Made Alive In Christ
9 not as 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 so that we would walk in them. 11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands–
and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him In love
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called,
so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;
1 Corinthians 3:9
For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
2 Corinthians 9:8
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed;
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him–
1 Timothy 6:18
Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,
2 Timothy 2:21
Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:17
so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified,
Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed,
This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men.
Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful.
and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,
1 Peter 2:12
Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
“Do you thus repay the LORD, O foolish and unwise people? Is not He your Father who has bought you? He has made you and established you.
They also do no unrighteousness; They walk in His ways.
whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance.”
But when he sees his children, the work of My hands, in his midst, They will sanctify My name; Indeed, they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob And will stand in awe of the God of Israel.
“The people whom I formed for Myself Will declare My praise.
“Remember these things, O Jacob, And Israel, for you are My servant; I have formed you, you are My servant, O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me.
“Then all your people will be righteous; They will possess the land forever, The branch of My planting, The work of My hands, That I may be glorified.
To grant those who mourn in Zion, Giving them a garland instead of ashes, The oil of gladness instead of mourning, The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting So they will be called oaks of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.
“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good and for the good of their children after them.
“But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”
So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.
Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which translated in Greek is called Dorcas); this woman was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did.
1 John 1:7
but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
“You shall walk in all the way which the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you will possess.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
“Oh that My people would listen to Me, That Israel would walk in My ways!
The LORD will accomplish what concerns me; Your lovingkindness, O LORD, is everlasting; Do not forsake the works of Your hands.
And many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; That He may teach us concerning His ways And that we may walk in His paths.” For the law will go forth from Zion And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;
2 Corinthians 5:5
Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.
For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.
1 Timothy 2:10
but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.
1 Timothy 5:10
having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work.
1 Timothy 5:25
Likewise also, deeds that are good are quite evident, and those which are otherwise cannot be concealed.
1 John 2:6
the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.
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Ephesians 2:1-10 Biblical Commentary
While this book begins, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus, and the faithful in Christ Jesus” (1:1), scholars today are divided regarding both the authorship and the intended recipients. A full treatment of these issues is beyond the scope of this exegesis, but briefly:
AUTHORSHIP: The language, style, and vocabulary are markedly different from the letters that scholars regard as indisputably Pauline (Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1Thessalonians, and Philemon). Also some of the theology of this letter differs from that of other Pauline letters. For instance, Romans 6:5 says, “For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be part of his resurrection.” That verse sees resurrection-unity with Christ as something that we will experience in the future. But Ephesians 2:6 says, “and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” That verse sees our resurrection unity with Christ as already having been realized.
INTENDED RECIPIENTS: The words “at Ephesus” (1:1) are not present in the oldest and presumably most reliable manuscripts. This letter doesn’t deal with congregational issues, as do Paul’s other letters to churches. Also verses 3:2-4 make it sound as if the Ephesians are not personally acquainted with Paul, which is inconsistent with the fact that Paul visited Ephesus on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:19-28) and spent three years there on his third missionary journey (Acts 20:31).
These considerations have caused some scholars to believe that this letter was written pseudonymously—by a follower of Paul writing in Paul’s name, perhaps after Paul’s death. Pseudonymous writings were common at that time, and the intent of a pseudonymous letter would not have been to deceive. The recipients would quite likely have been aware of the pseudonymous character of the letter.
Some scholars believe that this letter was written for circulation to a number of churches rather than just to the church at Ephesus.
However, for the purpose of this exegesis and for simplicity’s sake, I will refer to Paul as the author and the Ephesians as the intended recipients—while acknowledging the possibility that the author could be someone other than Paul and the intended recipients could have included a number of churches.
THE IMMEDIATE CONTEXT:
In the last half of the first chapter (vv. 17-23), Paul tells the Ephesians of his prayer for them. He says that God has raised Christ from the dead and seated him at God’s right hand in the heavenly places—”far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion” (1:21)—in other words, far above every hostile power. Furthermore, God has “put all things in subjection under (Christ’s) feet, and gave him to be head over all things for the assembly, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (1:22-23). Our reading (2:1-10) outlines the significance of Christ’s exaltation for these Christians.
