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Fourth Sunday in Lent
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, March 15, 2015

True Self Esteem

Text: Ephesians 2:4-10

If you want to start a lively conversation, all you have to do is bring up “political correctness.” Political correctness has advanced to a point that it drives most people crazy. And yet it seems to steer the ship of our culture these days. Have you ever wondered what happened? The basic idea behind political correctness is a good one: people living together in society ought to respect each other’s dignity. We had gotten to a point where our social and personal prejudices and hatred were causing us to treat each other abusively. And the grassroots of our culture started to think we could do better than that. That’s a good thing. But there was something else going on that I think has turned political correctness into the irresistible force it is today. And that is the whole business of self-esteem.

Building up our self-esteem is a major preoccupation these days. We work very hard to build the self-esteem of our children in nursery school and kindergarten and primary school and on up the educational chain. We don’t allow teachers to discipline the children in the classroom. We are afraid it may damage their self-esteem to be told, “No.” We praise mediocrity. We are afraid that if we suggest to someone that others do a better job, it may damage their self-esteem. We make laws that are based on protecting the self-esteem of the individual. That is what political correctness is about, isn’t it? Don’t offend my self-esteem.

What happens is that each one of us makes up our own story about who we are and what we are capable of and why our life is important. And our story is protected by political correctness. As a result, we have people growing up and taking on responsible positions that are over their heads. No one has dared to tell them along the way they don’t have what it takes. We have people building machines and bridges and institutions that don’t work, because no one damaged their self-esteem by telling them they had to work harder in school.

It is true, and highly relevant to society, that we have a story about who we are and what we are capable of and why our life is important. But it isn’t a story we make up. It is a story God tells us. And our self-esteem comes, not from what we make up about ourselves, or even from what other people may tell us about ourselves. It comes from the fact that God esteems us. God values us highly.

God values us highly. And in order to understand just how significant that is, we have to learn some things about God and about ourselves. Some of those things about ourselves we may not want to hear. But they are key to our self-esteem.

That is what this morning’s reading from Ephesians Chapter 2 is all about. It is one of many places in the Word of God that tells us how much God values us. Let’s walk through this passage from the Letter to the Ephesians and look at it with care.

4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ....

The first thing we see in this scripture are some truths about who God is. That is one of the fundamental things God has revealed to us: who He is, and what He is like. This passage tells us God is rich in mercy, and He loves us. God has revealed a whole lot more about who He is in the Bible, but for purposes of this passage on our self-esteem, He emphasizes His love and mercy.

It tells us what God did: He made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in our trespasses. Now in this age of self-esteem and political correctness, we don’t want anyone telling us we were dead in our trespasses. This is a major hurdle for modern folks to get over:

“I’m okay, you’re okay.”

“I’m a good person. I deserve reward, not punishment.”

“Don’t talk to me about that outdated theology that says I am a miserable sinner.”

“You evangelicals talk too much about sin. I want to hear about happy things.”

Well, by golly, being rescued from death is a happy thing. But unless you understand that you were dead in your trespasses, you can’t understand God’s mercy, and you can’t understand God’s love for you.

There was an incident a week ago which illustrates for me what this passage is saying when it talks about being made alive when we were dead. Sometime after 10 PM a week ago Friday night, Jennifer Groesbeck’s car hit a bridge abutment and plunged into the freezing February waters of the Spanish Fork River near Provo, Utah. She was killed. The car came to rest on its top, partially submerged in the river. No one saw the accident, and the car was not discovered until about 14 hours later by a fisherman.

It turns out Jennifer’s baby, 19-month-old Lily, was in the car with her. She was found by the emergency responders when they flipped the car over. She had been suspended in her car seat, upside down in the back. For 14 hours, she had been hanging just above the cold rushing water running through the car. And she was still alive. They rushed Lily to the hospital, and she survived. Lily was released this past Wednesday and went home to her Dad.

Here was a person who was dead and made alive again. For 14 hours, she had no future. Had no one found the wreck, she never would have lived to grow up. But she was rescued and was given life.

That is what the Bible tells us about ourselves. We are dead in our trespasses until God, in His love and mercy, makes us alive in Christ. Like this little 19-month-old baby, most of us have no idea of our perilous situation. But God does. And He tells us. The Biblical story from Genesis to Revelation tells us. God has been very clear that our situation was hopeless until He saved us. And His willingness to save us shows how much God values us. But there is more. He didn’t just give us life again.

[He] made us alive together with Christ... 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

That is the rest of what God has done for us. He raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Just as God has exalted His only Son, Jesus, to the highest place in heaven, He is doing the same with us. I want to come back to this expression “in Christ.” But what this is telling us is that, in the spiritual realm, the Father gives us the same status with Him that Jesus has. That is how much God values us. He has highly exalted the believer to a place of honor at the throne of heaven.

