Regenerated into Christs Church

October 7, 2012 / No. 3640

Dear radio friends,
The apostle Paul writes this letter to the congregation or church in the city of Ephesus. Paul writes this letter not to individual believers scattered here and there, but to a local church organized under officebearers and assembling for worship. This congregation or church in Ephesus had its own elders and ordained pastor. Yet Paul addresses this church as the body of Christ. And the reason is clear. This local church was indeed the body of Christ. It was a local manifestation of the body of Christ, that is, a local representation of the body of Christ where believers dwell together in life and unity. Where the faithful church institute is found, there you will also find the body of Christ. The body of Christ is not a separate entity from the church institute. All true believers join themselves with other believers for worship. That is the very nature of the church.
However, though elect believers are found in the church institute, not everyone in the church institute is an elect believer. Not every member in a church institute is a believer belonging to the elect body of Christ. Unbelievers also join themselves with the church. This is why Paul begins the second chapter of this letter to the Ephesians with the instruction of verses 1-5:
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins: Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind: and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
A true member of the church of Christ is brought by Christ from death and into life.
It is quite the accusation Paul levels against the members of the church in Ephesus. �You were dead in trespasses and sin,� he writes. �In time past you walked according to the course of this world.� If anyone thought he had reason to think highly of himself in the church there, Paul dashes his vain conceits. �We all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of the flesh.� The sobering reminder of our text is this: There is not a member of the church that was not, in times past, dead in his sin. Whenever we are tempted to glory in ourselves, we must be reminded of what we are by nature according to our flesh: we are dead in trespasses and sin. Let us take note, friends, of the nature of sin and its horrible malady.
There are a couple of words used here in verse 1 that describe for us the nature of sin. The first of these is �trespasses.� At times we can come to a property line where the owner hangs a sign saying, �No trespassing.� What that means is that it is forbidden to cross over onto that property and walk on that property. The property is forbidden territory. This describes sin to a �t.� God, in His commandments, forbids you and me from walking in ways that are contrary to His will. He tells us, �You may not go there. You may not do that. Those ways of evil are forbidden to you. You may not cross over onto the property of the wicked and unbelieving. We sin when we, despite what God�s Word tells us, cross over into the world and its sins and unbelief. We trespass. Notice the deliberate character of sin.
The second word translated �sin� here in verse 1 also describes the deliberate character of sin. It means �to miss the mark.� In His law, God gives us the target toward which we must aim our lives. God commands us: �Aim the arrow of your life at that target and shoot to hit it right in the bull�s eye. Keep My will. If you love Me, keep My commandments.� When we sin, we take the arrow of our lives and deliberately aim it in the opposite direction. We aim to please ourselves, rather than pleasing God. That, too, is the character of sin.
These actions are summarized in a third term used in verse 2. That term is �disobedience.� Sin is at root disobedience. Disobedience is deliberate refusal to walk in the way that God has laid out for us in His Word. Sin is rebellion. In times past, Paul writes, you were rebels against God. You were the children of rebellion because Satan was your father, holding you in his sway. The horrible reality of such sin is that you were dead in it all. Your rebellion against God, members of the church, rendered you at one time dead in your trespasses and sins. No life in you. You were not sick in that sin. You were not unhealthy in sin. You were dead in sin. You were not hanging on by some feeble strand of goodness and virtue of life. You were dead. There was nothing redeemable about you. You have no reason to lift up your eyes in pride. Look at your past and be humbled.
The passage before us here speaks of our spiritual condition. We are born dead in sin. No spiritual life in us at all. Our very nature is that of depravity and corruption. Sin is not simply found in our outward deeds, but our natures are a well-spring of sinfulness spewing out the blackness and filth of sin.
And, if that is not a bleak enough picture for us, Paul goes on to remind us: In time past, we who are believers walked in the ways of the wicked unbelieving world that is still lost in its sin. In fact, we walk according to the course of the world, he writes.
The sun runs its circuit through the skies. It rises in the east and sets in the west. It will never rise in the south and set in the north. It has a set course. The same is true of the wicked world. It runs its course of sin without changing. It is stuck in its course of rebellion and unbelief. And at one time we were stuck in that too. You and I had no ability to decide to rise in the south and to set in the north. We were stuck in the course of sin, with no desire to change from walking in the way of sin.
