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6. Characteristics of True Believers

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As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 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. But 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. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 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. (Ephesians 2:1-7)

What are characteristics of true believers?

In Ephesians 1:19, Paul prays for believers to comprehend God’s great power at work in them. He then describes how this same power resurrected Christ from the dead and seated him in heavenly places, far above all rule and authority (Eph 1:20-21). God’s power in Christ conquered the grave and evil in Christ’s resurrection, ascension, and rule. This same power is at work in believers.

In Ephesians 2:1-7, Paul demonstrates how God’s power works in us by describing the believer’s past, present, and future. He describes what God’s power has done in our lives, what it is doing, and what it will do. Therefore, he is giving characteristics of true believers, those who have experienced God’s power.

This is one of the problems with the contemporary church. It is full of people who declare, “I know God,” and “I am a Christian.” But their lives bear no marks of his power—of a saving relationship with him.

If the power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him above all authorities is at work in us, there will be evidence. As we consider these characteristics of true believers, we must consider whether we possess them. For if the past and present reality of a true believer are not ours, we can be sure the future reality of a believer (mainly heaven) is not ours as well.

Christ said that in the last days many will declare, “Lord, Lord” but he will reply, “I never knew you.” (Matt 7:23). Are the characteristics of a true believer in your life? Have you experienced the incomparable power of God that is at work in those who believe (Eph 1:19)?

Big Questions: What are the characteristics of true believers—their past, present, and future? What applications should we take from these truths?

True Believers Were Delivered from Spiritual Death

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, (Ephesians 2:1)

The first thing God’s power does in the life of every true believer is deliver him from death. Paul says, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins” (v.1). Since one of Paul’s major aims in this book is to teach the unification of Gentile and Jew in God’s church (cf. Eph 2:14-15), he often addresses one group, then the other. When he says “you” in verse 1, he is referring to the Gentiles. Before coming to Christ, the Gentiles were dead in their transgressions and sins. Then Paul includes the Jews as well in Ephesians 2:3, when he says, “All of us also lived among them at one time,” and “Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” This was not just a reality for the Gentiles, but for all mankind.

Before Christ, all are dead in their transgressions and sins.

Interpretation Question: What does Paul mean by mankind being “dead” in their transgressions and sins?

Obviously, he was not referring to physical death for they were all alive—reading or listening to this letter. He was referring to spiritual death. “Death” really just means separation. When a person dies, his body is separated from his spirit. But when a person dies spiritually, he is separated from God.

When Adam sinned in the Garden, the first thing he did was hide from God. Sin affected his relationship with God. Adam no longer desired to walk and talk with him in the Garden. In fact, he hid from God. Adam’s sin caused this desire to hide, and it is now in his offspring.

When Paul says “transgression,” he is referring to an action or thought “committed in open violation of a known law.”1 In the Garden, Adam committed a transgression when he broke the law God gave him. He also committed a “sin,” which means “to miss the mark.” This term was used of hunting with a bow and arrow.2 Adam missed the mark of God’s holiness (cf. Rom 3:23). When God created Adam and all mankind, he made them in the image of God (Gen 1:27). And this is what all mankind has missed—they have missed the mark of God’s holiness in thought, speech, and action. Therefore, all men are dead in their transgressions and sins. Romans 6:23 says, “the wages of sin is death.” This is what transgressions and sins earned mankind—separation from God.

One characteristic of being dead is not responding to stimuli. If you play music to a corpse, it cannot hear it, feel it, or enjoy it, and therefore will not respond. A corpse cannot relate to someone because it is dead. This is the state of mankind spiritually. They are dead to God and the things of God. They cannot respond to God.

Paul says, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). The natural man cannot accept the things that come from the Spirit, nor can he understand them. It is impossible because they are spiritually discerned. Spiritually dead men cannot accept the Word of God; they cannot accept the worship of God. There is a natural antagonism towards the things of God.

What about other religions and how people seek other gods?

