It turns out, there really are three steps to heaven…
Our journey through Ephesians will clearly show that Paul had a way with words. Everything was written to communicate directly to and convince the listener of his point. In the Ephesians 2:1-10, we get to see the whole meaning of Christ in the context of our lives together with Him in 10 powerful verses. This is theological gold that, like any good sermons, is divided in to three dramatic points that rise to final crescendo. This is a hymn to the mystery of faith and the very heart of Christianity.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 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. 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. Ephesians 2:1-3
The first point is that we are all sinners. We lived lives separated from Christ and knew nothing of his grace. We were ruled by the “ruler of the kingdom of the air” who rules over everything. Scholars believe that Paul is talking of Satan – we are creatures who need air to breathe – that unites us all – and Satan is the ruler of this kingdom of air. Pretty flowery language, but it is a common theme in Ephesians. There is a battle going on in the spiritual dimension, between good and evil.
We can ignore the flowery language, but we cannot ignore the central truth. We are separated from God by our selfishness and our sin. Paul would suggest the very air we breathe is contaminated. Mary Whitehouse and others would suggest the very airwaves around us were contaminated. Again I don’t personally find this helpful for me. I know the standard God has set and I fall short. I don’t need to personify where my failing came from – I failed. I have fallen short. I am not worthy. Paul reminds us this is our story – we are all sinners.
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 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. Ephesians 2:4-7
So now we are in transition. We used to live in the Kingdom of Air but now through grace, we are raised up with Christ and now live in the heavenly realms in Him. Amazing. Despite who I am and my sinful nature, I have been made whole through Jesus by grace. When I was a child I was taught the mnemonic:
Grace is being made whole because Jesus paid the price.
I personally don’t completely understand the whole story of our redemption. Why God the Father would create a metaphysical transaction to save me from my sin is puzzling. Why couldn’t he just do it anyway? That will be one of my many questions for God when I finally get to heaven, but suffice it to say something had to happen, and Jesus was the key.
Paul’s point was clear. Through God we are saved from our sinful nature. Boom.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10
And then we get to the final crescendo. A perfectly nuanced point on the nature of grace.
You cannot earn grace through works. You can’t boast that you have saved yourself. We are God’s handiwork – he made us what we are through the grace that was freely given. And yet He had a purpose in saving us – serving him – doing the very good works that couldn’t ever save us.
Works without grace is no change.
Grace followed by works is our heavenly calling to be acted out today. Not tomorrow. Not in heaven. Right here and right now. The place you are now is where God needs you to be.
So now is the time to share grace and peace with the people around us. Now image if our churches were truly full of people for whom their only motive was to share grace and peace.
I’m in…are you?