ENJOYING GOD: WORKING HARD or HARDLY WORKING?
Ephesians 1:19-23 and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power 20 which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. 22 And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
Remember, our hope, our confident expectation is that God deals with us in Christ, not on our past, but on the basis of our future. This becomes reality as we bring the future in the present as we learn of and experience God’s power demonstrated in our lives. The church was challenged by Paul to see the Hand of the LORD as a superior hand, as he spoke of the “exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe (Ephesians 1:19).”
Have you ever needed to have a vocabulary lesson? That’s what happens when the passage addresses power, as all the Greek words for power are used in one verse. We have a LORD who sits “far above” all “arche,” or rule,” exousia,” authority, “dunamis” as in dynamo/dynamic power. The word “power” (dynamis; 3:20) means a spiritually dynamic and living force. This power of God is directed toward believers. Paul then used three additional words to describe God’s power. It is according to the working (energeian, “energetic power,” from which comes the Eng. “energy”); Mighty/kratous, “power that overcomes resistance,” as in Christ’s miracles; this word is used only of God, never of believers and “ischus” which is God’s inherent strength for victory that He longs to provide (6:10; 1 Peter 4:11) and “kyriotetos” dominion.
This lesson from Rosetta Stone wasn’t just to show off. It was to let us in on Heaven’s secret: Jesus is greater and stronger than all other forces in the spiritual realm. Jesus has been raised up far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named (RSV).” Paul wanted believers to know that this relates to your life now: His incomparably great power for us who believe. This magnificent accumulation of words for power underscores the magnitude of God’s “great power” available to Christians.
An interesting aspect of the words Paul uses is that they are all words that were used to designate the rank and order of Angels and demons in Paul’s day. As Paul draws his thoughts to a close in the first chapter, Paul gives the church its highest title: the body of Christ. This is important, as you need to know what we are doing here as people. Jesus mission was huge. He came to bring harmony to all the discordant elements of the universe. Sin had produced a crop of disunity. Jesus died to make us one.
His death for us can be equated to finding a cure for cancer. The discoverer would not be the only one to inoculate the world. It take an army of trained professionals to administer the cure. That’s us. We are the army of doctors and nurses who have been commissioned to bring the cure for sin. We are the compliment to Christ. All of this to bring us to the next salient truth about us: most of us are blatantly agnostic when it comes to the power of the resurrected Christ. We don’t enter into the implications of what His resurrection means for us as an agency for victorious living.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:4-10).
Through Us: God’s work through us (2:10b)
John Calvin once said, “it is faith alone that justifies, but faith that justifies can never be alone.” You were not saved by faith coupled with good works. You are saved by a faith that works. Scripture speaks about a lot of different works, the work of the law that cannot save (Galatians 2:16; 3:11); the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21); the works of darkness (Romans 13:12; Ephesians 5:11); the dead works of Hebrews 6; the works that lead to death because the wages of sin are death (Romans 6:23); the works of righteousness (religious works (Titus 3:5) that are equal to Isaiah’s filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).
Those works are not the works Paul addresses in Ephesians 2:10. These works have two special characteristics, they are good works and they are prepared works. It’s too bad so many believers minimize the power of good works. Yes, we are not saved by works, but good works are not evil. To hold this view is to make Jesus a liar. Remember when He said: Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven( Matthew 5:16)? Our good works are never to be done for our glory, but we should abound to every good work (2 Corinthians 9:8); to be fruitful in every good work (Colossians 1:10). One of the main things we receive as a result of growing in our knowledge of Scripture is we become thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). Did I forget to mention that as believers we are supposed to be “zealous for good works (Titus 2:14), or that our good works are spiritual sacrifices that we offer up to God (Hebrews 13:16)?
4 Us: God works for us
Ephesians 2:4-9 And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:1-10).
has a solitary focus: to shift our view from the impact of the fall on mankind over to a glimpse of the LORD. You know, the One of whom Jonah said: “salvation is of the LORD (Jonah 2:9)!” This shift is designed to bring to the forefront various aspects about the LORD’s character and his activities toward us as His people. Paul is saying: The LORD loved us (v.4). Scripture is clear: God is love by nature, He who does not love does not know God, for God is love (1 John 4:8). But the love God has for people exists even when we were still sinners, For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). This aspect of love is an attribute. God has two kinds of attributes, those that He possesses of Himself. We call these intrinsic attributes. They include life, love, holiness. There are also relative attributes, or those things that He relates to us through, like His truth. By nature God is truth (intrinsically). But truth becomes faithfulness when He interacts with us. God is Holy by nature holy. His holiness becomes justice in relationship. Love is intrinsic. Love becomes grace and mercy in relationship. That’s why this passage says that God is rich in “Grace (v.7) and mercy (v.4).” It is this expression of the treasure of heaven that makes allowance for sinners to become saved.
