A Brief Consideration of Ephesians 2:1-10
Last week I started a two-post look at Ephesians 1-2:1-10. As I explained last time, “Those that struggle with this portion of Scripture do so not because the language is difficult, but rather the concept that the language conveys is difficult. However, our theology should be derived from the text of Scripture…not the traditions that we tenaciously hold” (To God Be the Glory: A Brief Stroll through Ephesians 1 & 2, par 3). Thus, you often find a splitting of the road that people go down when walking through this (and similar) portions of the Bible.
So, what’s the difficult part? That God is the sole author of our salvation. Eph 1 details why any are found in Christ; whereas, Eph 2 discusses our state (condition) before being grafted into Christ (vv. 1-3), and then details the benefits we enjoy due to Him. Let’s take a quick stroll through the first ten verses of Eph 2 and see what we see. Enjoy!
In the opening three verses we are given a description fitting to the entire human race (past, present and future). If Ephesians 1 proclaimed our status because of what God has done, then Eph 2:1-3 speaks of our status before grace transformed us.[i]
Verse 1 reads, “And you were dead in trespasses and sins….” Dead in what way? The short answer is spiritually dead. Now, I realize that some professing Christians don’t like that phrase, but what do you suppose the Holy Spirit means by it? If not spiritually dead, then what?
Others don’t like the implications that Eph 2:1 necessarily brings to the forefront. There is nothing good in mankind. The proof is found in the description “…in trespasses and sins.” Moreover, it is obvious that “spiritual deadness” is being spoken referred to as we read on.
Verse 2 adds, “in which you once walked….” How did we formerly walk? Answer: “…following the course of this world…” What direction? Answer: “following the prince of the power of the air…” Who is this prince? Answer: “…the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.”
Obviously, the description in the first two verses is troubling, but we should note that it is in the past tense. Paul is writing to Christians who “were dead,” who used to act like the rest of “the sons of disobedience,” “following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air.” And so, while it is correct to say that the entire human race is alive, the point being made is that they lived in a fashion not pleasing to the God who created them.
Verse 3 teaches, “among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
Verse 3 teaches quite a bit actually. Verse 1 gives a declaration of the former status (remember pre-grace, pre-faith) of those to whom Paul is writing. They “were dead in trespasses and sins.” Verse 2 begins to explain that deadness in terms of a pattern of life, one set by another master (external = Satan; internal = sin). Think of Jesus’ statement in John 14:6 about Him being “the way, the truth, and the life” in reverse from an unholy, unrighteous perspective.
In this 3rd verse we see a definition of sorts of “trespasses and sins.” They are identified as “passions of the flesh.” Now if you are insistent that human nature is essentially good and not wicked (i.e., fallen/corrupt/depraved), then you will have insurmountable difficulties understanding the meaning given here in Eph 2:3. Likewise, “trespasses and sins” are described as “desires of the body and mind” which the spiritually dead “[carry] out.” Sin is not just external activity, but inward motivation. God condemns not just the action, but the motive. Finally, we learn in verse 3 that these passions and desires are natural products of those not in Christ. Paul says the “dead in…trespasses and sins” are rightly identified as “children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
“Well…yeah,” you say “after we use our freewill to sin. After the age of accountability.” Sorry, that’s…not…in there. The Scripture says that mankind is “by nature children of wrath.” In other words, when we enter into this world. We are naturally bent towards trespasses and sins. We are naturally bent towards passions of the flesh and desires of the body and mind that follow the course of this world, “the way, the truth and the life” of the evil one—“the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph 2.2).
A Shift of Focus
Once Paul speaks of the Christian’s past condition, their status pre-grace, pre-faith, pre-Christ, he then reminds them of why they are in a new state of being. Once again, we see in this section that follows (Eph 2:4-10) that the emphasis is on what God has done. Therefore, the glory, the praise and the boasting belong to God.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.”
That which was said before (Eph 1) is being highlighted here. Paul says we have been “made alive together with Christ” because God is “rich in mercy.” Not only that, but also because of God’s “great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses.” God chose to be merciful and loving in spite of who we were, in spite of the condition we were in. For it is “by grace you have been saved” (Eph 2.5).
