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Monday, September 8, 2014

Truly Human and Truly Alive (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

            Certain passages from scripture need no introduction.
            “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
            “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the father except through me”(John 14:6).
            “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1).

            And this one:
            26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind[c] in our image, according to our likeness; … .”
27 So God created humankind[e] in his image,
    in the image of God he created them;[f]
    male and female he created them.

31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good (Genesis 1:26a, 27, 29).

            God created with a plan in mind: the pinnacle of creation would not be the breathtaking sites of nature, the peaks of the Himalayas, the Northern lights, the endless blue of the ocean at the equator, or any other natural wonder.  Nor would the ultimate of all God made be any cosmological phenomenon.  God’s plan reached God’s purpose with the forming of you and me - humans. 
            The crucial point in God’s scheme was the creation of free agents – beings who could actually choose to go God’s away or to go against God.  In a sense, God created sin because God made beings – humans – who had the capacity to choose sin.  And with that choice available, we took it.  From Adam and Eve to Hitler to most of what is seen at the movies to you and me and everyone in between and everyone hereafter, humans sin.  Every one.  Jesus is the exception, the only person to be a human being and not at some point rebel against God.
            In Romans, Paul indicates the cumulative effect of thousands of years of human rejection of God’s authority (Romans 8). 
            18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

            Something was lost when the first humans sinned.  We have continued to be more and more lost ever since.  Some authors suggest, we today are not even like the original humans. We are weaker, live shorter lives, and have more limitations on us in all aspects of living.  Sin has brought about degradation so that God’s good creation is now something less than it was at the start. 
N.T. Wright imagines humans who have rejected God.  Here is how he says it.  “Hell is what happens when human beings say to the God in whose image they were made, ‘we don’t want to worship you.  We don’t want our human life to be shaped by worshiping you.  We don’t want who we are as humans transformed by the love of Jesus, dying and rising for us.  We don’t want any of that.  We want to stay as we are and do our own thing.’  And if you do that, you’re saying you want to stop being an image-bearing human being within this good world God has made.  You’re colluding with your own progressive dehumanization. … The reality is … sober and sad. …  [It is a] progressive shrinking of human life that happens during this life.  If someone resolutely says to God, ‘I am not going to worship you,’” and, “deep down [in the heart] there is rejection of the good creator God.”  That is a choice we can make and God will honor that choice.  And then, stuck in sin with no hope of regeneration or redemption, we degrade so much we become no longer human but something grotesque and unrecognizable. 
            Biology and other sciences that study the ancient earth’s origin and the beginnings of humanity offer explanation for how we got here.  Theology, simply put, is a word about God.  Can there be comprehensive understanding of the world that accounts for science and theology?   The assertion that sin has effected a de-evolution of creation does not make sense from the view of Darwin’s theory of evolution, which is amoral.  I generally accept the explanations today’s biologists, physicists, and geologists give for the origins of the universe and of life on earth.  But I don’t think those explanations are perfect and I do not think they account for everything that exists.  Those disciplines are not able to anticipate the future in the way Christian faith can, informed by God’s plan as we are.
            Well, so what? 
Last week, we looked at what we know of God in Christ by looking at the activity of God described in Ephesians 1.  In Christ, we know God.  This week, we see in Ephesians 2 that in Christ we are alive. 
            “Alive” can mean breathing, heart beating, and maybe there are other conditions that need to be present for a technical definition of “alive.”  In Ephesians 2 “alive” means more than that.  When the first humans were truly alive, God could see His own image in each – in male and in female.  The world was so right, completely absent of sin, death, or corruption, that God declared it “very good.”  When Ephesians 2:5 says we are “made alive together with Christ,” it is declaring we are again in a state that is “very good.”
            I don’t think this means a return to Genesis as if the Fall never happened and the forbidden fruit was never eaten.  Salvation is not an eraser that eliminates history.  Salvation happens within history, redeeming the story.  In Jesus, God took on the particularities of gender, time, nationality, and socio-economic class.  Jesus was not just a person, he was a man, the son of Joseph and Mary.  He was not just a man.  He was a first century, Jewish man.  He was of the tradesmen, son of a carpenter. 
God, in Christ, stepped into the gradually decaying world, the world undone by sin.  “Made alive together with Christ” is the insistence that in spite of the undeniable corruption of earth it will be “very good” again.  It is not a harkening back to Eden.  It is an act of Christ that has future consequences and that determines the eternal reality – the coming together of Heaven and Earth.  Salvation also says a lot about our present reality.
