Thursday, December 29, 2005

Immeasurable Riches of Grace

We continue reflecting upon the abundance of blessings, praise and glory in which St Paul exults in Ephesians. What is needed to go deeper (and what Paul asks of God for us) is “a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints…” (1:17-18).

With enlightened heart-eyes, we see something that is rather unpleasant but which becomes a reason for profound gratitude: we “were dead through the trespasses and sins in which [we] once walked” (2:1-2). The gratitude isn’t for being dead in sins, for “following the course of this world” and the evil spirit who is its prince, who urged us to “live in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind…like the rest of mankind” (v. 3). It is for what happened next: God the Father “made us alive with Christ…and raised us up with Him…” This is because God is “rich in mercy” and so “out of the great love with which He loved us,” He saved us by his grace. Why did He do this? So that “He might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (vv. 4-7).

You might say that this is simply a standard piece of basic biblical theology, and on one level that is correct. But look at what it means for us. Being rather dull in spiritual perception, we don’t realize how horrible a thing it is to be spiritually “dead in sins,” and what the consequences are for all eternity. We perhaps aren’t aware that to be “saved” isn’t just to have made a profession of faith or to have joined a church, but it is to be spared a fate worse than death—because death is not the end but only the beginning of the horrors. St Paul says: that’s how mankind lives, dead in sins, following every impulse suggested by unrestrained desire and the goading of the evil one. But you, he says, you who have put your faith in Christ, have been raised from the dead before the general resurrection! You have been enlightened so as to perceive another way to live, the only way that leads to eternal happiness.

God wants us to see that, for He loves us with a great love and is rich in mercy—immeasurably rich in grace in Christ Jesus. He rescued us, after having searched for us in the lairs of dragons (as St Ephrem says). Lest we think this is over-dramatized and that we can enter eternal happiness by maintaining a convenient and bland human decency, St Paul cries out: “By grace you have been saved…and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God” (v. 9). Our immeasurable poverty cries out for God’s immeasurable riches. This is why Paul began this letter with the praise of God’s glory and goodness to us. He knows that we’re all goners if God doesn’t pour out his rich mercy upon us. But God has done so, and is doing so, and will continue to do so until the moment we stand before his judgment seat.

We need the eyes of our hearts enlightened so we can realize clearly the frightening state of being “dead in sins” and the glorious gift of being made “alive in Christ.” Salvation is meaningless if all we need to be is “nice.” We must know from what and for what we have been saved, and thus our gratitude will be endless—and our efforts to live in accordance with God’s gift will be untiring.

So what will it be? “Dead in trespasses, children of wrath, sons of disobedience”—or “alive in Christ, saved by grace, created for good works by the God of love, mercy, and immeasurable riches”? Let us receive—and hold on to, for dear life!—the gift of God in Christ Jesus.