Trinity Eighteen – Sunday October 20, 2019
Sermon for Trinity Eighteen –7/10/11 – October 20, 2019
Calvary/Marquette ● Soli Deo Gloria
Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Ephesians 2:1-7 (ESV)
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
In the Name of Jesus Christ,
The expression of God’s mercy,
Dear Fellow Redeemed in His Blood –
What good can a corpse do?
This may sound like a ridiculous and somewhat macabre question. Most of you no doubt would answer: “A corpse can do nothing – good or bad.” It’s true. A corpse is without life and thus unable to do anything.
Why ask such a seemingly foolish question?
Well, the Bible reveals that there are different types of death. Normally when we think of death, we think of temporal death, which might be simply described as the separation of soul and body. When a person passes into temporal death, they are unable to ‘do’ anything because…they are dead.
Still, a person can be physically alive but spiritually dead. As natural born sinners, we are all born spiritually dead…our souls are separated from God through unbelief. We are born again through baptism, made spiritually alive by the Holy Spirit (cf. John 3:5-6). So, a human being can be alive and kicking…but still spiritually dead, dead to God and His will.
Finally, a person can be eternally dead (i.e., both physically and spiritually dead). A person who dies (temporally) without faith in Christ (spiritually dead) is eternally dead, eternally separated from God and His goodness forever in Hell.
Since we agree that a physically dead person can’t do anything…let me ask my original question another way:
“What good can a spiritual corpse do?” Can an unbeliever, a person without faith in Christ, and therefore without spiritual life, do good? I suppose that depends upon what is meant by good…good outwardly, laudable in the eyes of other men (who cannot see the heart) – OR – good inwardly, in the eyes of God? It depends on what you mean by ‘good.’
This morning we study what the Lutheran Confessions call ‘Free Will.’ We will essentially be asking: “What good can a person who is spiritually dead (a spiritual corpse) do?” We will see the answer is illustrated simply in the second Chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesian Christians.
May God the Holy Spirit again take captive our hearts and minds that we may hear, comprehend and grow from our study of God’s Word. Therefore we pray: “Sanctify us by the Truth, O Lord, Thy Word is Truth.” Amen.
“Does a human being by nature have the desire or ability to choose to do good in God’s sight?” This basic question has been discussed and debated by people in Christian churches for hundreds of years. How the question is answered colors the theology of a number of different Christian churches today, especially Roman Catholicism and some of the Reformed Churches.
In fact, this very question led to a confrontation of sorts in 1525. In September of 1524, a famous scholar named Erasmus wrote a booklet entitled: “On Free Will.” In this book Erasmus said that sinful human beings do have the ability to do both good and evil in God’s sight.
In December of 1525, Martin Luther responded with a booklet entitled: “The Bondage of the Will.” Martin Luther showed from the Bible that sinful human beings by nature do not have Free Will to do what is good in God’s sight, but are in fact ‘bound’ to do evil because of their sinful natures.
Now for the sake of clarity, we are NOT asking:
- Whether or not Adam and Eve had ‘free will’ – the ability to do what is good in God’s sight before they sinned. They were created in the image of God, righteous and holy. They had the ability to choose to do good or to do evil. When they chose evil, they lost the ability to do good – they lost the image of God. We are born into this world in the image of sinful Adam.
- Whether believers who are renewed in God’s image have the desire to do what is righteous after being brought to Faith. Those who have been brought to faith in Christ by the Spirit of God want (according to the New Man) to do what pleases God, but because of their sinful natures they often fail and sin.
- Whether believers will have free will after the Resurrection of the Dead. For fully restored to the image of God, they will no longer have a sinful nature to contend with.
What we ARE ASKING is if human beings who have NOT been brought to faith can do what is righteous in God’s sight. Since those who do not believe have not been born again by the working of the Holy Spirit, they are spiritually dead. It is our purpose today, then, to answer this question in accord with Scripture:
Can a spiritual corpse, an unbeliever do any good?
If I were to say without any qualification that an unbeliever can’t do ANYTHING GOOD…some of you might question the statement.
After all –
- Aren’t there millionaire philanthropists who give boatloads of money for cancer research?
- Aren’t there people who define themselves as atheists who nonetheless give generously to feed the poor?
- Can’t people who aren’t Christians decide to obey the laws of the land?
- Can’t they decide not to speed or steal or murder and live outwardly commendable lives?
Well, Aren’t those good things? It is a good thing when human beings obey the civil authorities and the laws of the land. Sinful human beings do have the ability to live outwardly commendable lives and to do things that are of benefit to others.
In earthly, civil matters, human beings do have the ability to obey and to do well; and yes, this is a good thing. Still, there are different reasons, different motives for doing such things. In many cases the motive is fear of the consequence of breaking the law…NOT love for God. The ‘why’ they do such things matters a great deal.
A spiritual corpse can do good in the earthly realm. An unbeliever can decide to go to church. An unbeliever can decide to listen to the sermon or not to listen.
But a spiritual corpse (an unbeliever) cannot decide to believe the Word of God or to trust in Christ. It is as we all learned and confess in the explanation of the Third Article:
“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, nor come to Him. But the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the one true faith.”
A spiritual corpse is unable to do good or make himself acceptable to God. An unbeliever cannot decide to believe in God with his whole heart or banish evil thoughts from his heart. He can’t do these things …because he is spiritually dead. The problem that every natural born sinner has is illustrated here in the letter to the Ephesians.
