Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was a philosopher (among other things) and is considered the founder of utilitarianism ("the greatest happiness principle"). He was an interesting figure in more ways than one. His name actually appears in the TV show Lost (as an alias of the character John Locke). In Bentham's will he apparently left a fortune to a London hospital. But there was one condition: Bentham was to be present at every board meeting. Reportedly, for more than one hundred years, the remains of Jeremy Bentham were wheeled into the boardroom every month and placed at the head of the table. His skeleton was dressed with seventeenth-century garb and a little hat, which sat on his wax head. In the minutes of every board meeting, a line read, 44"Mr. Jeremy Bentham, present but not voting" (Kent Hughes, Ephesians, 66). This was a joke from his philosophy. Of course, he never voted because he had been dead since 1832. Today we come to a passage that shows when we were spiritually dead, God made us alive with Christ. We were "present but not voting" until God gave us life.
Paul also highlights God's amazing "grace" in these verses (Eph 2:5,8). Being made alive when we were dead is a work of grace. Believers have experienced the undeserved favor of God. Twelve times "grace" is mentioned in Ephesians. In chapter 1 Paul said that our salvation was "to the praise of His glorious grace" (1:6).
Paul reaches for words as he also mentions "the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness" (2:7b). For all eternity we will be recipients of His grace, trophies of His grace. He has displayed infinite riches of grace in kindness to us.
Now notice what God did in His mercy, grace, love, and kindness. Paul begins by telling us that God made us alive with Christ (v. 5). The main verb that governs the phrase, "made us alive," is introduced. Just as Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He also said to us, "________ come forth." And like Lazarus, we rise and rejoice in His grace.
We have what theologians have termed an "outer call," which goes out to everyone through the proclamation of the gospel, and "an inner call," which the Holy Spirit does in hearts. Those who are Christians have sensed this inner calling (Gal 1:6). Paul experienced this call to come to Christ (Gal 1:15).
We cannot overemphasize the importance of this doctrine of regeneration. Christianity is not about becoming a nicer person, nor is it about starting a new religious routine. It is about becoming a new person (2 Cor 5:17). One night a religious man named Nicodemus came to ask Jesus some spiritual questions. He had a lot of religious knowledge, but he had not been made alive. Jesus told him, "I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).
We need to remember that no one is beyond the reach of God's regenerating grace, and no one is beyond the need for God's regenerating grace. I remember preaching at a church in the deep South. A man who was about 70 years old was handing out bulletins, as he did every week. I preached on John 3, and he came up after the service and said, "I've never heard that. Someone just asked me when I was a boy, 'Don't you think it's about time for you to join the church?' And I did. But I49 feel like God was waking me up today." Later I baptized this gentleman upon his confession of faith.
I love a particular story regarding the ministry of the eighteenth-century evangelist George Whitefield, who reportedly preached on John 3 thousands of times. He was pouring out his heart one day during a Great Awakening sermon. A man with pockets stuffed with rocks came to hear him for the purpose of physically attacking the famous evangelist once the sermon ended. But after Whitefield's emotional and powerful message, the man made his way up to the preacher, emptied his pockets, and said, "I came to hear you with my pocket full of stones to break your head, but your sermon got the better of me and broke my heart" (Dunn, Evangelical Awakening, 17). God gave this angry, hostile man life through the gospel. It is true that "the gospel can melt the ice or harden the clay." Praise God that He melts the hearts of the hardest men and women and gives them new life!
There is sort of a parenthesis in verse 5—"You are saved by grace!" Paul repeats this again in verse 8: "For you are saved by grace through faith." Being raised from the dead is all of grace. Both phrases are in the perfect tense emphasizing the abiding consequences of conversion. To capture what Paul is saying we could put it like this: You have been saved (past tense), you are being saved (present tense), and you will be saved (future tense).
Notice also how Paul says we have been made alive "with the Messiah" (v. 5, synezoōpoiesen). Paul underscores our union with Christ. In fact, all three verbs have a prefix meaning "with" (alive with Christ, raised with Christ, seated with Christ).
Consider the staggering nature of God's work in uniting us with Christ. Paul says that God raised us up with Christ (v. 6a). This is a clear allusion to the resurrection of Jesus. Paul uses a compound word to declare that we have been raised together, synergeiren, which has the prefix syn-. We know this word from computers. We get the word sync from it (short for "synchronize"). We sync our phones with our computers in order to transfer the music on the computer to the phone. Well, we were synced with Christ! What God did for Christ, He did at the same time for believers (O'Brien, Ephesians, 170). In some astonishing way, when Jesus Christ got out of the tomb two thousand years ago, Tony Merida got up with Him. In Colossians 2:12 Paul says that this has already taken place: "You were also raised with Him." Because of it, Paul says, "Seek what is above" (Col 3:1).
