Here in chapter 2, Paul elaborates on the mechanism of reconciliation – first vertically in verses 1 thru 10, then horizontally in verses 11 thru 22. The glorious character of God’s salvation of us – glorious because of its monergistic and supernatural design – is demonstrated here in three ways:
- The gravity of our condition
- The riches of his mercy and greatness of his love
- The graciousness of his salvation
First, the gravity of our condition.
“To bring home more effectually to the Ephesians the general doctrine of Divine grace, he reminds them of their former condition.” Calvin
‘You dead on account of sin,—wherein ye walked according to the course of the world, subject to Satan, associated with the children of disobedience, among whom we also had our conversation, and were the children of wrath even as others—us, dead on account of trespasses hath God quickened.’ Charles Hodge tr.
Paul doesn’t mince words, he begins by issuing a death certificate – we were corpses, nekrous, unable to respond to spiritual stimuli; the cause of death: trespasses and sins, fall and failure, inherent defects he elaborates on at some length in verses 2 & 3. Paul does not warn his readers of a future danger, he issues the coroner’s final judgment – dead.
How does Paul describe the cause of death? In two ways, by its outwardly visible characteristics and its inward source. First the visible:
- motivated and governed by priorities “under the sun”
- valuing those things held in high esteem by the world, the unregenerate, the world system and not motivated by love for God”the environment [in which] you formerly moved about freely, feeling perfectly at home, conducting yourselves in complete harmony with “the spirit of the age that marks mankind alienated from the life of God” Hendriksen & Kistemaker
- following the lead of Satan – the prince of the power of the air – ruler not because he has ultimate authority but because he has great power and is followed as a leader;he rules not by right but by permission”Paul does not allow him the highest authority, which belongs to the will of God alone, but merely a tyranny which God permits him to exercise. What is Satan but God’s executioner to punish man’s ingratitude? This is implied in Paul’s language, when he represents the success of Satan as confined to unbelievers; for the children of God are thus exempted from his power. If this be true, it follows that Satan does nothing but under the control of a superior and that he is not an unlimited monarch.” CalvinConsider also Daniel’s experience with his visitor in Dan_10:11-14
- satisfying desires that are consistent with a nature corrupted by sin; freely choosing to do so, thus the whole person is involved in the sin
Next, he comes to the source or root of the cause of death.
Phusis “is everything which by its origin or by observation of its constitution seems to be a given. …[It] is then used for a man’s character or nature, without ref. to his birth or descent, in so far as this nature is given and is not dependent on conscious direction or education. …the aim is to stress what is distinctive in the nature and constitution of individual phenomena, esp. to the degree that this cannot be attributed to divine or social or other human causes.” TDNT
“the direct and immediate sense of the passage is that they were, when without the gospel, and before they were renewed, the children of wrath; but still the fair interpretation is, that they were born to that state, and that that condition was the regular result of their native depravity; and I do not know a more strong or positive declaration that can be made to show that people are by nature destitute of holiness, and exposed to perdition.” Albert Barnes Notes
“Our spiritual poverty, apart from the riches of God’s mercy and love, quite beggars description. …It is of God’s mercy that we were not destroyed when we were in sin, or that we were not left to our own devices. In compassion He sent His only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep to give HIs life so that we might live in him.” V. Raymond Edman, But God
But Paul doesn’t stay focused on man’s condition; to do so would ultimately result in abject despair. Rather he turns his attention to the riches of God’s mercy and greatness of his love and how he has displayed it toward us. The Amplified Bible puts it this way:
But God–so rich is He in His mercy! Because of and in order to satisfy the great and wonderful and intense love with which He loved us… Eph 2:4
It is against the background of God’s wrath that his mercy stands out in such stunning contrast. It is against the backdrop of God’s holiness that his love for sinful man is displayed in sharp relief. It is only when we grasp the infinitely wide chasm that exists between holy God and sinful man, when we apprehend the awfulness and hopelessness of our condition that we begin to appreciate the wealth of mercy shown to us. As we gain an understanding of the depths of our depravity, we begin to fathom how immeasurably far God had to stoop to lift us up and the magnitude of love that would make him do that. In order for sinful man to recognize his true need, these truths about his wretched condition as perceived by God must be part of the message of the Gospel.
