But God... (Ephesians 2:4-7 - AUDIO UNAVAILABLE)
Scripture: Ephesians 2:4–2:7
Good morning, Bayless! How are we?
I want to begin by acknowledging how eventful these last few weeks have been, haven’t they? Two more mass shootings—one claiming the lives of 11 people in a Jewish synagogue clearly motivated by anti-semitic prejudice; one taking the lives of 12 in a country music bar though with no discernible motive at present. Add to that wildfires and hurricanes and pipe bombs and whether you were pleased by the results of this election of not, our world is a mess. Is it not?
It’s weeks like this when the Bible’s claims about our brokenness don’t seem quite so crazy, and if you’re like me, you need hope this morning.
So before we jump into our text this morning, let’s confess our need once again to God.
Once again, we’re in the book of Ephesians chapter 2. If you have trouble finding where that is, let me encourage you to ask your neighbor or turn to the table of contents in the front of the Bible.
But before we begin, let me ask something silly, let’s see if you can help me finish a few quotes:
When a man _______ a woman… You give _______ a bad name… ________ is a battlefield… I can’t help falling in ________ with you… All you need is __________, da da da da daaa
The band Queen whose biopic just came out this weekend composed 15 songs with “Love” in the title, including… Can somebody find me somebody to ________
We are in a culture obsessed with love, aren’t we? And yet we mean very different things when we talk about love, don’t we? I mean, it’s not inconceivable to say we love our kids and we love a cheeseburger in the same sentence, is it. It becomes something you mutter out of reflex when you get off of the phone, or have you ever said before throwing someone under the bus, “I’m only saying this because I love them”?
And so, even the word “love” gets emptied of its meaning. Could anything be more tragic?
Friends, God loves you. But I confess, few of us actually know what that means. Have you ever found yourself wanting to comfort someone, “God loves you,” and yet it could not feel more cheesy. Or you remember when you tried that before and they just rolled their eyes or lashed back?
We live lives largely disaffected by that love, carrying the same anxieties and bitterness, finding very little comfort in that love.
Friends, it should not be so, and Paul wants to make sure of it.
What does the Bible mean what it says “God loves you”?
This morning I want to look at God’s love, that it might wake us up this morning. Even those of us who are skeptical, I’m convinced if you listen close enough, you will find yourself saying at the very least, “I wish that was true.”
We’ll find the passage answer two pairs of questions for us—1) Why did love come? 2) When did love come? 3) What did love do? 4) Why did love do? (Yes, I realize that last one isn’t grammatically correct.)
Let’s start with the first,
1) WHEN DID LOVE COME?
Now by way of reminder, Ephesians is a letter much like you might write. Am I the only one who still sends letters? Okay it’s like an email you might write. Only unlike email, this letter demonstrates painstaking effort, careful, reasoned intentional thought by the greatest missionary the world has ever know. I’m sure it was with hesitance that he finally handed it over for the messenger to carry it to the Ephesians, hoping his words were lofty enough to make sense of what has taken place in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. An event that effects the world just as much today as it did when it first occurred 2,000 years ago.
For Christians understand, it is news that they never move beyond, graduate from, or leave behind. It is the message of hope for the hopeless. Life for the dead. Including the verses we will read today, verses Christians have cherished, handed down to their children generation after generation, announcing that love has come.
But what kind of love are we talking about?
When I was in high school, a song by a band named DC Talk came out, who in all their 90’s glory rapped, “Love is a Verb.” It was a song which intended to push back on the love of teenage romance novels or daytime soap operas. A kind of sappy sentimentality. Asserting that true love is a love isn’t merely a love that feels. It is a love that acts.
It’s largely true, yes, that love, true love, is active. It motivates action. And yes, emotions can be unpredictable. If I relied on being in the right emotional state before I met the needs of others, there are days I would scarcely leave my bed. But is it true that love doesn’t or shouldn’t involve emotion?
Friends, some of us are driven by our emotions, and others of us are deeply mistrustful of them, but I want you to notice the language of v. 4. Read with me, “But God, being largely indifferent.” No that’s not it. Not even “But God, weighing pros and cons.” Not even “But God, being needy and desperate.” No. “But God, being rich in MERCY, because of the GREAT LOVE with which he loved us.
Yes, God’s love is active. But it is also deeply emotional.
The words here speak of deep compassion for those who are suffering. The kind of concern you have for a daughter who calls you after a car accident or for a friend who just found out they have cancer. It speaks of kindness, sensitivity toward those helplessly entrapped. Even those who, as we will see, are helplessly entrapped in their own snare.
“Mercy” here is no less than the Hesed of the Old Testament. A love which has remained steadfast after betrayal not merely out of duty or obligation but out of deep passion.
