Do you want the bad news or the good news?
It seems often that we live in a world of bad news. There is much for the media to answer for in the way they constantly dwell on the negative – only bad news seems to get in the headlines – (or maybe it’s fake news!) and this can create an atmosphere of fear. There are always the prophets of doom and the always seem to get plenty of column inches and hours of airtime.
Equally, we also know that there is also the way we can easily fall into the trap of seeing things through rose tinted glasses and living in a world of pretence.
What, as Christians, can we say about this? If all that we have heard in Ephesians chapter 1 is true, if we are the blessed, chosen, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, included and sealed children of God. What does it mean for us? Does it mean we are to stand on the side-lines shaking our heads at the world – or do we take the, probably, easier option and retreat into our little holy ghettos, pull up the drawbridge and live in our little world waiting for heaven.
That would certainly not be Paul’s view. In Ephesians chapter 2, ever the realist, he starts with bad news, with an uncomfortable but clear, even brutal analysis of the realities of life. He tells it as it is – the depths of despair about the human situation but it is against the background of the bad news that we can hear and know the good news of what God has done.
Paul plumbs the depths of pessimism about humankind telling of what humankind is by nature and but then what we can become through the grace of God. It is the combination of good news and bad news, of optimism and pessimism, of despair and faith, which is at the heart of the refreshing realism of the Bible.
Despite what some might says our Christian faith isn’t about pretending or avoiding the difficult issues but facing them square on. Seeing life as it really is but also seeing God at work in it.
So first, there is Paul’s analysis of the human state – not the condition of some humans, but all of us.
“In the past you were spiritually dead because of your disobedience and sins” (2:1).
We were dead. It is fairly blunt. (story of body in churchyard). Of course, Paul here is not saying that we are physically dead, but also this is not a figure of speech – we were not sort of dead, we were dead – it is a statement of fact about everyone’s spiritual condition outside of Christ and without God. He says this deadness is evident in people’s lives, not in the sense of them not breathing, but in the way they are. They are blind to God and insensitive to his personal reality and therefore are missing the very heart of what we are created for.
Why were we dead? Because of our disobedience – we are both rebels against the ways of God and failures in terms of the standards of God – and therefore are destined to suffer separation from God. If saying, we are dead is difficult then saying that we are to suffer separation from God is even more difficult. It is not a picture we like to have and is one, again, that turns people away. Isn’t God all about love? But just because it is difficult and unpopular doesn’t mean it’s not true.
Part of the problem is the way this has all been traditionally seen. In the old translations it talks about the wrath of God. But this has to be understood in it proper context – it is not about God having a bad temper, it’s not him being spiteful and malicious or interested in revenge or being arbitrary and it is not about retribution– it is simply his clear, personal, righteous and constant reaction to evil and wrong. He refuses to compromise with it and is resolved to condemn it.
In that context anger or wrath is not incompatible with love. Paul can talk about anger in verse 3 and love and mercy in verse 4 and hold the two together without embarrassment because they are held together in God’s character. It is because of God’s nature of perfect love that he refuses to have it diluted so he always reacts to wrong in the same predictable and uncompromising way. Without his moral constancy we could not enjoy peace. But because of it without Christ we were separated from him and therefore dead.
So that’s the bad news, but it is the reality into which the good news of Jesus speaks. You know when you have those conversations when someone is telling you something and you know there is a “but” coming? Well here there is a massive great big BUT. In verse four Paul says, that may well have been the reality of our situation, “But because of God’s great love for us…”
“But…God…” two small words that carry so much weight and so much meaning.
We were objects of wrath but because of God abundant love he has mercy upon us, he rescues us. We were dead and dead people do not rise but God made us alive with Jesus. We were slaves in a situation of powerlessness, but God has set us free, he has raised us with Christ and set us at his own right hand in a position of honour and power. God has taken action to reverse our situation.
There is a clear contrast between what we are by nature and what we are by grace, the human condition and the divine compassion, God’s anger and God’s love. Having faced the facts about ourselves (and it is important to face up to reality) we need to realise what God has done. Paul was under no illusions about the degradation of humankind. He refuses to whitewash the situation, for this might have led him to propose superficial solutions. Yet he refuses to despair because he believed in what God has done. Out of his great love, grace and mercy, he has acted and saved us.
“Salvation” or being “saved” can easily become clichés that become devalued and so for many it is meaningless.
Bookshop – “are you saved brother?”
We have been saved, rescued, set free, forgiven, healed – however you want to put it. This what God has done for us in Jesus. This is the good news in Jesus. BUT GOD, being rich in His grace and mercy, he extends this amazing grace.
“For it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this is not from yourselves; it is the gift of God” (verse 8)
What exactly does Paul mean when he says we are saved “by Grace?” Grace is gift – a free gift that is unearned and unmerited. What Paul means is that none of our good works contribute anything to our salvation. It’s all about God at work. The only thing we add is faith, belief in Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.
For Paul, being in Christ, and, with Christ is what is crucially important. Our situation and our destiny are clearly linked with that of Jesus. What changes our situation is Jesus. What makes Christians different is not just that we admire and even worship Jesus, not just that we assent to the beliefs of the Christian Church, or even that we seek to live according to certain moral standards, what makes us different, what changes our lives, is that we are “in Christ” and by being so we share in his death, resurrection and ascension and all that they accomplished and mean. And this is not just meaningless Christian mysticism, but it bears witness to a living experience – if we let it and chose to walk in it.
Finally, Paul says that not only do we need to know from what we have been saved, and by whom we have been saved, but he also says that for what which we have been saved. In verse ten, he says,
“God has made us what we are and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created for us for a life of good deeds, which he has prepared for us to do” (v.10)
We have something to say to our community, society and our world. Yes, there is bad news but there is also good news. Yes, we must face the reality of who and what we are, and where it leads you, but we need also to declare the BUT GOD loud and clear.
For Paul here, ultimately it is about who we are. We are “in Christ” and our identity determines our destiny. If you are a child of wrath you will spend this life and the next without God. If you are in Christ you will spend this life fulfilled. If you are dead you are separated from God and will miss out on all that God has for us and will spend this life empty and the next life forever alone.
But not only does your identity determine your destiny but it also determines your actions. If you are “in Christ” then that identity should result in a lifestyle of worship, witness, service, prayer etc.
He has already told us that if we are “In Christ” we are not in an identity crisis but we have had an identity change. His prayer then is for us to understand what that Identity change means. That we would grow in our personal knowledge of Jesus so that we can have a full life walking in all that God has prepared for us. We are His workmanship, His masterpiece and we were created for God to show off in our life.
I don’t know about good news I think that’s great news!