Many people’s systems overload when they discover that they aren’t saved by God’s love exclusively, but rather by His grace and mercy. Always remember that in His mercy, God does not give us what we deserved; and in His grace He gives us what we do not deserve. In this grand display, we see that God quickens us (5). Simply put, He has made us alive. Paul implies that this was done in the same manner as Jesus resurrection, by a Word pronouncement. The Gospel writers chronicle Jesus raising three people from the dead by the Word: the widow’s son (Luke 7:11-17); Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:49-56) and Lazarus (John 11:41-46). In all three occasions, Jesus spoke a Word, and the Word produced life. This is why our testimony is so powerful (Revelation 12:11), and why we are to become a word to a generation, “the Word of God is quick (living) and powerful “ (Hebrews 4:12). These three physical resurrections are reflective of the spiritual resurrection we encounter in salvation and we hear the Word and believe (John 5:24).
As spectacular as physical resurrection is, your spiritual resurrection is far superior, because it is the sole reason you are in Union with Jesus, as God has made us alive together with Christ, united to Him (1:22-23), and sharing in His resurrection power and life (1:19-20). Paul is echoing what John saw for the overcomers in Revelation 3:21, To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. This is a promise to claim. While we stand on earth, we are also sitting on a throne, as we have been exalted (2:6). Jesus did not raise us from the dead only to be left in the graveyard.
Another really cool truth in this Ephesians vein that we are mining is this: He keeps us (2:7-9)! God hasn’t just rescued us from Hell, as awesome as that is, He has saved us so that we would always be display cases filled with the work of grace. That’s His purpose in your life for eternity. This also relates to the power of grace in salvation: because you have not been saved by your good works, you cannot be lost by your bad works. Grace in salvation is completely separate from any work or merit on your part. Grace means that Father God has done it all for Jesus’ sake.
In us: God works in us (2:10a)
How does He work in us? Through Holy Spirit, both to will and to do His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). Here is a good thought: Jesus finished the redemptive work of the Father on the Cross, then He rose from the dead and returned to Heaven where He carries on His unfinished work of perfecting us, His bride/church (Ephesians 4:7-16; Hebrews 13:20-21). Jesus is constantly lurking behind the scene to equip you for the work He is prompting to enter into. In order to accomplish this, Jesus uses three special tools for the task: the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13); prayer (Ephesians 3:20-21) and suffering, Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified (1 Peter 4:12-14). As we read the Word, meditate on it and commit to our heart, the Word does what it does best. It cleanses us and feeds us. As we pray, Holy Spirit works in us as the releasing agent of power, and as we encounter life’s difficulties, Holy Spirit ministers to us, keeping the trials at bay and making sure that we never encounter anything so great that it would destroy us.
To many believers get stuck thinking that conversion is the penultimate experience of our faith and that nothing else follows it. That is wrong. We can look at Lazarus’ resurrection experience as an example. After Lazarus rose from the dead, he said, “loose him, and let him go (John 11:44).” In other words, now that your alive, quiet wearing grave clothes. This is what Paul refers to later in the Book when he says, that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness (4:22-24).” The experience of new life was preceded by death and suffering. As difficult as this may seem, God works through all things to conform us to the image of His son. He cannot work in us before He has worked for us, and He cannot work through us unless He works in us. This is why we need to daily be in the Word and to pray. This is why we need to yield to Jesus when we are going through hard times. It is through the Word, prayer and hardship that God works in us. Moses and Joseph are great examples of this truth. The depth of the challenges they faced were equal to or greater than the heights they achieved.
The enemy works against us According to Ephesians 2, unbelievers aren’t sick, they are dead. The problem with the sinner isn’t found in the need to resuscitate; it’s found in the need to resurrect. That death sentence has led to disobedience and alienation, and domination by the enemy. The devil is the spirit that is working disobedience into the sons of Adam.
You are not saved by works, but good works are not evil. To hold this view is to make Jesus a liar ( Matthew 5:16).