One of the most powerful pictures of this comes from the book of Hosea where the Almighty God is portrayed as a husband cheated, whose wife sought out other lovers again and again and again. But as D.A. Carson points out,
the intensity of God’s passion for the covenant nation comes to a climax in Hosea 11. “When Israel was a child,” God declares, “I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (11:1)… But the more God called Israel, the more they drifted away. God was the one who cared for them, taught them to walk, and healed them. He was the one who “led them with cords of human kindness” (11:4). Yet they did not recognize him. They sacrificed to the Baals and loved idolatry. So God promises judgment. They will return to “Egypt” and Assyria, i.e., to captivity and slavery, “because they refuse to repent” (11:5). Their cities will be destroyed (11:6). “My people are determined to turn from me. Even if they call to the Most High, he will by no means exalt them” (11:7). Thus it sounds as if [unstoppable} judgment has been pronounced.
But then look at v. 8-9:
 How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
 I will not execute my burning anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.
It’s as if that very thought of casting them off causes God agony, as if he cannot endure it. Now God does not change his mind. Judgment does indeed come. But it is not final. Why? Because his “My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.”
Friends, have you thought about God’s love this way? As kind and compassionate? Even as warm and tender toward you?
Friends, God’s love isn’t abstract or theoretical. It’s not a love that merely tolerates us. It is a love motivated by passion.
To be honest, this is scary for many of us. We’d rather have the kind of love that only acts, that does not feel. Why? Because every emotional love we experience is a fickle, changeable. What started as passionate commitment ended in bitter betrayal. How can we count on that kind of love, especially when we sense that if were known, truly known, that love wouldn’t stick around.
That brings us to our second question:
2) WHEN DID LOVE COME?
Let’s back up to the start of v. 4 again, with two simple but POWERFUL words. How does it begin? Someone shout it out… BUT GOD.
Paul means these two words two be interruptive. They are meant to be gripping. As eyes touch on these words, they are to evoke a shot of adrenaline, tighten your grip on your Bible, to pull it closer to your face. Why?
Two weeks ago, I have to tell you, was one of the hardest messages I have ever had to preach. After all, who likes hearing that according to God, none of us is seeking him, none of us is on the right track, none of us is largely good with a smidgen of bad. All of us are no less than DEAD—born into this world breathless, motionless, uninterruptedly lifeless, kept down not only by a culture forming us to love only what destroys us or by spiritual forces committed to robbing us of hope but by desires which always and every time lead us to what will not satisfy and only condemns. Three of the most difficult verses to hear, let alone preach on, which will not allow me to give you some trite comfort or stern warning to try harder, do better, or else.
Three verses that so clearly and dramatically say the last nail is in the coffin. There is no awakening on your own, you will only making our condition worse with our best attempts. Woof. So much for “You write your own story, Instagram.”
But then v. 4: “But God… But God being rich in mercy, because of great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us ALIVE…”
Last week, I said that squaring up with the reality of our spiritual death actually brings us freedom. That this truth as hard and cold as concrete brings joy on the other side. Here’s why.
If it is true that my state truly is worse off than I have ever dared admit, if God having perfect sight was fully aware of how dark and hopeless I was, and it was at that moment that God saved me. Not after I made a U-Turn in my life, started going to church, overcame my addiction, repaired my mistakes.
No. if it was when I was DEAD in my sin that God made me alive, then NOTHING can scare him off now. There is nothing that will surprise him in the future or the past that he was not aware of. There is nothing Jesus is not waiting to atone for.
Friends, our culture knows little of this love. It reduces love to a fickle sentimentality. A kind of love that may be intense but is unpredictable, ready to walk out the door if it is no longer “feeling it.” But the religious also know little of this love, turning love into a kind of cold toleration. A love that does many “right” things but robbed of compassion and full of self-righteousness.
Christ’s love is neither friends. In the gospel, you and I have experienced a love that is not only passionately merciful, deeply kind, it is also exquisitely aware.
Perhaps the greatest taste of this has come in my marriage. You see, on my wedding day, Grace and I told one another we loved one another and committed to do so. And yet, when we say, “I love you,” now, it is in a sense so much more true than it was 8 years ago. Why? Because Grace’s love knows so much more about me, especially the insecurities, the pride, the brokenness, and disbelief, and yet she still truly and passionately loves me.
As Tim Keller has said,
“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”
Friends, experiencing that kind of love changes you.
Practically speaking, this kind of love frees you from keeping pieces of yourself hidden in the dark. It frees you to have that conversation, to confess your sin, to bring what you have been too scared others may find out into the light. You are already seen by God and his Son absorbed every ounce of shame and anger it would have warranted on the cross.
If you would but come to the light, confess what he already sees and declare he alone is your rescue, this love both perfectly aware and passionately merciful is yours, friend.
Aren’t we rehearsing this in this season of our church? I was meeting for coffee with a friend last week, and I couldn’t help but brag on what God has been doing among us. I don’t know if you know this, but I have encountered many churches in as desperate condition as Bayless once was and yet they absolutely refused to admit it. Over and over again, churches will respond, things are bad, sure, but they aren’t THAT bad. But what made us so confident to come to Bayless is that among this church were men and women so self-aware, so utterly desperate that they knew that putting an electric guitar on the stage or a funny guy in the pulpit wouldn’t be sufficient. Unless God would intervene, there would be no hope.
