Ephesians 2:1-10 - Salvation is of the Lord
Surely, anyone who lays claim to the name "Christian" would agree with the statement that salvation is of the Lord. That is, he would agree to this statement theoretically. However, practically, many Christians still believe that the Lord has made salvation possible and that they now also have an important role to play in order to receive this salvation.
By nature dead
In Ephesians 2 it is made crystal clear that man does nothing in the obtaining of his salvation. "You were dead!" A dead person does not turn, he doesn't believe, he does nothing! This is perhaps the clearest and strongest statement found in the Bible to teach us that man is indeed totally depraved. This is a doctrine which men do not wish to accept. The passage under consideration here leaves no room for doubt that if salvation — from beginning to end — does not come from the Lord, there will be none.
The deadness of which the writer speaks is a spiritual death. They were dead through their trespasses and sins. This does not refer to the physical nature in the first place, but to the fact that in his relationship to God, man died when he fell into sin. So are we also, able to understand the words uttered by God in the Garden of Eden — in the day thou dost eat of this fruit thou shalt surely die. He did! Man by nature is not able to respond to the voice of God. This is such an important truth that it must be clearly understood by everyone. The Heidelberg Catechism asks which things are necessary for us to know for salvation and it answers that we must first know how great our sin and misery is. If one doesn't know that, no other knowledge will be of any value. Paul leaves no room for doubt. How great is man's sin and misery? It killed him spiritually!
The translators seem to have a great difficulty with this statement of Paul. The ASV, for example, even begins with the words: "and you did he make alive." The words "did he make alive" are written in italics which means that these words were not found in the original. The addition of these words seems to be an attempt to give an answer to the questions which might be raised by those reading this epistle. Paul indeed gives this answer to the deepest questions which can be raised regarding man's total inability; but he doesn't give the answer until verse five because he has more to say about this total depravity. His answer is then so much richer than the answer of those who were running ahead of the Apostle.
A "dead" life
It must again be emphasized that the Apostle is speaking concerning their former spiritual death, because he now speaks of the fact that they "walked according to the course of this world." It was possible for these who were dead to walk! But, only according to the course of this world, which lies in the midst of death. They enjoyed themselves in that environment. It was in keeping with their whole outlook. They lived in that sin. They were obedient to the prince of the powers of the air. The writer means the prince of darkness. He inhabits this world and the atmosphere surrounding it. His is a mighty power — though not supreme. But, these people felt at home in this world of sin and were satisfied to follow the evil one wherever he would lead them. If you want to know what that was like, says Paul, then look at the lives of those around you who hate God and have sold themselves to Satan. That is the kind of a life you formerly lived! He calls them "sons of disobedience." To obey anyone above them is totally foreign to them. They are the offspring of disobedience!
But, one must not conclude that the state of sin in which they had been was any different from the state of sin of others. No, we all once lived that kind of life. He includes himself among such sinners. All boasting is excluded! By nature all once "lived in the lusts of the flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and mind" — of course! Why would anyone who is spiritually dead live any other way? But, remember, we were then the children of wrath even as all those who know not the Lord.
Made alive with Christ
Although Paul pictures the desperate condition of natural man most clearly, he also shows the beauty of salvation as clearly as it can be put in human language. Man was dead by nature and could therefore do nothing to relieve his condition — but God entered into his condition. The mercy of God is revealed. The love of God (to those who were children of wrath) rescued those who were dead. He did not love them because they were so good and so obedient but He loved them while they were dead! How can a person believe in a salvation and not believe in election! He chose those who were dead! He made us alive together with Christ! That's the answer to the mystery of the passage. Following the original order we see the riches of salvation so much more clearly than if we run ahead of the writer and say already in the first verse of this chapter "and you did he make alive." Don't try to improve on the language and thought of the Scriptures!
The parenthetical statement which we find at the close of verse five is indeed significant. "By grace ye are saved." This ought to be clear to everyone, that it is the grace of God and that grace alone which saves us. Salvation is indeed of the Lord. He lifted us up while we were dead and gave us life in Christ, Who is the only source of life. He then raised us up with Him and even made us to sit in the heavenly places with Him. From death to life; from poverty to riches; from the lowliest station to the highest! Christians suffered with Him, they will also be glorified in Him; they died with Him, they will also be raised to life in Him.