EPHESIANS 2:1-3. YOU WERE DEAD THROUGH YOUR TRESPASSES AND SINS
1You were made alive when you were dead in transgressions (Greek: paraptoma) and sins (hamartia), 2in which you once walked according to the course (aion) of this world (kosmos), according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the children of disobedience; 3among whom we also all once lived in the lust of our flesh (sarx), doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind (dianoia—thoughts), and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
These verses tell these people where they have come from. They outline their state prior to receiving Christ. They were “dead in the trespasses and sins, in which (they) once walked” (v. 1). They were walking “according to the prince of the power of the air” and were therefore disobedient (v. 2). They were subject to “the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath” (v. 3). This not only describes the Ephesian Christians—it describes all humanity.
“You were dead” (v. 1a). “You” in this verse contrasts with “we” in verse 3—probably meaning “you Gentiles” as over against “we Jews.”
Paul tells these Christians that their sins and trespasses had resulted in their spiritual death. When a person dies physically, he/she is separated from loved ones who are still alive. There is a great chasm fixed between the living and the dead so that the person who is dead cannot reach across the chasm relate to the living—and the living cannot bridge the chasm to relate to the dead. In like manner, a person who is spiritually dead is separated from God—and is therefore subject to “the course (aion—age) of this world” and “the prince of the power of the air”—a demonic power (v. 2).
Furthermore, the dead person is helpless. He/she cannot take any action to remedy his/her situation. There is, therefore, a note of hopelessness in the word “dead.” We say, “Where there’s life, there’s hope”—which implies that, where there is no life, there is also no hope. Death holds people in a very firm grip.
“in transgressions (paraptoma) and sins (hamartia) in which you once walked” (v. 1b-2a).
Paraptoma (trespass) is slip-and-fall imagery and hamartia is miss-the-mark imagery. Both convey the idea of failure—failure to walk upright (paraptoma) and failure to hit the target (hamartia). Both convey the idea of failure to meet God’s standard of holiness.
God calls people to be holy, because God is holy (Leviticus 19:2). Holiness is always derivative—derived from a relationship to God. Only God can make people holy.
To become holy, a person must separate him/herself from that which is common. To be holy is to be “called out” from the sinful world into a deep and abiding relationship with God so that the person becomes more God-like—more holy—less like the sinful world-at-large.
But in the end, it is not our striving for holiness that makes us holy, but our relationship to Christ. He confers the holiness that we could never attain on our own. Our striving to live holy lives is simply our attempt to be faithful—to live up to the status which Christ has already conferred on us.
“according to the course (aion—age) of this world”(kosmos) (v. 2b). While the word kosmos (world) can be used to refer to the created world, in the New Testament it is often used to contrast this world (kosmos)—an evil world—with the kingdom of God. When it is used in this way, as it is in this verse, the kosmos is that realm that is antagonistic to God—the realm that is subject to demonic rule.
The Jews of Paul’s day divided time into two ages (Matthew 12:32; Ephesians 1:21)—the present age under Satan’s rule and the age to come under God’s rule. Therefore, when this verse says, “according to the aion of this kosmos” it is talking about following the ways or the values or the morals of the aion (age) and kosmos (world) that are antagonistic to God.
You don’t have to look far to understand what that means. You will not only see it in the police reports in your local newspaper, but you will also see it in the lives of corrupt politicians and unethical business people. You will see it in the rule of tyrants in Third World countries—and in the drug trade (to include drug users who provide financial support to drug traffickers).
But it isn’t just thugs and criminals who follow “the course of this world.” It is all who live without Christ. In many cases, it is our friends and neighbors, whose lives are shaped by popular media or self-interest rather than by Godly counsel. We who are Christians followed “the course of this world” before Christ came into our lives—and sometimes still do. Regardless of where we live, we aren’t far removed from those whose spiritual direction comes from those who follow the aion (age) of this kosmos (world). They are all around us.
Before the readers of this letter became Christians, they were kosmos people—worldly people—separated from God—antagonistic to God—subject to demonic rule.
“according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the children of disobedience” (v. 2c). Before they became Christians, the people reading this letter followed “the prince of the power of the air,” which is synonymous with “the spirit who now works in the children of disobedience.” Both of these phrases mean “Satanic” or “demonic forces.”
In verse 6:12, Paul speaks of “the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places”—a phrase roughly synonymous with “the prince of the power of the air.” These two phrases can be confusing, because we usually think of God as the ruler of heaven—and probably of “the air,” whatever that means. But when Paul speaks of “the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (6:12), he lets us know that God is not the sole occupant of the heavenly places. Evil cosmic forces also dwell there.
