CONTEXT: In the last half of the first chapter (vv. 17-23), Paul tells the Ephesians of his prayer for them. He says that God has raised Christ from the dead and seated him at God's right hand in the heavenly places-"far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion" (1:21)-in other words, far above every hostile power. Furthermore, God has "put all things in subjection under (Christ's) feet, and gave him to be head over all things for the assembly, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all" (1:22-23). Our reading (2:1-10) outlines the significance of Christ's exaltation for these Christians.
EPHESIANS 2:1-3. YOU WERE DEAD THROUGH YOUR TRESPASSES AND SINS
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
NOTE: These verses tell these people where they have come from. They outline their state prior to receiving Christ. They were "dead in the trespasses and sins, in which (they) once walked" (v. 1). They were walking "according to the prince of the power of the air" and were therefore disobedient (v. 2). They were subject to "the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath" (v. 3). This not only describes the Ephesian Christians-it describes all humanity.
"You were dead" (v. 1a). "You" in this verse contrasts with "we" in verse 3-probably meaning "you Gentiles" as over against "we Jews." Paul tells these Christians that their sins and trespasses had resulted in their spiritual death. When a person dies physically, he/she is separated from loved ones who are still alive. There is a great chasm fixed between the living and the dead so that the person who is dead cannot reach across the chasm relate to the living-and the living cannot bridge the chasm to relate to the dead. In like manner, a person who is spiritually dead is separated from God-and is therefore subject to "the course (aion-age) of this world" and "the prince of the power of the air"-a demonic power (v. 2).
Furthermore, the dead person is helpless. He/she cannot take any action to remedy his/her situation. There is, therefore, a note of hopelessness in the word "dead." We say, "Where there's life, there's hope"-which implies that, where there is no life, there is also no hope. Death holds people in a very firm grip.
"in transgressions (paraptoma) and sins (hamartia) in which you once walked" (v. 1b-2a).
Paraptoma (trespass) is slip-and-fall imagery and hamartia is miss-the-mark imagery. Both convey the idea of failure-failure to walk upright (paraptoma) and failure to hit the target (hamartia). Both convey the idea of failure to meet God's standard of holiness. God calls people to be holy, because God is holy (Leviticus 19:2). Holiness is always derivative-derived from a relationship to God. Only God can make people holy.
To become holy, a person must separate him/herself from that which is common. To be holy is to be "called out" from the sinful world into a deep and abiding relationship with God so that the person becomes more God-like-more holy-less like the sinful world-at-large. But in the end, it is not our striving for holiness that makes us holy, but our relationship to Christ. He confers the holiness that we could never attain on our own. Our striving to live holy lives is simply our attempt to be faithful-to live up to the status which Christ has already conferred on us.
"according to the course (aion-age) of this world"(kosmos) (v. 2b). While the word kosmos (world) can be used to refer to the created world, in the New Testament it is often used to contrast this world (kosmos)-an evil world-with the kingdom of God. When it is used in this way, as it is in this verse, the kosmos is that realm that is antagonistic to God-the realm that is subject to demonic rule.
The Jews of Paul's day divided time into two ages (Matthew 12:32; Ephesians 1:21)-the present age under Satan's rule and the age to come under God's rule. Therefore, when this verse says, "according to the aion of this kosmos" it is talking about following the ways or the values or the morals of the aion (age) and kosmos (world) that are antagonistic to God. You don't have to look far to understand what that means. You will not only see it in the police reports in your local newspaper, but you will also see it in the lives of corrupt politicians and unethical business people. You will see it in the rule of tyrants in Third World countries-and in the drug trade (to include drug users who provide financial support to drug traffickers). But it isn't just thugs and criminals who follow "the course of this world." It is all who live without Christ. In many cases, it is our friends and neighbors, whose lives are shaped by popular media or self-interest rather than by Godly counsel. We who are Christians followed "the course of this world" before Christ came into our lives-and sometimes still do. Regardless of where we live, we aren't far removed from those whose spiritual direction comes from those who follow the aion (age) of this kosmos (world). They are all around us. Before the readers of this letter became Christians, they were kosmos people-worldly people-separated from God-antagonistic to God-subject to demonic rule.