Scripture says this is actually a rejection of the true God. Since man will not accept the true God, they make up idols in their own image or the images of other creatures (Rom 1:21-23). But they will not seek the true God. They cannot. Romans 3:11-12 says, “there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away.”

This is the state of mankind—dead to God. They cannot understand God, have turned away from him, and won’t seek him. They are dead in transgressions and sins.

Interpretation Question: Does this mean that man can do no good?

Man is still made in the image of God, even though he is damaged by sin and has a fallen nature (Gen 9:6). Therefore, he has a tremendous capacity to do good, as he naturally reflects God. However, man can do nothing good that pleases God, nor can he contribute to his salvation. Romans 3:12 says, “there is no one who does good, not even one.” Even man’s righteous deeds are like filthy rags in God’s eyes (Isaiah 64:6). This is true because man’s works come from a wrong heart—a heart full of pride, selfish ambition, envy, and jealousy—a heart lacking love (cf. 1 Cor 13:1-3). This is often called the “depravity of man.”

In considering both man’s good works and man’s state of spiritual death, John MacArthur’s comments are helpful:

Man’s common state of sin has often been compared to a diverse group of people standing on the bank of a wide river, perhaps a mile across. Each of them is trying to jump to the other side. The little children and old people can jump only a few feet. The larger children and agile adults can jump several times that far. A few athletes can jump several times farther still. But none of them gets near the other side. Their degrees of success vary only in relation to each other. In relation to achieving the goal they are equal failures.

Throughout history people have varied greatly in their levels of human goodness and wickedness. But in relation to achieving God’s holiness they are equal failures. That is why the good, helpful, kind, considerate, self–giving person needs salvation as much as the multiple murderer on death row. The person who is a good parent, loving spouse, honest worker, and civic humanitarian needs Jesus Christ to save him from the eternal condemnation of hell as much as the skid row drunk or the heartless terrorist. They do not lead equally sinful lives, but they are equally in the state of sin, equally separated from God and from spiritual life.3

Warren Wiersbe adds:

All lost sinners are dead, and the only difference between one sinner and another is the state of decay. The lost derelict on skid row may be more decayed outwardly than the unsaved society leader, but both are dead in sin—and one corpse cannot be more dead than another! This means that our world is one vast graveyard, filled with people who are dead while they live (1 Tim. 5:6).4

This is the state of all believers before they come to Christ. We “were” dead in our transgressions and sins, and every true believer understands their sinful state before God, even as the Ephesians did. First John 1:8 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” When John says the truth is not in us, he is probably referring to the gospel. Assurance of salvation is one of the themes of 1 John. He writes to those who believe in the Son of God so that they may know they have eternal life (1 John 5:13). Without recognition of our sin, depravity, and deadness to God, nobody can be saved. In order to understand the gospel—the good news—one must first understand the bad news—man’s spiritual death and need for a savior. If one does not recognize and accept it, he cannot be saved. He cannot trust in his good works, baptism, the prayers of the saints, etc., and be saved.

This is important to understand, for there are those who think they are without sin or that their sins aren’t that bad, and that they can be saved apart from grace. It was especially important for the Jews to hear this, for many Jews believed they could keep the law perfectly and thus merit salvation. Even the rich man who approached Christ believed he had kept the law, and therefore was kept from salvation—though he desired it (Matt 19:20).

True believers recognize their sin. Paul said he was the chief or worst of sinners (1 Tim 1:15). When Peter met Christ, he declared “I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). Isaiah declared that he had unclean lips, and so did his people (Isaiah 6:5). True believers recognize their deadness in sin and call out to Christ. Without understanding this reality, one cannot be saved.

Have you called out to Christ for salvation? Romans 10:13 says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

What are other characteristics of true believers?

Application Question: Briefly share your salvation story. How did you come to a conscious understanding of your sin and deadness before God so you could accept Christ?

True Believers Were Delivered from a Life of Disobedience

in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. (Ephesians 2:2-3)

Observation Question: What powers control and lead people into disobedience, as seen in verses 2-3?

