1And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,
2in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.
Prior to being redeemed by God in Christ and being given such a great inheritance and promise in Christ, we were sinners, dead in our sins and deserving of eternal death (Romans 6:23). We all deviate from the truth, thereby missing the mark of God’s holy and perfect standards. None of us were excepted from this condition (Romans 3:23), for every person born as a human being is born with a deceitful and wicked heart (Jeremiah 17:9) that only Christ can change as He is received in faith and repentance and comes to indwell His children. As descendants of Adam, the first sinner, all of us carry innate sinfulness, and thus we naturally sin (1 Corinthians 15:22). We are prone to do evil, to love evil, and to remain evil because we are born dead in sin. There is no spiritual desire or love for God in the heart of the natural man. He is opposed to the things of God. Paul elaborates upon the natural condition of man in 1 Corinthians 2:14 saying, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” Man as he is born naturally into the world is unable, apart from the grace of God manifested through the Holy Spirit, to both accept and understand spiritual things. Left to himself and apart from any divine intervention, he will choose disobedience leading to hell one hundred percent of the time. He understands that God has expectations and that there are consequences for violating His standards (Romans 1:32), but he willfully participates in them anyway. The natural state of man is thus one of incurable self-deception save for the intervention of divine grace. He doesn’t even seek God of his own initiative, for none seek God (Romans 3:11). Salvation is thus ultimately a work of God in the heart of man in which He draws men to Himself (John 12:32). All men are called, but only a few are chosen in that they respond in faith to God’s gracious gift in Christ (Matthew 22:14). As the Spirit calls to man’s heart, man must respond in belief and faith, choosing to trust in Christ and repent of his sins. If he humbles himself and does this, his spirit can be awakened, and his mind will be able to understand spiritual things. To not respond in humility is to blaspheme the Spirit and remain in darkness, destined for hell (Mark 3:29).
The saved are those who receive the Spirit and are born again unto new life in Christ. They go on to praise God for His grace and His gift, recognizing His goodness and sovereignty over enlightening their minds and hearts so that they would be broken over their sin and respond in faith to Christ. God is the One Who alone can bring life to the lifeless and spiritually destitute. No man can open another man’s heart unless God spiritually opens it in His grace. Yet our calling is to preach the gospel to all, for God uses His Word to open hearts to faith (Romans 1:16, 10:17) as we declare it to them as His witnesses (Acts 1:8). Christ and His Word are sufficient, and we must trust in God to do what we cannot (John 15:5, Hebrews 4:12). This is why the gospel message is called the “word of His grace” (Acts 14:3, 20:32), for man is fully dependent upon the grace of God from the beginning of salvation to the end, since Jesus is both the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). This does not keep man from his responsibility to place his faith in Christ and His Word (Hebrews 11:6).
Those who have not received the grace of God in salvation are unable to walk in the Spirit, for they do not have the Spirit to lead and guide them in the way of truth. They live indicative of who they really are in their hearts, sinning because they are sinners. Their deeds are in line with their father, the devil (John 8:44), and the evil world system over which he is prince (Ephesians 2:2). Satan is the mastermind of deception and lying, and he is ultimately the enemy of the Christian (Ephesians 6:12). Christians used to be enslaved to him because they were enslaved to sin, but once they turn to Christ, they are free. They no longer have to continue in sin. In fact, true Christians do not make a practice of sin (1 John 3:9). That is, they do not celebrate and pass their time in a lifestyle of sinfulness. They still stumble (James 3:2) and may rebel for a time (as even King David did, concealing his sin for a time), but they have cast their former ways aside. They used to walk after the flesh and according to the ways of the world because they loved the world. They loved evil, and they were devoted to their sin. But Christ moved in their hearts to show them the exceeding offense it was against a holy God, and He showed them His wonderful grace and love in being crucified on the cross for their sake. They responded to the gracious call of God in repentance and faith, and now they have different loves and desires (2 Corinthians 5:14). Christ rules them, rather than the devil. They have come under the authority of the King of Kings, and they no longer serve the whims of the prince of this world. God allows Satan to work evil on the earth, which has been cursed, and such is his kingdom. Yet God advances His kingdom in the hearts of those who receive Him, and ultimately, He will establish a literal kingdom on the literal earth.
There are children of God, and there are children of the devil (1 John 3:10). We are either one or the other, and the Ephesians have laid aside their associations with the devil by no longer loving the world but choosing to love Christ. They are now children of God, with a wonderful inheritance coming, having been saved by His grace through faith.
3Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
Paul makes it clear that Christians are no better than the world as far as how they enter the world. All are born into sin, and thus they live out the lusts of the flesh. They indulge the flesh and the mind, going after sinful pleasures that bear the consequence of hell. Thus, all people, including believers before they received grace, were destined for an eternity without God, being children of wrath in that God’s wrath abided on us all because of our sin. The beautiful thing is that God knew that He would reach out to us and that we would respond to His call in faith, thereby freeing us from being children of wrath so that we could be children of the Light (Ephesians 5:8). Those who have received this grace look back at their former lives, viewing what they had done with as being shameful, rather than finding any pleasure in it (Romans 6:21).
4But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
5even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
6and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
7so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
God is credited as the ultimate initiator of salvation, though this in no way denies our responsibility to respond in faith. God does call all people to be saved, but only some respond, demonstrating the reality of their hearts which God knew all along. It was because of His mercy that He demonstrated love to the world (Romans 5:8). It wasn’t because man was so wonderful, but it was because man was so evil and still God was merciful. The praise and glory of salvation thus is ultimately God’s.
Though we were dead in our sin, God supernaturally awakened our hearts and minds to see the truth of our condition and to repent. This is a work of divine grace as the Holy Spirit convicts hearts to respond in faith. A person might think he is alive and well in his sin, but he is spiritually dead. He needs the grace of God to see what is truly life, which is knowing Christ (John 17:3). Thus, it is by grace that we are saved because God is the initiator, enabler, and the one who empowers our salvation, giving us the grace to choose Him and even want to choose Him. A Christian can recognize that He is a result of grace because he knows that there was nothing within him that would have chosen or sought God unless God was working in his heart to seek him first and foremost. Man does seek God, but it is always by divine grace (Jeremiah 29:13, Matthew 7:7-8).
God sees, works, and exists outside of time so that He sees the future in the past. It is as good as done in God’s sight that we are already seated with Him in the heavenly places, having been made alive together with Christ and raised with Him into heaven and new, eternal life. Our future inheritance is as good as done, even though we have yet to experience the fullness of it. Christ is seated at the right hand of God, implying that He is loved by the Father and, especially, that He has all power over all things, being only subject to the Father. That we are seated with God implies that we are also in a position of rule, power, and authority. Indeed, we will reign with Christ (2 Timothy 2:12), and forever God will be showering us with spiritual blessings from the treasury of His riches because of His great love toward us. God is able to love us like this with a love and kindness that is of such a surpassing value to anything this world can promise or offer because He loves His Son, and we are seen as perfect and holy because of the grace we have received through Him.
There is nothing inherently wonderful, good, or pure about mankind. But we who have trusted in Christ have a great inheritance coming because, and only because of, divine grace. This should lead us to praise and thank God.
8For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
9not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
That we are saved by grace through faith clearly indicates that we needed grace to do something that we couldn’t do on our own. Being dead in our sin, we couldn’t make ourselves spiritually alive unless the grace of God moved in our hearts to convict us of sin and turn in repentance, placing our trust in Christ for forgiveness of sin. Faith is not merely a profession or intellectual assent to various propositions regarding Christ, but it is a work of God in which He transforms a person’s heart to love Him and what is good rather than what is evil. He changes a person at the deepest level, indwelling him and leading him into all truth. This will be a lifetime of growth and change with failures along the way, but true saving faith is accompanied by good works which result (James 2:17).
Works do not lead to salvation, or such would be denying original sin and man’s inability apart from divine grace to be spiritually discerned. Man’s only hope is that God’s grace will work, which it will, if he receives Christ by faith. God wants none to perish (2 Peter 3:9), and He takes no delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). Thus, we can expect that God would bestow grace on all people to repent, but the issue is that many reject it. They trust their own works to save them, or they simply don’t care about being saved at all. The reality is that they need the grace of God to be saved, and they need to respond in faith to the gospel of Christ. If salvation was based on merit and human performance, all of us would be doomed. Fortunately, because of God’s love, it is not based on merit but upon grace. Our part is to believe the truth about what God has said about our need and Christ’s remedy for it. We must respond in faith which is naturally accompanied by repentance of sin (Luke 13:5). Repentance is not a work, but it is the immediate result of saving faith by divine grace. We must believe that salvation is not of ourselves. 2 Corinthians 3:5 makes it clear that we have no adequacy in ourselves for salvation or sanctification. We are saved by grace through faith and we grow by grace through faith. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone by the work of Christ alone to the glory of God alone. Man can take no credit for his salvation, though he certainly does have a responsibility to choose whom or what he will serve (Joshua 24:15). Yet, even his choice, though not a matter of fate even though it was foreordained, will be manifested as having been wrought in the grace of God (John 3:21). Every decision for salvation is ultimately worked out by the grace of God, not the works or self-effort of man.
