{3}         Life of Resurrection (Eph 2:1-10)

Introduction

PART I. CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE. SECTION A. NEW LIFE.

Have good and thoughtful people ever been more depressed about the human predicament than they are today? Of course, every age is bound to have a blurred vision of its own problems, because it is too close to them to get them into focus. And every generation breeds new prophets of doom. Nevertheless, the media enables us to grasp the worldwide extent of evil, and it makes the current scene look dark. Against the sober background of our world, Ephesians 2 stands out in striking relevance. Paul first plumbs the depths of pessimism about mankind and then rises to the heights of optimism about God. Paul paints a vivid contrast between what mankind is by nature and what it can become by grace.

 

Question: What do you think life would be like for you right now if you had not become a Christian?

 

Outline:

2:1-3                The Christless life

2:4-10              Life transformed through the grace of God

 

        Today’s world is a reflection of the life without Christ: escalating economic problems (poverty, unemployment, hunger, spoliation of natural resources), spreading of social conflicts (racism, tribalism, class struggle, disintegrating family life), destruction of accepted moral guidelines (leading to violence, dishonesty, sexual promiscuity, anti-life practices).

        Paul draws a picture of contrasts. He first plumbs the depths of pessimism about man, and then rises to the heights of optimism about God. He contrasts despair and faith, and contrasts between what man is by nature and what he can become by grace.

        This paragraph is a continuation of Paul’s prayer that we might know how powerful God is in turning our lives around.

 

Explanation

2:1       It is a description of everybody: all of us (Christians) lived at one time, and the rest (of mankind) even now.

It is a condensation into 3 verses of the first 3 chapters of Romans which Paul argues his case for the sin and guilt first of pagans, then the Jews, and so of all mankind.

3 appalling truths about unredeemed human beings: [1] we were dead (v.1); [2] we were enslaved (v.2-3a); and [3] we were condemned (v.3b)—a totally lost human condition.

“Transgressions” (Gr. paraptoma) means a false step, involving either the crossing of a know boundary or a deviation from the right path. “Sins” (Gr. hamartia) means a missing of the mark, a falling short of a standard. The two words cover the positive and negative (or active and passive) aspects of human wrongdoing—the sins of commission and of omission. Before God, we are both rebels and failures.

“Dead”: spiritual death is the separation from God. In the spiritual sphere, man is dead. They 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 and fallen nature. It is a living death.

2:2       We were under a fearful bondage to forces over which we had no control. Paul talks about 3 influences as controlling and directing our pre-Christian life: [1] the world, [2] the devil, and [3] the flesh.

[1]   The world: the society organized without reference to God, with a social value-system of secularism. Human beings are dehumanized by: [a] political oppression and bureaucratic tyranny; [b] outlook that is secular (repudiating God), amoral (repudiating absolutes), or materialistic (glorifying the consumer market); [c] poverty, hunger or unemployment, [d] racial discrimination, [e] injustice. Everyone is under the cultural bondage and we drifted along the stream of this world’s ideas of living.

[2]   The devil: the ruler of the kingdom of the air. The “air” could be translated “foggy atmosphere”, indicating the darkness which the devil prefers to light. “The kingdom of the air” is the unseen but real demonic world.

The “spirit” is the demonic force or mood which is actively at work in unbelievers. “Those who are disobedient” means “God’s rebel subjects” (NEB). Before accepting Christ, we rebelled, knowingly and voluntarily, against the loving authority of God.

2:3       [3]        The flesh (sinful nature): our fallen self-centred human nature. There is nothing wrong with natural bodily desires, whether for food, sleep or sex. It is only when the appetite for food becomes gluttony, for sleep sloth and for sex lust, tht natural desires have been perverted into sinful desires. Besides desires of our body, “cravings of our sinful nature” include wrong “thoughts” of the mind, such as intellectual and other pride, false ambition, rejection of known truth, and malicious or vengeful thoughts.

Oppressive influences: the world from outside, the flesh from inside, the devil working through both.

We were condemned by nature as “children of wrath”. The wrath of God is not bad temper. It is not subject to mood, whim, or caprice. It is never arbitrary. It is the divine reaction to only one situation—evil. It is God’s personal, righteous, constant hostility to evil. He always reacts to evil in the same unchanging, predictable, uncompromising way. [Imagine what happens if God reacts differently every time.]

“By nature” means that the origin of our condition is as members of a fallen race. In Ro 5:12, Paul says that death spread to all men because all men sinned.

2:4       “But God” represents a total turnaround against the desperate condition of fallen mankind. We were dead, and dead man does not rise, but God made us alive with Christ. We were slaves, but God has raised us with Christ and set us at His own right hand, in a position of honour and power. We were objects of God’s wrath, but God had mercey upon us.

