Freedom from the Shackles of Sin!
Reading: Ephesians Ch. 2v1-7.
At 11:00 AM on June 18th 1970, Harold Morris heard a jury return a verdict of "guilty as charged!" All of his hopes and dreams suddenly vanished into thin air as the judge quickly sentenced him to two life sentences for armed robbery and murder. The next years of his life were to be filled with the horrors of prison existence. In his insightful book, Morris describes the ordeal of solitary confinement, the in-house drug traffic, infighting among the inmates, and the arrogant and harsh treatment of the inmates by the compassionless guards. He tells how he found Christ in prison, and how Christ changed his life. And although there were times when he despaired of all hope, his long struggle to win freedom finally culminated in 1978 when he walked out of prison on parole. But it was in 1981 that Harold Morris received a full pardon from the state of Georgia. The book he wrote about his life is entitled “Twice Pardoned.” God had intervened in Harold Morris' life and given him two pardons. He had pardoned him eternally for his sins and had now pardoned him again.
Having a dear friend in prison ministry in Scotland, Angus Crighteon and also a precious friend in U.S.A. in full time prison ministry, Bill Rogowski, I can identify with many things Morris describes. Prison is a terrible place to be. People are no longer people; they are inmates, a number and maybe a last name. Some are treated like animals. Few are treated with dignity. And although there are some prisons that are better than others, most are fairly dehumanizing places. That is the nature of prisons. Prisons lock us in, and lock others out. Prisons trap us --- make slaves of us. They not only imprison us physically, they imprison us emotionally and mentally. The loss of freedom becomes as much a state of mind as a state of body. From this state of mind, many find it almost impossible to break free. Even after being set free, many simply return after a short period of time, unable to cope with freedom any more.
You may never have experienced the inside of a prison personally. But the Bible teaches that every single one of us have experienced prison existence. In fact, we were born in prison. It is a prison of the soul, described in the Scriptures as spiritual death. It is as horrible a place as any prison built with hands made of brick and mortar. And from this prison of spiritual death, many never are released. Many die there without ever experiencing life.
Our text contrasts the past prison of death into which all us were born with the present position of deliverance into which those of us who have put our faith in Christ have been brought. It is a text of hope. It is a revelation of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in providing for us the true pardon from sin and deliverance from the shackles of death.
So long I have searched for life’s meaning,
Enslaved by the world and my greed;
Then the door of my prison was opened by love,
For the ransom was paid, I was freed
I’m free from the fear of tomorrow;
I’m free from the guilt of the past;
For I’ve traded my shackles for a glorious song;
I’m free, praise the Lord, free at last
I’m free from the guilt that I carried,
From the dull empty life I’m set free;
For when I met Jesus, He made me complete;
He forgot the foolish man I used to be
(William J. & Gloria Gaither)
Do you really understand the past prison of death in which you were incarcerated?
Do you really understand the present position of deliverance in which you stand?
Do you really understand how blessed you are?
Do you really understand just how much you have to be thankful for?
Do you really understand how privileged you are?
Do you really remember where you were before Christ found you?
Do you really know the high position you now hold?
Do you really realize what you can do by His power?
By knowing the true condition of your soul before Christ, you can truly appreciate just how far you've come in Christ.
In the first seven verses of this chapter we are given two keys to a new attitude.
1. Remember Your Past Prison! Death:
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 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. 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 others” (Ephesians Ch. 2vv1-3).
It is interesting, and I guess all of us are guilty of the very same way of thinking, we love looking back and remembering how it was way back then and yet always, and all of us, look back with rose tinted glasses. We want to remember fondly all of the wonderful times. We try to forget the negative and hurtful things of the past. We never had it so good; it has never been the same since! The apostle Paul, on the other hand, brings us face to face with the startling reality of how we really were before Christ. It is not a nostalgic look, to say the least. It is a realistic look. But it is also a hopeful look.
It is hopeful because it is a picture with a stark contrast. John Stott says about this passage, "Paul first plumbs the depths of pessimism about man, and then rises to the heights of optimism about God. It is this combination of pessimism and optimism, of despair and faith, which constitutes the refreshing realism of the Bible. For what Paul does in this passage is to paint a vivid contrast between what man is by nature and what he can become by grace." End Quote!
It is this contrast between the death of mankind and the deliverance of God, which will cause us to rejoice.
