Welcome to the Family – Extreme Makeover (Giving Birth)
I’m not sure why people love the idea of an extreme makeover; this idea of taking something ordinary or even downtrodden and making it into something extraordinary.
I am sure you have seen a show like this. They are all over reality-tv. Somebody plain and ordinary gets an extreme makeover, to the delight of his or her friends.
Sometimes it’s a house or a car that gets the makeover but most often it’s an individual, maybe combined with an extreme weight loss program, cosmetic or even surgical improvements.
The results are always astonishing and absolutely delightful to see. Most often the old, and what once was, isn’t even recognizable in the new and improved.
Once in a while it can be someone downtrodden and at the end of their luck. This is what Jeremy Paton and Evan Felker did with a St Catharines homeless guy named John (which is what you are seeing on the screen in front of you).
John is a homeless guy right here in our city who was given the chance for a haircut, shave, some new clothes and a hot lunch. The change is rather remarkable.
We love this sort of stuff, as seen by the fact that the video received over 50,000 hits.
It actually points to something greater in life, something that Paul alludes to in Ephesians 2:1-10.
Deep within us is this desire for an extreme makeover that comes not from the outside in, but from the inside out. We long to be changed from the inside to the outside.
Not just a fresh coat of paint on the old barn nor a tinkering or adjusting the hinges only, but a thorough reconstruction that starts at our core and changes everything about us including sometimes even how we look.
We love stories of life change and the Scriptures do not disappoint.
One of the more graphic examples is that of the demoniac in Luke 8 who goes from one moment of “had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs” (vs.27) to the next moment of “dressed and in his right mind” (vs. 35).
This sort of thing is repeated again and again in the pages of the New Testament. The prodigal son, the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, Zacchaeus the tax collector, or even Paul himself, attest to similar tales of extreme life change.
The Ephesian Miracle!
This was the very thing that was obviously happening in the Ephesian church as well.
Again, keep in mind what was happening in their church was an explosion of new people coming into their ranks.
For most of their history they were a small little group of twelve people huddled together and hidden away in this big, scary city of Ephesus.
They were that for 25 years, until Paul shows up and introduces them to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit then so empowers them, that soon the entire region hears about the amazing work of God with stories of incredible life change.
This letter was written against that backdrop of explosive growth and how to make it all work.
While Paul eventually does address how to move over and make room, in the first chapter or two he is landing on the remarkable miracle of life change he is witnessing.
This is made all the more striking by the fact that those who experienced the most radical life change were among the worst of the worst.
Ephesus was a pagan metropolitan. It was the headquarters for the Greek goddess Artemis, known as Diana to the Romans.
She was the goddess of fertility that saw countless temple prostitutes ply their trade, catering to the tourist and seaport industries.
In many ways, the licentiousness of those days was similar to the unbridled sexual expressions of our days.
Many of those who experienced radical life change came out of this lifestyle. These were not people ‘half saved already’ nor were they morally upright to begin with.
I Once was Lost!
Paul’s language is very clear in capturing who these folks once were. If anything, he paints a very graphic picture of who they once were, which ends up becoming a portrait of total depravity.
The colors are vivid; the tone is graphic and the image emerging is startling.
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” Eph. 2:1-3
Wow, what a portrait! If you were to name it, you could call it: “I Once was Lost”! The first thing he says is “you were dead”.
Of course we were alive and yet we were dead; dead where it mattered the most, namely in our relationship with God.
We were dead toward anything having to do with God. That part of us that hears and responds to God, namely our spirit was dead.
We might have been physically alive, but our soul or inner person was distorted and twisted and our spirit was dead.
“The most vital part of our personality – the spirit – is dead to the most important factor in life – God.”
Arthur Skevington Wood
What brought about this numbness toward anything having to do with God were our repeated “transgressions and sins”.
While “transgressions” describes intentionally crossing boundaries into forbidden territory, “sins” refers to continually falling short of the mark.
When Paul says, “in which you used to live” he is describing a walking about, or a wandering around. This captures the idea of purposefully leaving the innocence and holiness of the Garden of Eden while wandering around in a spiritual wasteland.