A progressing discovery
Verse seven almost seems to be somewhat out of tune with that which has gone before and therefore there are also many fanciful interpretations of this verse. However, Paul is very logical in this statement. All of that which is given us in our salvation, or all that is given to us in Christ, is not immediately evident. Every day of our lives unfolds more of the riches which have been given us in Him. That is all that he means by the ages to come. It is in all future time — both now and in eternity that the fullness of our salvation will be unfolded. That grace is so great that the Apostle as it were coins another word ("the exceeding riches of his grace") in order to make plain to the church what wealth she has received.
God's gift of faith
In verse eight we have perhaps one of the most beautiful summaries of the Christian faith and also the most comprehensive. Once more Paul repeats the fact that Christians have been saved by grace. Salvation was effected through faith. Now, is not that faith our contribution toward that salvation? He gives immediate reply: "and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." Saved by grace? Indeed. Wrought by faith? Indeed. But, even that faith which God's people exercise is His gift! Salvation is indeed of the Lord and we do not add one iota to it. This is the emphasis of this whole passage and is of the greatest importance for understanding the nature, not only of salvation, but later in this same epistle, also the nature of the church. In our own circles we often read of "accepting Christ," "deciding for Christ" etc. Is this bad? We know what is meant. We must speak the language of Scripture! No one who is dead "accepts" Christ or "decides" for Him. When we use the language which is common in the evangelical world, but is contrary to the language of Scripture, we minimize the grace of God. The exceeding riches of His grace must always be celebrated.
Not saved by good works
To make it clear that all the emphasis must rest on the grace of God and salvation as a free gift, he adds the words: "not of works that no man should glory." The Jews were always tempted to seek their eternal welfare, not entirely, but, nevertheless in part, in their good works. Then a man has something in which he can glory. He has accomplished something. Paul is not writing primarily to the Jews in this epistle but to those who have come out of the gentile world. But, this makes no difference. It is not only a characteristic of the Jew to embrace good works which he has done — it is the difficulty with which every human being strives. It takes a great deal of grace to live on grace! Jesus struck at the very heart of this matter when he told His followers that they would have to deny themselves and so follow Him. The self is the last person we want to deny. The gospel of Jesus Christ has made us fabulously rich but it has robbed us of all self-glorying. Yet, what would be man's own glorying? What does he possess whereof he may glory? The only thing he can claim as his own is his sin! Let those who glory, glory in the Lord Who has raised them from death to life and will give them so much in the time to come that it is beyond their ability to imagine.
Saved for good works
No sooner has the Apostle warned the readers against basing their hope for salvation on their works, than he begins to speak of the good works which the believer must do. In fact, those who have tasted of the redeeming grace of God are His workmanship. There is nothing in them which they owe to anyone but Him. He made them what they are. Now, in Christ Jesus He has created this workmanship for a purpose and the purpose is good works. In the churches of the Reformation there was some hesitancy to do justice to the Scriptural teaching concerning good works. They had seen the evil of an emphasis on such works becoming a misinterpretation of salvation as man's doing. But, although the doctrine is fraught with all manner of difficulty, it may not be ignored because it is the clear teaching of Scripture that good works are to be done. That's what God saved them for. God even prepared these works so that we should walk in them. The life of good works is therefore to be the climate of the redeemed life. Now, how does this differ from the works which Paul warned against in the previous verse? There the works were considered as those which might aid in the salvation of the individuals performing them. That, says Paul, is out of the question. Salvation is by grace alone. However, that redeemed life will bear a certain stamp and will be different from the unredeemed. The different life is what God redeemed us for. The mode of life must now correspond to His will, out of gratitude for the salvation which has been received. If life be viewed as a tree, the natural man wants to place his own works among the roots of that tree. The Scriptures teach that the good works of believers are found in the fruit of such a tree. Believers must bring forth fruit. That which is fruitless, barren, is good for nothing but is removed from its place. So important are these good works, that we are to walk in them, and that it may even be said that there is no salvation apart from them.
Questions for discussion:
- Is Paul going too far when he says that the natural man is dead in trespasses and sins? Is that your experience with unbelievers?
- Is it all right to sing: "I have decided to follow Jesus?" Is it all right to speak of "accepting Christ?" What's wrong with it? Is it harmless?
- God chose His people and gave them life even while they were dead in trespasses and sins, lie also speaks of "children of wrath." Who are they? Is it proper to say to everyone "God loves you"?
- Why do the Scriptures call us to faith and obedience, seeing these things are the gift of God? Why does the Bible call me to repent when only He can make me repent?
- Why is the whole matter of good works a "touchy" question? Can you understand why the Heidelberg Catechism brings up the subject three times?