Next, in verses 2-3, Paul describes how believers previously lived a lifestyle of disobedience. Ephesians 2:2 calls unbelievers “children of disobedience” (KJV). Before Christ, we followed the world, Satan, and the flesh into disobedience towards God. It is not that believers are no longer tempted by these three forces, because they are. However, true believers no longer follow these three forces as a lifestyle. A lifestyle of disobedience and captivity to these forces no longer characterizes them because of God’s power in salvation. First John 3:9-10 says this:

No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.

A true believer no longer lives a lifestyle of disobedience by following these forces.

Now we will consider these three influences which control the lives of unbelievers and still tempt believers.

1. Before Christ, believers followed the ways of this world.

When Paul says “world,” he is not referring to the physical world but to the social value-system in the world, which is against God.5 The world is a system of thoughts and beliefs that contradict God and his Word. It is a system of groupthink, where everybody is expected to think the same. John Stott calls it “cultural bondage.”6 It includes how people view success, beauty, family, riches, power, and life in general.

The world is trying to conform everybody into the same image and draw people away from following God. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

The world is trying to mold people into the same pattern. This shows up in many forms and ideologies. One of the major patterns in this world today is pluralism and relativism. It says, “You can believe anything you want to believe, and if it’s good for you it’s OK, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else.” The problem with this is that you lose absolutes. There is no real right or wrong—except for believing in absolute truth. Sexual immorality is OK. Homosexuality is OK. Adultery is OK. Divorce is acceptable. But anything that claims to be absolute truth is wrong. In a society like this, Christianity becomes more and more marginalized and persecuted because it teaches “absolutes.” One should not lie, steal, or cheat. Sexual immorality is wrong. Homosexuality is wrong. Christ is the only way to heaven. This claws at the world system and stirs it to anger because the world constantly aims to mold people, even believers, into its form.

However, those who have been truly saved, though still affected by the world, are not characterized by it. Again, Paul says, “you used to live [in disobedience] when you followed the ways of this world” (Eph 2:2). This means true believers no longer live according to the groupthink and cultural bondage of the world. They are different, and this will heap up persecution towards them. First Peter 4:3-4 says,

For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you.

A true Christian will commonly find himself mocked, considered strange, or even persecuted. Others will say, “You don’t want to get drunk on the weekend.” “You don’t have sex before marriage.” “You won’t help us cheat on this test.” “You won’t lie.” “You don’t curse.” “What’s wrong with you?” Believers will continually be considered strange because they no longer follow the ways of this world. In fact, John said this reality is a test of true salvation. First John 2:15 says, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

When John says, “the love of the Father is not in him,” he is saying this person is not saved. He does not love God. In fact, assurance of salvation is the very theme of the book (cf. 1 John 5:13).

Are you still following the ways of this world? Or has God changed you? Those who are born again no longer follow the ways of this world. As Paul says in Galatians 6:14, “the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

2. Before Christ, believers followed the ways of the devil.

Not only did believers follow the way of the world before they knew Christ, but they also followed the ways of the devil. Paul said the Ephesians followed “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Eph 2:2). Now when Paul talks about “the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient,” he is not saying that every unbeliever is possessed. Scripture teaches that Satan is not omnipresent like God. He cannot be in more than one place at once. The way he works in unbelievers is by tempting them through the world system, demons, and the flesh to be disobedient to God.

Interpretation Question: What types of temptation does Satan use?

  • Satan tempts people through lies.

In the first temptation, he lied to Eve, saying that if she ate of the tree she would be like God. He also implied that God lied to her and didn’t want the best for her. This is true of Satan’s work in the world system as well. It is a system built on lies. It says, “People must do this; they must do that; they must think this way; they must dress that way.” It is a system based on the lies of the devil.

  • Satan tempts people through fear.

