8. The Guilt of Men and the Grace of God (Part 1) (Ephesians 2:1-10)
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
It isn’t often that one finds good theology written on the back end of an 18 wheeler. Nevertheless, I encountered a truck this week which had some good theology written on its tailgate. The truck was one of those extended dump trucks, belonging to a demolition company. The truck passed me quickly, and all I had time to do was to read the signs painted on the tailgate. The first sign was written in large letters, and it read: “We Could Wreck The World.” The second sign was on the bottom of the tailgate, written in smaller letters. It read: “Jesus Saves.”
I couldn’t believe my eyes. Did the owner of the truck intend for these two signs to be read and understood separately, or were they meant to be understood together? The lettering on that truck expressed some mighty good theology. I don’t know how one could sum up the contrast between men and God more concisely. Men could wreck the world, and only Jesus can save it.
The Apostle Paul’s theology is not written on the back of a truck; it is recorded in the New Testament epistles which he wrote. In the second chapter of Ephesians, Paul will summarize the condition of mankind, the kindness of God, and the nature of the salvation which He has provided for lost men in Christ.
Ephesians 2:1-10 contains three main segments: (1) Verses 1-3; (2) Verses 4-6; and (3) Verses 7-10. Verses 1-3 focus on fallen man, and his hopeless condition (dead) as a result of his sin. Verses 4-6 focus on God, and on His mercy and grace in making a provision for man’s salvation in Christ. Verses 7-10 focus on the purpose of salvation, to the praise of the glory of His grace. All together, they spell out the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In Ephesians chapter 1 Paul focused our attention on the purpose of God and on the power of God, which assure the believer of the blessings which God has provided in Christ. The final verses of chapter 1 concern the vast power of God which He has vested in Jesus Christ, through His resurrection and ascension.
18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all.
Although He had died for the sins of the world, God raised Jesus from the dead, and taking Him back into heaven where He seated Him at His right hand. He invested Him with authority and power greater than any and all other authorities. Along with this authority and power, He was appointed as Head of the church, which is the earthly manifestation of His presence and which fills up that which remains of His ministry on earth before His second coming.
Man’s Problem: Dead in Sin
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
If Ephesians 1:19-23 takes us to the heights in exploring the power and authority of the risen and ascended Christ, Ephesians 2:1-3 takes us to the very depths, as Paul expounds the powerless, hopeless, lifeless condition of fallen men, enslaved by their own fleshly desires, and dominated by the world around them and by Satan.
The first words of chapter 2 indicate Paul’s intention to contrast the condition of lost men with that of the risen and ascended Christ. Verse 1 begins, “And you …” The NIV does an excellent job of catching and communicating the thrust of Paul’s words, when it renders the first words if verse 1, “As for you …”
Consider the contrast between Christ’s position and ours. Christ is alive because of His righteousness, but we are dead, because of our sins. Christ is exalted, seated in the heavens; we are on and of the earth. Christ has been given power and authority over all other powers and authorities; we were subject to the powers and authorities.
The irony of fallen man’s dilemma is that he doesn’t even realize his condition until after he is saved. Lost men, blinded and deceived by Satan, think they are really “living it up,” when in reality they are dead. They think that by living in sin they are enjoying life to its fullest, but they are not. They suppose that they are free, subject to no one,48 but they are really enslaved.
Paul sums up the condition of lost men in one word: dead. To be dead is to be lifeless. To be dead is to be unable to help oneself. To be dead is to be absolutely powerless. To be dead is to be beyond hope (in the eyes of the world).49
Death is ultimately the result of sin. But in our text, Paul examines some of the contributing factors to our sin. First, men are sinners because they are born that way. We were, “by nature, children of wrath.” We were sinners, subject to the wrath of God because of our sin nature, which we obtained at birth. The unbelieving world looks at children as innocent, contaminated only by their environment. The Bible informs us that we were born in sin, having inherited the fallen nature of our forefather, Adam (see Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:12).
Second, men sin and are therefore sinners because they follow the world in its course of sin and rebellion. Sinners love and seek companions, co-sinners, to share in the excitement and (unknowingly) in the penalty of sin (see Proverbs 1:8-19). This is why the Bible instructs us to avoid being pressured by the world to conform to its values and lifestyle:
I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2, emphasis mine).
Third, unbelievers sin because they are unwittingly subject to the influence of Satan.
1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the dumb idols, however you were led (1 Corinthians 12:1-2).
And the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
He who practices sin belongs to the devil, for from the beginning the devil sins (1 John 3:8, Berkeley Version).
We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19).
Finally, men are sinners because they follow the dictates of the flesh. Elsewhere, Paul much more fully explains the role of the flesh in relation to sin (see Romans 7:7-25; Galatians 5:16-21). These are the natural, self-serving impulses and desires of fallen men. The flesh includes not only the sinful passions of the body, but also of the mind.
