Sermon series: Open Your Trauma Toolbox
When I was a college student in Chattanooga, one of the ways I would blow off steam was to go spelunking with five or six guys from our dorm in one of the local caves that dotted the mountains around the city. About 10 o'clock at night, we would put on our grubbiest clothes, grab our headband lights, pack a few snacks, and off we would go.
Someone who had scouted a location would take us to small hole on the slope of a mountain, usually hidden by brush and just large enough to crawl through. And that is where our adventures began. Once inside, we would find tight crawl spaces, vast caverns, underground rivers, foul smelling mud, and, yes, bats. I loved it! We would usually not emerge from this underground obstacle course until daybreak. From the first time we went caving, I was an enthusiast.
Except for one time. You see, one rule we all worked by is stick together because echoes can be deceiving and pay attention to how you get in so you will know how to get out. But there was one cave where the crawl spaces seemed to travel in circles with very few reference points. Our leader, a senior named Duane had always been very methodical, tying ribbons as markers at key places along our path.
But this time, as we tried to retrace our route back to the cave's opening, Duane had gotten a little turned around. All the jokes and cutting up suddenly ended. Tensions began to rise among the six of us as we debated which of several junctions to take. And when we did agree and took one path, we found out 40 minutes later that we had gone in a circle.
It was then that our leader confirmed what my mind was already saying: we were lost. To make matters worse, three of our lantern batteries that powered the headband light were fading fast. And there is no darkness to match the pitch blackness of a cave with no light.
I remember to this day lying on my back in a crawlspace, staring at the rock just inches above my face as my light flickered dimly, and feeling raw fear seize my thoughts. We only had about 30 more minutes at the most before all our batteries would fail. And then we would be stuck inside this place where it is always night. I fired prayers through the rock that God would come to our rescue--that He would send someone to us, us through the tunnel that would lead to the light of day.
Well, I'm here this morning, I'm happy to say! Our leader finally spotted a marker he had left early in our descent and like horses that spot the barn, we hustled through the tunnels to greet the morning sun.
It was the last time I ever went spelunking. But I will never forget that feeling. All the jokes and cutting up were over. I was lost. My friends couldn't help me; they were lost too. I didn't know which way to go. And my little man-made light was fading fast, leaving me to the dark world in which I was trapped. At that moment, all I wanted was to escape!
What I experienced for about 2 hours in the mountains of Chattanooga is also reality for you and me. We are, all of us, lost. Only the situation is much worse than losing your way in the darkness of a cave. The Bible states that all humanity is eternally lost and in need of rescue.
Now it's likely that some in this room would object to this statement. You might say that you and your family don't need to hear all this talk of being sinners - that it doesn't build your children's self-esteem and seems neurotic. But I aim to show you that this is a core truth that is vital and central to having a proper perspective about yourself. In fact, this is the third study in a series under titled "Open Your Trauma Toolbox," in which we describ six unbreakable, bedrock truths that you can count on no matter what happens to you. Together, these truths form an anchor for your soul that no storm can dislodge.
So far, we have nailed down the truth that God is God, and He's big enough and wise enough to handle what I face. Then we nailed down the second truth that the Bible is God's Word to us, a truth that is self-confirmed in its accuracy, wisdom, and transforming power every hour or every day.
Today, I call you to a truth that is hard to hear, a truth that many people simply don't want to face. But no statement is more important or necessary. You won't read this in Time or Newsweek. This is not a part of our cultural assumptions about mankind. But what we will focus on this morning is the basis for your relationship with God. Here is our starting point with God: we are lost and need a Savior! Let God's Word interpret your true condition, and point you to only One who can rescue you.
That brings us to Ephesians 2:1-3, where Paul, carried along by the Holy Spirit, diagnosed our problem.
What God is telling us through Paul is that without rescue from a mighty Savior, we are dead in our sins (v. 1), dominated by the Devil (v. 2), and destined for hell (v. 3). We are lost, sick to death with sin, sabotaged by Satan, and sentenced to hell. Do not turn your mind from these truths. Ponder them deeply. Sink into what it means, that . . .
I. Without rescue, we remain dead in trespasses and sins
Two times in this chapter, Paul says it. In v. 1, you were dead in trespasses and sins; in v. 5, even when we were dead in trespasses. Don't rush past the word dead. If you were to ask most people, even Christians, why sin is a problem and why we need rescue from it, they would say that sin makes us guilty before God and brings us under condemnation; and so we need a Savior who can forgive our sins and take away our punishment. And that is absolutely right. But that is not the point of Ephesians 2. That is not all we need.
The reason we need a Savior is not just that we are in the doghouse with God and need to be forgiven. We need a Savior because we are in the morgue. In the doghouse you might whimper. You might say you are sorry. You might make some good resolutions. You might decide to cast yourself on the mercy of God. But what can you do if you are in the morgue? Nothing!
And the cause of death? Trespasses killed us. Trespasses focuses on our actions and their result. We have made a false step, lapsed from righteousness, deviated from the standard set by God. Sins focuses on us. We miss the mark morally, are inherently offensive to God, and stand guilty before Him.
