Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 04/26/1998
"But God, being rich in mercy because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, 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."
Last week we saw the contrast between the hopelessness of the human condition and the hope that is offered in the phrase, "But God . . ." We were dead in our trespasses and sins, hopelessly bound to the circles of this world, enslaved to our own unruly and self-destructive passions, with no light at the end of the tunnel and no place to turn to for help. But into that darkness comes a message of hope from outside, a breath of fresh air causing us to lift up our heads and see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. "But . . . God!" Today we want to examine specifically what God has done in Jesus Christ to rescue us from sin and death and futility. Even when we were dead in sin he (1) made us alive, (2) raised us up, and (3) seated us in heaven with Christ.
Paul describes the salvation we receive when we receive Christ in terms of an analogy. Because Christ died and rose officially as our representative (as we saw in 1:20-23), therefore God does something in us spiritually that corresponds to what happened to Jesus physically: death, burial, quickening, resurrection, ascension, seating in heaven. In other words, he "made us alive . . .raised us with him, and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ."
Just as Christ died on the cross, we are accepted as having died to sin. And just as he was made alive again after the cross, we are given new life in him. Death is impotent, barren, immobile; life is active, powerful, energetic. And we who were morally and spiritually dead are now made alive in Christ (Gal. 2:20). The is called Regeneration, the New Birth. It means that what you could not do before, being spiritually dead--love God, trust in Christ, understand the Bible, resist the devil, and overcome both the world and your own sinful nature--what you could not do before, now in some measure you can do and will do as that life works itself out in your experience.
Think of this microphone here on the pulpit. If I had been here yesterday, I could have spoken into it and nothing would have happened. It would have been what is technically called a "dead mike." But today, it has been turned on. It picks up the vibrations of my voice, magnifies them, and transfers them to the speakers. It is now alive. So you were once dead to God and spiritual things. He spoke to you and there was no response. But now in Christ you are alive to him. His voice resonates in you and does not die there but is transferred with power to those around you. What a privilege this is! It is no wonder that the thought spurred Paul to his parenthetical "by grace you have been saved." Calvin's comment is superb: "Paul always feels as if he has not sufficiently proclaimed the riches of divine grace. Certainly he who weighs the ingratitude of men will not complain that this parenthesis is superfluous."
Think of another analogy. Imagine a man who is totally colorblind. To him, the rainbow is just a shape. He is dead to color. And then suppose that by some miracle his eyes are opened. He becomes alive for the first time in his life to the colors of the rainbow--alive for the first time to the delicate tints in his girlfriend's cheek as she blushes when he tells her that he loves her--alive for the first time to dogwoods and azaleas and mountain laurel and sunsets. Would he not be overflowing with color? Would he be able to keep quiet about it? He would probably not be able to talk of anything else.
Well, if you are a Christian, you have been made alive to God. Open your eyes! He is infinitely good, powerful, just, wise, loving, kind, majestic, glorious. He is the One who created all the colors of the spectrum as just one small reflection of his own infinite beauty.
Glory be to God for dappled things: For skies of couple-color as a brinded cow, For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim, Fresh firecoal chestnut falls, finches' wings, For landscape plotted and pieced, fold, fallow, and plow, And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim, Whatever is new, original, spare, strange, Whatever is fickle, freckled, who knows how, With swift, slow, sweet, sour, adazzle, dim-- He fathers forth whose beauty is past change; Praise him! (G.M.H.)
It is worth noticing that all the verbs in this passage are past in tense and general in application. It is not that God WILL make us alive, raise us, and seat us, but that he HAS. It is not some fortunate or especially spiritual believers of whom this is true but all of them. It is not set before us as something to which we aspire but as a present reality by which we should already be beginning to live.
All human religion is about what man does to find favor with God. But Christianity is about what God has done to confer favor on man. This is an absolute and irreducible watershed. You have not received the Christian faith at all until you see and accept this. The blessings of salvation are not the attainment of a long life of penitence, service, and self-denial; they are an immense privilege conferred as a free gift on those who put their trust in Jesus Christ. Such people are already made alive, raised, and seated as surely as Jesus has been made alive, raised, and seated--BECAUSE Jesus has been made alive, raised, and seated. They are like a sailor rescued from a sunken ship. He has already been rescued. He is now on the coastguard cutter, but he is not yet in port. But because he is off the wreck and on the cutter, he is already as good as there. So we are already seated in heaven. We are as good as there, and more: we actually are there in the person of our Head and Representative Jesus Christ.
The key to all is Christ. The reality is not a mere legal fiction but resides itself as real in Christ. Do you believe he died for you? Then you died with him. Do you believe that God raised him from the dead? Then you too have risen and will rise and reign with him. These things are already true of you because they are true of him. And we will experience the reality of these things even now to the extent that we live daily by faith and trust in him.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams