From Death To Life

Title: From Death To Life

Bible Book: Ephesians 2 : 1-10

Author: Mark Adams

Subject: Life; Eternal Life



As many of you know several years ago our church partnered with a new church start in Conway, New Hampshire, known as Valley Christian Church. For six summers teams of Redlanders caravanned north to work alongside the members of that church by doing construction projects, community census, prayer walks—and helping lead Vacation Bible School.

Bill Wehunt was the point person for all our New Hampshire trips and I have wonderful memories of those six summers. One thing that sticks out in my mind when I think about Conway is the beautiful scenery—and Bill made sure that amidst all our work our team got plenty of opportunities to soak in all the beauty of that corner of God’s creation.

For example, there were bike rides—and as we cruised along over covered bridges and we looked up at spectacular mountains on all sides. We also took trips to places like Diana’s bath where we could see beautiful water falls and wade in the icy run off from the snow melt. And speaking of cold water—we swam in the “community swimming hole” in the Kangamangus river. We always ended the week with a lobster supper—because lobster is—or at least was—much cheaper up there.

But one of my fondest memories is a hike we took together. We had asked a member of Valley Christian who knew all the local trails to pick one that wouldn’t be too challenging but one that had great views and would give our team a taste of the New Hampshire mountains. She was glad to help so we filled our water bottles and with her two dogs in tow we started off but almost immediately I began to think that our guide had misunderstood Bill’s request because the trail she had selected was VERY challenging! Yes—it was beautiful—we saw amazingly beautiful mushrooms and mountain flowers—but we were going uphill all the way and it wasn’t long until we were all panting heavily. I thought we’d never get to the top of wherever it was that she was taking us—but after a few hours we finally made it—and we were treated to a jaw-dropping panorama not to mention a patch of wild blue-berries and raspberries. But the thing that I remember most is the fact that we were able to look back down from our perch and see the trail behind us. We could see where we had been and what we had come through. That backward glance gave us a true appreciation of our accomplishment.


I dredge up this wonderful mission trip memory because there is a sense in which Paul has us “look back down the trail” in our text for this morning. He gives us a backward glance of our lives so we can see from whence Christ has brought us. Take your Bibles and turn to Ephesians 2:1-10 and as I read perhaps you’ll see what I mean.

1 - As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,

2 - 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.

3 - All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

4 - But because of His great love for us, God, Who is rich in mercy,

5 - made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

6 - And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,

7 - 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.

8 - For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—

9 - not by works, so that no one can boast.

10 - For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Okay—what does Paul’s “backward glance” show us?

(1) Saved FROM something

First, Paul helps us see—and remember—that we have been saved FROM something.

Specifically Paul says that we were saved from DEATH—SPIRITUAL DEATH. Look at verse 1 where he says: “[Remember!] You WERE dead in your transgressions and sins...”

Now, I hate to put a downer on this service but the fact is ALL OF US WILL DIE. No matter how many miles we matter how many vitamins we matter how many doctors we consult—unless the Lord comes back first everyone in this room will experience physical death—and that can indeed be a downer—but believe it or not, there is something far WORSE.

As Paul reminds us here—the REAL downer is not the death a person experiences at the END of life—but rather the death they experience while he or she is STILL LIVING. It’s not the separation of the soul from the body that comes when our bodies cease to function—no—the truly sad thing is when a soul is separated from God.

Paul reminds us that this is what life was like for us back when we weren’t Christians. It’s how life is now for people who aren’t in Christ—people who haven’t claimed Jesus as Savior and Lord. To make sure you’re with me at this point—a person is not PHYSICALLY dead without Christ. He still breathes, talks, and carries on his life. A person is not INTELLECTUALLY dead without Christ. He still thinks and reasons about some things. And...a person is not MORALLY dead without Christ. People who are not Christ-followers do at time exhibit kindness and display love. But without Jesus people are still DEAD spiritually. This is what Paul was getting at in 1st Timothy 5:6 when he wrote, “But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives.” I guess you could say that there is a sense in which ZOMBIES are real!

Now—what exactly does all this mean? What else is there to know about spiritual death?

