We really have to persuade people to stop saying all religions are basically the same. It is as perverse as saying all Chinese look the same. The statements merely confirm the speaker neither knows nor cares for any Chinese people … nor any religion. These verses, which could equally be titled “The Great Rescue”, spell out Christian distinctiveness.

1.The amazing depths from which we have been rescued vs.1-3 The seriousness of our predicament is best summed-up in these three words: dead – enslaved – condemned. We were like a corpse, a bit of biological engineering with the capacity for life and yet with no life in it. You could shout in its ear, flash a light in its eyes, stick needles into its sensitive parts but there would be absolutely no response. This is not just a question of our being poorly and needing a few vitamins and pep pills. We were dead. More than that, we were enslaved, and trebly so, to the evil trinity: the world (v.2), the devil (v.2) and the flesh (v.3). The spirit of the age with its standards, philosophies and political correctness, held us as captives. The devil, that evil intelligence busily at work, held us in thrall. The flesh (cross of the “h” and spell it backwards!) had no bridle. We were the helpless pawns of our own appetites. If in doubt, try going for a day without saying, thinking or doing anything unkind, impure, or untrue. Worst of all, we were condemned under the dreadful wrath of God (v.3). This is very alien to our thinking today. When Jesus on his way to Golgotha encountered the women of Jerusalem who were weeping for him (Luke 23.30) he said in effect “Do not fear the judgement of man on God (i.e. what the Roman soldiers were doing to Jesus at that moment) but rather fear the judgement of God on man. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Martin Luther made the point that before we can know God as our friend, we must know Him as our enemy as He does His strange work as a hammer, breaking us with the “kakeggelion.”

2. The amazing heights to which we were rescued vs.4-7 Not only are we rescued from an appalling plight, we are also rescued for something very wonderful. Although there are some slight difficulties in these verses, probably best explained by Paul using a proleptic future, the blessings can most easily be summed-up by saying that we are rescued first for life. The corpse becomes sentient and responsive (vs.4-5). That remarkable clergyman William Haslam, who was converted in the middle of one of his own sermons, entitled his autobiography “From Death to Life”. Becoming a Christian is nothing less than that. Secondly, we are rescued for a guaranteed future (vs.6-7). We must not be put off by the Marxist jib about “pie in the sky when you die.” Only about five per cent of the joys of our salvation are experienced in this life. The incomparable riches of his grace lies ahead in the coming ages. No wonder that the saintly Henry Venn, vicar of Huddersfield, when told by his doctor as he lay on his death bed that he would die that afternoon, became so excited he revived and live a further fortnight!

3. The amazing grace by which we are rescued vs.8-10 These verses are famous, and deservedly so. This is the supreme point where Christianity differs from every other religion. All the others are religions of two letters, “DO,” and their adherents are burdened with all the wearisome bother and paraphernalia of what they have to do. It never works. It never gives peace to the soul. Here, we are told that it is a matter of “DONE.” By grace, that unmerited and undeserved favour, it has all been done for us by Christ on the Cross.

Bearing shame and scoffing rude In my place condemned He stood Sealed my pardon with His blood, Hallelujah, what a Saviour!

As William Temple put it, the only thing which I contribute to my salvation is the sin from which I need to be saved. The consequences of this great rescue are clearly spelled out. First, there must be no boasting (cf. Romans 3 v.27). Religious prigs, those with a holier-than-thou attitude, are anathema to God. In His presence no man living can boast. The Christian Gospel tells me and the rest of the world that I am an utterly depraved sinner, only deserving judgement and hell, and that there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. I have to be totally dependent on a free and unconditional gift. Secondly, and note well the order, there must be hard work (v. 1 0)!

I cannot work my soul to save, for that my Lord has done But I will work like any slave for love of God’s dear Son.

Jonathan Fletcher is a member of the fulltime ministry team at Emmanuel, Wimbledon, in the Diocese of Southwark.