I. Grace Is Essential Because Sinners Are In A “Dead” State Of Mind. (2:1-3)
The Greek text of Ephesians 2:1 begins with, Kai hymas ontas nekros, literally, “and you were dead.” The New King James Version renders the first verse as, “And you He made alive (hath He quickened- KJV), who were dead . . .”
The phrase “He made alive” is in italics, informing us that the translators inserted it for clarity. H. A. Ironside stated, “You will notice that the words, ‘hath He quickened,’ are in italics [in your bible]. That means that there is nothing in the original to answer to them, and yet we actually seem to need them to fully bring out the thought of the Greek . . .” If someone is “dead,” how then shall he “live”? The thought that “He made [us] alive” is found in verse five of chapter two. It was inserted here because the concept of being “dead” rendered it necessary.
Paul begins with the conjunctive “and” in 2:1 to continue his discourse of the headship of the Lord Jesus Christ in 1:22-23. After instructing the Ephesians that God has put all things under the feet of Jesus “and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all,” Paul then adds “and you . . .” in 2:1 as a continuation of the previous statement; since Jesus Christ is the sinner’s “all in all,” Paul makes it personal by directing attention to the sinner who is “dead.”
The word “dead” has the connotation of being disconnected from the whole. As the Bible Knowledge Commentary states it, “This death is spiritual, not physical, for unsaved people are very much alive physically. Death signifies absence of communication with the living. One who is dead spiritually has no communication with God; he is separated from God.”
The Prodigal Son serves as an adequate example of such “dead”-ness. He had left his father and family, but upon his return, even repentance, his father declared to the elder brother, “It was right that we should make merry and be glad [for the wandering son’s return], for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found” (Luke 15:31-32).
The concept of being “dead,” in the ancient near east, also communicated that of being separated when the subject was physically alive. However, the concept of equating this “death” with that of a “corpse” is completely unwarranted; for though a corpse cannot place his faith in Christ Jesus, neither can he reject Him; a corpse can do nothing good (i.e. toward salvation), yet nor can he sin.
The text states that sinners are dead (separated from God) “in trespasses and sins” (2:1). The Greek word for “trespasses” is paraptomasin, while the word for “sin” is hamartiais. A trespass is “a false step, a blunder; hence, a lapse from uprightness, a sin, a moral trespass, misdeed; a downfall, a falling down along side of the correct path” The word for “sin,” according to James Strong, is “the most comprehensive term for moral deviations . . . Hamartia, as a verb, is literally ‘a missing of the mark.'” The fact that Paul mentions that sinners are “in” trespasses and sins “indicates the realm or sphere in which unregenerate sinners exist.” MacArthur’s statement is confirmed when in 2:2 Paul states, “in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air; the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.”
Paul uses the term “walking” to indicate the course sinners are on which will lead them to a particular destination. According to Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible, “Walking is a biblical expression that pictures a believer’s steady, normal progress with God. Paul here refers to a believer’s old walk. Whether it was a path of moral carelessness or the dark alley of evil, believers should no longer walk according to their past evil ways.”
Paul describes that evil path as worldly and satanic; the lost walk on that path (“according to the course of this world”) and demons are on that path also (“according to the prince of the power of the air”). This “prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” is none other than Satan himself, and includes the host of demons who chose to follow him. Unbelievers are inadvertently sons of Satan. The term “sons of,” in Hebrew culture, is a way of saying “those characterized by.”
Paul says, in 2:3, “among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.” The Greek word for “flesh” here is sarkos, meaning, “flesh; the meat of an animal; the body; or human nature.”
It should be apparent to any Christian that the body itself does not tempt the soul; the nature within man that has been disabled by sin is the cause of his stumbling. And Paul wanted every Christian to understand that at one time everyone acted in the manner that the heathen do and that everyone is by nature a child of God’s wrath.
II. Grace Is Demonstrated Because God Is Rich In Mercy. (2:4-7)
If sinners are aggressively and most willingly separated from God because of their love for sin and disobedience and are, by their very nature, children of wrath, then why would God even care about man?
The Apostle Paul has highlighted the sinfulness of man in order to now emphasize the grace and mercy of the sinner’s great God. He writes, in 2:4, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us” to comfort the wretched sinner and to give him hope. Indeed, if God was not “rich in mercy” and capable of such “great love,” then the sinner would be a most pitiful creature. The bumper-sticker-theology of today’s superficial Christian thrusts man to the center stage by declaring: “God would rather die for you than live without you.” This is sickening. Paul thrusts God to the center stage and shines the spotlight on His great love, mercy, and grace. John MacArthur wrote, “Salvation is for God’s glory by putting on display His boundless mercy and love for those who are spiritually dead because of their sinfulness.”
