WE LOVE A GOOD RESCUE STORY
Alright, so we’re going to get some pets. This has been a negotiation for fifteen years, and now that there are five children who can pick up after pets— I don’t mind pets, I really mind what comes out of pets. That’s more my issue, but now that the children are theoretically big enough to pick up what comes out of the pet, we’re at a point that we’re gonna get some pets.
And so Gideon, who’s seven, really wants two bunnies, and wants to call them either “Lost” and “Found” or “Chips” and “Salsa,” and so he has put in his request for two bunnies. And the kids have put in a very strong request for a dog, and so it seems like we’re making that transition from pre- to post-dog.
How many of you have a dog? Do you have a dog? Do you have a dog? I know nothing about dogs. I know that they have four legs unless something terrible happened, I know that bigger dogs are better than small dogs, and I know that all dogs are better than cats. That’s all I know about dogs.
And so we’re at that point now where now I’m investigating dogs. We have to pick a breed, I guess. Grace grew up with shepherds, so we’re looking for a shepherd or a shepherd mix. And also then, people start asking questions like, “Well, are you going to get a purebred or a mutt?” I don’t know the difference, I start investigating. Well, the purebred is where the father is a regal, strong alpha male and I think, “Well, I should definitely have one of those,” and that’s a joke, sort of.
And then others say, “No, no, no, you need to get a mutt.” A rescue dog is what they call them, rescue dog. You guys got a rescue dog? Okay, this is my appeal to the People’s Republic of Seattle, okay? This is where I connect. Because you have to have a dog to maintain citizenship in Seattle, so we’re finally there. And so everybody’s saying, “Oh, you’ve got to get a rescue dog.”
I don’t know what a rescue dog is, so I go online and I start investigating rescue dogs, and that’s, frankly, traumatic. They tell you, “Oh, there’s like 8 to 10 million dogs a year abandoned and half die.” Oh my gosh, I did not know this. And then you could rescue a dog. Well, I’m gospel-centered, so we have to do this. Like, you have to go rescue something. The whole book I read is about, you know, a big rescue.
So then you start looking, and they emotionally get you. They show you the photo of the dog with a look in their eye that is basically, “Save my life,” right? And then they give the dog a name, so now you’re emotionally connected, totally. And they tell you about the dog. “This is Sasha. She loves children, and Frisbees, and Jesus.” And I’m just like— “And we’re going to kill her on Tuesday.” You’re like, “Oh my gosh! Not Sasha, no!” So we might end up with like ten thousand dogs at our house now that this whole world has been opened up.
And then they tell you stories of dogs who have been rescued, and oh, that’s a fun read. It’s really, “Oh, look, here’s a dog. This dog now gets to fetch, and has a ‘forever family,’” is what they call it. The forever family, unlike that family that dropped them off in the park and drove away. You could be their forever family. You get to meet the dogs and hear their stories. And this dog was, you know, not well fed, was malnourished, it was left in the woods, but this family rescued the dog, and there’s a Christmas photo with the family, and the dog is part of the family. The dog’s so happy, and tail’s wagging, and it’s like dog heaven.
Don’t you love a good rescue story? This is, by the way, the worst transition I’ve ever had from an illustration to a biblical text, but emotionally, all the dog people are with me. And I’m trying to lead you to Jesus, and if I can get all the dog people to Jesus, it’d be a revival, okay?
So, don’t you, though—don’t you love a good rescue? Don’t you love a good rescue, amen? Right? We love a good rescue. It’s why when firefighters go into a building and they come out with children, we cheer. It’s why when something bad happens, and the police show up and everybody’s okay, we cheer. It’s why when some person is ruling over others in a horrendous way and the soldiers show up to liberate, we cheer. It’s why even the television shows we watch and the movies we enjoy, they’re all rescue themes, right? Like, people are in a terrible fate or someone or something is in a terrible fate, and they can’t rescue themselves. They’re doomed and there’s a death sentence hanging over them, but here comes the savior! Somebody’s going to show up and rescue them.
And I tell that to you because that’s the heart of God, and since we’re made in the image and likeness of God, that echoes in our own heart. We love a good rescue story. And that really is the story of the Bible. It’s the greatest rescue story that’s ever been told. And we’re kind of in that position where we may not be aware of it, but there’s a sentence of death hanging over us and we can’t save ourselves, and we need someone else to come in and do what we can’t, and that is to rescue us and put us in our forever family.
OPTION #1 – WORKS
That’s the story of the Bible, that’s the story of Jesus, and that’s where we’re at today in Ephesians 2:1–10. And we’re looking at our identity in Christ and the fact that in Christ, I am saved. I am saved. And I want you to see that really there are two basic categories viewing salvation, and salvation, again, means you’re in a terrible fate, cannot save yourself, you need to be saved by someone from the outside. And one category, we’ll call it, works—Paul does—and the other, we’ll call it grace, and Paul’s going to juxtapose these two categories.
Most, if not all, religions and spiritualities apart from Christianity, they teach something called works, and that is you can save yourself by doing certain things and not doing other things, but you can be your own savior. And so I’ll give you some examples. In Buddhism, ceasing desires saves you. In Confucianism, education, self-reflection, self-cultivation, and living a moral life saves you. In Hinduism, detaching from your separated ego and making an effort to live in unity with the divine saves you.
In Islam, living a holy life of good deeds saves you. In Orthodox Judaism, repentance, prayer, and working hard to obey the law saves you. In New Ageism, gaining a new perspective through which you now see that you’re connected to all things as a divine oneness saves you. In Daoism, aligning yourself with the Dao to have peace and harmony saves you.
In many people’s minds, simply being a good person saves you. And at funerals, many people seem to think that merely dying saves you. “Oh, well, they died, so we know they went to a better place,” as if just dying was enough to be saved. And so that whole category is works. It’s “Do this, don’t do that, so that you will be saved from whatever fate is set before you.”
OPTION #2 – GRACE
The other option is Christianity, and that is that we are not saved by our works, we’re saved by Jesus’ works. Okay, now, so the longing to be saved by works is one that is not necessarily bad, but it finds itself in a bad place when the one who does the works is anyone other that Jesus.
