(A) Dead: Enslaved and unable (v.1-3)
In the first part of the passage, Paul says something about the Ephesians Christians' past condition (v.1). He said that they were "dead in the trespasses and sins". What does it mean to be dead? It paints for us a picture of how they cannot have any natural ability on their own to generate life. Christians, before they came to Christ, were not merely bad or people with deficiencies that needed improvement. We were dead without the ability nor the desire to respond to God. The second half of the phrase in verse 1 points to being dead in sins and trespasses. It includes the breaking of the law (trespasses), as well as an attitude of rebellion against God (sins). This means that we are all guilty of it. We may not be directly doing bad and immoral things (trespasses), but if we live our lives in God's world without God, the Bible states it clearly that that too, is sin.
Paul, in verse 2, tells us that we once walked this path of death, "following the course of this world" (v.2a). The natural way of the world, what we thought made perfect sense, Paul says, is sin and death. Put it in another way, the natural way for this world is a path and life of rebellion against God, and this course is a futile one following after the "prince of the power of the air" (v.2b). And we, who were dead and pursuing this path were also "sons of disobedience". If we read just these 2 verses slowly, closely and carefully, we realise that Paul uses stark and bold terms and pictures. There is no neutral ground. The sinful person, as the Bible says, is not just one that does "naughty things" and deserves a slap on the wrist. The Bible goes so far as to say that we may think we're living a great life according to the ways of the world and according to what is accepted by the world, but this way of living is a great waste of time. This way of living is living in death. Paul said this of the Ephesians before they turned to Christ. And for the Christian, this was us too.
Paul also goes on to lay out 3 aspects of the spiritual condition (v.3), and helped them to see how the life of death was lived out.
- "lived in the passions of our flesh" (v.3a). Paul is not condemning physical desire, but he is using this to say that our natural desires are to live for ourselves. It is our natural instinct to respond to our own desire, and our natural self would not desire things of God! Left to ourselves, of course we would not want to go to church, or to read the Bible, or pray. These things are unnatural to us. If Paul speaks about sin this way, then is it any surprise that Jesus told us to deny ourselves? How different this is from the common "follow your heart" mantra!
- "carrying out the desires of the body and the mind" (v.3b). This helps us realise that sinners only sin because they want to. In our sin, we only want to do one thing, and all we do is want to sin.
- "children of wrath" (v.3c). Because we followed our desires and only chased sin, naturally, we were the objects of God's judgment. Every single one of us who were dead in our sin was not right with God.
Paul took great pains to establish this and to us it might seem tedious with lots of unnecessary repeititons. But this is so, so very important because there is a tendency for us Christians to think that we are God's improvement projects. Yes, we were once bad with deficiencies and limitations and problems, but Jesus came and made us better people, better versions of the old thing. In this view, God merely renovates us and we are left largely the same. Ephesians 2 says nothing of this. It is not an improvement project.
It is doing the impossible of making something that was once dead, alive.
(B) Alive: With Christ by God’s great love (v.4-7)
After 3 verses, Paul signals a change in his argument with these lovely words in verse 4 -- "But God". He has established our deadness in the first 3 verses, and now, He introduces this God who had to do something, because we could not do anything. Who is this God? Verses 4-6 goes into great lengths to describe this God. It is almost as if Paul could not contain his excitement, joy and delight in speaking about this God who did so much and who is so much. He highlights that God is a very merciful God ("being rich in mercy" v.4a), who loved us and displayed His love ("great love with which he loved us" v.4b) through His merciful acts and graciously saved us.
Read verses 5-6 carefully. Paul establishes that God's love was not abstract, but worked itself out in specific ways. In fact, God's saving love has 3 key components, and all of them are tied closely to Jesus Christ:
- "Made us alive together with Christ" (v.5b). What happened to Jesus? We know that He died and was resurrected. His resurrection was something that God the Father acted upon! Jesus did not raise Himself! Let us not forget this! This is important because when the Father raised Jesus from the dead, it meant that He accepted His payment for the sins of the world (that's us!). This verse tells us that we who were once dead, are not made alive together with this resurrected Christ! Now we can respond to God. How should we?
