And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of the flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV
The first chapter of Ephesians contained three main sections: Paul’s greeting to the saints of Ephesus (vv. 1-2), a doxology blessing God for the blessings that He has given us in Christ (vv. 3-14), and Paul’s thanksgiving and prayer for the Ephesians to have the eyes of their hearts enlightened by the Spirit to know grandeur of their salvation (vv. 15-23). The apostle concluded that chapter with a description of the power of God as revealed to us in the work of Christ through His resurrection, ascension, exaltation, and dominion. Beginning the second chapter, Paul now gives an explanation of how that work of Christ has brought us into the riches of our blessings of being in Him.
This passage is perhaps one of the succinct and explicit descriptions of the gospel in the entire Bible. Indeed, it is the heartbeat of Ephesians. It easily divides into three sections: our condition before Christ (vv. 1-3), our salvation in Christ (vv. 4-9), and our present walk with Christ (v. 10).
DEAD IN SIN // VERSES 1-3
So far, Ephesians has been filled with incredibly good news. We are in Christ. God chose us before the foundation of the world. God has adopted us as His sons and daughters, giving us the Spirit as the guarantee of our inheritance. God has redeemed us, forgiven us, and revealed to us the mystery of His will. Even now, the Spirit continues to guide us into an ever deeper understanding of these marvelous truths and realities in Christ. Furthermore, Paul has written all of these statements in the present tense, often while also looking forward to a future completion. Yet now he sets his sight backward. Using the past tense, for these next three verses, he is no longer describing our present position in Christ but rather our former status of being in sin.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked. Paul describes the source of our problem with two words, trespasses and sins, which both describe the same reality of disobeying Gods’ law. These two words also present us with the two categories of sin: omission and commission. Sin signifies missing the mark, while trespassing means going beyond the permitted boundaries. So from these two descriptions, we observe that disobedience to God’s laws and commands is both active and passive. For instance, the Third Commandment is not obeyed by avoiding God’s name altogether in an attempt to keep from profaning it; instead, it also reveals that we must hallow our Father’s name as Christ has taught us to pray. A failure to hallow God’s name is just as sinful as profaning it. Thus, our sin problem runs deep since we have both committed evil and refused to do good.
The result of our sin was death. Not sickness. Not corruption. Death. Of course, there certainly are ways in which sin is both a sickness and a corruption, but its effects run so much deeper. Those who are in their sins, just as we once were, are dead. A sickness might be healed. A corruption might also be mended. But there is no hope for the dead. No remedy can revive the deceased because medicines can only prolong dying. The dead in sin, therefore, do not need a prescription for getting better, nor do they need resuscitation; they need resurrection.
If verse 1 alone described our pre-Christ condition, the apostle’s point would still have been clear, but for any who would attempt to lighten the situation or, worse, to shift the blame off of themselves, Paul continues with verses 2-3. Notice that he begins by placing responsibility for sin squarely upon our shoulders by saying, in which you once walked. The cold, hard reality is that we did not stumble into sin; we actively walked in it. Like the eating of the forbidden fruit, like Cain’s murder of Abel, like David’s adultery with Bathsheba, like those who crucified Christ, we likewise choose to break the law of God. We have no moral high ground over the sins we read in the Bible. We are each in the same boat. We have each committed treason against the Holy One.
Indeed, this walking in sin, willfully choosing sin, is the pattern of the world, as the apostle goes on to say, following the course of this world. Worldliness and godliness are warring ideologies and antithetical lifestyles. James told us “that friendship with the world is enmity with God” (4:4). John warned us that “if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). Jude called false teachers “worldly people, devoid of the Spirit” (19). Paul told the Romans not to “be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (12:2). He spoke to Titus that the gospel trains “us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions” (2:12). And, of course, Jesus said that He was not of this world, and neither are His people any longer (John 17:16). Following the course of this world, therefore, can only lead us directly against God. The way of the world is contrary to the way of God.
This is also because “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). To follow the course of this world means following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. In fact, in John’s first epistle, he equates the spirit of the antichrist with worldliness (1 John 4:1-6), which is because for this finite time Satan is the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11). Worldliness and satanism are not two distinct ideas; rather, they are two sides of the same coin. Every sin follows the pattern of the “father of lies” (John 8:44), and the default pattern of the world is to imitate the evil one. Indeed, it is the easy road, the broad path that is so wide that it appears to have many separate roads. But make no mistake, all rejection of the one true God is satanism. By nature, we are all on this path toward destruction, and few will find the hard, narrow path to life for that very reason: it must be found. It requires rejecting the course of the world. It demands a restructuring of our very habits and thoughts, which is what Paul continues into in verse 3.
