Paul was a pastor who planted a bunch of churches in Asia 2000 years ago. Today, that part of the world is called Turkey, but back then it was part of the Roman empire, and it was known as “Asia Minor”, which means “Small Asia”.
And about fifteen years after Paul planted those churches, he send this letter back to them — the Letter to the Ephesians. The Ephesian church was supposed to copy the letter and send it on to the next Asian church, and so on.
And Paul’s purpose in writing this letter is really quite simple. He is answering common questions about the Church, like, “Who is she? What does she look like? What is she supposed to do?”
Very basically, we are going to find that Paul’s answers are, “Who is the Church? The Church is Jesus’ trophy wife. What does she look like? Leng lui la! And what is she supposed to do? What all trophy wives are supposed to do: make the husband look good by looking good.”
That is why this sermon series is called, “I Am a Very Stylish Girl”: because Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is all about the Church’s makeover, how Jesus is preparing his bride for an eternity of wedded bliss.
And as we have seen in Chapter 1, Paul’s first concern is unity. The Church, as Jesus’ bride, is a diversity of body parts, all sorts of shapes and sizes and purposes — but they are supposed to work together. When a person has good body-awareness, like an athlete or a dancer, we tend to say that person is “graceful”, but really what we mean is that their body is working in harmony with itself.
Well, at this point in history, the Asian church is still a bit clumsy. She is still in training, learning how to be graceful. And Paul is the trainer. He is the dancing master, the coach who has been commissioned to give the church good poise and posture.
And his first lesson, in Chapter 1, was to tell the Asian Christians, “You have all been adopted by God. The covenant has been signed and sealed, and you are all multi-billionaires! You already have every spiritual blessing in Christ!
“Which means you are all equally valuable in our Father’s sight.”
And if we are all equally valuable, then we are One. We are united.
And that’s great! — if you are actually part of Christ’s body.
But how can you know for sure?
We can accept the idea that all Christians are equally blessed, because the bible says so. But how can I know for sure that I am really a Christian? How can we know that we are part of the body of Christ? How can we be sure we belong to God, especially when we are not ‘feeling it’?
At least, that is how we would ask that question. Our late-modern culture is obsessed with feelings: “If I can’t feel it, it’s not real.”
But the Asian culture of Paul’s day had a different obsession, a different set of fears: they were worried about evil spirits, gods, demons, spiritual power and protection. They would ask the same question we are asking, but they would ask it differently. They would say, “Paul, how can we be sure we are protected from spiritual forces, especially when you tell us we should not be doing ritual magic in order to purchase God’s protection?”
That is the question Paul begins to answer here.
And he begins his answer by going back to before they knew Christ:  As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.
And the Ephesians would say, just as we would, “Dead, Paul? We weren’t dead, we were walking around doing stuff.”
And Paul says, in verse 2, “Yeeeessss…you were biologically alive, you were walking around doing stuff…but actually you were following the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work — still at work — in those who are disobedient.”
Now, this is some interesting language here, isn’t it? “The ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work…” It sounds a bit spooky, doesn’t it?
That’s because it is spooky. See, in those days, the “kingdom of the air” was the atmosphere that we breathe, from ground-level up to the moon. And we might say, “Okay, so what?” But for the Asian peoples of that time, the atmosphere was packed full of spirit beings.
But that’s not the worst part. Do you know what is the worst part? Well, guess what we all do with atmosphere?
We breathe it.
And this is where we remember that in Greek and Hebrew and many other ancient languages, the word for “spirit” and the word for “breath” is the same word. And now that makes sense! In the cultures of that time, breathing was intimately connected to the spirit world! When you breathed in air you were breathing in spirits. And if you breathed in enough of them, they could possess you, make you sick, make you insane, make you do things you don’t wanna do!
In short, Paul is telling them that they used to be what we would call zombies. He is telling them that, before Christ, they were like the living dead, animated by the spirits of the kingdom of the air, which are all under Satan’s control.
So that is a pretty vivid image, isn’t it!
Of course, then the Ephesians could say, just as we would, “Okay, Paul, so we were dead zombie slaves, possessed by the spirits of the air. But then you can’t really say we were ‘dead in our transgressions and sins’ can you! Because the devil was making us do it.”
Paul disagrees. Verse 3, he says, “No, no, no, no, no. Yes, before Christ we were all permeated by that poisonous atmosphere. But…we liked it, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.
