Before and After
November 5, 2017 sermon
By John Ulrich, Lead Pastor
In Ephesians 2:1-10, Paul gives us a word picture of “before and after” becoming believers in Christ. It is meant to remind us of our changes, give us hope, encourage us to become even more like Christ, and help transform us into grateful, humble children of God.
I. Our spiritual condition BEFORE we came to Christ:
- Dead. Eph. 2:1 “..you were dead in your transgressions and sins”. We All begin as sinners: broken, corrupt, and fallen. Although still made in God’s image, as unbelievers we were unresponsive before Christ and could not do what we were created to do.
- Dominated. Eph. 2: 2,3 “..you followed the ways of this world..the ruler of the kingdom of the air [Satan]…the cravings of our flesh [our sinful nature].” Most people do not consciously serve the world, Satan, and the flesh, but this dark side dominates/affects everything they do as they live independently from God.
- Doomed. Eph. 2: 3b “..we were by nature deserving of wrath”. The undertone of living our lives independent of God is that it makes us worthy of God’s eternal wrath and punishment, eternally separated from Him.
If we rely on anything else other than God’s mercy in Christ, Paul says we are dead, dominated, and doomed.
II. Our spiritual condition AFTER we came to Christ:
- He made us alive together with Christ. Eph. 2:5 “alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions”.
- He raised us up with Christ. Eph. 2:5. We now have new, resurrection life (now and eternally) in Jesus Christ and the presence of His Spirit, which frees us from the dominance of the world, Satan, and the flesh.
- He seated us with Christ. Eph. 2: 6b. Through faith in Christ (not our works), God promises us an eternity in His Kingdom, which will delight and suit each one of us.
III. The impact on our lives: Creation of three attitudes within us.
- Gratitude toward God. The reminder of the ugliness of our lives independent of God calls us to be grateful/thankful for God’s grace. We stand in awe of His love and provision for us.
- Humility toward those outside of Christ. We love others outside the Kingdom with patience and compassion (not pride or personal judgment) because we too were once in their place. In humility and gratefulness, we recognize we are still tempted by darkness, but now we have the Spirit’s power to overcome it when we turn to God.
- We should be urgent toward the gospel. It is truly good news that we have a Savior with a new way of thinking other than the world, a new Ruler to live for, and a new presence inside us to give us hope and victory. We HAVE to tell others how to settle the critical issue of their spiritual condition.
- If you are a believer, did you accept Christ as your Savior primarily out of gratefulness for what He did for you or out of fear of God’s wrath? How might this affect your sharing the gospel with nonbelievers?
- What does it mean to be “alive in Christ”? (See Eph. 2:5 and Romans 6:1-14). Does it excite you?
- Describe God’s grace according to Ephesians 2:4-10. Keep it simple.
- Even as Christians, we still have the dark side (world, Satan, flesh) pulling at us. How do we live with that?
- When and how have you recently thanked God for your salvation? Is humbly sharing the Gospel with others the ultimate form of gratitude?
Sometimes it’s good to keep track of before and after. Sometimes it’s good to take a snapshot, a picture either mentally or physically, of before the remodel project and after. Or of before your personal makeover and after. Sometimes it’s good! Sometimes you’re like “now which of these is the before shot?” Sometimes it’s good to keep track of before and after.
When I was younger, my mom owned her own business. It was like a Weight Watchers type thing called a “Diet Center.” Over the years, a lot of things changed in that business: the way they advertised and packaged things changed. Some of the foods that you could and couldn’t eat changed. The location of the business changed. But one thing in that business never changed – the before and after picture. Whenever you started a Diet with my Mom (and I know, because I did diet at my Mom’s Diet Center), you had to take a “before” picture. You know the one I’m talking about, right? The picture no one wants to take. You’re wearing something tight like a muscle shirt or a swimsuit, so you can see every bulge. They take a picture from the front that looks like a mug-shot. Then they take one from the side, so you can see your profile. I was painful to take that “before” picture. It wasn’t glamorous. It was the kind of picture you really didn’t want to look at again. But you had to take it, because you were going to need it:
- You needed that before picture for encouragement when the diet got tough!
- You needed it to help track your progress.
- You needed it as a reminder of what you didn’t want to go back to.
- And most important to my Mom’s business, you needed that picture to remind you of the value of the diet.
- You needed that picture to set your perspective. Every so often you needed to pull out that “before” picture to readjust the way you looked at things.