The storyline of the Bible is that we are in a terrible fate, and there is a sentence of death hanging over us, and we cannot rescue ourselves, and Jesus, our great God and Savior, comes in from the outside, and he comes to rescue us, he comes to save us, and we are saved by his works. He lives without sin, so it’s Jesus’ life that saves, not our own. He dies on the cross in our place for our sins, so it’s his death that saves us, not our own. And he rises from death, conquering our enemies of sin and death, so it is his victory and not ours that is the means by which we experience salvation and are rescued. And in fact, Jesus’ very name means “God is our Savior. God is our salvation.” That’s exactly what Jesus means, so his name indicates his life mission.
I want to submit to you that those of you who have trusted in your own works, it is not the faith that saves you, it’s the object of faith that saves you, and you may be trusting in a false religious system, a false moral system, or a false spiritual system. You’re not saved just by having faith in someone or something, that object needs to actually be a Savior who can save. Jesus alone is worthy of our faith, Jesus alone is our Savior, and if anyone is trusting in anyone or anything other than him or in addition to him, they’re trusting in the wrong thing, and they will not experience salvation.
This is how he says it in Ephesians 2:5. “By,” what? “Grace,” my wife’s name, so one of my favorite words, “you have been saved.” And he says it again in Ephesians 2:8. “By grace,” there it is again, “you have been saved through faith.” Now, faith is trusting in Jesus’ work, not your own.
So here, we learn that we are saved by grace, and when the Bible uses the language of grace, it’s talking about Jesus’ works. When the Bible uses the language of works, it’s talking about our works. So what he’s saying is we’re not saved by what we do or who we are, we’re saved by who he is and what he does, and that’s grace. That means unmerited favor, undeserved love. This means that God pours out his affection not just on the undeserving, but the ill-deserving, in fact those who were previously his enemies.
SAVED IN THE PAST, IN THE PRESENT, AND IN THE FUTURE
I want you to see salvation in this way: we are saved in the past, in the present, and in the future. In the past, we were saved from the penalty of sin. So, Jesus dies on the cross in our place for our sins. This is the grace of God through which we are saved. That means that Jesus died the death that we should have died, Jesus suffered the punishment that we should have suffered, that Jesus tasted the wrath of God that we should have drunk full strength.
Here’s good news: if you are in Christ, if you are a Christian, if you belong to Jesus, there is no penalty of sin for you, meaning God does not punish you when you sin. There may be consequence for your sin, but he’s not punishing you, because Jesus has already been punished in your place for your sins.
It also means if you are in Christ, once you die, you will not suffer an eternal penalty for your sin, because Jesus already paid for it at the cross. It’s what it means in saying it’s grace. That was two thousand years ago. We didn’t ask Jesus to do that, he just did it out of love.
I want you to know that you were saved from the penalty of sin in your past. What that means is you can’t lose your salvation either, because the penalty was already paid and God will not penalize you in this life, he will not penalize you by withdrawing salvation, he will not penalize you by punishing you after death. If you are in Christ, the past penalty for sin has already been paid.
Practically, in this life, we’re being saved from the power of sin. This means that we were living a life of sin and then Jesus gives us a new life, and he puts the Holy Spirit in us to live by a new power, the power of God. And that means that the power of God in us is greater than the temptations that surround us. For the Christian, this means that we can start to say no to sin and yes to God, and we can walk from disobedience to obedience, and the result is we’re being saved from the power of sin.
I find this to be continually encouraging, and I’ve heard this from people in our church now for sixteen years. They’ll come up and explain their life with Jesus in this way: “There were things in my life that owned me, controlled me. I couldn’t stop doing them. I would do them every day, or every week, or every month, or every year, or whatever the case may be, but it was this horrible cycle, and I felt trapped, and I couldn’t change, and I couldn’t get out, and it was not helping, and I was ashamed of it. And then I met Jesus, and now I don’t have to do those things anymore. I’m experiencing the power of God in my life, so the things I used to do, I’m not doing them anymore.” And it doesn’t mean that Christians are perfect, but it means that Christians make progress toward perfection.
How many of you experienced that in your own life? You’re being saved from the power of sin. How many of you, there were things in your life, you thought, “This will never change,” and by the power of God, it’s changing or has already changed?
So, in the past, we’re saved from the penalty of sin. In the present, we’re saved from the power of sin. And friends, I need you to see this because, sadly, some think that Christianity doesn’t really start until you die, and you’ll even be told, “Well, give your life to Jesus and when you die, you’ll go to heaven.” That’s true, but there’s more to the story, and that is that eternal life does not begin the moment you die, it begins the moment you meet Jesus. That’s the beginning of your eternal life, and that you are saved in the past from the penalty of sin, and you’re saved in the present from the power of sin, and that Jesus doesn’t just change you when you die, he changes you the moment you become one of his.
And then thirdly, in the future, we’ll be saved forever from the presence of sin. When God made this world in Genesis 1:31, it said that God made everything and it was “very good.” There was no sin, there was no sickness, there was no suffering, there was no disease, there was no decay, and there was no death. Everything was perfect. It’s the world that, down deep in our heart, we all long for and yearn for. We have a sense that it was lost and we want it back.
That’s why we have causes and issues, and it’s why people try and effect change in the world, but sin has infected and affected everyone and everything. And we can’t get free of the presence of sin. Even the holiest among us are aware of the presence of sin in their heart and in their life. Those of us who have our eyes open, we see the effects of sin everywhere.
And there will be a day, just as Jesus rose, we too shall rise. And the Bible says that we’ll be totally new, thoroughly new, and that sin will be no more. There’ll be no suffering, no sickness, no sin. There’ll be no death, there’ll be no devastation, there’ll be no destruction. It will be the world as God created it before sin corrupted it. It’ll be the world as Jesus remakes it by his own glory, and that’s called the kingdom of God. That’s called the kingdom of God, and in the kingdom of God we’ll be saved from the presence of sin. No sin, no Satan, no demons, no injustice, no tyranny, no evil. We won’t need hospitals, we won’t need police officers, we won’t need soldiers. All the things that we need right now because the presence of sin is still at work in the world, those things will be no more.