Scripture says he is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Lions roar to provoke fear in their prey. Satan tempts through fear—fear of the future, fear of the past, fear of what other people think. Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man is a snare.” Through fear Satan handicaps people and keeps them from following God and doing his will.

  • Satan tempts people through the love of money and power.

When he tempted Jesus, he appeared to him and said, “If you bow down to me, I will give you all the kingdoms of this world” (Matt 4:9, paraphrase). This is exactly what the majority of the world is running after. They are seeking money and fame, and it keeps them away from following God. First Timothy 6:10 says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

Certainly, there are many other ways the enemy tempts people including “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16, KJV).

Interpretation Question: What does Paul mean by the “ruler of the kingdom of the air”?

When Paul says this, he seems to be talking about something in the heavenly realms. Scripture teaches that Satan has innumerable demons following his bidding, and they have some type of rule in the heavenly realms. We get a clear picture of this in Daniel 10. Daniel, a Jewish administrator in Babylon, was fasting for three weeks, and during that time, he saw a vision of an angel. The angel told Daniel that he initially came to answer his prayer when he first prayed, but he was resisted by the Prince of Persia, referring to a demon ruling in that country (v. 13). The angel gave Daniel revelation, and then said he was leaving to fight with the Prince of Persia and that the Prince of Greece would come as well (v. 20).

Scripture teaches that Satan is the prince of this world (John 12:31) and the prince of demons (Matt 9:34). He works to control this world and the people in it, not only through the world system but through a hierarchy of demons. Their place of rule is the heavenly realms—the air.

Paul talks about this further in Ephesians 6:12 when he says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Before Christ, we were not only following the world, but we were following the influence of the devil through his demons.

3. Before Christ, believers followed the lusts and desires of the flesh.

The final way believers were controlled and influenced to disobey God is through the flesh. When Paul said the flesh, he is not referring to the body. The body itself is neutral—it can be used for good or bad. However, within our bodies, we have a “fallen nature” passed on from Adam. We have a nature full of lusts and desires for evil things. MacArthur says this about lusts and desires:

Epithumia (lusts) refers to strong inclinations and desires of every sort, not simply to sexual lust. Thelēma (desires) emphasizes strong will-fullness, wanting and seeking something with great diligence. As with trespasses and sins, lusts and desires are not given to show their distinctiveness but their commonness. They are used synonymously to represent fallen man’s complete orientation to his own selfish way.7

We lust for sex outside of marriage, for wealth and power, for excessive food and sleep, etc. However, if we are now following Christ, we are no longer controlled by these desires because the power and control of the flesh was broken by Christ. Romans 6:6-7 says, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” These desires no longer control us, but they still tempt us and can become strongholds in our lives.

Application Question: How can a believer walk in daily victory over these forces?

Believers maintain this victory by battling. They battle to no longer be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds (Romans 12:2). They transform their minds by continually meditating on and practicing Scripture. They buffet their bodies and make them slaves through continual discipline (1 Cor 9:27). Paul says, “Discipline yourself unto godliness” (1 Tim 4:7). Through rigorous spiritual disciplines like meditating on Scripture, prayer, church fellowship, repentance and serving others, we control our flesh. Paul says, “Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh” (Gal 5:16). Finally, we defeat the devil by relying on God’s power. Nothing in our flesh will work. Paul tells these believers to be strong in the Lord and his mighty power to stand against the devil. They must put on the full armor of God—a daily righteous lifestyle—to have victory (Eph 6:10-18).

Application Questions: In what ways did the world, Satan, and the flesh control your unregenerate life? In what ways have you experienced freedom from the control of these forces? In what ways do you still find yourself tempted by them?

True Believers Were Delivered from Wrath

Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. (Ephesians 2:3b)

Next, Paul says the Ephesians were objects of wrath before they accepted Christ. When he says “we,” he includes the Jews with the Gentiles (v. 3). Though raised in the Jewish faith, they were objects of wrath before they were saved.

Interpretation Question: What does Paul mean when he calls unbelievers objects of wrath?