See, Paul is not saying that human beings are essentially good creatures who happen to breathe in some bad air. Ever since Adam, our very nature — our very essence — has been corrupted. When the serpent penetrated the garden and made his offer of power to Adam, and when Adam accepted the offer and took that power into his hands and sold himself into slavery, Adam was doing what pleased himself most in that moment.
We are all, by nature, just like Adam: we always do what pleases us most in the moment. So the Ephesians cannot say, “Hey, we were just doing magic and other bad stuff because of the spirits, man!” No. They were doing magic because they had a lust for power. They were doing magic because they wanted to be rich and successful. They were doing magic because they liked sex with strangers (a lot of Asian magic in those days involved sex with strangers).
Paul’s point here, is that, before Christ, we were not simply helpless dead zombie slaves. We liked our slavery. We cooperated with the spirits of the air. We didn’t fight back! We did our best to breathe in more in order to build up power and control for ourselves.
“Like the rest of mankind,” Paul says, “we were by nature deserving of wrath.”
And there is an irony here. Before they believed, these Ephesians thought that evil spirits were their biggest problem, and that by doing magic they were putting up a pretty good fight against them. But the truth is, they were actively cooperating with with those evil spirits, and their biggest problem was actually God’s wrath, God’s judgement.
They thought they were helping themselves, but the more they helped themselves the more they condemned themselves.
So the Christians of Asia have been asking, “How can we be sure that we are under Christ’s protection, even without our ritual magic?”
We would ask the same question a different way: “How can we be sure we really belong to God, especially when we are not ‘feeling it’?”
Paul has just reminded all of us of who we used to be: zombie slaves, filled with the poisonous atmosphere of our age, living for what pleased us most, living in active rebellion against the God who gave us life in the first place.
And, let me ask you, what happens to zombies? You fans of The Walking Dead, you who have watched World War Z, tell me: what is the only thing you can do with a zombie?
Because you can’t reason with them, right? They are dead, animated only by the desire to feed themselves at the expense of everyone else.
We deserved nothing but destruction.
 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.
We were all zombies. But God loved us.
How do you love a zombie? If you try to love a zombie it’s going to eat you!
…and that is exactly what happened, isn’t it? Jesus, who was the only truly living man, entered into this world and was devoured by Satan’s zombies, the zombies he came to save. It happened exactly as we’d expect. We’ve seen the movies! We know how it works.
But then something happened that Satan did not predict. It turns out that if zombies devour the Son of God, zombie death does not enter into the Son of God, the Son of God’s life enters into zombie death.
And this process is what Paul is describing here. Even when we were dead in transgressions, even when we were zombies who hated and devoured the Son of God, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ.
We killed him. In return, he made us alive.
It really is by grace we have been saved.
And to be clear here: grace means receiving what we do not deserve. As zombies, we deserved destruction. Instead, because of his great love for us, God gave us life.
We were like dead zombie body parts, attached to a corrupted head: the ruler of the kingdom of the air.
But in Christ, we have been integrated into a new body, we have been attached to a new head. The resurrected life of Christ the head pours down into the body and gives it life.
But that’s not all! Verse 6: And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.
As Christ’s body, the church is not just alive; we are seated on a throne, at our Father’s right hand.
So, the life of our resurrected Christ flows into his body and gives us life. And the authority of our enthroned Christ flows into his body and gives us authority.
Now, Paul has made this point once before, back in Chapter 1, saying that because Christ rules over all the powers of the cosmos, we also rule over all the powers: we don’t need to be afraid of anything!
But here, in verse 7, he adds something to that:
He adds the reason why God did it this way: 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.
Apparently our Father is very proud of his resurrected zombie children. Apparently, in the eternities to come, we — the Church, Christ’s body — we are going to be God’s trophy. Apparently, our Father is going to point us out to all the inhabitants of the rest of the universe — universes? — and say, “Look! Look at that! Do you see my mercy, my grace, my kindness at work here?”
But that is sort of a teaser, really. Paul is going to talk more about that in Chapter 3. For now, he wants to stick to his main point, which is answering our question: how can we be sure we really belong to God? How can we be sure we are really part of this resurrected, ruling body, Paul?
Paul returns to his story: we used to be dead like this, now we are alive like this, and here’s the reason. But how did we get that way?
Verse 8: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast.
How did this resurrection happen?
By grace — which means: receiving God’s undeserved gift of life.