Christians have been saved, are being saved, will be saved. My question is: are you saved? Are you saved? You can’t say, “Well, I try to be a good person.” You’re not your own savior. “I’m religious.” You’re not your own savior. “I’m spiritual.” You’re not your own savior. “I’m doing the best I can.” That’s not good enough. You need Jesus to come in, God to enter in, not only to history, but the history of your life as the Rescuer. You need a Savior.
SAVED FROM WHAT?
And so we are told that we are saved by grace, and that is Jesus’ works for us. And then Paul anticipates, as a good pastor, that the people will have questions, perhaps some of the same questions that you have as well. And so let me answer them from Paul’s instruction in succession. The first question is: we’re saved from what? And he says this in Ephesians 2:1–3.
How many of you, if I came up to you or a friend came up to you and asked, “Are you saved?” you’d say, “From what?” This was my question in high school. I was in a public high school, I was not a Christian, and I had a Christian friend who walked up to me. It’s the first time I remember anyone asking me, “Are you saved?” And this student was bold, and they meant well, and I appreciate their bravery, but I didn’t know what they were talking about.
“Mark, are you saved?” I was like, “I don’t even know what we’re talking about. Saved from what? Rescued from what? Redeemed from what? Delivered from what?” I didn’t have any sense that I was in danger. If you don’t have a sense you’re in danger, you don’t have any real urgency for a Savior. Drowning people call for a lifeguard. If your house is on fire, you scream for the fire department. If an intruder shows up, you call the cops. But if you don’t know there’s a problem, you don’t know you need to be rescued.
Saved from what? And he gives us six things in Ephesians 2:1–3. “And you were,” so he’s talking to those who are in Christ about their life before Christ, and he’s going to juxtapose two identities, those who are still living out of their works, and those who are living out of the grace of Jesus Christ. “And you were,” Christians, number one, “dead in the,” number two, “trespasses and sins,” number three, “in which you once walked,” so that’s an unholy lifestyle, “following the course of this world,” number four, “following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience,” that’s Satan and demons, number five, “among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind,” so that’s a sinful nature, and then he goes on to say, “we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
Saved from what? Here, Paul says that those who are in Christ are saved from six things. Conversely, if you’re not in Christ, if you don’t know and love Jesus, you are under a death sentence, and these things explain your eternal future unless there is some significant change.
Number one, death. Again, as I explained a moment ago, death is the result of sin. Where there is no sin, there is no death. That’s why in the kingdom of God, we will not die because we’ll be saved from the presence of sin and death will be no more. Think of this way: let’s say it’s your phone or your laptop. You plug it in, it’s powered up, you unplug it, it lives, but only for a while and then it what? And then it dies. You and I are like that. We’re not independent; we’re dependent beings. We’re made by the living God, and when we sin against him, it’s as if we are unplugging from the source of life. The result is that we are still alive, but we’re in the cycle of death, and eventually we die because we’re disconnected from the source of life. That’s how the Bible explains our condition.
And so you can be living, physically, while yet dead spiritually. And in the process of dying physically, to then stand before God to experience eternal death, which is living forever under punishment and not blessing, separated from the grace of God, not connected to the grace of God. Okay, now, I warn you. I warn you because I love you, that some of you are physically alive but spiritually dead. You don’t love Jesus, you don’t hate sin, and you’re going to die and taste eternal death forever. And we don’t want that from you, and maybe that’s why God brought you here, maybe that’s why God has you here on this day to hear this word, because God wants to bring you from death to life. I believe that, so I have hope for you.
Number two, he says we are saved from the trespasses and sins. Now, sin includes our thoughts, our words, our deeds, our motives. It includes sin of commission where we do bad things, sin of omission where we don’t do good things, sin. And here, the language is of trespass. If you’ve ever been out hunting or hiking, saw a sign that said, “No Trespassing,” and all of sudden you realize there’s a border here, and I’m allowed to be over here, but if I step over this line, I’m trespassing. I’m in a place that I am not supposed to be and there’s consequence for that, negative consequence.
So it is with the Word of God. God’s Word is filled with laws, boundary markers, and when we cross one, we’ve trespassed. We’ve crossed a line. We’re in a place we’re not supposed to be, doing a thing we ought not do, and there’s consequence for that. Where have you trespassed? Where are your sins?
And let me say this, friend: oftentimes we are far more aware of their sin than our sin. If I asked you who’s sinned against you and where have they trespassed, you will probably more quickly say, “Oh, I know exactly. I have illustrations. They did this, and they crossed this line, and they said and did things they’re not supposed to, and they know there’s a line in our life or our relationship, and they stepped over— yes, I feel sinned against.”
I want you to take that understanding and then think of your relationship with God: that we’ve all stepped over the line, and that he is the one who is offended, he’s the one that we’ve sinned against, he’s the one that we’ve disobeyed and rebelled against. And just as we take it seriously when someone crosses a line with us, so he takes it seriously when we cross a line with him. We’re all sinners. We’re all sinners.
Number three, he goes on to say, “In which you once walked, following the course of this world.” What he’s talking about here is worldly living, and when it comes to this concept of the world— I won’t get into all the details, but when the Bible uses the word “world,” it does so in seven senses. And here, the sense is rebellion against God, worldliness, and here it’s juxtaposing worldliness with the kingdom of God. Kingdom of God is the way it’s supposed to be, and the way of the world is the way that’s in rebellion against the way that God says it’s supposed to be.
Here’s the truth, and I need you to know this: the Bible says, “The world, in its wisdom, does not know God.” That’s a quote. Think of culture and the world system like a torrential river. It’s strong with a deep undertow. Anything that gets in that river gets carried downstream. By worldliness, that’s what it means. This is how everybody thinks, this is how they act, this is what they do, and it seems normal because that’s what the majority is doing, that’s where the majority is going.