Well, it may interest you to note that it is similar to physical death. Allow me to explain. We used to say a person was physically dead when their heart stopped beating but with the development of things like the heart-lung machine, this definition has become inadequate. These days we define death as that moment when the BRAIN stops functioning. With EEG’s and the like we can now determine when the brain—our body’s computer—crashes and stops working. That has become the accepted definition of death. So, we now say a person is dead when a lack of brain activity shows us they can no longer REASON—or RESPOND to external stimuli. And as I said, this has some striking parallels to spiritual death.

For example, spiritual death is the inability to REASON—about spiritual matters.

It’s when a person is basically numb when it comes to spiritual truth. When I was in high school I ran on the track team and I remember we would always use the first few weeks of practice to get in shape. We’d run up and down the bleachers. We’d do wind sprints and “Indian runs” around the track. We would do all this every day at practice. We’d run until we all dropped in our tracks.

Now—this was back before the invention of all the wonderful running shoes we have today. Basically, all we had to run in back then were canvas Converse after the first day many of us would have blisters on our feet. They were so sensitive that we could hardly touch them. But that wouldn’t stop us. We’d just bandage them and keep running—and...within a week our blisters turned into callouses so thick and hard. you could stick a pin straight in them and not even feel it. They were no longer sensitive to pain.

This is an illustration of what sin does in our lives. When we first commit a sin, it pricks our conscience. We know it is wrong, and it hurts. However, the more we commit sin, the less we feel it. And before we know it our soul has become so calloused, our conscience so confused, that we no longer can discern between right and wrong. Our spiritual reasoning power has ceased to function. That’s part of what it means to be spiritually dead. Proverbs 30:20 describes this malady when it says, “This is the way of an adulterous woman. She eats and wipes her mouth, and says, ‘I have done no wrong.’”

I think this explains why so many of our laws in this country don’t make any moral sense. For example, this is why our legal statutes tend to provide greater protection for a baby animal...than they do for a baby human. It’s why our laws say a female has a right to choose what to do with her body—but not an unborn female. This same lack of moral sense is why more and more states are making laws to redefine marriage...even though anyone can clearly see that the human body was designed for marriage to be as the Bible defines it...a commitment between one man and one woman. I could go on—but it you ever listen to the headlines on the nightly news and scratch your head and wonder how things got this messed’s because people who are spiritually dead were involved. These people enact unreasonable laws because they have lost their ability to REASON about spiritual matters. They can no longer discern between right and wrong.

But spiritual death is more than this lack of moral REASONING ability. It also leads to the inability to RESPOND to spiritual stimuli.

In the same way that physical death is marked by the inability to respond to EXTERNAL stimuli, spiritual death is marked by a growing failure to respond to SPIRITUAL stimuli. Let me put it this way. Send a live person at an exciting football game; send him to a stimulating movie; give him a dramatic book; expose him to a beautiful sunset, and he responds. He is moved. Put a dead person in the same places and what does he do? Nothing—because being dead, he is no longer able to respond to external stimuli. A corpse does not hear the conversation going on in the funeral parlor. It has no appetite for food or drink. It feels no pain because it is dead.

This week I read about Jeremy Bentham, who is considered the father of utilitarianism. When he died Mr. Bentham gave orders that his entire estate be given to the University College Hospital in London...on the condition that his body be preserved and placed in attendance at all the hospital’s future board meetings. This was duly carried out and every year to this day Bentham’s corpse is wheeled up to the board table and the chairman says, “Jeremy Bentham, present but not voting.” This is of course a great joke on Bentham’s utilitarianism because utilitarianism is the belief that the best course of action is the one that brings a person the most happiness. So it’s a joke because the body of Jeremy Bentham will never raise its hand in response, it will never submit a motion. It will never be happy because Jeremy Bentham has been dead for nearly 180 years. Dead people—corpses—are incapable of responding to external stimuli.

Well, that’s how it is with the person who is spiritually dead when it comes to spiritual matters. They tend to be non-responsive. As Jesus said in Matthew 13:13, “Seeing they see not...hearing they hear not.” For example, put a person who is spiritually alive in a moving worship service;

expose him to a need he can meet in Christ; let him have an hour with his Bible; do these things and he’ll respond...he’ll be moved. Put a spiritually dead person in the same places; give him the same opportunities and what does he do? Usually he will do nothing—because by being spiritually dead, he is not able to respond to spiritual stimuli the way you and I can.

Understand. This means that non-Christians are not sick. In a very real sense they are dead.

