Chapter 2:1-10: Salvation by God’s Grace.
This chapter can be divided between verses 1‑10, which speak of the method of our salvation; and verses 11‑22, which speak of reconciliation (first, that of the Gentiles and the Jews brought together in Christ vv. 11‑15, second, both reconciled unto God vv. 16‑22). Both argue from what has already been said in chapter one about the power of Christ in us as our resurrected Lord.
And you has He quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins. If one is going to speak about the grace of God, as Paul does in this section, one cannot ignore the effects of the Fall upon mankind. All men born into the world are dead in trespasses and sins (cf. Col. 2:13). This deadness (the term nekrous is used figuratively not literally – they are children of disobedience!) is total in regards to spirituality. The day Adam disobeyed God was the day God said he would die, and he did; not physically, but spiritually; that is, he was alienated from the life of God. His spirit was separated from its Creator, and his heart and mind were corrupted by sin. “There being nothing of that spiritual life in them [mankind after the fall] which consisteth of the union of the soul with God.” (J. Fergusson, The Epistles of Paul, 144). This is the doctrine known as Total Depravity.1 It is vital that men understand their plight with God. They are utterly unable to do anything ‘spiritual’ without the Holy Spirit. And since “God is a Spirit” (Jn. 4:24) all an unsaved man’s religion and good works are as filthy rags in His sight (Isa. 64:6). From this spiritually dead condition has He quickened us. This means that Christ has infused His life (by the Spirit) into His redeemed ones.
The effects of this alienation from God are spelled out graphically in verses 2‑3. We walked according to the course of this world, a course that was (and is) veering far from the path God originally devised for man (which we may call the path of righteousness). In 1 John 2:15‑17, we are advised, “love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” The reason for this is because this world is under the thrall of Satan (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4). In opening his letter to the Galatians, Paul refers to “this present evil world,” from which Christ has delivered us. According to Ephesians 2:2, all men without Christ walk according to the course of this world. But this is not all; they walk according to the prince of the power of the air, that is, Satan (cf. Jn. 8:44). Satan rules over all the unregenerate.
The spirit that now works in the children of disobedience is not the devil2 himself, but the spirit of this wicked world. We speak of the ‘spirit of the times,’ by which we mean the life view adopted by the media, centers of education, the fashion industry, etc. This spirit is “an impersonal force or mood which is actively at work in non‑Christian people.” (J. R. W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians, 74). It is that spirit which the demonic powers “raise up in wicked men against Christ and against God” (T. Goodwin, Puritan Exposition of Ephesians, 612).[i] The apostle wants to remind the Ephesians that their past lives were lived only to fulfill the desires of the flesh and of the mind. These desires may run in many directions, some lewd, some religious, some academic, etc. But they are power and authority over life due to their not being reined in by the higher authority of God’s Word.
The unregenerate man then cannot live to God, for, according to verse 3, he only lives to himself! This is what makes men children of wrath. Every human being born into this world who does not experience the saving grace of God, is under the wrath of God (cf. Jn. 3:36). The apostle paints a doleful picture indeed! But he has not painted it any darker than it is. He is setting the stage for the doctrine of the radical grace of God the Gospel.
But God…(v. 4) Now Paul can write about salvation! The Gospel is good news only because we can say: But God. Sin has left us helpless, inveterate enemies of the Almighty, “but God” has intervened to reconcile us to Himself. Who has yet fully understood verse 4? He is indeed rich in mercy! (Micah 7:18) The verse telescopes out to: But God…Who is rich in mercy…For His great love wherewith He loved us.
No one can understand God until they understand something about their own sin and misery. We must deal with men about their sin and make sure that they understand something of that before we can hope to give them any real understanding of the God Who is great in mercy and in love.
