EXPERIENCE GOD’S LIFE-CHANGING POWER

 

Week of October 9, 2005

 

Bible Passage:  Ephesians 1:18 - 2:10.

 

Biblical Truth: By His power, God saves believers and gives them new life in Christ.

 

God’s Power in Christ (1:18-23)

 

[18] I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, [19] and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might [20] which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, [21] far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. [22] And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, [23] which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. [NASU]

 

[18-19a] A Prayer for Knowledge. What Paul does in chapter 1 is both to keep praising God that in Christ all spiritual blessings are ours and to keep praying that we may know the fullness of what he has given us. If we keep together praise and prayer, benediction and petition, we are unlikely to lose our spiritual equilibrium. The knowledge that Paul prays for adds the knowledge of experience to the knowledge of understanding. As John Piper has said, it is the knowledge of a lover, not the knowledge of an observer. It is vital to see how Paul brings together the verbs ‘to know’ and ‘to believe’. Knowledge and faith need each other. Faith cannot grow without a firm basis on knowledge; knowledge is sterile if it does not bring forth faith. In verse 18, Paul prays that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened. In Scripture, the heart denotes what a man is in his deepest self; it is the seat of his intellectual, religious, and moral life. Paul prays that the Ephesians may enjoy further enlightenment of their inner vision as will enable them to grasp the three great realities of their faith. (1) It is the eternal choice of God that makes this an effectual calling and a certain hope. Believers face the future with the assured hope that the God, who called them to eternal life in Christ by giving them the earnest of the Spirit [14], will soon invest them with the promised glory. (2) Although God’s people are called to a glorious inheritance, Paul here returns to the amazing thought that they are also an inheritance for God [11, 14]. They are his own possession, in whom he will display to the universe the untold riches of his glory. (3) The continued progress of believers in the way that leads to glory entirely depends upon the exceeding greatness of that power, whose measure is further defined by an impressive accumulation of synonyms.

 

[19b-21] This working or actual exercise of the strength of God’s inherent power is that might which overcomes all resistance. Thus Paul’s request is that believers may recognize that the power which awakened them from the sleep of death will invincibly bring them to heaven, for it is the same power which raised Christ from the dead and seated him at the right hand of the Father. Christ is represented as seated, not to denote his permanent posture in heaven [Acts 7:56; Rev. 2:1], but to show that he has finished the work of redemption and entered upon the exercise of that power which belongs to his heavenly state. All of the terms Paul uses in these verses express the unique supremacy and absolute sovereignty proper to Christ, and means simply that whatever powers existed and by whatever names they might be designated, Christ’s dominion was above them all.

 

[22-23] Not only did God raise and exalt Christ, but he also subjected all things to him. Paul further states that this universal lordship is exercised for the benefit of the church. Christ employs the power over all things for the preservation and salvation of his church. This headship of Christ over his church means: (1) He is the sole ruler of the church; (2) He is the sole source of its life and strength, so that it receives from him that nourishment which promotes the growth of the whole body. All that Christ has from God, the power, the gifts, the grace, he passes on to the church. It is the church that is filled with him, becoming a partaker of all that he owns and is, for the purpose of continuing his work.

 

Life without Christ (2:1-3)

 

[1] An you were dead in your trespasses and sins, [2] 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. [3] Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. [NASU]

 

In verses 1-10, Paul first plumbs the depths of pessimism about man, and then rises to the heights of optimism about God. It is this combination of pessimism and optimism, of despair and faith, which constitutes the refreshing realism of the Bible. For what Paul does in this passage is to paint a vivid contrast between what man is by nature and what he can become by grace. In the first three verses, Paul singles out three truths about unredeemed human beings.

 

[1] We were dead. A trespass is a false step, involving either the crossing of a known boundary or a deviation from the right path. A sin means rather a missing of the mark, a falling short of a standard. Together the two words cover the positive and negative, or active and passive, aspects of human wrongdoing, that is to say, our sins of commission and of omission. Spiritual death is the separation from God which sin inevitably brings [Is. 59.2]. We should not hesitate to affirm that a life without God (however physically fit and mentally alert the person may be) is a living death, and that those who live it are dead even while they are living.