"according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the children of disobedience" (v. 2c). Before they became Christians, the people reading this letter followed "the prince of the power of the air," which is synonymous with "the spirit who now works in the children of disobedience." Both of these phrases mean "Satanic" or "demonic forces." In verse 6:12, Paul speaks of "the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places"-a phrase roughly synonymous with "the prince of the power of the air." These two phrases can be confusing, because we usually think of God as the ruler of heaven-and probably of "the air," whatever that means. But when Paul speaks of "the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" (6:12), he lets us know that God is not the sole occupant of the heavenly places. Evil cosmic forces also dwell there. This verse, then, pictures a realm in which demonic forces hold sway-a realm that, like the kosmos described in v. 2b, is antagonistic to God. These demonic forces "now works in the children of disobedience"-those who are disobedient to God's will for their lives.
"among whom we also all once lived in the lust of our flesh (sarx), doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind (dianoia-thoughts), and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest" (v. 3). If our assumption is correct that "you" in verse 1 means "you Gentiles" and "we in this verse means "we Jews," Paul here announces that Jews and Gentiles have the same problem. Both of them "once lived...in the lust of (their) flesh." Both have been guilty of "doing the desires of flesh and of the mind." Both "were by nature children of wrath." Paul would have understood this quite differently prior to his encounter with Christ on the Damascus road (Acts 9:1-19). As a Pharisee, he would have seen Jews as God's chosen people and Gentiles as people outside the pale-outside the boundaries that defined those who were saved. Also, he would have seen salvation as derived from obedience to Torah law. After his conversion, he realized that salvation that salvation depends wholly on grace rather than works-although he also understood that Christ calls us to live Christlike lives-to embody the fruits of the Spirit: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23).
"in the lust of our flesh" (sarx) (v. 3). In the New Testament, the word sarx is used in different ways:
"doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind" (dianoia-thoughts). The NRSV translated dianoia as "senses" in this verse-thus suggesting that it refers to things related to our five senses: Sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. If this were the case, "desires of flesh" and "senses" would both be related to sensual pleasures. However, when Paul says, "doing the desires of flesh and of the dianoia," he is setting up a contrast. Dianoia refers not to our sensual perceptions or pleasures, but to those things that grow out of our minds or intellects-our thoughts and beliefs. This is an important distinction, because we are vulnerable to the tempter's wiles not just because of our passions or lusts, but also because of our thoughts and beliefs. What we think truly makes a difference in the way we live. Our passions ("the desires of flesh") and our beliefs (dianoia) will generally determine how we will act.
As one example of the importance of beliefs, William Shirer, in his book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, notes that Hitler outlined his belief system quite clearly in his book, Mein Kampf (My Struggle), published in 1925 and 1926. Hitler believed that the Aryan race (Germans) were superior and all other races, especially Jews, were inferior. He believed it necessary to exterminate Jews. He also believed in the extermination of people who were weak, sick, mentally ill, etc. He believed it necessary for an autocratic leader to determine Germany's future-and, of course, he believed that he was to be that leader. He believed that Germany needed to use force to take land from Russia to provide lebensraum-living space-for Germans. He outlined all these beliefs in Mein Kampf. Less than a decade later, he gained sufficient power to act on those beliefs, and began doing so. His belief system-and the actions that stemmed from his beliefs-resulted in the deaths of millions of people and the near-destruction of Germany. My point here is to simply illustrate that our beliefs are important, because beliefs lead to actions.
In another example of the importance of beliefs, people suffering from paranoia can be dangerous. If they believe that someone is "out to get them," they are likely to take preemptive action to get the other person first. It matters not whether someone is really "out to get them." They can be expected to act on their perceptions-their beliefs-even if those beliefs have no basis in fact.
While those seem like extreme examples, the principle also holds true in more normal circumstances. We will usually act in accord either with our passions or our beliefs.
