GOD’S POWER HAS CHANGED OUR OLD POSITION (DEATH) TO OUR NEW POSITION (LIFE);
GOD’S POWER HAS CHANGED OUR OLD PRACTICE (SIN) TO OUR NEW PRACTICE (HOLINESS: GOOD WORKS)
Stephen Fowl: These verses focus on how Christ’s superiority over all things enables him to free the Ephesians from their bondage to sin. The first part of this exposition establishes the Ephesians’ comprehensive alienation from God. They lived and acted within the realm dominated by oppressive powers opposed to God. They were dead. Although the Ephesians were captivated by their attachments to sin, through God’s gracious activity they have been raised together with Christ and seated with Christ in the heavenly realms. . .
Structurally, the passage begins (2:1–3) with a description of the Ephesians’ state prior to Christ. Then Paul in some detail proceeds to describe God’s work in making the Ephesians alive in Christ in three basic moves: The transition from death to life (v. 4) and then two descriptions of salvation in Christ (vv. 5–7, 8–10).
Frank Thielman: The passage shows how, in personal terms, the great power of God, exhibited in the resurrection and enthronement of Christ, took Paul’s readers from existence under the power of the world, the Ruler of the demonic realm, and their own disobedient nature (vv. 1–3) into a position of victory over these forces (vv. 4–7). It describes how they moved from being objects of God’s justified wrath against those who disobey him (v. 3) to products of God’s re-creative handiwork (v. 10), from walking in trespasses and sins (vv. 1–2) to walking in the good works that God created them to do (v. 10). This movement has happened by their union with the living, risen, and enthroned Christ (vv. 5–6). It came to them as an entirely free gift (v. 5), received by faith (vv. 8–9), and as the result of God’s richly merciful and loving character (v. 4).
Clinton Arnold: In the previous paragraph, Paul elaborated on and extolled the remarkable power of God, which he displayed when he raised Christ from the dead and exalted him to his right hand (1:20–23). Paul expressed this after praying that the readers of this letter would be able to understand and appreciate the magnitude of God’s power that he manifested for them and made available to them (1:19). Now in 2:1–10, Paul explains specifically how God has exerted his power for their benefit. It is nothing less than making them alive from their state of death. This has happened through their participation in the resurrection and exaltation of Christ. What Paul has said of Christ in 1:20–21 is now applied to the church, that is, to all who are “in Christ.” Paul speaks of this whole experience of co-resurrection and co-exaltation as “having been saved,” using the perfect tense of the verb. This definition of “salvation” informs how one should understand the “helmet of salvation” in 6:17. . .
This passage contrasts the horrible plight of believers before their experience of Christ with their new life in Christ now. This experience can only be described as passing from death to life by virtue of their participation with Christ in his resurrection and exaltation. This salvation experience is a gift from God and enables them to live the lives God has called them to live.
I. (:1-3) GOD’S POWER DEALT WITH OUR OLD POSITION (DEATH)
[Outline points from Dr. Kenneth O. Peterman]
A. (:1) We were DEAD
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,”
Death means separation. In this case, spiritual death is total, absolute, complete and full separation from God. We were absolutely powerless, helpless, unable, incapable to think, feel, or will anything to do with God or for God because we were dead in trespasses and sins. The Greek word translated “trespass” means “stepping over the mark or boundary” — being a rebel. The word in the original for “sins” here means “missing the mark”, “falling short” or being a failure. In our dead state, (separated from God) we were both rebels and failures.
Paul strives to clarify the fact that being fully dead, we were unable to come to God unless He provided everything — including faith. We were capable in our old position to provide nothing toward God. We could not will to accept Christ because our natural will was inoperative. We were lost, undone, depraved, and unable to come to God.
Many believers do not like this teaching because they desperately want to be able to do something to earn or merit their salvation. Consequently, many present-day fudamentalist preachers teach that man is not fully dead, but can, in some weak measure, receive Christ if the man so chooses. The teaching that every man is just as capable as any other man to accept Christ if he so desires forms the basis of our begging people to please give God a try. These invitations put God on the passive end of the situation, whereas God is in reality on the active end, drawing the men and women that He has already chosen to be saved.