There is no suggestion that this was against our will or that people were forced to live like that.
No one was dragged into the wasteland, choices were everywhere, with many turn-arounds possible.
That is what the word “followed” suggests: “You followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”
We freely followed. This clearly indicates freedom of choice. No one is being forced to live a certain way; the decisions and choices are always ours.
Being born east of Eden doesn’t mean having to live east of Eden any more than being born a sinner means having to live a life of sin.
There is a Savior that we can turn to from early on.
Remember how in the previous chapter Paul talks about predestination, which outlines the idea that there are divine markers along the path of life pointing to a Savior.
Those who ignore these markers choose to do so at their own peril, since doing so shapes their destiny.
Repeatedly ignoring the divine markers makes it increasingly difficult to say yes to the Savior. Every time someone says no to a divine marker, they add another layer of hardness over their heart, until it becomes fossilized.
This is why a child or a young person has a far easier time coming to the Savior than an older person. In fact, 80% of people who to come to Jesus do so before age 18! The older someone is, the harder a conversion becomes.
Every time a divine marker is ignored, it makes coming to Jesus a little bit harder.
Every time a marker is ignored, it pushes people deeper into the domain of Satan that Paul describes as “the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” Eph. 2:2
Every time a marker is ignored it also invites the wrath of God a little more, as Paul says: “Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” Eph. 2:3
The wrath of God isn’t kindled because people are born sinners. It’s kindled because sinners ignore the divine markers and choose not to turn to the Savior.
The bottom-line is that this creates a hopeless situation where finding your way back becomes increasingly difficult.
This is the portrait of hopelessness and despair Paul paints in the opening verses as he looked around at the debauchery and depravity of Ephesus.
This portrait of doom and gloom that could have been called, “I Once was Lost” makes what follows next truly astonishing.
But Now Am Found!
Despite the layers of filth and crustiness that reduced most to the level of prodigals in a pigsty or naked demoniacs who could not be chained, God is able to provide an extreme makeover that literally changes people from the inside out.
I love the language of Eph. 2:4-6: “But 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. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”
I love the language in this passage! God made us alive even when we were dead in transgressions! God raised us up. God seated us in the heavenly realms.
What an amazing metamorphosis! This is extreme makeover taken to incredible heights.
This then becomes Paul’s second portrait. If the first portrait was called “I Once was Lost”, then this second portrait surely has to be called “But Now am Found”!
As graphic as the first portrait was in its morbidity and despair, so graphic is this second portrait is in its brilliance and hope!
The contrast could not be more striking. With colors of doom and gloom, we see a portrait of death, contrasted to a portrait of life with colors of hope and brilliance!
While we may have been absolutely dead in our transgressions and sins, we are now absolutely alive where it matters most.
Our spirit – that essential part of us that responds and interacts with God – was absolutely dead and dormant but now has become alive.
Our spirit is fully alive. We are alive toward God, alive toward His impulses, presence and words. Nothing falls on deaf ears.
Let me just land in these verses for a moment or two so as to bring out a little better what God’s work has done in us:
1. Made Alive
“God made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.” vs. 5
Very much alive. This is most remarkable considering how absolute our spiritual death was. This was no ‘scheintod’ or merely ‘vital signs absent’, with reviving still possible. We were totally dead in our transgressions.
The power needed to make us alive is remarkable. To have the vilest offender, who’s piled on transgressions upon transgressions, turned around and made alive requires enormous power!
2. Raised Up
Such is the power of God, that it’s compared to resurrection power when Paul said, “God raised us up with Christ.” vs. 6
In being made alive, we are actually raised up. When you hear it put that way, doesn’t it remind you of being raised from the grave just like Jesus was?
Of Jesus it was said that “he was raised on the third day” (I Cor. 15:4) and of us it was said, “God raised us up with Christ”!
Similar language suggests that us being made alive was like a resurrection of sorts.
In fact, later in the letter Paul says that when Jesus was raised from the dead that Jesus raised with him all those who have called on His name.