Today we are continuing in our series on Ephesians 1-3 called “Foreign to Familiar.” This is a series where we look at how Christ has blessed us and has called us to move from being foreign to being family with him and with one another. Paul started this book of Ephesians by talking about our blessings in Christ, blessings that move us to that position of family membership. Then last week Paul prayed for us: Not just that we would have those blessings, but that we would really know and experience them.
Paul is not just going to leave it at that. If we want to truly understand these blessings, if we are truly going to see them realized in our lives, if we are truly going to have the right perspective and be the people God made us to be, if we are truly going to move from foreign to familiar, then we have to have one crucial piece of information: We have to know where we came from. We have to have a spiritual “before” picture.
So today, we come to a passage in Ephesians where Paul gives us “before” and “after” pictures: two snapshots of what life was like before Christ came into our lives and after. Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 2:1-10. Now this is a beautiful passage. It is beautifully written and revolutionary in its thought. Today as we look at this passage, we’ll see three things:
- Our condition before we came to Christ
- Our condition after we came to Christ
- How that should impact our lives
If you are not a Christ-follower today or if you are not sure, this passage will explain to you our most precious Christian doctrine of the gospel. It will really show you what Christianity is all about! If you are a Christ-follower, you need to know what we we’re going to see in this passage. You absolutely need it to set your perspective about others about our need for the gospel and about the life we never want to go back to.
So Before and After. Let’s read Ephesians 2:1-10. Paul has praised God for the spiritual blessings we have in Christ. He has prayed for us to know the hope of our calling and the riches of God’s inheritance and the greatness of God’s power. Now Paul takes us back to what we were before Christ:
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 sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 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, 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 not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
– Ephesians 2:4-10
Paul starts this passage with a “before” picture a picture of our spiritual condition before Christ came into our lives and made us new. He’s writing to the Ephesians, a group of first century mostly non-Jewish Christians. What Paul says about them is also true of us. I have to warn you just like with my Mom’s Diet Center, the “before” picture here isn’t very pretty. Paul tells us three things about the spiritual condition of people that have not placed their trust in Christ. All three of these things are dark. They are ominous. They are bleak. But they are needful for us to know. We’re going to spend the bulk of our time the morning on this “before” picture, not because it’s more important but because it’s the part we haven’t talked about. We’ve spent four weeks on the blessings that are sort of the “after” picture. We’re going to need this “before” picture in the coming weeks to understand how God has called us to be different in our new life in Christ. Let’s look at what Paul says about our condition before Christ. Let me give you three words:
1. Dead. Paul says it very simply that the before we trusted Christ we were dead.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins
– Ephesians 2:1-10
Before Christ, we were outside of Christ. We are spiritually dead. Physically, we were fine. Maybe emotionally we felt great, but spiritually we were dead. Paul says “we were dead IN the sphere of in the realm of in the state of transgressions and sins.” We were fallen. We were sinful. Anybody who is honest with themselves knows this to be true about humanity. Sin has corrupted our nature. You’ve probably heard me say it before: “It’s not that we are sinners because we sin rather, it’s that we sin because we are sinners.” We are corrupted. We are broken spiritually before Christ. We were code blue. We were unresponsive to God. We were dead.
Now that doesn’t mean that the only thing that we did was sin. It doesn’t mean that we didn’t have some excellent parts. We may have wonderful things about us. We’re still made in God’s image. But we were unresponsive toward God. Before Christ, we were dead.
I have an old car battery in my garage at home. That battery has some excellent parts to it. The cover on it is still shiny. The lead in the posts is probably worth something. It might have a good cell in it. It makes an excellent paper-weight! It’s probably even in better shape than some other old batteries. But the word any mechanic would use to describe that battery is “dead.” Because it’s unresponsive, it can’t do what it was made to do.
Paul says here that before we came to Christ, we were spiritually dead. We were unresponsive to the things of God. That’s why Scripture tells us that we don’t even come to God on our own. He has to awaken us. He has to draw us to himself. So first of all, we were dead. Secondly, Paul tells us we were:
2. Dominated. Paul said we were in transgressions and sins. Now look at:
in which you used to live (we lived in transgressions and sins) 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 sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts
– Ephesians 2:1-10
Paul says that we were dominated. More on that in a minute. Notice that in these verses Paul lists three sort of powers or influences that dominated us here:
- The world. Paul says you followed the ways of this world.