Note: If man is not fully, totally, and absolutely dead then Christ did not really die! This statement is supported by the parallel that Paul makes between Christ’s physical death in Chapter one and our spiritual death in Chapter two. The two deaths stand or fall together in this text. Just as the power of God raised Christ from physical death, so did the power of God raise us from our spiritual death. Consequently, if man is not spiritually dead than Christ did not physically die because both deaths are intimately connected in this text. Our Arminian friends cannot have it both ways; either death is complete in both situations (ours and Christ’s) or death is not complete. The parallel between the two in this text cannot be ignored unless one is merely willing to sustain their own view regardless of the facts.
John Piper: [Re being “dead in trespasses and sins“] — If you were to ask most people why sin is a problem, and why we need a Savior from it, they would say that sin makes us guilty before God and brings us under condemnation; and so we need a Savior who can forgive our sins and take away our punishment. And that is absolutely right. But that is not the point of Ephesians 2:1 and 5.
The reason we need a Savior is not just that we are in the dog house with God and need to be forgiven for offending his glory. We need a Savior because we are in the morgue. In the dog house you might whimper. You might say you are sorry. You might make some good resolutions. You might decide to cast yourself on the mercy of God. But what can you do if you are in the morgue?
Clinton Arnold: ‘trespasses and sins” — It would be inappropriate to search for some distinction between the two words. They form a hendiadys (one concept through two words) here and correspond with Paul’s teaching in Romans 5–6.
B. (:2-3a) We were ENSLAVED
- We walked according to the age of this world.
“in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world”
The Greek word for “world” means “principalities that govern this world system: lust, greed, fear, hate, materialism, sensuality, independence, relativism, etc.”
The Greek word for “age” signifies “time viewed in relation to what takes place in a certain period of time.”
So in our enslavement, we walked according to the ungodly worldly principles that were emphasized in our time. For instance, in the 20’s sensuality was not as emphasized as it is today. Materialism is more of a problem today than it was in the 50’s. In our unsaved state, we were enslaved by those very principles that governed the unsaved world in that specific period of time in which we lived.
Clinton Arnold: Here he uses “world” not in the literal sense of creation as in Eph 1:4, but in the theological sense of people organized in their opposition against God (see, e.g., John 15:18–19; 1 Cor 3:19). This could be interpreted to refer to the various non-Christian religions, ideologies, philosophies, values, and economic systems as well as to the more mundane but the equally powerful influence of peer pressure, fashion, and the media. These influences provide a script for living day-to-day life apart from God and his values.
- We walked according to the principles of Satan.
“according to the prince of the power of the air,
of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.”
We walked according to the “prince of the power of the air.” We were enslaved to Satan. This doesn’t mean that we were demon possessed or demon affected, but it means we operated under some of the same principles that govern Satan’s activities. Some of these activities include: lying, unbelief, pride, deceit, wickedness.
Stephen Fowl: Although the use of “child” can refer to a biological relationship, within the NT to call someone a child of something can often play upon the biological relationship in order to speak about a dominant characteristic or affiliation of that person (e.g., Matt 23:15, “child of hell”; Luke 16:8, “children of this age”; Acts 4:36, Barnabas is the “son of encouragement”). Thus, when Paul identifies the Ephesians as formerly walking according to the ruler of the spirit at work among the children of disobedience, he speaks of their fundamental disposition. This is not simply a failure to keep God’s commandments. Rather, their lives reflect active and comprehensive turning away from God. As it turns out, “children of disobedience” are quite obedient. They simply are not obedient to God (Yoder Neufeld, Ephesians 91).
- We walked according to the lusts of the flesh and of the mind.
“Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh,
indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind,”
The Greek word for “lust” means “strong desire.” It can be used in both a positive and negative context, but usually is negative in connotation.
Lust of the flesh — the phrase “of the flesh” qualifies the lust in which we walked in our unsaved state.
There are four main definitions of flesh:
- General: whole body of mankind; “all flesh is as grass …” — This refers to man in general.
- General: the covering of our bones.
- Particular: the whole human nature — that nature which Scripture represents as against God. (Gal. 5:17)
- Particular: sensuous part of our nature — or the desires of the physical body.
In Ephesians 2:3 Paul refers to option “d” = the desire of the body. We were enslaved to these sensuous desires: eating, drinking, sex, etc. In other words, we abused these God-given blessings.
Clinton Arnold: Paul twice speaks of the “flesh” (σάρξ) as an overwhelming influence that ordered our lives before Christ and thus completes his description of the triad of powers that formerly held us in slavery. Paul says plenty about the role of the flesh in his other letters, especially in Romans and Galatians, where he explains the Christian life in terms of a conflict between the flesh and the Spirit (see Rom 7:5–6, 14–25; 8:3–23; Gal 5:13–19, 24). In Gal 5:16 and 24 he uses the same language as here in speaking of the “lusts” (ἐπιθυμίαι) in conjunction with “flesh” (σάρξ).