One of the wonderful things about traveling to the United States of America on a regular occasion is the amazing quantity of knowledge you can glean and although you can never remember all of those wonderful facts some do stay with you, for example, The highest spot in the continental United States is Mt. Whitney in California. It stands a majestic 14,495 feet. From its top, a beautiful panorama of landscape unfolds. You can see the Sierra Nevada's and the Mojave dessert. But just 80 miles southeast is Death Valley, the lowest spot in the United States at 280 feet below sea level. Death Valley is also the hottest with temperatures ranging to 134 degrees in the shade. It is a stark contrast to Mt. Whitney.
Paul takes us into the depths of human sin and depravity before he causes us to rise to the heights of God's deliverance and pardon.
We read that you were dead in your trespasses and sins. This is the condition into which all of us were born. We were born dead! This is what has been called original sin. We all come into the world with this nature of sin. It is this sin nature that produces trespasses and sins. And to be dead in your trespasses and sins is to be trapped in that state.
The word for trespasses in Greek means "to slip, fall, stumble, deviate, or go in the wrong direction." The word for sins in the original language means "to miss the mark, to fall short." So in Romans 3:23 we have the statement, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." This falling short of the glory of God is what it means to be dead in . . . trespasses and sins.
Our past state is not only described as being dead but also as being disobedient. It says “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” (Ephesians Ch.2.v2).
In other words, we once were these sons of disobedience. Deadness and disobedience characterize our former life before Christ. And to walk as sons of disobedience means to walk according to the course of this world. The world's course is the world's system of values. This system of values is inspired by the prince of the power of the air, who is Satan. He is the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.
In other words, to fall in line with "the spirit of the times" is to align oneself with the philosophy of Satan. This is what describes the life of the typical unbeliever. It describes our life before Christ.
We are not only described as dead, and disobedient, we are described as depraved. In verse 3 we read that we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh. Unsaved people live by their lusts. This is not simply referring to sexual desires. Lusts refer to any selfish desires we may have. And we are described as people who live a lifestyle of indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind. We were self-indulgent. And a self-indulgent person who is driven by his or her desires can be described as depraved.
Finally we are described as doomed. In the last phrase of verse 3 it says we were by nature children of wrath. Those who do not receive Jesus Christ are objects of God's condemning judgment. They are objects of God's wrath. In short, they are doomed.
No one is doomed by some capricious and arbitrary desire on the part of God. God is holy and just and righteous and fair. In reality, God doesn't send anyone to hell, people send themselves there. By rejecting Jesus Christ, people bring upon themselves judgment and condemnation.
We read in John Ch.3vv17-18: "For He did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." Jesus came into the world to save us from our sins.
It was a mountain one-room school house where severe discipline was used to keep the rowdyism of uninterested pupils in check. The noon recess was ended and the teacher was interrogating the class with regard to the disappearance of Sally Jane's lunch. After a few minutes of verbal threats and demands, a sob was heard. It was little Billy--a thin, undernourished child. His family was the poorest of the poor. "Did you take Sally Jane's lunch?" demanded the teacher.
"Yes, sir," mumbled Billy through his tears. "I was hungry."
"Nevertheless, you did wrong to steal and you must be punished," declared the teacher. As the teacher removed the leather strap from its place on the wall, Billy was ordered to the front of the room and told to remove his shirt. The arm of the teacher was raised over the bent and trembling form of little Billy.
"HOLD IT, TEACHER!" shouted a husky voice from the rear of the room. It was Big Jim striding down the aisle removing his shirt as he came. "Let me take his whipp'n," he begged. The teacher was aghast, but knowing that justice must be demonstrated, he consented and laid the belt to the back of Big Jim with such force that even the stronger boy winced and his eyes watered. But Billy never forgot the day that Big Jim took his place.
James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) pp. 34-35.
But if we persist in willfully rejecting the salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ, we will be condemned by our own actions. What a picture of lost humanity we find here. It is the picture of every lost man and woman. It is the picture of prison. We all start out as inmates there. We are dead, disobedient, depraved, and doomed. The cell door has swung shut, and there is nothing we can do to free ourselves.
Thank God the story doesn't end there. Though the cell doors are locked tightly, there is one who has a key. Though we were without hope, incarcerated in the past prison of our death, one day the Keeper of the keys came along. His name is Jesus. Just as big Jim took little Billy’s punishment so Jesus took our punishment for sin and by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour our sin’s are laid upon Him and we are set free. Is it any wonder the next point the Apostle Paul makes is:
2. Rejoice In Your Present Position! Deliverance:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians Ch.2v4-7).
Verse four begins with two glorious words --- But God! From the depths of Death Valley we look to the heights of Mt. Whitney. From the lowest point we look to the highest. Here is the contrast. But God!!