2:5       The second important phrase is “by grace” (again in v.8). “Saved” is a perfect participle, thus emphasizing the abiding consequences of God’s saving action in the past: “You are people who have been saved and remain for ever saved.” Paul uses 3 verbs to describe this salvation, each taking up what God did to Christ and then by the addition of the Greek prefix syn (meaning together with), linking us to Christ in these events: [1] made us alive with Christ (v.5), [2] raised us up with Christ (v.6), and [3] seated us with Him in the heavenly realms (v.6).

These 3 historical events in the life of Christ are called the resurrection, the ascension, and the session. They are part of the Apostle’s Creed: “The third day He rose again from the dead, He ascended into heaven, and He sits at the right hand of God the Father.” Paul writes here not about Christ but about us. God resurrected us, raised us, and seated us with Christ.

2:6       “Seated us with Him” means we are placed on thrones. “Heavenly realms” means the unseen world of spiritual reality, in which the principalities and powers operate (3:10; 6:12) and in which Christ reigns supreme (1:20).

God has given us a new life and a new victory. We were dead, but have been made spiritually alive; we were in captivity, but have been enthroned.

All these were done “in Christ Jesus”, again the basis of the union of God’s people (also in v.7,10).

2:7       Why did God do all these? The origin of God’s saving initiative is expressed in 4 words: mercy (v.4), love (v.4), grace (v.5,8), kindness (v.7). All these are to “show the incomparable riches of His grace.” Just as in 1:19-20, His exaltation of Christ is to demonstrate “His incomparable great power.” This demonstration is to endure throughout eternity (“in the coming ages”).

2:8       “Grace” is God’s free and undeserved mercy towards us. The positive statement of “saved by grace” is reinforced by two negative statements: [1] not from yourselves (v.8), and [2] not by works (v.9).

Some believes that “this” and “it” refers to faith; the sentence will thus be: faith is not from yourselves, faith is the gift of God. Theologically, this is true. The Bible elsewhere teaches that saving faith is God’s gracious gift (Ac 18:27; Php 1:29). However, the word “this” (Gr. touto) is neuter, whereas “faith” is a feminine noun. Therefore “this” probably refers to the whole previous sentence, that is, the whole process of salvation.

2:9       Salvation is God’s free gift. It is not a reward for any deeds of religion of philanthropy. The precise relationship between divine predestination and human free will is always a mystery that man can never fully understand. The Bible tells us clearly that no one can boast about his/her own decision in accepting Christ. If a free gift is placed before you and you pick it up. The gift remains a free gift.

2:10     Paul already says that salvation is not our achievement. Even more, it is God’s workmanship (God’s work of art, His masterpiece) and God’s creation.

The purpose of God’s creation is for us to “do good works” and for us to continuously “walk in them”. At the beginning of this paragraph, we walked in trangressions and sins; at the end, we walked in good works. It is a contrast between two lifestyles (evil and good) and two masters (the devil and God). The change is brought about by “but God” and “by grace”. It is resurrection out of death and creation out of nothing.

The relationship between salvation and good works is clear. Good works are not the ground or means of salvation. But it is an indispensable consequence and is the evidence of one’s salvation. It is God’s plan prepared in etenal past (“in advance”).

 

Summary

        [2:1-3] Paul is not giving us a portrait of some particularly 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 humanity in fallen society everywhere. True, Paul begins with an emphatic you, indicating in the first place hie Gentile readers in Asia Minor, but he quickly goes on to write (v.3) that “all of us also lived” in the same way, and he concludes v.3 with a reference to “the rest” of mankind. This then is the apostle’s estimate of everyone without God, of the universal human condition.

        [2:4-10] This passage begins with “But…God.” These two monosyllables set against the desperate condition of fallen mankind the gracious initiative and sovereign action of God. We were the objects of His wrath, but God out of the great love with which He loved us had mercy on us. We were dead, and the dead do not rise, but God made us alive with Christ. We were slaves, in a situation of dishonour and powerlessness, but God has raised us with Christ and set us at His own right hand, in a position of honour and power. Thus God has taken action to reverse our condition in sin. It is essential to hold both parts of this contrast together, namely, what we are by nature and what we are by grace.

 

Application

        Christians are sometimes criticized for being morbidly preoccupied with their sin and guilt. The criticism is not unfair if we face the facts about ourselves but fail to go on to glory in God’s mercy and grace.

 

Prayer

        Reflect on your spiritual condition before you met Christ. Praise Him for the work of grace that He has done in you.