"and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest." If we are correct (above) that "you" in verse 1 meant "you Gentiles" and "we" in this verse means "we Jews," Paul is saying that Jews, like Gentiles, are "by nature children of wrath, like everyone else." Jews and Gentiles are in the same boat. Both are sinners, and both are subject to God's wrath. Paul is not saying these things to make the recipients of this letter feel guilty. He is instead telling them what they used to be, so that in verses 4-7 he can show the contrast between what they used to be and what they are now.
EPHESIANS 2:4-7. BUT GOD MADE US ALIVE BY GRACE
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
NOTE: These verses highlight God's remedy for our sins-a remedy that stems from God's rich mercy and great love (v. 4)-and a remedy that results in "the immeasurable riches of his grace" (v. 7).
"But God, being rich in mercy" (eleos) (v. 4a). In the Old Testament, God shows mercy (Hebrew: hesed) to the Israelites, his covenant people. In the New Testament, "there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all and is rich to all who call on him. For, 'whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved'" (Romans 10:12-13). "Salvation has come to the Gentiles" (Romans 11:11). God shows mercy (eleos) to all.
"for his great love (agape) with which he loved us" (v. 4b). The Greeks had three words that we translate as "love"-agape, philos, and eros. Eros is not found in the New Testament. Philos is used to express the affection that one person feels for another-and for the love that God has for people (John 16:27)-although agape and agapao are most frequently used for God's love. Agape is the kind of selfless love that focuses on the welfare of the other person rather than one's own self-interest. Agape love is the love with which God loves us. Agape love is as much a "doing" as a "feeling" word. It requires action. It requires the person who loves to demonstrate his/her love in some practical fashion. In this verse, God's love prompts him to show mercy to those who have not earned it.
"even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ" (v. 5a). If a person is dead, the only really meaningful gift that he/she could receive is the gift of new life. Given the miracles of modern medicine, we sometimes see this manifested with regard to physical death and life. A person whose heart has stopped beating has his/her heart restarted by heart massage. A person who has stopped breathing has his/her breathing restored by someone breathing air into his/her lungs.
I have experienced something of this sort at birth. My parents were poor, so I was born at home rather than in a hospital. There were complications, and I was not breathing. The doctor tried various procedures to restore my breathing, but none of them worked-so he pronounced me dead. However, someone suggested that they call the fire department, which had a resuscitator. Someone made the call, the resuscitator worked, and I began breathing. I have no memory of the incident, but my mother told me about it-she felt terrible that she had not insisted on going to a hospital-and I found newspaper clippings in an old trunk downstairs that confirmed the story. I had quite literally been dead, and had been made alive.
What Paul is talking about here, though, is spiritual death and life. See the comments on verse 1a above.
The wording of verses 5-6 is differs somewhat from the wording of Paul's language elsewhere, which is one of the things that cast doubt on the Pauline authorship of this letter. For instance, Romans 6:8 says: "If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him"-note the future orientation of the new life in that verse. However, in this letter to the Ephesians, the author says, "made us alive together with Christ"-a present orientation.
"by grace (charis) you have been saved" (v. 5b). This emphasis on salvation by grace is fully consistent with Paul's statements elsewhere. Christians are now "justified freely by (God's) grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24). In the New Testament, charis most often refers to the grace or the undeserved favor of God. That is certainly what is meant here. Charis is a significant word in the New Testament, especially in Paul's epistles. The use of charis in the New Testament has its roots in the Hebrew word hesed, used in the Old Testament to speak of God's lovingkindness, mercy, and faithfulness.
Greeks often used the word charis to speak of patronage (the support of a patron, such as financial or political support). To Greeks, the word charis connoted generosity-generosity that demanded loyalty on the part of the recipient.
It is easy, therefore, to understand why Paul would adapt charis to the Gospel. Christian charis is God's gift of salvation to all who accept the Jesus Christ as Lord. God, therefore, is the patron-the benefactor (the giver)-and we are the beneficiaries (the receivers). Just as we could never fully repay a person who left us an inheritance of unimaginable wealth, so also we can never repay God for the gift of salvation.