But morality is not determined by the majority. In fact, that entire torrent is heading toward destruction, and devastation, and damnation. What he’s saying is we’re all born in that river and we’re all headed downstream, and for those who come to know God, their life will be marked by, quite frankly, a difficult swim against a strong, heavy current.
Have you felt that? It’s easier to commit adultery than to celebrate your fiftieth anniversary of fidelity. It’s easier to give up on your kids than to persevere with your kids. It’s easier to spend all your money on yourself than it is to be generous toward God and others. It’s a lot easier to have a corrupt sexuality or a corrupt morality than it is to repent and make progress by the kingdom grace of God. It just is, but he says we’re saved from that.
I’ll tell you this: having been a pastor now for some years, God is a good Father. When he gives us rules, it’s because he loves his children. You need to know this. Some of you think that God’s laws are forbidding. They’re not, they’re loving. Some of you think, “I want to do some things and God says no. It’s because God is against me having a lot of joy, or fun, or pleasure.” Not the case.
I’m a father of five kids. The rules I make for my kids are always for their well-being. So when we go on vacation or we’re out doing something, my kids will tell you, my rules are usually— I’ve got three rules, you know? Love one another, have fun, be safe. Those are usually my rules. Love one another, have fun, be safe. And all the other rules kind of fit under those basic principles. “Should I do that? Is it loving? You guys going to enjoy doing this, you know? Is it safe? Is anybody going to get hurt?”
God’s laws are like that. He’s a Father, and when he makes rules, he makes rules to protect his kids. He genuinely does, which means when we trespass and we sort of climb over the fence of his protective law, and we jump into the river of culture and we’re swept downstream, that’s not good for us. You may say, “Yeah, but everybody else is so excited, and it’s the majority, and all my friends are there.” No, you’re supposed to be swimming against that strong current or perhaps don’t even get in that river. Your Father loves you, he’s trying to protect you. That’s what it means that he’s trying to save you. Sometimes God is trying to save us from ourselves, and that’s what he’s saying here, this course of worldly wisdom. God is trying to save us from us.
He goes on to talk about Satan and demons. Number four, “Following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” Not only are there God’s people, there are Satan’s people. Not only are there those who are empowered by the Holy Spirit, but those who are empowered by demons. We believe in Satan and demons. We believe that Satan is an angel who was created by God as a minister and a messenger, became proud in his heart, rebelled against God, is filled with himself, and not living for the glory of God, and he led a rebellion against God, and he’s at work in the world.
And just as God blesses his people, so Satan blesses some people. So friends, you can’t look at somebody and say, “They’re healthy, they’re prospering, they’re wealthy, their life is flourishing, everything they touch turns to gold. God must be blessing them.” No, maybe perhaps the prince of this world is the one who is blessing them. Maybe he is empowering their life so that others would be enticed toward a life of sin, and folly, and rebellion, so that others would see that he is willing to give them what they want as long as he gets what he wants: their soul.
Satan and demons are real, and for some of you this is spiritual darkness, you’re into occultic activity. I know that there’s a great uptick in witchcraft, particularly with young women. I know that as well, with the whole vampire phenomenon and craze, there is a very spiritual aspect to that, right? That someone is half-human, half-other, that they possess supernatural power, that they’re appeased through blood. This is all very pagan theming and imagery. When I go to Barnes & Noble and I see the teen vampire romance section, I know that Jesus did not set the entire catalog. We live in a world where even that which is spiritually dark is presented simply as cultural story, but it is dark. We are to recognize darkness when we see it, and that Satan is alive and well and at work in the world.
Number five, he goes on to say, “Among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.” He’s talking about here that before you meet Christ, before you’re in Christ, you only have an old nature. You’re born with an old nature, you’re born again with a new nature. Part of what it means to become a Christian is not just to become a better you but a new you with a new nature.
The old you with the old nature, he marks it by our mind and our desires. And what this means is before we meet Christ in a saving way, our mind does not think the thoughts of God. We start to think independent of God and rebellious against God, and our desires are not God’s desires. They’re not holy desires, they’re unholy desires. They’re not desires that come from the Holy Spirit, they’re desires that come from our old nature or the temptation of the world around us.
I want you to see, friends, that when you become a Christian, if you become a Christian, you get a new nature, and that new nature causes you to have a new mind. That’s why the Bible says, in Romans 12, “Don’t be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” You get a new mind, you start to think differently.
How many of you, that’s been the case? You met Jesus and the more you learn, you start to think differently. You say, “You know what? I used to think this way, but not anymore. I don’t think that way anymore. I used to think that this was okay, now I know it’s not. I used to brag about this, now I repent of this. Yeah, my mind is changing.”
And he says desires. The non-Christian’s deepest desire is for self and sin. The Christian’s deepest desire is for Jesus and holiness, Jesus and holiness. Some of you wrongly have been told that your desire and God’s desire will be in constant conflict. I don’t believe so. I believe that our lesser desires will be in conflict with God’s desires, but our deepest desires will be in concert with God’s desires.
I’ll give you a verse that’s meant a lot to me over the years. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he’ll give you the desires of your heart.” Now, what that doesn’t mean is if you love Jesus, tell him what you want and he’ll give it to you. He’s like a concierge just waiting for requests. That’s not what it means. It doesn’t mean that God gives you what you want, but God gives you the desires that he wants.
What that means is, as you’re delighting in the Lord, loving the Lord, enjoying the Lord, you get to know the Lord, the Lord gives you his desires, so now what you want to do is what Jesus wants you to do, and there’s not a conflict between your desires, there’s a concert between your desires. Paul says it this way in his letter to the Romans. He says, “I don’t do what I want to do and I do what I don’t want to do.” What he talks about is, “You know, when I sin, I give into my lower, lesser, weaker desires and it really frustrates me because those aren’t my deepest desires.”
