1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, 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 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.Ephesians 2:1-10
Over the past week, I have been contemplating our last discussion regarding the good news of the gospel (and the reality of sin and the bad news it brings). Honestly, I cannot imagine life without that “but God” moment – the moment where He crashed into our lives and changed everything.
We have seen this change the life of a man who had never walked until he met Peter and John on their way to the temple. We saw that the greatest change was not his walking away freed from his burdens but running to worship and proclaim what Jesus had done through His followers. Then, we saw the beauty of Jesus’ demonstration of love in His sacrifice on the cross. There is no more beautiful picture of sacrificial love than one who would be willing to die to reconcile – to change the status – of His enemies.
Today, we get the opportunity to look at the same truths from a different angle. It is an awesome thing to see how we were once enemies, but God reconciled and adopted us. It is an amazing miracle for a man to say that He had never walked but God healed him. Now, we are going to look at the amazing miracle that takes place in the lives of every sinner who is saved: we were dead, but God gave us life!
This passage is life and death serious, so I do not want us to miss anything. We are going to dive in sentence by sentence, sometimes phrase by phrase.
Dead in Our Sins
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…. (vv. 1-2a)
This is an extremely tough reality. It is tempting to excuse Paul’s talking about death here as merely a metaphor to talk about just how bad sin is or as an illustration that could happen. It is tempting but untrue. Death did not exist until sin was first committed. In fact, the verse that immediately follows last week’s passage states clearly that “just as sin came into the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
When everyone’s ancestors Adam and Eve sinned against God by breaking His commandment, they were exiled from the garden, removing their access to the tree of life (Genesis 3:23). That exile meant death, which was what God promised in Genesis 2:17. Adam and Eve never ate of the tree of life again, and, even though he was 930, “he died” (Genesis 5:5). All of his sons were sinners after him, and so on and so on until you and I lived. All of his sons after him died, and so on and…well, you get the picture. Sin and death continued and will continue until Jesus Christ comes again and restores everything as He said He would (Acts 3:21).
If you are in Christ, this is supposed to be what you “once walked” in, but death is the reality that everyone faces because of the reality of their sin. Paul uses two words here to describe the sin. Understanding them brings the terrible nature of our sin to bear more than simply looking at their English translations. The word for “trespasses” basically means to step off of a path or “fall by the wayside” . It works out of the understanding that God, being holy and righteous and the Creator of all things can prescribe a way that is best. Our “trespasses” occur when we seek our own way instead of His. The word for “sins” was an archery term that meant missing the mark or bullseye. The reality is that, in our sin, we are “missing the true end and scope of our lives, which is God” .
…in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience…. (v. 2)
Again, it needs to be reiterated that – for those who profess to be saved, to be born again through Jesus – these realities should fall into the “once walked” category. If one’s life is still plagued with unrepentant sin, it is necessary to look at how the current reality may be evidence that the fruit of your life is not of Christ but of “this world” and “the prince of the power of the air”.
The “course of this world” has become more and more fallen since the Fall in Genesis 3. And, more and more with each passing year, people are captivated into following after Satan – whom Paul calls a “prince” here (“ruler of this world” – John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11; “god of this world” – 2 Corinthians 4:4). Sin continues as those aligned with Satan’s agenda (and their own selfish agenda of indulging their own sin), and death seems to reign.
…among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind…. (v. 3a)
Here again we see Paul contrast the new life in Christ with what should be our former life when he says “among whom we all once lived”. He illustrates how the lives of the dead and living are in different spheres. Those living “in the passions of [their] flesh” are not concerned with pleasing God but with “carrying out the desires of [their] body and the mind”. In Romans 6:23, which I find myself quoting often describes the end of living for sinful passions – “the wages of sin is death”.
…and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (v. 3b)
To be a child of wrath is the opposite of being a child of God, but every child of God was once under God’s wrath (Romans 5:9-10). That is a result of our “nature” – descending from Adam. But that does not mean that it is Adam’s fault. No, to paraphrase Tyler Perry, we can do bad all by ourselves. Our sin occurs when we find ourselves, “like the rest of mankind”, tempted by our “own desire” and falling into the reality that when “desire…has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).
Sin and death is clearly our beginning, but, thank God, it does not have to be our end.
Alive in Our Savior
But God, being rich in mercy…. (v. 4a-b)
I cannot read through today’s passage without vv. 4-5 causing my voice to be filled with excitement. Paul sharing the reality of but God here is such a needed contrast to all of the death and bad news of vv. 1-3! Not only that, it is how God changes the reality of death to the hope of eternal life; He is “rich in mercy”!
Church people talk a lot about grace being undeserved favor, but this passage is a particularly good example of the beauty of mercy. Mercy is also undeserved but not because it is favor. No, mercy is the undeserved withholding of punishment that we do deserve. The first three verses of this chapter show how much we deserve death, but that only highlights how rich God is in mercy – He abounds in it. He lavishes it on us.
But God…because of the great love with which He loved us…. (v. 4a, c)
I often find myself wondering why God would spend His mercy – even though He is rich in it – on a sinner like me. He gives mercy because He loves. He gives grace because He loves. And His love is as great as He is rich in mercy and grace! This resounds throughout the Bible, throughout Jesus’ teachings in the gospels. Time and again, passage after passage He tells us He loves us. There is no greater love (John 15:15)!
…even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved…. (v. 5)
The most amazing aspects of His love is the timeline. He loved us “when we were dead in our trespasses”. Indeed, God “shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8)! He meets us where we are, amid sin and death, and offers us salvation. Those who respond to His loving offer in faith are saved from sin and death by His grace alone. More than that, it is eternal life (John 3:16) to be spent with Him – “alive together with Christ” – who can promise life after death because HE IS ALIVE!
…and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (vv. 6-7)
Jesus paid the price for our sins, knowing fully that we “were dead in [our] trespasses” (Colossians 2:13) and fully intending to forgive “us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” by “nailing [them] to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14)! He offers the opportunity to move out of the realm of “this world” and “the prince of the power of the air” to be “seated…with Him in the heavenly places” where He will continually “show [us] the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness”! That’s good news! What’s more is that He paid the price for our sins by bearing our sins “in His body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24) – by dying in our place (2 Corinthians 5:21), yet “God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24)!
But there is hope for those who are saved by Him. There is a life on earth for those with the hope of eternal life between the time of salvation and heaven.
Living for & Walking with Christ
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (vv. 8-9)
It is important to note when talking about the good works – the fruit (Galatians 5:22-23, Matthew 7:15-20) – that accompanies being saved. Salvation is clearly the result of what God has done for us in Christ and not His response to how good we are. Just as we cannot clean ourselves up and come to God but come in weakness and sin to be cleansed by Him (1 John 1:9), our boast needs to be in what He alone has done (2 Corinthians 10:17, Galatians 6:14).
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (v. 10)
Our works do not earn our salvation. But “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). When God saves us and we are “born again” (John 3:3), He has more for us than a humdrum life waiting to die and go to heaven. As my favorite octogenarian, L.G. Schmitz says often: “God has a plan for your life!” He does! We get to spend the rest of our lives on earth sharing His Life with others! We are supposed to be “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14), not to set ourselves apart and put ourselves on a pedestal but to give an example of the love, grace, and mercy that Jesus showed (and still shows) us. Once you are saved, you begin realizing that you “are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). This was not a purchase of a slave but the price to be adopted as God’s child (Galatians 4:4-5)! And we have the privilege and responsibility to plead with everyone we can with the Word and the works God gives us to “implore [all God allows us to meet] on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20) – to let them know that there is mercy, love, and life greater than our trespasses and sins!