Ephesians 2

NC Synod Assembly 2012 Bible Study    Ephesians 2:1-10

Prayer

Introduction

–How did I come to do this bible study? Tammy’s request.

–My Excitement! Saved by Grace Through Faith! THE Lutheran scripture!

–My Angst! Saved by Grace Through Faith! THE Lutheran scripture!

How do I make this interesting to an assembly of church leaders most of whom could and many of whom have taught me a good deal about grace? 

 Saved by Grace Through Faith Alone. It is possibly one of the most often repeated phrases by Lutherans; only exceeded by “we’ve always done it that way.”  In fact, it is a significant part of why I am a Lutheran. The emphasis that we Lutherans place on grace is a great strength of our church. God’s mercy is amazing and, even if we have heard it all before, it’s worth hearing again and again.

 In preparing for this bible study, I became very curious about what people outside the Lutheran church and even people who would not define themselves as “churchy people” thought about the word grace and I took some time to ask them what that word meant to them.  There were some truly amazing things they shared with me and I’d like to share a few of them with you. These are not theological treatises or statements given to or coming from confirmands, candidates for ordination or Sunday school teachers. They are just the thoughts of average people.

 “Grace is the space between you and… God.. where all things are possible.. It is that simple… more words only muddies the truth..that is why it is amazing”

 “Style and grace, classy, elegant. Beautiful, even. Doing something with grace… the word gracious is related to grace… it’s all about elegance and thankfulness, I suppose. Grace is in how you handle things. How you handle yourself. How you present yourself to others. Having grace is holding yourself together in not-so-wonderful situations. Even when things don’t go your way, you can still maintain composure.  Grace isn’t really a word I use a lot… I think I’d be more likely to use graceful or gracious.”

 “Grace, to me, is the calmness exhibited under stressful or pressure packed situations; resulting from moral, ethical, or external conflicts, in which a strong belief … is needed to guide you through the “unforgiving minute.” Grace is not passive, it is very active. It is more than being calm; calm is not panicking. Grace is actively working toward a solution; whilst maintaining control of an uncontrollable situation.”

 “Grace is that moment, that sweet spot for an athlete that is magical. It isn’t about talent or skill or training or even willpower. It’s that place where the runner, swimmer, dancer, boxer, gymnast, pitcher, kicker or, perhaps best of all, the whole team can be more than they could have ever been before. No, not could be…. actually are. When one is somehow more than all the talent, skill, training or willpower combined. It is a place of magic.”

 “Just days before birthing my girl I had a dear friend say to me: ‘I wish you grace’—-it meant so much. It seems so difficult to define though. Why is that? Perhaps because it is more in the gray area of living. Something about ease and sweetness. Somewhere between the gritty and the smooth…”

 This is not a bad place to begin as we look at one of the quintessential texts on grace.

 St Paul writes to the Early Church in Ephesus….

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through 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 ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 1For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

  Whenever I lead a bible study or study a text on my own there are three questions I like to keep in the back of my mind:

+What does the text say to us about God?

+What does the text say to us about ourselves?

+What does the text say to us about our relationship with God?

 The reason I feel that these questions are really important is because we all have a tendency to lean toward one or another of these three perspectives about scripture, particularly when we study it personally or on our own, and it’s a good idea to keep the others in view as well. We may think of scripture as a resource that tells us how to live our lives or what God wants from us. We may think of it as the story of God or the story of humanity. These are just fine, but scripture is not one thing. It is not life’s little instruction book written by God, though it does have good instruction in it. It is not History of the World parts 1 and 2 written by the creator or an abstract treatise of obtuse veiled mysteries, even though there may be many historical and mysterious things in it. If we keep these three questions in the back of our mind while we read and study, it may keep us balanced in our perspective.

 This text is a letter written to the early church in Ephesus and it is commonly attributed to St Paul. Some biblical scholars note that the writing is different enough from letters we are certain came from Paul that it may not have been written by him. However, since we only have a limited time for this study, I’m going to speak of it now as a letter from Paul and leave the authorship debate to another time. Additionally, some scholars believe that this was less a letter written to a specific group of early Christians and more of a general message written to the whole church. Once again, I will save this discussion for another day.

 In general, the letter covers topics that include:

+Our death because of sin and life in Christ

+Salvation as Gift and not as an earnable reward

+Reconciliation in Christ

+Living the faithful life as the Body of Christ

+Living in the light and putting on the armor of God

 After the opening section, including greeting, blessing and prayers, Paul begins the body of the letter with our text for today.

 Vs 1-3 You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.

 One of the things that stand out in these first three verses is the phrase ‘children of wrath’. It is actually a parallel to the phrase ‘sons of disobedience’ which we have here in the NRSV translated as ‘those who are disobedient.’ Both were idioms—sayings—that meant people who are characterized by being disobedient or wrath. Disobedient is a word we can easily get our minds around. But wrath is a word that we don’t use on a regular basis. We were by nature people characterized by wrath so it’s worth thinking about. Wrath means anger but it also means: movement or agitation of the soul, impulse, violent emotion. So Paul tells us we were once dead in sin and following the ruler of the power of the air (which means evil) and were people characterized by disobedience and violent emotion and anger, just like everyone else.