This is true because we were led by the prince of the power of the air. I think we all know who that is. We were held in the powerful clutches of Satan. He is a power in high places, a power out of whose grasp no one can escape except through the powerful work of Christ. He is the prince of the power of the air. His power is much higher than that of man. When man is held in Satan�s sway, man walks in sin and cannot break loose from it.
Further, we walked according to the same spirit that now works in the children of rebellion. That spirit is, once again, Satan, who himself rebelled against God and leads the world in that way of rebellion. Do not think that he is a myth, dear listener. Do not think that Satan is a made-up character of a horror movie. Satan cannot be seen, because he is a spirit. But he is real, and he works within the hearts of those who are his children.
At one time we were the children of Satan. He worked in our hearts and held us in the power of sin and rebellion. And this became manifested in us. In verse 3 we read that in times past we walked in the sinful deeds of the wicked. We all had our conversation, that is, our walk of life, in the lusts of the flesh. We fulfilled the strong cravings of our sinful flesh to do what is forbidden of us by God. We did exactly what we wanted to do. We lived for ourselves, to satisfy ourselves. We walked in selfishness and self-centeredness. We did not care about others. We especially did not care about what God wanted. Neither did this selfishness cleave only to our desires. Our minds also were darkened in sin. The thoughts of our hearts were only evil continually. Our thoughts, and our reasonings too, were given over to the power of sin and Satan. They were stuck in the course of this world. And all of this made us children of wrath�God�s wrath. Because of such horrible attraction to sin, we were the objects of God�s anger and condemnation.
Here is the point: we were all children of disobedience and wrath. There is not a person in the church who, in times past, was not dead in sins and trespasses. This was true of the Jewish believers in Ephesus as well as the Gentile believers. The Jews may have been preserved by God from the horrible vices that were found in the Greek culture. They had been members of the synagogue their whole lives. And God had spared them, probably, from the excesses of sin that were found in the godless culture that surrounded them. They were born and raised in the church. They had been sheltered from the horrors found in the wicked world. As a result, the Jewish believers in Ephesus might be inclined to think that what Paul addresses here was aimed only at the Gentile believers in the church. The Jews may have thought that they were a bit, well, a bit better than the Gentiles, who up to this point were given over to the course of the world and had consciously walked in the lusts of the flesh.
But the Word of God in these verses does not make an exception to the sin described here. Paul even includes himself in this category�everyone in the church, without exception, at one point in his life, was a child of disobedience.
But, you might say, I really do not remember that. I did not walk openly in these sins. God has preserved me from infancy from the excesses of sin. But even if that is true of some of us listening today, that does not mean that we were not lost in our sin in times past. We cannot remember the time that we were indeed given over to that sin. But sin, you understand, does not merely exist in excesses. We can fulfill the desires of our flesh and of the mind without walking in the horrible atrocities we see in the world today. Sometimes we can fulfill our desires in a very sophisticated manner, without the glaring over-indulgence or intemperance of the world. Many in the church have lived for themselves, in their own pleasure, with no thought of God, though they never went to the extremes of sin. Paul tells us here that we were all among the children of disobedience and were all children of wrath in times past. In times past. That is, before that moment of time when God, by His grace through Christ, quickened you and me. Prior to our regeneration�and every believer, every child of God must be regenerated�prior to our regeneration, we were dead in trespasses and sins. In that past time of life we were the objects of God�s wrath and condemnation. Let us never forget that. That is the sobering reminder we have before us in this Word of God. We were nothing in ourselves.
But that means that if we are to have a place in the church, if we are to be members of the body of Christ in this world, there must be a radical change in our lives. I am not talking about a sudden change necessarily. I am not talking about a change that we must have been suddenly aware of. But there has to be a change. One cannot be a member of the church and walk according to the course of this world. One cannot be a member of Christ�s body in this world and spend his entire life fulfilling the lusts of the flesh and of the mind. There is an indispensible act that must be performed�not by us, but by God�in order for us to be true members of Christ�s church. God must quicken us. He must make us who were dead in trespasses and sins alive from the dead. Verse 1: and you who were quickened from the dead. Verse 5: but God, when we were dead in sins, quickened us.
