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Sermon #27 — Ephesians Sermons
Title: “But God”
Text: Ephesians 2:4
Subject: God’s Operations of Grace
Readings: Rex Bartley and Mark Henson
I read something many years ago written by a great old preacher by the name of Roland Hill. He said, “Every sermon ought to contain the three R’s.” He wasn’t talking about reading, writing, and arithmetic.
These are the three R’s Rowland Hill said every sermon ought to contain. He said…
1. “Every sermon ought to contain ruin by the fall.” Every sermon ought to tell us what happened in the Garden.
2. “Every sermon ought to contain redemption by the blood.” Every sermon ought to tell eternity bound sinners what happened on the cross.
3. “Every sermon ought to contain regeneration by the Holy Ghost.” Every sermon ought to tell men and women how God saves and what happens in a sinner when God saves him by his grace.
I have patterned my ministry after those words, seeking to have every sermon I preach, contain the three R’s: Ruin by The Fall, Redemption by The Blood, and Regeneration by the Holy Ghost.
I want you to turn today to the Book of Ephesians chapter 2. Let’s see if I can preach this message entitled — “BUT GOD,” and point out the three R’s. It would be a good education in the Gospel if we could learn the three R’s.
Here, in Ephesians chapter 2 the apostle Paul paints a dark, dark picture, gloomy picture of our race. It is the same picture drawn by all the prophets and apostles used of God to write this Book. — We are all sinners, by nature lost and ruined by the sin and fall of our father Adam.
Paul doesn’t paint this picture any darker than it should be or any darker than it has been painted by those who preceded him. For example: Moses wrote in Genesis 6:5, — “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
Then, Job wrote in chapter 15:14, — “Behold, he putteth no trust in his saints. Yea, the heavens are not clean in his sight. How much more abominable and filthy is man, which drinketh iniquity like water.”
Then David, in Psalm 14, verses 2 and 3, said, — “The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men.” And he found that “They are all gone aside. They are altogether become filthy. There is none that doeth good, no not one.” David wrote again, — “Man at his best state is altogether vanity.”
Listen to Isaiah in 64:6. He said, — “We are as all an unclean thing.” Prior to this he said; “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips. I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” Here he says, “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses (our goodness), are as filthy rags; and we do all fade as a leaf; and our iniquities like the wind, have taken us away.” Oh my, what a black, black picture of humanity!
Listen as Paul takes up this picture and paints it himself. He says in Ephesians 2:1 that we were dead. — “And you who were dead in trespasses and sin.”
What are trespasses? Have you ever seen a sign on the side of a fence out in the woods or out on a farm somewhere that says, “No Trespassing?” That means you are not to walk on that land. Trespassing is walking on forbidden property, on forbidden ground.
That’s what we are, trespassers. God said, “Thou shalt not, thou shalt not, thou shalt not,” and we did anyway. We are trespassing; we are dead in our trespasses and in our sins. — “By one man sin entered the world and death by sin, so death by sin passed upon all men.” And “the wages of sin is death.”
That’s what killed us. Our sins killed us. Paul says that we are dead. Somebody might say, “There’s a little life in everybody.” No, we are dead spiritually. We are not dead mentally or dead physically, but we are dead spiritually.
God said, “Adam; in the day that you eat of that fruit, you will die.” He died and we died in him. That is what the Scripture says and this is what Paul is saying here. — “You who were dead, dead in your trespasses and in your sins.”
Watch this. — “Ye walked.” That was our walk, our lives, and the bent of our wills. — “We walked according to the course of this world,” just like all other rebels. — “All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned everyone to his own way.”
“Ye walked according to the course of this world.” — We lived not according to God’s Word and not according to God’s will but according to the “prince of the power of the air, (Satan), who now worketh in the children of disobedience.”
We were will-worshippers and “we had our conversation (our behavior, our manner of life), in the lust of our flesh.” — We didn’t care about our souls. We cared for our bodies. We were driven by greed, covetousness, materialism, passions, and ambitions. We had our behavior in the desires and passions of our flesh. That is all that we cared about.
