3/12/2018 10:26:36 AM
You Are God's Workmanship - March 11, 2018
Pastor Kyle Bitter
Text: Ephesians 2:4-10
What are you going to do now? If you listened to the interviews with Olympic athletes after they completed their competition, I’m sure you heard that question asked – especially of those who were on their last Olympics. What are you going to do now? After reaching a goal that has been many years in the making – what’s next? Seems like almost anything that you do is going to be a letdown. And it’s hard, because sadly, the list of famous people who have struggled after their time in the spotlight has ended is long and tragic.
Even though our lives are not as public as celebrities, you and I can see the same thing happening when you reach major milestones in life and are forced to transition to the next phase. No matter how big the accomplishment, it’s hard! Maybe it happens when you graduate and move on to the next level of school, or when you move out on your own for the first time. Or when your children move out of the house, when you retire, or something else. What do those milestones do to you? Are you different? Do people treat you differently than they did before? Is there pressure on you to behave differently than you did before? Do you put pressure on yourself? Has the experience changed you in a substantial way, or are you really the same person you’ve always been deep down?
What about life as a Christian and the various milestone spiritual experiences, milestones if you will. Maybe it’s a public one. You took classes and got confirmed. That’s a significant milestone. Maybe it’s more personal than that. You recommitted yourself to your faith life and have been more regular in your worship and bible study. Maybe you took on the Daily Bible Reading challenge we are doing as a congregation and completed it. What happens then? You’d think that as you have more experiences like these over the years of your life, you’d start to get better at living the Christian life. After all, practice makes perfect in just about everything else! But what happens when you realize it’s not that simple in spiritual life? What happens when you realize that deep down, you’re the same person you’ve always been, struggling with the same temptations you’ve always struggled with, falling into the same kinds of sins you’ve always fallen into – even after being confirmed, even after a more intentional focus on your own spiritual life, even after intensive bible study – the struggle has not subsided. In fact, if anything, it’s gotten worse. If you’re anything like me, you probably have noticed that, and it becomes easy for us to ask – well, what’s the problem then? Why am I not seeing improvement? What’s wrong with me?
Made Alive In Christ (v. 4-5)
Unfortunately, that’s exactly the question that we don’t find ourselves answering correctly much of the time. We have a way of underestimating the power and influence of the sinful nature that each one of us is born with. We tend to think of it as a minor virus or an infection that can be controlled with the right spiritual treatment, but the reality is it’s much deeper than that. In today’s second lesson, Paul reminds us that spiritually speaking, we weren’t born sick, or disabled, or deformed – we were born dead. We like to tell ourselves that we start somewhere in the middle and can choose to go right or wrong, but that only leads to frustration because the sad truth is that our natural trajectory is all the way on the side of evil – happily marching right down the path to hell. Spiritually dead.
And so, we really can’t be surprised at the impact our sinful nature could have on our lives – it’s kind of scary when you think about it. There isn’t any form of sinfulness that isn’t appealing to our nature on some level. It might not be the blatant act of murder, but the seed of anger and hatred is there. It might not be outright act of theft, but the laziness and envy are deeply embedded. It’s easy to look down on the criminal elements and perversions of society, it’s easy to look down on the Israelites in today’s first lesson with the constant grumbling and complaining, but sadly it’s just as easy to gloss over how deeply our own sinful problem is embedded. How often isn’t the primary reason we’ve avoided those same things we look down our noses at simply the fact that we’ve never had the opportunity to engage in that kind of sin without getting caught and suffering some consequence? Spiritually dead.
That’s the situation the complaining Israelites found themselves with in the first lesson. They had no way of dealing with the consequences of their sin found in the snakes. The only possibility was to look at the solution God provided - the promise attached to the bronze snake on the pole. There was nothing else they could do. They were helpless. Both of these biblical accounts serve as illustrations of the truth explained in today’s second lesson: “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.” (Ephesians 2:4-5 – NIV84). By grace. It doesn’t matter if you go through the process of being confirmed, if you fill out the friendship register here every single Sunday for years, if you discipline yourself to read God’s word – those activities, by virtue of doing them, don’t change anything for you. The only reason they make a difference is because going to church and studying God’s word connects you to the work of Jesus. The only way to be made alive spiritually is by the work of Jesus – because You Are God’s Workmanship.