Now let’s look at the second section.

Vs 4-7 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through 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 ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

 Even though things were pretty rotten, God acts. No, actually, I think that’s not quite it. When things were pretty rotten… Because things were pretty rotten, God acts. God, who is not just merciful but who is rich in mercy, acts not just out of love but out of great love for us, and he makes us alive together with Christ.

 We who were dead are made alive. And made alive with Christ! Raised up with him and seated with him. So that God may show us for the ages—in Greek it says for the EONS to come—unmeasurable grace in kindness.

 That little phrase in there “by grace you have been saved”  In the Greek it is  in the perfect tense, so it is completed—you have been saved—and it is continuing into the future—you are saved right on and on.  Into the EONS to come. Another interesting part of this section is how much it has to do with Christ. We are made alive and raised up and seated with Christ, the heavenly places have us in Christ and all those riches of grace and kindness are also in Christ. With and in Christ seem to be the places that grace both gets us to and the places where grace actually is.

 Now for the last bit 

Vs 8-10. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

 Here’s the great crescendo of the text! Once again we see the perfect tense; you have been saved and are saved right on and on. Through faith. Not our own doing but by God’s doing. God’s action. God’s gift. It also seems pretty clear that Paul wants us to know that it is not something earned. It is not a gift we merited receiving, not just because of all that stuff he said at the beginning of this section about being dead in sin and children of disobedience and wrath, but apart from anything we might do. No one can say: well, you other people were bad, but I got in on good behavior! I did what was pleasing to God and he has rewarded me. I obeyed all the Torah, I lived a good life and God lets me in on my own terms.

 Nope, pretty clear here. This is not your own doing, not the result of works.  He even goes a step further. We are what he has made us. Back at the beginning, we were following our nature as children of wrath, but now, we are what he has made us! That’s the “made alive with” and “raised up with” Christ part.  Through God’s grace, now, we are what God has made us.

 Interestingly, it doesn’t stop there. We don’t stop with the big crescendo. Why not? Most important part is done, right? We were in a big ole mess, following our nature of disobedience and wrath, and God, in all his rich love for us, graciously stepped in and saved us through Christ. Done deal right? Why bother with anything else? But the text, the story, our story and God’s story, doesn’t stop there. And that’s a really good thing.

 What if Harry Potter stopped with the defeat of Voldemort? Just ended right there. Bam. Last page or last scene. That’s all that matters, isn’t it? What if the Avengers movie just started rolling credits after the aliens were blown up? Or any superhero or fairy tale or good-vs-evil story you can think of ended with the bad guy or evil queen being defeated? The End. But they don’t. They never stop there. And there’s a good reason.

 Defeating the bad guy, Good triumphing over evil, the world being saved isn’t the end because it’s never meant to be the end. There is always a purpose. Heroes and heroines in stories save a world worth saving because it has a purpose. God doesn’t save us simply to save us. God saves for a purpose. We can easily forget that part.

 We are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. We started off in this dead existence where our works were disobedience and wrath, but now our works are good. This part—to be our way of life—can also be translated as—so that we would walk in them. We have been and are being saved by the gift of God’s grace through faith in and with Christ so that it is both our nature and our action to do good.

 Let’s go back to our three questions.

+What does the text say to us about God?

+What does the text say to us about ourselves?

+What does the text say to us about our relationship with God?

 Think about those and see which one you are the most prone to ask yourself about a piece of scripture. Now, choose one of the other two. Gather in groups of two or three and share the question you chose and your thoughts on it.

~~~~~~~

Here’s a question for you to take with you:  What is GRACE?

 While this is a crucial text on grace, the whole of this amazing, beautiful, mysterious, fearless, powerful and unmerited gift of God is not contained within just these ten verses. Of course, it is an excellent place to start.

So, take this question with you and ponder it. Ponder it often. What IS Grace?

 For most of my life, I thought of grace as simply a synonym for mercy. And it is, but it seems to be something more than just that.  Paul indicates here that it is the means by which we are made alive in Christ; that it is what makes it possible for us to fulfill our purpose of walking in the ways of good. We have had the privileged opportunity to serving others during this synod assembly, is it possible that Grace has something to do with that? If that is part of what it means to walk in the ways of good, I have a suspicion that it does.

 I leave you this afternoon with some of the words I shared with you all at the beginning of this bible study:

 “Grace is …not passive, it is very active. ….Grace is actively working toward a solution….”

 “Grace isn’t about talent or skill or training or even willpower. It’s that place where [we] can be more than [we] could have ever been before. No, not could be…. We actually are. …”

 May God continually grant us the ability to be more than we can ever be on our own and to walk in the ways of his grace.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s