I’ll tell you how this works in my life. I really love Jesus and I want to become like him. Those are the desires he gave me. I really want to be faithful to Grace as her best friend, protecting and providing for her whole life. That’s my desire, that’s the desire that Jesus gave me. I want to love, and serve, and lead, and provide for our five kids and enjoy them. And that’s my desire, it’s the desire that Jesus gave me. And I want to be your pastor, I want to teach the Bible, I want to see people meet Jesus and grow in Jesus. That’s my desire, that’s the desire that Jesus gave me.
I’ll tell you, not that I’ve done it perfectly and I’m without sin, but when I do feed and nurture the deepest desires, God is glorified and I am satisfied. God is glorified, I am satisfied, and it results in joy because you have a clear conscience, and you’re walking with the Lord, and you and Jesus are doing life together. And he looks at you and says, “I want you to do this.” You say, “You know what? That’s what I want to do.” “Let’s do it together.” That’s the Christian life. It’s far more about what we get to do than what we don’t get to do. I would encourage you, feed and nurture your deepest desires, because in your new nature there are new thoughts from the new mind and new appetites from the new desires.
Number six, he goes on to say, “And we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” By nature, what that means is you were born apart from God with a sin nature. How many of you are parents and you’ve noticed this? You give birth to a child and all of a sudden you realize you’re housing a small terrorist. They declare war, they throw things, they would kill you if they were larger. The only thing they lack is size. Those of you that go, “No, no, babies are amazing,” you don’t have any, do you?
Some parents look at their kids and they’re like, “I can’t believe they did that.” Of course they did, because they are by nature and what they need is a new nature. This is where our parenting starts not with moralizing (“Do this, don’t do that.”), but evangelizing. Here’s who Jesus is, you need to have a new nature, and out of a new nature will come new desires and a new mind. Jesus talks about a tree and its fruits. Well, we’re born as bad trees with bad fruits. We’re born again as new trees with good fruits. This has massive practical implications. That’s why we’re not even trying to make people moral, but introduce people to Jesus, and then let him work on the morality.
By nature. Children of what? Wrath, okay? Now some of you say, “Ooh, that’s a scary word.” It is, it is, and there is a cowardice regarding the wrath of God today. Preachers don’t talk about it, or if they do, they read it quickly and move on, or they’ll do Greek word studies to make wrath mean something other than wrath. You always know you’ve got an evangelical on the run when they’re doing a Greek word study. “Oh, wrath doesn’t mean wrath.” No, wrath means wrath. Like if I called you and I said, “Hey, it’s Pastor Mark and I have wrath against you.” You say, “Oh, I’ve got to lock the door. I think this is not going to go well.”
Okay, God has wrath. Now, immediately what some of you will do, you’ll be like, “Whoo, I got another verse. God is love, God is love, yay. Oh, God is love, I feel better.” Okay, let me fix that for you, okay? Be careful not to take one attribute of God and make it into God. See, if God is only sovereign, then everything that happens is his will and that means he’s the author of sin. If God is only forgiving, that means that everybody’s forgiven and nobody’s going to hell. All of the attributes of God work in concert equally, simultaneously, continually together.
When the Bible speaks of God, it does say that he is love. The most often attribute of God referenced in Scripture is that he’s holy. The Bible does speak about God’s salvation, it also speaks of damnation. Jesus speaks of hell and heaven more than anyone in the whole Bible. And when it comes to the wrath of God, it’s mentioned with about two dozen words in the Old and New Testament combined, and the wrath of God is spoken of about six hundred times.
And the wrath of God is to create in us a sense of urgency that we’re under a death sentence, that the clock is ticking, that after this life there is no second chance, that we better get this thing straightened out with Jesus right now while there’s still time because it’s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. A sense of urgency, a sense of urgency.
Now, some of you would say, “This whole wrath, that seems very primitive.” No, it’s very timeless. Some people I’ve heard say, “Well, I don’t believe in the wrath of God.” I said, “Friend, I fear you will experience the wrath of God.” I’ve had some say, “Look, I am not living a life in relationship with Jesus.” And some of you would even say, “I’m not a murderer, I’m not a thief, I’m not a killer. I’m a good person, I just live my life independent of Jesus.” Might I submit to you, that’s the worst sin of all. The rest is all details, but that really is—that really is the fault line issue.
It’s like a dad who walks out on his wife and his kids and says, “Hey, I don’t jaywalk and I’m a good person. I pay my taxes.” Yeah, but you lived your whole life apart from those who love you. That’s the problem, your whole life is disconnected, and so it is for those who turn their back on God and live a life separated from him. It’s not just the details, it’s the whole direction that is the problem.
And some of you would say, “You know what? It seems like you’re trying to scare me.” Number one, I am, I am. Like, if I told you that you are living in the path of the wrath of God, and that the God who sees and knows all will judge the living and the dead, I want you to be concerned about that, and I want you to know what you’re saved from. If you don’t know what you’re saved from, you don’t really appreciate the Savior.
And some would say, “But I’m not experiencing the wrath of God. I’m doing things that, you know, the Bible would say and God’s people would say are wrong. Where’s the wrath of God?” Let me explain this to you. Romans 2:5, Paul says it this way, “You are storing up wrath for the day of judgment,” which means you’re not getting away with anything, that you’re simply piling up everything. It means every sin you commit, every failure, it’s going into an account, and then you’ll die and stand before God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will sentence you to conscious (you’ll be awake), eternal (it never ends) torment. That’s what the Bible says. Either Jesus is lying or you are.
Now, imagine someone came along and said something comparably financially. They came along and said, “You have accrued a massive debt, a debt that you cannot pay. You didn’t ask, but out of love, I’m going to pay off your debt.” How many of you right now, you’ve got debt, and if somebody walked up to you, a total stranger, and said, “I don’t know you, but I love you, and I’ve chosen to pay off your entire debt,” how many of you’d be pretty excited about that? Some of you more excited than others because your debt is higher.
And then they said to you, “And in the future should you incur any additional debt, I will pay it all off no matter what the price is.” You’d probably hug them, right? “Yay!” We have accrued an eternal debt to God, an unpayable debt to God, and every day we add to it, and Jesus comes to pay off the debt. But for those whose debt remains unpaid, they will pay for it. I want you to see that. The debt is either paid by Jesus in the past, or it’s paid by you in the future. You are storing up wrath for the day of judgment. You’re not getting away with anything, you’re just postponing the worst thing.