Demonstration of his Grace (v. 6-9)
I think that becomes more apparent the longer you live and the more experiences you have to look back on, but you can probably see it at almost any age if you look closely enough. Have you ever had an experience where you escaped serious injury and looking back there’s no explanation except God’s hand? I remember at the age of 6 or 7 falling head first down a full flight of wooden stairs with a cement wall and floor at the bottom and walking away with nothing more than a few scratches. Maybe you’ve had something similar – a fall, a near car accident, a medical condition that should have been more serious than it was, or something else, and there’s no reason other than the hand of God that you escaped without serious injury.
When you look at your spiritual life, you can see the same thing at work in an even more profound way. When you take into account the power of your sinful nature, the sheer volume of temptations and possible sins in the world we live in, the distraction and everything else that’s around, there is no recourse but to marvel at the grace of God – using many different circumstances to keep us away from sin we would have otherwise fallen into, offering his grace and mercy and forgiveness on the many times when we have strayed. It’s only by the grace of God that we have been made part of his family, and it’s only by the grace of God that we stay there. Even though resisting sin doesn’t get any easier with age, perhaps understanding this does when you look at everything that God has brought you through and you’re forced to admit that there is no place credit can be given other than to the grace of God.
That’s exactly the testimony God intends our lives to give – that when it’s all said and done, we and anyone else we know will be able to look back and say, wow – what a loving and gracious God we have! Look at what he made out of that sinful mess! That’s what Paul was talking about when he said, “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. 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.” (Ephesians 2:6-9 – NIV84). You Are God’s Workmanship – you are a living demonstration of his grace. There’s no other explanation for how you and I find ourselves in the spiritual situation we are in as members of God’s family.
Created for Christ (v. 10)
And knowing that You are God’s Workmanship gives you a new perspective on those times when you get frustrated with your inability to see lasting change in your Christian life. We tend to think of our lives as Christians in terms of what we do and whether we make visible progress in living in a godly way. The problems is, as soon as you think you’ve addressed a sin in one area of life, you find another one buried even more deeply underneath. If you look far enough even into your motivation for doing just about anything, you can usually find something ugly. In the end, any focus on what we do for God ends up being a frustrating and depressing reminder of how deeply flawed we are because of sin.
And so, in Ephesians 2, Paul reminds us that it’s far better to focus not on what we are doing, but on what God is doing. If you’ve been a Christian for some time, you’ve probably come to realize that looking at God’s activity instead of our own is pretty much always a good idea. And what is God doing when it comes to our lives right now? Paul puts it like this: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10 – NIV84). You are God’s workmanship – God’s creation. He’s the one who made you alive spiritually, and he intends to make that known through your life. He’s prepared opportunities all over the place. In many cases, these opportunities come in the form of regular Christian activities. Maybe it’s the quiet example set for others by attending church or staying for bible study. Maybe it’s quietly doing the right thing in the face of pressure to act otherwise. Maybe it’s the trusting and steadfast attitude displayed in a time of suffering or hardship. Maybe it’s the word of encouragement to another person. Maybe it’s a forgiving and loving attitude toward a person who shows nothing like that to you.
And maybe it’s also true that if you micro-analyze your motivations you can find evidence of the sinful nature you struggle with even as you pursue godly activity, but for you personally, that too serves as a demonstration of God’s grace. Despite our sinful shortcomings, God forgives us through Jesus and keeps us in his family. And what’s more, he promises that our feeble and tainted attempts to serve him are beautiful in his sight, because we have been washed clean of our sin in the blood of Jesus. You were made alive in Christ. Your life is an ongoing testimony to that fact. It’s not about what you are doing, but what God is doing through you. You Are God’s Workmanship. Amen.