Studies in Galatians, Ephesians and Philippians
10. Ephesians 2:1-10 - Saved by Grace
Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus is filled with numerous theological and practical insights. Chapter 2 takes us from death to life, from hostility to peace. This chapter shows us that there is an important connection between God’s grace and human interrelationships.
Paul begins by telling his readers: “You were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live” (Eph. 2:1-2). All humans start in a state of spiritual death, whether we have many transgressions or only a few. A life not oriented to God is dead.
Paul is talking about average people, socially respectable people. When they “followed the ways of this world,” they were following the devil — “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (v. 2). In living the way they thought best, they were unwittingly imitating the devil and disobeying God.
Christians did it, too: “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath” (v. 3). We lived with no thought other than to take care of our desires, and as a result, we were objects of wrath — under the judgment of God (Rom. 2:5).
But God’s wrath is not the end of the story: “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5). The judge of all humanity is full of mercy, and even when we were guilty and without excuse, he forgave us. Insofar as we sin, we are dead, but as much as we are in Christ, we are alive.
Life in Christ is much more than the physical existence we are familiar with — our new life has a different quality to it, a heavenly quality, an eternal quality. When we become Christians, our identity changes. We become new people. The old self dies, and a new person lives. We died with Christ, we were buried with Christ, and we also live with Christ.
“God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (v. 6). Those who have faith in Christ are seated with him in glory. It is so sure that Paul can say that it has been done.
God did this “in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (v. 7). God’s grace is already at work in our lives, but the extent of his grace will be revealed with much greater clarity in the future.
Paul then summarizes the way God is working: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (v. 8). In Greek, the words grace and faith are feminine, but Paul uses a neuter form of the word this. Paul is not saying that faith is a gift of God, or that grace is a gift of God — they are, but here Paul is saying that all of salvation is a gift of God. None of it comes from from ourselves — “not by works, so that no one can boast” (v. 9). No one can brag about having faith or works. Since God has done it, he gets all the credit.
“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (v. 10). Even our good works are a result of the way God is working in us. He created us for his purpose, to do his will.
Paul expects believers to be obedient. He says that we used to be disobedient, but that in Christ we are created anew, so that we might have a different foundation for how we live. This new life is a result of our salvation, not the cause of it. Our works should be good, but they can never be good enough that we deserve to be saved. We are saved by grace, by God’s mercy and love, through Jesus Christ.Michael Morrison