This verse, then, pictures a realm in which demonic forces hold sway—a realm that, like the kosmos described in v. 2b, is antagonistic to God. These demonic forces “now works in the children of disobedience”—those who are disobedient to God’s will for their lives.
“among whom we also all once lived in the lust of our flesh (sarx), doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind (dianoia—thoughts), and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (v. 3). If our assumption is correct that “you” in verse 1 means “you Gentiles” and “we in this verse means “we Jews,” Paul here announces that Jews and Gentiles have the same problem. Both of them “once lived…in the lust of (their) flesh.” Both have been guilty of “doing the desires of flesh and of the mind.” Both “were by nature children of wrath.”
Paul would have understood this quite differently prior to his encounter with Christ on the Damascus road (Acts 9:1-19). As a Pharisee, he would have seen Jews as God’s chosen people and Gentiles as people outside the pale—outside the boundaries that defined those who were saved. Also, he would have seen salvation as derived from obedience to Torah law. After his conversion, he realized that salvation that salvation depends wholly on grace rather than works—although he also understood that Christ calls us to live Christlike lives—to embody the fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
“in the lust of our flesh” (sarx) (v. 3). In the New Testament, the word sarx is used in different ways:
• Jesus took upon himself human flesh (sarx) to dwell among us—obviously a good thing (John 1:14). The bread that Jesus gives for the life of the world is his flesh (sarx) (John 6:51).
• But more frequently, sarx (flesh) is used in the New Testament as a symbol of weakness (Matthew 26:41)—or as a contrast to that which is spiritual (John 3:6; 6:63; Romans 7:18; 8:3-6; Galatians 5:17). That is how Paul uses sarx in this verse. The “lust of our flesh” would not lead us toward God, but away from him. The “lust of our flesh” would be a tool for the tempter to use to destroy us.
The “lust of our flesh” lead directly to the “works of the flesh” which Paul enumerates in Galatians 5:19-21: “adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” Paul says, “Those who do such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21b).
“doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind” (dianoia—thoughts). The NRSV translated dianoia as “senses” in this verse—thus suggesting that it refers to things related to our five senses: Sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. If this were the case, “desires of flesh” and “senses” would both be related to sensual pleasures.
However, when Paul says, “doing the desires of flesh and of the dianoia,” he is setting up a contrast. Dianoia refers not to our sensual perceptions or pleasures, but to those things that grow out of our minds or intellects—our thoughts and beliefs.
This is an important distinction, because we are vulnerable to the tempter’s wiles not just because of our passions or lusts, but also because of our thoughts and beliefs. What we think truly makes a difference in the way we live. Our passions (“the desires of flesh”) and our beliefs (dianoia) will generally determine how we will act.
As one example of the importance of beliefs, William Shirer, in his book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, notes that Hitler outlined his belief system quite clearly in his book, Mein Kampf (My Struggle), published in 1925 and 1926. Hitler believed that the Aryan race (Germans) were superior and all other races, especially Jews, were inferior. He believed it necessary to exterminate Jews. He also believed in the extermination of people who were weak, sick, mentally ill, etc. He believed it necessary for an autocratic leader to determine Germany’s future—and, of course, he believed that he was to be that leader. He believed that Germany needed to use force to take land from Russia to provide lebensraum—living space—for Germans. He outlined all these beliefs in Mein Kampf. Less than a decade later, he gained sufficient power to act on those beliefs, and began doing so. His belief system—and the actions that stemmed from his beliefs—resulted in the deaths of millions of people and the near-destruction of Germany. My point here is to simply illustrate that our beliefs are important, because beliefs lead to actions.
In another example of the importance of beliefs, people suffering from paranoia can be dangerous. If they believe that someone is “out to get them,” they are likely to take preemptive action to get the other person first. It matters not whether someone is really “out to get them.” They can be expected to act on their perceptions—their beliefs—even if those beliefs have no basis in fact.
While those seem like extreme examples, the principle also holds true in more normal circumstances. We will usually act in accord either with our passions or our beliefs.
“and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” If we are correct (above) that “you” in verse 1 meant “you Gentiles” and “we” in this verse means “we Jews,” Paul is saying that Jews, like Gentiles, are “by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.” Jews and Gentiles are in the same boat. Both are sinners, and both are subject to God’s wrath.
