Dear friends in Christ Jesus:
The man had been working on this project in his basement tirelessly for the last several months. His assistant did the dirty work of getting the necessary materials, but he did the challenging work of putting them all together. Finally, after stitching each rotting body part together with careful precision, his masterpiece was complete. Now it was time to see if it would work. He threw the oversized switch mounted on the wall and sparks flew. Thousands of volts of electricity shot through the wires and into the lifeless body lying before him. First the body twitched. Then he lurched forward. Then he sat up moaned. The mad scientist started dancing in his basement and cackled with delight: “It’s alive! It’s alive!”
It almost sounds like a scene from a 1950’s horror film, but in our text for today, Paul describes a similar scene. He talks about the dead coming to life in an extraordinary way. Of course he doesn’t speak of the physically dead coming to life with a few thousand volts of electricity, but far more spectacularly, he describes the spiritually dead coming to life by the infinitely powerful grace of God.
You and I were once spiritually dead. That is how we were born into the world. We could do no more for ourselves spiritually than a rotting corpse could do physically. But when we deserved nothing but God’s wrath, he made us alive. He made us alive by his Holy Spirit. He made us alive by his grace alone. And he made us alive to live in his grace right now. Listen to our text in Ephesians 2:1-10 and realize You Are Alive:
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. 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. 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. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ever watch a movie about zombies, the living dead? They’re moving and moaning and walking around chasing after the living, but they aren’t really alive. They’re dead. As unflattering as it sounds, that’s exactly what we were once like. Paul says, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live… gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts… we were by nature objects of wrath.”
We were once lying in the grave of sin, rotting and stinking. We were unable to climb out, unable to call for help, unable to do anything because we were dead. Like the living dead we could go about the routine tasks of this life, eating and sleeping, working and playing, but could do nothing good spiritually.
We stunk of the death of our sinful natures—the gossip, the backstabbing, the selfishness, the anger and malice we showed others, the shameful sins we kept hidden from everyone around us, and the evil motives for our actions that only God knew. Dead, lifeless, cold, rotting, corpses. That’s what we were and would be today.
“But… God.” How beautiful those two words are! We were lifeless and powerless, but God didn’t leave us that way. He brought us to life. And not with the electricity of a defibrillator, but with something far more powerful—with his love, his mercy, his grace that we don’t deserve. 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.
When we were incapable of producing a single good work before God, he saw our wretched situation. And moved by his seemingly impossible love for us, he saved us not by anything that we could do, but entirely by his grace. He sent his Son to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. The sinless Son of God lived a blameless life, keeping every one of God’s commandments in our place. The spotless Lamb of God was slaughtered on a cross to pay for our guilt. And every one of our sins was placed on him. And all of our guilt was exchanged for his holiness.
What do we need to do to be saved from the death we were stuck in? Nothing. He did it all. In fact, we can do nothing. He did it all. Even the very faith, that trust in his promises, that believing in him that receives the blessings of the cross was given to us as a gift—something unearned. When we were dead in sin and incapable of faith, God made us alive. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
Or, as Luther put it in his explanation to the third article of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts… and kept me in the true faith. In the same way he calls, gathers, enlightens… the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”
We were once spiritually dead and bound to die forever in hell where, like the living dead, we could never fully die, but would keep on living in suffering and regret. But God acted. And we’ve been made alive not by anything we’ve done, but we live only by the grace of God. And now we can truly live. We can live life to the full in the grace of God.
When God brought us to life, it wasn’t like some Frankenstein or some zombie that seemed alive, but just barely—moving with stiff joints, and weak moans and groans. Instead, he made us spiritual alive with a life that is rich and full of life—one where we are spiritually healthy and beautiful and can dance and sing and live each day in this grace of God.
Paul wrote, “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ… 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.”
God didn’t take you out of the grave just to make you wander the graveyard for the rest of your days. No! He didn’t just take you out of the grave, but out of the graveyard altogether. In John 10:10 Jesus said, “I have come that they” [that is, his sheep—his followers] “may have life, and have it to the full.” We’re no longer destined to wander this dreary world, but he will take us to heaven. And that truth lets us live life to the full right now. And what a life it is because, “In this Christian church he daily and fully forgives all sins to me and all believers.”
You and I now have the incredible privilege of living our lives in thanks to the one who brought us to life by bringing about our conversion and still daily and fully forgives us all our sins. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
We are God’s creation. But we’re not some gruesome collection of rotting pieces sewn together with a little bit of this and a little bit of that. No. We’re God’s workmanship. His work of art. His masterpiece. Lovingly and patiently God has shaped us by the circumstances of life and by the powerful tools of his Word and Sacraments. And when we do good works, we give glory to our Master. We honor our Maker. Our actions are not to our glory but to his.
So what makes a good work? Any act of loving kindness performed out of thanks for the grace in which we live. A young bride once put a sign above her kitchen sink that read: “Divine services held here three times daily.” That sign was a reminder to her of what a good work is. It’s the smallest of things that we do to the glory of God as we live in his grace and as we live in thanks to him.
Have you ever been on vacation and said to yourself, “Now this is the life!”? Well in view of God’s great grace for us in bringing us to life when we were spiritually dead, we view the tasks of our daily routines differently. Driving the kids to school, being kind to your spouse (even when they’re grumpy), doing your homework to the best of your ability, occasionally making yourself available to that person that always seems to need you, all of these are more than just mundane tasks. They’re good works that God has prepared for us to do. And when we do them in view of the cross and in thanks to him, then we can say, “Now this is the life!”
Remember what you once were—spiritually dead, lifeless, corpses bound for an eternity of death in hell. And remember what you are—spiritually alive in every way, seated with Christ in the heavenly realms—brought to life, not by your efforts or your decision, but by God’s grace, by the Holy Spirit. For Jesus has come to bring you life. And as you continue to live your lives in thanks to him, then you’ll really live. You’ll live life to the full. You are alive through Jesus! This is most certainly true. Amen.