08 Oct Gospel People 01 – Independence Day
By: Jessica Tanoesoedibjo
Thank you. First let me express my gratitude for letting me bring the Word today. It is an honor to be trusted with such an opportunity, and I pray that the Lord may be the one to work in our individual hearts as we read God’s Word together.
Introductions. For most of you who perhaps are wondering, “who on earth is this girl up front talking about bringing the Word?” Please allow me to introduce myself—my name is Jessica Tanoesoedibjo, and I’m from Jakarta, Indonesia. I’m 24 this year, and am the middle child of a family of 5 kids. Fun fact, I happen to also be the middle grandchild, and my birthday falls in the middle of the month and the middle of the year. Not that this has anything to do with today’s sermon, but that sometimes I feel God has a funny sense of humor.
Anyway, I’m currently in Sydney for a friend’s wedding, and I used to live here for 5 years when I did my undergrad and grad studies in UNSW and Macquarie. Who’s here a UNSW and Macquarie student/alum? Woo! Anyway, I then moved to LA to pursue theology, and graduated last December, and moved back home to Indo earlier this year. I now work in my family business, particularly in the areas of finance, education and philanthropy.
So a lot of people tend to ask me, why the switch—especially because I was taking finance and business law when I was in Sydney. And I guess throughout our conversation today, you’ll probably hear more about the why. But I just want to say, if any of you desire to pursue further studies in the Word of God, please don’t let anyone discourage you from it. Even though now I don’t work in the church, I believe that my 2 and a half years taking theology was not in vain at all. In fact, it was one of the sweetest years of my life, where I had the opportunity to just dive into the Word as a daily task.
The Gospel People. And this is why I am really excited to be here. Especially as this church is starting its series on the Gospel People. I love it—I think it is so important for us to understand how our faith in Jesus ought to transform us into “Gospel People.” I think as Christians it can be quite easy to forget what the Gospel is about, and what it means to be a Christian. It is easy to go about living life as though Christianity is merely a personal faith that does not permeate into the rest of our lives. But that is not the call of the Gospel. Jesus meant it when He said, take up your cross and follow me. That is why it is a radical call to be a Christian and we shouldn’t take it lightly. So let’s just get on to the Bible, shall we? Let’s unpack this passage together. Our passage today is taken from the Book of Ephesians. May we stand as we read the Word together?
Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV). “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—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.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Pray. Let’s pray. [Father, may You give us “the spirit of wisdom and revelation to know You. And may the eyes of our hearts be enlightened, so that we may know what is the hope of this calling, and the richness of this inheritance, and the surpassing greatness of the power of Your Truth to us who believe,” (Ephesians 1:17-19).] Amen.
Background. From the title of the Book we know that this passage is part of a letter that Paul had written to the church at Ephesus. A little background about the Ephesians is that many of them were actually converts from paganism. (Paganism is basically other religions.) Ephesus back then was geographically a strategic place for seafarers/voyagers to stop, and so it was a major communications hub. People came from all over. So polytheism was rampant, meaning, they worshipped many gods. The practices in the temple were idolatrous, and they were heavily superstitious and relied a lot on magic. This is why if we read along the book of Ephesians we’ll find Paul talking a lot about spiritual warfare and how these Christians are now to stand firm in the midst of such a pluralistic and immoral culture.
And is this not similar to the culture that we live in today? We live in a time where ideas are so easily communicated, where people are so opinionated, and where everyone is expected to be tolerant of anything and everything. So one major criticism of Christianity that often goes around, is that we are being intolerant when we say that there is only one way to God. And many Christians, even, are starting to believe in the lie that it doesn’t matter who we worship. People say, “every religion teaches the same thing, and all that matters is that you’re a good person and you’re doing good.” And so we shouldn’t be so “fanatic” or radical.
But friends, if we really call ourselves Christians, then we are saying that we believe that what Jesus said about Himself is true. And so when He said that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that there is no other way to God apart from Him—then we must believe that believing in Jesus is the only way to God. It’s either you’re in, or you’re out.