Paul is not saying these things to make the recipients of this letter feel guilty. He is instead telling them what they used to be, so that in verses 4-7 he can show the contrast between what they used to be and what they are now.
EPHESIANS 2:4-7. BUT GOD MADE US ALIVE BY GRACE
4But God, being rich in mercy (Greek: eleos), for his great love (agape) with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding (hyperballo) riches of his grace (Greek: charis) in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus;
These verses highlight God’s remedy for our sins—a remedy that stems from God’s rich mercy and great love (v. 4)—and a remedy that results in “the immeasurable riches of his grace” (v. 7).
“But God, being rich in mercy” (eleos) (v. 4a). In the Old Testament, God shows mercy (Hebrew: hesed) to the Israelites, his covenant people. In the New Testament, “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all and is rich to all who call on him. For, ‘whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Romans 10:12-13). “Salvation has come to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:11). God shows mercy (eleos) to all.
“for his great love (agape) with which he loved us” (v. 4b). The Greeks had three words that we translate as “love”—agape, philos, and eros. Eros is not found in the New Testament. Philos is used to express the affection that one person feels for another—and for the love that God has for people (John 16:27)—although agape and agapao are most frequently used for God’s love.
Agape is the kind of selfless love that focuses on the welfare of the other person rather than one’s own self-interest. Agape love is the love with which God loves us.
Agape love is as much a “doing” as a “feeling” word. It requires action. It requires the person who loves to demonstrate his/her love in some practical fashion. In this verse, God’s love prompts him to show mercy to those who have not earned it.
“even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (v. 5a). If a person is dead, the only really meaningful gift that he/she could receive is the gift of new life. Given the miracles of modern medicine, we sometimes see this manifested with regard to physical death and life. A person whose heart has stopped beating has his/her heart restarted by heart massage. A person who has stopped breathing has his/her breathing restored by someone breathing air into his/her lungs.
I have experienced something of this sort at birth. My parents were poor, so I was born at home rather than in a hospital. There were complications, and I was not breathing. The doctor tried various procedures to restore my breathing, but none of them worked—so he pronounced me dead. However, someone suggested that they call the fire department, which had a resuscitator. Someone made the call, the resuscitator worked, and I began breathing. I have no memory of the incident, but my mother told me about it—she felt terrible that she had not insisted on going to a hospital—and I found newspaper clippings in an old trunk downstairs that confirmed the story. I had quite literally been dead, and had been made alive.
What Paul is talking about here, though, is spiritual death and life. See the comments on verse 1a above.
The wording of verses 5-6 is differs somewhat from the wording of Paul’s language elsewhere, which is one of the things that cast doubt on the Pauline authorship of this letter. For instance, Romans 6:8 says: “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him”—note the future orientation of the new life in that verse. However, in this letter to the Ephesians, the author says, “made us alive together with Christ”—a present orientation.
“by grace (charis) you have been saved” (v. 5b). This emphasis on salvation by grace is fully consistent with Paul’s statements elsewhere. Christians are now “justified freely by (God’s) grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
In the New Testament, charis most often refers to the grace or the undeserved favor of God. That is certainly what is meant here. Charis is a significant word in the New Testament, especially in Paul’s epistles. The use of charis in the New Testament has its roots in the Hebrew word hesed, used in the Old Testament to speak of God’s lovingkindness, mercy, and faithfulness.
Greeks often used the word charis to speak of patronage (the support of a patron, such as financial or political support). To Greeks, the word charis connoted generosity—generosity that demanded loyalty on the part of the recipient.
It is easy, therefore, to understand why Paul would adapt charis to the Gospel. Christian charis is God’s gift of salvation to all who accept the Jesus Christ as Lord. God, therefore, is the patron—the benefactor (the giver)—and we are the beneficiaries (the receivers). Just as we could never fully repay a person who left us an inheritance of unimaginable wealth, so also we can never repay God for the gift of salvation.
“and raised us up with him” (v. 6a). In his epistle to the Romans, Paul establishes the connection between our baptism and our death and resurrection with Christ. He says, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? May it never be! We who died to sin, how could we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism to death, that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be part of his resurrection…. if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him” (Romans 6:1-5, 8).
The book of Colossians uses similar language: “having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12).
