Personal Questions | VBVM Staff | Nov-17-2010
By way of introduction, these verses are classic Pauline soteriology, and they establish a bedrock of truth upon which rests everything we can know about how we are saved and why we are saved. While these verses don't present everything we can know on these matters (see Romans 1-8 and 1Cor 1-2, for example), they do establish a foundation of truth that every Christian must understand if they wish to grasp the full meaning of the word "grace."
Looking at the passage verse-by-verse:
In verses 1-3 Paul reminds the church in Ephesus of their former spiritual state prior to coming to faith in Christ.
Notice the details:
1. They were dead in sin
The word for dead in Greek is nekros, which literally means a corpse or dead body. Since we know Paul is talking about a spiritual state (not a physical state), we must understand this deadness refers to our spiritual life. The Ephesians were alive physically but dead spiritually. Paul chose this comparison because it accurately describes not only the nature of an unbeliever but also the impossibility of an unbeliever recognizing and correcting his own condition. Just as a corpse cannot revive itself to life, neither can an unbeliever revive his own spirit into new life.
2. This state of spiritual deadness is according to the course of the world.
The word "course" in Greek is aion, which literally means age or a space of time. So, Paul explains that the natural state of every man and woman during this age or time is to be spiritually dead. This is normal and universal. We know from Romans and Genesis, that the cause for humanity's dead state is the sin of Adam, which we inherited at birth.
Paul is explaining that the Ephesians' spiritual deadness prior to faith was not unique. They simply shared in a condition that affects all humanity. Every person begins their life on earth in a state of spiritual deadness, and apart from a work of God to revive our spirit, this state will continue uninterrupted until our physical death.
3. This state is according to the prince of the power of the air, who is now working among the unbelieving world.
Spiritual deadness is a condition which finds its source in Satan. He was the first to fall, and his deceptive influence contributed to the fall of Man in the Garden. Today, he rules the hearts of those bound in spiritual deadness, and he exerts his controlling influence through the fear of death (see Heb 2:14-15). In short, all unbelievers are spiritually dead sons and slaves of the devil.
4. We were once among them, following after our flesh and living according to this dead nature.
Every Christian should understand their former state to be the same as every other unbeliever. No one is "born" a Christian. Every human being is a sinner, dead in their trespasses from birth. All humanity shares the same starting point as children of (God's) wrath.
From this opening, Paul sets the stage to explain why and how we were saved from this state of spiritual deadness. In the process, his gives us the Biblical definition of grace itself. See verses 4-7:
In verse 4, Paul now presents why we were rescued from this state of deadness: because God was rich in mercy and had a great love for us, He acted to save us. By itself, this statement negates any consideration of works. God's reason for saving us was entirely His own. Being rich in mercy and having a great love, God determined to save us. We did not merit His mercy, nor did we earn our salvation.
In verse 5, Paul moves to explaining how we were rescued from our dead spiritual state. Notice Paul begins by reminding us that "even when we were dead..." God made us (spiritually ) alive in Christ. The Bible is utterly clear on the sequence of events that lead to our salvation: God must act first, because men do not naturally seek God (see Romans 3:10-11). God must act first on our behalf, because dead corpses are not capable of reviving themselves. The Greek verb construction credits God with all action required to bring about the result. We share none of the action with God. By Himself and according to His own purpose and while we were still yet unaware of Him, He made us alive.
In verse 6, Paul completes the discussion of how we were saved by adding that our new spiritual life resulted in us being raised with Christ to be seated in heavenly places. Though we are presently located on earth physically, nevertheless we have been assigned a place spiritually at the right hand of the Father in Christ. Paul's point is that our salvation should not be appreciated as merely a change in status or intellectual thought (i.e., being saved isn't merely a matter of agreeing with the Gospel).
Rather, salvation it is a change of spiritual position before God. By His work, we have been moved, spiritually speaking, from our prior position as sons of the devil dead in sin to our new state as sons of God alive in Christ. According to this truth we must conclude that our new spiritual state is not reversible, because nothing can tear us away from Christ (and Paul says we are now seated "with Christ").
Finally, in verse 7 Paul returns to finish explaining why God saved us. He appointed us to salvation so that He might display the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness to us. In effect, we are His appointed audience to receive His grace and kindness, so that in the ages to come we may glorify Him for it.
Paul sums up his teaching in this passage with the classic definition of grace.
In verse 8, Paul says we were saved by grace. Grace is unmerited favor, and as Paul has already explained, it answers the question "why" we were saved. The answer is God showed us unmerited favor.
Next, Paul says the grace of God was manifested by faith. When the time came for God to bring us His grace, He delivered it through faith. It's important to understand what Paul is saying here. Paul has placed these terms in a specific order. Our faith was not the means by which we received grace. Instead, grace was the means by which we received faith.
Paul goes further in verse 8 to ensure we do not confuse his point. Paul says "it" (i.e., faith) was not of ourselves. We did not leave our state of spiritual deadness and come to believe God's word by our own efforts. Dead corpses cannot raise themselves. Instead, the faith we received was a gift of God (hence, it was grace). The moment a person is born again and moves from the kingdom of darkness and enters into the light of the truth of the Gospel, they do so because God, by grace, bestowed the gift of faith.
Paul further clarifies that God's manner of salvation precludes any possibility that our newfound state could be attributed to human works. Since our very faith is itself a gift of God, we must acknowledge that we are God's workmanship. Furthermore, God's work presupposes a purpose, and the purpose for His acting is so that we might do good works. As Jesus Himself said in Matt 5:16:
Our good works will display the handiwork of God. They do not produce our salvation; they result from our salvation.
Finally, Paul says that even our good works were prepared beforehand by God. When we endeavor to please God by our works, we must accomplish the work He has appointed for us. If we accomplish other work of our own choosing, we labor in our flesh and we do not please the Lord. Therefore, only those works He has purposed beforehand for us constitute "good works" done in faith.