In an article, ‘Our politicians and media are letting us down’ in The Weekend Australian (June 17-18), Chris Kenny observes: ‘When we see the open deceit and toxicity of politics and the media in the Canberra bubble (Canberra is Australia’s DC), it is tempting to despair … We see persistent tension between truth and lies. We are informed about political systems we do not trust by media we do not believe.’

He comments, ‘The depressing reality is that politics and media are manifestations of human nature, which is stubbornly flawed. Dante knew 700 years ago that the propensity to lie was our greatest flaw … More than 2000 years ago Aristotle warned that the only thing we “gain by falsehood” is to ensure we are not believed when we speak the truth. Yet in the here and now this same battle between truth and lies is the most important daily struggle.’

A little less than 2000 years ago Paul the Apostle took the notion of our flawed human nature to another level. In Ephesians chapter 2, he writes: You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived,…

Our real problem. In our natural state we are the walking dead in God’s eyes: our relationship with him is dead, non-existent. Our trespasses and sins – our self-interest and lies, our pride, covetousness and deceit, are all illustrations of this.

Furthermore, Paul identifies there is another layer behind our deeply flawed, self-interested nature when he says that in our natural state we follow the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient…

We are subject to oppressive influences – our flawed inner self, and from outside the prevailing secular culture. However, beyond both and actively working through both, is the ruler of the kingdom of darkness who holds us in captivity.

All too often, even so-called gospel churches fail to understand the depth of the abyss into which humanity has plunged because we’ve all turned our backs on God. It is an abyss from which we can’t extract ourselves. Humanity’s problem is not that it has simply taken a by-path in life. Rather we have chosen the path that leads to death. ‘Is there any hope?’ we might ask.

Mercy. All of us are by nature children of wrath, but God, who is rich in mercy, he continues (2:3, 4).

The contrast between verses 3 and 4 is astonishing. It is completely at odds with how love is understood today. God’s just anger in condemning us is not incompatible with his love. The two can be held together. God can be truly just in judging sin and at the same time choose to forgive because his nature is always to have mercy – choosing to love and to give life. Indeed, his justice reveals the depth of his mercy.

And consider what his mercy means for all who turn to him: Out of the great love with which he loved us… he made us alive together with Christ … and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, (2:4, 5b, 6).

Although we were dead to God because we had chosen to ignore him, he nevertheless chose to give us a new life with Christ, raising us from death and giving us a seat beside Christ in his victory and rule because we are now tightly linked in him through his Spirit (1:13).

God has done this, Paul tells us, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus (2:7). Out of God’s pure love he acted in rescuing the Ephesian Christians. He also planned that the overwhelming nature of his mercy he had shown would be seen in the ages to come.

‘Can all this be true?’, we might ask. Or is it another lie to promote the noise of the churches and to prop up the cripples of life? Two great themes in this passage provide an answer: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and the witness and evidence of the changed lives of genuine Christians throughout the ages (2:6, 7).

In verses 8 and 9 Paul restates the extraordinary mercy and gift of God: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

Three foundation gospel words stand out – salvation, grace and faith. Salvation is more than forgiveness: it is the deliverance from death and the gift of new life in Christ in all its fullness. Grace is God’s free and undeserved mercy towards us. Faith is our response of trust by which we each receive God’s free gift for ourselves.

There is no place for asking, ‘How much penance should I do?’ God’s gift of forgiveness and new life is full and free. It echoes Jesus’ words to the repentant criminal as he was dying on the cross: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Good works. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life (2:10).

We are God’s work of art. Our salvation is God’s masterpiece in his creation. In the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s masterpiece, ‘The creation of Adam’ portrays God reaching out to Adam. Paul wants us to know that God’s masterpiece is of a totally different order: salvation is not just creation, or re-creation. It is a new creation.

Furthermore, we are created in Christ Jesus for good works – good works that God prepared beforehand. Before God in his mercy brought us to Christ we walked in trespasses and sins in which self-interest and the powers of evil had trapped us. Now we live out the good works God has eternally planned for us to do.

There are many things happening around us today that are troubling. Our only hope is to be found in the depths of God’s mercy. Let me encourage you to reflect on these words of Paul and ask the Lord to awaken the riches of his love in you, stirring you to live out each day the good works he has prepared for you to do. When we do this, others will notice – especially if we wisely play a part in helping them to discern truth in the midst of the deceptions around us. Maybe then, they with us will come to know the hope and joy that only God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, can give us.

A prayer. Almighty God, our heavenly Father, like lost sheep we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts and have broken your holy laws. Going our own way we have not loved you as we ought nor loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve your condemnation. Father, for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, forgive us all that is past. Turn our hearts to love you and obey your will. Help us to live for your glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

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