Now immediately, some people have a repulsion to hell, and I’ve had conversations even with people recently, they say, “I don’t like hell.” Let me just say, you shouldn’t, let me just throw it out there. Like, because you know, let’s say the Bible’s like a travel brochure that God wrote. Hell, alright, like, weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth, lake of fire. You go, “That is not a place I want to go,” and God would say, “My point exactly.” God tells us about the consequences of his wrath so that we will have a sense of urgency, know that we’re in dire need of a Savior, and invite Jesus to come and rescue.
And so what he is saying here friends is this— and let me illustrate it with a story. I was talking with a reporter some years ago, a national media outlet, fair reporter, nice enough guy. Flew in, and we were sitting down prior to the interview, and he said, “Okay, I just want to get to know you before we have the formal interview. Can I ask you a few questions and just hang out?”
So we sat on the couch in this little office and just visiting, and he says, “Well, what kind of Christian are you?” I said, “Well, you know, one wife, pretty old school. We believe the Bible, we believe we’re sinners. We believe Jesus is God become a man, lived without sin, died on the cross for our sins, rose, and that he’s going to judge us all and we’re going to go to heaven or hell forever. Old school.”
And he looks at me and says, “Do you think I’m going to hell?” I was like, yeah, this is a rough first conversation with a guy who’s going to interview me and then edit it for the world. Like, this probably is not going to work in my favor. I said, “Well, Jesus says in John 5 that he will judge the living and the dead. So you know, you’re not going to die and give an account to me, but you’ll give an account to him, so let’s talk about you and him. Do you love Jesus?” He’s like, “No.” I said, “What do you think about Jesus?” He said, “I think he’s a nice guy.” “Do you think he’s God?” “No.” “Do you think he died and rose?” “No.” “You’re going to hell. You’re going to hell.”
And he looked kind of shocked, you know, like a beagle that heard a whistle. He kind of had that look on his face like, “What? What was that?” And I said, “Yeah, you’re going to hell. You’re going to hell.” He said, “Are you sure?” I said, “Yeah, you’re going to hell.” I said, “You’re not going to like it, it’s terrible.” I explained it all to him and he looked and me and said, “Are you trying to convert me?” I was like, “That’s exactly what I’m doing, yeah, that’s, yeah. Would you like to be converted?” He’s like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait, I’m here for the interview.” I said, “No, no, no, maybe you’re predestined before—” I went to Ephesians 1. “Maybe you’re predestined before the foundations of the world, and maybe God brought you here and you thought you were going to interview me, but it’s so I could tell you about Jesus so you wouldn’t go to hell.” He said, “Well, maybe, maybe not,” and then he left. But anyways, I’m trying to close the guy.
Some of you would say, “You know, it’s not very loving to tell people about hell.” Let me say this: it’s very loving to tell people about hell, because they’re going there, just floating downstream in that river, and they don’t even know it unless someone is screaming, “There’s danger ahead!” I want you to be saved. I want you to be saved from the wrath of God.
So friends, we’re saved by God, we’re saved from God, we’re saved for God. That’s why Jonah says, “Salvation is of the Lord.” It’s all of him. And what he’s saying here, we’re saved from death to life, we’re saved from an identity of sinner to an identity of saint, we’re saved from worldly living to holy living, we’re saved from Satan and demons to the Holy Spirit, we’re saved from the old nature to the new nature, we’re saved from children of wrath to children of God.
SAVED BY WHAT?
How does this happen? It’s good news, right? It’s good news. It’s good news. When you know that you’re saved from these things and to these things, it’s really good news. The next question is: saved by what? How does this work? Ephesians 2:4–5, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he has loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses.”
Dead people don’t make decisions. Apart from Jesus, you’re spiritually dead, but God makes us alive in Christ, God puts life into us, God brings us from separation to reconciliation. That’s what God does, and then we respond with faith, but the faith is in evidence of our salvation. It’s like once a baby is born, they cry. The crying does not bring them to life, the crying reveals the life that they already enjoy. Those who cry out to God in faith, it’s evidence that they’ve been born again by the Spirit of God.
If you’re a Christian, God has made you alive in Christ, just like he came along to Lazarus who was dead in the tomb and said, “Lazarus come forth,” and Lazarus comes forth. He used Lazarus’s name. If he just said, “Come forth,” everyone would have gotten up. That’s the power of the words of Jesus. But Jesus has come to you and he’s said your name, and he has brought you from death to life, because we were dead in our trespasses and sins.
“Made us alive together with Christ.” There’s your identity, with Christ. And friends, if somebody asks, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” I’m with Jesus, and Jesus is with me, and we’re together. That’s what it means. “By,” what? “Grace.” It’s a gift. How many of you like gifts? What’s the greatest gift you’ve ever gotten? I thank my mother-in-law all the time, “Thank you for giving me your daughter.” It’s the greatest human gift I’ve ever been given. I thank Grace all the time. I tell her this, it’s kind of a little joke in our house. I say, “Thank you for all the people,” alright? My wife gave us five kids, what a gift.
What’s the greatest gift you’ve ever received? Here it is: God gives us God. God gives us God. It’s grace. We’re not just undeserving, we’re ill-deserving. We didn’t ask for it, we just got it. God gives us his forgiveness, his love, his righteousness, his truth, his Holy Spirit, the Scriptures, the church. God gives us God.
“By grace you have been saved.” And then in Ephesians 2:8–9, it’s one of the most important verses, it’s a memory verse. If you’ve not memorized it, it’s a good memory verse. It kind of sums up the essence of Christianity and salvation. “For by,” what? “Grace you have been,” what? “Saved through faith,” trusting in Jesus. “And this is not your own doing.” It’s not like we save ourselves. We don’t save ourselves by works or adding to Jesus’ works. “It is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” It’s not works, you see that? It’s not works, it’s grace. Grace is Jesus’ works for us. Saved by what? Well, he says, “Rich in mercy, great love, he loved us, he made us alive, by grace, by grace, gift of God.” Do you feel loved? Do you feel loved? You are.
