van-gogh-the-raising-of-lazarus-after-rembrandt

The Raising of Lazarus, Van Gogh (1890)

“Brothers and sisters: God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ – by grace you have been saved – raised us up with him, and seated us in the heavens in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works so no one can boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.” (Ephesians 2:4-10)

In these few verses the  Apostle Paul is hoping to help the Ephesian Christians–and all Christians at all times–to know, to realize in the depth of their being, what a wonderful thing God has done for them in Christ: He has brought them from death to life and guaranteed to them a rich inheritance or all eternity.

Unfortunately, however, most of us fail to realize the wonder of our salvation:

“Often today people don’t believe there is much wrong with the human race and with themselves in particular. As a result they don’t see very much need for God’s grace. Perhaps, they think, God might help me out of a tight corner here or there, but basically I can get along fine without him. All that God has to offer, it seems, is a kind of spiritual enhancement of ordinary life, a gentle enrichment of what’s already there rather than a radical rescue from imminent danger…But  Paul’s gospel is all about grace that is more than mere enrichment. It gives life to the dead.” (N.T. Wright, The Prison Letters, p. 22)

“Life to the dead”. It may not be our point of view, but it is reality–not only with regards to the problem, but also the solution:

“We live in a world where human beings, left to themselves, not only choose the wrong direction, but remain cheerfully confident that it is in fact the right one….Well, if  the problem is that the settled behavior of the whole human race leads them on the fast road to death – the ultimate destruction of their humanness – the answer provided by God  is a way through death and out into a new sort of life entirely.” (Wright, pp. 18-20)

It is the way made possible through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. And the life it has made possible is more glorious than anything we can even begin to conceive:

“He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ…In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses….In him we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for his glory… In him you also …were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it… to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1: 5-14, emphasis mine)

All this is all due to nothing we have done–for as the passage reminds us, prior to this inestimable gift, we were doomed to death. Rather it flows forth from “ the great love with which he loved us”.  It is all a free gift: all is grace.

It is Paul’s hope that we will be so overwhelmed by the realization of God’s great love and of his lavish grace that we might receive it with the awe, wonder, and gratitude it deserves. How do we do this? First and foremost through the recognition which Wright notices is so often missing in our society: that of our own unworthiness, of the sin and disobedience that constantly separates us from Him and from the life he longs to give us. It is an unpopular step–we would far rather pat each other on the back and tell one another we’re not as bad as we think we are!–but in fact it is the only way we can see the fullness of the glory of this incredible gift He has given us.

And the second step is to foster within ourselves a sense of gratitude by recognizing all of the ways in which God makes evident in our lives his lavish and fatherly love by caring for us, providing for us and drawing us into a deeper experience of his love and mercy.

It is only by doing so that we can begin to live fully the new life he died to give us, for “We cannot earn God’s love; but we can and must show how grateful we are for it, by seeking with our whole hearts to live the kind of life which will bring joy to God’s heart” (Barclay, Galatians and Ephesians, p. 105)

To know, to realize, the reality of our need, the depth of His love, and the lavishness of His grace, should be the heart’s desire and prayer of every Christian. To that end, the great prayers of St. Paul for the Ephesians found in Chapters 1 and 3, bracketing today’s passage, should be our constant prayer as well, both for ourselves and all we love:

“I do not cease to give thanks to you, remembering you in my prayers that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory ,may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation  in the knowledge of him, having  the eyes of your hearts enlightened , that you may know the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe…..that you , being rooted and grounded in love, may have the power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth , and to know the love of Christ  which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 1:16-19, 2: 17-19)

May this, indeed, be our constant prayer for one another.

 

Fred Durham is the President of Alighieri Press and serves as an author and speaker.