That takes a miracle. It is as much a miracle as Christ�s raising Lazarus from the grave after he was dead for four days. We were dead! Believers, we were dead! There was not one little spark of life in us from a spiritual point of view. God, who is rich in His mercy and in His great love, makes us alive from the dead. That is what �quickens us� means. It is the miracle God performs in the hearts of each one of His children. It is known as regeneration. It is at that very moment when we are brought from spiritual death in the clutches of Satan, into spiritual life and under the rule of Christ.
This work of our regeneration is accomplished in us by our risen Lord. Notice in verse 5: We are quickened together with Christ. When Christ went the way of the cross for us, He destroyed the power of sin and death over us. Christ won the victory over Satan. In His resurrection Christ came back to life again. He, through His death and resurrection, earned life for Himself and for all those who are in Him, that is, for those whom God had given to Him. God�s people, the elect, were together with Christ in His resurrection. The life He earned in His resurrection is a life that He earned for them.
It is a life that He instills in every one of them at the moment of their new birth�regeneration. At the moment our resurrected Lord sends forth His Spirit to dwell in our hearts, we are made alive from the dead. We live, not only because of what Christ has done, but we live together with Christ, our living Lord, the head of His body. Because our head lives, and we are one with Him, we live with Him.
No one can be a true member of Christ�s church in this world without that work of regeneration. No one can be a member of Christ�s church in this world without that work of God�s grace. In order to be a member of Christ�s body we must be born again (John 3). We must have, flowing through our spiritual veins, the life of Jesus Christ. This spiritual act of God�s grace is indispensible to belonging to the true church of Christ.
Now we get into the whole distinction, you see, between belonging to the elect body of believers, the church, and belonging to the instituted church. There is no doubt about it: true believers do not live outside the instituted church. True believers join with other believers because they are called to assemble themselves together to worship. That is the purpose of God in their salvation. But there are others who are either born into the church or join from without but are not regenerated. They are not quickened. We cannot necessarily see this on the outside, but their heart has not been changed. God has not performed the miraculous work of regeneration. These may belong to the church for all kinds of reasons. At times in history, it was the popular thing to do. At the time of Constantine, for example, anybody who was somebody belonged to the Christian church. It was a matter of prestige and acceptance by everyone. So, many unbelievers joined the church institute.
There are many who are born into the church and, because their family and friends belong there, they simply go there too. There are those who go to church because, well, it is nothing more than a social club�just like some people join a lodge or a club in order to have people to do things with. Or they join the church because it is good hunting grounds for a wife or a husband. But they are not members because the life of Christ flows through them. They are not in church because they are believers and, as believers, are drawn by the Spirit to other believers. They do not come because their new life craves the spiritual food of the preaching. They do not come because they are a believing member of the body of Christ. They join for carnal reasons. These people may fool themselves into thinking that they belong to the church of Christ. But if they do not have the life of Jesus Christ flowing through them, they are members of an institution where the body of Christ is found, but they are not members of that body even though their names may be on the membership rolls.
Why are we here? Ask the question: why are we in church? That is the point that Paul makes in these verses. We must be those who are alive from the dead. That is what makes us members of the body of Christ in this world.
But what an amazing work is the life of Christ given through regeneration. When we see it in us, what an amazing work! We marvel at what God has done for us. God takes a dead sinner such as I and, through the power work of His grace, makes me alive. And when He does, He graciously places me into the body of this church in this world. Amazing!
Now I have this desire in me to be a part of that body of Christ as a living member! I want to gather with the saints and faithful and worship with them! Now I understand why it is in the nature of the church to worship! I want to gather in worship to praise God for the salvation He has given me freely and out of no merit of my own. All I can point to is His sovereign mercy and love as the reason for my salvation. God who is rich in mercy for His great love wherewith He loved us has made us alive in Christ! In the great love by which God chose us as His own already in eternity He saved us. He took pity on us in our deep distress and reached forth His mighty arm and drew us out of the floods of sin and unbelief that were drowning our souls in perdition. And He set us upon the Rock Jesus Christ.
Did we merit any of this more than anyone else in this world, more than anyone who is still living in unbelief? Not at all! It is all of God�s grace, mercy, and love. He freely put us into His church. Let us attend to the worship of the church today and bow with humble thanks before God, who has made us alive in Christ!