“and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (v. 6b). Our relationship to Christ has gained us entry into heavenly places. By God’s grace, we are no longer paupers, but princes and princesses. As children of God, we have ready access to his throne room.
Therefore, it behooves us to bring our thoughts and our behavior into accord with those heavenly places. In the Romans 6 passage cited above, Paul begins by asking whether we shouldn’t make full use of God’s grace by continuing to sin. His answer: “By no means!” Why? Because we have died with Christ in baptism—and therefore died to sin—and have been resurrected to a new life by the grace of God. As such, we have become a new people—Godly people—blessed by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It would make no sense for us to live as if nothing had been done to redeem us—as if we were the same people that we were prior to our baptism.
A mundane illustration: If an impoverished person were to win the lottery, would it make sense for that person to continue living in a shack—eating poorly—and driving an old rattletrap car? While some people might choose to live like that, we would pity them for their failure to adapt to their changed circumstances. The only exception would be if they had decided to remain in their original neighborhood to transform it—to make it better for their neighbors.
As noted above, the wording of this verse is one of the things that cast doubt on Pauline authorship of this letter. This verse sees “raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus”—a present orientation. A more characteristic statement of Paul’s theology is found in Romans 6:5, which says, “For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be part of his resurrection“—a future orientation.
” that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding (hyperballo) riches of his grace (charis) in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (v. 7). See the comments above on verse 5b regarding grace (charis).
We find it difficult to believe in grace. In our daily lives—in our interactions with other humans—we experience grace in dribs and drabs, if at all. Someone might forgive us if we have not sinned too grievously. Someone might forgive us if our repentance is sufficiently abject. Someone might forgive us the first time—or the second—or, perhaps, even the third. But our experience has shown us that grace is a scarce commodity. We must be careful not to need too much of it, lest we find none at all.
But God doesn’t measure grace in dribs and drabs. God’s grace is sufficient to cover even the most grievous of sins. God doesn’t require that we bow and scrape as a prerequisite to receiving grace, but requires only that we repent and receive the mercy tendered through the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ. God doesn’t limit grace to the first offense—or the second—or the third—or the seventh—or the seventy-seventh (see Matthew 18:22). Nor does God limit grace to minor offenses. God’s grace is hyperballo—excelling, surpassing, exceeding, beyond measure.
We Christians might think of ourselves as a demonstration project. God has given us grace sufficient to cover all our sins—every one of them, great and small. His primary purpose is to forgive us—to make us fit for life in his kingdom, but he has another purpose as well. Once we have experienced the full measure of his grace, our lives then demonstrate to others the possibilities of grace that are readily available to them through Christ. Our lives serve as a beacon to other people—to draw them to Christ to that they, too, might experience grace first hand—so that they might be saved.
EPHESIANS 2:8-9. FOR BY GRACE YOU HAVE BEEN SAVED THROUGH FAITH
8for by grace you have been saved through faith (Greek: pistis), and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not of works (erga), that no one would boast.
“for by grace you have been saved through faith (pistis), and that not yourselves; it is the gift of God” (v. 8). This is at once the most—and least—obvious thing that one can say about grace. It is MOST obvious, because grace, by definition, is undeserved favor—unearned approval. If grace could be earned, it would be merit rather than grace. Since it cannot be earned, it must be a gift.
But it is LEAST obvious, because we find it so difficult to believe—and, perhaps, even to desire. While there are exceptions (such as inherited wealth), we are accustomed to living in a world where we are required to earn our way. Having become accustomed to earning our own way in the physical realm, we naturally assume that we can and should earn our way in the spiritual realm. We have various methods of accomplishing that: Regular attendance at worship—tithing—philanthropy—helping the needy—serving on church or civic committees—etc., etc., etc. These good works comfort us, because we assume that they will one day translate into the spiritual coin required to bribe the doorkeeper at the gates of heaven.
However, this verse tells us that our benevolent activities, however meritorious, are insufficient to win our salvation. Salvation is available only as a gift—as an outpouring of God’s grace. It is readily available, but only by God’s action, not by anything that we can accomplish on our own.
This grace is appropriated to us through our faith (pistis)—our belief in the risen Lord. Faith is our response to the Gospel, which is the proclamation of Jesus Christ as God’s Son and our savior. As Paul says elsewhere, we have “sinned, and fall short of the glory of God”—but we are “justified freely by (God’s) grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God set forth to be an atoning sacrifice, through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:23-25, emphasis added—see also Romans 4:1-5).