I was talking to a guy this week, brand-new Christian. It was a business call, it didn’t even have anything to do with anything. I was calling him on something, customer service guy, and he’s like, “So, what do you do for a living?” I was like, “Ugh, here we go. I’m a pastor.” He says, “So you’re a pastor?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “What kind?” I said, “Christian, love Jesus, believe the Bible.”
He said, “Can I ask you some questions?” His first question was, “Does God love me?” I said, “Are you a Christian?” He said, “I’m a brand-new Christian.” I said, “God does love you.” He said, “How do I know?” I said, “Jesus died and rose. He showed you how much he loves you. And in the Scriptures, he says how much he loves you.” I said, “You’ve got to trust him.”
He said, “Okay,” and then he started talking about kind of the new nature. He said, “Well, can I talk to him?” I said, “You can talk to him any time you want.” He said, “Is there a right way to talk to him?” I said, “God’s a Father, and we’re to talk to God like a kid would talk to their dad.” I said, “Do you have a kid?” He’s like, “Yeah, I got a little girl.” I said, “Can she just talk to you?” He said, “Oh yeah, any time about anything.” I said, “God’s like that. He loves you.”
And then he asked me a funny question. He said, “Can I pray to him in the car?” I said, “Why?” He said, “Well, I don’t want to be disrespectful.” I said, “No, you know what, if you were riding in the car with your daughter and she said, ‘Dad, I want to talk to you,’ would you say, ‘Not now, we’re in the car’?” He said, “No, I’d be glad to talk to her in the car.” I said, “God’s a Father, he’s happy to talk to his kids in the car.” He said, “It’s not disrespectful?” “No.” See, he’s still coming out of that works mentality that, “I have to be in a holy building, and I need to do things in a holy way, and maybe I need to run it by a holy man.” Wait, wait, wait, grace. Jesus really does love you, he really does listen, you really can talk to him, and he really is there for you. It’s by grace you’ve been saved. It’s by grace you’ve been saved.
SAVED FOR WHAT?
Saved for what? The last question, Ephesians 2:6–10. So, we’ve talked about what we’re saved from, who we’re saved by, what we’re saved to. What’s that? What now? See, what I don’t want to do is just say, “You’re saved!” You walk away and go, “I’m saved, but I’ve got a lot of years left on the earth. What do I do with them?” Your life counts, your life matters.
Here’s what he says. “And raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Jesus rose, ascended into heaven. If you are in Christ, there is a seat in the kingdom of God with your name on it, a reservation set, and when you die you will be absent from the body, present with the Lord, and that seat is guaranteed, and you’ll sit there with Jesus and his people and rejoice at the wedding supper of the Lamb, a great feast where we sing the praises of Jesus. That’s what he tells us. That’s where you’re going.
So he wants to encourage us and get our eyes up, and, “Okay, who is Jesus, and where am I going, and what’s this going to be like forever with him?” “So that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” He says it again, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. This is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of,” what? Not what? “Works, so that no one may boast.”
See, if we do works, we boast. “I gave my life to the Lord.” I know that a lot of people say that. Every time I hear that, not quite right, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. “God saved me,” not, “I gave my life to the Lord.” No, no, no, no, no, no, God gave me his life. Even how we give our testimony, let’s be very careful. “You know, when I decided to become a Christian.” Oh, oh, he predestined you before the foundation of the world. I promise you his decision was before yours, I promise you. So don’t boast. Christians aren’t better and Christians aren’t smarter. Christians are blessed.
“So that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship.” He’s working in us, he’s working on us, he’s going to work through us. “Created in Christ Jesus,” there’s our identity. “In Christ Jesus for,” what? “Good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
How many of you, your mind just exploded? You’re like, “No works, no works, no works! Works, what?” The key is to get the works in the right order. Jesus’ works save us, he works in us as his workmanship, and then works through us as an act of worship. So, our works are the result of his works, unlike religion that teaches, or spirituality that teaches, or morality that teaches, “Here are your works and they will save you.” No, Jesus saves you. You’re saved by his works. He works in you, he works on you, he works through you to do good works as an act of worship.
So in closing, let me say seven things about good works. Number one, all works by God’s grace for God’s glory are good works. Mom, at 3 a.m., when the kid’s yelling again and you get up, it’s a good work if you’re doing it to God’s glory and by the power of God’s grace. All work done unto the Lord is good works. It’s good. God has things for you to do. Your meaning, and your life, and your value, and your purpose is all empowered by the grace of God.
And here’s what I want to teach you: it’s not that we’re saved by works, but rather we’re empowered by grace to do good works. So, works and grace are not against one another, God’s grace forgives our sin, God’s grace also empowers our works. So you can do good works by the grace of God to the glory of God.
Paul says it this way in 1 Corinthians 15. It sounds a bit arrogant. I’ve hit it a few times in previous sermons, but I think it merits revisiting. He says, basically, “I worked harder and got more done than anyone.” It sounds a little arrogant until he says, “By the grace of God that was with me.” Oh. Paul says, “By the grace of God, I was able to do the good works that God prepared in advance for me to do.” So, God’s grace empowers you to do good works. And any work, all work by God’s grace for God’s glory are good works.
Number two, most of Jesus’ good works were as a carpenter, not a preacher. As a kid, obeying his parents, and learning to read and write, and doing his chores, those were the good works that were prepared in advance for him to do, including walking to the well to get water for the family. Those were good works prepared in advance. He then worked as a carpenter with his dad, those were good works. And then he started preaching, and those were good works. But it’s all good works, and some people wrongly think that Jesus didn’t start his ministry until he started preaching. His whole life was an act of worship to God’s glory, the Father’s glory.