Not only that, we were slaves to the lusts of our flesh and the desires of our mind. What we did not do, we thought. There are restraints on the flesh; there are all kinds of fences about the flesh that prevent men from doing what they would do.
There are no fences around the imagination. There is no restraint on the imagination. Nothing is safe and nothing is holy from the human mind and the human heart. We may not do something; but we think it. Others do it, and we condemn them with self-righteous glee. But we think it, and justify ourselves, as if we were righteous! But the fact is, we are all by nature slaves to the lusts of our flesh and the desires of our mind. That’s where we were when God called us by his grace. And that’s what we are by nature.
God looks on the heart. He said, “Ye are they which justify yourselves before men but God looketh on your heart.” That which is highly esteemed among men and that which men brag on, that good reputation that we have, that men think so much of, “That which is highly esteemed among men is an abomination to God. God looketh on the heart!”
Back here in Ephesians 2, Paul goes on to say, “Ye were (by birth and nature) children of wrath,” who’s wrath” God’s wrath. We were angry with God and our consciences sensed God’s anger with us. You might say, “I’m not angry with God.” The Scripture says, “The carnal mind is enmity against God.” All of us, by nature, are God haters!
Men do not hate their god, the gods of their imagination. Men do not hate their conception of God. Men hate the true and living God as he is revealed in his Word and as He is revealed in the person and work of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. That hatred of God was demonstrated and is proved by the treatment that God’s Son received when he came to this earth.
He was and is the perfect God and the perfect man. He lived on this earth perfect righteousness, perfect goodness, perfect holiness. And men spit in his face and nailed him to a cross and said, “We are not going to have you reign over us. We will let Caesar reign over us. We will let our Pharisees reign over us but God is not going to reign over us.”
We hated God and our consciences screamed that God was angry, justly angry, with us. The Scripture says, “God is angry with the wicked every day. We are children of wrath even as others. He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”
Who are these “others?” Even as the angels that kept not their first estate, even as citizens of Noah’s generation, before the flood, of whom God said, “I will destroy man that I have made.” Even as the Sodomites, even as those who crucified Christ, for the Scripture says, “there is no difference; all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
Oh my, what a terrible picture! What a horrible revelation! What a hopeless situation! — Dead, dead in trespasses and sin, walking in the bent of our will, the direction of our lives, walking the course of this world!
We are slaves, servants, bond-servants, of the prince of the power of the air, having our conversation in the lust of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of our flesh and our mind, by nature, under God’s judgment, under God’s wrath. What a terrible revelation!
Is there no hope? Is there no hope? Jeremiah said there’s no hope as far as you are concerned. — “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil.”
Is there no hope? Christ said, “With men it is impossible.” The disciples said to him, “Who then can be saved?” If that’s the condition of the best man we ever knew, “Who then can be saved?”
He said, “With men it is impossible.” What God demands we can’t produce. What God commands we can’t produce. What justice demands we can’t give. It’s impossible! — “But with God all things are possible!”
Here is what Paul says: — “We were dead.” He said, “We followed the course of this world. We are children of wrath.” Is there no hope? Is there no remedy? Is there no help?
Yes; there is good news. Look at verse 4. — “But God!” — “But God” — That is our hope. There is nothing that I can do, “but God.” There is something that God can do.
Shamefully, there is nothing that I wanted to do, “but God.” There is nothing anyone else could do, “but God.” That’s my hope, two little words, “but God.” We were “born in sin, shapen in iniquity, brought forth speaking lies.”
We were estranged from the womb, speaking lies, guilty, without hope, without help, without God, and without Christ. I was at my wits end, without strength, “but God!” Do you see that?
“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love, wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sin (even when we were in this condition), “But God who is rich in mercy, for his great love, wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sin hath quickened us together with Christ, by grace, (Not by works, by grace! Not by decision, by grace!), by grace are you saved.”
“He hath raised us up together and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ in, that the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.”
Do you want a summary of my theology? Here it is in two words. — “But God!” I believe my friend, in the total, complete, ruin of the human race. I believe in the total depravity of the human race.
It is seen in your children. You don’t have to teach your children to lie. They are born knowing how to lie. You don’t have to teach your children to hate. They are born knowing how to hate.