- The Devil. Paul says we 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. That’s Satan. That’s the Devil.
- The Flesh. Look at:
All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature (or literally of our Flesh) and following its desires and thoughts
– Ephesians 2:3
So, three powers: the World, the Devil and the Flesh. Other passages in the New Testament talk about these three influences. They are commonly called the three enemies of the believer: the World, the Devil, and the Flesh. Each one of these wages war on us in a different way.
The world is not a person. It’s not a personal enemy. Rather, the world is a system. It’s an ethos, a culture that surrounds us. The world system seeks to achieve things through power or force or wealth. It is that which is opposed to God and his ways. It exploits the powerless and only gives in order to get.
The Bible says the world doesn’t know God. It says the world does evil. It says the world hates Christ. That’s why the book of James says “to be a friend of the world (meaning the world system) is to be an enemy of God.” So the world is impersonal. It’s outside of us, and it’s constant in its influence.
Now the Devil is also outside of us. But unlike the world, he is very personal. Satan, which means adversary, is not just a word used to describe evil. Satan is not just a way of thinking or a force. Satan is a personal being (an angel) with intellect and emotions and will. He has goals and strategies.
He is not remotely equal to God, but he is very powerful. Satan designs and empowers the world’s system: He’s in charge of it. He is called here “the ruler of the Kingdom of the air.” Jesus called him “the ruler of this world.” Like the world, he is outside of us but unlike the world his influence is not constant. There are times when we have the attention of Satan and his fallen angels, and there are times when we don’t.
So there’s the world, the Devil, then there’s the Flesh. Unlike the World and the Devil, the Flesh is inside of us. It is the part of us that wants to live life independent of God. The part that wants to think, and plan, and act, as if God didn’t really exist and as if this physical world is all there is. So that meaning in my life and true happiness are found in getting the biggest pile of power, possessions and experiences and beating everyone else off of my pile. So that I live to acquire power and wealth and pleasurable experiences. That’s the flesh. You can see how the world system appeals to it.
So there are these three enemies. Now, what’s important here is that Paul is saying that before we came to Christ, before we placed our faith in him and asked him to save us, these enemies dominated us. He says we walked according to the World. He says people’s disobedience was literally energized by Satan. He says we lived with the goal of gratifying the flesh. We were dominated by these things.
Saying that that may sound counter-intuitive at first. If you’ve been a Christian for a long time, you may hear that and go “Yeah, sure we were dominated by the World, the Flesh and the Devil.” But most people don’t feel that way. Most people are not out there trying to serve Satan. If you go to your non-Christian Neighbor and say “by the way I know that you are energized by Satan and living to gratify your sinful cravings,” you will probably get a really confused look. Unless he’s a Duke fan. Then he’ll go “Yeah, that’s me.” Just kidding!
But seriously, we don’t think that way. Most people don’t feel like they are out there to stick it to God and live for the Devil. It’s not a conscious thing. Paul is saying that that independence of God, that thing that says “I’m going to do it my way I’m going to accomplish my goals for me I know what’s best for me and God really doesn’t.” Paul is saying that before we come to Christ, that spirit, that reasoning, that force affects everything we do. We may dress it up. We may justify it. It may not look bad, because everyone else is doing it. But that desire to live independently of God dominated us.
It’s like my dog Zowe. She’s really a wonderful dog in a lot of ways, but that dog is absolutely dominated by her stomach. She loves to eat, I swear. She would eat herself to death if we let her. My sister once mailed us a Christmas package of a giant loaf of homemade bread. We didn’t know that was what it was so we put the package under the tree. While we were gone, Zowe ate the entire loaf plus the plastic tub it was in plus the wrapping paper. She is dominated by her stomach! Now here’s the thing: She can display some delightful behaviors, but underneath them all is her hunger. She’ll fetch the paper, because she gets two biscuits! She’ll willingly take a bath, if she gets Beggin’ Strips! Every night at 9:00 she changes from being really sweet to Kelley (who feeds her during the day) to being really sweet to me (because I feed her at bedtime!) It’s not always obvious, but that dog is dominated by her stomach!
Well, listen: Paul is saying that’s the way it is with us. We’re dominated by the world, the flesh, and the Devil. I’m not saying we can’t do good things. I’m not saying all people are only evil. I’m not saying there aren’t amazing things about us. But Paul is saying this is the tune we dance to.
