Unity With Christ – First Steps
Last week we focused on the fact that corporate unity in the church only comes through personal unity with Christ, and we saw in Christ’s prayer in John 17 that one of the major purposes of church unity is so that the world will see and believe that Christ is God and that God loves them. This week, I’d like to very explicitly show what how we are unified with Christ. How is this unity between us and God created. What does it mean for us, and for our lives? What is God’s part in it, and what is our part in it? That is the focus of our passage today. If you’ll open your Bibles with me to Ephesians 2, we’ll read together.
READ Ephesians 2:1-10
Now, notice how often the idea of unity with Christ comes up in this passage:
–“made us alive WITH CHRIST” vs. 5
–“seated us WITH CHRIST” vs. 6
–“kindness to us IN CHRIST” vs. 7
–“created IN CHRIST” vs. 10
So in this passage Paul is just hammering this nail. He’s driving home the point that this is how we are unified in Christ; this is how we live with Christ.
Now, according to Paul here there are several things necessary for a person to be individually, personally unified with the Jesus. First, that person must understand that every person is a sinner, including him/herself. Secondly, the person must turn away from his/her sins. Third, we must trust in Christ. Fourth, we must do what God has created for us to do.
So, let’s get into the text and see where this comes from. First: understand that every person is a sinner.
READ Eph 2:1-3
Now, he’s writing this to a group of believers, and reminds them that they used to be DEAD. In verse 3 he says that ALL once lived this way. Brothers and sisters, this is a universal problem. Every sin carries with is the punishment of death, and every person on earth has sinned at least once, and so every person on earth is OWED death. That means the most holy, Godly person you know was once just as much a sinner as the most sinful person you know. We ALL lived this way. “For ALL have sinned.”–Romans
This reminds us that there is a need for URGENCY! If you can, imagine living in a time when ancient weapons were used – swords, axes, etc. Now imagine you’re walking down the street with a friend, and some crazed person runs up with a huge battleaxe and raises it up to lop off your friend’s head. Surely you wouldn’t politely say, “Hm, not to bother you, but you may consider moving just slightly, if it suits you.” No! You’d grab that person by the shirt and bodily throw them out of the way if you could. Now imagine the axe was aimed at you. Would you stand and consider, “Hm, I wonder if I’m imagining this. Is that guy really about to chop my head off? That wouldn’t be very nice.” No! Acting like that would be ridiculous…and yet we act exactly like that with ourselves and with others around us. In Matthew 3:10 John the Baptist tells us “The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce the fruit of Godliness will be chopped down…” My friends, you are a tree! Everyone you know is a tree! The axe is poised and ready, and if we are not found to be faithful the next words are terrifying: “…will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” My friends, hell is very real, and the axe is poised and ready to pay the wages to anyone who is found in their sin, and the wages of sin is death and hell.
There is an urgency that we MUST exhibit if we believe this. Just like you would be urgent if someone was holding an axe to chop off your head or your friend’s head, we must urgently act to make sure that we get ourselves and anyone around us out of the way of the axe. We must not procrastinate in this. Jesus spoke of the rich fool in Luke 12, saying “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you!” James 4:14 says, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life, it is a passing mist; a fog that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” There is no time to waste. We MUST understand that every person is a sinner, and this every person is under the threat of imminent death and hell.
So, first step in being unified with Christ – understand that every person is a sinner. The second step to being unified with Christ is to turn away from sin.
Look at how Paul phrases things in these first 3 verses.
–“You WERE dead…”
–“…you USED to live…”
–“…lived among them AT ONE TIME…”
–“…we WERE objects of wrath…”
All of these are past tense. For the believers that Paul is writing to, these things no longer describe their way of life. They are no longer living in sin, and they are no longer gratifying the cravings of the sinful flesh. Yes, at one time every person is under God’s wrath, in danger of going to eternal punishment at every second. BUT, for the one who is unified with Christ, that is NO LONGER the case!
How does this happen? How do we have life, when we were “dead in our transgressions”? How do we remove the axe from over our heads? As Paul cries out in Romans: “Oh wretched man that I am, who will save me?!” Here’s the answer:
READ verses 4-7
Glorious! In His mercy God has MADE US ALIVE! We were dead, in the grave, gone…but Christ called us out of the hopelessness of the grave and said to us: “That lying? No more. That anger and bitterness towards your family you feel? It’s gone. Those addictions you can’t shake? They’re finished. Those sins of impurity? Destroyed. You no longer belong to the axe and the fire because of your sins, now you belong to ME and my kingdom because of MY gracious love.” THAT is how we turn away from sin. We turn away from sin because Christ destroys the power of sin in us, and calls us out of the grave.