"and raised us up with him" (v. 6a). In his epistle to the Romans, Paul establishes the connection between our baptism and our death and resurrection with Christ. He says, "Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? May it never be! We who died to sin, how could we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism to death, that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be part of his resurrection.... if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him" (Romans 6:1-5, 8). The book of Colossians uses similar language: "having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead" (Colossians 2:12).
"and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (v. 6b). Our relationship to Christ has gained us entry into heavenly places. By God's grace, we are no longer paupers, but princes and princesses. As children of God, we have ready access to his throne room.
Therefore, it behooves us to bring our thoughts and our behavior into accord with those heavenly places. In the Romans 6 passage cited above, Paul begins by asking whether we shouldn't make full use of God's grace by continuing to sin. His answer: "By no means!" Why? Because we have died with Christ in baptism-and therefore died to sin-and have been resurrected to a new life by the grace of God. As such, we have become a new people-Godly people-blessed by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It would make no sense for us to live as if nothing had been done to redeem us-as if we were the same people that we were prior to our baptism.
A mundane illustration: If an impoverished person were to win the lottery, would it make sense for that person to continue living in a shack-eating poorly-and driving an old rattletrap car? While some people might choose to live like that, we would pity them for their failure to adapt to their changed circumstances. The only exception would be if they had decided to remain in their original neighborhood to transform it-to make it better for their neighbors.
As noted above, the wording of this verse is one of the things that cast doubt on Pauline authorship of this letter. This verse sees "raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus"-a present orientation. A more characteristic statement of Paul's theology is found in Romans 6:5, which says, "For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be part of his resurrection"-a future orientation.
" that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding (hyperballo) riches of his grace (charis) in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (v. 7). See the comments above on verse 5b regarding grace (charis).
We find it difficult to believe in grace. In our daily lives-in our interactions with other humans-we experience grace in dribs and drabs, if at all. Someone might forgive us if we have not sinned too grievously. Someone might forgive us if our repentance is sufficiently abject. Someone might forgive us the first time-or the second-or, perhaps, even the third. But our experience has shown us that grace is a scarce commodity. We must be careful not to need too much of it, lest we find none at all.
But God doesn't measure grace in dribs and drabs. God's grace is sufficient to cover even the most grievous of sins. God doesn't require that we bow and scrape as a prerequisite to receiving grace, but requires only that we repent and receive the mercy tendered through the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ. God doesn't limit grace to the first offense-or the second-or the third-or the seventh-or the seventy-seventh (see Matthew 18:22). Nor does God limit grace to minor offenses. God's grace is hyperballo-excelling, surpassing, exceeding, beyond measure.
We Christians might think of ourselves as a demonstration project. God has given us grace sufficient to cover all our sins-every one of them, great and small. His primary purpose is to forgive us-to make us fit for life in his kingdom, but he has another purpose as well. Once we have experienced the full measure of his grace, our lives then demonstrate to others the possibilities of grace that are readily available to them through Christ. Our lives serve as a beacon to other people-to draw them to Christ to that they, too, might experience grace first hand-so that they might be saved.
EPHESIANS 2:8-9. FOR BY GRACE YOU HAVE BEEN SAVED THROUGH FAITH
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
"for by grace you have been saved through faith (pistis), and that not yourselves; it is the gift of God" (v. 8). This is at once the most-and least-obvious thing that one can say about grace. It is MOST obvious, because grace, by definition, is undeserved favor-unearned approval. If grace could be earned, it would be merit rather than grace. Since it cannot be earned, it must be a gift.
But it is LEAST obvious, because we find it so difficult to believe-and, perhaps, even to desire. While there are exceptions (such as inherited wealth), we are accustomed to living in a world where we are required to earn our way. Having become accustomed to earning our own way in the physical realm, we naturally assume that we can and should earn our way in the spiritual realm. We have various methods of accomplishing that: Regular attendance at worship-tithing-philanthropy-helping the needy-serving on church or civic committees-etc., etc., etc. These good works comfort us, because we assume that they will one day translate into the spiritual coin required to bribe the doorkeeper at the gates of heaven.