You have to teach them to love. You have to correct them. You have to bribe them. You have to reward them. You have to do everything under the sun to get them to do the right thing. But they are born knowing how to do the wrong thing.
Why is it so much easier to think evil than to think well? — Why is there so much easier to hate than to love? — Why is it so much easier to hold a grudge than to forgive? I know the answer. It is because of the wretched condition we are in because we were born in Adam, shapen in iniquity, conceived in sin, brought forth into this world, enemies of God, but God. — “But God!”
Men are dead in sin, guilty before the law, unable to please God, and unwilling to bow to Christ, “but God” is going to do something about it. — “But God!” He’s the only one who can. If you look to a preacher you are hopeless. If you look to a creed you are helpless, — “But God!”
Do you want the good news in a word, just a word; here it is. Here is the good news, — “But God!” We were without hope, without help, without Christ, — “But God!” God purposed, God planned, God determined to do something about it, and God did what he planned, purposed, and determined.
God is going to have a people. We would not God. But God said, “I will be their God; and they shall be my people!” God is going to have a people. That’s exactly right! We didn’t want God; but he wanted us. And God will have his will!
Do you want the sinner’s hope briefly stated? — “But God!” — “But God, God commended his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” Do you want the remedy for ruin? Here it is. The remedy is not what you have done for God. It is what God has done for us, “But God!” God said…
(Ezekiel 16:6-14) “And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live. (7) I have caused thee to multiply as the bud of the field, and thou hast increased and waxen great, and thou art come to excellent ornaments: thy breasts are fashioned, and thine hair is grown, whereas thou wast naked and bare. (8) Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord GOD, and thou becamest mine. (9) Then washed I thee with water; yea, I throughly washed away thy blood from thee, and I anointed thee with oil. (10) I clothed thee also with broidered work, and shod thee with badgers’ skin, and I girded thee about with fine linen, and I covered thee with silk. (11) I decked thee also with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thy hands, and a chain on thy neck. (12) And I put a jewel on thy forehead, and earrings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thine head. (13) Thus wast thou decked with gold and silver; and thy raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and broidered work; thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil: and thou wast exceeding beautiful, and thou didst prosper into a kingdom. (14) And thy renown went forth among the heathen for thy beauty: for it was perfect through my comeliness, which I had put upon thee, saith the Lord GOD.”
There you are, there you are, in Adam, dead in trespasses and sin. You are hopeless and helpless. “None eye pitied thee” in your blood, in your filth, in your corruption, in your depravity, in your deadness, in your grave of iniquity, unwilling and unable, and God came by, “But God!” — Do you see? He said, “I saw you just like you were, and I loved you anyway.” — “But God commended his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners.”
You might say, “Preacher; I don’t like that picture of men.” I don’t like it either but it is so. I don’t like iniquity. I don’t like corruption. I don’t like the open field of pollution either, but it is so.
You are not going to make it go away by denying it. You are not going to make it go away by not preaching it. You are not going to make it go away by refusing to believe it. It is so; and God says that it is so.
“There is none that doeth good, none, no not one.” — You can trace these words all the way through the Scriptures. This theme goes from Genesis 1:1. Look at Adam after he had taken the forbidden fruit at the insistence of his wife Eve, and at the temptation of Satan.
He had taken that forbidden fruit and he had eaten it. He knew fear. He had never known fear before. He knew shame. He knew hate, he knew self-righteousness, and all of these things he had never known before. He covered himself and ran and hid from God. — Foolishness!
Adam was a brilliant man. Here is cringing and cowering in the bushes, hiding from God. Can you imagine that, the omnipresent God? What a fool Adam!
That is what sin does. It made a fool out of all of us. God said, “Where are you Adam?” He said, “I was afraid and I hid myself.” God said, “What have you done?” He said, “I have eaten the fruit.” God said, “You are dead.”
No hope Adam. You are dead. You are separated from God, dead. — “But God!” — “But God!” He said, “I will send my Son. I will send the seed of woman. He’ll crush the serpent’s head. He’ll redeem! He’ll save!”
You see, in that darkness, “but God” gave life. In that death, “but God” gave life. In that helplessness, “but God” announced the victory.
