Often, Christians use the language of salvation in a narrower sense, describing only what happens after death. To be sure, it is wonderful to be saved in this way. But, from a biblical perspective, God’s salvation is much more inclusive. We who are saved by God’s grace begin to experience God’s shalom—peace and wholeness, life as it was meant to be—now, even as we anticipate the fullness of shalom that is reserved for the future.
Do you like good news? Well then, I have some for you. Great news, actually! Here it is: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith.” Fantastic! In today’s Life for Leaders devotion, we’ll begin to consider in depth what it means to be saved by grace through faith. This verse deserves such careful scrutiny, not only because it is a touchstone of our faith, and not only because it has been so influential in the history of the church, but also because it has power to transform your life.
These words have changed the course of history through their impact on the Christian church. And they have changed the course of millions of individual lives as people heard these words and were transformed by them. Because these words are so important, we will consider them carefully as we make our way through Ephesians 2:8-10. Often, we will stop and pick up a word as if it were an ornate shell found on a secluded beach. We will study it attentively, both to make sense of it and to enjoy it.
God made us alive in Christ when we were dead. In a sense, God even raised us with Christ and seated us with Christ in Heaven, so that we can begin to experience the kingdom of God in our lives today. Why? Why has God done such wonderful things for us? He has done these things “because of his great love for us” (2:4), because of the richness of his mercy (2:4), and because of his grace (2:5). Yet, there is something more.
Through the Spirit, the future is real to us now. Yet, at the same time, we still live in the present, with its pains, sins, and sorrows. We can see God at work today—the future invading the present—yet we also see evidence that the “ruler of the kingdom of the air” is still wreaking havoc in our world. So we live in the “already and not yet.” We experience life as a collapsed telescope, with present and future overlapping.
It’s easy to be confused by the past tense language in Ephesians 2:6. After all, we don’t remember being raised from the dead. And it sure seems like we’re still on earth, not in Heaven. Moreover, elsewhere in his writings, Paul speaks of our resurrection as something that lies in the future. In Romans 6:5, for example… So which is it? Is our resurrection in the past? Or in the future? Or somehow both?
That night during our cabin time, the counselor asked us to share what the night had meant to us. I was surprised when Danny volunteered to talk. “I received Jesus as my Savior tonight,” he said. “I’m happy because I know that from now on I won’t have any problems in life.” At that moment, my heart sank. Danny didn’t understand that becoming a Christian didn’t make life perfect, at least not in this age.
For those of us who believe that Heaven is far away, either spatially or temporally, Ephesians 2:6 can be surprising, even unsettling: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” Did you catch that? God raised us (past tense) with Christ and seated us (past tense) in the heavenly realms with him. How is this possible? We’re still on earth, aren’t we? Are we in Heaven too?
As you recall, the Apostle Paul begins Ephesians 2 by saying that we were dead, trapped by sin, under the power of Satan and this fallen world, with desires that drove us to live far less than the human lives God had intended for us. If Paul were writing Ephesians today, he might have begun this chapter by saying, “You were zombies.” Our existence was not unlike that of zombies in pop culture: dead and undead, alive but far less than fully alive.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus connects with people. He touches lepers, dines with outcasts, prays for the unclean, enters Samaritan villages, and cries with the grieving. Jesus, the prophesied Immanuel, made it a leadership habit to come near, enter in, and be present. We continue the ministry of Jesus when we cry with others, listen to their stories, and are simply present. We can carry the presence of Jesus wherever we go.