Give Evidence of Your Salvation
Sunday School Lesson for March 17, 2002
A Description of Those Who are Lost (2:1-3)
In chapter two, Paul takes his readers back to the time before they had experienced the salvation so powerfully described in chapter one. His purpose in the following verses is to set forth a dramatic distinction between their pre and post Christian lives in order to shine the light of glory upon the infinite grace of God in Christ. Here he apostle pictures "a vivid contrast between what man is by nature and what he can become by grace" (Stott, 69).
The Gentile audience addressed in the letteró"As for you"óhad to first face the fact of their spiritual condition prior to believing in Christ. The emphatic pronouncement "you were dead" (v.1) succinctly describes those who are outside the scope of Godís salvation in Jesus Christ. The language of death is often found in Paulís letters as indicative of the kind of existence know by those who are spiritually lost:
For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?
for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: "Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,
While Paul is immediately addressing his Gentile converts, the analysis of the spiritual status of those who are lost is befitting of every human being apart from the saving knowledge of Christ. Again, the words of John Stott are most insightful:
Paul is not giving us a portrait of some particular decadent tribe or degraded segment of society, or even of the extremely corrupt paganism of his own day. No, this is the biblical diagnosis of fallen man in fallen society everywhere [italics added]. (71).
Paul adds that his Ephesian brethren were at one point spiritually "dead" in "transgressions and sins." While the word "transgressions" implies a deviation from the proper path, and "sins" means a missing of the mark, they are employed here as synonymous concepts in order to depict the radical waywardness and perversity of fallen men and women.
In verse 2 the awful picture of human rebellion and spiritual lostness grows even worse. The phrase "in which you used to live" pictures the consistent lifestyle of those outside Godís saving grace. In realty, this life was a living deathóan experience of separation from the Creator and of slavery to sin and rebellion. Lost men and women, according to Paul, recklessly follow in lock step "the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air." Those who do not know the librating power of Christ are helplessly adrift in the swift currents of a world-systemó"the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient"óthat is hostile to and alienated from God. Paulís use of the word "world," therefore, is his way of speaking of "a whole social value-system which is alien to God" (Stott, 73). It is the "atmosphere or climate of thought which influences peopleís minds against God" (Bruce, 283). This system or "kingdom" is under the authority of the devil himself who is its "ruler." Those who are lost, then, are "disobedient" to God by nature and are "responsive to the prompting of the arch-rebel" (Bruce, 283).
In summarizing the contents of these verses John Stott provides a very clear analysis of the human condition in sin:
They [the lost] are blind to the glory of Jesus Christ, and deaf to the voice of the Holy Spirit. They have no love for God, no sensitive awareness of his personal reality, no leaping of their spirit towards him in the cry, "Abba, Father," no longing for fellowship with his people. They are as unresponsive to him as a corpse[italics added]. (72).
An Explanation of Godís Response (2:4-9)
The condition of those who are lost is presented in more detail in this section where Paul paints a picture of people who are literally slaves to sin. The word "us" indicates that Paul has Jews in mind as well as Gentiles. Every person, regardless of ethnicity, shares in a common heritage as sinners alienated from God and life itself. All men, therefore, are "under the power of sin (Rom. 3:9) and equally in need of the justifying grace of God if there is to be any hope for them" (Bruce, 283). Tragically, the unbeliever has but one passion and aimóthat of continually "gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature, and following its desires and thoughts." Those who are lost are free only to sin since their very wills are in bondage to their sinful nature. Furthermore, the "desires and thoughts" of the lost are passionately focused upon "everything that is in opposition to the will of God" (Bruce, 284). For Paulís graphic description of the "sinful nature" see Galatians 5:19-20.
This condition, resulting from the sinnerís union with Adam (Romans 5:12-14), leaves them in an awful positionó"we were by nature objects of wrath." This is the disturbing "bad news" of the gospel message against which the following "good news" of Godís grace in Christ must be understood. Since we are members of a fallen race, we are justly under Godís "wrath"óHis sustained and settled opposition to evil and sin. The lost man, then, deserves only one thing, and that one thing is divine judgment leading to death.