Objects of wrath could mean one of two things:

1. Unbelievers have a natural disposition towards “anger, malice, bitterness, and hot temper.”8

Before Christ, we are naturally prone towards anger and wrath to various degrees. This anger is demonstrated towards both God and man. Romans 8:7 says, “the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” The natural man is hostile towards God, his Word, and many times also his people. Jesus says, “If the world hates you, remember it hated me first” (John 15:18). In fact, the end times will be characterized by hostility towards Christians. Matthew 24:9 says, “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” 

This is part of the reason John teaches that love for the brethren is a proof of salvation. “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death” (1 John 3:14). Paul himself knew this well. Before Christ, he persecuted believers—he arrested and even consented to their death. But after Christ, he loved the brothers and even willingly suffered for them.

But not only were we prone towards anger at God, his Word, and believers, but also people in general. Anger and unforgiveness often characterize our relationships with others and sometimes even our families. Some of the characteristics of the sin nature within us are hatred, discord, fits of rage, and dissensions (Gal 5:20). However, when we are saved and walking in the Holy Spirit, we show love, peace, and patience towards God and others.

Before Christ, people are antagonistic towards God and his Word, and often towards both believers and people in general. But in Christ, these same people are now the meek who will inherit the earth (Matt 5:5). We are the merciful who will receive mercy (Matt 5:7), and the peacemakers who will be called sons of God (Matt 5:9).

Application Questions: In what ways did wrath characterize you before Christ? How did Christ change you? How do you still struggle with a tendency towards anger?

2. Unbelievers are objects of God’s wrath.

Not only do unbelievers have a disposition towards wrath, but they are under the wrath of God. John 3:36 says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”

Because God is a holy God, he cannot look upon sin. Therefore, mankind—who is characterized by sin— is under his just wrath.

Interpretation Question: In what ways is the unbelieving world under the wrath of God?

This wrath is seen in at least two ways.

  • The wrath of God is seen in God handing the world over to sin and disobedience and allowing mankind to reap the consequences of rebellion.

Romans 1:18 says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”

Throughout the rest of Romans 1, Paul describes how the world has chosen not to acknowledge God, and therefore, he has handed them over to idolatry, sexual immorality, homosexuality, and all types of sin. Essentially, God says, “Fine, you don’t want to acknowledge me. Reap the consequences of your sin.”

When we look at the world, we see the wrath of God. His wrath is seen in his handing man over to his own devices. God allows people to turn away from him and reap the consequences: division in families, discord in relationships, wounds and sickness from sexual immorality, government corruption, etc. All these sins and consequences reflect God’s wrath on unbelievers. When people refuse to acknowledge him, God hands them over to sin and its consequences

  • But ultimately, the wrath of God will be seen in eternal separation from him and judgment in hell.

Revelation 20:15 says, “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

In hell there will be various degrees of punishment based on the amount/degree of sin committed and one’s knowledge of God and his Word. The one who knew the Master’s will and was still disobedient will be beaten with many blows. But he who did not know shall be beaten with few blows (Lk 12:47-48). In either case, hell is a place where unbelievers bear God’s eternal wrath for their sins.

Application Question: In what ways do you see the wrath of God clearly displayed in society (cf. Rom 1:18-32)?

True Believers Have Experienced a Spiritual Resurrection

But 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. (Ephesians 2:4-5)

In verse 4, there is a dramatic change in the direction of the passage. In verses 1-3, we see the depth of our sin and our depravity before Christ, and then in verse 4, we see God who saves us. Paul essentially says our salvation had nothing to do with us. Dead men and women can’t save themselves. It is totally a work of God based on his character. Paul doesn’t say that one day man decided to try harder; he says that God saved us.

Observation Question: What characteristics of God led him to save us?

1. God saved us because of his great love.

The word used for “love” here is agape in the Greek. It is a volitional love—an act of the will. God looked upon us as we were dead in sin and decided to bestow his love on us. One of the major characteristics of God is love. First John 4:8 simply says, “God is love.” It defines who he is. In fact, before he created man, he was not bored in heaven. He was living in a perfect love relationship with the Son and the Holy Spirit. His character is love.