“We can speak of it as his intense concern for, deep personal interest in, warm attachment to, and spontaneous tenderness toward his chosen ones, but all this is but to stammer. Those, and those only, who experience it are the ones who know what it is, though even they can never fully comprehend it (3:19). They know, however, that it is unique, spontaneous, strong, sovereign, everlasting, and infinite.” Hendriksen & Kistemaker, NTC
This mercy and love God has bestowed on us has both our good and his glory in view. Paul here describes what God has done for us – he has sovereignly reached into the grave and raised us to life, giving us both the ability and the desire to respond to spiritual truth. This new life in which we participate has its beginnings now as well as a future fullness we have yet to experience. We see elaborated how the power that raised Christ from the dead and is the same power at work in our salvation. It is “together with” Christ that we are made alive, raised up, and made to sit; absent union with Christ these actions do not occur.
“This does not mean merely that we are quickened as he was, that there is an analogy between his resurrection from the grave, and our spiritual resurrection; but the truth here taught is that in virtue of the union, covenant and vital, between Christ and his people, his death was their death, his life is their life, and his exaltation is theirs.” Hodge
That a holy God would not only rescue helpless and undeserving sinners from just punishment but do so in union with his dearly-loved Son is incomprehensible. But consider why God bestowed his mercy and love on us – an even more astounding truth comes to light. The purpose for which he has made us alive, raised us up, and made us to sit together with Christ is that we should be eternal demonstrations of his mercy and love.
“Such was his love to those who were lost, that it would be an everlasting monument of his mercy, a perpetual and unchanging proof that he was good.” Barnes
All of heaven for all of eternity will give glory to God because of the goodness he has shown to the saints in Christ Jesus. The word, hyperballon, is the same word used in 1:19 to describe the “exceeding greatness” of his power and in 2:7 to denote the “exceeding riches” of his grace.
“If the raising of Christ from [physical] death to sit at His own right hand is the supreme demonstration of God’s power, the raising of the people of Christ from spiritual death to share Christ’s place of exaltation is the supreme demonstration of his grace.” F.F. Bruce, Ephesians
Again Paul emphasizes the graciousness of his salvation, the truth that we are saved by grace. God has freely demonstrated his “unmerited goodness or love …to those who have forfeited it, and are by nature under a sentence of condemnation.” Berkhof Systematic Theology No one twisted God’s arm to force or coerce him into saving us, he has done it freely and without compulsion. He has bestowed a gift of infinite worth on those who have not only not merited it, they have in fact merited his wrath. It’s not that in our relationship with God we start out neutral, we are at a deficit which we have no resources to change.
The instrumental means of our salvation is faith, true saving faith worked in us by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, “whereby [we] hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word …also a hearty trust that to [us] also forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation are freely given by God.” Heidelberg Catechism, A. 21 This faith worked in us is both a gift from God and something we exercise ourselves once we have received it from him. The grace of faith is what God gives us, the exercise of faith is what flows out of that grace evidenced as fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Paul further reinforces the concept of grace in salvation by reminding his readers that they did nothing to accomplish their salvation; all of the credit belongs exclusively to God – remember verse 7. We have one thing alone in which to boast, and that is the cross of Christ Gal_6:14.
Paul clearly teaches that good works are by no means the ground of salvation but they are without fail the fruit of salvation. It is a given that the true Christian will show that he is such – after all he is God’s “masterpiece” or workmanship. If God has made us a monument to his mercy, we will be recognizable as such, it will be obvious to those around us whose workmanship we are. A true craftsman leaves his signature on his work even if he never signs his name. The word order in the original is “his handiwork we are” making it emphatically clear who has made us what we are. We are God’s “poem” (ποίημα), his workmanship for all the world to read.
Since we have been reconciled to God, not only has he removed our hostility, he has replaced it with a desire to do his will. God has already prepared things for us to do, ways for us to satisfy our desire to please him; even more wonderfully he has made us fit for those good works. Further, while works earn us no merit toward salvation, that does not make them unimportant. To the contrary, God has prepared specific works for us to do and has re-created us in order to do them.
Since God has done all this, we have a responsibility to follow through – good works are both a divine preparation and a human responsibility.
“All boasting is excluded” Dutch hymn, tr. by Charles Hodge:
Now all boasting is excluded,
Unearned bliss is now my own.
I, in God thus safely rooted,
Boast in sovereign grace alone.
Long before my mother bore me,
E’en before God’s mighty hand
Out of naught made sea and land,
His electing love watched o’er me.
God is love, O angel-voice,
Tongues of men, make him your choice.
This doctrine of good works, when accepted by faith, deprives man of every reason for boasting in self but also takes away from him every ground of despair. Even though we have our responsibility, it is God who has graciously saved us and is faithfully shaping and molding us into the image of his dear Son.