Theme: The Christian’s Past, Present, and Future
This week’s lessons describe how God’s grace in salvation impacts the Christian’s past, present, and future.
Scripture: Ephesians 2:4-8
Here is another way of looking at it. Chapter one gives us the past, present, and future of God’s great plan of salvation. Chapter two gives us the past, present, and future of the persons Jesus saves. This reminds me of one of Harry Ironside’s most delightful stories. Ironside was a Bible teacher, and later pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago. On this particular occasion he was riding on a train in southern California on the way to a speaking engagement. While he was sitting in the passenger car a gypsy came down the aisle offering to tell people’s fortunes. She stopped at Ironside’s seat, saying, “Cross my palm with a silver quarter, and I will tell your past, present, and future.”
Ironside asked in an amused tone if she was sure she could do that, pointing out that he was of Scottish ancestry and did not want to part with a quarter unless he was sure he would get his money’s worth. But she was very earnest. “Oh yes, sir” she said. “Cross my palm with a quarter, and I will tell you all.”
Ironside told her this was not necessary, because he already had his past, present, and future written down in a book. The gypsy was amazed. “In a book” she queried.
“Yes,” Ironside replied. “I have it with me.” He pulled out his Bible and turned to these verses. “Here is my past,” he said, reading verses 1-3: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” The gypsy did not want to hear this, and she began to pull away.
“Wait,” said Ironside. “That is only my past. You haven’t heard my present. Here it is.” He began to read verses 4-6: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”
At this point the gypsy was literally struggling to get away, because Ironside had put his hand on her arm to hang onto her. “No more,” she said. “I do not need to hear more.”
But the preacher was not ready to quit. “You must hear my future too,” he continued. He read verses 7-10: “…in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
By now the gypsy was heading rapidly down the aisle where she could be heard muttering, “I took the wrong man.”
Ironside was exactly right, of course. For the second chapter of Ephesians does give the past, present, and future of the Christian, showing how we have been brought out of a dismal past into a glorious present and bright future by the grace of God. How are we to assess the Christian’s past condition, that is, before he or she became a Christian? Paul says four things about it.
The sinner is “dead in…transgressions and sins.” In the entire history of the human race there have only been three basic views of man apart from God’s grace. To use three terms that are easy to understand, that man is well, sick, or dead.
The first view is that human beings are basically all right. It is the view of all optimists, which includes almost everyone today, at least where an evaluation of human nature is concerned. Optimists may vary as to how well they believe human beings are. Some would argue that people are very, very well. 0thers would admit that they are not as morally healthy as they may perhaps one day be. After all, there are still many problems in the world: wars, disease, starvation, poverty. But they would still say that the world is getting better and better, and the reason is that there is nothing basically wrong with man. He is evolving upward.
The second view is that man is not well. He is sick, even mortally sick, as some would say. This is the view of realists. They reject the optimistic view because they observe rightly that if people are as healthy as the optimists say, then surely the wars, disease, starvation, poverty, and other problems we wrestle with should have been fixed by now. Since they are not, they conclude that something is basically wrong with human nature. But still, the situation is not hopeless, Bad perhaps, even desperate. But not hopeless. People are still around, after all. They have not yet blown themselves off the surface of the planet or committed suicide by destroying the ozone layer or poisoning the world’s oceans. Where there’s life there’s hope. There is no need to call the mortician yet.
The third view, the biblical view, which Paul articulates in classic language in this passage, is that man is neither well nor sick. Actually, so far as his relationship to God is concerned, he is dead, “dead in…transgressions and sins” (Eph. 2:1). That is, he is exactly what God had warned he would be before Adam and Eve’s fall. Like a spiritual corpse, he is unable to make even a single move toward God, think a right thought about God, or even respond to God—unless God first brings this spiritually dead corpse to life so he can do it. This is exactly what Paul says God does do in this passage.
Study Questions:

From the illustration, how does Ironside explain the Christian’s past, present, and future?
What are the three basic views of man apart from God’s grace? How do you assess each one in the light of Scripture?

Application: How would you answer someone who came to you believing that man is either well or merely sick?

Study Questions
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