Salvation is not an independent experience, but a dependent one in that we are dependent upon divine grace. If we could save ourselves, then we should get the praise for this wonderful idea, transaction, and eternal promise. But, as Paul has been explaining for the entire epistle up to this point, salvation was God’s plan and God’s idea, even before the foundation of the world. It brings Him glory because it was because of His love. Man cannot take credit for salvation or even the concept of it. Salvation is of God, by God, and for God as all things are (Isaiah 48:11). Our entire lives are to give God glory, and the first moment that a life gives the glory to God due His name is when he responds to grace through faith in repentance. Salvation is never of ourselves or by ourselves, nor is it by our own works and merit. We choose because we were first chosen, we have faith because we received grace, and we love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). We have nothing to boast in except for Christ (1 Corinthians 1:31). It is an absolute mockery of God and a ridicule of the cross to suppose that we bring something good to the table that would enable us to get to heaven. That God would have to send His own Son to die for us should be evidence enough that it needed to happen. In order to be saved, it is essential that a man recognize his sinfulness and utter need for God in order to be made holy and righteous. His salvation is based only in what God did for Him through Christ, not on some merit of his own which would give him grounds to boast, take credit, and glory in himself. God desires the glory alone, and salvation is totally by grace.
10For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
Man is not saved by works, but he is saved unto good works. This is where the notion of repentance comes in (Acts 17:30). Instead of doing evil things, we are to do good things by the grace of God as it overflows out of our hearts. Our salvation demonstrates that we are the work of the love, grace, and plan of God from before time. We live as testimonies to the grace and love of God because He has forgiven us and changed us, having appointed good works for us to do. God fully understands that salvation involves repentance which leads to fruitbearing, albeit fruitbearing that might be inconsistent and weak, though it need not be (2 Peter 1:3).
Believers, God’s workmanship, even have good works that have been prepared beforehand by God for them to walk in. God ordained salvation to result in good works, having planned the good works even before time just as He planned salvation itself. Salvation and good works are mutually exclusive; one cannot be had without the other. This is why “cheap grace,” the notion that a person is saved apart from repenting unto new life, is not Biblical. We are not saved by works, but we are saved to works. Yet these are works that are likewise a result of divine grace, not self-effort. The Christian is a fruit of divine labor, designed by Christ to go and bear fruit (John 15:16). We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ to manifest His glory in and through us. Our salvation and our sanctification with its accompanying fruit is evidence that we were reengineered from the inside out by God Himself by grace through faith.
11Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called "Uncircumcision" by the so-called "Circumcision," which is performed in the flesh by human hands--
12remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
13But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Paul here writes to the Gentiles at the church at Ephesus, reminding them of their state before Christ. Though Paul teaches that outward circumcision is nothing and that inward circumcision of the heart is what matters (Romans 2:29), implying that some Gentiles could have been saved apart from being a Jew (Romans 2:14), there was still a sense in which the Gentiles were “far off” from the covenant promises of God. God had made a special covenant with Israel that He would be their God and they would be His people. They were a chosen nation of God because God simply decided to set His love and grace upon them (Deuteronomy 7:6-8, Psalm 33:12, Ezekiel 16). God didn’t choose Israel because of their own merit but because He loved them even though they were the least of all peoples. They were selected by God by grace to be a people that was a special treasure to God (Deuteronomy 7:6-8). This was something that was particular to the Jews and which the Gentiles had no part in, though it is true that some Gentiles (e.g. Ruth (Ruth 1:16) and Rahab (James 2:25)) were saved prior to the New Covenant (c.f. Romans 2:15). The Jews had the covenant of God (e.g. Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 11) and the promises of God (Genesis 12:1-3) for blessing, the first being condition and the second unilateral. The Gentiles had no such promises or covenants before Christ. The Jews had the rituals, the Law, the priests, the tabernacle, the temple, the sacrifices, the ark of the covenant, and so on, while the Gentiles had nothing. They were not citizens of Israel or children of the promise. Yet in Christ, they have been brought near. In the new covenant, all people can approach the presence of God directly, not going to a temple but being the temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19). Thus, we all have equal access to the blessing of God in Christ, Christ being the fulfillment of the Law (Romans 8:4).