Friends, it is because of that desperate dependence, that we can expect God to SHOW OFF. Confessing that we have no hope apart from his interrupting grace is as terrifying as it is freeing. And because of that work Jesus has done to till the soil among us, His love is fundamentally changing our culture.
This love will change us. Which brings us to our third question:
3) WHAT DID LOVE DO?
Look again to vv. 5–7 again.
 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Just a few weeks ago, our friends received word that world had just changed. The mom had signed her consent. Baby Henry was theirs. I had the privilege of meeting this handsome 8 pound, squeaking boy as he lay nestled against his new momma, and my friend’s lives would never be the same.
Friends, the gospel does not only mean that guilty people have been acquitted. It means that new life has come, and it will never leave us the same. The dead have been made alive.
How? By being bound up with Jesus, so much that in his death, they are said to die to sin. And with his life, they are said to be raised to new life as well. In fact, the victory Jesus won over sin, over Satan, and the world is now shared with us. This is what theologians call our union with Jesus.
Union with Christ is the reason you can expect God to finish the work he started. When you become a Christian, you are tied up with Christ, treated as one with him. So much say, the Bible can say you are no longer your own. Because they are now “in Christ,” the Christian has become something entirely different. When they are united with Jesus, EVERYTHING about who they are, what they love, what they do has changed. Everything I am is now bound up with Jesus
This is why the biblical authors can’t even imagine WILLINGLY continuing to live in sin. That was kept me in death, spiritual suffocation. Having longed and waited and finally having their sons, could my friends now ignore him?
No, if we really have been raised with Christ, if we really have a hope beyond the sorrows of this world, if we really in a very real sense share in his authority and power and dominion far above every name that is named, why would I live as if things were the same as they once were?
And because Christians have been made alive, this new life is more at home with the coming kingdom than their present circumstances. Which means they don’t respond to health concerns, to marriage problems, to financial decisions, to work issues in a way that makes much sense to the watching world.
They are fundamentally convinced that life and joy are theirs now, and it is only a matter of time until their hope is put on full display. So much so that they can lay down their lives for others, persist when others give up, extend grace to the annoying, mercy to the undeserving, love to the unloveable. For weren’t we among them?
For by GRACE they have been saved.
This is where the gospel deflates self-righteous comparison and makes Christians eager to live lives of reactive grace, to play by entirely different rules in their community.
Finally, our last question,
WHY DID LOVE DO?
v. 7:  so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Why did God extend to us this rich mercy, this great love, this immeasurable grace? Certainly not because I was cute. But for the display of his wonderful, incomparable, transformational glory. It is in texts like this that we learn that God’s glory and our good are one in the same.
This fierce kind of love doesn’t merely tolerate, nor is it ready to walk out the door, rather it so transforms the church that they become case studies of his kindness, appetizers of his mercy, foreshadows of his grace. When the church lives and speaks as the church, it gives hope to the world that life comes to the dead. Is this your desire, friends?
Let me give us a very practical example. In 1733, Johnathan Edwards, the same pastor who preached “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” preached a sermon entitled, “The Duty of Charity to the Poor,” in which he responded to a series of common objections he heard from CHRISTIANS when he spoke about the duty to share money and goods with the poor, a growing need in his community in Northampton, Massachusetts, where the “haves” and “havenots” grew ever more hostile to one another.
In response to those who were be quick to put limits upon the command to love our neighbor he described what he called, “the rules of the gospel.” Listen to how he levels the playing field for those quick to look down upon the poor, to compare their character, their work ethic, their criminal records. Not that we have ever done the same.
“Christ loved us, and was kind to us, and was willing to relieve us, though we were very hateful persons, of an evil disposition, not deserving of any good . . . so we should be willing to be kind to those who are . . . very undeserving.”
He goes on,
“The rules of the gospel direct us to forgive them . . . [for] Christ hath loved us, pitied us, and greatly laid out himself to relieve us from that want and misery which we brought on ourselves by our own folly and wickedness. We foolishly and perversely threw away those riches with which we were provided, upon which we might have lived and been happy to all eternity.”
The Gospel fundamentally changes how we see those around us. We cannot help but see ourselves in their shoes and to see the transforming grace which has come to us come to them as well. Who are you withholding it from today?
1 John 4 puts it strongly:
 We love because he first loved us.  If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
Yes, love is now the Christian’s duty. Having received absurd mercy, we have no excuse to withhold it. Having experienced unreasonable love have no reason to determine who warrants it and who does not.
And yet, friends, it is not MERELY our duty but our delight. Yes, there will be times when you must act in love even when you don’t feel like it. There are also times when you will act in love out of shameful motives. But I should be preaching to my heart these verses every time that happens. When your pride awakens or your heart grows cold, draw your eyes again to the one who, “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.”
Great love was his delight. May it be ours as well.