43But God ...
Main Idea: In His amazing grace, love, mercy, and kindness, God gave us spiritual life in Christ.
- Apart from Christ, We Were Spiritually Dead (2:1-3).
- We were dead (2:1).
- We were disobedient (2:2-3a).
- We followed the world.
- We followed Satan.
- We followed our sinful desires.
- We were doomed (2:3b).
- With Christ, We Are Spiritually Alive (2:4-7).
- God's character (2:4-7)
- God's work (2:5-7)
- God made us alive with Christ (2:5).
- God raised us up with Christ (2:6a).
- God seated us with Christ (2:6b).
- God will dispense grace forever to us in Christ (2:7).
- In Christ, We Are God's Workmanship (2:8-10).
- Salvation is a gift (2:8-9).
- No one can boast (2:9b).
- Salvation results in good works (2:10).
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.
Broadly speaking, the paragraph consists of two sentences in Greek (vv. 1-7 and 8-10). The subject of the first sentence is actually "God" (v. 4), and the main verb is "made alive." By His amazing grace God has made our spiritually dead hearts beat. Further, this passage is related to the previous section, especially 1:19-20, which describes God's mighty work in raising Jesus from the dead. This same power raises us from death to life. Allow me now to highlight three truths about God's work in bringing us life.
Apart from Christ, We Were Spiritually Dead
Apart from Christ, We Were Spiritually Dead
Paul first begins with our pre-Christian past. The picture is not good. Verse 1 begins with "And you." To whom is he talking? The Gentiles in Ephesus. Then he says "all" and then "the others" (v. 3). Paul covers everyone with these phrases. He is not preparing to describe some degrading segment of society or some cannibalistic tribe somewhere. He's talking about everyone. This is the biblical diagnosis of our sinful nature (O'Brien, Ephesians, 156). Paul shows us who we were before Christ with three descriptions.
We Were Dead (2:1)
Paul says we were dead in our "trespasses and sins" (v. 1). This was our previous state of alienation from God. Paul repeats it later in the text in his amazement at what God has done "even though we were dead in trespasses" (v. 5).
"Trespasses" draws attention to acts of sin. "Sins" is a more comprehensive account of human evil (O'Brien, Ephesians, 157). We were dead, committing trespasses, in a sinful state. Thus we were wretched and culpable because of our trespasses and sins.
Notice what Paul says in Ephesians 4:18. We were "excluded from the life of God." That means we were dead. We were cut off from true, eternal spiritual life given and sustained by God.
45Now this is the complete opposite of what the world tells us about ourselves as humans. The world tells us that we are basically good, and if we just believe in ourselves, then we can do anything. While a spiritually dead person may indeed do amazing things because she is an image bearer of God—make works of art, play sports exceptionally well, make money, do humanitarian work—she can do nothing spiritually because she is not connected to the Vine.
Ephesians 2:1-3 could not be clearer. Humans face a sad predicament. We are not morally good. We are not neutral. To quote Miracle Max in The Princess Bride, we were not "mostly dead." We were totally dead. And we needed a miracle that only God could perform.
If God performed this miracle in your heart, then you should celebrate His grace! In Luke 15 Jesus tells a parable about two lost sons. With regard to the first son, we find a powerful illustration of Ephesians 2. We meet the younger brother, rebelling against his father, living recklessly in sin, and eventually eating with the pigs. But when the son comes to his senses and returns home to his gracious, forgiving father, the father says, "Let's celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!" (Luke 15:23-24).
We Were Disobedient (2:2-3a)
Paul goes on to describe how we disobeyed God like our first parents did. Instead of following God, we followed three evil forces.
We followed the world. Paul refers to sins "in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world" (2:2). The unsaved person is controlled by the world's influences, by the values of the age, which are contrary to God's values. The unsaved assume the attitudes, habits, and lifestyles of the culture, reflecting Paul's words in 2 Timothy 3:1-5. In John's words their lives are marked by "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one's lifestyle" (1 John 2:15-17). Consequently, we need Jesus to "rescue us from this present evil age" (Gal 1:4).
We followed Satan. Paul describes the evil one's work, "according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens, the spirit now working in the disobedient" (v. 2).
Ephesians speaks more about principalities and power than any other New Testament letter. And it draws attention to the power behind them: Satan (see 4:27; 6:11,16).
"Ruler" or "prince" in the Old Testament was a term used for a national, local, or tribal leader. In the Gospels Satan is the "ruler of46 the demons" (Matt 9:34; 12:24; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15) and the "ruler of this world" (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Paul also refers to him as the "god of this age" (2 Cor 4:4). "Lower heavens" in the ancient world referred to the intermediate space between heaven and earth where evil spirits dwelled. Here it refers to the place of activity of Satan. The "spirit now working in the disobedient" describes how Satan works on unbelievers. They are not completely possessed by Satan, but they do live in the world of darkness in which Satan holds sway. He lays out the bait, and sinful people take it, disobeying God. Paul mentions "the disobedient" (lit. "sons of disobedience") again in Ephesians 5:6, linking them to sins such as sexual immorality, impurity, greed, and foolish talk.