What is most interesting is that it is here that Paul chooses to unite the Jews and the Gentiles in the common condition of sin and death. In verses 1 and 2, the pronoun “you” is employed, but in verse 3 Paul changes to “we.” The “you” refers to the Gentiles; the “we” refers to the Jews. Paul’s statement in verse 3 is crucial to our understanding of the gospel. It is one thing for Paul to have said these words concerning the Gentiles. No Jew would disagree with him on that point. But Paul says these things about the Jews. The Jews thought that they were born “special,” that they were, because of their physical descent from Abraham, better than the Gentiles:
9 and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham (Matthew 3:9).
The self-righteous claim of the Jews, “We are Jews by nature, and not sinners from among the Gentiles” (Galatians 2:15), is not only challenged, but reversed by Paul, when he writes, “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Ephesians 2:3, emphasis mine).
The Jews thought that of fleshly sins as those in which the Gentiles indulged themselves. In some ways it was true that the Jews were less addicted to the fleshly sins of sexual immorality and idolatry compared to the Gentiles. In the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere, Jesus indicted the Jews for being guilty of committing many of the fleshly sins mentally, if not literally (see Matthew 5:21-32). Often times, the Jews were guilty of the same sins, but found pious ways of justifying them (see Matthew 23).
As a friend of mine likes to say, “There is a difference between sin and crime. There are many sins which are not crimes, and many crimes which are not sin.” The self-righteous often pride themselves for living in a way that is socially respectable, but which is sin in the eyes of God (see Luke 16:15). As he has done in greater detail in Romans 1-3, in our text Paul demonstrates that the Jews, like the Gentiles are “dead” in their transgressions and sins, born under divine condemnation, and desperately in need of divine grace. In their fallen state, Jews and Gentiles are equally guilty, equally condemned, and equally hopeless apart from God’s grace.
Our condition as unbelievers is so foundational to our Christian belief and practice that Paul repeats it again in Ephesians chapter 4:
17 This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness (Ephesians 4:17-19).
In and of ourselves and apart from God, we are desperately and hopelessly lost. We are not “sick,” we are “dead.” We are without life, without hope, without potential, without “worth.” Any value we may have, or any hope, must come from outside of us. And so it does come, in Christ. This is the good news of the gospel, and that which Paul explains next, in verses 4-6.
God’s Grace: Alive in Christ
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus,
The words, “But God …” are a beacon of light and hope in a sea of despair. The condition of men in sin is not hopeless or terminal because God has come to the rescue of fallen men through His provision in Jesus Christ.
Paul begins with the motivation of God, which prompted Him to provide a way of escape from our condition of sin and eternal death. God was motivated by His mercy and His love for us. This divine motivation will do very little for our self-esteem, however. It will do much to promote humility on our part, and deep gratitude toward God.
Our love for God is prompted by His love for us, a love which initiates our love in response: “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). God’s love for us is vastly different from our love for Him. He loved us while we were His enemies, while we were still dead in our sins and transgressions:
5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. 6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:5-8).
God’s love is not a response, but a cause. God’s mercy is not prompted by our potential or by any qualities we think we possess, but by our own pathetic condition. Divine grace was not bestowed on us because we were so worthy, or because God found anything good in us, but because of the goodness which is in God Himself. The goodness is in the giver, not the recipient.
Suppose that you were called by one of those beauty businesses which specializes in “make-overs.” If you were offered a free “make-over” should you feel flattered? Should you take pride in your beauty? I think not. The make-over is needed because of your lack of beauty. No beauty business is going to advertise its work by selecting a beautiful woman and then making only slight improvements on her beauty. They are going to take the most hopeless case they can find, and then take the credit for the transformation.
If a plastic surgeon called you, offering you free cosmetic surgery, so that he could use you for advertising, you should feel grateful, but not proud. He did not choose you because you were so attractive, but because you were so ugly, and could demonstrate the marvelous skills he has as a plastic surgeon.
So it is with God’s grace. God sent Jesus Christ to the world, to suffer and to die in the sinner’s place. He did this because we were in such terrible shape. He did this so that He could demonstrate His grace, and His power in transforming a “dead” man or woman into a living sacrifice, a living testimony of His grace and power. God’s motivation in saving us should not flatter us, but it does glorify Him.
God’s grace and salvation does not come to us in various forms, from which we may choose. His grace has been poured out to us lavishly in Christ, and in Him alone. It is through our union with Him that we are transformed from what we were to what He is. Our separation from God through sin has made us what we were in Ephesians 2:1-3. Our identification with Christ, through faith, makes us all that Christ is, as described in Ephesians 1:19-23.