Our sin problem was not just “out there” in the world and with Satan; instead, we all once lived in the passions of the flesh. Sin is almost never caused by coercion. We give ourselves over to worldliness and satanism because we like it. We become enamored by the passions of the flesh, and we forsake the heavenly treasures. We reject the eternal in favor of the immediate. Sin makes candy-addicts of us all. It is sweet, enticing confection with absolutely no substance; in fact, it only brings harm. We sin because we love it.
But notice that Paul also preemptively strikes out another possible objection by saying that our sin was carrying out the desire of the body and the mind. We cannot claim that sin is merely a mindless habit that we reject with out minds but still find our bodies committing. No, we consciously desire sin. We knowingly reject His laws and commands in favor of sin’s instant gratification.
Finally, Paul returns again to our former state, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. This further explains the nature of our death in sin. We were not children of God; rather, we were children of His wrath. All of mankind, because of sin, is under God’s wrath, which His burning anger at sin. Wrath may seem to be a harsh and unjust term, but it is absolutely fitting. Does the almighty Creator not have the right to be wrathful against His own creation whenever it rebels against Him? When we consider the grandeur, majesty, and righteousness of God, wrath is the understandable response to our sin. What Paul describes in the next few verses, on the other hand, is truly beyond absolute comprehension.
ALIVE WITH CHRIST // VERSES 4-9
For the first three verses, the focus has been upon us, our sin and our damnation in God’s sight. Yet with two simple words, everything changes: but God. God Himself is now the primary subject. We created our own sin problem, but God alone will provide the solution. Our actions got us into this mess, but God’s work alone can repair it. Let us walk through this glorious good news phrase by phrase.
But God, being rich in mercy. As a billionaire abounds in cash, God abounds in mercy. But what is mercy? God’s mercy is His compassionate response to the sinful children of His wrath. Mercy acknowledges that a particular punishment is just and right yet out of love and pity chooses to forego the penalty. In other words, God’s mercy is not giving to us what we deserve, namely, His wrath.
Consider the foundation of His mercy: because of the great love with which we loved us. God’s mercy is rooted in His abounding love. Tozer rightly claims, “We do not know, and may never know, what love is, but we can know how it manifests itself, and that is enough for us here.” John tells us explicitly that love is an attribute of God, a description of His very being. Love, however, is not God. God is love and gives love, and love finds its definition only in Him. We taste and see the goodness of God and His great love toward us throughout the Scriptures as God repeatedly acts on our behalf, for our good, for our redemption, for our wellbeing, and for our ultimate joy. God’s loving mercy toward us is a reminder that His disposition toward us is for our good, even though we constantly reject Him by choosing sin.
Furthermore, His merciful love extends toward us even when we were dead in our trespasses. Paul made this same point to the Romans, saying, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (5:7-8). God did not love us in our cleanness and purity because we were instead defiled and rotten. In our living death, God gave to us His mercy. His love for us was so vast “that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Christ died for God-hating, sin-lovers such as us. He died in our place, taking the fullness of God’s wrath upon Himself, paying our eternal debt against Him.
By this sacrifice of Christ, God has now made us alive together with Christ. This is a clear positional change. Once we were dead, but now we are alive. In sin, there could only be death, but in Christ, there can only be life. As we said earlier, this is not a mere healing or resuscitation; this is a resurrection. What once was dead is now alive! This is a clear and definitive transformation. After all, what difference is more noticeable than the difference between death and life. In fact, just as Adam became a living being whenever God breathed life into His nostrils, so also do we become alive with Christ whenever we receive the indwelling and sealing of the Holy Spirit.
Before Paul continues to further describe our being alive in Christ, he interrupts himself with this exclamation, by grace you have been saved. The apostle will unpack this good news in verses 8-9, but his joy in this gift of God cannot wait until then. Even as mercy is not receiving the penalty that we rightly deserved, grace is the free giving of what we entirely do not deserve. We earned God’s wrath, but by God’s mercy, His wrath was placed upon Christ in our place. Jesus was crushed, and we are spared. In our sin, we are dead, ignorantly enjoying the trivial pleasures of this world, but God has given us life in Christ, displaying to us the radiance of His glory as our greatest joy and treasure. But we will return to grace in just a moment.
