Ephesians Study, Part 14: Shedding those death clothes

Review:   Before Jesus, we were Spiritually Dead.

Three weeks ago, before Pat and I left town, we got a minor start into Chapter 2 of Ephesians, which Paul, of course, did not separate from Chapter 1.   He just continued his flowing complex thought chain.   As I was preparing for today's lesson I found that verses 1 through 7 of Chapter two are one long sentence, just like verses 3 through 14 were in Chapter one.   At least for this sentence, Paul did not go on for what we now call 12 verses, just 7.

Since you may be as memory challenged as I am, I will remind you that the last time we were together, Paul was discussing the condition of each of us prior to accepting Jesus.   We were spiritually dead, lifeless, fruitless, as if we did not exist.   We were separated from God, just as our human spirit is separated from our physical body when we die.

Today's Lesson: More about that dead condition

This morning you may think that I am dwelling on the negative, that I am spending time unnecessarily on the bad side of us, that I am spending too much time on the before Jesus condition each of us was in.   The only reason I want to go where I am going this morning, is to cause us to comprehend the drastic change that occurred when we accepted Jesus.   And even more importantly, I will make the case that since we do not comprehend the magnitude of the pit we were in, we do not claim and accept the magnitude of the blessings of the after-Jesus condition.   I will claim that we were spiritually resurrected, but that most of us are still walking around bound by the death clothes of our pre-Jesus condition.

This condition of spiritual death that we were in before accepting Jesus has several consequences that I want to spend some time on this morning, to set the stage for the comparison of our condition after we accept Jesus as our Savior.   In chapter 2 Paul is dealing with the before and the after.   I am convinced that we lack the comprehension of the true before state, and therefore do not appreciate or appropriate the blessings of the after state.

Remember that Paul was describing our state when we were in sin and trespass under the influence of Satan:

So prior to our salvation, we were sinning (missing the mark, missing the target) and trespassing (slipping off the path that God wants us on).   And we were being led and influenced by Satan.

Let's stop there and reflect on the consequence of that condition.

Sin (failing to hit God's target for us) has at least three very sinister consequences for us, which we may not have stopped to appreciate.

  1. Sin kills innocence.   We talk about the innocence of a child.   Jesus talks about our needing to be like a child.

    Think back about your life, and compare your condition, your state of mind before and after you did something that in retrospect you know was wrong.   No one is ever the same after they sin.   You can't back up and regain that innocence.   Psychologists tell us that we never forget anything.   It may not be remembered on the conscience level, but everything we have ever done, seen or heard is buried in the sub-conscious.   The effect is that sin leaves a permanent mark, a permanent scar.   It is impossible go back to the state of innocence.   It is as if a film of guilt clouds our feeling of self worth, and we can't clean off the film.   It is like a stain in a fine pair of pants, and even after cleaning, it is never quite as good as new, and we are never quite as proud to wear them.   We know the remnants of the stain are still there.   Sin kills innocence.


  3. Sin kills ideals.   There is a natural tragic human process.   First we regard some wrong thing as horrible.   Then when tempted into doing it, we know it was wrong, and are uncomfortable and ill at ease about having done it.   The third stage is after repeating it enough, we overcome the guilt and do it without qualm.   Each sin makes the next sin easier.   Sin is a kind of gradual suicide.   It kills the ideals that make life worthwhile living.

  5. In the end Sin kills our will.   At first we engage in some forbidden pleasure because we want to: in the end we engage in it because it controls us; it has taken over our ability to say no; it has killed our will.   Once something has become a habit, it is near to becoming a necessity.   When we allow a habit to master us, we become a slave to it.

So in our pre-Jesus condition,

Remember that Paul said:

The "dead in sin" that he is talking about includes the concept of separated from God that we talked about 3 weeks ago, but it also includes the dead aspects of our life because the sinning killed our innocence, ideals and will to do what is right.

Now let's try to see what kind of sins Paul was talking about.

The World's Standards vs. God's Standards:

The first thing Paul tells us is that we are living by the standards of the world, of society.   One of the hard things to comprehend truly is how the teaching of Jesus and the New Testament are so contrary to what secular teachings tell us.   Christianity teaches us that forgiveness is a virtue, but great teachers and philosophers tell us that it is a sign of weakness.   They teach that one must have the power to avenge oneself, and not to do so is a failing.

Christianity demands love, even for our enemies; but Plutarch said that the sign of a good man is that he is useful to his friends and terrible to his enemies.

Christianity teaches service, but society cannot understand why a person would do mission work like medical or nursing and live in terrible conditions making only a fraction of what they could make doing the same thing at home in comfort.   The essence of society is that it puts self in the center and makes all decisions to benefit self.   The essence of Christianity is to put Jesus in the center and make all decisions to benefit Jesus.   Someone said that secular man knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.   The world's motive is self profit; the Christian dynamic is the desire to serve.

So Paul is talking about sins that are committed by using the standards and secular values of the world.   Paul continues:

Again I ask, what kind of sin is Paul talking about?   Each of us has a list of black sins and gray sins.   Murder and rape and several others are on our black list.   Then we have some "I shouldn't, but it is not the end of the world if I do."