Ephesians 2:1-3. This is what is so pressing about this passage. Paul begins by addressing the Ephesians, and reminding them of who they were. “You were dead,” he said. Not simply sick, or limping, or you need help. You know, some people think Christianity is like a crutch. That it just helps you get through life. But no, no, no. Paul is saying, that these people were dead. And this deadness was obvious in the way they had lived such idolatrous and immoral lives. These pagan Ephesians, they used to live a certain way, and Paul identifies this as them following “the course of this world, the prince of power of the air, and the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.”
It’s not that they were physically dead. But this deadness that Paul talks about goes all the way back to the beginning of the world. When Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. There was just one rule that God gave Adam and Eve out of the whole garden. God told Adam not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And what was the consequence of eating of that tree? Death.
Scripture teaches us that the wages of sin is death. And this death is twofold. What happened at the Garden of Eden was the playing out of this death. There is a physical aspect of this death that we will all have to face one day, and a spiritual death that happened immediately. And that is the death that Paul is talking about here. A death that shuts us out of God’s presence. That brought Adam and Eve out of the Garden. A death that no longer allows us to commune with God. A death that no longer allows us to walk in the ways that God had created us.
1. Who I Am By Nature: Dead in Sin. I think as Christians we can be realistic and sober minded about the world and how broken it is. It should not come as a surprise to us to see how corrupt people and institutions can be. Christians shouldn’t be naive, because Scripture teaches us to see the world as it is. It’s crazy out there.
I mean, even as we look to the next pages of Scripture, after the Fall of Adam and Eve—we see that humanity continues to spiral downwards. A few pages after Adam and Eve left Eden, their child committed the first murder. Cain and Abel. Since the Fall, mankind died. Since the Fall, all of our inclinations are evil. All of our intentions are evil.
But what is so striking about this passage is that Paul, after talking to the Ephesians about how they had been dead, likewise says, “among whom we all once lived according to the passions of our flesh.” Paul makes no distinction between himself and the Ephesians. He could have been an “upright” Jew all his life, while they were immoral Gentiles. But in reality, spiritual deadness is the state of all mankind. The pervasiveness of sin before a Most Holy God does not escape the most pious men or the barbarian. It does not exclude you or me. Regardless of whether we grew up in a Christian home, or if we grew up hating Christians—we must know that our sin is what levels the playing field. Dead. This is the condition of all mankind.
Friends, we must see, that we are by nature dead in sin. If we think the world is crazy. We should look within ourselves and also say, this heart is crazy. We are so corrupt by nature that we are often blinded by our own sin. Like the Ephesians, our tendency is to follow the patterns of this world, to listen to the lies of the devil, and live in the passions of our flesh. If we are left to ourselves, we are dead.
Ephesians 2:4-7. But then Paul goes on to say, “But God.” But God. “But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” Do I even need to say anything else? Or can we just go home now? (Kidding).
2.Who God Is Revealed in Christ: The Gospel of Grace. In our fallenness, friends. In our deadness. God had a plan. When we were dead in our trespasses, in our sins, God made us alive together with Christ.
I love how the Gospel of John begins with “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” This parallels Genesis 1:1, which says, “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And later John continues to write that this Word, who was there at the beginning “became flesh and dwelt among us.” And who is this Word if not Jesus? This Jesus walked on this earth and lived perfectly, as man, without sin. As Son of God made flesh, He was able to obey perfectly the laws of God.
And so the rule “the wages of sin is death” does not apply to Jesus. Because He did not sin. But here’s the irony, friends. Even though Jesus was the only man who did not deserve to die, instead, He voluntarily took up the cross and died on our behalf. Unlike Adam, who disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, Jesus was perfectly obedient that He prayed in that Garden of Gethsemane, “not My will but Yours be done.” And guess where that prayer led Him—if not to the cross, to His death.
