Monday, March 5, 2012

From Death Into Life: An Act of Grace

Dead or Alive?
What is life?  What does it mean to be alive?  Surprisingly enough scientists are somewhat divided in trying to provide a definition for this term.  Some things clearly are alive and others clearly are not.  But there are some things, like viruses, that could fall on either side of the line, depending on how you define life.  For us as humans though it is pretty clear whether we have life or are dead.  Or is it?

The New Testament writers, Paul especially, use the terms dead and live in two different ways.  One way is our common usage referring to physical life,  functioning, or not functioning, in the physical world around us.  But he also uses the term to refer to our relationship with God, or spiritual life.  In this sense, if we are attached to the life of God, we have life.  If we are separated from the life of God, we are dead.  It is in some ways like an electrical appliance.  If it is plugged into an energized power source then it is alive, being useful and having purpose.  If it is not plugged in then it has the appearance of usefulness, but it is actually dead and of no value.

The example of the disconnected household appliance falls short though in describing humans who are not connected to God.  The first 18 years of my life I was not connected to God, and yet my body grew and developed, I was able to think and make decisions, and by the time I was 18 I was in a position to take control of my own life and make of it what I wanted.  There did not appear to be anything obviously missing.  Many, if not most, people live their whole lives in this fashion, never knowing that they are dead, disconnected from God.

Spiritually Dead
In the first few verses of the second chapter of Ephesians Paul uses dead and alive in both ways, referring to physical life as well as connection with God.
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. - Ephesians 2:1-3 NIV 
I used to live in this world, functioning just like everyone else.  I conformed to all of the social standards and fit in as best I could.  During that time I was in charge of my life, following the pull of my own desires and thoughts.  Most of the time those thoughts and desires led me in a good path, sometimes even into generous and laudable actions.  And yes, sometimes my thoughts and desires led me into actions that I regret and am ashamed of.  But all of that, whether good or bad, is described here as sin.  Sin, or missing the mark, describes anything I do, or even think, that is not directed by God.  And so, as one who was not connected to God, everything I did was sin, whether good or bad.

Paul has several things to say about people in this condition.  First, they are dead, separated from the life of God.  Even while I was alive physically, I was dead spiritually.  Secondly, at the same time I was disconnected from God, I was actually under the rule of another, of Satan.  I did not recognize that at the time, did not pledge allegiance to him, or often times even acknowledge his existence.  But I am either in God's kingdom or I am in the kingdom of Satan.  There is no other choice.  And finally, I was by nature an object of wrath.  I was facing destruction.  There was no future for me apart from being connected to the life of God.

Made Alive In Christ
Paul has painted a pretty bleak picture here of man in his natural state, disconnected from the life of God.  Fortunately he does not leave it there.
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. - Ephesians 2:4-5 NIV
In this passage Paul is not referring to everyone in the world.  This letter is written to those who have already experienced what he is writing about.  The us in this passage are those who currently are believers as well as those who become believers.  Even when I was dead, separated from the life of God, he reached out to me and plugged me into his life, transforming me from one who was dead into one who had life.

So what does it take to get plugged into the life of God?  Paul says that it is an act of grace.  God does so because he wants to.  His offer of grace to me is not based on some action(s) that I must first take.  Rather God chooses that all who would respond to him in faith would experience this act of grace.  Those who do will experience the riches of life with Christ, not only now but in the ages to come.  And those who do not will continue to live this life completely unaware of what they are missing out on, but in the end will face destruction.

And In the Ages to Come!
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. - Ephesians 2:6-7 NIV
Spiritual life, being connected with God, is not just for the brief years of my life on this earth.  Paul says here that when God made me alive in him, he also took me and put me where Christ is, in the heavenly realm.  I am actually in two different realms now; the physical one that this body functions in, as well has the heavenly realm where I am able to function because of the new life God has given to me.  Heaven is not something I have to wait for; it is something I already have.  In this passage Paul states that I am already seated with Christ in heaven.

It was an act of grace on God's part that lifted me from death into life.  But God's grace does not end there. In the coming ages, through eternity, I will be experiencing the riches of God's grace that he will continue to express to me.  How will you respond to God's offer of grace and life?

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