you are a Christian then marvel at what God has done in your heart! He has taken your dead and lifeless heart and caused it to beat with love for God and for His people. He has given you a new heart, with new desires. What do we know of this by experience? Do our hearts overflow with love for God, with holy desires, with concern for God’s people, with a passion to see lost sinners saved? What do we know of holy affections for the Lord Christ and our heavenly Father?

    Sandwiched in the middle of Paul’s discussion is the exclamation: ‘By grace you have been saved’ (v. 5b). This is what Paul’s letter is all about. We are not saved by our merits, efforts, works, or deeds, but by God’s grace alone. Grace means that our salvation doesn’t depend upon our personal performance. For those who are struggling and those who are weary and heavy laden, bowed down beneath a load of sin, grace is the most wonderful message in the world. That’s our message. We are a people saved by grace. We have the best message, the best news to tell to a dying world. The Biblical position on this matter is stated most clearly by Toplady:

Not the labours of my hands,
Can fulfil Thy law’s demands.
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears for ever flow,
All for sin could not atone,
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

    No amount of law keeping, no amount of good works, or prayers, or tears of sorrow for sin, or charity work, or church attendance, or Bible reading can ever make a man a true Christian. Salvation is not by human effort. It is a work of divine and sovereign grace alone. God alone saves, and none other. When we fall and stumble, when we struggle with sin, we must not think that our salvation depends upon our personal merits. It does not. We look ever and only to God and we find rest for our souls and everlasting happiness in His matchless grace.

    Salvation by grace doesn’t merely mean that God has wiped the slate of sin clean, but that He has raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly places. Believers share a spiritual union with the Lord Christ. We were united with Him in His life, obedience, sufferings, and death, and we are united with Him in His resurrection, ascension, and heavenly session at the right hand of God. If God were to ask ‘where is your righteousness?’ you can say, ‘seated at Thy right hand’. Our righteous is in heaven. Our hope, our blessedness, our salvation is found in the Lord Christ who is seated at the right hand of God.

What from Christ my soul can sever,
Bound by everlasting bands?
Once in Him, in Him forever,
Thus the eternal cov’nant stands.
None can pluck me, none can pluck me
From the strength of Israel’s hands!

    We are wrapped up with Christ in the glory. We are safe and secure forever in His arms. We can say with Solomon, ‘My beloved is mine and I am His, His banner over me His love ’. This union is the basis of our personal communion and fellowship with Christ. We can enjoy a personal love relationship with the Lord Jesus by virtue of this vital and living union with Him. We can approach Him in prayer and we can listen to His voice as His speaks to us in His written word. Oh how can we not be moved to love Him? We are one with Him! He holds us in an embrace of eternal love. It is only fitting that we love and adore Him in return. Let us give Him the cream, the best, the quintessence of our love. For He is worthy to be loved and cherished! He is the lily of the valley, the rose of Sharon. He is the fairest among ten thousand. Yes, He is altogether lovely.

O that my soul could love and praise Him more,
His beauties trace, His majesty adore,
Live near His heart, upon His bosom lean,
Obey His voice, and all His will esteem.

But why has God done this? What end or purpose does He have in mind? Paul tells us that God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the glory ‘to show us the immeasurable riches of grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus in the coming ages’. God’s work of salvation displays the riches of His grace and kindness. The history of redemption is like a great theatre wherein God enacts His glory. We are trophies of His grace.

The purpose of God for His Church, as Paul came to understand it, reaches beyond itself, beyond the salvation, the enlightenment and the re-creation of individuals, beyond its unity and fellowship, beyond even its witness to the world. The Church is to be the exhibition to the whole creation of the wisdom and love and grace of God in Christ.[3]

    The end of the work of redemption is the glory of God. That God should transform sinners from dead miserable creatures to being joint-heirs with His Son is a truly remarkable thing! It shows us most vividly the kindness of God and the riches of His grace. God is showing us His kindness and grace ‘in Christ’. We are reminded that no grace, no love, no mercy, no salvation comes to us from God without the mediation of the Lord Christ.[4] The work of salvation is always intimately connected with the life, sufferings, death, and resurrection of our Lord. It because He died and rose, that we have died to sin and been raised to new life in Christ.

Practical Uses    
1] Paul’s doctrine of grace rebukes those who say salvation is earned by works.  He is at pains to say that God alone saves us. We do not contribute anything to our salvation. John Stott puts it like this:

By God’s grace you are a people who have been saved through faith and this event and experience is God’s free gift to you. It is neither your achievement (not of your own doing) nor a reward for any of your deeds of religion or philanthropy (not because of works) ... there is no room for human merit.[5]

You will hear many people say, ‘I decided for Christ. I made up my mind and chose to become a Christian’. But as we read the Gospels and Paul’s letters, we begin to see that it was God who chose us, called us, rescued us, regenerated us, and created faith in our hearts. It was God who decided for us. It was God who made up His mind to save us. It was God who chose us in Christ to become His children. Faith and salvation are the gifts of God to us. It is God alone who saves sinners. We are undoubtedly responsible to repent and believe the Gospel, but only God can work a miracle of grace in our dead and lifeless hearts.    

