The grace of God is one the greatest doctrine of the New Testament. Augustine, in the fourth century, was one of the earliest Christian thinkers to view the entirety of Christianity through the lens of God’s grace. For Augustine, the only reason for the existence of the Christian faith is the fact of God’s radical grace demonstrated in the work of Christ on the Cross for the benefit of sinners.
Our survey of Ephesians takes us to the second chapter, which contains these famous verses –
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8, 9 TNIV)
If you were to ask the average person, “Do you want to go to Heaven when you die?”, most would answer that they do. Who would want to go to the other place? But just how does a person go to Heaven when they die?
Well, according to the Bible, nobody gets into Heaven based on the good things they did while they were alive. Salvation isn’t attained by works so a person can brag about it. No, a person gets into Heaven based on what God did for them. And this is what Ephesians 2 deals with.
Saved By Grace: Regeneration, Ephesians 2:1 – 10
In the first chapter, Paul had laid the foundation for this discussion on the regeneration of believers by explaining God’s plan of salvation and His mighty power which enacted that plan through Christ.
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. (Ephesians 2:1 – 3 TNIV)
The second chapter actually begins with the conjunction “and,” so it’s a continuation of Paul’s line of thought in the previous chapter. He ended that chapter with the idea of God’s mighty power that raised Jesus from the dead. In chapter two, this exact same power made us, when we were dead in our sins, alive in Christ.
This paragraph, the first three verses of chapter two, describes the true condition of every human being. Notice it’s all written in the past tense. We “used” to be like the people in those three verses. Every single human being who has ever lived, who is alive today, or who is yet to be born, is absolutely dead in sin. The virus of sin has been passed down from generation to generation at the moment of conception.
It was G.K. Chesterton who responded to the question, “What’s wrong with the world?”, this way:
Dear Sirs, I am. Sincerely yours, G.K. Chesterton.
That’s the truth, as only Mr Chesterton could write it! Paul would have agreed with him.
…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… (Romans 3:23 TNIV)
The very language Paul used to describe the unregenerate life reminds us of an episode of “The Walking Dead,” and that’s the prefect way describe a sinner, lost in his sins: a zombie husk, dead but still walking around. Oh, they may be breathing and eating and functioning day-to-day without Jesus Christ, but they are dead on the inside – spiritually lifeless. No zombie sinner can ever cure himself of his dreadful condition without the spiritual intervention only God can provide. The intervention is called salvation, rescue, or even deliverance in the Bible. And no zombie sinner can earn it or pay for it. It is offered by God, free for the taking.
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 TNIV)
God made “us,” both Jews and Gentiles alike, “alive in Christ.” The same power that raised Christ from the dead also raised sinners from their spiritually dead, zombie-like existence. And, our regeneration is also an act of God’s grace, not just His power. He exercised that mighty power because of His grace. That’s the power of the word “but.” It’s a small word but an important one. He exerted salvation power only because of His love for us – His mercy and His grace. Mercifully, not because we deserved it, God saved us.
That phrase, “rich in mercy,” is a profound one because it expresses a fundamental truth about God. Man is a complete and utter failure apart from Jesus Christ. That’s the evident truth of the first three verses. The contrast to the mess man is, is God, who has all this love for man and who is “rich in mercy.” He’s everything man is not, and God has enough mercy for any sinner. He doesn’t have just enough mercy, God is drowning in it! He has a surplus of mercy – He has exactly the mercy any sinner needs. He has what you need!
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 TNIV)
Verse six is another stunner. Jesus Christ was not only raised from the dead, He actually left the tomb and appeared to His disciples. Forty days after the resurrection, Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father. Both of these events have their counterpart in the life of the believer. As Jesus was raised from the dead, so we are raised from our spiritual death. As Christ ascended to Heaven and is enthroned there, so we are enthroned in Christ. This is a concept difficult to wrap our minds around. In some way we can’t comprehend, God the Father sees us in Christ, so that Christ’s experience is ours. He is with the Father, as we are. Bruce wrote this –
Believers are viewed as being already seated there with Christ, by the act in the purpose of God. Temporarily, indeed, we live on earth so long as we remain in this body; but “in Christ”; we are seated with Christ where He is.
Now, we were told just a couple of verses back that God made us alive in Christ, but here we are given some more details as to the real reason behind God’s acts of mercy and grace: “in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace.” That’s right, everything God did for us in Christ, He did to show in successive ages the vast wealth of His grace. Think about what that means. In an eschatological terms, our salvation – and we could say everything God ever did for us – will serve as an eternal witness to God’s endless supply of grace.
All from God, Ephesians 1:8 – 10
This marvelous paragraph brings us back to something Paul mentioned in passing back in verse 5. Believers owe their whole salvation experience to God. As A. Skevington Wood so astutely wrote –
Grace is at once the objective, operative, and instrumental cause.
He’s right about that. Man plays no part in his own salvation other than responding in faith to the call of God. Our salvation from the bondage of sin springs from God’s grace and appropriated by faith is a gift from God that cannot be earned in any way. Grace means says that salvation is a work of God from the very beginning to the final end.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8 – 10 TNIV)
From conception to realization, salvation is work of God and a gift from God. It is not the result of works, which is another way of saying it is “not from yourselves.” There is just no possible way that any kindly person can do enough good work to move the meter one iota. Or, another way of putting it, there is not the slightest reason for any man to be glorified apart of a work of grace. Faith is the complete opposite of works. It’s not that good works are bad or to be avoided. Here’s the problem: man is so prone to sin that if works were involved in salvation, man’s predilection toward boasting would ruin everything. God, being perfect in every way, could never allow even the slightest risk of causing man to sin, so His plan of salvation has nothing to do with man.
If verses eight and nine put forth the fact that God is the author of our faith, then verse ten emphasizes this remarkable fact: God created us. No, it’s actually more than that. The Greek word behind our English “workmanship” or “handiwork” is poiema, or “poem.” We are God’s poem, or as J.B. Phillips says,
We are God’s works of art.
This idea is both personal and corporate. Individuals may be considered to be God’s works of art, but taken collectively the church, the Body of Christ, is a work of art created by God. That’s more than a beautiful sentiment. It shows the great care and precision with which God created us and re-created us at salvation. We are not merely creatures. We are works of art.
But we were saved (“created in Christ Jesus”) for a purpose: “to do good works.” By the time we reach the end of this little letter, Paul will tell us how to do this in a way that is acceptable to God. We may be seated in Heaven with Jesus Christ, but for now we are living on the Earth, and we should be living in a way that glorifies God.
While we don’t do good works to get saved, once we have accepted God’s gracious, free gift of salvation, we are to do good works. The order is vitally important: salvation first, works second. But, and here’s how much God cares about us: Since we’re on the hook to look for opportunities to do good works, and because of our tendency to sin, there’s that risk of boasting again. God in no way wants us to sin by bragging about all the good works we’ve done. This risk is eliminated because – and this is remarkable – God has planned and set up opportunities for us to do good works. Do you see what that means? Whatever good works may follow our regeneration, they are the result of the One who created us.
It’s really simple from Paul’s perspective. We tend to complicate everything, including the Christian life. But it’s not complicated at all. Our responsibility is to follow God’s plan for our lives, responding to the impulses of the Holy Spirit as He gently moves us to fulfill His will. All the good works we need to tend to were planned by God in eternity past. We just need to keep our eyes open and be obedient.