Though on account of our sin we were dead, in Christ we are made alive (verse 5). Though we were formerly dead, we have been raised up in Him (verse 6). And although we were formerly enslaved to our own passions, to the world, and to Satan, in Christ we are seated in the heavenly places, now free from all heavenly and earthly powers that oppose God, and have become enslaved to Him who by love delivered us from our bondage to sin and to death.
The Praise of the Glory of His Grace
7 in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
It is most unfortunate that in most of our minds the thought unit is not Ephesians 2:7-10, but rather 2:8-10. Verses 8-10 are two statements, introduced by the word “for,” in support of Paul’s main statement in verse 7. The primary purpose of God for sending His Son to die in the sinner’s place, was not to produce the happiness of the sinner, saved by grace, but rather the demonstration of the grace of God for all eternity.
God’s purposes are not merely temporal, they are eternal. God’s purpose in saving sinners is not just to make men happy, to provide blessings, or to enable men to escape the torments of hell. The fact is that God is just as glorified by the punishment of the wicked as He is the salvation of those whom He makes righteous (see Romans 9:14-23; 1 Peter 2:12; Revelation 16:4-7). Whether it be in the punishment of the wicked or in the salvation of sinners by grace, God is working out all things to His own glory. The salvation of sinners is thus subordinate to God’s ultimate purpose of bringing glory to Himself. In the case of the salvation of sinners, it is the grace of God which is on display. In the case of the judgment of the wicked, it is the holiness and justice of God which is demonstrated.
It should be pointed out that if, as Paul writes, it is the riches of the grace of God which is to be displayed for all eternity, then salvation must be all of God’s doing, and not of our own. Grace is divine favor which is undeserved. God will not share His glory with any other being, and thus the work of salvation is entirely His work.
Paul gives two lines of supporting evidence for his statement that God has saved us for the demonstration of the riches of His grace. Each of these begin with the word “for.” The first is found in verses 8 and 9, the second in verse 10. The first concentrates on the cause of our salvation; the second on its effects. Whether in its cause or in its effects, salvation is all of God, and all of grace.
In Ephesians 2:8 and 9 Paul contends that salvation is not of man’s doing, but of God’s. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” Men are saved by grace, not by works. This would come as more of a revelation to the self-righteous Jews than to the Gentiles. Men do not enter into eternal life because of their good deeds, but because of God’s goodness, in Christ. We have been saved by grace, through faith. This salvation is God’s gift, and not compensation for our efforts. And this is so that we will not boast, but will rather give glory to God. One cannot boast because of what we have done, but only in what He has done. As Paul writes elsewhere,
26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, 29 that no man should boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).
The second reason why God will be glorified for all eternity for His grace toward men is that any good deeds which result from our salvation as also the result of God’s grace:
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).
As saints, we are what we are because of His doing. We are a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), but we are His creation. He created us in Jesus Christ. Any good works which we might do as Christians are the works which He foreordained, which He planned and prepared in eternity past. We dare not take credit for them. We are simply to “walk in them.” Good works will not save us, and neither will they be the cause for our boasting, except as we boast in the Lord.
The passage before us sets before us the glorious difference between what we once were, apart from Christ, and what we now are, in Christ. The good news of the gospel is that we need not remain dead in our transgressions and sin, separated from God and destined for wrath. God has provided a way of salvation—one way—by which sinners can become saints. And this “way” is Jesus Christ:
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6).
Christ died for our sins, so that we need not suffer the penalty of death. Christ rose from the dead and was ascended to the right hand of the Father. In Christ, we too are assured of our resurrection from the dead, and of our position with God in the heavenlies. All we must do is to agree with God concerning our condition, as outlined in Ephesians 2:1-3, and to receive Jesus Christ as God’s provision for our salvation, as explained in verses 4-6. In Christ we cease to be what we once were, and we forever continue to be what Christ is.
If you are a Christian, this text should serve as a reminder of what you once were, and of what you now are, in Christ. It should produce both humility and gratitude. It should stimulate you to love and good deeds, knowing that even the good works which you do are those which God has accomplished in and through you, for His glory.
If you cannot rejoice in these truths, then now is an opportunity for you to receive them for yourself. Verses 1-3 make it clear that you are no worse and no better than any other sinner. Apart from Christ, you are dead in your sins, without life or hope. But in Christ, you enter into the blessing of eternal life. You cease to be the pawn of your own fleshly desires, the world’s pressure, and Satan’s power. If you acknowledge verses 1-3 as an apt descriptive of your own condition, and if you trust in Christ as God’s provision for your salvation, you will come to experience God’s grace personally. I pray that today will be your day of salvation.
Ephesians 2:1-10 presents us with the gospel as a God-centered gospel. It contains no opportunity for human boasting, but only the grace of God, resulting in the glory of God. It presents a salvation which is all of God. The words of the Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 11 are surely fitting, as related to God’s salvation:
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:36).
