There was a baptism at our church recently. Cute little girl in a fancy little dress. She had a bow in her hair. She also had two shoes on her little feet. But when the time came to head up to the baptismal font, she was a bit…disheveled. Although her parents obviously tried to dress her up in her finest outfit and tried to make her hair behave itself and tried to keep those stiff dress shoes on her little feet, it’s more in our nature to come undone. And yet…she became a child of God. And this is the mystery of baptism. We bring nothing to the table. We get everything. We are a mess. We become clean. We were dead. We become alive.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ.
Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship…without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:1,4,5,12,13,19,22)
Paul doesn’t sugarcoat his language in this letter to the Ephesians. Dead. Strangers to God. Foreigners. Excluded from citizenship. Separate from Christ. Far away. Without hope. But. Oh, the importance of that tiny conjunction! But because…but now.
We were dead in the water. Not even able to grab on to a life raft thrown to us from a boat. We needed a full save, someone to jump into the water and haul us onto shore and breathe life into us.
We were separated, estranged, foreigners, unable to even speak to God in the same language. Tired, poor, huddled masses. No passport. No green card. Not even a tourist visa.
Jesus jumped into the water. He lugged us to shore. He breathed life into us.
Jesus grabbed us from the orphan train. From Ellis Island. He took us into his house. He adopted us as his own. He calls us his children. And not only that, but he also makes us dwelling places for his Spirit.
What a massive change! I don’t think we can ever fully comprehend it. And honestly, we almost don’t want to comprehend it. After all, it’s not a fun thing to admit or face. We don’t like being weak. It’s not in our sinful nature to confess our helplessness. Our utter deadness.
But in case we missed it in Ephesians, the apostle Paul speaks to it again in his letter to the Romans:
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (5:6-8)
There is no denying it. We don’t get to be with Jesus because we are good enough to be with Jesus. We don’t earn our passage into the new land of heaven, not even through indentured servitude. We don’t lift a pinky finger to save ourselves from drowning in the great oceanic chasm we are trying to cross to get to him. We can’t do it. We are powerless. We are sinners. We were dead. And if you’ve ever watched the movie Weekend at Bernie’s, you know that dead people aren’t good at things.
By the blood of Christ, we have been brought near. No longer separated. No longer strangers. No longer disheveled, one shoe on and one shoe off. No longer without hope. No longer dead. Because of his death and his resurrection. Christ died for us to make us new creations. To breathe life into us. To make us his own. To make us dwelling places for his Spirit. He gave us life so he could live in us. What a great exchange!