The Dilemma of us all
The Dilemma of Us All (Ephesians 2:1-6)
The entire gospel rests in these words, "But God. . . . " Those two words are a continuation of the lurid history of man in sin. But they are also a contrast of shattering, eternal significance. Against the background of man's cadaverous spiritual state and moribund moral immobility, there stands the One "rich in mercy, . . . great love" (v. 4, KJV). Mercy is His attitude and love is His motive cause. His mercy is that of "unsearchable riches" (3:8). That is, the mercy of God rests beyond all human comparison. What moment of your life did you receive the greatest gift of human mercy? The mercy of God extends so far beyond that as to be absolutely incomparable, yea, to make the greatest human mercy unmerciful by comparison. How can these things be?
The Reality of the Dilemma
The revealed word of God about the human condition is death. That is the word because there can be no stronger term. It is categorical, final, the last word, and admits no negotiation. Man is not dying, mortal, almost dead, or desperately ill. Man is dead to God and to things spiritual by nature. Such death is no less real, concrete, or actual than physical death. In fact, the presence of physical death is only symptomatic of the reality of a far greater death at the very center of being. The tragic irony is that we only recognize we were spiritually dead once we have been made spiritually alive in Christ. The dilemma of lost man is to be dead and to think himself alive—the ultimate contradiction.
The instruments that take spiritual life are "trespasses and sins" (v. 1, KJV). Sin is the instrument that affects, the manifestation that reveals, and the consequence that remains of spiritual death. Sin is the weapon that murders, the clue that reveals, and the plot that unwinds in the saga of spiritual death.
The Reason for the Dilemma
We are not coerced to accept the biblical definition of man's dilemma. The fact of spiritual death is everywhere available for observation. Exhibit "A" for spiritual death is conformity to the spirit of the age. Every epoch and era of human life is characterized by certain transitory trifles. They form the mentality, the viewpoint, and the outlook of the world without God. This spirit of the age is revealed in most contemporary literature, art, and popular culture, not even to mention degenerate television and movies. The back side of this mentality is to be bored with the things of God, especially with the exposition of His Word.
Unfortunately, we are not left alone to make our choices about such conformity. There is yet darker color. Behind conformity to this age, there is a personal tyrannical and malignant power. Men have not stumbled inadvertently into spiritual death. We have not been wedded to a perishing age by accident. The New Testament faith confesses a lord-paramount of evil with an army of demonic organization. Spiritually dead man finds the very notion of Satan and the demonic hilarious, the vestige of "medieval mentality." The location of satanic influence is as pervasive as the very air. The history of the prince of evil is to be energetically at work. The result of his nefarious tactics is to leave the human race "children of disobedience" (Eph. 5:6, KJV). That is, our innate quality is obstinate opposition to the divine will.
The evidence of the prince of the air is the perpetual craving for what is unlawful, and the poisoning of life at its very wellsprings of mentality.
The Reversal of the Dilemma
Christian knowledge of God is based on verbs, not nouns. We proclaim that God has mightily acted. We do not proclaim an abstract philosophy of a remote detached deity! Paul enumerates the greatest succession of action words in the New Testament: "quickened . . . together, raised . . . together, made us to sit together" (vv. 5-6, KJV). When He first stirred to life the damp darkness of that sepulcher, we actually vivified with Him. When He walked out into the cool scented air of that garden, we walked with Him. When He sat down at the right hand of God, we sat with Him. Actually. Really. Factually. Historically. Paul is by no means speaking poetically. This is not literary overstatement. Nor is he speaking of our future with Christ. These things are done! We have no life except that life quickened, raised, seated with Him.
Do you object that such mystical things belong to the borderlands of the Christian life? Are they the territory of a few supersaints, varsity heroes of the faith? Absolutely not. Paul places them before his greatest statement of salvation (vv. 8-9). Union with Christ in His burial, resurrection, and enthronement is the essence of the believer's life. God has already done it, and I am part of it. We must interpret the difficulties of this life from the standpoint of faith, not the reverse. The man who wrote of enthronement with Christ is also the man who wrote of incessant shipwrecks, whippings, and death threats. These are not the words of a privileged recluse.
The great practical significance is that the Christian life begins from a place of rest, sitting together with Him. Christianity is first a great already done, and then later it is a great do. Our faith speaks of what is, and only after that what we ought to do.