Then you come to the flood. God is going to destroy the whole world, “but Noah found grace in the eyes of God.”
How about when Israel was down in Egypt in bondage? They didn’t have a sword to fight with. They didn’t have a leader to lead them. They didn’t have an organization. They didn’t have an army. They didn’t have anything. — “But God” sent a Moses!
You might say, “Well; I sure am glad that Israel decided to come out of there.” Israel didn’t decide to do anything. They would be there yet if it hadn’t been for God, just like you and me. We would still be in our iniquity if it hadn’t been for God, — “But God!” That is what I am saying. Your salvation is not what you have done for yourself or for God. Your salvation is what God in grace through Christ has done for you.
Look at Israel standing in front of the Red Sea. There’s the water in front of them, the impassable ocean. The mountains stood high on both sides and Pharaoh and the Egyptian army with all of its power and weapons were coming behind them.
They said, “We are going to die right here,” — “But God” opened the Red sea. “But God;” it is always “but God.” It is always God who moves in mercy, love, and grace toward the sinner.
You see, “Salvation is of the Lord.” He planned it. He purposed it. He purchased it. He executed it in the person of his Son. He executes it and applies it to the hearts of chosen, redeemed, needy sinners. He sustains it and perfects it by his grace. “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” He will make all of his children like his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Religious people never weary of talking about what they have done, are doing, and plan to do for God, what they have given up for Jesus, and what they have done for themselves. — “Lord; have we not prophesied in your name? Have we not cast out devils in thy name? Have we not done many wonderful works in thy name?”
They never weary about talking about what they have done. “Lord; I fast twice a week and give tithes of all that I possess.” They never weary of talking about what they have done.
The apostle Paul didn’t talk about he did. He said, “I was dead in sin,” dead, dead, dead. “I walked according to the course of this world. I followed the prince of the power of the air. I walked in a satanic way.”
“I fulfilled the lust of my flesh and the desires of my mind (the pride of my life).” I was under a just sentence and condemnation. I was lying in the open field polluted in my blood, “but God, but God!”
Rich in Mercy
That’s my theology. That’s my doctrine. That’s my history. That’s my experience. That’s my message. — “But God!” That’s good news because he is the only one who can do anything about this mess we are in. “But God!” What about God? Let’s read on:
It says, “But God is rich in mercy.” Our guilt is higher than the mountains and is deeper than the sea. “But God” is so rich (rich in what?) “God is rich in mercy.”
Ask Mary Magdalene about the riches of his mercy, seven devils living in one woman and our Lord Jesus Christ was rich in mercy to her.
Ask Saul of Tarsus who was wrapped up in his religious hatred, in his religious tradition, in his religious pride. Oh what an arrogant, haughty, proud, religionist he was! He was a legalist and a moralist.
He said, “Concerning the law I was blameless.” Arrogance and haughtiness! God hates it worse than anything. There are seven things God hates, the first of which is pride.
Ask Saul of Tarsus about the riches of God’s grace. Saul persecuted our Lord’s Church. He put God’s saints in prison. He haled them to prison and had them put to death. He held the coats of those who stoned the first Christian martyr. He stood there in smug, self-righteous indignation, and watched him die. Ask him about the riches of God’s mercy.
Ask the woman at the well. She was married five times and was living with a man who was not her husband. She was the talk of the town. She was hiding, sleeking her way to the well at high noon. Ask her about the riches of his mercy.
Or, the thief on the cross, that out-cast that the out-cast cast out. They took him outside the city wall and nailed him to a tree. Ask him about the riches of God’s mercy, “but God who is rich in mercy.” That’s what I am trying to preach.
I am saying that our God is “plenteous in redemption.” I am saying that our God “delighteth in mercy!” I am saying that Christ Jesus “is able (and willing) to save to the uttermost, them that come to God by him.”
Listen to me! — Your sins will never keep you from Christ. Your righteousness will and your goodness will and your religion and tradition will. That is what kept the Pharisees from Christ, their righteousness and traditions.
He is the friend of sinners. He delights to show mercy. He came to save sinners. Your sins won’t keep you from Christ. “Oh; I’m too great a sinner!” Come on; “though your sins be as scarlet I will make them white as snow.”
