As we enter the second chapter of Ephesians we become aware of the utter contrast between the sublimity of the believer’s stand, expressed in chapter one, and his prior condition in the world. This epistle is peculiarly full of the state of the heathen without God.
2:1 “And you, being dead [lit. corpses] in trespasses and sins.”
“They were dead in relation to that to which they afterwards became alive—i.e. to holiness. Of course, this does not mean that they were in all respects dead. It does not mean that they had no animal life, or that they did not breathe, and walk, and act. Nor can it mean that they had no living intellect or mental powers, which would not have been true. Nor does it settle any question as to their ability or power while in that state. It simply affirms a fact–that in relation to real spiritual life they were, in consequence of sin, like a dead man in regard to the objects which are around him. A corpse is insensible. It sees not, and hears not, and feels not. The sound of music, and the voice of friendship and of alarm, do not arouse it. The rose and the lily breath forth their fragrance around it, but the corpse perceives it not. The world is busy and active around it, but it is unconscious of it all. It sees no beauty in the landscape; hears not the voice of a friend; looks not upon the glorious sun and stars; and is unaffected by the running stream and the rolling ocean. So with the sinner in regard to the spiritual and eternal world, he sees no beauty in religion; he hears not the call of God; he is unaffected by the dying love of the Saviour; and he has no interest in eternal realities. In all these he feels no more concern, and sees no more beauty, than a dead man does in the world around him. Such is, in fact, the condition of a sinful world. There is, indeed, life and energy and motion. There are vast plans and projects, and the world is intensely active. But, in regard to religion, all is dead. The sinner sees no beauty there; and no human power can arouse him to act for God, any more than human power can rouse the sleeping dead, or open the sightless eye-balls on the light of day. The same power is needed in the conversion of a sinner which is needed in raising the dead; and one and the other alike demonstrate the omnipotence of him who can do it.” (Barnes, “New Testament Notes.”)
Yes, how true this is. We might translate as follows – “And you [has He made alive] who were mere corpses by virtue of offences and sins.” Paul had already made this quite clear in Romans. “The commandment which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death, for Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.” (7:10-11) Notice here that Paul uses the word “sin” as though it were personal. We have found the Lord referring to Satan as “Sin” through the years, hence the propriety of using the Upper Case for this word.
“Sin” delights in the law, because it gives him a handle by which to accuse mankind. He is forever pointing the finger to bring human faults to the Lord’s notice, as if the Lord didn’t already know!
2:2 “In which you once walked according to the age of this world.”
The age of this world. The word “age” [AION] is frequently used to describe the prevailing fashion of a certain period of time. It’s amazing how we, as human beings, tend to become ‘dedicated followers of fashion,’ to use the words of an old pop song. We talk about ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, and so on. Whatever is the current fashion in dress, sport, entertainment, house adornment, garden, food, etc., we take note of the plethora of advertisements and wander aimlessly into captivity to these things. That was while we were “corpses.” But if God has made us alive in Christ, all such activity should cease. We become under “new management,” and should walk in a different way, as Paul indicates in a later part of this chapter.
2:2 “according to the prince of the power of the air.”
Prince. Greek ARCHON, a word that is found extensively in ancient Greek literature. There were nine Archons, or Chief Magistrates in Athens. When Paul uses the word, he applies it to the unseen realm, where Satan occupies the position of Chief Archon over many others.
Power. Literally “authority”. In Colossians, Paul tells us we have been “delivered out of the authority of darkness and translated into the Kingdom of the Son of His love.” (1:13)
Air. A strange expression unless properly understood. The Greeks divided the heavens into two compartments, the Air [AER] and the Ether [AITHER] above it. Paul used this distinction when referring to the sphere of activity delegated to Satan. It was the lower region where he ruled. If we prefer to think of heaven rather than theatmosphere, then John, writing in Revelation, tells us about the “middle heaven” [MESOURANEMA] in 8:13, 14:6, and19:17. This is identical to the Air in Ephesians 2:2. Satan was ejected from the Higher Heaven in the beginning.