 

[2-3a] We were enslaved. Paul uses the verb ‘to walk’ as a graphic metaphor to denote deliberate progress in a particular direction. Here it points to the voluntary adoption of a life-style which was utterly opposed to the standard set for man by God [4:17-19]. Paul refers to three influences as controlling and directing this type of life-style. First, the course of this world, which expresses a whole social value-system which is alien to God. It permeates, indeed dominates, non-Christian society and holds people in captivity. Second, the prince of the power of the air, who is the devil. A further description of the devil is spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Sons of disobedience are those to whom disobedience is their very nature and essential character, who belong wholly to it. Third, the lusts of our flesh, where flesh refers to our fallen, self-centered human nature. Its passions are further defined as desires of the flesh and of the mind. The second use of flesh receives the more restricted meaning of ‘body’ from its juxtaposition with ‘mind’. Thus the lusts of the flesh include the wrong desires of the mind as well as of the body, namely such sins as intellectual pride, false ambition, rejection of known truth, and malicious or vengeful thoughts. So then, before Jesus Christ set us free, we were subject to oppressive influences from both within and without.

 

[3b] We were condemned. Not only were we dead and enslaved, but we were by nature children of wrath. God’s wrath is his personal, righteous, constant hostility to evil, his settled refusal to compromise with it, and his resolve instead to condemn it. This holy displeasure of God with sin is not inconsistent with his love, but is the reaction of that love against the denial of its sovereign rights of responsive love. This denial is the essence of sin. Universal sin implies a law of sinning, a sin that is of the nature; and this is the explanation of the fact that all are under the Divine wrath. For the Divine wrath operates only where sin is. Here is the essential meaning of the doctrine of original sin.

 

Life with Christ (2:4-10)

 

[4] But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), [6] and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, [7] so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. [8] 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, 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. [NASU]

 

At the end of verse 3, Paul leaves mankind in a state of total despair. Man is dead because of trespasses and sins, enslaved by the world, the flesh and the devil, and condemned under the wrath of God. How horrible a state! What is to be done for those who are enmeshed in sin and, unable to escape from it, are being carried along to the inevitable outpouring of the just wrath of the avenging God? Humanly speaking nothing can be done. But what is impossible for men is possible for God. A radical disease requires a radical remedy, and God supplies it.

 

Verse 4 begins with a mighty adversative: But God. These two monosyllables set against the desperate condition of fallen mankind the gracious initiative and sovereign action of God. We were dead, and dead men do not rise, but God made us alive with Christ. We were slaves, in a situation of dishonor and powerlessness, but God has raised us with Christ and set us at his own right hand in a position of honor and power. It is essential to hold both parts of this deliberate contrast together, namely what we were ‘by nature’ and what we have become ‘by grace’, the human condition and the divine compassion, God’s wrath and God’s love. Note, as was true in chapter one, the objects of God’s actions are described as being in Christ or with Christ Jesus. We receive the manifold blessings of God only through our union with Christ.

 

1. What has God done. In one word he has saved us [5]. Saved  is a perfect participle. It emphasizes the abiding consequences of God’s saving action in the past, as if Paul should say, ‘You are people who have been saved and remain for ever saved.’ And this act of salvation is totally a work of God’s grace.  By grace is placed first in this phrase to emphasize its importance. Paul coins three verbs, which take up what God did to Christ and then (by the addition of the prefix syn, ‘together with’) link us to Christ in these events. Thus first, God made us alive together with Christ, next he raised us up with Him, and thirdly he seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. These verbs refer to the three successive historical events in the saving career of Jesus, which are normally called the resurrection, the ascension and the session. What excites our amazement is that now Paul is not writing about Christ but about us. He is affirming not that God quickened, raised and seated Christ, but that he quickened, raised and seated us with Christ. Fundamental to New Testament Christianity is this concept of the union of God’s people with Christ. We were dead, but have been made spiritually alive and alert. We were in captivity, but have been enthroned.

