First the bad news: we wrote about that last time. Now the Good News. That is God’s order, which we see in the way He sets forth the day in Genesis. First evening, then morning. First darkness, then light.
The dimensions of the Good News are greater than the universe, so I am acutely conscious of the smallness of this blog entry. But simply put, the Good News is light shining in the darkness—light that opens the eyes of the spiritually blind. If it is just words (and oh, we have so much that is just words), people’s eyes will not be opened to see their grave condition. Make no mistake: the bad news of man’s spiritual state is very bad news; any thought people have that things are not all that bad is a serious deception with serious consequences. And people cannot be talked out of their blindness; their eyes must be opened so they may see and be convicted, and come to repentance, and turn from darkness to light, from the authority of Satan unto God (Acts 26:18).
Here again is that passage in Ephesians we enlarged on last time, and notice again how Paul sets forth the bad news in the past tense.
And you… who were dead in trespasses and sins
Wherein in time past ye walked according to the age of this world, according to the prince of the authority of the air, the spirit that now worketh in [energizes] the children of the disobedience;
Among whom we all had our conduct in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath even as others” (Eph. 2:1-3).
Why the past tense? It’s because the people to whom Paul is writing are “saints… the faithful in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 1:1). They are no longer in Adam, but are now, joy of joys, in Christ. And so he says that they were dead in trespasses and sins. Now they are alive with the life of Christ. Further, in the past they walked according to the age of this world and the spirit that has authority over the children of the disobedience. They walk this way no longer. They are no longer within that spirit’s domain. They are not under his authority now. They once had their conduct in the lusts of their flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind. Not anymore. They are no longer children of wrath.
What made this possible? Paul hastens on to tell us. He had introduced this passage with the words, “And you…” Now come the words, “But God…”
But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us
Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace are ye saved);
And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus;
That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Following the bad news that Paul has first opened our eyes to, this is good news, exceeding good news! It is mind blowing, in fact, stretching beyond its limits our capacity to comprehend it all. I read this and other passages, and… am I dreaming? Can this be true? Can mortal eyes actually be reading this? You mean those in Christ are no longer in the domain of sin and death? They are in another kingdom now, where grace and life reign? Is that not a wonder? Is that not astonishing good news? Yes! And cause for great joy!
Yet those words, “for His great love wherewith He loved us,” were written, I am sure, with tears, and we must go to other scriptures to find out more fully what this love involved. If those to whom Paul was writing had been quickened together with Christ, and raised up together with Him, and seated together with Him in the heavenlies, it was because through faith in Jesus and baptism into Christ they had become partakers of what God accomplished on the Cross of Calvary, where Christ was baptized into the death that Adam in his disobedience had brought upon himself and all his progeny. Since all those in Adam were dead in sin, Christ died to sin, so that all who are baptized into Him might be dead to sin and live unto God, unto righteousness (Rom. 6:1-11, 2 Pt. 2:24). He who knew no sin—shoes off, please—was made sin for us, that we might become nothing less than the very righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).
Back to the Ephesian passage: let’s continue to pay attention to some tenses, and the reason we are doing this is because all too often much of this is relegated to the future or to Heaven. Not so. Those to whom Paul was writing, those in Christ, were quickened (at a past point in time) together with Christ. They were raised together with Him. This is also the past tense. When did this happen? It happened when they were baptized into Christ. (It is baptism in Holy Spirit that accomplishes this, not baptism in water, which is also necessary. But this is a topic too large; it will have to wait for another time.) Baptized into Christ they are no longer in Adam now. They are in Christ; it is His resurrection life they are now partakers of. Walking with Christ in resurrection life is the present reality of those in Christ (Rom. 6:4). Further, they are even now seated together with Christ in the heavenlies. This also took place in their baptism into Christ, since this is where He Himself is seated at the right hand of God. Then comes the future, and what a future it is. “…That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” It appears that it takes eternal life in the ages to come to explore this great salvation that is in Christ.
And so when Paul now pens everybody’s favourite verse, let us bear in mind what he has in mind—the immense dimensions of the salvation he has just been speaking of:
For, by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.
Not of works lest any man should boast.
This is Good News—the salvation that God has freely prepared in Christ for any who are willing to receive Him. Salvation by grace through faith is the wondrous gift of God in Christ. (For salvation is not a product we receive apart from Christ Himself.) And yes, His grace means the forgiveness of sins because of His death. But much more, grace also means salvation from sin’s power in the life of an entirely new creation Man who is no longer under the reign of death. They have “passed from death to life” (Jn. 5:24). They have eternal life—even now (1 Jn. 5:13). In due time this eternal life will catch up to their bodies (Rom. 8:23), but even while yet in mortal flesh, those in Christ have eternal life, and even now reign in the power of that life (Rom. 5:17).