Yet, this tragic and hopeless picture of human depravity is interrupted by God Himselfó"But because of his great love for us . . . ." Sin does not have the last word for those who have been eternally loved by God and chosen in Christ to be "holy and blameless in his sight" (1:4). The God who is "rich in mercy" has "made us alive in Christ even when we were dead in transgressions." This description of God as merciful and longsuffering, frequently found in the Old Testament (Ex. 34:6; Ps. 103:8; Jon. 4:2; Mic. 7:18), provides the sole foundation for the salvation of sinners. Simply put, "men and women owe their salvation to the mercy and love of God" (Bruce, 285).
Verse 5 concludes with the repetition of Paulís main pointó"it is by grace you have been saved." In direct contrast to the spiritual death produced by our sin, the "grace" of God has "saved" us forever from Godís wrath and "made us alive."
Having been granted the gift of eternal life Godís grace also "raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms" (v.6). As Christ was raised from the dead by the exertion of Godís infinite power, those trusting in Him will also be resurrected (cf. Rom. 6:4-5). Yet there is more! Following the resurrection of believers, God will then do for us what He did for Jesus. As Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father (1:20), those believing in Him will likewise take their seat "with him" in glory. "The believer, by his union with Christ, shares in what God has done for Christ. The truth is almost too glorious to comprehend" (Vaughn, 47). Note that Paul is speaking of future events as if they have already happened. The resurrection and glorification of believers is yet to occur. However, they are so certain that the apostle can describe them as having all ready taken place (cf. Rom. 8: 29-30).
Some might ask, in light of these incomprehensible blessings, why God has done this. The answer is provided in verse 7ó"that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace." Not only has God saved us because of His marvelous love for us (2:4), He also desires that we "should serve as a demonstration of his grace to all succeeding generations" (Bruce, 288). This once again highlights the central theme of the epistle up to this pointówe owe our salvation to Godís grace and not to anything we have done. If the raising of Jesus from the dead was the supreme illustration of Godís sovereign power, the saving of sinnersó"expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus"óis the supreme illustration of His grace (Stott, 82; Bruce, 288). As Vaughn declares, we are "trophies of Godís grace, and it is his design that in [us] the surpassing wealth of his grace may be forever exhibited" (47).
Now Paul speaks most explicitly concerning the salvation of sinners. It is "by grace that you have been saved" (v.8). With this declaration, there are three connected truths that must be understood:
A Statement of Godís Expectation (2:10)
This glorious paragraph concludes with the announcement that those who are saved by Godís amazing grace are His "workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works." Vaughn observes that the word "workmanship" may be understood to mean a "work of art, a poem, a masterpiece" and signals that sinners made new by Godís redeeming grace are "Godís greatest work" in all of creation (50). This same theme is proclaimed in 2 Corinthians 5:17 where the apostle speaks of the radical nature of our re-birth in Christ:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
Furthermore, those who are new in Christ were "created" in order to serve the Kingdom of God through "good works." While prior to salvation the lost were characterized by "transgressions and sins," those who are saved by grace are now distinguished by works "performed not to secure salvation but as the fruit of salvation" (Bruce, 291). Paul states that these "good works" were "prepared in advance for us to do." That is, they have an eternal origin alongside our very salvation itself. In this way, salvation and good works may never be legitimacy disconnected. Those whom God has saved apart from works of righteousness (Rom. 3:28) will perform such works as evidence of that salvation (Jas. 2:26).
Major Themes for Application and Discussion
One: How does the gospel of salvation by grace alone distinguish the message of Christianity from other world religions?
Two: Why is the truth that we are saved without regard to our works so offensive to some people, even those within the church?
Three: What are we to make of those in our churches who manifest no "good works"? What is our responsibility to such people?