In verses 6-7, Paul continues to describe our new life in Christ, saying that God also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Not only have we been spiritually resurrected in Christ (remember: our physical resurrection is still to come), but we have also spiritually ascended with Christ to the right hand of the Father. After all, Paul is mirroring the language that he used in verse 20 of chapter one. There he spoke of God’s work “in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” (1:20). Physically, we remain here still battling against sin, but spiritually, we are seated with Christ who is our mediator before the Father. But this present reality is also an eternal one as well. In the coming ages, for all eternity, the incalculable wealth of God’s grace will be displayed in us as the recipients of God’s kindness. Our eternal life in Christ is also an eternally visible manifestation of God’s mercy, love, grace, and kindness. As the beautiful light of the moon is only a reflection of the sun’s brilliant radiance, so too does our redemption make us into reflective images of God’s awesome glory.
Now in verse 8, Paul returns to clarify the means of our wondrous salvation: for by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. We have contributed nothing to our salvation. Our being in Christ, raised with Him into the heavenly places to receive every spiritual blessing, is not a result of works. We have nothing in ourselves to boast about. Just as Lazarus had no part in bringing himself back to life, so too is our being alive with Christ a unilateral work of God, which theologians call monergism. Our salvation is not synchronistic, where we collaborate with God to be saved (that view is called synergism). We contribute nothing and deserve no boast or praise. Salvation is purely an act of grace from God the Father, worked by Christ the Son, and applied by the Holy Spirit.
Yet also notice the means by which we receive this gift of God: through faith. “Now faith,” as Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is our confident trust in what our eyes cannot presently see. Faith is not a work itself; rather, our faith in Christ means placing our trust solely and completely upon His work for us. We only must believe in the gospel, the good news that Jesus brings dead sinners to life in Himself, and we are saved. Faith is the channel by which we receive the grace of God, and even our faith itself is a gift of God. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). If God did not first communicate to us His Word, we would have no faith. Thus, even our faith, which appears to be an action on our part, still comes first from God. Only in Christ by the grace of God are we saved through faith. You have no boast before God, and once we look beyond ourselves, we find the immeasurable riches of his grace more than enough to satisfy our souls for all time.
GOD’S WORKMANSHIP // VERSE 10
While these ten verses certainly are the heart of Ephesians, this single verse provides the summation of the whole letter. We can divide this verse into four clauses: 1) for we are his workmanship, 2) created in Christ Jesus for good works, 3) which God prepared beforehand, and 4) that we should walk in them. Of these four clauses, one and three deals again with God’s preemptive work upon us and in us, while two and four describe our proper response. This breakdown of the verse is critical because we can all too easily leave behind the grace of God in order to discuss the works that we are now called to accomplish. But even while Paul is stirring us up to good works, he has not abandoned the grace of God. We should walk in good works (that is the central idea of this verse after all), but we can only do so because we are God’s workmanship. We have been created in Christ. Like a potter makes a vessel for an intended use, so has God created us in Christ for good works.
We should also clarify quickly that good works are obeying the commands of God. If we are not careful, we can hear the call to do good works and immediately begin to judge for ourselves what they might include. As with all things, the Scriptures are our authority and guide. We do good works by obeying the commands and laws of our God, and He has rescued us and resurrected us to do these good works.
This is why James 2 is not a contradiction with our present text. We are truly saved by grace alone through faith alone, not by works; however, our faith is then seen by our good works. “As the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). God has created us to obey His commands by loving Him and loving our neighbor. A disregard for God’s commands through steadfast disobedience actually reveals a belief in God that is shared by the demons. After all, the evil spirits are likely surer of God’s reality than anyone alive, yet their belief is not faith. We, however, who have been made alive with Christ are now a people who “delight in the law of the LORD” (Psalm 1:2). We no longer find God’s commands burdensome because we know that they have been perfectly fulfilled for us in Christ. Therefore, we are now free to declare with the psalmist, “O how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97).
Doing these good works, obeying God’s law, is now our daily walk. Once we walked in our trespasses and sins, but now we walk in good works. Or as Paul will say in chapter four, we “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which” we have been called (4:1). And again, “you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds” (4:17). Or as he will say in chapter five, “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (5:2). And again, “look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (5:15-16). For we who have been made alive with Christ by grace through faith, how can we not also walk in the good works for which we were created and that God prepared beforehand for us to do? How can we not lovingly obey our great God and Savior?
 Tozer, 169-170.