To envision this, imagine yourself in an apartment that is on fire. The fire makes it impossible to get to the door, so the only possibility of escape is a window. However, you are on the third floor and are afraid. Fire fighters, holding a large safety net, call you to jump. In such a situation, your only possible salvation would be to have sufficient faith in those fire fighters so that you can jump. In this situation, the fire fighters would be your saviors. Your jumping would be necessary to accept the salvation that they offer, but no amount of jumping would save you without the fire fighters and their safety net.
“not of works” (erga) (v. 9a). The apostle Paul deals at length with the idea of works as related to salvation. When he uses the word erga (works), he means human accomplishments that are positive in nature—works such as regular attendance at worship—tithing—philanthropy—helping the needy—serving on church or civic committees—etc., etc., etc. Paul emphasizes that we cannot be saved by our works (Romans 3:27-28; 4:1-5; 11:6; Galatians 2:16; 3:2, 10). Salvation is available only through grace—as a gift from God.
When we read these verses from Paul’s writings, we need to keep in mind that he was raised in an environment that emphasized the importance of works—of obedience to Torah law. But after meeting the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, he came to realize the futility of trying to live the perfect life. Even after becoming a Christian, Paul still struggled unsuccessfully to do the right thing, often failing (Romans 7:14-24). However, he also discovered the grace of God, which makes perfect living unnecessary.
James also deals with the idea of works as related to salvation. At first glance, it would appear that James is opposed to Paul with regard to the idea of works. James says, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can faith save him? And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food, and one of you tells them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled;” and yet you didn’t give them the things the body needs, what good is it? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself. Yes, a man will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith” (James 2:14-18).
However, Paul and James are not opposed to each other. James doesn’t say that we can gain salvation by our good works. He says that genuine faith will always manifest itself by good works. Any faith that produces no good works is not real faith.
Paul would agree. While he emphasizes that we cannot win salvation by our good works, he also acknowledges “that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God?” (1 Corinthians 6:9). He says, “Walk by the Spirit, and you won’t fulfill the lust of the flesh.” He says that the fruits of the Spirit are: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control”—and enjoins us to live, not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26).
“that no one would boast” (v. 9b). If our salvation is not the result of anything that we have done (which it is), but is strictly a gift from God (which it is), then we have no grounds for boasting.
In her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom tells of her Tanta (aunt) Jans learning that she had only a few weeks to live. Her family reminded Jans of all her good works. Corrie’s father told her that, while many people would go to God with empty hands, Jans would “run to him with hands full!”
But tears came to Jans’ eyes, and she said, “Empty, empty! How can we bring anything to God? What does He care for our little tricks and trinkets?” Then she prayed, “Dear Jesus, I thank You that we must all come with empty hands. I thank You that You have done all—all—on the Cross, and that all we need in life or death is to be sure of this.”
EPHESIANS 2:10. FOR WE ARE WHAT GOD HAS MADE US
10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in them.
“For we are his workmanship” (v. 10a). This is true in two senses. First, God created us—breathed into us the breath of life. Second, through the work of Christ, God has recreated us—has made us new creatures (2:15).
“created in Christ Jesus for good works” (v. 10b). As noted above, we did not achieve salvation by our good works—but God has made us into new men and women with the intention that we might do good works. Good works of this sort are a natural outgrowth of our faith in Christ and our devotion to him.
“which God prepared before that we would walk in them” (v. 10c). A literal translation would be “which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.”
The idea here is that God has set things up to give us opportunities to do good works. Once again, those good works aren’t intended to save us—only God’s grace is sufficient for that—but once we have been redeemed, God expects us to begin behaving as redeemed men and woman. He expects us to take advantage of the opportunities that he has presented for us to do good works.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Hoezee, Scott, in Van Harn, Roger E. (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Texts: The Second Readings: Acts and the Epistles (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001)
Holladay, Carl R. in Craddock, Fred B., Hayes, John H., Holladay, Carl R., and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year B (Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 1993)
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(Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2002)
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Perkins, Pheme, The New Interpreter’s Bible: 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Vol. XI (Nashville: Abingdon, 2000)
Slater, Thomas B., Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Ephesians (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2012)
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