However, this verse tells us that our benevolent activities, however meritorious, are insufficient to win our salvation. Salvation is available only as a gift-as an outpouring of God's grace. It is readily available, but only by God's action, not by anything that we can accomplish on our own.
This grace is appropriated to us through our faith (pistis)-our belief in the risen Lord. Faith is our response to the Gospel, which is the proclamation of Jesus Christ as God's Son and our savior. As Paul says elsewhere, we have "sinned, and fall short of the glory of God"-but we are "justified freely by (God's) grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God set forth to be an atoning sacrifice, through faith in his blood" (Romans 3:23-25, emphasis added-see also Romans 4:1-5).
To envision this, imagine yourself in an apartment that is on fire. The fire makes it impossible to get to the door, so the only possibility of escape is a window. However, you are on the third floor and are afraid. Fire fighters, holding a large safety net, call you to jump. In such a situation, your only possible salvation would be to have sufficient faith in those fire fighters so that you can jump. In this situation, the fire fighters would be your saviors. Your jumping would be necessary to accept the salvation that they offer, but no amount of jumping would save you without the fire fighters and their safety net.
"not of works" (erga) (v. 9a). The apostle Paul deals at length with the idea of works as related to salvation. When he uses the word erga (works), he means human accomplishments that are positive in nature-works such as regular attendance at worship-tithing-philanthropy-helping the needy-serving on church or civic committees-etc., etc., etc. Paul emphasizes that we cannot be saved by our works (Romans 3:27-28; 4:1-5; 11:6; Galatians 2:16; 3:2, 10). Salvation is available only through grace-as a gift from God.
When we read these verses from Paul's writings, we need to keep in mind that he was raised in an environment that emphasized the importance of works-of obedience to Torah law. But after meeting the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, he came to realize the futility of trying to live the perfect life. Even after becoming a Christian, Paul still struggled unsuccessfully to do the right thing, often failing (Romans 7:14-24). However, he also discovered the grace of God, which makes perfect living unnecessary.
James also deals with the idea of works as related to salvation. At first glance, it would appear that James is opposed to Paul with regard to the idea of works. James says, "What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can faith save him? And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food, and one of you tells them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled;" and yet you didn't give them the things the body needs, what good is it? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself. Yes, a man will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith" (James 2:14-18).
However, Paul and James are not opposed to each other. James doesn't say that we can gain salvation by our good works. He says that genuine faith will always manifest itself by good works. Any faith that produces no good works is not real faith.
Paul would agree. While he emphasizes that we cannot win salvation by our good works, he also acknowledges "that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God?" (1 Corinthians 6:9). He says, "Walk by the Spirit, and you won't fulfill the lust of the flesh." He says that the fruits of the Spirit are: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control"-and enjoins us to live, not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26).
"that no one would boast" (v. 9b). If our salvation is not the result of anything that we have done (which it is), but is strictly a gift from God (which it is), then we have no grounds for boasting.
In her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom tells of her Tanta (aunt) Jans learning that she had only a few weeks to live. Her family reminded Jans of all her good works. Corrie's father told her that, while many people would go to God with empty hands, Jans would "run to him with hands full!"
But tears came to Jans' eyes, and she said, "Empty, empty! How can we bring anything to God? What does He care for our little tricks and trinkets?" Then she prayed, "Dear Jesus, I thank You that we must all come with empty hands. I thank You that You have done all-all-on the Cross, and that all we need in life or death is to be sure of this."
EPHESIANS 2:10. FOR WE ARE WHAT GOD HAS MADE US
10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
"For we are his workmanship" (v. 10a). This is true in two senses. First, God created us-breathed into us the breath of life. Second, through the work of Christ, God has recreated us-has made us new creatures (2:15).
"created in Christ Jesus for good works" (v. 10b). As noted above, we did not achieve salvation by our good works-but God has made us into new men and women with the intention that we might do good works. Good works of this sort are a natural outgrowth of our faith in Christ and our devotion to him.
