Defence of the Unworthiness
Several have issued some concern of my using the terms “trash” and “worthless” to describe the human condition apart from God. In an effort to never allow my personal words to offend and, yet, to still stand on the Scriptural integrity and authority of the Word of God, I am submitting this brief bit of commentary to put the terms into context.
First, Scripture points to the truth of our unworthiness and unrighteousness in many passages, perhaps none so clear as Isaiah 64:6 “…And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment…” Paul, in the New Testament book of Philippians confesses that all his accomplishments are trash in comparison to Christ. But not our deeds alone, Isaiah when in the presence of a holy God cried out “Woe is me, for I am ruined!” Why? Because he recognized his utter depravity (unclean-ness) when confronted God’s awesome presence.
Further, Paul forces use to look upon the horrid condition in which Christ first met us in Ephesians 2: 1-10.
2:1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, 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 in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
The following is an excerpt from a Bible study on this very passage that I prepared for Master’s Camp in 1997.
Have you ever heard anyone say something like: “Just follow your heart and you’ll do the right thing.”? We tend to think of our heart, our conscience, as a source of truth and goodness. We all know of people who seem to have an evil heart, but we really believe that our heart will lead us in the right direction, especially as teenagers.
Yet the Bible indicates that there is something inherently wrong with our hearts. In Genesis 8:21, God says that the intent of a man’s heart is evil from his youth; and, in Numbers 15:39 we are told that if we follow our own heart it will lead us away from God. The very part of us we are told to trust, our heart, will lead us in a direction away from God according to the Bible. With this truth in mind, let’s turn to our passage of study -- Ephesians chapter 2.
The first three verses focus on this evil heart -- the heart you and I are born with. They really say three things about our heart:
1. That our heart is dead. Really, that it is dead to God. The New Testament concept of death is not the same idea that we have when we say something is dead. We tend to think of death as an absence of animation and activity. But the Bible talks of death in terms of separation. To be dead in a biblical sense is to be cut off from God. And the heart we were born with is very much cut off or separated from Him. We aren’t able to please Him, or associate with Him in any way because our heart is dead, separated from God. This same verse tells us the reason for the separation -- sin! Our sin has caused the death in our hearts. Not just the everyday “bad stuff” but the very nature or direction of the heart we are born with is sinful. As the Bible says in Isaiah 53:6, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each one turned to his own way. . .”
2. That our heart walks after, or lives for, three things: 1) This world, 2) Satan, and 3) ourselves. Believe it or not, all three of these are really the same. None of you would likely think of yourselves as worshipers of Satan. We often associate that kind of activity with drinking blood or killing black cats, or worse! However, Anton LaVey, the author of the satanic bible, has said that the ultimate act of allegiance and worship to Satan can be summed up in the words the of Shakespearean character who said, “To thine own self be true.” To walk with Satan is to follow the philosophy of this world: “Get all you can, can all you get, then sit on the can.” In other words, just take care of yourself. To live for Satan, to follow the trends and desires of this world, or simply to live to please yourself -- all are one and the same, and all are a slap in the face to a holy God who made you to have a relationship with Him. All of us were made by God, for God. And to walk away from Him, to live to please ourselves, is sin. Yet, our very nature is to do just this. We are born living for ourselves.
3. We are, by nature, objects of God’s anger. Few people would like to admit it, but because we are born with the nature to sin -- to live for ourselves, without regard for God -- we are objects of God’s deserved wrath, His anger. When the Bible says that we are, by nature, objects of His wrath, it means that we don’t have to be doing anything to provoke Him to anger. Just breathing, even in our sleep our heart is the object of God’s intense anger!
Have you ever been betrayed by someone you thought was your friend? Who hasn’t! Or perhaps there is someone who has greatly offended you. All this person has to do is walk into the room and your blood begins to boil! Just the mention of his/her name is enough to drive you to anger. They don’t have to do a thing. Just the fact that they exist is sufficient to cause them to be the object of your wrath.
That’s how it is with God and us. Just the fact that we exist, that this heart we were born with is beating in our chest, is all it takes to drive Him to anger. It’s not what we do; it’s who we are. So there’s nothing we need to do to cause God to be angry at us. And, this is big! There’s nothing you or I can do to cause His anger to go away. We can’t fix the problem. The problem is our heart!
That’s what makes verse four in our study text such a big deal. In the NASB, verse 4 begins with two incredible words: “But God. . .” These words tell a volume all by themselves. You see, if you or I were writing this story we would probably say, “So God. . .” “You were separated from the God who made you, walking in a direction that was offensive to Him, an enemy to God in your heart of hearts, so God wiped any evidence of you from the face of the earth. He utterly destroyed you!” That’s the way it seems it should go -- but it doesn’t. It says, “But God!”
