Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians is, much to no one’s surprise, incredible. Oh, can you imagine the revelation Paul must have received to pen such a fabulous letter, jammed to the brim with important theology, insights about the magnitude of the cross and resurrection, myth-busters regarding the relationship between Jews and non-Jews, marriage counseling, and more!
I want to look at Ephesians 2:1-10, which has been revving my engine lately.
Verse 1 states: “As for you (the faithful in Ephesus), you were dead in your transgressions and sins.”
I think it’s important to pause right there for a moment before moving on. The truth that Paul is explaining to the Ephesians is the truth for us, as well. As for each of us, too, we were dead in our sins before our acceptance of Christ’s redemption. We weren’t simply bad people needing to make better choices; we were dead. And we didn’t just need spiritual CPR, people—we were born out-cold, dead as a doornail, hopeless slaves to death. We needed a valiant hero to step in and interrupt the cycle of death for humanity, to breathe into the nostrils of mankind and wake us up from our ignorant stupor-sleep. And only Christ could. And He did! By His sinless life and resurrection, He extends to those who are brave enough to believe the gift of life.
Paul goes on, “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” (verses 1-3).
Remember, believers, the existence of mankind is set against the backdrop of a great war. Every human that has ever lived or will ever live is, by default, under the brutish, abusive control of the demon king and his shrewd hordes. It may appear that people mindlessly follow his call toward selfishness, violence, sexual perversion, pride, rebellion, and individualism, but the fact is that the devil is actively manipulating and even controlling people in this direction. Elsewhere, the Bible informs us that we were all “slaves to sin” (Romans 6:20-22) and thoroughly blinded and deceived by the enemy (2 Corinthians 4:4). Until a person receives rescue by Christ, he can’t help but to sin. Sin is a cruel, dictatorial taskmaster from whom no one can flee—without the intervention of Jesus, that is.
When I pray for someone to call on Jesus who has yet to do so, I must first recognize that the solution is not that she simply “comes to her senses” and receives salvation. Friends, those who are not believers have been blinded by our enemy who is cold-blooded—manipulated by our enemy who has no ounce of pity in his soul—deceived in their thinking by our enemy who is smarter than humans. In praying for loved ones to come to Christ, we must incorporate strong rebukes of the devil. We must bring the blood of Christ against him! We must bring the holy resurrection of the Son of God against him! We must passionately pray for the extension of the Kingdom into that person’s heart, driving out the lies of the enemy!
I could go on for many, many more paragraphs about this, but hopefully you are catching the gist of this theological truth. I do want add, though, that even as mankind is deceived and under the oppressive slavery of darkness, it does not excuse us from consequence. We may well be victims of the devil, but no one could argue that we are not also willing participants. Humans, too, have blood on our hands. We have killed, we have raped, we have pillaged, we have been abusers of power, we have been greedy, we have prostituted ourselves, we have lied, we have denied justice, and we have spit in God’s face. And although I believe the wicked mastermind’s punishment will be greater than anyone else’s, a just God must also punish the evil caused by people. In fact, the final part of verse 3 says, “Like the rest (of humanity), we were by nature objects of (God’s) wrath.” I am endlessly thankful that God advocates for justice, but woe to those who are on the wrong side of justice. Romans 1:18 states: “The wrath of God is being revealed from Heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”
But here is the Great Turn of Events, history’s most wonderful moment.
“But because of His great love for us,” Paul continues, “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” (verses 4-5).
Even in the face of such repugnant evil, God demonstrated mercy! Sometimes I like to think of it this way: the repugnant evil created an opportunity for God to reveal a new aspect of His nature, a revelation that began long ago in the Garden. Creation would not know the mercy-full characteristic of God’s personality unless there was something for God to be merciful about. God did not suddenly become merciful when sin presented itself (remember, He never changes or develops; see Malachi 3:6 and Hebrews 13:8); He has always been enormously merciful, and was at last able to demonstrate it. And the culmination of this demonstration exploded into technicolor vibrancy at the cross of Jesus. God is rich in mercy!
And our God who overflows with unthinkable mercy extends that mercy to all those victims of sin’s trauma—who paradoxically are also perpetrators of sin’s trauma. His river of kindness and forgiveness cascades from Heaven, splashing, rinsing, and overwhelming the torment of wickedness in our souls.