- "Raised us up with him" (v.6). Jesus ascended into heaven, and went into the presence of God. Why is this significant? This was the first time that someone with a physical, resurrected body from this world enters the presence of God. This blows our categories because God is a Spirit and is not limited by a physical shell, yet verses like Col 1:19 tells us that in Jesus, all the fullness of God dwell. We are raised up with this Jesus!
- "Seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (v.6b). Jesus is at this seat of authority, and is exalted to this place because His job is complete. What else does this verse say? This is where we are too! What a stark contrast to the deadness in the previous verses! And do not gloss over the fact that the present tense is used here. Though we are physically on earth, this verse tells us that that is where we are positionally. Verse 6b tells us who we are in God's eyes. Doesn't everything that happened to us today -- good and bad -- seem small and insignificant compared to what is being said here?
Sometimes we get so used to hearing the fact that God saves us. Eph 2:5-6 reminds us of the richness of this salvation, that is not achieved because we deserve it or have worked for it. Our salvation has been bought and secured by the precious blood that Jesus spilt. We enjoy it because it happened to Christ.
But that's not all! Paul knows that things are not what they ought to be, and in verse 7, he promises and points to the future, where we will realise who we were and are. In that day, Paul writes, we will see the "immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus" (v.7). His grace In making dead people live is valuable and priceless. God is the God of kindness towards us, who shows immeasurably rich grace, by making dead people live. Honestly, why would He do that? We have given Him no reason to love us. He loves us, because He loves us.
Let us not skim through these verses and grow tired of it, thinking we know it already. This is something we should keep asking ourselves, and keep going back to. And each time, as we meditate and think about it, like Paul, we cannot help but speak about it all with superlatives and many adjectives, because it blows our minds and makes our hearts overflow with joy and excitement.
(C) Living: Purposefully by grace (v.8-10)
How are we made alive? Paul speaks about being “saved by grace through faith” in verses 5 and 8. This grace can be received through faith, which is actually a gift of God. It is not something we can summon by ourselves, and therefore, we cannot boast (v.9). Grace is designed to make us humble and equal before God. There is no place for self-centredness before God. Both pride (thinking that I can save myself) and self-pity (thinking that I am such a lost cause and no one can save me) gets thrown out of the window. God has provided a different way. This is the offer of the gospel to us self-centred, dead people.
Verse 10 describes the Christian and what it means to live according to the Gospel. We no longer live, driven by our own fear and pride. Instead, we are told that we are God's workmanship, conveying the idea of skill and intricacy and intimacy of this God at work in us. Each individual, each Christian, is specially handcrafted and precious to this God. We are not mass produced without thought. And He has also prepared good works for His special work. Good works does not merely refer to moral actions and living rightly. Life takes on a deeper purpose and special significance as this God who did the impossible task of making alive dead people has prepared a different course for His special workmanship. What does this mean for us today? Perhaps you are struggling with broken hearts, broken dreams. Eph 2:10 encourages us and assures us that we who have been made alive in Christ have been created for and can dream bigger dreams, not for our own small lives, but in accordance with God's bigger and better purposes.
Do you struggle with loving God? Do you want to love God more? Ephesians 2 reminds us never to forget who we once were (dead) and who we are now (made alive with Christ). Knowing, tasting and seeing this wonderful, gracious, love of God will keep our hearts warm and tender.
Do you struggle with changing, and living the life a Christian? The logic of Ephesians 2 also tells us that fear and pride are terrible motivators to help us change and transform our lives. We need the saving grace of God. Grace alone saves us, but this grace does not leave us alone.
“The Bible recognizes no definition of grace that encourages moral license. Instead, feasting on grace fuels love for God that enables us to fulfill the commandment ... Only the grace of God ultimately displayed in the provision of Christ for sinners can stimulate such loving obedience.”
(ESV Gospel Transformation Bible Introduction)