Do you know what the word “but” means? It means expect the unexpected! I know what you think is coming, but. . . We were separated; you wouldn’t expect God to care, but. . . We were living for ourselves; you wouldn’t expect God to love us, but. . . Our very existence was enough to drive God to wrath; you’d expect judgment, but. . . The next three verses tell us of the unexpected response from God.
1. He loved us with a great love. Don’t skip over this too quickly! It’s easy to read these words and simply pass over them. We think, of course God loved us -- He has too; He’s God! Remember that person, the one who can drive you to anger just by walking into a room. Don’t forget – that’s us and God! We are by nature objects of His wrath, but God loved us with a great love. Not just an emotional love, an active love. Love is a verb, and God put action behind his love.
Jesus said it's easy to love those who love you. The hard thing is to love those who hate you, who’ve offended you, who you have every reason to hate! He knew what He was talking about -- from experience. He was loving a world of people who hated Him, and He was loving them with everything He had.
God loved us with a great love, and it had a great cost!
2. He made us alive, while we were dead. Our hearts were dead, separated from God. Our very nature was against Him. There was nothing we could do to right the condition of our hearts. We were hopelessly destined to live apart from God.
Whether or not you know it or believe it we need God. We were made for Him and without Him we are the ones who suffer. On earth, in this life, our separation causes us to search something to fill the empty place that’s left. The Bible says the heart of humanity is looking for perfect love. That’s true in few generations like it is in the lives of today’s teens. They try to fill that empty place with sex, drugs, music, you name it! But a restored relationship with God is the only thing that will bring the satisfaction people are searching for.
When this life is over that separation becomes eternal and we enter the place of eternal separation from God -- a place no human was to ever have to go -- a place called hell. Yes, we need God! But God does not need us. We rebelled against Him and are separated as a result. You might expect Him to leave us that way. But God moved heaven and earth to pay for the sin of the ones who are the object of His wrath.
We don’t deserve it, but He made the provision for us to have a brand new heart. Our heart is dead. But He wants to give us a heart that is alive in Him, no longer separated from Him. He has loved us with a great love!
3. He has placed us with Christ in the heavenly places. When we receive this new heart an incredible thing takes place. God seats us with Christ. This means several things, but the most profound is this: Do you remember reading in Matthew of Christ’s baptism? John the Baptist lowered Jesus into the water and when He came up a voice from heaven said, “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” When we receive our new heart God aligns us with Christ. It’s almost as if God is looking at us but seeing Jesus. We, who have been enemies of God, become pleasing to Him the instant we receive our heart transplant. Now, this is not a result of anything we have done. We did nothing to right our wrong in relation to God. It was all Him. The One who was offended (hurt) paid our debt (the price we owed) to restore the relationship He designed us to enjoy. Like that little chorus says, “I owed a debt I could not pay; He paid a debt He did not owe.” And now, God puts the same value upon me as He places on Jesus Christ Himself!
For many of you this is old news. That we were an offence to God, deserving death, and all that that includes, yet to have Him pay to have that offence forgiven is Sunday School 101 for you. But there may be one of you who is saying, “This is good! So how do I get this brand new heart?” Well, I’m glad you asked!
Ephesians 2:8-9 are great verses to commit to memory. They not only tell what it takes to receive a new heart, they also tell you what won’t work. Let’s look at these two verses kind of backwards. Verse 9 tells us what won’t work.
When the Bible says that our salvation (our new heart) is not the result of works it means this: You can’t get good enough to please God on your own! Remember, our very nature is offensive to God. There’s nothing about us, period, that He should like. The Bible says that our very best is like filthy rags in God’s sight -- our very best!! To be more graphic, but no less accurate, we could replace filthy rags with “used toilet paper”! That about sums it up. Our very best is “flush-able” before a holy God.
What this means is that even if you went to church every day, read the Bible and prayed more than anyone it wouldn’t get us anywhere with God. No matter what we try to do, what we are is still there. We are sinners from our heart.
So verse 8 holds the answer. It is God’s grace that saves us, that gives us a new heart. When we could do nothing. God, through Jesus Christ, did everything! Our only response is one of faith. By faith we believe that the gift of God is for us. By faith we accept the truth that we are separated from God by our sinful nature. By faith we turn the control of our life over to Jesus as Lord. It’s a life for a life. Jesus gave His life for you; He wants you to give your life to Him.
As important as it is for those coming to Christ to recognize their sinfulness and the fact that they don’t deserve the grace found in Christ’s sacrifice. It’s also important for us to be reminded that our only righteousness, as Christians, is that which Christ first imparted to us and is now working out in us through the power of His Spirit. We need to allow ourselves to be the recipients of the humility that Paul delivered to the Ephesian believers. It is Christ in us that is the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). And for that reason, we are to continually put to death that sinful (trashy, worthless) nature, and allow God to fill us with the nature of Christ through the power of His Spirit. (cf Romans 8:13; Galatians 2:20)