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (KJV).

John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” While in our sin, God loved us and moved to save us.

What other characteristics intrinsic to God’s nature led him to save us?

2. God saved us because of his mercy.

Mercy is “feelings of pity, compassion, affection, kindness. It is a desire to succor, to tenderly draw to oneself and to care for.”9

Because of his mercy, he withholds the wrath we deserve and provided a way for us to be saved through his Son, Jesus Christ.

3. God saved us because of his grace.

Mercy means he withholds the wrath we deserve. Grace means he gives us what we don’t deserve—unmerited favor. Salvation is a gift of grace. It means that we can do nothing to merit or earn it. It is nothing we can work for.

This is the fallacy of all the religions in the world: they teach that people can earn salvation. But the gospel tells us that we are not good enough to receive God’s favor. We are objects of God’s wrath because of our sin. Our only hope is grace—unmerited favor—which comes through Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” No one can boast of their salvation, for even the ability to believe—faith—is a gift of God. We were too dead in our sin to believe, and therefore God gave us the grace to respond to him. 

Interpretation Question: What does this new life—this spiritual resurrection—look like in the life of a believer?

In the same way that spiritually dead people are characterized by a lack of responsiveness to spiritual stimuli, spiritually alive people are characterized by responsiveness to spiritual stimuli. For example:

1. People who have been spiritually resurrected love God.

Instead of being hostile to God and Christ (Rom 8:7), these people love God and continually want to know him more. Consider these verses:

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11)

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:1-3)

2. People who have been spiritually resurrected love the people of God.

First John 3:14 says, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” True believers both love God and his people.

3. People who have been spiritually resurrected are drawn to prayer.

Romans 8:15 says, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” The Spirit of God draws us into intimacy and prayer with the Father.

4. People who have been spiritually resurrected study and obey the Word of God.

John 14:21 and 24 say this:

Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.

5. People who have been spiritually resurrected continually put to death sin in their lives.

Romans 8:13-14 says,

For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

When Paul describes those who live according to the sinful nature, he is talking about unbelievers. However, those who by the Spirit put sin to death are those who are alive—they are sons of God.

Is there a continual decreasing of sin in your life? If you are saved, the Holy Spirit continually works in your life to convict you of sin, to help you hate it and overcome it. Believers are continually putting sin to death in their lives.

Praise God for saving us because of his love, mercy, and grace! Praise God for his power which gave us new life! Thank you, Lord! Amen.

Application Questions: In what ways are you continually experiencing the fruits of the spiritual resurrection in your life? How should a person respond if he is lacking these fruits?

True Believers Have Been United with Christ

But 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. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 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. (Ephesians 2:4-7)

Another present reality of all believers is their unity with Christ. Paul mentions this reality throughout the epistle in many different ways. He begins the epistle with the greeting, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 1:1). These believers were physically located in Ephesus, and at the same time spiritually located “in Christ Jesus.” He goes on to say how they have every spiritual blessing “in Christ” (v. 3). He says believers were chosen “in him” (v. 4). In verse 7, “in him” we have redemption through his blood and forgiveness of sins. Paul is enraptured with the theology of believers being in Christ, and we should be as well. This is what happened to us at salvation—we were spiritually united with Christ.

Observation Question: In what ways is our spiritual union with Christ reckoned in verses 4-7?

1. Believers were made alive with Christ in his resurrection (v. 4).

When Paul says, God “made us alive with Christ,” he is referring to our death and resurrection in Christ. When Christ died on the cross, God reckoned us as being with him. All our sins were with him on the cross. When he was put into the grave, we were with him. When he was resurrected, we were with him. Our sins and our old nature were left in the grave in order for us to live a new life in Christ. Paul focuses on this same reality when telling the Romans why they should no longer live in sin. Consider what he says in Romans 6:1-6:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin

This is why we should no longer live as slaves to sin—because we died to it and were raised to live a new life with Christ.

