AAmerican Journal of Biblical
Copyright © 2011, J.W. Carter. Scripture quotes from KJV
Eph 2:1-3. And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; 2Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: 3Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
Paul established the church in Ephesus on his second missionary journey, and spent about three years there in the process. Consequently, this church was personally dear to him. He knew its leaders, and he knew its needs. The book of Ephesians is referred to as a prison epistle. Like the letters to the Philippians, Philemon and Colossians, this book was written during Paul's first imprisonment in Rome. 2 Timothy is also a prison epistle, written during his second, and last recorded imprisonment.
There are some similarities between the church in Ephesus and our local church. The church at Ephesus was one of the larger and more stable churches in the region. It was led by dynamic leaders with varied personalities and gifts. It demonstrated spiritual strengths, and yet also some spiritual weaknesses.
Let's analyze the church in Ephesus using the metaphor of a large, clear, mountain lake. It is my opinion that this is one of the most beautiful settings on the face of the earth. My ideal residence would be a rustic home on the shore of a mountain lake surrounded by tree-covered hillsides. Actually, I have already selected a possible spot on Otsego Lake about two miles northeast of Cooperstown, NY, the source of the Susquehanna River and best known for the Professional Baseball Hall of Fame, the James Fenimore Cooper house, and the Farmer's Museum.
Envision for a moment your image of a clear mountain lake. What can you do with such a lake? (Swimming, canoeing, ride a boat, go fishing.) With sufficient depth, a lake can fulfill all of the purposes we can attribute to it. Now, consider that same lake, but now envision a lake that is one-inch deep. What can you do with such a lake? (Look at it.) We can stand back and look at it, and it appears beautiful, but what happens when we try to use it for an intended purpose? (We hit bottom quickly.) We find the bottom quickly, and find out that what looks good on the surface is dangerously shallow in some places.
The church is made up of each of us, and the spiritual depth of the church is determined by the depth of faith of each individual member. Often there is a spiritual core in a church that provides an area of spiritual depth where some things are taking place, but they are surrounded only by shallow water. Other times, the areas of depth are too scattered to create a broad, useful area. It is when God brings together those of faith that we are best equipped to minister and to deepen the faith of others.
How much depth are you providing? Is the spot where you minister too shallow to provide any useful purpose, is it deep enough to do some ministry, or is it sufficiently deep to do deep-sea fishing; fishing for men? The coming lessons provide counsel that will help us to embrace and apply the Power, the Dunamis, of the Holy Spirit in our lives to deepen our faith.
The basis for stepping out in faith is introduced in Ephesians 2:1-3. How does verse 2:1 describe our state prior to placing our lives under the authority of Jesus, Christ? (Dead in transgressions and sin.) What does this mean? (We were separated from God's fellowship, from the Holy Spirit's indwelling power.) What is the eternal fate of someone who remains in this state? (Separated for eternity.)
Verse 2:2 describes two sources of influence that kept us separated from God. What are they? (1) The ways of the world, and (2) Demonic forces. Are we still influenced by these sources even though we have faith in Jesus?
Eph. 6:12, For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Are battle is not with individual people, but with spiritual forces in the world and with Satan and his demonic forces themselves. One way that Satan has been very successful in limiting the faith of Christians has been through the influence of this world. What prevents people from turning themselves completely over to God? God has called you to be deeply filled with his spirit, that your faith would be full and complete. What holds us back?
Probably the most influential inhibitor to freedom in Christ is the bondage of our love of this present world. When the colonists determined to strive for their independence from King George's England, a line was drawn that defined all Americans. They were either Tories, those who sided with King George, or the revolutionaries who sided with independence. There was a third group, those who wanted to reap the rewards of a free America, but would not take sides in the battle. They still wanted to maintain their ties to England and feared the prospect of turning completely away from the home of their birth. These people were referred to as MUGWUMPS. This name came from a political cartoon that illustrated someone sitting on a fence with their mug on one side and their wump on the other.