Is this the Gospel friends? No. Because it isn’t Good News that Jesus died. How is it Good News that a blameless Man died? Oh but it is. Because on the third day He rose from the dead. He then ascended to heaven where He now sits at the right hand of God the Father.
But so what? How is this Good News?
Friends, it is one thing to know about Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension, and session. But it is another to know that you—you who were dead—are now made alive, resurrected, ascended, and seated with Him. That is what Paul is saying here— that God likewise “made us alive together with Christ, raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places.”
No wonder Jesus said, “it is finished.” It is done.
This is the Good News. This is the Gospel. This is what we believe in as Christians. That this Christ, the Son of God, took our place and defeated death and made us alive in Him.
Friends, you no longer need to work for your salvation. It is done. You cannot limp to God because you were dead. But He came to you, as a Baby in a manger—and it is done. Your past does not define you—you can’t cleanse yourself. But in Christ you are clean. You are holy. You are blameless. It is done. You don’t need the affirmation of man—you’re accepted in Jesus. It is done. By grace you have been saved.
Ephesians 2:8-10. By grace you have been saved through faith. This is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Again, sin levels the playing field, friends. We have nothing to boast before a Most Holy God. When we understand that we are saved by grace through faith, there is no more room to be prideful.
3.Who I Am By Grace: Alive for Good Works. It baffles me to see a Christian who is self-righteous, who thinks that they are better than others. Oh but there are a lot of us. Which is why we must be reminded of this again and again. Because if we really believe in Jesus then we must know that we are saved not because we are better than others. There must not be any spiritual arrogance in our hearts. You are saved by grace. It is not the result of your works. It is not because you are more intellectual, that you understand the Word of God better. Or morally better. Or love Jesus more. Or more obedient. No, you are saved by grace.
On the other hand, if you are downcast, dear Christian, and you are buried in condemnation—when you feel the weight of guilt and shame taking hold of you—take heart. You are not saved because of your works, but in Christ, by grace through faith.
But can we talk a bit about faith here—there is often a misconception about the nature of grace and faith and works. We often think that it can only work one of two ways: that God’s grace is not complete without our works. Or that God’s grace is so sufficient that there is no need for works. And if I may push back a bit—that is not a full picture of grace and faith and works.
Yes, God’s grace is sufficient, and God’s grace is what saves us. I mean—we were all dead! There was no way that we could have revived ourselves to life. And that is why we put our faith in Jesus, who had graciously saved us. And if we believe in this grace that saves—we must acknowledge that our faith is not apart from the Person and Work of Jesus. Faith is not merely a belief. People often have a misconception of Christian faith as though it means that as long as we believe in something it will happen. As though believing in ourselves, will make us better people. Or if we believed hard enough, we will succeed.
No, the Christian definition of faith is never apart, never away, never separated from the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. To be a person of faith is to believe in this Jesus, who died, resurrected, ascended and is seated at the right hand of God.
So if we believe in Jesus, we believe that what He says is true. Then what He says about the reality of sin, the need for repentance, the compelling to good works—these are then all true. So even though we are saved by grace through faith alone…as Luther said, faith is not alone. But faith must result in holiness and good works. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Personal Testimony. I used to think that I had no story to tell. I’ve heard great stories of people becoming Christians. Before, they lived such ruthless lives, and got into free sex, drugs, alcohol, you know. And then they met Jesus and everything changed. And I love hearing those testimonies and they surely witness to how transformative God’s love is. But I never had any of experiences. I don’t drink, I’ve never set foot in a club, I’ve kept myself chaste. But in reality, friends, sin does not escape me. I was doing all these things for all the wrong reasons. I was being a good girl out of fear. I was doing all these things that was morally upright, for the sake of my parents’ approval, of the acceptance of my peers. So that people would look up to me. So that I could go to heaven. I grew up really afraid of Hell, and thinking that I must avoid all these things so that I could be accepted before God.
