I remember several years ago when I had a conversation with a dear friend of mine coming from a Catholic background. He and I agreed on a lot of stuff, but I recall very distinctly something he said which has bothered me for years. We were discussing theology, and he said “I’m not really comfortable talking about salvation in a simple ‘before and after’ way.” In other words, he saw salvation as more of a process than a “moment-in-time,” “change your life forever with one decision” type of thing. Unfortunately, I let it go, probably because I wasn’t nearly as clear in my biblical thinking as I should've been.
The reason this has driven me nuts over the years is because if I could go back to that moment, I would've pulled out today’s passage, read it with him, and then asked him “If this isn’t a ‘before and after” experience, then how would you describe it?”
Paul is moving from the cosmic import of the Father’s plan into their own personal lives: “As for you . . .” We’re moving from spiritual forces which could snap us like a twig (in chapter one) down into the supposedly mundane lives of people reading this letter. What does salvation mean to me, one guy living in the here and now, one individual who’s probably never going to be known outside his small circle of family and friends?”
Contra my friend from years ago, you could hardly come up with more of a stark contrast between our condition before Christ got a hold of us vs. after. Before Christ rescued me,
· I was spiritually dead in my transgressions and sins. Not sick, nor terminally ill. I was not in my last dying moments, as Christ the EMT was using a defibrillator on me to try to revive me. I was stone-cold on the slab--tag on my toe--dead to God. Dead to spiritual life. Dead to all his blessings. Dead to his goodness.
· I followed the ways of this world. Again, this is not talking about the physical earth; as MacArthur put it, he’s referring to "the invisible spiritual system of evil dominated by Satan and all that it offers in opposition to God, His Word, and His people."
· I followed and belonged to the Devil. That’s who Paul is talking about when he refers to “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” I know that’s shocking to modern ears, but maybe some clarification could help. This isn’t saying that a nonbeliever is consciously worshipping Satan or is demon-possessed like something out of the Exorcist. That’s the problem: People who don’t belong to Christ belong to the Evil One; Jesus is painstakingly clear that there's no third alternative. And they don’t know to whom they belong. Because they see themselves as basically decent people, they see themselves as a child of God. They’re not drawing pentagrams and sacrificing goats, but by doing things their own way instead of God’s way, they’re showing who their spiritual father is, and it’s not God.
· I was by nature an object of his wrath. The NIV (2011 version) translates it as “deserving” of his wrath, which doesn’t quite catch the impact, as far as I’m concerned. Literally Paul says that I was a “child” of wrath, which means that I was destined for it. Not that I was just deserving it, but I was well on my way to getting what I fully deserved. And if the Lord hadn’t intervened, nothing would've stopped me from getting it.
I’ve said this before, but one of the most beautiful words in the Bible is a simple three-letter one: But. We were in a situation just about as dire as we could get outside of the Lake of Fire itself. But God, who is rich in mercy (one of the great understatements of all time), because of his great love for us made us alive in Christ. From the rest of the Bible, we know what Paul is talking about here: He laid upon his own Son my sin and his own righteous anger. In some mysterious sense, “[He] made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Then he raised me up in Christ and seated me in the heavenly realms next to him.
And again, we come to a recurring theme in vs. 7, one which I think our self-focusing American church needs to hear: Yes, God did this because he loves me, but the ultimate reason he did this was so that I could be an eternal “trophy” of his grace and mercy and love. MacArthur: “Salvation, of course, is very much for the believer's blessing, but it is even more for the purpose of eternally glorifying God for bestowing on believers His endless and limitless grace and kindness. The whole of heaven glorifies Him for what He has done in saving sinners (cf. 3:10; Rev 7:10-12).”
We’re running a bit long here, so we’ll look at vss. 8-10 tomorrow.
Lord Jesus, when we get to passages like this, I feel like so inadequate in saying anything. The only proper response to this is “Thank you,” and “I’m yours.”