UNDERSTANDING GOD’S ETERNAL PURPOSES, 2

Alive in Christ, Ephesians 2

With chapter 2, Paul returns to a subject he barely introduced in 1:18—20

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.

Paul wanted his Ephesian friends to understand and appreciate the greatness of God’s power displayed in Christ.  His resurrection, exaltation, and headship of the Church are all manifestations of this power.  To personalize this thought, in the first 10 verses of chapter 2, the Apostle contrasts the old life of sin with the new life in Christ; this stark contrast vividly shows the amazing power of God.

1.  The old life of sin, 2:1—3

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 deserving of wrath.

The “you” of verse 1 indicates that Paul is addressing the Gentiles converts of the church, note verse 11—

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth…

Gentiles, as Paul wrote, were in a terrible spiritual state before Christ.  But, as verse 3 indicates, the Jews were not any better off.  Both groups desperately needed saving.  There are five characteristics that distinguish a life apart from Christ, and Paul enumerates them in the first three verses.

(a)  Spiritual death, verse 1

Without Christ, a person—Jew or Gentile—is spiritually dead.  This is an important theme in Paul’s teaching, and nowhere is it more clearly stated that Colossians 2:13—

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.

A person without Christ is not just separated from God, they are literally dead; that is, they have absolutely no chance to meet God’s divine requirements for entrance into Heaven—

Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.  (Romans 7:9)

The twin words “transgressions” and “sins” or “paraptoma” and “hamartiai” (Greek, roughly translated as “moral lapses” and “shortcomings”) emphasize the total nature of spiritual death.  Both in thought and deed, in sins of calculation and nature, man cannot help himself.

(b)  Influenced by the world, verse 2

To “follow the ways of this world” means to literally “walk about” in the “spiritual character of the times.”  People who live without Christ conduct their lives in conformity to the culture around them.   Another way to look at this is to recognize that spiritually dead individuals cannot follow the rules and ways of God and so they follow the rules and ways of this sinful world.

(c)  Influenced by Satan, verse 2

Just as Heaven has its God, so this world is ruled by a lesser god, Satan.  Satan is the Unholy Spirit, who attempts to stymie the work of his divine Counterpart.  Paul’s readers, as indeed all unsaved people do, once bowed before the temporary god of this world, and therefore their rewards were just as transitory.  As scholars and theologians have observed, human beings are energized, empowered, and influenced by either God or Satan.

(d)  Ruled by lust, verse 3

Paul, once a religious leader without Christ, counted himself as being “among them,” that is, despite his faultless dedication to his religion, he lived among and like the sinners and heathens around him.  So is the state of all people without Christ, no matter how “good” they may be.

The past life of Jewish Christians, like that of the Gentiles, was dominated by feeding the sinful nature, so that even “good deeds” were done to please the flesh in some way.  Those living without Christ continually surrender themselves to the “cravings of the flesh,” Greek sarx, “human nature under the dominion of sin,” and continually “indulge” the “desires” (thelema, “wills”) of the flesh and mind.  This paints a very bleak picture of man without Christ, for he is beset by two sources evil:  (1) his sinful, fallen nature in general, and (2) an imagination full of perverted thoughts and sinful schemes.

(e)  Objects of God’s wrath, verse 3

The KJV translates this phrase “children of wrath,” which is a literal translation of the Greek, which in turn is really a Semitism to denote those who deserve God’s punishment.  Note how carefully Paul words his thoughts:  people without Christ are by nature deserving of punishment.  This is in contrast to those in Christ who are there by grace.   If a person chooses remain outside of Christ, then they are choosing to stand on their own, refusing to accept what Christ has done for them.  Such an individual stands condemned by their very nature.

2.  The new life in Christ, 2:4—10

Over against man’s stubborn rejection of God, Paul illustrates God’s gracious acceptance of man in Christ.  The little word “but” at the beginning of verse 4 is important because it highlights the goodness of God toward the awfulness of man.  Even though God cannot approve of sin, God is not hostile toward those He created; He loves them and has made it possible for them to be reconciled to Him.