Then we have a list of things that we recognize are not really the best thing to do, but they are not really in the sin category.

The Deeds of the Flesh:

If we are to understand what Paul is going to tell us about the condition of a believer after accepting Jesus, we need to understand what Paul includes in his Pre-Jesus condition of sin.   Paul says that we

So Paul is saying we were giving in to our animal instincts and the worst of man was in control.   I think most of us jump to the conclusion that this reference is primarily focused on sexual sin, and clearly that is included in these words.   But Paul clearly included much more than sexual sin.

He specifically includes indulging in the desires of the mind.   You don't have to go far to see the kinds of things that Paul included in his definition of sins of the flesh.

So there are a lot of non-sexual sins included in the sins of the flesh.   And he includes things like these.

Each of us has a point of greatest weakness.   Your most vulnerable point for sins of the flesh may be your body and sexual sin; for some one else it may be your mind and sins of pride; another may be your worldly positions and the sin of greed or envy or ambition; for another it may be your temper that you do not control.   To live in the sin of the flesh is simply to let our animal instincts control, and to ignore God; to let the worst side of us dominate our lives.

Paul's reference to our condition as being "children of wrath".

This refers to the fact that our life, the way we led it, deserved the wrath of God.   We deserved a spanking by God.   And of course, in the pre-Jesus condition, our time was coming.   God is a just God and he who deserves a spanking will get one.   The price will be paid.   In the case of a believer, Jesus took the spanking for us.

The Good News:

After all of this doom and gloom, Paul finally gets to the greatest two words in the Bible: the first two words of verse four:

The message of the Gospel is "But God".   God intervened.   In spite of our death and separation and condition and suicide, God intervened.   When we accepted Jesus, we were spiritually resurrected, but most of us are still walking around bound by the death clothes of our pre Jesus condition.

Are you still in your death clothes?

Do you remember the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead by Jesus?   Lazarus was Mary's brother who was sick.   Mary tried to get Jesus to come heal him, but Jesus fiddled around until Lazarus had died.

Then a few days later he told the disciples that Lazarus had died, so then they went to his tomb. When Jesus told them to roll back the stone over the tomb, Martha, Mary's sister said, don't do that, he's been dead four days, it will stink.

Then Jesus said,

Lazarus was resurrected from the dead, but he was still bound by the cloths that bound him at his death.

Today, most Christians are still bound by the death cloths. They are walking around like the picture we have all seen of Lazarus walking out of the tomb wrapped and bound by the cloths. Paul is going to tell us that Jesus has also told us, "Unbind him, let him go."   But we fail to grasp how we were bound and how free we are today if we accept the "unbinding" that Jesus has for us.   We are still bound by our failure to realize that we are free.

You have all heard the story about how they train an elephant not to run away. First they tie his foot to a tree from which he cannot get away. After a period of time in that condition, they merely tie his foot to a stake, which he could easily pull out, but in his mind, he is still tied to a tree, so he remains bound.   That is a great picture of most Christians.   They are bound by a tent stake from which Jesus freed us 2000 years ago.   But we do not really realize it.   We still act and think like we were still bound by the grave clothes from our "Dead in Sin" state before Jesus came into our lives.   We will deal more with that in Ephesians 4, when we get to it.

How long does it take you to shed your grave clothes?   It took Moses 40 years on the back side of the desert.   It took Joseph 13 years in Egypt.   It took Paul 3 years in Arabia.   I think each of us here today are still shedding our grave clothes.

First we were dead; then were alive but bound by our past; and then we get to the third stage, dangerous.   When we have shed our grave clothes, we can do things for God.   That is when we are dangerous to the enemy.   It is not until then that we are a threat to Satan.   That is the time that our enemy comes after us.   To the extent that you do not have spiritual challenges is the extent to which you are still bound in your grave clothes.

Know what happened to Lazarus after he was freed from his grave clothes?   The Jews tried to have him killed.   They could not stand to have him as such an evidence of the power of Jesus, walking around.

Are you dangerous?   You're saved?   Great!   But are you dangerous?   Or are you still bound by the pre-Jesus condition, your grave clothes?

It is already done and the clothes can come off.

Remember, Grace is fathomless favor, when we do get what we do not deserve.   Mercy is sort of the opposite, in a certain way.   Mercy is when we do not get what we do deserve.

Today most of us are living our lives, still carrying the guilt and garbage from killing our innocence, killing our ideals and killing our will.   We have not internally realized that we are carrying all that, when we have the option of throwing it away, being free, being free of the death clothes.   We have not really accepted the cleansing, the forgiveness that Jesus gave to us.


If you remember only one thing from today's study, remember "But God".   Then let yourself live a life free of the death clothes you have been walking around in.   You don't have to be like the elephant tied to the stake.   You don't even have a stake or a rope.   Maybe you just haven't realized it yet.


Next Week:

We will pick up with Ephesians 2:4 and see how Paul described the after. It is exciting.

Picture "Forgiven" -- by Thomas Blackshear II