14For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall,
15by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace,
16and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.
Christ is peace for all who receive Him, making it so that there is no longer any distinction between Jew and Gentile because both groups in Him are one. There is no more dividing wall as there is even literally to this day in Israel. All who receive Christ are literally part of the kingdom of God. As Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In the new covenant, Christ abolished the hostility and strife between God and man and between Jews and Gentiles.
Man must be reconciled to God, and this spiritual reconciliation is the groundwork for reconciliation on the earth between men. Racism’s only true end can be found in men being changed by the love of God to love others. In the family of God, we are all sons and daughters of God and brothers and sisters with one another. There is no division spiritually, and there ought not to be any practically either.
Interestingly, the very thing the Jews boasted in, the Law, their covenant with God, was the thing that manifested their enmity with God and others. The Law revealed their sin, and yet they tried to earn God’s favor by keeping it. They needed to obey God because of grace, not for grace. This grace then should have flowed over into how they treated foreigners, rather than scorning them as they often did (Luke 10:30-37). The ultimate need of both Jews and Gentiles is to be reconciled to God through Christ Who gave up His body on the cross so that we might be made into new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). He bore the wrath of God which we should have faced so that we could be made at peace with God (Romans 5:1). Christ has therefore made it possible for peace to rule if He is allowed to rule in the hearts of men (Romans 12:18). In Christ, we must put on the new self, and reckon the old self dead (Colossians 3:9-10, Romans 6:6). Having been made new by the promises of the New Covenant (Hebrews 7:22, 8:6, 12:24), we can view others in a new way, loving them and being at peace with them as much as depends upon us (Romans 12:18).
17AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR;
18for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.
Christ’s life and message was one of being reconciled to God and being made at peace with God. He preached the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles, not concerning Himself with the boundary of separation. He loved the world and came to demonstrate love to the world (John 3:16). Both Jews and Gentiles at Ephesus and everywhere have the ability to be reconciled to God in and through Christ because of God’s grace. We have the same Spirit indwelling us, and we both have the same Father.
19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household,
20having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone,
21in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord,
22in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.
Any who were outside of Christ, Jew and Gentile alike, were not citizens of the true heavenly kingdom of God. The Jews had a citizenship in an earthly kingdom, but only those who were justified by faith were in the true heavenly kingdom. Those who are truly saved are saints in Jesus, not because of their own merits but because they have received His righteousness in God’s sight. Thus, sinners who have not received Christ are the real foreigners, not just strictly the Gentiles. We who are saved are part of God’s household (1 Peter 2:9), being indwelt by Christ and serving as the temple of God. The Jews had a temple which God indwelt, but now we are the temple (1 Corinthians 6:19). God wants to indwell all people, whether Jew or Gentile, if only they will receive Him by faith. He wants to extend citizenship to all people, from every tribe, tongue, and nation, and indeed (Revelation 5:9), some of all people groups will be in heaven praising God, having trusted in Christ (Revelation 7:9).
The true church is composed of people from all tribes, tongues, and nations. Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of the foundation, being the first to be raised from the dead to the glory of the Father. We, too, who have trusted in Him, will be granted new life as well and be raised with Him to enter heaven.
The apostles were the first, having seen Christ and preached His gospel. The prophets of the Old Testament and John the Baptist were foundational in that they prepared the way for the Lord and the advent of the New Testament church, foretelling of His coming and challenging their listeners to repent. And there were likely prophets in early New Testament times (c.f. Ephesians 3:5) as well who taught the Word of God as God revealed it to them, which is probably what Paul has in mind here. I believe the gift and office of prophet and the office of apostle are no longer needed now that the Scriptures are complete. We have all the revelation from God that we need in His Word, and the church has been established, which the apostles were called to do.
We need to recognize that the foundation of the household of God, the saints of God past, present, and future, is the truth which Christ was and taught to the apostles and early church. This body of truth which Christ personified is the bedrock of the household of God. The church is not built upon a man but the Son of God and the Truth which He defines, and God graciously uses men to “house” His truth (Matthew 16:15-18). The church is grounded on the truth, and its purpose it to support and uphold it (1 Timothy 3:15) as we as the household of God are built up and strengthened in truth by the Word of God. As a corporate body, all believers, as we are sanctified and ultimately glorified, are being fitted into this holy house of God. This is important because it proves that there is no dividing barrier between people who are in Christ, for all of us are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. Each of us are fitted together into God’s house so that it can be built up and keep growing.