We followed our sinful desires. Paul calls these "fleshly desires" and "the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts" (v. 3). These passions are associated in Galatians 5:16-21 and elsewhere with sins like anger, sexual immorality, idolatry, sorcery, jealousy, strife, dissension, and drunkenness. In Romans Paul tells us the result of such a lifestyle: "Those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom 8:8). The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah put it this way: "The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable—who can understand it?" (Jer 17:9).
Did Paul get carried away here? Is our condition this bad? Yes, this is truth. While humans bear the image of God, and sin has not destroyed the image of God completely, we are radically depraved and unable to come to God apart from new birth. Our behavior is explained by all three of these influences—the world, Satan, and the flesh. They all play a part in the sinful condition of man.
Theologically, Paul is describing the doctrine of "total depravity"; that is, all aspects of our being have been infected with the deadly disease of sin. Paul is also describing our "total inability"; that is, morally we are not capable of responding to God apart from grace. The fact is we do not want to respond to God. But oh, how we need God's grace!
We Were Doomed (2:3b)
Paul follows this by saying we were "by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind" (v. 3 ESV). "The disobedient" in verse 2 are now children destined for wrath in verse 3, which is what we rightly deserved. Our spiritual status could not be more tragic or hopeless. We were justly under the judgment of God. He is right to condemn us in our sins (cf. Eph 5:6).
47God is holy, and He will not sweep sin under the rug. Many think God in the Old Testament was a God of wrath but God in the New Testament is like Mr. Rogers. Wrong. What we have now is a period of patience. The door of mercy is open wide now, and we can come into this grace and be saved. But the coming wrath of God is worse than anything in the Old Testament. The words of Hebrews should humble us: "It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God!" (Heb 10:31).
God will act in a righteous manner, not in unrighteous revenge or in an outburst of anger. He will punish sin and sinners justly.
The good news for the Christian is that God's wrath has been poured out not on us but on the Savior. Jesus drank the cup, a metaphor that describes the wrath of God. He drank the cup, and we drink grace. Bless His holy name.
Paul draws our attention to the depth of our depravity in order to magnify the mercy and grace of God in saving us, like a black cloth on which a beautiful diamond sits. And Paul gives us the diamond of the gospel with two of the sweetest words in the Bible: "But God." Christian, behold your biography.
With Christ, We Are Spiritually Alive
With Christ, We Are Spiritually Alive
God's gracious initiative and sovereign action stand in wonderful contrast to verses 1-3. We were lifeless, hopeless, and under condemnation. "But God" came to our rescue. Notice how Paul describes the character of God and the work of God in these amazing verses.
God's Character (2:4-7)
What prompted God's salvation was His mercy, love, grace, and kindness. Paul can, in the same sentence, affirm the wrath of God and the love of God. In fact, you cannot understand one without the other. Notice the descriptions of God's goodness in these verses.
God is "rich in mercy" (v. 4). The Old Testament describes God as rich in faithful love (Ps 103:8), as One who delights in faithful love (Mic 7:18). The word in Hebrew, chesed, refers to God's loyal, merciful love. God's mercy is also sovereignly distributed. God says, "I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy" (Rom 9:15).
48Next, God has shown "great love" (Eph 2:4). To the Romans Paul writes, "But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners [dead, depraved, and doomed], Christ died for us!" (Rom 5:8).
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.
God's Work (2:5-7)
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
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.
Salvation Is a Gift (2:8-9)
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.
Dead in trespasses and sins ➨ Alive together with Christ
Sons of disobedience ➨ Raised up with Christ
Children of wrath ➨ Seated with Christ
Children of wrath ➨ Recipients of generous mercy
Children of wrath ➨ Recipients of great love
Children of wrath ➨ Recipients of rich grace
Children of wrath ➨ Recipients of God's kindness
Children of wrath ➨ Trophies of God's grace
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.
No One Can Boast (2:9b)
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).
Salvation Results in Good Works (2:10)
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:
Faith, however, is a divine work in us. It changes us and makes us to be born anew of God (John 1); it kills the old Adam and makes altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers, and it brings with it the Holy Ghost. Oh, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith; and so it is impossible for it not to do good works incessantly. It does not ask whether there are good works to do, but before the question rises, it has already done them, and is always at the doing of them. (Martin Luther, Romans, xvii)
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,
I am not what I ought to be—ah, how imperfect and deficient! I am not what I wish to be—I abhor what is evil, and I would cleave to what is good! I am not what I hope to be—soon, soon shall I put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection. Yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was; a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge, "By the grace of God I am what I am." (Christian Spectator, 186)
Reflect and Discuss
Reflect and Discuss
- How does Paul describe our pre-Christian status in 2:1-3?
- How do you think a typical unbeliever today would respond to this description of a non-Christian: "dead," a slave of Satan, dominated by appetites, and destined for wrath?
- What was the consequence of our pre-Christian status?
- Why are the words "But God" so sweet?
- Why did God make us alive?
- What does this passage teach about our union with Christ?
- What is the believer's future? How should this impact our daily lives?
- Why should God's salvation humble us?
- Is faith a gift? Explain.
- What is the relationship between grace and works (2:10)?