A.W. Tozer was quite correct when he said, “We can seek God and find him! God is knowable, touchable, hearable, and seeable, with the mind, the hands, the ears, and eyes of the inner man. End Quote!
In the midst of human misery God has intervened. When we had hit rock bottom, God reached down to pick us up. When we needed deliverance the most, deliverance is precisely what God provided for us. He delivered us because He is rich in mercy. He delivered us because of His great love with which He loved us. He delivered us even when we were dead in our transgressions. At the time of our greatest need, God came through with our deliverance. This is our present position in Christ.
Once again; A.W. Tozer was correct when he said, “God's mercy is boundless, free and, through Jesus Christ our Lord, available to us now in our present situation. End Quote!
This deliverance is by love. Our text says that God . . . because of His great love has provided salvation for us. His deliverance has come because He loved us. The love with which He loved us is the motivation for His being rich in mercy toward us. We must never forget this. God is, by nature, love. His love makes Him compassionate toward us. Never think that God hates you. God has nothing but love for you. God does hate sin. But God doesn't hate the sinner. God loves you, and me.
Deliverance is also for life. By "for life" I do not mean that deliverance is forever. It is that. But that is not what I mean. I mean that deliverance is for the purpose of life. We have been delivered so that we can be alive. We are told that God has made us alive together with Christ. Christ has given us new life. We no longer simply exist; we now really live. He is not merely referring to life eternal; He is also referring to life abundant. The life of Christ lives in us, and we live in Him.
Deliverance is also by grace. The parentheses; at the end of verse 5 is an important one. There it reveals that by grace you have been saved. The grace of God is His unmerited favor. Our salvation comes as something we do not deserve. It is given to us as a gift based on what Jesus Christ did for us on the Cross of Calvary. We have been given an unconditional pardon from the prison of our sin. We are not pardoned because we are not guilty, we are pardoned in spite of the fact we are guilty.
And finally, we find that deliverance is with a purpose. God has not only saved us, He has raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus. In other words, we share in Christ's exaltation and glory. We share in the supernatural, spiritual, resurrection life of Christ. We are risen with Him. But we are raised . . . up with Him for a purpose. That purpose is in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing richness of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
In other words; we are now His Trophy. We are an example of His love and grace and kindness. It is God's purpose to display us in the ages to come as an example of what He can do to deliver a human life from the bondage of sin. We are a part of God's eternal purpose in Christ Jesus. We are examples of what God can do to impart His divine, supernatural life.
What a contrast! For someone to be on death row and to be pardoned and made President of the United States would be no greater contrast than the one we have just witnessed. What we see here described is nothing less than the power of God. I am reminded of the remarks of C. H. Spurgeon in one of his sermons on the power of God, needed to perform the work of converting a soul:
"If Niagara could suddenly be made to leap upward instead of forever dashing downward from its rocky height, it was not such a miracle as to change the perverse will and raging passions of men. To wash the Ethiopian white, or remove the leopard's spots, is proverbially a difficulty, yet these are but surface works; to renew the very core of manhood, and tear sin from it's hold upon man's heart, this is not alone the finger of God, but the baring of His arm. Conversion is a work comparable to the making of a world. He only who fashioned the heavens and the earth could create a new nature. It is a work that is not to be paralleled, it is unique and unrivaled, seeing that Father, Son, and Spirit must all cooperate in it; for to implant the new nature in the Christian, there must be the decree of the eternal Father, the death of the ever-blessed Son, and the fullness of the operation of the adorable Spirit. It is a work indeed. The labors of Hercules were but trifles compared to this: to slay lions and hydras, and cleanse Augean stables --- all this is child's play compared with renewing a right spirit in the fallen nature of man." End Quote!
In bringing us from a position of death and depravity to one of deliverance, God has performed a miracle of the magnitude of the making of a world. He has totally transformed us at the core of our being by giving us a new nature.
However moral and upright we might have been before we surrendered to Christ, we were trapped in a prison of spiritual death which separated us from God and made us unresponsive to His love. But God did something that only God could do. He delivered us in spite of us. And God has given us the resurrection life of His Son Jesus. The same power that raised Christ from the dead now works in us.
Look at where you were. From the Mt. Whitney of your present position in Christ, look down at the Death Valley of your past prison of death. See the amazing contrast. Behold, and rejoice.
As we remember the prison of our past death we can begin to rejoice in the position of our present deliverance.