The word “but” at the beginning of 2:4 catches the reader’s attention immediately. In spite of man’s wickedness, God has decided to do something about it. “But” arrests the attention and gives great hope to the hopeless. Man is wicked, separated from God, and imprisoned by his sin: But, there is hope. God, motivated by His great love, comes to the sinner’s rescue.
The word “mercy” should not be confused with the word “grace.” Grace carries the meaning of special favor given to one undeserving, while mercy is the withholding of due judgment. If a son disobeys his father, the father may forgive the son by not punishing him, though he deserves it, thus demonstrating mercy. If the father takes the son out for ice cream later, that is grace. Grace is over-the-top, undeserved, special favor.
This mercy and love that God demonstrated toward sinners did not happen as a result of anything good that He saw in man. God’s favor came “even when we were dead in trespasses,” and as a result, [He] “made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (2:5).
The fact that man is “dead in trespasses” provides evidence that he will not and cannot be saved on account of anything “good” within him; man’s mind and heart are both wicked. James Arminius commented: “The Mind of man, in this [fallen] state, is dark, destitute of the saving knowledge of God, and, according to the Apostle, incapable of those things which belong to the Spirit of God . . . to this Darkness of the Mind succeeds the Perverseness of the Affections and of the Heart, according to which it hates and has an aversion to that which is truly good and pleasing to God; but it loves and pursues what is evil.”
The Reformed pastor and theologian, James Arminius, went on to write that “correspondent to this Darkness of the Mind, and Perverseness of the Heart, is the utter Weakness of all the Powers to perform that which is truly good . . .” (author’s italics). Therefore, if man is completely unable to exact his own salvation due to his being “dead in trespasses,” then he must rely solely on the grace and mercy of God who alone can bring him to life.
Moreover, this “being made alive” does not happen apart from God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Paul taught that believers are made alive “together with Christ.” Since everything finds its end in Christ Jesus, it is only in union with Him that one finds real life. The phrase “together with” can also be stated “in association with.” This reminds the Christian of Jesus’ very own words: “Because I live, you will live also” (John 14:19). Without Jesus Christ, there is no life, since He is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25), the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).
The born-again believer has been “made alive together with Christ,” which came by the grace of God. And God has also “raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (2:6). John MacArthur states: “The tense of ‘raised’ and ‘made’ indicates that these are immediate and direct results of salvation. Not only is the believer dead to sin and alive to righteousness through Christ’s resurrection, but he also enjoys his Lord’s exaltation and shares in His pre-eminent glory.” The Apostle Peter stated the same thing (2Peter 1:4).
It is one thing for God to reconcile a sinner to Himself by an act of grace, but it is quite another to give this re-created sinner a noble place in His kingdom! Craig Keener noted, “Scholars have compared the image of the exaltation of the believers in 2:6 with the fairly common Jewish image of the righteous enthroned in the world to come; Christians have begun to experience the life of the coming age in advance . . . to be ‘seated with Christ’ means in 2:6 what it meant in 1:20-21—to be enthroned over the evil powers.”
As if those blessings were not enough, God also “made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” This reminds the reader of Eph. 1:3 where it is stated that God has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible states: “God does not guarantee health, wealth, and prosperity to the New Testament believer. The phrase ‘in the heavenly places’ suggests that a Christian living anywhere in the world is even now in a spiritual sense seated with Christ on high.”
God does all things with a purpose. Paul already informed the Christian of this notion in 1:11: “In Him [Christ Jesus] also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works out all things according to the counsel of His will” (emphasis mine).
So, what was the “purpose” of blessing the believer in such awe-inspiring manners? The answer is found in 2:7: “That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Notice the word “that,” indicating the purpose for which God has accomplished His goal in Christ Jesus. He “made us alive,” “raised us up,” and “seated us with Christ” so that His grace might be manifest in us “in the ages to come.”
Paul did not write “in the age to come,” but “in the ages to come.” H. A. Ironside comments: “The Millennium is ‘the age to come,’ and here we have ‘the ages to come.’ That is the Greek expression for eternity. It consists of untold millions of ages running on forevermore. Through all the ages to come God is going to exhibit the exceeding riches of His grace.”
