God’s Power Changes People

Explore the Bible Series

September 19, 2010


Background Passage: Ephesians 2:1-10

Lesson Passage: Ephesians 2:1-10




Obviously, Paul addressed this section of Ephesians to a real, historical group of people.  Almost certainly he must have recalled the spiritual condition in which he first encountered his friends in Ephesus (See Acts 19:1-20): ignorant, stubborn, unbelieving, superstitious, and idolatrous.  During two years of ministry, Paul had seen the transformative power of God’s grace, grace he saw at work in the lives of these believers.  This majestic paragraph traces, in a sense, the testimony of the Ephesians.  Two aspects of his account stand out to me.


  1. Some may find insulting Paul’s description of the Ephesians, in verses one through three.  Why drag up the past with all its moral failures?  The intent here, however, was not the degradation of his friends; rather, Paul highlighted the resplendent grace of God against the background of the dismal former lives of his readers.  Therefore, he did not, I think, intend to embarrass them, but to expound the saving love of Christ.
  2. While Paul referred specifically to the lives of the Ephesians, there is a universal element to his observations.  All believers, in all times and circumstances, find these words true for their experience with God.  The apostle’s words served as a summary of the Ephesian testimony, but they also ring true for all of God’s people.  Honest people struggle with the all-pervasive presence of their own moral failure, failures that run deeper than external conduct, piercing to the core of the human heart.  Furthermore, all honest folk intuit their own helplessness against sin. The sin problem runs so deep that it requires an internal reordering of the soul, not mere external reformation of conduct.  This help must come from a source greater than the sinner—a help that transcends human ingenuity and power.  It must arise from infinite love, a love that does not consider the unworthiness of the person needing help. 


 Lesson Outline:


I.       The Ephesians’ Former Life (2:1-3): Paul reminded his readers of their former lives, before they placed their trust in Christ.  He recalled their sinful character and conduct, I think, to magnify the redemptive mercies of the Lord, not to humiliate or degrade his friends.  The apostle made two major assertions about the pre-conversion experience of the Ephesians.

A.    They were dead in trespasses and sins (v. 1): “Dead” reflects the grave and helpless condition in which grace found these people (and all sinners).  The word denotes the sinner’s separation from the Lord of Life, and highlights the helplessness of the sinner to address his desperate spiritual state. This death bears evidence of two universal human characteristics: (1) trespasses and (2) sins.

1.      Trespasses (paraptoma): denotes a misstep, a stumble, a false step, to fall away—here has the idea of deviating from a path

2.      Sin (hamartia): the most common word for “sin” in the New Testament—denotes missing the mark. One should not make too sharp a distinction between trespasses and sins.

B.     They followed a sinful pattern of conduct (vv. 2-3): These trespasses and sins were not fleeting, momentary lapses; rather, they formed a worldly pattern of habitual behavior (v. 2), according to the powerful influence of Satan (v. 2b).  This description of Satan (“the prince of the power of the air”) puzzles me a bit, and the commentators seem uncertain about the term’s precise meaning.  Whatever the origin of the phrase, it seems clear that Paul believed a malignant spirit (Satan) is at work in the unregenerate sons of disobedience. The Ephesians, at one time, evidenced these marks of sinful behavior.

1.      They (notice that Paul used “we” and “ourselves”, thus including himself in this indictment) once conducted themselves according to the lusts (powerful, unseemly desires) of the flesh (v. 3a).

2.      They fulfilled the desires of the flesh and of the mind (v. 3b): The unregenerate man not only follows sinful lusts as a guiding principle of life, but he actually fulfills (acts on) these desires—carries out the sinful impulses of the heart. 

3.      They were by nature children of wrath (v. 3c): This phrase, as I understand it, indicates the depth of human sin; that is, its vein runs to the very core of human nature.  Sin, therefore, means more than external acts of disobedience, it radiates from the essence of our being.  Paul also mentioned the wrath of God toward sinners, and, in doing so he employed a word (orge) that denotes the strongest of all passions.  It reflects a settled, abiding state of mind that finds sin reprehensible and blameworthy and acts to satisfy the demands of divine justice. 


II.    The Wondrous Salvation of the Lord (vv. 4-7)

A.    The ground of salvation (v. 4): Salvation arises from the character of God, the God who is rich in mercy.  This marvelous mercy, coupled with the Lord’s great love for sinners, is the soil from which salvation grows. 

B.     The depth of God’s saving love (vv. 5-6): God’s grace finds the sinner dead in his sins, and this compassion reaches down into the depths of sin and death, and gives eternal life to poor helpless sinners.  He raises sinners from spiritual death through the power of the resurrected Christ, by grace. Divine, not content with mere resurrection, seats regenerate people in the heavenlies, in Christ; that is, they share not only Christ’s life but Christ’s exaltation and honor. 

C.     The future implications of saving love (v. 7):  The glories of heaven will, in the future, provide a perfect display of God’s wondrous saving love.  Like a splendid diamond, set in beautiful display, the redemptive love of God will, in heaven, be seen in all its resplendent glory, and we shall forever relish each facet of God’s amazing grace. 


III. A Majestic Summary of the Salvation of the Lord (vv. 8-10): As he concluded this section, Paul rehearsed several themes critical to his argument.

A.    you have been saved”: Salvation is a central theme in the New Testament, and the concept centers attention on the desperate condition of the sinner.  The Lord’s grace addresses the sinner’s deepest needs: deliverance from spiritual death, moral bondage, and legal guilt. 

B.     by grace”: This salvation comes, by grace, to undeserving sinners.  Sin has so innervated and debilitated mankind that no one can free himself from the catastrophic consequences of disobedience.  Only the grace of God can help the desperate, helpless sinner.

C.     through faith”: No one can merit the Lord’s salvation; rather, grace and faith come as the free gift of the Lord; therefore, no one can boast in their standing in grace. Note that Paul never says we are saved because of faith, but through faith. 

D.    we are his workmanship, created… for good works”: Though sinners are not saved by good works, they are saved for good works, works God prepared beforehand that we should walk therein. Good works are the result of salvation, not the cause. The last phrase of the verse indicates that God has prepared a path of obedience for his people, and salvation enables believers to obey and serve the Lord in ways he has foreordained.