"which God prepared before that we would walk in them" (v. 10c). A literal translation would be "which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them."
The idea here is that God has set things up to give us opportunities to do good works. Once again, those good works aren't intended to save us-only God's grace is sufficient for that-but once we have been redeemed, God expects us to begin behaving as redeemed men and woman. He expects us to take advantage of the opportunities that he has presented for us to do good works.
Ephesians 2:1-10 - Deffenbaugh - Bible.org
The Apostle Paul's theology is not written on the back of a truck; it is recorded in the New Testament epistles which he wrote. In the second chapter of Ephesians, Paul will summarize the condition of mankind, the kindness of God, and the nature of the salvation which He has provided for lost men in Christ.
Ephesians 2:1-10 contains three main segments: (1) Verses 1-3; (2) Verses 4-6; and (3) Verses 7-10. Verses 1-3 focus on fallen man, and his hopeless condition (dead) as a result of his sin. Verses 4-6 focus on God, and on His mercy and grace in making a provision for man's salvation in Christ. Verses 7-10 focus on the purpose of salvation, to the praise of the glory of His grace. All together, they spell out the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In Ephesians chapter 1 Paul focused our attention on the purpose of God and on the power of God, which assure the believer of the blessings which God has provided in Christ. The final verses of chapter 1 concern the vast power of God which He has vested in Jesus Christ, through His resurrection and ascension.
18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all.
Although He had died for the sins of the world, God raised Jesus from the dead, and taking Him back into heaven where He seated Him at His right hand. He invested Him with authority and power greater than any and all other authorities. Along with this authority and power, He was appointed as Head of the church, which is the earthly manifestation of His presence and which fills up that which remains of His ministry on earth before His second coming.
Man's Problem: Dead in Sin
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
If Ephesians 1:19-23 takes us to the heights in exploring the power and authority of the risen and ascended Christ, Ephesians 2:1-3 takes us to the very depths, as Paul expounds the powerless, hopeless, lifeless condition of fallen men, enslaved by their own fleshly desires, and dominated by the world around them and by Satan.
The first words of chapter 2 indicate Paul's intention to contrast the condition of lost men with that of the risen and ascended Christ. Verse 1 begins, "And you ..." The NIV does an excellent job of catching and communicating the thrust of Paul's words, when it renders the first words if verse 1, "As for you ..."
Consider the contrast between Christ's position and ours. Christ is alive because of His righteousness, but we are dead, because of our sins. Christ is exalted, seated in the heavens; we are on and of the earth. Christ has been given power and authority over all other powers and authorities; we were subject to the powers and authorities.
The irony of fallen man's dilemma is that he doesn't even realize his condition until after he is saved. Lost men, blinded and deceived by Satan, think they are really "living it up," when in reality they are dead. They think that by living in sin they are enjoying life to its fullest, but they are not. They suppose that they are free, subject to no one,48 but they are really enslaved.
Paul sums up the condition of lost men in one word: dead. To be dead is to be lifeless. To be dead is to be unable to help oneself. To be dead is to be absolutely powerless. To be dead is to be beyond hope (in the eyes of the world).49
Death is ultimately the result of sin. But in our text, Paul examines some of the contributing factors to our sin. First, men are sinners because they are born that way. We were, "by nature, children of wrath." We were sinners, subject to the wrath of God because of our sin nature, which we obtained at birth. The unbelieving world looks at children as innocent, contaminated only by their environment. The Bible informs us that we were born in sin, having inherited the fallen nature of our forefather, Adam (see Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:12).
Second, men sin and are therefore sinners because they follow the world in its course of sin and rebellion. Sinners love and seek companions, co-sinners, to share in the excitement and (unknowingly) in the penalty of sin (see Proverbs 1:8-19). This is why the Bible instructs us to avoid being pressured by the world to conform to its values and lifestyle:
I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2, emphasis mine).
Third, unbelievers sin because they are unwittingly subject to the influence of Satan.
1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the dumb idols, however you were led (1 Corinthians 12:1-2).
And the Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
He who practices sin belongs to the devil, for from the beginning the devil sins (1 John 3:8, Berkeley Version).