And through faith — which means: hearing and obeying the command to live.
For example: remember the story of Lazarus. Dead three days. Then Jesus shows up and says, “Lazarus! Wake up! Come out!” And he does!
Now, presumably Lazarus could have refused. He could have woken up at Jesus’ command, looked around the tomb, the bones of his relatives, the place of the dead, and said, “Meh, no thanks, I’m comfortable here. Remember to roll the stone back in place before you go!” He had free will. He could have stayed. But as soon as he opened his eyes and saw where he was, he jumped up and came out!
That, friends, is faith. Grace is a gift from God: the resurrecting moment when dead zombies are brought to life. Faith is also a gift from God: the ability to take that first breath, open our eyes, see where we are and leave!
Now, to be clear here: we do the breathing. We do the seeing. We do the leaving. It is our faith. But it is still, also, the gift of God.
Grace does the resurrecting; faith does the breathing. Grace gives us sight; faith does the seeing and responding.
So that is how we went from being zombies to being truly alive: God commanded us to live, and we obeyed. Lazarus left the place of the dead, and entered the place of the living. The Ephesians left the kingdom of the air, and joined the kingdom of the living. Not by works. Not by magic rituals. Not by being religious. Simply by obeying the command to leave the place of the dead — a command we very much wanted to obey anyway!
“Therefore,” Paul says, “no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
We live and we breathe by faith, not by magic, not by religious rituals. We do the breathing, but we cannot boast that we are alive because we are breathing. We are not alive because we are breathing; we are breathing because we are alive. We do not receive grace because we have faith; we have faith because we have received grace. We are alive only by the grace of God.
And the reason we have received grace is because of God’s great love for us even when we were Christ-devouring zombies.
This is a profound mystery, friends, isn’t it? Because we’ve all wondered at some point, “Why me? Why not that person over there? Does that mean God loves me but doesn’t love them?”
To tell you the truth, we don’t know why God chooses to resurrect this zombie and not that one. Scripture does not tell us. We only know that the ones he chooses he chooses out of love, and for his glory throughout the coming ages.
We also know that those he does not choose do not regret not being chosen. It’s not as if they feel hurt or rejected, because — remember! — zombies are motivated simply by the cravings of their flesh. They have no desire for fellowship with God. They don’t want a Father. They just wanna eat.
So, that is a small comfort for us: it’s not as if God is turning away living beings who are longing for salvation. He’s not! He is simply allowing them to continue to do exactly what they want to do.
But Christians are different. I don’t know why he chose me and — apparently — not my cousin. But because of his great love for me, God, who is rich in mercy, transformed my corrupt desires, he said, “Ian! Wake up! Come out!” And my newly resurrected desires told me, “Breathe! Get up! Go out!” And by faith I left the place of the dead, and I found myself joined to a living body, the living Church of Jesus Christ — the handiwork of God, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
And I have to point out that this word “handiwork” in the original Greek language is the word “poeima”. Poem. We are the poem of God, the artwork of God. We are something that he has taken pains over, that he has crafted and shaped to be beautiful. We have been created in Christ Jesus to do beautiful things, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
And did you notice that Paul has answered the question we were asking? By telling us how it happened, he has also told us how we can be sure that we really belong to God.
This is a summary of the conversation so far:
After Chapter 1, the Ephesians were willing to accept that Christians already have every spiritual blessing in Christ. But how can you tell if you really are a Christian?
Paul began his answer by reminding them of who they used to be: a corrupt body attached to a corrupt head, animated by the spirits of the air, motivated by animal cravings, dedicated to destruction.
Then he finished his answer by reminding them who they have become: a living body attached to living head, animated by the Spirit of God, motivated by faith, dedicated to works of beauty. We no longer live in that place of the dead. Like Lazarus — like Jesus Christ himself — we came to life, we stood up, we walked out, and we found ourselves to be part of a body that is seated in our Father’s presence.
So how can we know for sure that we belong to Christ?
We know because we belong to his resurrected body.
How do we know we belong to his body?
Well, here’s the good news, friends. Our belonging does not depend upon magic rituals, or religious rituals. It doesn’t depend on our feelings, it doesn’t even depend on deep theological understanding. It depends upon faith. And faith is not a feeling, faith is not a ritual, faith is a series of actions. Faith is the response of the human spirit coming alive, breathing out the zombie spirits of this age, and breathing in the Holy Spirit.