In an effort to move the Ephesians to thanksgiving for all that GOD had done for them, the Apostle Paul urges them to remember the past, the time before they were believers and exactly what their spiritual condition was…
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins
The Ephesians were not the exception, but the rule. They were ‘normal’ human beings. They lived just like any other people on the face of the earth. Yet, because of sin they were by nature born -- “dead in trespasses and sins.” They were dead to God. They didn’t know Him or His will. They didn’t know what God did for them in Christ. They were spiritual corpses and it showed in the way they walked, in the way they lived…
2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—
They lived according to course of this world, by the system that has existed since the fall into sin and the invasion of sin and death. In other words, they lived as seemed best in their own eyes. They lived for themselves, putting their own desires first. No doubt they subscribed to the same godless attitudes that still exist in our society:
- “It’s not wrong unless you get caught.”
- “If you are married you can look, but you can’t touch.”
They may have thought that they were ‘in charge of their lives’ but the truth was that they were ‘following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit at work in the sons of disobedience.’ They were living life to the fullest…but being guided by the flesh and under the control of Satan they were headed down the wide road that leads to destruction (cf. Matthew 7:13-14).
How could it be any other way? They were conceived and born in sin! They weren’t the exception, but the rule and Paul included himself among them (by nature):
3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
It seems natural to live according to the evil desires that arise from within us. It seems good to satisfy our basest desires. But there is a consequence to following through on sinful desires. The wages of sin is not success or popularity…but death. In following their own sinful desires, they became by nature children of wrath…just like everyone else.
They were in the crosshairs of God’s judgment. Their lives angered God every day and in His justice, God was prepared to condemn and destroy them. But they were blissfully unaware…because they were dead in trespasses and sins, spiritual corpses. They had no power to change themselves or their relationship with God…and God doesn’t grade on a curve.
There could be no happy ending for them…except if God Himself intervened. If you were paying attention along the way then you caught the hints that what they had once been (spiritual corpses) they no longer were…they once walked according to the course of this world, once lived according to sinful desires and were children of wrath…
If this were a work of fiction, then the successful change would be credited to the Ephesians themselves. We would be told how they turned their lives around or made their decision for Christ. We would be told how they made a change for the better.
This isn’t fiction. The truth is that they were spiritually dead. DEAD…there is no mostly dead. They couldn’t turn their lives around or decide to believe in Christ. They couldn’t change for the better. Spiritual corpses cannot please God; the Word of God is plain on this matter (Romans 8:7-8 ESV; 1 Corinthians 2:14 NKJV):
7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
The Ephesians did not choose to believe in God. They did not decide for Christ. Human beings do not by nature come to God or seek after Him, and there is no exception (Romans 3:10-11):
10 As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one;11 There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.
It was true in Ephesus and it’s still true today. God takes the initiative with the spiritually dead. He sends his people to speak His Word and in that Word the Spirit of God comes to grant faith, to make alive and give spiritual life. The Ephesian success story is credited entirely to God from beginning to end.
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
I’m sure you’ve all heard the often-repeated cliché – “There is no ‘I’ in ‘Team.’ I submit that there is no “I” in convert, regenerate, or save. God was the deciding factor in Ephesus and in our world today.
It was something in God that made it happen…it was His mercy, His love, His grace. The credit, the praise, the glory belongs to God, not to the Ephesians, and not to us. He who granted us physical life also sought us and chose us and raised us up to spiritual life through Word and Sacrament.
- They were spiritual corpses, dead in sins…until GOD made them alive together with Christ. God didn’t fan a spark of good in them to live…he made them alive who were spiritual corpses.
- They were without hope…until GOD’s undeserved love sent Christ to the cross. God’s grace decided it should be this way, not some quality in them.
- They knew only an imperfect love …until the Holy Spirit granted them faith to grasp Christ’s love perfect for them. They would have lived out their lives and entered into eternal death were it not for God’s Love for them.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! So we sang to begin the service this morning. These words from Ephesians confirm that God broke sin’s chain and raised us up to spiritual life from spiritual death. He saved us!
Yet, so many today would take credit for what GOD has done. Reformed preachers like Billy Graham invite people to come to Jesus and to choose or decide for Christ. Might just as well invite a corpse in a casket at a funeral to join the congregation for a little lunch!
But Jesus once said plainly to His disciples (John 6:44):
44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.
When his own disciples would have credited themselves with having chosen Him…He set them straight, saying (John 15:16):
16 You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.
Praise God for His great mercy, love and grace. Praise Him until your last breath that He chose you and made you His own when you by nature were a spiritual corpse.
What good can a corpse do? This question was never meant to be a foolish question, but an illustration of the divinely inspired truth about Free Will.
Can a spiritual corpse do any good?
- In civil and earthly matters sinful human beings can, to an extent do what is good and right…even though it does not benefit them or their relationship with God.
- In spiritual and eternal matters sinful human beings are bound to do evil. Unless God intervenes and grants spiritual life through the gift of faith, it is impossible without faith to please God.
Lord, Tis not that I did choose Thee; That, I know, could never be: For this heart would still refuse Thee Had Thy grace not chosen me. Thou hast from the sin that stained me washed and cleansed and set me free and unto this end ordained me that I ever live to thee (TLH 37:1). Amen.