In the movie Captain America, Steve Rogers asks Dr. Erskine, “Why me?” Steve wants to know why he has been chosen for the honor of going through the program that will turn him into ‘Captain America’. Steve knows that he is the least deserving of all the candidates.
Dr. Erskine says to him, “A strong man, who has known power all his life, may loose respect for that power; but a weak man knows the value of strength and knows compassion.”
After this Steve Rogers says, “Thanks, I think.”
Dr. Erskine says to Steve Rogers at the end of that scene, “You must promise me one thing, that you will stay who you are, not a perfect soldier but a good man.”
The Ephesians have not been saved because they are good; they were dead in their trespasses and sins. Paul asks these Ephesians to remember their condition before coming to Christ; so that, they will be thankful, grateful, and humble before God and compassionate to the others.
Our text this morning is the first of the sermons taken from Ephesians 2:11-13. It says,
“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”
In these verses Paul is asking these believers to remember that they were at one time...
separated from Christ,
alienated from the commonwealth of Israel,
strangers to the covenants of promise,
they had no hope
and were without God in the world.
They are to remember a time when they were helpless and hopeless. In doing so, they will make much of the privileges that they have been given to them by GRACE.
There was a time when Israel had neglected to remember the grace and mercy of God. Tragic consequences resulted from this.
We will find this story in Ezekiel 16. It is here that God reminds Jerusalem of the condition that they were in when He first found them: they too were helpless and hopeless.
We read in Ezekiel 16:4-5 these words, “And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born.”
Yet, even while they were found in this helpless and hopeless condition God had pity and compassion upon them. In Ezekiel 16:6-14 we read these words,
And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment. Your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare.
“When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine. Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fine leather. I wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk. And I adorned you with ornaments and put bracelets on your wrists and a chain on your neck. And I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen and silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord God.
Consider how gracious the LORD had been to Israel.
He gave them life and health,
He cleansed them,
He clothed them in fine things,
He fed and nourished them,
He established a covenant with them
He formed a special relationship to them.
Because of all of these graces that were given to them…
They grew exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty.
Their renown and splendor went forth among the nations.
God’s grace and mercy had saved them and He continued to provide every good thing for them.
How did Israel respond to the LORD in the midst of such gracious blessings?
Their response is recorded in the next forty-three verses.
They turned away from the Lord
They devoted themselves to great idolatry
They invented new ways to forsake the Lord.
There are a couple verses in this chapter that reveal what was at the root of Israel’s problem. Consider Ezekiel 16:22, “And in all your abominations and your whorings you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, wallowing in your blood.”
Or consider Ezekiel 16:43, “Because you have not remembered the days of your youth, but have enraged me with all these things, therefore, behold, I have returned your deeds upon your head, declares the Lord God.”
At the root of Israel’s sin we find two things.
First, we see a heart that did not remember their helpless and hopeless past.
Secondly, we see they did not remember all that God had graciously done for them.
Therefore, they became a wicked, ungrateful and a thankless people.
There is a story told about a boat that was sinking on Lake Michigan in the late 1800’s. There was a rescue team at Northwestern University who went out and offered aide to those who were on the boat and who would have drowned without any intervention. One of the rescuers was a man named Edward Spencer. He saved seventeen people that night. Many years later he was asked by R.A. Torey, a pastor what he remembered most about that night of the rescue. Mr. Spencer said that what stuck out to him the most about was that not one of those seventeen people said ‘Thank you’ to him for being saved.
This story reflects the sin of the people of Israel in Ezekiel 16. Year after year Israel neglected to remember and to return to the LORD to thank Him for all that He had done.
As we continue to read this chapter we find that despite all of this God will act again on the basis of the covenant that He had made with them. In doing this, they would remember the things they had forgotten.
Consider Ezekiel 16:59-63, “For thus says the Lord God: I will deal with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath in breaking the covenant, yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant. Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed when you take your sisters, both your elder and your younger, and I give them to you as daughters, but not on account of the covenant with you. I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord God.”
Despite all of the evil that Israel had done, God promises to bestow unconditional grace upon them. Israel had forgotten the covenant; yet the Lord remembered His covenant with them.
Let us now return to Ephesians 2 and begin by considering something in Ephesians 2:11-12 that we have not yet come across in this letter.
We are given our first command by Paul. Paul commands these Ephesians to ‘remember’ something. In fact, He commands them two times to remember. They are to remember that they have been saved from their helpless and hopeless.
Other than here and in Ephesians 3:13, where Paul says, ‘I ask you to not loose heart’ or ‘Don’t loose heart!’, there are no other imperatives given until Ephesians 4:1. Until our text today, Paul has spoken with indicatives and not imperatives.
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson makes an observation concerning our text by saying, “It is a healthy exercise to ask ourselves if we share Paul’s emphasis in understanding and communicating the gospel. It’s imperatives (‘believe’ and ‘repent’) always depend on the prior indicatives of God’s grace. Always! Confuse indicative and imperative and we cease to use the grammar of the gospel; eventually what we believe and communicate will cease to be gospel (good news) and it will become a moral lecture (‘do this’).
Paul’s two commands are for us to remember our helpless condition (2:1-10) and hopeless situation (2:11-22).
We are to remember our helpless situation that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 2:1-2, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of the world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
And we are to remember our hopeless condition as seen in Ephesians 2:11-12. It says, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands – remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”
The command (or the imperative) to remember our helpless condition is so that we are then confronted by the fact (the indicative) that God was the one Who has saved us. This is seen in Ephesians 2:4, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved...”.
The command (or the imperative) to remember our hopeless condition is so that we are then confronted by the fact (the indicative) that God was the one who has reconciled us to Himself and to others. We see this in Ephesians 2:13, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace...”.
Some of the benefits of remembering these things are that we…
we remain thankful for the grace of God,
we will be confident of the work that God has done through Christ,
we will remain dependent upon God and not on ourselves,
we will praise the Lord and thank Him for this work of salvation.
When we read in Ephesians 2:11-12a which says, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember…” Paul is calling upon these Gentiles to consider their hopeless and helpless condition before Christ.
Dr. John Stott says, “There are some things which Scripture tells us to forget (like the injuries which others do to us). But there is one thing in particular which we are commanded to remember and never forget. This is what we were before God’s love reached down and found us. For only if we remember our former alienation (distasteful as some of it may be to us), shall we be able to remember the greatness of the grace which forgave and is transforming us.”
This ‘greatness of grace’ that Dr. Stott speaks of is found in Ephesians 2:13, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (13)
What a blessing it is for us to remember our past in which we were helpless and hopeless; in doing so, we become aware of great grace which has placed us in a special relationship with Christ, it reminds us of the fact that we are forgiven, brought near to God and are being transformed into the image of Christ.