In v. 2, we are called "the disobedient"; literally we are called "sons of disobedience," which emphasizes that disobedience is in our spiritual genes. Disobedience is our mother. Unbelief runs in our family tree. It is part of our sinful DNA. And in v. 3, it shows us the outworking of this: "We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts."
On our own, we are the living dead. We have no living spiritual nature to incline us to do anything for the glory of God and in reliance on His power. Our lives are bent away from God and therefore are lived in defiance of His rightful place as God. Separated from the source of life, we are dead: dead to righteousness, dead to holiness, dead to obedience, dead to faith. That is my unregenerate state. Not a pretty picture, is it? But wait, there's more.
2. Without rescue, we will be dominated by the devil
Verse 2 says that when Jesus came to our rescue, we walked according to this worldly age, according to the ruler of the atmospheric domain, the spirit now working in the disobedient. Notice three key statements from this verse: 1) There is a being who rules over the power of the air; 2) This being is a spirit who works in the hearts and lives of lost people; and 3) The result is that lost people live their lives in tune with this evil age ("you previously walked according to this worldly age").
Now a few questions come to mind from v. 2. For example, what is the atmospheric domain and who is the ruler over it? The atmospheric domain is the jurisdiction in which this ruler spoken of in v. 2 has been authorized to function. Now think about that. Air is where we live. It's everywhere we go, the substance in which we swim. We can exist only minutes without it. And that's Paul's point. This ruler can get at mankind everywhere. The whole inhabited world is the domain of his power, subject to his influence, captive to his rule.
So who is this prince? It's not hard to discern from Scripture. Matt. 12:24 calls Satan the "ruler of demons." In 2 Cor. 4:4, Paul calls him the "god of this age." Jesus refers to him as the "ruler of this world" (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). And in Luke 4:6, Satan himself tempts Jesus with world rule by saying, "I will give You their splendor and all this authority, because it has been given over to me, and I can give it to anyone I want."
So during the age, the dominant themes and motifs and moods we encounter are under the control of Satan. He is at work on a global scale, blinding the minds of the unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Cor. 4:4) So Satan compounds the hopelessness of lost people by preventing them from seeing anything glorious in the gospel of Christ. He orchestrates a seemingly unending list of substitutes that promise much and deliver slavery.
Oh how I need a Deliverer who is stronger than this prince, who can open my eyes to see where real life, life with God, is. Left alone, apart from such a Savior, Jesus rightly says to me what He said to the Pharisees: "You are of your father the devil, and your want to carry out your father's desires." (John 8:44) We are lost, dead to God and under the influence of Satan, whose goal is to kill, to steal, and to destroy. And one more thing:
III. Without rescued, we are destined for hell
The end of v. 3 captures this when it says that we were by nature children under wrath, as the others were also. Some translations call us children of wrath, again pointing to the fact that the wrath of God belongs to us the way a parent belongs to a child. Wrath is ours as naturally as we are our parents' offspring.
Anytime I read that a biblical scholar or newspaper editorialist, or hear someone on the street say, "A loving God would never be so cruel as to create an everlasting torture chamber to which He ascribes those that bother him," I realize just how blinded we can be to the unspeakable offense we are to the blazing purity of a utterly holy God.
Understand something: apart from the life-changing rescue of the Savior, every move we make is disgustingly offensive to our eternal Maker. By right of creation, He owns us, and yet every choice we make defies His possession of us. Our thoughts are shaped by plans that have no reference to Him. Our wills follow the lead of the world, the flesh, and the Devil. Our hearts are a citadel of godless desires. Our religious efforts and good deeds are ultimately self-serving, gaining us congratulations here and (we hope) earning us something from God. But our self-centered motives corrupt everything. Sin saturates our being.
So no matter how you sugar coat it, we are an enemy of God's, guilty of cosmic treason against Him, a pariah of His holiness, a violator of His standards, and a rebel against His provision of a Savior. Our very existence blasphemes God! And what we learn from Scripture is that God would be unrighteous if he looked with indifference on our sin. Therefore, 2 Thess. 1:7-9 says, "[This will take place] at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with His powerful angels, taking vengeance with flaming fire on those who don't know God and on those who don't obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of everlasting destruction, away from the Lord's presence and from His glorious strength."
Jesus tells of a day when God will divide all humanity into two groups. And to one group, He will say the awful words, "Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41, 46). As you followed the prince of the power of the air in this life, you will follow him into the next, and with him, enter into "eternal punishment."
Tell me, do you have that nailed down in your life? Has there been a time in your life when you realized you were lost in your sin and, like me in that Tennessee cave, cried out to God for rescue! There is a Savior, my friend! Next week, we will look closely at God's provision. But until you know your need, you will not seek Him.
Every 12 step program there is begins right here: I am powerless to change. I can't help myself. I need the help of someone outside myself, someone higher than me, wiser than me, and stronger than the influences that dominate my life. While most 12 step programs place it loose on who that Higher Power is, we know Him. He is Christ Jesus. And He is here for you today.
1 John Owen, quoted by James Houston, Sin and Temptation, (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House, 1996), p. xviii.