Unfortunately, all of us are spiritual mugwumps to one point or another, and where we sit on the fence is a clear indicator of the depth of our faith. We declare Jesus to be Lord, but reserve a goodly portion of the world for ourselves. Like the revolutionary war mugwumps, we want to reap the benefits of salvation, but have not really thrown ourselves over the line drawn by the cross. Instead, we fear turning ourselves completely away from the home of our birth.
Verse 3 describes some of the activity that revolves around a love for the world. What are they? (gratifying sinful desire, following desires and thoughts.) Note something here that is very important. We will never, this side of the cross, shed ourselves the seed of our sinful nature. It is what we follow that determines our state. What is it, in the world that we follow? (desires and thoughts.) Note that we will not be free of those desires and thoughts, but rather we have a choice as to whether or not to follow them. We, even as saved saints, have the choice of following the will of the world, or the will of God.
How do we make such choices? (1) we have to desire to do so. (2) we have to listen to God, and determine His will for our lives. Some good advice I have heard is to listen to God, see where He is going, and jump on board, rather than hope that God jumps on with us. God is not simply a co-pilot, but rather, the commander in chief who not only flies the plane, but also has authority to determine its direction.
We all probably clearly agree that our true desire is to be completely shed of the desire to keep a foothold on the world, and completely step over into the pathway of God's will for our lives. It is the power of the attraction of the world that holds us back. What gives us the power to move forward? (The power of the Holy Spirit.)
Eph 2:4-9. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) 6And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: 7That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. 8For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9Not of works, lest any man should boast.
If you ask the average person on the street if they believe in heaven and hell, most will say they do. Now, if you ask those who believe in heaven how to get there, what do you suppose they will say? The vast majority feel that God is some kind of dispassionate, final judge who will analyze our lives on scales of justice. He will weigh our good works against our bad, and some ratio of good to bad will reap the reward of heaven. Some will say the good has to outweigh the bad. Some will say that the good has to profoundly outweigh the bad. Based upon this argument, we as Christians agree that God will be the final judge, and we know the judgment that will take place in the final act of justice recorded in John's Revelation. There is a ratio of good to bad whereby man can enter the kingdom. What is that ratio? (It is, literally, infinity, because any value divided by zero is infinity.) If there is any bad in you, you cannot enter the Kingdom on your own merit. Therefore, where does the power to enter come from? (It is a free gift of God to those who place their trust in God, that is, God's grace.)
What is grace? (A gift granted without merit on the part of the receiver.) Greek charis, from which we get the word charity. A form of that word, chairo, translates literally "greetings", my preferred salutation when meeting someone.)
So, the covenant that God has made with man is simple: Nobody can attain holiness (dwelling in the presence of God) on the merit of their goodness, but instead on the merit of Jesus' righteousness seen in us in the indwelling Holy Spirit. That way, there is nothing in us for which we can claim credit.
Verse 4 states two reasons that God did this for us. What are they? (God's great love, and God's mercy.) Herein is one of the great theological errors we encounter. We tend to be judges. We judge ourselves in comparison with others, and others in comparison with what we think they should be, when in reality, there is nothing in any of us to compare. This judgment causes us to fail to see the Spirit in us, and instead replaces it with an image of another person we would like to emulate.
Every one of us who have made a decision of faith in Christ, by God's mercy and grace, have received God's tremendous power (dunamis) to overcome those encumbrances that weigh us down and hold us back from being where God would have us be, completely sold out to Him.
Eph 2:10. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
God had a purpose for our salvation, and it is described in verse 10. What is that purpose? It is to do those good works that God has prepared in advance for us. This purpose is true of every believer. We all understand that good works have no saving power, but rather, saving power inspires good works.
Phil 3:13-14. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 14I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus..
Let's go back to the lake. What is the depth of love that God has for you?
Romans 8:38-39. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
How much of your life should come under God's authority? (All of it.) Honestly, how much of your life is truly under God's authority? (Some of it.) What source of power is available to get us off the fence of the mugwump and deepen our faith? (The spirit.) I call upon each one of you here to seriously encounter the Spirit, and pray that God will help you to surrender your pride and your life to the Spirit, that He will deepen your faith, and demonstrate through you those good works that God has planned in advance for you.
Don't go through any more of your life with a faith that is any more shallow than God desires. It's time to get off of the fence and run the race.