2:2 “The Spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience.”
The Spirit. Refers to Satan as a spirit being.
That now works. Perhaps better as “now operates”
In the sons of disobedience. A typical Hebraism, whereby the word “sons” describes an origin, an association, or worthiness. Examples are “sons of light”, “sons of darkness”, “sons of belial”, “sons of the bridechamber”, etc. In the O.T. a very interesting example is found in Job 5:7, “man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards.” The word “sparks” is in Hebrew, “sons of the living flame.”
Disobedience. [APEITHEIA] As with Adam and Eve in the beginning, disobedience is always man’s downfall, and wherever it is found, Satan is in the midst. For this is the correct translation of this phrase, “the Spirit that now operates among those who are disobedient.” “We are not merely imperfect creatures who need to be improved; we are rebels who must lay down our arms,” to quote Cardinal Newman.
2:3 “Among whom also we all conducted ourselves in times past, performing the desires of our flesh and mind.”
Conducted ourselves. [ANASTREPHO] The A.V. translates “had our conversation”, but the verb is passive, and neither of these will do. Liddell & Scott says about the verb, “to turn upside down, as with digging”, and then “to turn round and about, to repeat.” Remembering the passive voice, we are left with only one alternative, namely, “Among whom we were turned upside down, swallowed up, head over heels.” In other words, the action is against us, rather than of our own volition. Our lives were turned upside down from what God originally intended for us.
2:3 “And were by nature children of wrath, as also the rest.”
Children of wrath. Here again we find the Hebraism, like “sons of disobedience.” It means that by natural birth we were deserving of God’s wrath.
As also the rest. Exactly. We are no better than anyone else in this world. Born in sin, raised by sinful parents, and experiencing the workings of sin in our lives, we were living corpses! And so ends Paul’s devastating description of natural man’s “birthright”. Having fully delineated our position, he then shows by vivid contrast the nature of God’s mercy.
2:4 “But God who is rich in mercy through the great love wherewith He loved us, even though we were dead in offences”
He loved us. There is something chronologically difficult to comprehend in what follows, because the actions refer back to the time of Christ’s resurrection, and yet they become reality in our lifetime. The word “loved” is in the aorist tense, which, as the name suggests, is a “timeless” tense, one that focuses on the subject matter of the verb rather than when it operates. We can translate, “He loves us”, without making it sound like a present tense. His love is timeless and constant.
2:5 “He made us alive with Christ, (by grace you are saved,) and raised us up together, and seated us together among those senior heavenly ones in Christ.”
Together. There are three verbs in this sentence, all of which begin with the prepositional prefix SUN-, meaning “together with.” And so we are presented with this staggering concept of being identified with Christ in His resurrection in three successive actions, (1) made alive, (2) raised up, and (3) seated among the senior heavenly ones. How is it possible for the Lord to speak of us in this fashion when we are living some 2,000 years after the historic event? This is the anachronism of which we have just spoken.
Back in chapter one we saw that God loved us, chose us, predestined us, and inherited us even before the fall of man in Eden. In this chapter we are told that we have been identified with the Greatest Event in human history, the resurrection of Christ. Although we are living now, in God’s sight He has had us in His view throughout all history. An amazing thought!
Made us alive together. A corpse is useless. Even Christ’s corpse was useless. It could have been embalmed and kept as a relic, a religious icon, but it would have no further value than to gather dust in a museum or cathedral. But He came to life again! Miracle of all miracles! Christ is alive! And since then Easter Sunday has been the focal point of every Christian’s life. Some have tried to maintain that He never actually died, but all the evidence is against resuscitation. Paul said, “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain. You are still in your sins.” (1 Cor:15:17) Our faith is based upon two factors, each of which is vitally important, (1) Christ’s death, (2) His resurrection.