John Stott says, “We should not hesitate to reaffirm that a life without God (however physically fit and mentally alert the person my be) is a living death, and that those who live it are dead even while they are living.” So—our lost friends don’t need healing. They need resurrecting. They need the RE-BIRTH that comes when we put our faith in Jesus and ask Him to come into our hearts and lives.

Well, what is it that makes people dead spiritually?

In this backward glance that Paul gives us, he shows us three causative factors.

A. First he says THE WORLD does this to us—the world kills us spiritually.

As he says in verse 2, “...this is the way you used to live when you followed the ways of this world...” And we did live that way. Before we met Jesus we allowed our fallen world’s values—or lack of them—to rub off on us. It’s like when you fall in the mud and your clothes get muddy. In the same way when we live in this fallen world, it affects us. We begin to embrace its standards. For example, the world’s standard is to set SELF at the center of that’s what WE do.

B. Paul says the second thing that kills of spiritually is THE DEVIL.

As he says in the other part of verse 2 we used to follow the ways, “...of the ruler of the kingdom of the air.” That’s a reference to the devil who is described in 1st Peter 5:8 as, “...a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Our adversary seeks to pull us downward...and before we accepted Christ we usually allowed satan to do just that...and that leads to this form of death.

C. Finally Paul says THE FLESH kills us spiritually.

In verse 3 he writes, “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our SINFUL NATURE and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” The phrase, “sinful nature” means that before we followed Jesus it was so easy for us to let our physical desires rule our lives instead of God.

I’m reminded of the little girl who was disciplined by her mother for kicking her brother in the shins and then pulling his hair. “Sally,” said her mother, “why did you let the devil make you kick your little brother and pull his hair?” Sally said, “The devil made me kick him, but pulling his hair was my idea!” Sally’s honesty reminds us that we don’t always need the devil to help us sin. In the flesh we have our own sinful nature that leads us to sin.

Well, to quote an old chick flick, that’s “The Way We Were.” We can look back down the trail of life and remember that before we met Jesus and decided to follow Him, we were spiritually dead. That’s what God saved us from—and I don’t know about you but when I look back and see the death that I have been SAVED FROM—I am so thankful!

(2) Saved BY AND BY THROUGH something

Well, in verse 4 Paul makes a wonderful transition in our glance back—a transition that helps us to see—that we have been saved BY AND THROUGH something.

He says, “Remember, you have been saved from spiritual death, BY GRACE...THROUGH FAITH.” Look at verse 4. Paul writes, “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.” Did you catch that? We were dead—but because of His great love and mercy God sent Jesus. He died in our place and when we accept that gift...God makes us ALIVE. As Paul puts it in Romans 6:4, when we become Christ followers we “...walk in NEWNESS of life.”

In the Billy Graham Center on the campus of Wheaton College where my daughter will graduate in a few short months...there is a letter which Charles Fuller wrote to his wife the night he decided to accept Jesus as his Savior and Lord. Fuller wrote, “There has been a complete change in my life. Sunday I went up to Los Angeles and heard Paul Rader preach. I never heard such a sermon in all my life. Now my whole life and aims and ambitions are changed. I feel now that I want to serve God if He can use me instead of making the goal of life the making of money.” Charles Fuller experienced a spiritual resurrection that night. He eventually became a great evangelist. But that night he was reborn—from death to life and countless millions of formerly dead people down through the ages can say the same thing. In Christ we who were dead—are given new life!

As Paul says, “God made us ALIVE together with Christ and raised us up with Him.” To fully understand this wonderful statement we need to do a little Greek study so here goes. In the New Testament three different Greek words are translated “life.” The first is “BIOS” — from which we derive the word, “biology.” This refers to the physical life of bone and flesh...the kind of life we have in common with animals. The second is “PSUCHE.” That’s the word from which we get out word, “psychology” and it usually means “soul.” Understand though—in the New Testament “psuche” does not refer to a person’s soul in contrast to his body. Bur rather, the psuche is the whole human person—the person who is more than just physical, the person who has a spiritual capacity...something that separates us from the animals. The final word is “ZOE” and it means abundant life—“full” or “whole” life. It is the extra additive that puts zest in life.

Well, Paul uses this third word here. He says that when God made us alive together with Christ, he gave us “zoe.” We already have “bios” or life force. We already have “psuche” — a spiritual capacity. Only from God, as His gift, can we have “zoe” — whole life...real life. And this can only come “by GRACE through FAITH.”