50Next Paul adds that God seated us with Christ (v. 6b, synekathisen). In chapter 1 Paul praised God for exalting Jesus above all powers and forces. Now he says that we are seated with Jesus. This means we have a position of "superiority and authority over the evil powers" (O'Brien, Ephesians, 171). It does not mean we are divine. There is only One on the throne. But we are seated with Him and have power to overcome. We do not have to succumb to the dark world and Satan's schemes. Also note here the "already-not yet" aspect of salvation. We are now raised and seated with Him, but we are awaiting the full completion of our salvation.
The final work of grace that Paul notes is future oriented. He says God will dispense grace forever to us in Christ (v. 7). The reason God has showed us such grace is so we might be the demonstration of His grace forever. We will be His trophies of grace. God says in effect, "Look what I can do with such a mess." Ponder the idea of grace for "ages" to come. Instead of wrath, we have everlasting grace!
In Christ, We Are God's Workmanship
Paul now elaborates on God's gracious gift of salvation by inserting "faith and works" into the discussion. Paul first emphasizes how salvation is a gift and then how true salvation results in good works.
Paul first highlights God's grace: "For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God's gift—not from works, so that no one can boast" (vv. 8-9). Indeed, grace captures the mind of Paul in these 10 verses. God's great rescue of us is by grace. Think of the great reversal that has taken place between verses 1-3 and 4-7.
51Paul says that grace comes through faith. This is the human response: belief (cf. Eph 1:13). How do we appropriate what has just been said? Faith. Faith is the instrument by which we lay hold of Christ. But faith is not a work. It is a gift. Notice what Paul says: "It is God's gift" (v. 8); "it" includes "faith." The grammar indicates that the whole of salvation is to be viewed as a gift. Grace is a gift. Faith is a gift. Salvation is a gift. We should never think of salvation as a transaction in which God provides grace and we provide faith (Stott, Ephesians, 83). No. It is all grace. We were dead and had to be awakened to believe.
By way of example, Luke writes that Apollos "helped those who had believed through grace" (Acts 18:27, emphasis added; cf. Acts 13:48; Phil 1:29). Because salvation is a divine gift, it cannot be earned. Your moral efforts or religious activity cannot earn salvation.
We were not saved because we were smarter than others, prettier than others, or more gifted than others. Our salvation was the work of God. God showed us astonishing grace. He put forth His Son as our substitute, and He granted us the faith to believe in the Savior.
There is only One who should be exalted in this salvation, and that is God. We have not worked for it, and we cannot, therefore, brag about ourselves (Rom 4:2). God in His grace sent Christ to live the life we could not live, die the death we should have died, and rise on our behalf. God raised Christ and us with Him; He has seated us in the heavens, and He will dispense grace on us forever. The glory goes only to God in salvation.
Paul says it well when he writes, "What do you have that you didn't receive? If, in fact, you did receive it, why do you boast as if you hadn't received it?" (1 Cor 4:7). And since we have received this salvation, "The one who boasts must boast in the Lord" (1 Cor 1:31).
After saying that our works cannot save us, Paul notes the importance of works. He does not want us to think that works are unimportant. He states that works simply are not the root of our salvation. They are the fruit of salvation (cf. John 15:8; Titus 2:14). The Reformers used to say, "It is faith alone that justifies, but faith that justifies can never be alone." We are not saved by faith plus works but by a faith that does work. We have a living faith, a functioning faith!
52Now that we belong to God, God is working on us and in us so that He might work through us. Paul says, "we are his workmanship" (v. 10 ESV). This word for "workmanship" (poiema) may be where the word poem comes from. The word was used to refer to any work of art, such as a statue, a song, architecture, a painting, or a poem (Hughes, Ephesians, 82). It is only used one other time in the New Testament. In Romans 1:20 it refers to the material creation. The heavens and earth display the glory of God's material creation. But this is a new creation, called "saved sinners." They declare the glory of God's spiritual creation (cf. 2 Cor 5:21; Gal 6:15).
Because we are God's workmanship in Christ Jesus, people should see our works and say, "That's a work of God." Jesus said, "In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven" (Matt 5:16).
Paul adds that we were "created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them" (v. 10). Like our conversion our spiritual growth takes place "in Christ Jesus." As we are united to Him, we have life; that life leads to good works. Chapters 4-6 spell out what these works look like (e.g., 4:12).
Luther succinctly and powerfully described the relationship between faith and works:
Indeed, the instinct of one who has new life is to do good works—at home, at work, and everywhere—to the glory of God.
Paul says these works have been "prepared ahead of time." God, in His sovereignty, had good deeds in mind when He chose us for salvation. And He planned that "we should walk in them." Notice the last line and compare it with verse 2, "in which you previously walked." This forms an inclusio, or bookends. We have made the full loop. We once walked in darkness, being controlled by the world, the flesh, and the 53Devil. But God made us alive through faith in Christ, and now we are walking in Christ, doing good works.
Do you know this grace? If so, you can identify with John Newton, the author of "Amazing Grace," who said,
Reflect and Discuss