From an outsider’s perspective, it seemed as though I was good. I seemed to have it all together. But in reality, it wasn’t simply the world around me that was crazy. It was this heart. I had no backbone, I was tossed by the wind of opinions and followed the patterns of my people-pleasing flesh.
But friends, it is exhausting. It is exhausting to pursue all these things because there will be no end to it all. The pursuit of wealth, success, fame, even happiness—will not come to an end and we will never have enough.
When I first moved to Sydney in 2011, I began to feel a discontentment with my life. Though outwardly I was alive and had all things. I was a straight A student, had a clean record. But I was lacking. I was spiritually dead. There was no life in me. I felt so empty and purposeless.
It was during that time that I loved it whenever I was at church. Scripture gave me so much comfort and it just made me alive whenever I was reading the Word of God. But it was during that time, too, that I lost my love for school. I actually started failing my classes in uni, and often excluded myself from people and the community of friends that I had built through the years. At that time I also started abandoning my family. Whenever my parents visited, I was always at church, on Monday, on Wednesday, on Friday, Saturday, Sunday. And honestly from a human perspective it would seem as though I was wasting away my life.
Looking back, surely, I realize, there were things I could have done better. I should have honored my parents more. Scripture teaches us to honor our father and mother. I should have spent time with my sisters more and loved them better. Studied harder at school. But I thank God for that season, because it was then that I first saw Jesus as so enough. Even though I grew up in a Christian home, it wasn’t until then that I learnt of the power of the Gospel in my life—where none of my achievements mattered, that no human applause satisfied me, and that these failures did not define me. But Christ did. And He was enough. He is enough.
I’m not telling anyone to dishonor their parents, or neglect their families, or abandon their studies and their responsibilities at work. No, please don’t. It’s not wise. It took the hard way for me to learn to honor my parents and love my siblings and friends properly all over again. But this time, I learnt to love them, not because I wanted their approval, but because I know I have first been a recipient of a most gracious love. And so I don’t despise my past mistakes—as long as they point me to my Redeemer.
My Christian life was not one where I was so immoral and that when Christ came into my life, and I became so morally upright. No, that is not what the Gospel is about. Because my story, and the story of Christians everywhere, is better than that—it is the story of how we were dead, but that we have been made alive with Christ.
Closing. Friends, I don’t know where you are on your journey—whether you pride in who you are and all your achievements, or whether you’re downcast because you keep on wrestling with the same sins and temptations. Regardless—we must be reminded of this truth, that Christ is in whom our souls ought to reside. As Christians we are the most free of people—not free to sin, because that was our former life before we were made alive. But we are the most free of people to live unto God—because on one hand, we have no grounds for boasting, and on the other, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Jesus.
That is why the Christian life is so radical. It is so different from the voices of the world that tells us to achieve. To do. To perform. To fake it til you make it. To cheat, lie and climb the ladder of success. “You do you,” is a lie. If anything, we learn that when we are left to our own selves, we perish, we fall into sin, we are dead.
But rather, for the Christian, because of our new-found freedom, we can now abound in holiness and good works—because God does not demand that we work for something, but rather, that He has given us grounds by which we can now work from something.
We can live holy lives because we have been cleansed. We can do good unto others, because God had first freely bestowed grace upon our lives. We can forgive because we have been forgiven. This is basis of Christian freedom. That we have been freed, saved, made alive, to live for Him who is worthy of all praise, all honor, all glory. And all God’s people say, Amen.
- How is our culture today similar to Ephesus in Paul’s time?
- What does it mean when Paul said that “you were dead”? Explain the cause of this death.
- “But GOD…” – what makes this a good news?
- Explain the reason why it is impossible for spiritual arrogance and the gospel to go together?
- What does it mean to be a people of faith?
- How does the gospel transform you? (share your personal testimony)
- From this sermon, what does it mean for us to be “Gospel People”?