 

2. Why God did it. The major emphasis of this whole paragraph is that what prompted God to act on our behalf was not something in us (some supposed merit) but something in himself (his own unmerited favor). Paul assembles four words to express the origins of God’s saving initiative. He writes of God’s mercy, of God’s love, of God’s grace and of God’s kindness. More than that. He saved us in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace. In raising and exalting Christ he demonstrated the surpassing greatness of His power [1:19]; but in raising and exalting us he displayed also the immeasurable riches of his grace, and will continue to do so throughout eternity. Verse 7 shows us that the manifestation of God’s glory is the chief end of our salvation. The church is to be the exhibition to the whole creation of the wisdom and love and grace of God in Christ. Since the ages  to come is simply a plural of immensity, the meaning is that only eternity will suffice for the complete display of the surpassing riches of God’s grace in that kindness which he has shown us in Christ Jesus. Again Paul is careful to remind us that all this grace and the manifestation of it in its riches have their ground and reason only in Christ Jesus.

 

Verses 8-10 elaborate on God’s grace, and explain why in the coming ages God will show his grace and kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. It is because of our salvation. Here are three foundation words of the Christian good news – salvation, grace and faith. Salvation is deliverance from the death, slavery and wrath described in verses 1-3. Indeed, it includes the totality of our new life in Christ, together with whom we have been made alive, exalted and seated in the heavenly realm. Grace is God’s free and undeserved mercy toward us, and faith is the humble trust with which we receive it for ourselves. In order to enforce this positive statement that we have been saved only by God’s grace through trust in Christ, Paul adds two balancing negatives: first and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God [8b] and secondly not as a result of works, so that no one may boast [9]. Paul is determined not to leave his theme until he has expounded it beyond any possibility of misunderstanding. So he adds one more positive, decisive and glorious affirmation in verse 10. We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus. Both Greek words speak of creation. So far Paul has described salvation in terms of a resurrection from the dead, a liberation from slavery and a rescue from condemnation. And each declares that the work is God’s, for dead people cannot bring themselves to life again, nor can captive and condemned people free themselves. But now he puts the matter beyond even the slightest shadow of doubt. Salvation is creation, re-creation, new creation. And creation language is nonsense unless there is a Creator. ‘You see then’, writes Calvin, ‘that this word “create” is enough to stop the mouths and put away the cackling of such as boast of having any merit. For when they say so, they presuppose that they were their own creators.’

 

Not that we remain passive and inert. Good works are indispensable to salvation – not as its ground or means, however, but as its consequence and evidence. Good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. God’s purpose in the place which he gave to good works in his decree was that they should actually and habitually be done by us. His final object was to make good works the very element of our life, the domain in which our action should move. That this should be the nature of our walk is implied in our being his handiwork, made anew by him in Christ; that the good works which form the Divine aim of our life shall be realized is implied in their being designed and made ready for us in God’s decree; and that they are of God’s originating, and not of our own action and merit, is implied in the fact that we had ourselves to be made a new creation in Christ with a view to them.

 

Thus the paragraph ends as it began with our human ‘walk’, a Hebrew idiom for our manner of life. Formerly we walked in trespasses and sins in which the devil had trapped us; now we walk in good works which God has eternally planned for us to do. What could possibly have effected such a change? Just this: a new creation by the grace and power of God. The key expressions of the paragraph are surely but God and by grace.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.     Think about what it means to have the eyes of your heart enlightened. How might this help you to more fully know the hope of his calling, the glory of his inheritance, and greatness of his power? What role do we play in having our hearts enlightened?

       

2.     From verses 20-23, describe the relationship between Christ and the church. What does the headship of Christ over his church mean? How does this truth guide and direct your activity as a church member?

 

3.     Describe in detail Paul’s description of mankind without Christ (2:1-3). Focus on the three truths about unredeemed mankind. Now describe in detail Paul’s description of salvation (2:4-10). In what ways does he stress that salvation is a gift from God which cannot be earned?

 

4.     How should the doctrinal truths of verses 1-10 influence the way we do evangelism? For example: what should we focus on; what methods should we use; what is essential for its success?

 

5.     Encourage your class to spend time meditating on the importance of “But God” and “by grace” for our salvation and relationship with God.

 

References:

The Message of Ephesians, John Stott, Inter-Varsity Press.

Ephesians, Geoffrey B. Wilson, Banner of Truth Trust.

The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Volume 3, Eerdmans.