“Though they be red like crimson they shall be as wool. Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Your sins will never keep you out of heaven but your righteousness will and your goodness will. “Christ died for the ungodly.” That is what the Scripture says.
I will tell you what will keep you out of heaven, it is your false claim to righteousness, your unwillingness to lay hold upon Jesus Christ.” That will bar heaven’s door. Your sins won’t keep you out. — “He delighteth in mercy.”
“Come ye sinners, poor and needy
Weak and wounded, sick and sore.
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, grace, and power.
Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor a fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness Christ requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.”
God is rich in mercy!
“Not the righteous, not the righteous,
Sinners, Jesus came to save.”
Have you learned it? He is rich in mercy and delights to show mercy. He is always ready to show mercy.
Look at the next line. — “But God who is rich in mercy for his great love wherewith he loved us!” We didn’t love God. We loved ourselves. Do you want to see man’s hatred for God? Do you really want to see man’s hatred for God?
God sent his son into this world, the perfect God-man. His lips never spoke an evil word. His mind never thought an evil thought. His hand never reached out except in goodness and grace to lift somebody’s burden, or to heal somebody’s sickness, or to feed somebody’s hunger. The Lord Jesus Christ is perfect before God and men; yet, they despised him and rejected him. — “He was a man of sorrows acquainted with grief.” They turned him over to soldiers who persecuted him and mocked him and wounded him.
They spit in his face and nailed him to a cross. They stood around and laughed while he died. No! We didn’t love God. “Gut God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us. Herein is love, not that we love God but that he loved us and gave his Son as a propitiation for our sins.”
“Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade, —
To write the love of God above
Would drain that ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky!”
“Preacher; you don’t praise men at all.” — There is nothing about men to praise. “You don’t see any dignity in the flesh at all.” I see depravity in the flesh. “But you don’t give men any credit for their works.” If they had any I would; but there is nothing about men to praise and our works are works of iniquity. Any grace that we have is God’s grace. Any love is God’s love. Any fruit is God’s fruit. That is what the Scripture says. — “From me is thy fruit found!” — “Of him are you in Christ Jesus.” That is how I got that. — “Who of God is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption that as it is written; he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”
That’s hard for our flesh to take; but it is true. Truth is always exacting and demanding and unchanging, and is always hard on the flesh. There is nothing good in us, “but God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sin, he hath quickened us together with Christ!”
Do you know anything about representation? Adam was our representative. — “In Adam we die.” Christ is our Representative. — In Christ we live. In Adam we die and in Christ we are made alive. We lived in Christ the perfect life of obedience, holiness, and righteousness. We obeyed the law in Christ. We went to the cross and died in Christ under the penalty and wrath of God’s judgment. When God Almighty raised Christ from the dead he raised us from the dead.
“But God!” — I repeat, That’s my theology. That’s my doctrine. That’s my history. That’s my experience. That’s my message. — “But God!”
· Like Jacob, the Labans of my flesh did everything to destroy me; “but God” suffered them not to hurt me (Genesis 31:7).
Like Joseph’s brothers, everything hell unleashed upon me
was meant against me for evil, “but God” meant it for good (Genesis
· Like David, the Saul of hell sought every day of my life to destroy me, “but God delivered me not into his hand” (1 Samuel 23:14).
· I was lost and ruined, beyond the reach of any, unrighteous, ungodly, unfit for anything but hell, and without hope; “but God commendeth his love” toward me in that while I was yet such a wretch, Christ died for me (Romans 5:8).
· I am often tempted, tempted on every side, tempted from without and from within, “but God” with the temptation makes a way of escape for my soul (1 Corinthians 10:13).
· I have been “sick nigh unto death,” “but God had mercy on me” and raised me up (Philippians 2:27).
· “My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26)
· Soon, I will be “laid in the grave. Death shall feed on me.” — “But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave; for he shall receive me. Selah.” (Psalm 49:15).
“We were dead; but God who is rich in mercy for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses and sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (By grace ye are saved!).” But that’s not all. — “And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together with Christ in heavenly places in Christ Jesus; that in the ages to come he might show (show off to the whole universe) the riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus!”