Paul illustrates three key features of this new life:

(a)  It is a God-initiated life, verses 4, 5

Man, on his own, is a complete and utter failure.  In Christ, God broke into man’s tragic situation and today He breaks into each sinner’s sinful, lost state to bring salvation.   The presence of Christ in a person’s life makes all the difference in the world!  Even before we found Him—while we were yet sinners—God was acting on our behalf.

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.

God could have destroyed all of creation because of man’s sin, and He would have been completely justified in doing so.  However, His love for us led to “mercy” (eleos).  “Mercy” is God’s compassion for the helpless, leading to action on their behalf to provide relief.   God’s supply of mercy is endless for man’s needs are endless.

(b)  It is a resurrected life, verses 6, 7

The resurrection of Christ is not only an assurance of spiritual regeneration (because He lives, we live), it is the means of regeneration.  Those dead in sin are raised from spiritual death in and with the risen Christ, initiated by the love of God.

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.  (verse 6)

As Christians we share not only in Christ’s resurrection (as illustrated by water baptism), we also share in His exaltation and glory!

God has raised us up with Christ (synegeirn).  But Christ was only raised; He left the tomb—He walked away from death—and God enthroned us with Christ (synekathisen) “in the heavenly realms.”  These verbs are in the aorist tense and indicate a punctiliar and completed action.  The implications of this thought are mind boggling, and perfectly expressed by F.F. Bruce, when he writes:  Believers are viewed as already seated there with Christ, by the act and in the purpose of God.  Temporarily we live on earth and so remain in the body; but “in Christ” we are seated with Christ where He is.   John Calvin said that believers have been supernaturally “transported from the deepest hell to heaven itself.”

Verse 7 tells why this was done for us.  Apart from the fact God loves us and has mercy on us, there is another reason—

…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.

All of this was done by God in Christ to show for all eternity “the surpassing wealth of his grace” (Barclay).  This act, from which we benefited, was God’s way of advertising for all of eternity His favor toward man—His creation.  Who would benefit from such an exhibition of mercy and grace?  All created things, angels and redeemed men for eternity and beyond, will rejoice in God’s goodness because they will be reminded of it constantly.

(c)  It is given to us in Christ, verses 8—10

These are the great evangelical verses that sum up not only this section of the letter, but also man’s past, present, and future.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.  (verse 8)

Faith is not a virtue, it is not a body philosophical work, and it is not a faculty.  Faith is not something a human being can produce within himself.  Faith is a trustful response to God that is itself evoked by the Holy Spirit.  (Wood).

Paul is very careful to note with all that God has done for sinful man, even sinful man’s response to God is itself a gift from God.  Barclay translates Paul’s thoughts like this:  “The whole process comes from nothing that we have done or could do.”

Grace is the source of our salvation, and faith is the means of acquiring that salvation and although good works have no role to play in the possession of salvation, they do have a major role to play after salvation is possessed.  Verse 10 is a powerful thought—

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Verse 10 is often looked at as a kind postscript to this paragraph, but it is much more than that.  It is really the outcome of all that God has done for us in Christ.  Christians prove their faith by works.  Many people like to contrast Paul’s teaching on salvation by grace alone with James’ teaching on “faith without works is dead,” yet here Paul is complete agreement with James.  When grace operates through faith, a new person pops into existence, whose sole purpose in life is to do “good works.”  God took great care in re-creating us.  The word “workmanship” is derived from the Greek word poiema, or “poem.”  We are God’s poems; God’s thoughts realized in the flesh.  And God’s thoughts are always good thoughts; positive thoughts.  No wonder we are expected to do “good works!”

However, these are not random acts of “good works,” Paul indicates that God has planned them for us ahead of time.  Further, these are not merely “human good works,” they are spiritual “good works,” beneficent actions of the highest order inspired by the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.  We are seated with Christ in the heavenlies but walking on earth among sinners.  Just as Christ was touched by the awful state of sinful man during His earthly ministry, so we are to be so touched.   When we start seeing the unsaved as Christ did, then we will see the works God has planned for us.

(c) 2010 WitzEnd
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