So this is resurrection power that we are talking about.
This is not a corpse still warm being revived nor is this Lazarus in the tomb for four days. This is the valley of dry bones coming back to life. This is what that is.
For any of us to be spiritually alive is an incredible miracle of God. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead has also raised us from the tombs.
3. Seated in the Heavenlies
Not only were we made alive and raised up from the dead but we were also seated in the heavenlies: “Seated us with him in the heavenly realms.” Eph. 2:6
Can you imagine that? He seated us with Jesus on the throne. Literally “enthroned with Christ” or seated with him on the throne.
There will come a day when we will reign with Christ, with us on thrones from which we reign as princes over a new world.
So in many ways we are princes in training and in waiting.
So great is His power, that God not only made us alive, not only raised us from the dead, but also elevated us to princely places in this life and even more so in the life to come.
For the Glory of God’s Grace!
This brings us to the question of why. To put someone on his throne will surely garnish the attention of heaven. To have the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve on these thrones must be to the astonishment of heaven.
It raises the question of why. So would you believe me if I were to tell you that all of this (made alive, raised from the dead and seated on thrones) was to showcase the grace and power of God?
“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. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Eph. 2:7-10
I love the idea of God’s showcase. We are God’s exhibition. When he unwraps his masterpiece, everyone would then see the incomparable riches of His grace.
He puts us on a pedestal; heaven’s spotlight is squarely on us.
When the wrapping comes off and the new you is displayed (freshly made alive, raised from the dead and princely in appearance) there would be this collective “ooh and ahh” that ripples through heaven and brings the house down with an ovation to God’s amazing grace.
Skevington Wood calls this “God’s publicity program for the whole of history – and beyond.”
In fact, Wood wrote, “God planned a continuing exhibition of his favor to cover all the centuries, and after that through all eternity.”
God’s plan is that in every generation there would be this showcase of God’s workmanship and handiwork.
This is very much like a traveling exhibition that moves across the time-space continuum. It landed in the first century in places like Ephesus and, in our times, among us.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Not only in the here and now and for those who watch us in our times, but also for all eternity.
Paul said, “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.” Eph. 2:7
For all eternity, and for those who would be part of the new heaven and the new earth, that God would point to us and declare His grace to be great!
Maybe that’s what John Newton had in mind when he wrote: “When we’ve been there 10,000 years bright shining as the sun we’ve no less days to sing God’s grace than when we first began.”
Not Pawns in His Hand
There is one more thing I need to land on, and that is being God’s workmanship in his traveling exhibition does not make us objects or pawns in God’s hand.
None of this is meant to objectify us or to make us feel used somehow. This is not what this is about.
As important as it is to demonstrate God’s grace and power, I honestly believe that the real reason for His amazing work is because He loves us so.
Make no mistake about it; the thing uppermost in His mind was the fact that one of His children was dead in transgressions and sins.
The reason why he left the 99 behind and looked for that one erring sheep was not because of some great ego-need God had to come to the rescue yet once again.
When he saw you he didn’t say, “Here’s a chance to show off my grace”. When he saw you his heart broke for you.
I love verse 4: “Because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy made us alive.” Nothing else motivated him. Because of his great love he wants none to perish. That he would show you off was actually secondary.
That brings me to the last thing here this morning, and that is that none of this is our own doing. You do not turn your life around. You do not make yourself become spiritually alive.
This is not about you pulling yourself up by the bootstraps.
That’s why the refrain in the passage is “God made us alive” and “God raised us up.”
This is also why it says: “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.” Eph. 2:8-9
Yet there is something that we have to do. While it is the grace of God that makes all this possible, at the end of the day none of this will come our way unless we stretch out our hearts to God in faith!
God’s grace saves us through our hearts of faith stretched up to God.
Faith is saying “Yes, Lord”. The moment you do that is the moment God’s grace flows into your life, which makes you alive, raises you up, and then seats you on heavenly thrones!
Here you can find several messages. Feel free to write your thoughts or questions in the comment section.