Paul petitions in chapter 1, verses 18-23 for the Ephesian congregation to understand the hope of our calling, the richness of God’s grace, and mighty power of God exerted by Christ in his church. On Chapter 2, he explains in detail how God made these petitions a reality for them. Paul narrates how their spiritual condition from being dead to the things of God changes because of God’s mercy and love towards them. He further expounds how God’s grace provides the gift of faith and the fruit of good works in their lives.
Our preaching for this morning comes into two parts but composed of three main points: (1) Death Before Grace, (2) Life By Grace, and (3) Grace For Good Works. In the first part, we will expose verses 1-5 and touch the first two points. Next week, we will hear verses 6-10 preached. It will complete the second point and end with the third point.
Before we begin, let us pray.
Death Before Grace
Verses 1-3: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 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— 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.”
There are three important things we need to clarify in order to get acquainted with the meaning of these verses.
First, Paul uses the term “you were dead”. The subject refers to his Gentile hearers and Paul applies the verb “dead” to them in its past tense form. It is a statement of fact of their past condition. They were dead in their trespasses and sins. Paul identifies it as the cause of their condition. Their death is product of them being under this condition. Trespasses mean due punishments for violating God’s law while sins mean being in state of rebellion against God. Paul points to man’s depravity as the reason for our alienation from God.
Second, Paul figures their condition as dead men walking. Although in the state of death, he considers the Ephesian congregation prior to conversion as those who follow the motions of their depraved nature. For Paul, it means they follow worldly ways, they swore allegiance to Satan, and they rebel against God. Yes they are supposedly alive when considered by the standards of this world but in reality they are dead. Spiritually, they are dead before God. They actively disobey Him. There are spiritually dead. Paul means the same thing when he wrote in Colossians 2:13: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses”.
Third, Paul grounds our spiritual condition to our spiritual depravity. He emphasizes our universal sinful condition by writing, “among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind”. For Paul, flesh means sinful desires coming both from our bodies as well as the mind. It comprehensively covers not only internal sinful thoughts but also its expressions externally in words and deeds. He includes himself in this condition in spite of belonging to the Jewish race. He admits being guilty of putting his confidence in the flesh prior his conversion (read Philippians 3). Paul intends to demonstrate the extensiveness of our sinful condition. For him, we are all under God’s wrath, “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Paul echoes the same message in Romans 3:23 when he wrote: “for fall have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. No one is exempted. We all belong under this spiritual dead condition.
According to Paul, we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Ephesians 2:3). Because of Adam’s fall, the rest of mankind fell with him. We were plugged into misery and sin. God punishes him and his posterity not only with eventual physical death but immediately with spiritual alienation. We all deserve judgement for our transgressions because we are sinners. Our holy God justly hates our sin and will one day finally judge these sins with his holy wrath but being born under these condition we deserve nothing from him except his wrath. Like the rest of mankind, Paul made a sweeping universal generalization of man’s sinful condition. We are hopeless and without God we die in our sins.
Do we understand the gravity of our sinful condition? Do we have a sober assessments of ourselves in light of what Scripture says here in these verses? We are sinners. We deserve death and eternal separation from God. We are all hell-bound. No one deserves God and his salvation. We are doomed. Unless we grasp our gloomy condition, we can never understand the importance of our salvation. We need God to save us because we need saving from God. Yet because we are sinners, we neither deserve any of these nor we can see our need of it unless God does the work. God, while we were yet sinners, shows his great love for us by giving his own son to save us from our sins (Romans 5:8). This is great news indeed!
Life By Grace
Verses 4-7: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 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.”
The bad news from verses 1-3 prepares us to hear the good news of verses 4-7 and starts with two short important words: “But God”. Verses 4-7 stands in contrast with the preceding verses of 1-3 and exegetically it contains the main subject and verb for these preceding phrases.
God the Father is again the main actor and Paul describes him possessing two communicable attributes, mercy and love. In order to differentiate them as extraordinary descriptions of God, he uses superlatives and matches mercy with richness and love with greatness. Mercy means not giving us what we deserve while love means give us something without any qualifications from us. For Paul, these two were rich and great because God is holy and just and does not own anyone these wonderful gifts and yet in spite of it, he did it! He made us alive together with Christ.
Highlighting his restoring work in Christ and our inability to reconcile ourselves with God, Paul again reminds us of our hopeless condition. We, including himself, were dead in our trespasses, when God made us alive. Spiritually, we were once dead but now God made us alive! What a wonderful news! Our eternal life begins with our spiritual resurrection. Christ’s resurrection guarantees our resurrection and life begins here and now being spiritually alive with Jesus Christ! All these are by grace alone! We were saved by grace alone! Grace means to receive a good even though we deserve what is bad. Even though we deserve God’s wrath, God’s grace determines for us to receive God’s love. God’s mercy, love and grace were showered us undeserving, hell-bound sinners like you and me!
We will continue the rest of the second point next Lord’s Day so in the meantime, let us conclude.
ZCRC(Imus), where else can we find such a good news from God except in his Word? We live in a fallen sinful world and they reveal only his wrath and judgement. In nature, we may find God in his laws and understand his justice but not his mercy and love. In our consciences, we may find God’s law at work prompting us to follow what is good and avoid what is bad but our inability to obey perfect will only lead us to conclude we deserve condemnation and not commendation. Therefore, we cannot find grace and peace from nature and even in ourselves. God’s grace is grace revealed in his work of redemption found in his word of revelation. May the Lord proclaim his message of grace to all of creation. Let us continue to hear the good news of his saving work. Amen.