We are loved (v.4).  The reason God brings life to us – to we who are fallen in sin – is God loves us.  Ephesians 1:5 states plainly that sin (trespasses in the NRSV) leads to death.  Progressive dehumanization, N.T. Wright called it.  Our sins are not just acts.  They are acts that accumulate and also indicate our condition.  Without ceasing, we slip away from what we were created to be – God’s image bearers.  But God will not just watch us go.  God loves us too much.  So, he comes as Jesus. 
Then the cross, then the resurrection, and then as we respond t0 the Holy Spirit’s prompting by receiving grace and putting our faith in God, we are raised.  Ephesians 2:6, God “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus.”  There is no death there.
Imagine it, if you can.  I confess, I cannot.  My entire paradigm involves beginnings and endings.  I lack the capacity to conceive of an existence in which death has no role, is not.  Perhaps this is a failure of my own imagination.  I try to see it in my mind, but all that comes is bright, brilliant white clouds with blinding rays of sun shooting from all sides.  I see mountains and maybe imagine myself flying. Most of these images have been put in my mind by popular artists’ visions of what Heaven might be like. 
The Biblical picture stands as something more real.  There will be trees, fruit trees.  There will be a city with a river running down the middle.  There will be music.  All these images come from the metaphors of the book of Revelation.  The most important is the coming together of Heaven and Earth.  Biblically speaking, we don’t go to Heaven when we die.  Heaven and Earth come together.  The most important piece in the “raised up with him … in heavenly places” promise is the phrase “with him.”
When Jesus was resurrected, he had defeated death.  He will not die again.  His love for us means he takes us with him.  When we join him in resurrection, we will not die again either.  So to say we are made alive together with Christ is to say the corruption of the fall has been cleansed off us.  We will not die.  We are living into life – eternal life.  That redemption which, as we saw in Romans 8, the creation groans for comes in Christ. 
There is more.  We are raised by God’s love.  We are also created by God’s purpose.  Ephesians 2:10 – “We are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works.”  God created all that is in 6 days and rested on the 7th.  Creativity was and continues to be an attribute of God as God creates us anew.  Read Genesis 1-2.  In the beginning the earth was a formless void and God’s creation was careful, precise.  God made order out of chaos.  In Christ, God continues His creativity, bringing order to the chaos sin has imposed in our lives.
Our church stands on three pillars.  This is our philosophy for life in Christ.  First, all are welcome.  Come as you are.  The body of Christ is a safe place.  Second, come ready to meet Christ.  When we encounter Him, we meet the living God.  No one can stay as they are after a true experience with God.  We will become a new creations; we are made new.  Third, having been born again, made for good works, we are sent out into the world in Jesus’ name to share the truth that He is Lord and that all people can have life in Him.
Ephesians 2:10 is one of the core verses for the second pillar in this philosophy, “made new in Christ.”  Raised, we know that death is longer part of our story.  Made new, we see that while we are not of this earth, as long as we live prior to the Second Coming and the dawning of the New Age, we have not just been created but created for something.  One alive in Christ cannot be indifferent in the world or toward the world.  It is not possible.
We try.  The Fall and all the corruption sin produces tries to lure us into ignoring God and living for ourselves.  One of sin’s deepest realities is that the self becomes our object of worship.  All sin, at its core is idolatry, the worship of something other than God, something not worthy of worship.  Andy Crouch says an idol is something that in the beginning promises us everything while asking nothing of us; but, over time, the idol asks more and more of us while giving less and less.  In the end, the idol ask us to give it everything while it gives us nothing in return.[i]  Whatever variety of sin tempts you or tempts me, down at the heart of it is an idol that will consume and obliterate our humanity.  To step toward an idol is a rejection of God and prioritizing my fleshly desires over God’s place in my life.   Even after we turn to Jesus, sin, Satan, and death will use idols to try to draw us away from Him.
But the Holy Spirit is persistent.  We have been created for good – good that is seen in our actions in the world.  To be alive in Christ is to point the world to the future time when Heaven and Earth come together.  Ephesians 2:10 is direct – we are what he has made us, “created in Christ Jesus for good works.”  The Spirit leads us to God, and after we put our trust in Jesus, the Spirit continues to be at work in our lives.  We can turn away even after having seen God, but we do so with the Spirit pulling on us, constantly trying to draw us back to God.  God could simply force us to worship and faith, but then we would lose our identity as image-bearers. 
We have been created as God’s image bearers.  Sin shattered each of us, but in Christ we are made new; we are re-created for life in Christ and with the mission of sharing his love and the Gospel with everyone who does not know him so they too can receive the salvation he offers. 

I began this morning identifying passages from scripture that are familiar even to people who don’t realize these things are in the Bible.
I close with a final look at one of those passages, Genesis 1, where we see that to be human is to be in God’s image.  If we are not bearing God’s image, we are something less than human.  Sin makes it impossible to bear God’s image.  But the testimony of Ephesians 2 is that Christ has come and our sins are forgiven.  Once again we are created, made anew, you and I, made to be image bearers who live in and guides other into the Kingdom of God.

[i] A. Crouch (2013).  Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power.  InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, p.56.

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