So things were worse than we want to admit; and what God has done for us is better than we can imagine. We were dead in our trespasses. And because God highly values us, He gave us life and raised us up to the throne of heaven. Why did God do this? Verse 7 tells us. He did it,

7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

This suggests two things. It suggests that there is more unimaginable blessing to come. And it suggests that God delights in doing this because through it He displays the glory of His grace. God is supreme and unique. There is no other like Him. And the wonder of Him is a beauty to behold. And part of the wonder of God is His grace—His willingness and delight in doing that which is unexpected and undeserved, just to show how perfectly good He is.

Grace: God’s undeserved favor. The message of God’s grace is what this passage of scripture is most quoted for. Especially the next two verses, verses 8 and 9:

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 

The scripture is telling us in no uncertain terms that, no matter how much self-esteem we may cultivate in ourselves, we do not have what it takes to save ourselves. We may think we are nice people who don’t sin. We may think we deserve God’s favor and God’s blessing because of our excellence. But the reality is that nothing we do could ever be good enough to rescue us from this body of death. We’re like that 19-month-old baby suspended two inches above the freezing water. We aren’t old enough to know to undo the buckle. And if we were, we couldn’t swim anyway. And even if we could swim, the water is so cold that within a couple of minutes, we would be overcome by hypothermia. But God can save us. And He does save us because He is merciful and He loves us. It’s all Him: His initiative; His love; His mercy; His grace. And we have nothing to boast about. We have only to praise God.

The scripture goes on to say this:

10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

This word, “workmanship” has been translated from the original Greek word, poiema, which means something that has been made. What it is saying is this:

We cannot boast in our works, for we are God’s work.


This is not our doing. Rather, we are God’s doing.

God has created us to do good works. But were it not for what God has done, our good works are but so much fluff. It is in Christ Jesus that we are able to do the good works that God has prepared for us.

And that brings us to this expression “in Christ.” Maybe you have noticed it and even puzzled over it. Paul uses it three times here in this passage, and I have found at least twelve other times in the Epistles where he uses the expression “in Christ.” He never defines it. He leaves us to figure out its meaning from the various contexts. He says things like,

•    God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. (Ephesians 1:4)

•    In Christ we were redeemed and forgiven of our sins. (Ephesians 1:7)

•    In Christ, we have become a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

•    In Christ, we have eternal life. (Romans 6:23)

•    In Christ, we shall be raised from the dead. (1 Corinthians 15:22)

The best way I can think of to picture being “in Christ” is to think of ourselves as astronauts. We are way out in space and something has gone seriously wrong with our ship. We are adrift and can’t start the engine. If we remain stuck out here, we are doomed. In order to fix it, we are going to have to step outside the space craft on a space walk. Out there, the temperature is hundreds of degrees below zero. There is no air to breathe. If we just opened the door and went out, we would die instantly. But if we put on our pressure suit, it will protect us. It will keep us warm. It will give us the air we need to breathe. Because we are “in” that suit, we can do the work required of us on the outside of our ship, and we will be able to fly once again.

The ship of this world is in serious trouble. It has to be fixed. If it isn’t fixed, the result will be certain death. God, in His great mercy and because of His great love for us, is rescuing us. And in His goodness, He is going to allow us to do some work on the ship, so that we can share in His glory. By ourselves, we cannot last even a second out there. But God sees to it that we are in Christ so that we can do the work He has prepared in advance for us to do.

And there is more to being “in Christ” than this little space ship parable conveys. Jesus doesn’t just wrap us in His protection. First Corinthians says,

...because of [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’ [1 Corinthians 1:30]

In other words, we actually take on, in God’s eyes, the wisdom and righteousness of Jesus. God looks at us and sees the holiness of His Son, for we are “in Christ.”

The message I bring you today is that our self-esteem comes from God. We can and should value ourselves highly, because God values us. Our value doesn’t come from our excellence or our charm or our breeding or our intelligence, or even our obedience. Our value comes from God.

This awareness should guide the way we express our self-esteem.

•    Instead of expecting things to be done for us, we should be doing things for others—because while we were dead in our trespasses, God made us alive.

•    Instead of obsessing about watching out for number one, we should be generous with others—because the God of grace has given us such good gifts.

•    Instead of demanding our due respect, we should speak on behalf of those who have no voice—because God wants to show His kindness and the immeasurable riches of His grace through us.

•    Instead of taking pride in our achievements, we should be

praising God—because we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.

God’s abundance has no limits. There is more than enough love and grace to go around. And the payoff is right there in that first verse of our reading today. God has made us alive with Christ. Alive. We don’t just shuffle around from day to day hoping for the best. We have a rich life “in Christ,” full of purpose and blessing and joy. Full of promise and hope. And full of value and of legitimate self-esteem.

© Jeffrey O. Cerar 2015

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