And the bible tells us that what happens to our spirit affects our body. As faith begins to take effect in our spirit, it also begins to take effect in our body. Our spirit begins to act in a new and living way, and so our body begins to act in a new and living way. That is why Paul contrasts how we used to live in the cravings of our flesh with how we now live to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Okay, that’s good news. But it is also scary news. Because, if you are anything like me, sometimes you look at your life and think, “Oooookay, but am I doing enough good works? Am I doing the right kind of good works?”
But that is the wrong kind of thinking. That is religious thinking. That is “magic ritual” thinking. When we think like that we are making the same kind of mistake the Ephesian Christians were making. When we think like that we are thinking about faith very individualistically, as if our personal resurrection depends upon what we do as individuals.
But that is not what Paul is saying. Faith does come to each person individually, but the good works that come from faith are collective good works. Look back carefully at the words Paul uses: it is “we” who are created in Christ Jesus to do good works. It is the Church, the living body of Christ, that is created to do good works.
And very practically speaking, what this means for you and me, is that I, and you, individually, are not called to do every kind of good work. Yes, it is good and necessary for each one of us to look at our lives and ask, “Am I breathing in the Holy Spirit? Is my physical life reflecting my spiritual reality?” But it is also good and necessary for each one of us to look at our brothers’ and sisters’ lives and say, “Oh, good! Maybe I do not have the gift of deep, intellectual theology — but my sister over there does, and her ‘good works’ in the body of Christ benefit me also. Maybe I do not have a deep emotional experience when I sing in worship — but my brother over there does, and his ‘good works’ in the body of Christ benefit me also.”
It is just like what we noticed at the beginning: Christ’s body is made up of diverse parts, diverse gifts, that work together. Which means, friends, that just as we “get credit” for Jesus’ good work on the cross, we also “get credit” for the good works of the body we are part of. You cannot do everything. I cannot do everything. But together, we are going to do every good work God has prepared in advance for us to do.
And, of course, Paul is going to say a lot more about this in the next few chapters.
But for now, what is our conclusion? How can we know for sure that we belong to Christ?
Paul’s answer is very simple: the evidence that we belong to the spiritual body, seated in heaven, is that we are part of the physical body here on earth.
So if you are wondering if your faith is a “real faith”, ask yourself this: are you part of a living local church? Are you part of a community that acknowledges Christ as its head? Are you part of a community that has dedicated itself to good works?
If your answer is, “yes”, then Paul’s answer is, “yes, your faith is a real faith. You belong to Christ.” You belong to Christ even if you feel like your sins outweigh your good works. You belong to Christ even if you don’t quite grasp the theology of it. You belong to Christ even if it feels like God is far away from you. You belong to Christ, because you belong to us. We belong to each other.
So very simply then: what does our Father want us to believe? What does he want us to do?
Believe this: if you have heard Jesus’ voice in your spirit saying, “Wake up, sleepyhead! Get up! Come out!” then you are alive, and you already belong to Christ’s body. You are no longer dead zombie slaves! Zombies can’t hear anything except the voice of their own appetites. Only a living spirit can hear the voice of the living God, so if you have heard Jesus’ spirit speaking to your spirit…congratulations: you are alive.
What does our Father want us to do because of this belief?
Do this: seek out a living community of believers in this city and join it.
Now, to be clear, a living Christian church will have at least two characteristics: first, it will draw its life from Christ, its living head. The life of Christ flows to us through the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit flows through the Word of God. So a living Christian church will be centered around the Word of God.
Second, it will be dedicated to good works. This does not mean moralism! If a church is trying to pressure everyone into exercising the same gift — like evangelism, or good theology, or speaking in tongues, or healing, or something like that — then that is moralism. No, a living Christian church will help individual believers figure out what their different gifts are, and then help them coordinate those gifts so that the church is working together to do the good works God has prepared in advance for them to do.
If you are here today and you are really worried about whether your faith is real, if you are feeling overwhelmed by your sins and your grief, if it seems like its been a long time since you heard the voice of the Father who loves you, then do this: turn, and look. You don’t have to say anything. Just look: these are your brothers and sisters. You belong to us. And we belong to Christ. We are predestined to do beautiful things together.
Together we — along with the Church all over the world — we are learning to be a graceful dancer, a coordinated athlete, a beautiful body moving in harmony with itself.
So “let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”