On that Sunday morning, 2,000 or so years ago, Jesus’ corpse suddenly came alive. And according to Paul, at that very moment we came alive together with Him. Don’t ask me to explain it, because I cannot. I won’t even try. There are some things about our faith that will forever remain sacred secrets, divine mysteries. But I can believe it! And believe it, I will!
Raised us up together. There are two words translated “resurrection” in the Greek N.T. ANASTASIS and EGERSIS.The former means “standing up again,” and the latter “waking up.” It is the latter here, as it was in 1 Corinthians 15:17 quoted above. But once again SUN is added to the word, showing that we were raised up together at Christ’s resurrection. Death is very much like winter, as the Greeks imagined in the mythology of Demeter and Hades. But as the sun rises progressively in the sky in spring, so the earth becomes alive again. Spiritually, we are dead in the wintertime of our sinful state, but as the “Sun of righteousness rises with healing in His wings,” so we rise with Him. (Mal.4:2)
Our Lord said some very strange things about life and death. Before He raised Lazarus, He said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live, and whosoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26) To those who truly believe, physical death may come, but the new spiritual life, that can never die.
Seated us together. The only other place where this word is used in the N.T. is Luke 22:55. In the courtyard outside the Judgment Hall a number of people were “seated together around a fire, and Peter was amongst them.” This is helpful in understanding this verse in Ephesians. Jesus was raised and seated at God’s right hand, as we learned earlier. Now we are told that we are raised and seated together with Him among the senior heavenly ones. This is a very privileged position, and it is quite unseemly for us to speak of it other than in hushed tones, lest even the mention of it should imply some worthiness on our part.
Now before we move on, we must compare this statement with that in Revelation 3:21. “To him who overcomes [or, conquers] I will grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am seated with my Father in His throne.” Lest anyone should think that to rule with Christ in the Millennium might be granted to those who are untried, untested, and unworthy, we have this counterbalance, this cautionary note. Paul also expressed it to Timothy in these words, “If we died with Him, we shall also live with Him; if we suffer we shall also reign with Him; if we deny Him [the suffering], He will also deny us [the reigning].” (2:11-12) And to the Romans he used these words, “If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ, if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” (8:17) Our response to His gracious call is of paramount importance.
(By grace you are saved.) This is popped in parenthetically here, and enlarged upon later. The verb “you are saved” is in fact in the perfect tense, and implies a continuity of action. We cannot therefore look upon it in a typical evangelical sense. It does not relate to the moment of a person’s conversion, being born again, or being saved, to use the usual clichés. “By grace you have been and are continually being saved, [or better, preserved.]” The idea ofpreservation, latent within the Greek word SOZO, to save, is valuable. Maybe the Lord has preserved us for these inestimable privileges, so that when faith comes, we may be able to believe and enter in to the fullness of the revelation.
2:7 “In order that in the ages to come He might show forth the exceeding riches of His grace in kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”
The coming ages. One is reminded of our Lord’s words to His disciples in Mark 10:30. He said that whoever had given up people or things for His sake, would gain a hundredfold, and in the age to come life eternal. Paul here extends the concept by speaking of multiple ages to come, rather than just one, (presumed to be the Millennial Age.)
He might show forth. Paul must have been thinking of what he wrote to Timothy. “I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to those who should hereafter believe on Him to eternal life.” (1 Tim.1:16) Just as the pattern has been recognised by us, so in the coming ages God’s great grace will be demonstrated to a much wider audience. For what purpose? Not as window dressing, not as a showpiece, but to encourage others to believe on the Living Christ.
Kindness. Paul spoke about God’s kindness in Romans 2:4. “Do you despise the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” The Psalmist declared, “How excellent is Thy lovingkindness, O God.” (Psalm 36:7) David cried to the Lord, after the incident with Bathsheba, saying, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness.” (Psalm 51:1) So also in many other places in the Psalms and Prophets do we read of God’s lovingkindness. It is not, as some have suggested, the “new” understanding of God in the N.T.
2:8 “For by grace you are saved by faith, and this not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.”