Although Paul derives much of his anthropology from the OT, it is difficult to find the background for his dualistic and metaphorical use of “flesh” there. In most of the relevant OT texts, “flesh” (bāśār) is simply seen as humanity in its inherent weakness, frailty, and dependency (see, e.g., Job 34:15; Ps 78:39 [77:39]; Isa 31:3; 40:6; Jer 17:5). Paul implies something more when he nearly personifies it by attributing to it thoughts and desires, by portraying it as a power holding humanity in bondage, and by contrasting it with the Spirit of God.
Many scholars have seen the Jewish concept of the “evil inclination” (yēṣer hārā ʿ) behind Paul’s view of the flesh. The idea that every person struggles with an inner propensity toward evil was central to Jewish thinking among the rabbis at the time of Paul. This impulse resulted in a struggle with each individual’s good impulse, the yēṣer hāṭôb. The evil impulse inclined people to engage in every manner of sin. For the rabbis, the only way to battle the evil inclination was to study Torah. For Paul, however, it is the new covenant blessing of the Holy Spirit, which is God’s empowering presence to overcome this tendency.
The phrase “of the mind” indicates the lusts of ambition, knowledge, independence, etc.
Summary: So we were not only dead, but enslaved to the principles of the world system, to Satanic principles, and to the lust of our flesh and of our minds.
In other words, Paul pictures unsaved man a corpse wrapped around and around with strong unyielding chains making it absolutely impossible to initiate salvation.
If this were not enough, Paul adds one more element to the picture.
C. (:3b) We Were CONDEMNED BY BIRTH
“and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”
This phrase looks at origins. We were depraved, polluted, corrupted, evil, sinful, by birth. The Psalmist said “In sin did my mother conceive me …” Psalms 51:5; Other passages teach the same truth — Romans 3:9; Gal. 3:22.
Consequently, the Bible clearly teaches that man cannot come to God on His own. In our natural state, we were completely dead, totally enslaved by the world, the flesh and the devil, and fully and rightfully condemned.
Unless one has a clear understanding of this helpless spiritual position it is impossible to fully understand or appreciate the grace of God. “Only to the cross I cling, nothing in my hand I bring.”
Stephen Fowl: Outside of Christ, humans’ dispositions and inclinations are so captivated by Sin that we become subject to God’s wrath (cf. Rom 7:14–25). By birth as humans we become Adam’s heirs, inhabitants of and participants in a world dominated by the power of Sin (cf. Rom 5:12–21). Finally, despite our presumptions otherwise, in reality humans are captivated by Sin and thereby subject to God’s wrath (cf. John 8:31–47).
Clinton Arnold: In Paul’s thought, one of the greatest needs of humanity is to be spared from the eschatological wrath of God. God will pour out his wrath in full measure on the future day of judgment (Rom 2:5). The good news of the gospel for Paul is that all who put their faith in Christ and experience justification “shall … be saved from God’s wrath” (Rom 5:9). This wrath is also explicitly in view in this passage insofar as all of humanity is destined to experience this wrath because of their sin (2:3c). Believers are here assured that they already possess this deliverance from God’s wrath not only in the future, but also in the present in light of the fact that God is currently pouring out his wrath on the ungodly (Rom 1:18).
(:4) TRANSITION – MERCY INSTEAD OF WRATH
“But God, being rich in mercy,
because of His great love with which He loved us,”
Stephen Fowl: Verse 4 begins with the assertion that God simply is rich in mercy. We then learn of the motive that leads to the particular demonstration of mercy described in vv. 5–6. It is “because of his great love, with which he loved us.”
Clinton Arnold: After painting this horribly bleak picture of sin, death, bondage, and God’s impending wrath, a bright ray of hope shines through in 2:4a when he says, “but God.” God is the subject of the principal verb, “he made alive.” Yet before he gets to the verb, Paul elaborates on the merciful and loving character of God and then repeats the plight faced by all, although this time changing the person from second person plural to first person plural to include himself and all other Christians in the indictment (“we were dead”; ὄντας ἡμᾶς νεκρούς). Paul then expresses the purpose behind God’s action of making us alive in 2:7 (using ἵνα with a subjunctive), which involves the display of God’s grace.
