And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—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. 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—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. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own 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.
This is, in my own opinion, the most humbling passage that the apostle Paul has written in all his letters. He uses some phrases found here elsewhere in his letters, but in trying to paint a picture of what God’s grace does, Paul does a fantastic job of making sure the church at Ephesus stays humble in its mission. Now, I’m not saying that it is our job humble others. But reminders of how God loved us is important to keep us on the right track and not to write others off. In the Bible study I am a part of, we went over the Matthew 7:1-5 passage. You know the one? The passage that every person who feels “judged” by a believer has a tendency to quote? “Do not judge.” And then stops there. Problem is, there more to that passage and it is directed at followers of Christ-to make sure that they don’t make the same mistake the Pharisees made-either condemning someone because of something they were doing or just walking by someone without coming alongside them and helping them break out of whatever they are doing. This is something that Paul hopes to prevent the Ephesian church from doing and the modern church as well. I would like to begin with the first 3 verses of chapter 2. It says:
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—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.”
It is important to notice the very first word in verse 1-and. What does this word tell us? Tells us that Paul is connecting what he is saying here with what he just said previously. So let’s go back to what he had written earlier. Going to Ephesians 1:19-23:
“and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
Now connect Ephesians 2:1-3 with this. See how Paul changes gears here? Paul switches from describing the awesome power that God had used in and through Christ, and how Christ was exalted above everything in creation-to describing us. He’s trying to paint us a picture of how insignificant we are in the midst of God’s power-we are nothing and dead. We were subjects of Satan and wallowing in our sins. Undeserving of any kind of attention from God and should remain, as Paul says, children of wrath. By calling us “dead,” Paul is saying that we are unable to do anything ourselves. Paul here addresses the topic of regeneration.
Paul is, of course, referring back to what Jesus taught in John 3 in his discussion with Nicodemus. Regeneration, the new birth-this is the first thing that happens to any new believer and can only come from God-and I mean Him only. Regeneration is where God renews the human heart, making it alive when it was dead. With regeneration, God acts at the origin and deepest point of the human person. Meaning that within every sinner, there is nothing in him or her to cause them to turn to God and start anew-no preliminary preparation in us whatsoever. We contribute nothing to the new life that God gives us. This is what Paul means in his writing of the first 3 verses of Ephesians 2-we cannot do anything.
So, we are: powerless before God, under the wrath of God, and unable to regenerate our spirits without God’s help.
Up to this point, Paul has basically been a doomsayer for everyone-forcing everyone to think, “If I can’t do anything to please God on my own, then what hope do I have?” This pushes us into the next 3 verses of chapter 2. Paul writes:
“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—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…”
You ever see a TV show where there is a scene in which the characters are in the midst of a discussion and one of them is in the middle of explaining something and then stops, then another character asks, “Why do I sense a “but” coming?” This is the case of this passage here. You can expect Paul to continue on in this discourse. He moves from describing our condition in relation to God to talking about God Himself. Paul makes two remarks about God-is filled with mercy and that God is filled with a great love. It is upon these I wish to focus upon for this part.
Great mercy: God has great mercy. This is not what motivates Him to act on our behalf, but rather it is how He views us. He looks at us, His image-bearers which has been marred by sin, and has mercy on us. This is His is mercy-He held back His wrath upon us and redirected it at Jesus upon the cross. Do you know why Jesus was so extremely troubled in the garden? Why He was praying so hard and was sweating drops of blood? It wasn’t because of the physical punishments that were ahead of him, but I’m sure they did instill a feeling of dread-Jesus was human after all and he wouldn’t be if he didn’t fear those. But no, the primary cause of his fear was the coming wrath of God upon Jesus for being the bearer of the world’s sins. D.A. Carson writes in his book, “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God” this statement:
“Wish to see the wrath of God? Look at the cross.”
This is God’s mercy in physical form, that instead of exercising His wrath upon us, He unleashes it upon His one and only son-Jesus Christ.