I don’t want to assume we all understand this popular phrase so let’s talk about those two words for a moment. First, what exactly does Paul mean when he says we are saved “by GRACE?” He means that our good works don’t contribute ANYTHING to our salvation. As I said a few weeks back, it is ALL God. Now—this goes against the thinking of our “spiritually dead culture.” These days the “dead” people around us tend to say that if we are a good person...if we do enough good...we can deserve a wonderful afterlife. But with this backward look Paul reminds us that this is just not true. And of course, Paul knew what he was talking about. According to the flawed standards of his world he had racked up a long list of good works...but when he was reborn he came to see that his best works done on his best day were worth no more than those piles of stink we avoid when walking through a cow pasture. You see, Paul came to see that Jew and Gentile alike suffer from a radical inner corruption—a corruption so thorough that even our best works are colored by sin and therefore can never approach the radical righteousness that God demands. He saw that no matter how high we climb our moral ladder, it is not high enough. It is not possible to achieve salvation by good works! It’s all GRACE.

Here’s a word picture that I think helps explain this word. Imagine that an airplane flies over the South Atlantic and crashes a thousand miles from any coast. In the plane there are three individuals: a great Olympic swimmer, an average swimmer, and someone who cannot swim at all. All three survive the crash and make it out of the plane before it sinks. The Olympic swimmer calls out, “Follow me — I’ll get you out of this!” And he takes off heading for the tip of South America a thousand miles away. The other two start to follow him. In about thirty seconds the non-swimmer goes down to Davy Jones’ Locker. It takes about thirty minutes for the average swimmer to succumb. But the champion swimmer churns away for twenty-five hours, covering an impressive fifty miles! WOW! Only 475 more hours to go! He’ll be there in 19 days if he doesn’t slow down! But of course that’s not going to happen. No matter how good he is—he can’t swim 1000 miles. He’s not capable. Similarly we are not capable of “good-working” our way to God. The distance is too far, and we are too flawed. We can try but all our good works will be no more beneficial than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We are not saved by works. No...our rebirth comes by the unmerited GRACE of God. Pascal once said, “Grace is indeed required to turn a man into a saint; and he who doubts this does not know what either a man or a saint is.” This leads to that second word: FAITH. Grace comes first and then faith responds to it. In FAITH we have to ask Jesus’ to save us—believing we cannot save themselves. But what is FAITH? To make it simple—faith is BELIEF plus TRUST. It’s ACTING on our belief that Jesus can and will forgive us and save us.

There is a much-used story that I want to pull out of the file to illustrate this principle. It comes from the 1800's when a man named Jean Francois Gravalet lived. Gravelet’s stage name was: BLONDIN. He was born in France in 1824 and became well-known while still a child when it came to acrobatics. As he grew older, his skill and showmanship brought him fame throughout Europe and America. Once in London he played the violin while on a tightrope 170 above the ground. Then he did a somersault on the same tightrope while wearing stilts! His most spectacular feats were the crossings of Niagara Falls on a tightrope 1,100 feet long and 160 feet above the water. On one occasion Blondin took a stove onto the tightrope and cooked an omelette above the roaring falls. On another he pushed a wheelbarrow across while blindfolded.

On still another he stood on his head above the falls. By the way this is why in the city of London today there are streets named: “Niagara and Blondin Avenues.” Once in an unusual demonstration of his skill, Blondin carried his manager across Niagara Falls on his back. After putting him down Blondin turned to the large crowd and asked a man close by, “Do you believe I could do that with you?” “Of course,” the man answered, “I’ve just seen you do it!” “Well, hop on” said Blondin, “I’ll carry you across” “Not on your life!” The man said. This man had belief—but not trust—which means he had no faith.

Now to be honest, I would not have hopped onto Blondin’s back either...for three reasons: First there is the ME FACTOR. What if I lost it up there and began to panic? I’d start to struggle and down we would go! Then there is the CHANCE FACTOR. What if the rope broke? What if a strong wind came up? Then there is the BLONDIN FACTOR. What if the only time he made a mistake in his career was when I was on his shoulder? I might believe in my heart he could do it...but I would not trust him with my life!

Well, there is a universe of difference between this tightrope-walker and Jesus. Jesus cannot drop me. I cannot even drop myself for He holds me in the palm of His hand. And with Him there is no such thing as chance. In any case, I have put my faith in Jesus—and I will testify that He HAS held me! My faith was well-placed because He has forgiven my sin and brought me from death to life.