Even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us (i.e. made us alive again spiritually, cf. Rom. 4:17) together with Christ…(v. 5). The contrast is as great as it can be: we were dead in sins, we are now alive in Christ. This contrast compels Paul to insert, by grace you are saved. For how can someone of whom verses 1‑3 are true, be accepted in God’s eyes other than by God’s free grace? But God has not only quickened us; He has raised us up together, and has made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (v. 6). We can look at this verse in two ways: either, a) Christ represents us in Heaven where He sits physically (1:20), or, b) in some way, believers are spiritually present before God’s throne. We know we have been born from above, and that “our conversation (citizenship) is in Heaven…” (Phil. 3:20) and we know that we can “come boldly unto the throne of grace…” (Heb. 4:16). Therefore, we do not think it unbelievable (even if we find it mysterious) to assume that the second alternative is correct (cf. Col. 3: 1, Jn. 3:13).
Why did God do this? Verse 7 provides an explanation which looks forward to our future hope. God loves us (v. 4) and our completed salvation magnifies His grace. Ahead of us in the ages to come…(v. 7), God will show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us. All God’s grace, and everything that it brings us, is mediated through Christ Jesus.3
Having shown the complete alienation of sinners from God (vv. 1‑3), and the hope which lies ahead (vv. 6, 7) the apostle is in a position to write for by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. All Christians know these familiar verses (vv. 8‑9), but often take them in isolation without understanding their purpose within the context of Ephesians 2. If we do not set grace up over against men’s sin, we dilute the force of these verses. Salvation must be by grace…and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. The only way sinners have access to God’s grace is through faith (Rom. 5:2), but we are not to make the common mistake of making “faith” the gift here. Exegetically this would be to relate a feminine noun (“faith”) to a neuter pronoun (“this”) which is a non- sequitur. It is best to take the neuter pronoun as referring to the first part of verse 8 (for by grace are you saved through faith). This would make the “gift” refer to the concept of salvation. As Hoehner has it, “the “gift” is that which is outside of ourselves and is to be received. Therefore, the gift of salvation has its origin n God, its basis is grace, and it is received by means of faith.” (H. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, 344. Cf. C. L. Mitton, Ephesians, NCB, 97).
Because salvation is a gift, it cannot be earned, most certainly not by men dead in trespasses and sins (v. 1). No man will stand before God and convince Him that his good deeds, done in the flesh, entitle him to the same salvation and inheritance as those who have humbled themselves and fled to the Cross. So Paul says that we are saved not of works, lest any man should boast (v. 9; cf. also Gal. 2:16).
What then is the place of works? This question is answered in verse 10. Good works are important to God, “…so important that God created us in order that we should perform them.” (W. Hendriksen, Galatians and Ephesians, 124). Works done in the flesh do not have God in them, either as their object, or in their working. God only called those things which He created “good” (cf. Gen. 1). The new birth of the Christian is in fact a new creation of God. We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works… [cf. Tit. 2:14] which God has previously ordained that we should walk in them (cf. 1:4). Therefore, what a contrast there should be between the walk of the unsaved man pictured in verses 2, 3 and the walk of the redeemed child of God! (cf. 5:8; 1 Jn. 5‑7).
1 Total Depravity means that the consequences of the Fall have affected every aspect of human nature. The image of God is marred (though not obliterated). Man has neither the inclination, nor the ability to exercise faith in Christ without the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. But to hold to Total Depravity does not mean that we sanction the High-Calvinistic doctrine of Total Inability, whereby man cannot believe unless he is first born-again. This teaching, however logical a step it may seem, goes beyond the statements of Scripture (cf. Jn. 1:12-13; Rom. 1:16). The case of Cornelius clearly destroys such a conclusion. See especially Acts 10:1-4 and 44-48. We must insist that Scripture teaches that God must bring a sinner to Himself (Jn. 6:37, 44, 54), but precisely how this is done is never fully explained to us.
2 I.E. “the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” is not necessarily personal, unlike “the prince of the power of the air,” although it could well refer to the activity of demons.
3 “God’s utmost end in man’s salvation is the shewing forth of what is in Himself, and the making it known that it may be glorified, especially to shew forth the riches of His grace…My brethren, God is glorified by being made known, and that was it that moved His will to shew forth what was in Him.” (T. Goodwin, A Puritan Exposition of Ephesians, 782)