Now, this doesn’t mean that we can just sit in the tomb and wait for God to come carry us out. That’s not how the story goes. When Lazarus is dead and buried in the tomb, Christ calls; Lazarus believes and obeys. So the third step in being unified with Christ: you must trust in Christ.
We MUST have faith in what Jesus says He will do in us. We must BELIEVE that what He offers us is true. We cannot overcome sin on our own. We cannot turn away from our sinful desires on our own any more than we could open up our coffin and push our way out from 6 feet under. It is only Christ who gives us life. But, it MUST be us who respond to His call. We are Lazarus, and when Christ stands at the door of our tomb and calls our name, we MUST believe in Him, get up, and walk out to live! “How do I know when He’s calling my name?” you may ask. Well, He’s doing it right now, if you’re here. He is standing beside your deathbed, at your graveside, before your tomb and calling your name. He is saying, “I WILL raise you up! I WILL seat you in heaven with Christ! I WILL empower you to turn away from sin! I WILL show the riches of my grace to you!” And brothers and sisters it is all because HE LOVES YOU! Will you trust this morning that what He is saying to you in this passage is true?
Now, lastly, the fourth step for being unified with Christ is this: DO what He has created us to do. READ vs 10. Now, these are NOT good works for the purpose of gaining God’s favor. This passage is NOT saying that we do good things to earn a place in heaven. Our entrance into heaven is based SOLELY on God’s unmerited favor. It is by grace (God did it), through faith (we simply believe and respond to what God has done in us). This salvation is a “gift of God, NOT OF WORKS, lest anyone should boast.” Remember the order that things happen in this passage: before DOing these good works, a person must BE alive. Life comes first, and good works come second.
Why is that an important distinction? Well, I think there are several reasons. First, I think oftentime we expect a person who is not a Christian to act like a Christian. We expect them to live like they are IN Christ when they are still IN the grave. We’re shocked when we see sinners sinning, and we spend time trying to train people to do good works when they are still dead in their transgressions. ààIt’s like trying to play catch with a corpse! This applies to your kids, your coworkers, your friends, family, etc. If we want to see people ACT in ways that we know are right, then we must first help them BE a Christian. There is no way for a person to live a life of good works if they are still in the tomb like Lazarus. They must believe Christ, and walk out of the tomb. THEN, and only then, when we have shown them what they must BE can we disciple them in how they should act.
Secondly, the world OFTEN thinks that they have to clean themselves up before they come to Christ. I can’t tell you how many people feel like they can never set foot inside a church because they feel like they aren’t good enough. And when we hear that, it should be our greatest delight to tell the person, “No, you’re not good enough! But that’s ok. Christ will give you life.” This is one of the most wonderful things you can ever have the privilege of telling a person – that when they put their trust in Christ and turn away from sin, their past sins have nothing to do with them anymore. In fact, their past sins are not even theirs anymore! Their past sins belong to Christ, and He took every single one of them with Him to the cross. So on the cross, Christ was punished as if He had used the filthy language we used to use. On the cross He was punished as if HE had been addicted, or been impure, or lied, or cheated, and whatever else! He was sinless; absolutely perfect, but He took on His own body the punishment for our sins. And if God has punished Christ for our sins already, why in the world would we punish ourselves for them again!? No, but God has removed our sins from us completely – as far as the east from the west, washing us as white as snow, declaring us righteous. Now, this is difficult because it may not FEEL this way instantly. A person, perhaps you yourself, may FEEL like they’re sinful and dirty even after they come to Christ. Thankfully, our feelings do not dictate what is true. God’s word does, and it tells us that when we put our trust in Christ, we are re-created IN CHRIST as new creations.
Thirdly, sometimes we get discouraged (or lazy?) and think that maybe God hasn’t really prepared any good works for me personally. I’m not a preacher. I can’t teach. I can’t sing. There’s really nothing for me to do. WRONG! Brothers and sisters, if you are a child of God you can KNOW, you MUST believe, that God has prepared a place for you in His divine plan for all eternity. There are good works that He has set aside for you specifically, because He LOVES you and values you! Will you trust God in this? Will you trust Him to lead you into the good works He has prepared for you? This is something we should always be growing more and more into. In one of Paul’s letters to Timothy, he says, “Persist in these things continually so that all may see your progress…” I want to challenge you to always be looking for good works to do in order that your Savior Jesus Christ might be honored. Look for them among the saints, in your family, at your home, in your schools, at your jobs, in the community. AND as you do these things, share them with the church family in order to spur one another on to love and good deeds and pull them deeper into doing good works with you. Here’s how I would do that: read the rest of Ephesians and act like Paul is writing it directly to you.
So, are you unified with Christ? Have you realized your sinfulness? Have you turned away from sins and TO Christ, trusting in what He has said and done for you? Are you living your life in the abundant good works that He has prepared for His people?