We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19).
Finally, men are sinners because they follow the dictates of the flesh. Elsewhere, Paul much more fully explains the role of the flesh in relation to sin (see Romans 7:7-25; Galatians 5:16-21). These are the natural, self-serving impulses and desires of fallen men. The flesh includes not only the sinful passions of the body, but also of the mind.
What is most interesting is that it is here that Paul chooses to unite the Jews and the Gentiles in the common condition of sin and death. In verses 1 and 2, the pronoun "you" is employed, but in verse 3 Paul changes to "we." The "you" refers to the Gentiles; the "we" refers to the Jews. Paul's statement in verse 3 is crucial to our understanding of the gospel. It is one thing for Paul to have said these words concerning the Gentiles. No Jew would disagree with him on that point. But Paul says these things about the Jews. The Jews thought that they were born "special," that they were, because of their physical descent from Abraham, better than the Gentiles:
9 and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father'; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham (Matthew 3:9).
The self-righteous claim of the Jews, "We are Jews by nature, and not sinners from among the Gentiles" (Galatians 2:15), is not only challenged, but reversed by Paul, when he writes, "Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest" (Ephesians 2:3, emphasis mine).
The Jews thought that of fleshly sins as those in which the Gentiles indulged themselves. In some ways it was true that the Jews were less addicted to the fleshly sins of sexual immorality and idolatry compared to the Gentiles. In the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere, Jesus indicted the Jews for being guilty of committing many of the fleshly sins mentally, if not literally (see Matthew 5:21-32). Often times, the Jews were guilty of the same sins, but found pious ways of justifying them (see Matthew 23).
As a friend of mine likes to say, "There is a difference between sin and crime. There are many sins which are not crimes, and many crimes which are not sin." The self-righteous often pride themselves for living in a way that is socially respectable, but which is sin in the eyes of God (see Luke 16:15). As he has done in greater detail in Romans 1-3, in our text Paul demonstrates that the Jews, like the Gentiles are "dead" in their transgressions and sins, born under divine condemnation, and desperately in need of divine grace. In their fallen state, Jews and Gentiles are equally guilty, equally condemned, and equally hopeless apart from God's grace.
Our condition as unbelievers is so foundational to our Christian belief and practice that Paul repeats it again in Ephesians chapter 4:
17 This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness (Ephesians 4:17-19).
In and of ourselves and apart from God, we are desperately and hopelessly lost. We are not "sick," we are "dead." We are without life, without hope, without potential, without "worth." Any value we may have, or any hope, must come from outside of us. And so it does come, in Christ. This is the good news of the gospel, and that which Paul explains next, in verses 4-6.
God's Grace: Alive in Christ
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus,
The words, "But God ..." are a beacon of light and hope in a sea of despair. The condition of men in sin is not hopeless or terminal because God has come to the rescue of fallen men through His provision in Jesus Christ.
Paul begins with the motivation of God, which prompted Him to provide a way of escape from our condition of sin and eternal death. God was motivated by His mercy and His love for us. This divine motivation will do very little for our self-esteem, however. It will do much to promote humility on our part, and deep gratitude toward God.
Our love for God is prompted by His love for us, a love which initiates our love in response: "We love, because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). God's love for us is vastly different from our love for Him. He loved us while we were His enemies, while we were still dead in our sins and transgressions:
5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. 6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:5-8).
God's love is not a response, but a cause. God's mercy is not prompted by our potential or by any qualities we think we possess, but by our own pathetic condition. Divine grace was not bestowed on us because we were so worthy, or because God found anything good in us, but because of the goodness which is in God Himself. The goodness is in the giver, not the recipient.
Suppose that you were called by one of those beauty businesses which specializes in "make-overs." If you were offered a free "make-over" should you feel flattered? Should you take pride in your beauty? I think not. The make-over is needed because of your lack of beauty. No beauty business is going to advertise its work by selecting a beautiful woman and then making only slight improvements on her beauty. They are going to take the most hopeless case they can find, and then take the credit for the transformation.