What Does This Look Like?
If this is the present reality of those in Christ—being made alive together with Christ, being raised up with Him, being seated with Him in the heavenlies—what does this look like? What does reigning in life look like while we are yet in mortal flesh?
It looks like love. Love is the primal characteristic of those who live, those in whom death no longer reigns.
We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him (1 Jn. 3:14,15).
Eternal life, then, reigning life, finds its expression in love. In its many facets of patience, endurance, faith, forbearance, forgiveness, humility, obedience… love is revealed, reigning where sin and death once reigned, ruling where pride once ruled. I think you may see where I’m coming from here, and where I’m going. Remember (from last time) the route that Lucifer mapped out for himself?
I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God,
I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation in the sides of the north:
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will be like the Most High. (Isa. 14:13,14)
Christ took a different route. He thought it not rapine—a thing to be taken and held by force—to be equal with God (Phil. 2:5-8). Rather, He emptied Himself, becoming in the likeness of men. No, not famous men, not rich men, not high men. He took on Him the form of a bondslave. And being found in fashion as a man He humbled Himself even further, and became obedient unto death. No, not a noble death, not a hero’s death. The death of a despised criminal. The lowest of the low. The death of a cross.
That is a different pathway than the one Lucifer sought to take, and into which he invited Adam to turn and walk with him, to the ruin of the race. Christ’s pathway was in the opposite direction—His motive was love—to the salvation of a new race. Being found in fashion as a man, instead of seeking the heights, instead of seeking to ascend into heaven, instead of seeking to sit in a throne above the stars of God, instead of seeking to ascend above the heights of the clouds, Christ descended into the lower parts of the earth—which meant taking upon Himself the apron of a bondslave who washed the feet of others, always the duty of the lowest slave. “I am among you,” He told His disciples, “as one who serves” (Lk. 22:27). He called this service love (Jn. 13:1).
But then, His love going deeper, He went even further, and walked in obedience unto death, a death that was in His case unjust. Yet this route took Him to the destination that Lucifer never arrived to by his own self-seeking route.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him… (Phil. 2:9).
His motive was love. He is there for our sake, not His own, that in the power of His Spirit we may live as He lives, love as He loves—reign as He reigns, in our own cross, and in all circumstances, just as He reigned in His. This, beloved, is the way of salvation—the way of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the way of the Cross—the way love. He humbled Himself and become obedient unto death, even the death of a cross. It was there on the Cross that He died to the root of pride in the heart of man. His humiliation is our salvation. Those who are seated together with Him in the heavenlies—it is His throne they are in, it is He who is exalted. Gone now is any thought of exalting our own throne, gone is the Serpent’s poisonous thought of reigning above the stars; rather, we reign in the humility of Christ, knowing that the kings of God’s kingdom are servants of all, bondslaves who serve others in love, laying down their lives for one another in love. As their Lord had done, so do they (Jn. 3:16, 1 Jn. 3:16). This is their greatest honour.
It is the lowliness and love of God in Christ that overcame the pride of the Serpent that man was infected with in the beginning. Instead of the poison of the Serpent coursing through us—pride, envy, malice, hatred—the love and humility of God now flows in and through those who are in Christ, motivating all they say and do. That is salvation.
And what is the purpose of all this—this so great salvation? It is to the intent that God may be glorified in a Man who is His very image and likeness. God said in the beginning, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” and formed Adam of the dust of the ground. The Serpent determined to efface that image, and did. So entered the bad news. But God foiled the Serpent in his purpose, for, even before the beginning God had the Good News in mind, and in the fullness of time, brought forth out of Adam another Man. His eternal purpose was not in Adam, but “in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:11). It is this Man who is the true image of God (2 Cor. 4:4, Heb. 1:3). But when this Man came on the scene, Satan determined to efface Him as well. He was foiled again. This time utterly. In the wisdom of God, the very cross upon which Satan conspired to have Christ crucified became our salvation.
And so it turns out that what we said about the Good News following the bad news—yes, that’s true, but God had the Good News in mind even before the bad news. He could never have endured the bad news of what was going on in his creature man if He had not, before it all, prepared “a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:18). This was God’s comfort of hope in the bad news He knew was coming. The Gospel. The Glad Tidings. The Good News. The Lamb of God. Our Lord Jesus Christ.