God’s Love: Paul writes in verse 4 this statement: “because of the great love with which He loved us.” God is motivated by His love. This is a huge piece of evidence for what love should look like-that it is not simply something to be said, but it should be something that motivates us to act upon it. Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan should be perfect example of what love should do. When we are filled with genuine love, which is from God, we are motivated to stop thinking “me, me, me,” and begin to look at our neighbor and start going “you, you, you.” See, you see the other characters in the story of the Good Samaritan fail to remove themselves from their thought process. God’s love is selfless and pushes Him to act on our behalf. The Samaritan in the story goes above and beyond what is expected of him. He bandages the guy up, takes him to nearest inn, stays with him for a while, and then gives the innkeeper money telling him to do everything he can to take care of the man, and if what he has given him doesn’t cover everything, he will cover the remaining balance when he returns. God is the same when He looks at us-except there is no chance that there is a “remaining balance” after what Jesus did at the cross. What Jesus did covered everything for us as far as our sin is concerned. As D.A. Carson writes in his book, “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God:”
“Wish to see the love of God? Look at the cross.”
God’s love for us is His motivation for redeeming us. Unconditional love-that is what makes God’s love so pure-we have done nothing to deserve His love and we have nothing that makes Him want to love us.
So what was the result of all this? Well we see in verses 5 and 6 these statements from Paul:
“made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…”
We see here that God has done with us the same He did in Ephesians 1:19-23. God has made us heirs of the same promise. This is not to say that we are equal with Jesus in name and power, but rather we now have the same claim to righteousness that Jesus had while He was with us. That we can sit next to Jesus in confidence and not in fear of the wrath of God, though that should still be something to make us stop and pause-as it always has. But we no longer have to have fear of where our souls will end up because of Jesus. This claim of inheritance is further substantiated in what Paul says about us being heirs with Christ in Romans 8:15-17, which says:
“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
From this passage, we can see that we can make the same claim to be sons (and daughters) of God with Christ. Christ isn’t our witness in this, but rather the Holy Spirit in us bears our testimony before God that we have the righteousness of Christ in us. Christ makes the same claims of inheritance alongside us.
So, in verses 4-6, we have this:
God’s Mercy=Wrath Redirected
God’s Love=Moved to Act for us
Result=Heirs with Christ
What Paul writes next is pretty much the reasoning for why God did what He did-and it makes His love even more selfless if that is even possible. Paul writes in verse 7:
“so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
The riches of God’s grace. These are better known as the blessings of God. And Paul calls them immeasurable. God has so much that He wishes to give to us and share with us. But-and I have never thought of this before-but God also doesn’t wish us to keep these immeasurable gifts to ourselves. If we did, it’d be flying into the face of what I just said before about God’s love! We move on to the final verses! Verses 8-10 says this:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own 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.”
My reasoning for why we are to share God’s immeasurable riches of His grace is founded upon the very first word of verse 8-“For.” God’s grace was given to us by our faith in Him. And it is not ours! It’s God’s gift and He wishes to share it with the whole world. And here is the reasoning why God owns it and gets to decide what to do with it-so that it can’t be earned by us doing anything so we can’t “lord it over people.” But rather, share it with people and so that they may see what God’s grace has done for us. And God makes a further claim upon ourselves, calling us His workmanship, brought about by Jesus Christ. And created for the simple purpose of doing good works after we have been brought back to life by Christ, so that the world may see the glory of God through us! You ever wanted to show off to people? Of course, we all have wanted to do that. Well, God wants us to show off what He has done for us-not to impress them or to say that we are better than everyone. But to show that what God has done for us He can do for them too!
So finally, we have this for the immeasurable riches of God’s grace:
God’s grace: Claim of ownership
God’s Grace: To be shared with the whole world through the Church
How: use God’s blessings for the good works that He has prepared for His personal workmanships.