We were dead in sin.
God, who is rich in mercy, makes us alive.
And of course, because we were lifeless, dead corpses, there was nothing we were doing that was earning God’s mercy. Isn’t that what mercy is anyway? It’s undeserved. Mercy says, “Although you deserve this penalty, I will protect you from that penalty.” I think modern preachers, teachers, authors, and songwriters at large do a great job at conveying this spiritual truth. God’s mercy does not reveal how good we are—that’s illogical—God’s mercy reveals how good He is.
So, suddenly God’s mercy through Christ burst open the doors of our tombs and rebranded us. We were dead, but now we are alive! Paul briefly points out a dimension of our new identity: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (verse 6). That tiny sentence deserves an entire book by itself. In my attempt to (very) briefly explore this idea, in the Psalms and Proverbs we learn that God delights in exalting the poor and humble (Psalm 147:6, Psalm 138:6, Proverbs 3:34, Proverbs 29:23, and others)—so much so that He raises them up alongside Christ, His unique Son! He invites us, undeserving and inexperienced and unqualified as we are, to share a throne with Jesus! Revelation 3:21 gives a little glimpse further into this nearly unbelievable reality: “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with Me (Jesus) on My throne, as I also conquered and sat down with My Father on His throne” (where the intended recipient of this statement was the faithful in Laodicea, but can be applied to all believers as well). This passage, among many others in the Old and New Testaments, is how Christians can build on the foundation that we are royalty in Christ. The Gospel is a true rags-to-riches story! Hallelujah!
Paul goes on to say that God resurrects us, rinses us over with streams of affection, and exalts us through and with Christ “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. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (verses 7-9).
It would seem from these sentences that we will spend all eternity exploring the boundless love of God and His trademark mercy. What’s additionally fascinating to me, though, is Paul’s use of the phrase “in order that.” Notice, God has so thoroughly benefited us in order that He may continue benefiting us into the world of infinity. It’s as if we can’t “level up” to the next arena of God’s love until we have first “cleared” this level. I wonder how many “levels” of God’s love there are? How far can we keep “advancing” until we reach the end? If you know anything about video games, then you’d know that each level is increasingly more intense than the preceding one. Is it really true that our revelation of God’s love continues on in growing intensity, vibrancy, and beauty forever and ever and ever and ever? No wonder Paul identifies it as the incomparable riches of His grace!
Also, think about the phrase “in order that” in the inverse: one can’t advance on to the next level of God’s love without embracing it first now. Heaven is open for all who have accepted the unthinkable mercy of God, but closed to those who have not.
Lastly, Paul concludes, “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).
Isn’t it amazing how Paul began this section by saying, “You were dead in your sins” and “We were by nature objects of wrath,” but concludes with the triumphant reality, “We are God’s workmanship!” What a difference God’s mercy makes! God is earnestly committed to making something breathtakingly beautiful out of something desperate! He is passionately devoted to undoing the curse of the evil one pillaging our hearts, and working all things together for good. For good, in Jesus’ Name. This verse speaks of the destiny God lays before the ones covered by the blood of Christ; the Father has destined us to partner with Him in advancing His goodness across the breadth of the earth. Oh! Let me say it once more! The Father has destined us to partner with Him in advancing His goodness across the breadth of the earth! Now, sometimes this verse can be understood as, “We are called to be good people and do good things,” and sure, Christians should help little old ladies cross the street, and not avoid jury duty, and recycle. But I’m afraid that understanding far, far diminishes the perspective Paul has in mind here, made obvious in light of the rest of this portion of Scripture. We have been recreated in Jesus so that we can reveal the goodness of God to the inhabitants of earth! Those predestined good works are tools God uses to dawn His glorious mercy on others and radiate His compassion to the world! Hallelujah a hundred times over!
Well, friends, if you’ve made it this far, you should treat yourself to a milkshake. There, I said it. You’re welcome. Let this Scripture sink deeply into your spirit; let your mind be so marinated in these truths that it adjusts the way you think, perceive, and behave. Be blessed, and take heart!