God has blessed man thus so that he may see “the exceeding riches of His grace.” The NIV renders it “the incomparable riches of His grace.” God desires to “show” His grace; literally, He wants to put it on display. Why would God want to “display” His riches? Is God a show-off? May it never be. God’s purpose in displaying His grace is twofold: (1) So that men may understand that he is wretched and can do nothing good to earn God’s favor, and (2) So that men may understand with what great love God has loved him. Man would fair well to remember John 3:16: “God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (HCSB), and that “love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us . . .” (1John 4:10).
III. Grace Is Distributed To Those Whose Faith Is In Christ Jesus. (2:8-10)
Paul began in 2:1 by exposing man’s evil nature, showing him the necessity of the grace of God. He then exalted God by attributing to Him alone as the source of love, mercy and grace that man so desperately needs if he is to be saved. The climax of 2:1-10 is found at verse 8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”
The Life in the Spirit New Testament Commentary reads: “The loving, redeeming action of God in this section stands in strongest possible contrast to the desperate plight of sinful humanity under God’s wrath in 2:1-3.” The word “for” introduces the verse and is a continuation of the previous verse. God intended to show believers His kindness, but only in conjunction with Christ Jesus (2:7). As John put it: “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:18). God’s grace comes only through union with Christ Jesus.
He then went on to write that this grace-salvation comes “through faith.” He wrote a similar confession about faith in Romans 10:17: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Indeed man must believe into Christ Jesus for this is the only way grace may be extended. The faith that exists must be directed solely toward Christ.
The phrase, “and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,” has been interpreted differently. This “gift” of God is not faith but salvation. Faith is never mentioned in the New Testament as a “gift.” However, salvation is God’s gift: “Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God,'” (John 4:10) referring to eternal life.
Paul mentions the “free gift” of salvation at Romans 5:15, 16, 17, 18; 6:23 as well as at Ephesians 3:7. Furthermore, this “gift of God” must be salvation and not faith because of Ephesians 2:9, “not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Paul uses strong language to combat anyone who thinks he may “work” to earn favor with God in Romans, Galatians, and here in Ephesians. Faith in Christ Jesus is not a “work” (Rom. 4:2-5), therefore, the statement of “boastful works” at verse nine would not make any sense with regard to faith; the gift of God, then, is salvation.
The Apostle Paul raged against any notion that a fallen man could do good works to earn favor with God. The thought is quite preposterous since Paul just spent so much time in chapter two informing men of their sinfulness and their position separated from God; so, “Since, therefore, there is no room for human merit; there is no room for human boasting.”
The Life in the Spirit New Testament Commentary makes another good judgment:
“It is impossible to be saved any other way than by God’s grace because all the unsaved are spiritually dead (2:1), under Satan’s dominion (2:2), enslaved to sin (2:3), and under God’s wrath (2:3). In order for people to be saved God must take the initiative to act on behalf of the sinner, which He has done in Christ (2:4-5). Because of what He has done, not what we do, believers are made alive spiritually in Christ (2:5).”
It would be foolish for a believer of Jesus Christ to think that because he did not earn his salvation by works, that works are not an essential part of his salvation. As was stated previously, God has a purpose in everything he does. One of the purposes of His redeemed children is that in Christ Jesus they will do good works. This corresponds well with James: “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:17).
Finally, Ephesians 2:10 states, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” The idea of “workmanship” involves a product, i.e. fabric: a thing that is made. This mirrors the portrait of God as the Potter (Jer. 18) and the source of man’s being (Acts 17:28).
God takes the born-again believer and “creates” him “in Christ Jesus for good works.” The term “in Christ” denotes the sphere of all spiritual blessings, including good works, for good works find no merit outside of union with Christ Jesus (Matt. 7:21-23).
These “good works” God “prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” They do not have their origin in us, but in God, for “good works flow from what God does in us, rather than God’s work in us flowing from our works . . . it was always His purpose for good works to flow from His grace.”
It is in these good works that the world sees God; since no one has ever seen God (1John 4:12), one may get a glimpse of Him through the good works of believers. And though no one will ever be saved by his good works, John Calvin reminds us that “it is faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone.”
In Ephesians 2:1-10, Paul exhorts men to trust in God’s grace rather than his own “good” works. Because God is rich in mercy and is willing to save sinners, He only requires simple faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, for the salvation of his soul; by grace one is saved through faith.