Unlike my dog Zowe, sometimes with us humans it’s not so funny. Because of this fallenness, this world can be a really mean place, and we humans can be a pretty scary lot. When I reached this point in my sermon writing, I stopped and just looked at the headlines on the news. It was sobering. I saw an article about ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. I saw an article about the Hollywood sex scandal, which is exposing so many people. The other day Kelley said “Is there a decent guy left on the planet for my daughter?” I saw an article about the way our greed is ruining our planet, and we can’t seem to stop.
This sickness is in every one of us. We may tell ourselves we are better than other people, but given their circumstances and history, are we really? The other night, Kelley and I watched a movie based on a true story about some people that investigated the World War II concentration camp, Auschwitz, and the 1.1 million people that were murdered there. At one point, one of the investigators got really quiet and was upset, and the other investigator said “Were you wondering how this could happen?” He said “No, I was asking myself ‘if I was a German who knew what was going on would I have stood up against it?’ and I’m afraid the answer is ‘no’.”
Listen this is our state apart from Christ. We’re spiritually dead. We are dominated by forces that are opposed to God and his ways. Now Paul gives us one more description. Because of this we are:
3. Doomed. That’s a strong way to put it. Paul says this:
Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.
– Ephesians 2:3b
That’s harsh! Actually in the Greek, Paul literally says “We were children of wrath” to be a “child of something” means to be characterized by it. Paul is saying that this spiritual death that God warned us about in the garden of Eden, this constant undertone of living our lives independent of God, and in step with the World, the Flesh, and the Devil, it makes us worthy of one thing: God’s eternal wrath. If we continually choose to live our lives independent of God, we will spend eternity independent of God in the place that the Bible calls Hell. Hell is a real place. It is a place of eternal punishment, and it is an extension of our choice to live without God.
C.S. Lewis put it this way. There are only two kinds of people in the end: Those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says in the end “Thy will be done.” If we choose to live independent of God, we will spend eternity independent of God.
This is harsh! Paul says “Take a picture this is our condition outside of Christ.” I’m not saying there aren’t noble parts to us. I’m not saying we can’t do good or that we can’t love. But if we are relying on anything else other than God’s mercy in Christ, Paul says this is our state: dead, dominated and doomed.
That’s the “before” picture and, like I said, it’s dark. It shows every wrinkle, every bulge, every flaw. Just like those “before” photos from my Mom’s Diet Center, we may not want to look at it! But it is our spiritual past and we need to know it. But luckily Paul doesn’t leave us there. There’s also an After Picture!
The “After” Picture is Amazing! This one is even more beautiful than the “before” picture was ugly! It’s amazing! Do me a favor, knowing that dark background of verse 1-3, let me ask you to close your eyes and as I read Ephesians 2:4-10 to you. Just let these words pour over you:
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, 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 not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
– Ephesians 2:4-10
Wow! Those are some of the most beautiful words in all of Scripture! Don’t you just love them? What a gorgeous snapshot! That’s like our bikini body picture! It’s our after “after” shot! It’s so beautiful. So hope-filled! I wish we had more time to go into this, but just notice what Paul says God has done for us here: Because of his great love in spite of our sin, and rebellion, and decision to live independently of him, God did three things for us:
1. He made us alive together with Christ. He resuscitated us. He cured our spiritual death and made us capable of responding to him. Through the death of his Son, He removed his wrath from us and brought us to life!
2. He raised us up with Christ. Now that may sound like Paul is just repeating himself. Like it’s the same thing as saying God made us alive, but it’s actually not the same thing. Paul is saying that God did more than just “make us alive.” He gave us resurrection life! He didn’t just resuscitate us to go on living the same lives we were living before, but not be judged for them. Rather, He gave us new life:
- Christ’s resurrection life.
- Eternal life!
- Life that no longer has to be dominated by the world, the flesh, and the Devil.
- Life that relates to a new system of thought with a new ruler and with a new presence inside of us.
- Life that in the end will be totally free from sin, and like Christ!
He raised us up! And lastly:
3. He seated us with Christ. Now that has always confused me, because Paul uses the past tense. Like we are already seated in the heavenlies with Christ. I was always like “Wait where am I? Am I seated with Christ? Or am I here on earth?” I still don’t fully get this, but here’s what I understand:
This relates strongly to our future in Christ. Paul uses the past tense mostly to portray the certainty of it. But through Christ, not only are we made alive, not only are we given resurrection life, but we also have a future. Christ is going to seat us next to himself and share his Kingdom with us! Paul says God, the Father, is going to display his kindness to us, not just in getting us to heaven, but he’s going to do it again and again throughout eternity!