Grace is unmerited favor. It is not something owed. It is only that which can be freely given. There are variances in the forms of grace that come from God. God is gracious to the wicked and the good. That is a grace that is common to all of creation. However, there is a special grace that He dons on those whom He has loved. These are the predestinated ones identified in Eph 1.
Two times the phrase “by grace you have been saved” is mentioned in Eph 2. The first here in verse 5. The second is found in verse 8. Before we go there let’s take a quick look at something else. I want you to notice a continuing emphasis that the apostle gives.
Paul says, “But God…made us alive together with Christ…and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2.4, 6-7).
If we are going to get the genuine meaning from the text, we need to pay attention to its flow. Notice, it is God who made us alive (i.e., regeneration). It is God who raised us up (i.e., a spiritual resurrection). It is God who has seated us with him (i.e., co-heirs). It is God who has placed us in Christ Jesus. It is God who desires to show us His immeasurable grace. According to Eph 1 this is something God decided to do in eternity, before creation. He elected. He predestined.
Thus, Ephesians 2:8-10 finalizes this thought being conveyed by Paul.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
That whole phrase “for by grace you have been saved through faith” is what Paul says “is not your doing; it is a gift of God.” What is the gift of God? that you have been “saved through faith.” Grace means gift or favor. What sense would it make to say “grace” is the gift of God, not faith. Those that want “faith” to remain as the sole property of the man or woman have forgotten that anything that we possess is from God. Therefore, the person who has faith in Christ, who has repented of their sins and entrusted himself/herself to the work He has done, has nothing to brag about over those who have no faith. For the faith we have is a gift from above.
Moreover, what we possess in Christ—namely our salvation status—is “not a result of works.” Meaning what precisely? That salvation has nothing to do with the person, but everything to do with God. Paul’s driving message is this. Only twice does he state the Christian’s belief (Eph 1.13; 2.8), but before the Christian can go smacking themselves on the back congratulating their faith as if it was naturally ours, he says two things.
- It is the gift of God…[ii]
- Not a result of works…
- Therefore, “no one may boast.” (Man…you didn’t do it!)
Notice that he doesn’t stop there. He says that “we are his workmanship;” something God made (clay pots, earthen vessels?). Now Paul is not merely speaking of us being created in Adam—that is a given—but “created in Christ,” both are acts of God and both say nothing of the ability of the person. Our purpose for being in Christ is to “walk in [goodworks]” but these were “prepared beforehand” by God, so again nothing that we can boast about. The whole dialogue up to this point in Ephesians has stressed one central point.
What we experience in Christ is due to God’s activity both in eternity (choosing, predestinating), and in history (dispensing salvific grace and enabling belief). Therefore, the only thing we can rightly do is say (shout) in our hearts and with our voices: “To God Be the Glory, great things He hath done!”
[i] This “transforming grace” or salvific grace is not realized historically until a person is found entrusting their life, hope, reliance, dependency, etc. into Jesus Christ. This is a logical, but not a chronological step. The manner in which faith is expressed in the heart of the believer is instantaneous (from our vantage point) with regeneration. “Unless a person is born from above, they cannot ‘see’ the kingdom [rule] of God,” (John 3.3) which is a necessary prerequisite before one submits to the command of the gospel.
[ii] For the argumentative Arminian or “traditionalist,” both of which are synergists, allow me to stop your complaint before it starts about “gifts.” The premise they have to be “received” or they are not a gift. No one denies this. What is denied is that receiving a gift has to be in an active sense, rather than a passive sense. Is life a gift? Yes, did you reach for it? No, it was given to you passively—i.e., your will had nothing to do with it. Jesus said, “So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3.8). Everything that we possess is a gift from God, but not every gift that we receive from God did we reach for and grab like fruit on a tree. This text does not say anything about you reaching for salvation. How do the lame walk to the Lord? How do the blind see what is being offered? How do the dumb ask for mercy? How do the leprous feel for it? How do the dead come to it? What is required is a supernatural act of God, which is what Paul has been speaking about through Eph 1 into Eph 2.