By faith. We are told that it is “not of yourselves.” Therefore whose faith is it? Jesus said to the saints in Pergamos, “You have not denied my faith.” (Rev.2:13) Later we read, “Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” (Rev.14:12) And then we read in Galatians 2:16 “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” And again, in Philippians 3:9 “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”
Yes, we are constantly taught about the necessity for us to act in faith, but seldom asked to reflect on that faith which is resident within the Son of God. If our faith, the size of a grain of mustard seed, could remove mountains, how much more does our Lord’s own faith accomplish to God’s glory? Paul adds an additional gem of understanding in Romans 1:17 “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ . . . for therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith.” In other words, from Christ’s faith to our own faith, both working together and intertwined.
The gift of God. God’s grace, His lovingkindness, and Christ’s faith, these are all a pure gift, quite apart from any involvement in us, and certainly not based upon any action we might have made.
Not by works lest anyone should boast. The importance of this must be seen against that of Satan’s defection in the beginning. It was because of his own beauty that his heart was lifted up prior to his fall. (Ezekiel 28) He did not dwell upon the fact that he was created, but vainly imagined that he had something intrinsically his own, that need not be subject to God at all. This was the beginning of individualism, self-elevation, and the rejection of God-reliance. It was as though he were saying to God, “I have a right to myself and my own opinions, quite apart from you.”
The contrast as seen in the life of Christ could not be greater. Throughout His ministry He maintained, He relied entirely on His Father, and took no glory to Himself. John 8:28 “You shall know that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father has taught me, I speak these things.” (See also John 5:19,30)
This is why, when we read of the glories bestowed on us in Christ, we are told in emphatic terms that none of it derives from us. The Lord doesn’t want His church spoiled by listening to serpentine whispers, to the effect that we can “go it alone” in any sphere of our service.
2:10 “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus upon [a basis of] good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we might walk in them.”
His workmanship. This is by no means a new concept. Of Israel, the Lord said, “Thus says the Lord who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel; fear not for I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name, you are mine.” (Isa.43:1) And again, “This people I have formed for myself; they shall show forth my praise.” (43:21) And again, “Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you from the womb, who will help you; fear not O Jacob my servant, and you, Jeshurun, [the upright one] whom I have chosen.” (44:2)
Now the Lord declares the same wonderful truth concerning the Gentiles whom He has chosen, whereby we may enter into these priceless treasures, and share all the riches of His grace, where there is no longer Jew and Gentile.
Upon a basis of good works. Once we are “made alive in Christ” we have duties to perform. Our lives should be governed by a daily contact with the Lord, to know of His will at every step. Furthermore, we need not quake at this responsibility because God has laid out a pathway for us to walk on. It is no longer the pathway the world takes, but one of His own making.
Prepared beforehand. Previously prepared by the Lord. It is “the King’s Highway”, and we are invited to walk on it. It is the only road that God will accept. If we refuse His path for any reason, then we do despite to His grace and lovingkindness. But how can anyone think of walking another road, after reading about the exceeding riches of His grace in kindness towards us? If the love that grows within our own hearts reaches out to touch the love that comes from God Himself, where they meet holy fire will be liberated.
For us to walk in. Our “works” as believers will therefore be according to His enlightenment, whereby we take no glory to ourselves, but testify to all that the fruit of our lives will have come from the Master Gardener’s hand. These will be “good works.” See Hebrews 10:24 “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.” And Titus 2:14 “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” And 2 Timothy 3:17 “That the man of God may be perfect,throughly furnished unto all good works.”
Note also the following. Matthew 5:16 “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” And John 10:32 “Jesus answered them, many good works have I shown you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me?”
These and several other references in the N.T. speak about “good works”, and in all cases they are “faith works”, performed in obedience to the voice of the Son of God, that He and He alone may take the glory for what is accomplished, and we are saved from the snare of pride. This is what it means to “overcome.” And Paul said to the Romans, “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (8:37)