So...Paul says, we can look back and see that we have been saved FROM something...spiritual death...and we have been SAVED BY and THROUGH grace through faith...

(3) Saved FOR something

Finally, Paul shows us that we have been saved FOR something.

Look at verse 10 where he writes, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” This is an important thing for us to “look back and see” because we have just said that “works cannot save a person” — which they can’t — but often we spend so much time emphasizing this fact that we forget another very clear message of the New Testament....that a saved person should do good works...not to BE saved...but because they ARE saved. John Calvin once wrote, “It is faith alone that justifies but faith that justifies can never be alone.” And this is one time Calvin and I would agree because a genuine faith leads us to do good works. Faith makes us want to be busy for God—busy helping people...showing God’s love through our actions toward them...loving others as we have been loved. As Chuck Colson put it in our study this past Wednesday, “Our creeds should lead to our deeds.” I love something Max Lucado says about this. He says that our Lord’s command that we take up our cross should be a reminder that we are to feel a burden for the hurting in this world. I agree—anyone who has experienced the grace of God—should let that grace affect their heart such that they feel a burden for the hurting people around them.

And praise God down through the centuries that is exactly what has happened. Grace-driven believers have done wonderful good works for others. Down through the centuries people who have become spiritually ALIVE have ministered to the needs of the spiritually DEAD over and over and over again. Here’s a partial list:

It was Christ-followers who eradicated slavery. As the Christian faith spread after the fall of Rome, the practice of slavery dwindled.
Centuries later, when slavery reemerged, Christian advocates (like the Mennonites, the Quakers, and individuals like William Wilberforce) strongly opposed it and worked to end it.
Believers also stopped the cruelty of the gladiatorial games. This brutal sport, which used the death of slaves to entertain the masses, was condemned by Christian activists.
Believers build the first hospitals and hospices: Unlike most Greeks and Romans, the early Christians organized resources to care for the sick and dying.
Following Jesus’ example, believers have worked to elevate the status and rights of women.
Christians have advocated for human rights and for concern for the poor because they know that every person is made in the image of God and has inherent dignity and worth.

Even today believers around the world staff soup kitchens and staff medical clinics in impoverished areas. They are the first to arrive on disaster scenes...and when they do good works like these—the world notices!

Roy Hattersly is a columnist for the U. K. Guardian. He writes, “It ought to be possible to live a Christian life without being a Christian.” An outspoken atheist, Hattersley came to this conclusion after watching the Salvation Army lead several other faith-based organizations in the relief effort after Hurricane Katrina. Hattersley says, “Notable by their absence, were teams from rationalist societies, free thinkers’ clubs, and atheists’ associations—the sort of people who scoff at religion’s intellectual absurdity.” According to Hattersley, it is an unavoidable conclusion that Christians, “...are the people most likely to take the risks and make the sacrifices involved in helping others.” Hattersley also notes that this pattern of behavior goes beyond disaster relief: He points out that “civilized people” do not believe that drug addiction and male prostitution offend against divine ordinance. But those who DO are the men and women most willing to change the fetid bandages, replace the sodden sleeping bags, and—probably most difficult of all—argue, without a trace of impatience, that the time has come for some serious medical treatment. “The only possible conclusion,” says Hattersley, “is that faith comes with a packet of moral imperatives that, while they do not condition the attitude of all believers, influence enough of them to make [Christians] morally superior to atheists like me.”

Wow—when I read that I felt like calling Hattersley to commend him on his honesty and to tell him WHY believers behave like that. I pray that God leads a believer to go to this man and share with him the Gospel. The fact is when Christ-followers realize that they are saved FOR something—saved to do “...good works which God prepared in advance for them to do...” the world notices. Spiritually dead people wake up a bit—they begin to see their need for God.

Now—I have to point out that the Greek word for “workmanship” here is “poiema.” We get our word “poem” from that word. This means each believer is God’s “poem” and if you know anything about poems you know that each and everyone is unique. No two poems are identical.

Their rhythm is different. Their meter is different. Their rhyming is different. A poem is a creative piece of originality. So Paul is saying that as a Christian, you are God’s unique poem—He has created you uniquely in advance for certain good works. Are you doing them?



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