II. (:5-7) GOD’S POWER PROVIDES A NEW POSITION (LIFE)
A. (:5) We were MADE ALIVE
“even when we were dead in our transgressions,
made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),”
The Greek word here is a combination of three words meaning “to make,” “life” and “with.” God made us alive with Christ. Note that the work was done by God — not us. We were made alive with Christ.
The basis of this new life is grace and the instrument through which it was accomplished was faith.
B. (:6a) We were RAISED UP WITH CHRIST
“and raised us up with Him,”
This means that we partook of his resurrection life. When Christ was raised physically, we were raised spiritually.
Clinton Arnold: Our union with Christ through faith and expressed in baptism entails a solidarity with Christ in his death, which renders us free from our slavery to sin. But it also involves participation with him in his resurrection, which leads to a new life: “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom 6:4). It is difficult to fully comprehend and thus to describe the precise nature of this participation.
C. (:6) We were SEATED WITH CHRIST IN THE HEAVENS
“and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus,”
We have positionally experienced the victory that Christ now enjoys in heaven. Total victory in Him; total victory is also ours.
Since sin is associated with out old position of death — the contrast — holiness is associated with our new position of life.
D. (:7) Goal = Demonstration of the Grace and Kindness of God
“in order that in the ages to come He might show
the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
III. GOD’S POWER HAS CHANGED OUR OLD PRACTICE (SINFUL BEHAVIOR)
The Old Practice Characterized by the Ungodly Principles of:
- Trespasses: active rebellion, sins of commission.
- Sins: passive sins, sins of omission.
Materialism, sensuality, independence, greed, lust, etc.
Pride, deceit, hate, fear, lying, evil acts
Abuse of eating, drinking, sex, etc.
Ambition, pride, independence, etc.
IV. (:8-10) GOD’S POWER AND GRACE HAVE GIVEN US NEW LIFE LEADING TO NEW PRACTICE CHARACTERIZED BY GOOD WORKS
A. (:8-9) God’s Power and Grace Producing New Life
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast.”
Holiness is associated with resurrection life. The very fact that we are identified with Christ in his resurrection and ascension into heaven associates us with holiness or freedom from sin.
B. (:10) New Practice of Good Works that Glorify God
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Clinton Arnold: Paul has just repudiated the role of good works for earning salvation (2:8–9), but he now extols their role as a necessary outgrowth of that salvation. . .
Paul’s mention of believers “walking” in these good works ties the conclusion of this passage back to the beginning (“in which you once walked”) and forms an inclusio. Whereas before coming into a relationship with Christ, believers were controlled by powerful evil forces, now they have been set free and empowered to live in the way God has designed for them. There is not only the hope of breaking out of sinful patterns of behavior (e.g., anger, sexual immorality, greed; Eph 4:31; 5:3, 5); there is also the expectation that we will do so because this is the purpose for which God has created us for the sake of his glory.
– We are God’s workmanship
– We were created in Christ Jesus by God; we did not create ourselves
The Greek word “workmanship” means the product of a person’s hand. In the Old Testament the same concept referred particularly to the creation of a poem. If we are God’s workmanship, we are the product of his hands or his poem.
Note that we were created “unto good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
This verse more specifically defines God’s concept of our holy walk; the type of holiness in which we as believers are supposed to walk in is good works.
Exactly what are some of the good works in which God has ordained us to walk?
A close examination of the terminology “good works” in other contexts helps us to clarify what is meant here.
- Acts of Responsibility to those over us
Romans 13:3 “Rulers are not a terror to good works.”
Titus 3:1 “Obey magistrates, be ready to every good work.”
Ephesians 6:8 Relationship of servant/employees to their employers
- Any Practical Deed done to benefit others
Galatians 6:10 “Let us do good to all men as we have opportunity.”
Acts 9:36 “Dorcas, full of good works and almsdeeds.”
(she made coats and garments for others)
1 Timothy 5:10 “Hospitality — washed saints feet, relieved the afflicted“
2 Corinthians 9:8 “Giving money to those in need“
- Our Ordinary Family Responsibilities
1 Timothy 5:10 “Followed every good work: brought up children“
1 Timothy 2:10 Reference to good works followed immediately by admonition to submission
- The Practical Use of our Gifts and Abilities or Talents in Active Ministry Towards Others
2 Timothy 2:21 “If a man, therefore, purge himself from these he shall
be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and fit for the master’s use, and
prepared unto every good work.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is
profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in
righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect thoroughly furnished
unto all good works.”