If someone handed you a couple of pills and said, “Swallow these,” would you do it? Not likely. However, if you were in a medical office and the person speaking was a doctor who had just told you that you would die unless you took the pills, you would be more likely to do so.
Sometimes you have to know how bad the bad news is before you can appreciate the good news. Paul tells us how bad the bad news is: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.”
This is God’s spiritual evaluation of one outside of Christ.
Dead. Not sick, not dying, not having an off day— dead. What can dead people do to help themselves? Not much . . . in fact, absolutely nothing. That is why God, in his mercy, had to reach out to us in his unfathomable love: a love that would sacrifice his only Son for us.
God has given us our diagnosis. Have you understood it? He has also given you the remedy.
The root meaning of “transgressions” suggests a fall or lapse, while the root meaning of “sins” implies an innate state of corruption. Both words reveal people’s inability to please God and live as they should. The plural of both words further emphasizes the natural tendency of humans to continue in sin. Unbelievers’ constant sin and rebellion against God portray their spiritual death.
2:2 You used to live just like the rest of the world, full of sin, obeying Satan, the mighty prince of the power of the air. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. NLT
Paul described three marks of unbelievers:
- They lived like the rest of the world. This refers to the world’s accepted, but immoral, lifestyles and godless motives. Jesus warned his followers: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” ( John 15:18-19).
- They followed the mighty prince of the power of the air. This prince is Satan. The passage focuses on Satan’s reality as an evil power with a certain amount of control in the world. The Bible pictures Satan as ruling an evil spiritual kingdom—the demons and those who are against Christ.
- They were enslaved to “gratifying the cravings of [the] flesh” ( 2:3). This is the third mark of unbelievers, described in the following verse.
2:4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us. NKJV
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)
Behind those two words lies a cosmic plan so huge in scope and so vast in love that the human mind cannot fully comprehend it—all we can do is humbly receive it. Instead of leaving sinful humanity to live worthless and hopeless lives ending only in death, God acted. How God acted and why He acted is explained in this verse and in 2:7.
God acted on behalf of humanity because he is rich in mercy.
What is “mercy”? The word has its roots in the Hebrew word hesed. Mercy was seen as a basic attribute of God, sometimes called “lovingkindness” or “compassion.” This word describes the outworking of God’s love toward people and is shown in his lovingkindness toward them even though they do not deserve it ( Psalm 51:1; Jeremiah 9:24; Hosea 2:19; Jonah 4:2).
God not giving us what we deserve. Grace is God giving us what we do not deserve.
God also acted on behalf of humanity because of His great love. The Greek word for love, agape, is used. It means the selfless love that seeks the best for others. While God could have simply destroyed all people because of their sin, he chose instead to show mercy and love.
Sinful people cannot even approach the holy God, but God extended his love to them, knowing that only he could give salvation to them. Such love is “great” and beyond human understanding.
This love was directed toward us, meaning Jews and Gentiles alike. God’s riches of grace, mercy, and love were meant for all kinds of people from the beginning—Jews and Gentiles—and all people are offered salvation and life in Christ.
2:6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. NIV In addition to being “made alive” ( 2:5), believers are also raised . . . up with Christ. Christ was raised from death and left the tomb—an act accomplished by God’s power alone, as Paul explained in 1:20. Believers have also been “raised.”
We conduct this new life in obedience to God, and thus it is totally different from the life the world offers. As Christ was raised from physical death, believers too are raised from spiritual death to an entirely new kind of life. Believers will experience physical death, but we are assured of resurrection from that death and eternal life with God.
Finally, believers are seated . . . with him in the heavenly realms. Christ has taken his seat at the right hand of the Father, indicating his finished work and his victory over sin. Christ has been exalted by God’s great power ( 1:20). Christians have tended to see this seating with Christ as a future event, based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:28 and Luke 22:30 as well as other verses that point to our future reign with Christ (such as 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 20:4; 22:5). Yet Ephesians teaches that we are seated with Christ now. We share with Christ in his victory now. This view of our present status should help us face our work and trials with greater hope! Believers, as heirs of the kingdom along with Christ, are spiritually exalted from the moment of salvation. We have a new citizenship—in heaven, no longer just on earth: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” ( Philippians 3:20 nkjv). The power that raised and exalted Christ also raised and exalted his people. That same power works daily in believers, helping us live and work for God during our time in the world.
Being made alive, being raised, and being seated in heaven occurs in Christ Jesus. Christ Jesus was the forerunner—without his sacrifice for our sins, his resurrection, and his exaltation, humanity would still be without hope. Because of Christ’s resurrection, we know that our bodies will also be raised from the dead ( 1 Corinthians 15:12-23). Our eternal life with Christ is certain because we are united in his powerful victory. We have been given the power to live as Christians now ( 1:19), not in conformity to the world and its standards, but in obedience to God ( Romans 12:2). This metaphor pictures God sharing his glory and victory with his people, giving them the privilege and authority of shared kingship. Believers can claim their royal status now, for they are children of the King!
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. NKJV Here is the final and definitive reason for God’s action on behalf of humanity, his reason for making us alive, raising us, and seating us along with his Son in the heavenly realms. God wants quite simply to show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us. The Greek word for “show” (or “show forth”) comes from legal terminology. God closes the case by presenting the astounding evidence of his church, his people. The church could only exist by God’s love; the fact of its existence, the fact that people have been offered salvation, reveals the abundance of God’s grace and kindness (see also 1:7; 2:4). Again, this was accomplished only in Christ Jesus. Without Christ’s sacrifice, there would be no hope for a relationship with God. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” ( John 3:16 nkjv). The result? Eternal praise from those whom he has saved (see 1:6, 12, 14).