2. Believers ascended with Christ to the heavenly realms and now are seated with him (v. 6).

Paul says, “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” When Christ ascended to heaven (Acts 1), we ascended with him. He is now seated at the right hand of God, far above all rule and authority (including the demonic rule, Eph 1:20-21). This means we rule with him and also have authority over the enemy with him. This is our new position in Christ—whatever is his is ours.

Application

As an application, this union must continually identify us. Paul says this in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Paul didn’t even see himself as living any more. Christ was living through him. It must be the same for us. We died with Christ and were resurrected and ascended with him. We are ruling with him in the heavenly realms. We are seated over all power and rule of the devil because of our union to our resurrected and ascended Lord.

This reality must grasp us, and it must become our identity, as it was Paul’s.

Application Question: How should our identity in Christ affect our daily lives? How can we become more consumed with this reality, even as Paul was?

True Believers Will Glorify God’s Grace in the Coming Ages

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 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. (Ephesians 2:6-7)

Finally, we see the future of believers. Though they are presently seated and ruling with Christ in the heavenly realms, this reality will not be fully consummated until the redemption of our bodies at Christ’s second coming.

In the future, we will physically rule with Christ in the heavens and on earth. With that said, our ascension and ruling with Christ was not God’s ultimate purpose in our salvation. God’s ultimate purpose was to “show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (v. 7).

Our salvation and union with Christ will be a testimony to all throughout eternity. It will bring glory to God’s grace. Paul has been emphasizing God’s purpose to glorify his grace in salvation from early in chapter 1. He says this in verses 1:6, 12, 14:

to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 1:6)

in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:12)

who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:14)

In fact, we see the angels and all the people in heaven glorifying God for his great salvation in Revelation 7:10-12:

And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”

God’s grace in salvation will be our focus in worship throughout eternity. In fact, Paul shares how it was especially a part of God’s plan to demonstrate this grace and wisdom to the angels, who have never experienced God’s grace and mercy in salvation. Paul says this in Ephesians 3:10: “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” First Peter 1:12 says the angels long to look into the gospel. They desire to understand it. We are their teachers now and throughout eternity. This is God’s ultimate purpose in salvation—the glory of God.

With that said, this should not just be our focus in heaven, but also on earth. God saved us to bring glory to himself. Therefore, this must be our constant endeavor. Paul said, “Whether you eat or drink, do all things to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31, paraphrase).

Are you living to glorify God on a daily basis?

Application Question: How has God been challenging you to bring glory to him in your daily endeavors?

Conclusion

As we consider Ephesians 2:1-7, we see characteristics of true believers. We see their past, their present, and their future. If we have not experienced the realities of true believers in our past and present, we can be sure that the future of true believers—heaven, ruling with Christ, and bringing glory to his grace—will not be our reality.

What are characteristics of true believers?

  1. True believers were delivered from spiritual death.
  2. True believers were delivered from a life of disobedience.
  3. True believers were delivered from wrath.
  4. True believers have experienced a spiritual resurrection.
  5. True believers have been united with Christ.
  6. True believers will glorify God’s grace in the coming ages.

Copyright © 2016 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked KJV or AKJV are from the King James Version or Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations and commentators’ quotations have been added.


1 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1916). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (p. 54). Chicago: Moody Press.

3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 54–55). Chicago: Moody Press.

4 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, pp. 17–18). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

5 Stott, J. R. W. (1979). God’s new society: the message of Ephesians (p. 73). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

6 Stott, J. R. W. (1979). God’s new society: the message of Ephesians (p. 73). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

7 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (p. 57). Chicago: Moody Press.

8 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1916–1917). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

9 Teacher's Outline and Study Bible - Commentary - Teacher's Outline and Study Bible – Ephesians: The Teacher's Outline and Study Bible.

Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Christian Life

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