    2] Paul’s doctrine of grace leaves no room for selfish boasting. John Stott said, ‘We shall not be able to strut round heaven like proud peacocks’.[6] Salvation is not our own doing; it is not a result of human merit. It is a work wholly divine. All the praise, all the glory, all the honour must go to God alone. If we are to boast, let us boast in the Lord. You won’t be able to say, ‘I got to heaven, because I’m worth it’. In fact, we will say the opposite, ‘I was worthless, but God rescued me’. There is no such thing as a proud Christian.  
    3] Paul’s doctrine of grace means that we are precious to God. Paul says that we are ‘God’s workmanship, created in Christ’. We are God’s work of art. We are His masterpiece, His magnum opus. All the beauty and wonder of salvation is His work. Paul even ties this workmanship with the idea of creation. We are created anew in Christ. Salvation does not mean that God helps us to become like Christ, but that He makes us like Christ. He recreates us to reflect the beauty and glory of the Lord Christ in our lives. Calvin says, ‘You see then that this phrase ‘created in Christ’ is enough to stop the mouths and put away the cackling of such as boast of having any merit. For when they say so, they presuppose that they were their own creators’.[7]  The whole work of salvation in us from the new birth to glorification is God’s workmanship. We are His special creation in Christ Jesus. And we are deeply loved and valued by the God who made us and conforms us to image of His Son.

    4] Paul’s theology of grace means that we have good works to do. When the Lord Christ by His Spirit dwells within our hearts, He creates good works within us. He causes us to bear the fruit of the Spirit: ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self–control’ (Galatians 5:22–23). The outward manifestation of works is important, but principally God is concerned with our heart. The fruit of the spirit deals with our emotional and thought life. Good works that are truly Christian spring from good attitudes. True religion, in great part, consists in holy and loving affections. And God has prepared such spiritual fruit from eternity. He planted the tree of holiness and obedience before the foundation of the world. His plan for us was a plan for holy living. It is not that we grit our teeth and suddenly decide to become holy by a sheer effort of human will. If that is your understanding of holiness, then you are far, far from it. Rather we look to God’s grace to create such fruit in our lives and to make us more like Son. We happily pray with St. Augustine, ‘Lord, command whatever you will, but give us what you command’. In other words, ‘Lord, give us the grace to live holy lives’. He has prepared these good works for us; we have only to ask Him and seek Him in prayer and He will slowly but surely make us more like His beloved Son. It is hard at times. It is a fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil. But God is on our side! And the grace which saves us is the grace which sanctifies us.  

    Holiness is not a burdensome task. Sometimes preachers make it sound like that. We’ve missed the point when describe holiness in such austere terms. The way of holiness is the way of true and lasting happiness. It is a blessed life to live for God. It is a pleasant delight to walk in the way of holiness.

A rigid master was the Law,
Demanding bricks, denying straw;
But when the Gospel-tongue it sings,
It bids me fly and gives me wings.[8]

May we learn to sing with the Psalmist, ‘Oh, how I love your Law. It is my meditation all the day’ (Psalm 119:97). May our lives adorn the Gospel of Christ! Oh that we would be an attractive people! Grace ought to make us gracious in all our dealings with men. We must tell others of Christ and imitate Him in our lives. We are to be a people of holiness. We are to be a like the Lord Jesus in all that we say, do, and think.

    5] Finally, be sure you are saved by grace. You may feel yourself to be a great sinner, beyond redemption. It may be that you’ve agonised over your sins. You say, ‘what hope is there for me? I’m the worst of sinners’. Your sin overwhelms you like Noah’s flood and you fear you may drown, but God’s grace rides atop the waters like the ark’. His grace comes to rescue sinners of mankind lost. You won’t find peace and happiness elsewhere. True happiness belongs to those who have been saved by grace alone. ‘Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered’ (Psalm 32: 1). Christians are the most blessed people on earth. So why not come to the Lord Christ and have your sins washed away? He is willing to pardon the vilest offenders who come to Him believing. He says, ‘Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28). There is an abundance of grace in His heart for poor and helpless sinners. He asks simply that you trust in Him. He doesn’t ask for money, or charity work, or a fantastic CV, or religiosity, He asks simply that you come to Him in repentance, with sorrow for you sins, and faith in His word. Will you not believe? Will you not cast yourself upon His arms of grace? There is pardon for all your transgressions and grace to cover all your sins in Christ. Come to Him! Don’t pass Him by! Don’t put it off until another time! Come now! Come today and find mercy, and pardon, and peace.

Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore,
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity joined with power;
He is able, He is able,
He is willing; doubt no more!

[1] Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (London, 1965), p. 159. 
[2] William Hendriksen, Ephesians, p. 116.
[3] Geoffrey B. Wilson, New Testament Commentaries, vol. 1 (Edinburgh, 2005), pp. 609–10.
[4] John Calvin, Ephesians, chap. II. 7.  
[5] John Stott, The Message of Ephesians (Nottingham, reprint 2012), p. 85.    
[6] Ibid.
[7] John Calvin, Sermons on the Epistle to the Ephesians (Edinburgh, 1973), p. 162. 
[8] Quoted in Eifion Evans, Bread of Heaven: the life and work of William Williams, Pantycelyn (Bridgend, 2010), p. 155.