As clear as it is in Scripture that salvation is God-centered, that it begins with, is achieved through, and is for the glory of God, this point continues to be one that is lost to some Christians. We sing of this salvation as though it was initiated by man, and not by God. We sing that the “Savior is waiting … for us to open our hearts,” and that if “we take one step toward the Savior, we’ll find His arms open wide.” This gives men too much credit, and God too little.
Worse yet, contemporary Christian songs paint a very different picture of man’s condition in sin. God says we are dead in our transgressions and sins; some Christians believe that we are only sick. Other Christians seem to have gone even further. They cease to portray man as dead, desperately in need of God, and speak of God as though He were desperately in need of man. And so we hear these words being sung:
Could it be that God would really rather die than live without us?
Imagine it, God needs us, apparently more than we need Him. And if God can’t have us, He’d really rather die? What is this? Where does this come from? Surely not from Ephesians, or from the Scriptures. How easily we project our weaknesses on God.
The gospel, as summed up in Ephesians 2:1-10, unites Jews and Gentiles. The Jews, like the Gentiles, are dead in their sins. Both are lost and without hope, apart from Christ. Neither can be saved on the basis of works. All men, regardless of race or “religion” or status in life, are sinners, in need of God’s saving grace in Christ. Apart from faith in Christ, they are hopeless, doomed for an eternity in hell.
In Christ, all men are equal as well. Because it is not of our doing, but of God’s doing, there is no privileged class in the body of Christ. The only basis for boasting is in the work of Christ. And so the gospel destroys the myth that Jews are better than Gentiles. This is the teaching of the Apostle Paul in Romans:
9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; 11 There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; 12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one. “ 13 “Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving,” “The poison of asps is under their lips”; 14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”; 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood, 16 Destruction and misery are in their paths, 17 And the path of peace have they not known. “ 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.
21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; (Romans 3:9-24).
This equality is the reason why the New Testament writers are so opposed to discrimination. James will have none of it, and condemns its practice in the church (see James 2:1-1-13). And when Paul finds discrimination in the church, he reacts strongly, insisting that it is a denial of the gospel, which makes all men equal, whether in their sins or in Christ (see Galatians 2:11-21). Let us not only acknowledge the equality of all men in Christ, let us also practice it, to the glory of God.
Our text has something to teach us in the matter of deliverance from the “addictions” of sin. There are many Christians who seem to think that secular deliverance systems really work. As I understand it, my sinful “addictions” (I really don’t like this term) can only be remedied in Christ. The one thing these addictions share in common is that they all originate with the flesh. Only my death, burial, and resurrection in Christ can deliver me from the domination which sin has over my flesh, and only walking in the Spirit gives me the power to live righteously (Romans 6-8). The best that human deliverance (for example, “12 step”) programs can do is to convert one form of addiction which is socially unacceptable to one which is acceptable. Christ is the answer to sin, to only answer. Not a program plus “God as you know Him,” but God as revealed in Christ.
In our text, I find Paul dealing with the past in a way that is quite different from the approach which is common today. In the first place, Paul does not allow his readers to think of themselves as victims. While there are many factors beyond the control of the individual, the fact is that the desires of the flesh and of the mind are involved, too, for which the individual must take responsibility. I do not do well to seek other explanations for my sin which are beyond my control, but to take responsibility for decisions I have made and actions I have done. My guilt is forever removed by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. As long as I focus on the guilt of others, I will ignore and avoid the grace which God has provided for my own.
Finally, I believe that our text has something to say in relationship to the current “lordship” controversy. Can one be saved without understanding the Jesus Christ is Lord of all, and accepting Him as such? I am sure that few grasp all that they could at the point of their conversion. Nevertheless, in our text it is difficult to see how, in Paul’s mind, one can be truly delivered from their bondage to their own flesh, the world, and Satan, if Jesus is not Lord of all. It is the power and authority of Christ which delivers us from the dominion of darkness. If people fail to understand this at the moment of their conversion, it may be because we have chosen to play down His sovereignty. In my opinion the only form of grace which God bestows is sovereign grace. To preach God’s grace apart from His sovereignty is to preach less than the whole truth.
49 The statement, “Where there’s life, there’s hope,” sums up the thinking of the world. The disciples, Mary and Martha, and those who knew Lazarus all thought that there was hope for Lazarus as long as Jesus got to him before He died (see John 11:21, 32, 37). Jesus wanted to teach them that, in Him, there is hope for those who are dead. In fact, only in death is there hope, for we must die to sin and to the Law’s condemnation if we are to live. We must die daily to sin, temptation, and the flesh.
Related Topics: Soteriology (Salvation)