We will discover true delight, and God is going to give us cool stuff to do! Did you know that? We’re not going to be bored, because God has created things for us to do and discover that are perfectly suited to who we are! Imagine the best job, the best hobby you’ve ever had that whenever you do it, it just makes something click inside you and you love it. You know it’s what you were made to do. God has an eternity of those things planned for you!
Now listen: that’s a great after picture! All of this comes as a result of one thing: Not of works, not of fixing yourself up or trying harder. It all comes through faith, through believing that Jesus can save you from your death, from your domination, from your doom if you will place your trust in him. That’s the after!
So that’s our before and after pictures: (1) Before Christ we were dead dominated and doomed. (2) After Christ we are made alive raised up and seated for eternity. Now let me close today by giving you:
Attitudes that this should encourage
These are simple. They are straightforward, but I wouldn’t want to quit today without mentioning them. These would make great discussion points for your small groups. Three attitudes. The first is this:
1. Gratitude toward God. The ugliness of the before shot compels us, it obligates us, it calls us to be grateful for God’s grace. I think that most Christians have no idea how much God actually did to save them. But really thinking about that “before” shot should put us in awe and fill us with gratitude. Christian, have you thanked God – really thanked him for your salvation lately? In a moment, we are going to take the Lord’s Table. It’s a tangible reminder that our salvation is real! I hope it’s a moment of true thanksgiving and gratitude for you. We should have gratitude towards God.
2. Humility toward those outside of Christ. Next week we are going to look at how this all impacts our relationship to each other in the church. But today I want us to think about our view of those who have not trusted Christ, those who are still in that “before” state. You know you might think that seeing the difference between those before and after pictures could make someone really proud or judgmental toward those who have not trusted Christ. Like Christians might look at people and say “You’re so bad, so sinful, you don’t even know how bad off you are!” Let me just say that nothing, nothing could be further from the truth!
Maybe you’re here today, and you’re not a Christian, and you hear this passage, and you’re going “Oh man! Is this really what they think of me? Do they think of themselves as better than me? Are they judging me hard?” Again nothing could be further from the truth!
Truly understanding the before picture of our spiritual condition shouldn’t bring out pride or a judgmental spirit. It should bring humility toward others. Any other response is a misunderstanding of the gospel. Because we’ve all been there! Right? All of us.
This passage isn’t a description of the ten worst people that ever lived. It’s a description of us! Paul says “We all lived like this. We were all by nature children of wrath.” At times we are still tempted to live like this. Understanding this should make us so much more patient, so much more compassionate, so much kinder, so much more humble toward those who have not found Christ yet. This is not an occasion for pride. It’s an occasion for humility. The people of this world who may use power to mistreat us. They are trying to make it in the same system with the same resources that we used to have, and it’s hard. That’s why Jesus said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”
Let’s be humble. We should be grateful toward God. We should be humble toward those outside of Christ. Now one last attitude:
3. We should be urgent toward the gospel. Boy, that before picture is so bleak, isn’t it? Dead. Dominated. Doomed. There’s not much hope in that, is there? That’s why it’s so important that we tell people the good news of what God has done for them in Christ. People need a Savior.
- They need a new system of thinking other than the world.
- They need a new Ruler to live for.
- They need a new presence inside them to give them hope and victory.
- They need an eternal destiny to look forward to. And that’s all to be found in Christ.
The bleakness of our “before” and the glory of our “after” should make us urgent to share the gospel with those who don’t know. We have to tell them. We should be urgent to help them settle the issue of their spiritual condition. We should have that urgency about helping others.
Maybe you’re here today and, if you were completely honest, you’ve never settled this matter for yourself. Well let me say that “Today could be the day.” This could be the day that you move from death to life. Maybe you’re saying “I don’t know what to do with this message! How do I make this happen?” This could be the day that you settle the issue.
We’re going to have an opportunity to respond to what you’ve heard in just a moment. I’m going to pray. As I pray, John and the band are going to come and those who are helping with the Lord’s Table will come. We’ll have an opportunity for you to come for prayer if you wish, but especially to receive Christ today if that is your desire. Today could be the day that your “after” begins.