To whom does God “show” this? Obviously the believers are experiencing God’s grace and kindness. But the believers, the church, show God’s grace and kindness to an unbelieving world. The phrase “in the ages to come” refers to future ages on earth. Throughout history, God will continually demonstrate his work. As time goes by, his grace will be fully shown.
There is an expression: “When you see a turtle on a fence post, you know he didn’t get there by himself.” It’s obvious that someone had to put the turtle up there. In a very real sense, Christians are turtles sitting atop fence posts, put there by the grace of God.
It’s as if someone asked God, “How can I be sure you’re as loving and gracious as you say you are?” His response is simply to display the church—flawed, sinful, capable of stupidity and faithlessness—as Exhibit A, demonstrating his infinite patience and mercy.
How else would a group of such obviously fallen men and women get together and do anything for the glory of God?
Who else but God would use people like us? You are a display case for the grace of God. Demonstrate his great kindness to you by sharing it with others. Use his patience with you to witness to others.
2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. NKJV Elaborating on the statement in 2:5, this verse repeats that it is by grace that anyone is saved. Salvation includes being made alive, raised, and seated with Christ as described in 2:5-6, and that occurs only because of God’s kindness toward undeserving people. “Grace” refers to the multifaceted gift that God makes available to us despite our unworthiness. Not only does God mercifully withhold the judgment and punishment that we so clearly deserve, he grants instead the almost unbelievable gifts of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. God’s grace requires faith because the moral and legal case against us leads to an inevitable verdict—guilty. “Grace” means the forgiveness of our sins. It cannot be earned by works or by any goodness in us. It is free and undeserved favor on us by Christ’s faithful act of redemption.
Our salvation comes from God’s grace alone. “Through faith” could refer to: (1) God’s faithfulness to his promises, (2) Christ’s faithfulness in his obedience to God by dying on the cross, or (3) people’s faith in accepting salvation. In light of Paul’s references to the Ephesians’ faith in 1:1 and 15, he most likely meant “faith” to refer to people’s faith (#3 above). The way people obtain salvation is through faith—simple acceptance of God’s gift of salvation (see also Romans 3:22, 25; Galatians 2:16).
And that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. NKJV Lest anyone should think that “faith” is a necessary work that people must perform in order to receive salvation, Paul added this phrase. It is unclear whether that refers back to “saved,” “faith,” or to the previous section. It is most likely that Paul is referring back to his entire explanation of salvation in 2:4-8, thus including “saved” and “faith” in his one word “that.” Thus, “faith” is also a gift. In any case, Paul is firm that absolutely nothing is of our own doing (not of yourselves)—not salvation, not grace, not even the faith exercised to receive salvation—everything is the gift of God. Salvation does not come from our self-reliance or individualism but from God’s initiative. It is a gift to be thankfully accepted (see Romans 3:24-28; 1 Corinthians 1:29-31; Galatians 2:16).
William Temple: The only thing that a man can contribute to his redemption is the sin from which he needs to be redeemed.
2:9 Not of works, lest anyone should boast. NKJV Salvation is “not of yourselves” ( 2:8), and it is not of works. In other words, people can do nothing to earn salvation, and a person’s faith itself also is not to be considered a “work” or grounds that anyone should boast.
People find it difficult to accept something so free, so willingly given, so available to anyone. We want to feel as though we did something, that we somehow earned our salvation by our merit. That was how the Judaizers (false teachers who said Christians had to obey all the Jewish laws) regarded their laws and why they tried to impose them on the Gentiles—there had to be a certain amount of law keeping and goodness on people’s part in order for them to receive salvation. But Paul’s words are unmistakable—if salvation is by God’s grace and is accepted through faith, then it is “not of works.” If salvation could be earned by good works, then people would, by nature, “boast” about their good works, compare the goodness of their works to others’ good works, and do good only to boast about it. Then, what would be “good enough” for salvation?
But no one could ever be good enough to please a holy God. He casts aside all human effort and pride by offering salvation for free to all people by simple acceptance. People are given salvation on the grounds of God’s grace alone.
2:10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. NIV But wait, there’s more. We are God’s workmanship (work of art, masterpiece, new creation). Salvation is something only God can do—it is his powerful, creative work in us. People are re-created into new people, and those new people form a new creation—the church.
Why would God do it? Why would he sacrifice his only Son for sinners like us?
Ephesians 2:10 gives one reason: so that we could be living, breathing pictures of his grace and mercy. Not only does he change us radically into new creatures, he also wants to use us as display cases for his artistry.
According to this verse, believers are his workmanship, his masterpieces. That would be an arrogant claim to make about ourselves if God hadn’t already said it.
This statement also carries some significant implications about how we ought to see ourselves and how we ought to treat one another. God’s masterpieces should not lower or degrade themselves with sinful attitudes, words, or behaviors. Nor should we devalue his other works of art: our brothers and sisters in Christ. Treat fellow Christians as God’s masterpieces.
Out of gratitude for this free gift, however, believers will seek “to do good works”—to help and serve others with kindness, love, and gentleness. While no action or work we do can help us obtain salvation, God’s intention is that our salvation will result in acts of service.
We are saved not merely for our own benefit but to serve Christ and build up the church ( 4:12). This solves the so-called conflict between faith and works. Works do not produce salvation but are the evidence of salvation.