This passage about what God has done in Christ Jesus, not just through Jesus, not just with Jesus, but in Jesus. Your and my destiny is incorporated in that of Christ.
Vv 1-3 are a description of our pre-Christian past. We were dead … in sin. The spirit that was at work within us was the spirit of darkness, of evil, he who worked disobedience. All of us lived here at some point, following our sinful nature. We were objects of wrath – we deserved God’s wrath, God’s punishment. Paul takes a serious look at sin, but he goes on to look at God’s mercy.
Because of God’s love and God’s mercy, God made us alive in Christ. We are no longer dead.
There is a union portrayed in this passage – a union of us with Christ – a union in which we participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And Paul doesn’t stop there … that union also allows us to participate in Christ’s exaltation; that is, we are seated with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. We have a sharing in Christ’s triumph over the cosmic powers.
This echoes to what we talked about two weeks ago in looking at the passage that precedes this. In Ephesians 1.17-23, we specifically looked at Paul’s prayer for believers to know … God’s “incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms far above all rule and authority, power and dominion …”
Being in Christ, we share in his sufferings, but we also share in his triumph, his victory, in his power.
As believers, we are transferred into a new dominion, which began in the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus Christ. We, too, are raised to a new life. We are now freed from the things that once held us captive, that once tied us down, that once had us bound. Those things no longer control us. For we belong to Christ, and we are in Christ … so as Christ was nailed to the cross, our sinful nature was nailed to the cross; as Christ was raised from the dead, we, too, are raised from death to a new life … in Christ Jesus. It is all in Christ Jesus. It is all by God’s initiative, by God’s grace, through faith (believing). It is a gift. It is nothing we have done, but by what is done by God in Christ.
I recently saw an ad for the Unitarian Universalist Church, which stated, “Deeds, Not Creeds.” Take a minute and think about that phrase. Would you choose that as the slogan for your church? What are creeds? The Apostle’s Creed (UMH 881) is a statement of what we believe. Although the Apostle’s Creed is not word for word in the Bible, everything stated in it is biblical. It is a concise statement of the Gospel. Creedal statements appear in the New Testament writings; they appear as early as the first century church.
“Deeds, Not Creeds” tells me that if there is not a statement of belief, then they must not believe in anything … but they do believe in one thing, according to this slogan … they believe in deeds; they believe in doing good works.
Look at what Paul says in this passage about deeds. 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. We just talked about how we are in Christ. That salvation is accomplished through the work of Christ. That it is not by anything we do. And now Paul says the same thing about good works or deeds, that these were prepared in advance for us to do. We do not do deeds by our own initiative, but again it is God’s initiative. It is by God’s plan. It is by God’s enabling, by God’s grace.
Salvation comes first, then works. Belief in Jesus Christ and what is accomplished by God through his life, death and resurrection comes first. Being found in Christ come first. And then, as Christ exemplified a life of good works, we too are raised to a life of good works.
Paul knows the temptation of falling back on our strength, relying on our own resources. And when we have a natural gift, it is easy to rely on that natural gift. But Paul warns against this. His emphasis here is on that which is accomplished in and through Jesus Christ. To impact the world for Christ, we must be found in Christ. There is a phrase I came across as a musician, “He who sings, prays twice” (attributed to Augustine). The meaning is you don’t rely on your own talent or ability. A person can sing words about Christ, but is the anointing work of the Holy Spirit that touches hearts and lives with those words. That can be applied to any gift or talent. My sermon is just a bunch words, unless submitted to God and anointed by his presence. A meal prepared for someone in need, can just be a meal, or it can be done in prayer, sent forth in prayer, asking God to bless the household which receives it. That is ministry.
In conclusion: we are found in Christ. Who we are is a gift of God. God reached out to us, in Christ Jesus. In Christ, we die to our sins; in Christ we are raised to a new life; in Christ we are seated with Christ in the heavenlies. Through this gift of God, in Christ we do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.