So let me submit this to you: God isn’t calling you all to be deacons, God isn’t calling you all to be elders, but God’s calling us all to good works. For some of you, that’s an accountant, or a teacher, or a mother, or a father, or a landscaper, or a banker, or an investment broker, or a real estate agent. And it’s not as if there is a higher calling and a lower calling; the good works are all things that Jesus has laid out for us to do, and whatever those are for you, those are the things you should be doing by the grace of God.
And that gives you permission to say no to other things, saying, “That’s a good work, but it’s not my good work. Someone else certainly should do that, but Jesus has called me to do this other thing.” I want to free some of you up from the pressure of thinking that there is varsity and junior varsity in the kingdom of God. I want to free you up from that. Just because I’m in paid ministry does not mean that I’m doing good works and that a barista or a teacher is doing something other than equally good works. Do you see that? I want to free some of you up to become leaders, but I want to free you up as well, if that’s not God’s calling in your life, to not be a leader, to do whatever it is God has appointed for you to do.
Number three then, there’s no such thing as sacred and secular work for Christians. I hear people say, “Oh, I have a secular job.” No you don’t, if you love Jesus, it’s a worshipful job, whatever you’re doing. That’s why Paul says, “Whatever you eat, or drink, or,” what? “Whatever you do.” First Corinthians 10:31, “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” That’s a good work then.
You know what we need? Yeah, we need deacons. We also need accountants in this world. Yeah, we need elders. You know what we also need? Honest real estate brokers. We need it all, and you are needed, and you are valuable, and meaningful, and purposeful, and I really mean this. I really want you to know that what you are doing is sacred, not because you’re doing a sacred thing, but because Jesus is with you, and because Jesus is with you, it’s now an act of worship, which makes even, yes, stapling, filing, driving the kids to soccer, a sacred thing.
Number four, some of you need to discover the good works God has set before you. You need to learn to say no, pray, think, consider, get some counsel. “Okay God, what are the things you want me to do and how can I prepare myself for them?” Maybe the good work is, “I want to be married.” Okay, how can you get ready for that? “I want to be a parent. Okay, how can we get ready for that? I want to start a company. Okay, how can I do that? I just want to be a good employee. Okay, how can I do that? Okay, I need to finish my education. Okay, how can I do that?” You’ve got to ask, “In this next season, God, what is it that you have for me?”
And let me tell you this: sometimes young people, they get way too far down the road. They start thinking about what they’re going to do in sixty years. Friends, start thinking about what you’re going to do in sixty minutes, alright? Start with those good works and then God can direct your steps toward whatever the good works are that ensue after that.
But some of you really need to take some time this week and pray, and think, and, “Okay, what are the good works God has for me?” And sometimes that starts with an internal desire. “I love high school kids, I love women, I want to lead a Community Group, you know, I want to serve the poor.” Whatever it is, God lays a desire in your heart and you say, “Maybe that’s the beginning of the good works he’s called me to.”
Number five, some of you don’t need new works—you’ve got way too much to do—but to infuse your current works with grace. You may not need a new spouse, you may need to bring the grace of God into your relationship with your spouse. You may not need new kids, you need to infuse grace into the relationship with your kids. You might not need to quit your job and find yourself, you may need to bring Jesus to work with you and ask, “How can I infuse the grace of God with the job that I already have to love the boss who’s driving me crazy, to sit in the cubicle that drives me nuts, that’s next to the person who’s driving me insane? Praise be to God, the kingdom of God is coming, this all too shall pass. How can I love and serve here, now, without a funky attitude but loving God and people?” And sometimes people are like, “Yeah, it’s hard, it must not be the will of God.” We worship a guy who got murdered. It might be really hard. But how do you infuse it with the grace of God?
Number six, we are not saved by our works, but we are saved to our works. You get that? Religion says you’re saved by your works, Jesus teaches and demonstrates we’re not saved by our works, we’re saved to our works. They’re not the root of our faith, they’re the fruit of our faith. They’re not what bring us into relationship with God, they’re what come out of those who are in relationship with God. And again, the good works, friends, it’s loving your neighbors, it’s the simple things, it’s being generous, it’s caring, it’s when you bill someone for your billable hours, you’re honest. I mean, all of that is good works.
And lastly, God does not need our works, but our neighbor does. Alright, God doesn’t need school supplies, but the kid without a dad does. God doesn’t need groceries, but the single mom does. God doesn’t need us to run an honorable company, but our neighbor does. God doesn’t need us to love our neighbor, our neighbor needs us to love our neighbor. And so the good works are not things that God needs. God can take care of himself. These are things that our neighbors need, and it’s a way of loving our neighbors and showing the love that Jesus has for us.
And we do that not so that God would love us, but because he already has; not so that we’d come into right relationship with God, but because we already are; not so that God would be pleased with us, but because in Christ, he already is; and it frees us to love and serve people by the grace of God.
Do you know Jesus? Do you love Jesus? Do you belong to Jesus? Are you in Christ? If not, this is where you give yourself to Christ. That’s what faith is; it’s giving yourself, and your sin, and your whole life, and your future to Christ. And if you do know Christ, you’ve been saved and rescued, and I want you to know what you’re saved from, I want you to know what you’re saved by, and I want you to know what you’re saved to.
I thank you, Lord Jesus, that this is a work you’ve laid out before me and that I get to enjoy it. Lord Jesus, I pray for those who do not yet know you that you would bring them from death to life by the power of the Holy Spirit. I pray, Lord Jesus, for those of us who are Christians that we would remember today that when we say that we’ve been saved, it’s not just a word that we use in a cliché way, but it’s a truth that we celebrate in a profound way. And Lord God, I pray that as we understand in Christ we are saved, that we would really appreciate what we’re saved from, that we would really love the one we were saved by, and we would produce good works and fruit out of that life-giving new nature and relationship with Jesus in whose name we pray, amen.
Note: This sermon transcript has been edited for readability.
Your own works cannot save you; only Jesus’ works save. Salvation means saved from the penalty of sin in the past, from the power of sin in the present, and from the presence of sin forever in the future. Those who are in Christ are saved from death, sin, worldly living, Satan and demons, the old nature/old desires, and God’s wrath. We’re saved by grace, then empowered by grace to do good works.
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