If a plastic surgeon called you, offering you free cosmetic surgery, so that he could use you for advertising, you should feel grateful, but not proud. He did not choose you because you were so attractive, but because you were so ugly, and could demonstrate the marvelous skills he has as a plastic surgeon.
So it is with God's grace. God sent Jesus Christ to the world, to suffer and to die in the sinner's place. He did this because we were in such terrible shape. He did this so that He could demonstrate His grace, and His power in transforming a "dead" man or woman into a living sacrifice, a living testimony of His grace and power. God's motivation in saving us should not flatter us, but it does glorify Him.
God's grace and salvation does not come to us in various forms, from which we may choose. His grace has been poured out to us lavishly in Christ, and in Him alone. It is through our union with Him that we are transformed from what we were to what He is. Our separation from God through sin has made us what we were in Ephesians 2:1-3. Our identification with Christ, through faith, makes us all that Christ is, as described in Ephesians 1:19-23.
Though on account of our sin we were dead, in Christ we are made alive (verse 5). Though we were formerly dead, we have been raised up in Him (verse 6). And although we were formerly enslaved to our own passions, to the world, and to Satan, in Christ we are seated in the heavenly places, now free from all heavenly and earthly powers that oppose God, and have become enslaved to Him who by love delivered us from our bondage to sin and to death.
The Praise of the Glory of His Grace
7 in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
It is most unfortunate that in most of our minds the thought unit is not Ephesians 2:7-10, but rather 2:8-10. Verses 8-10 are two statements, introduced by the word "for," in support of Paul's main statement in verse 7. The primary purpose of God for sending His Son to die in the sinner's place, was not to produce the happiness of the sinner, saved by grace, but rather the demonstration of the grace of God for all eternity.
God's purposes are not merely temporal, they are eternal. God's purpose in saving sinners is not just to make men happy, to provide blessings, or to enable men to escape the torments of hell. The fact is that God is just as glorified by the punishment of the wicked as He is the salvation of those whom He makes righteous (see Romans 9:14-23; 1 Peter 2:12; Revelation 16:4-7). Whether it be in the punishment of the wicked or in the salvation of sinners by grace, God is working out all things to His own glory. The salvation of sinners is thus subordinate to God's ultimate purpose of bringing glory to Himself. In the case of the salvation of sinners, it is the grace of God which is on display. In the case of the judgment of the wicked, it is the holiness and justice of God which is demonstrated.
It should be pointed out that if, as Paul writes, it is the riches of the grace of God which is to be displayed for all eternity, then salvation must be all of God's doing, and not of our own. Grace is divine favor which is undeserved. God will not share His glory with any other being, and thus the work of salvation is entirely His work.
Paul gives two lines of supporting evidence for his statement that God has saved us for the demonstration of the riches of His grace. Each of these begin with the word "for." The first is found in verses 8 and 9, the second in verse 10. The first concentrates on the cause of our salvation; the second on its effects. Whether in its cause or in its effects, salvation is all of God, and all of grace.
In Ephesians 2:8 and 9 Paul contends that salvation is not of man's doing, but of God's. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast." Men are saved by grace, not by works. This would come as more of a revelation to the self-righteous Jews than to the Gentiles. Men do not enter into eternal life because of their good deeds, but because of God's goodness, in Christ. We have been saved by grace, through faith. This salvation is God's gift, and not compensation for our efforts. And this is so that we will not boast, but will rather give glory to God. One cannot boast because of what we have done, but only in what He has done. As Paul writes elsewhere,
26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, 29 that no man should boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 that, just as it is written, "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).
The second reason why God will be glorified for all eternity for His grace toward men is that any good deeds which result from our salvation as also the result of God's grace:
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).
As saints, we are what we are because of His doing. We are a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), but we are His creation. He created us in Jesus Christ. Any good works which we might do as Christians are the works which He foreordained, which He planned and prepared in eternity past. We dare not take credit for them. We are simply to "walk in them." Good works will not save us, and neither will they be the cause for our boasting, except as we boast in the Lord.