STUDIES IN EPHESIANS

Copyright © Rosemary Bardsley 2003

STUDY THREE: THE INCREDIBLE IMPACT OF SALVATION [2:1-10]

If you are using these studies for group study, use the questions and headings in the Tasks to promote discussion. In most cases teaching on the Task questions is given below the Task.

We have seen in Ephesians 1:1-23 some of the spiritual blessings that are ours in Christ Jesus; we have also seen the amazing power of God that is active for us. To firm up in our understanding of the fact that the blessings of salvation do not have their cause or their source in us, and that we are not saved by any power or any reason in ourselves, Paul, in 2:1-10, tells us bluntly that we are totally incapable of doing anything towards our salvation, and that God, in an act of sheer grace, did it all in and through his Son Jesus Christ.

A. WHAT WE REALLY ARE APART FROM JESUS CHRIST

Task #1: Study these verses and find out the truth about yourself. [Teaching on each point follows in points A.1 to A.8]
Verse
The real truth about every human being, including me

1

2

3

5

So that we will really comprehend the greatness of our salvation, in 2:1-10 Paul reminds us of who and what we really are in ourselves, and that it is nothing of our own that caused and achieved this amazing salvation. He tells us:

A.1 Before we were saved we were 'dead in transgressions and sins' [2.1,5]

'Dead' is a particularly emotive and meaningful word. It immediately promotes revulsion in us. Whatever is dead has ceased to live ... it can do nothing, it can think nothing, it can will nothing, it can desire nothing; it cannot change; it cannot move; it cannot hear; it cannot see; it cannot feel.

We, Paul says, were dead in our trespasses and sins. This spiritual deadness is described in other ways in other Scriptures. If we study them we will understand more about what this deadness is of which Paul speaks.

Task #2: Write out the key words or phrases from these verses which communicate the truth about our spiritual deadness and inability.
Reference
Key phrase expressing spiritual deadness

Matthew 13:13-15

Matthew 15:14

John 3:3-8

John 6:44,65

John 8:43

John 14:17

John 15:5b

Romans 1:21

Romans 5:6

Romans 5:16-18

Romans 6:17-18

2 Corinthians 4:4

Ephesians 4:17-19

Colossians 1:13

Hebrews 11:6

We read in these references about blindness, darkness, hardness of heart and mind, enslavement, inability to understand, condemnation, impossibility of pleasing God, powerlessness, and the like. These all inform us about the 'deadness' in which we are bound by our sin.

But perhaps the most instructive indicators of what being 'dead in transgressions and sins' means are the promises Jesus Christ made based on his I AM claims ... for most of these claims have a direct association with life. Consider:

'I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty' [John 6:35]. Jesus promised to those who come to him constant sustenance. This claim of Jesus indicates that apart from him there is only spiritual starvation and spiritual death. Thus 'death' is the absence of all that is necessary to sustain spiritual life.

'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life' [John 8:12]. Here the opposite of life is darkness: spiritual death is a state of spiritual darkness ... of ignorance of the true God who is the source of life.

'I am the gate, whoever enters through me will be saved ... The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life ... ' [John 10:9-10]. Here the shepherd, who lay in the gateway of the sheepfold, protects and guards the sheep against all that would destroy or kill them: spiritual death is exposure and vulnerability to all that would destroy us spiritually .

'I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. ... I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me' [John 10:11,14]. Here we learn by inference, that spiritual death is such a terrible state that the good shepherd sacrifices his own life to save us from it , and, spiritual death is the opposite of knowing Christ and being known by him.

'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die' [John 11:25,26]. Just as this verse teaches us that for those who believe in Christ spiritual life is a reality that persists beyond this physical life, it also teaches us by inference that spiritual death is a reality on both sides of physical death.

'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me' [John 14:6].

This assumes that spiritual death is:

  1. being on a life path other than Jesus Christ;
  2. having a concept of God and reality other than that revealed in Jesus Christ;
  3. expecting spiritual life from any source other than Jesus Christ; and
  4. separation from God.

This fourth description of spiritual death perhaps encapsulates its core meaning and its ultimate despair: spiritual death is separation from God.

'I am the vine ... no branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine ... you are the branches ... ' [John 15:1,4,5]. Spiritual death is existing unconnected to the source of life.

Task #3: As a personal or group exercise, think of all the facets of salvation [some of which were listed in Ephesians 1:3-14], and for each salvation concept identify spiritual death as its opposite. For example: 'spiritual death is the opposite of having our sins forgiven'. This exercise will give you added insight into the significance of Paul's statement that we were 'dead in transgressions and sins'.

A.2 Before we were saved we 'followed the ways of this world' [2:2]

Task #4: Read the references in the table below and write out in your own wards what they say about the ways of this world.
Reference
What it says about the ways of this world

Luke 12:29-30

John 3:19

John 7:7

John 14:17

John 15:18,19

John 17:25

Galatians 4:3

2 Peter 1:4

1 John 2:16

1 John 3:1

2 John 7

The two dominant aspects of the ways of the world are ignorance of the true God and corruption of life. The entire Bible witnesses to the partnership of these two. Read Romans 1:18-32 to understand how suppression of the knowledge of God results in a corrupt lifestyle. This, Paul states in Ephesians 2:2, is where and what we once were before Christ saved us.

A.3 Before we were saved we followed the ways of Satan [2:2]

Before we were saved, not only did we live in accordance with the ways of the world, we also lived according to the ways of Satan, here described as 'the ruler of the kingdom of the air' and 'now at work in those who are disobedient.' This pervasive conformity to the devil's ways is referred to several times in the New Testament.

Task #4: Check out these references and write in what they teach us about the influence of Satan in the world.
Reference
What it teaches about Satan's influence in the world

John 12:31

John 14:30

John 16:11

2 Corinthians 4:4

Ephesians 6:12

1 John 4:3

1 John 4:4

Revelation 12:9

Revelation 13:3

This conformity to the ways of Satan includes not only the overt wickedness, but all false religions, and all human pride in which we think that by our own actions we can merit the favour of God.

We must be careful here that we do not blame Satan for our conformity to his ways; he is the 'god' or 'prince' of this world not because he has forced our allegiance but because we, the inhabitants of the world, duped by his deceptions, chose allegiance to him, believing him rather than God, imitating him, rather than imaging God. God will bring Satan to his just end, but God holds each human being responsible for his/her own sin.

[This following of the ways of the world and of Satan is part of the meaning of being 'dead in transgressions and sins' already noted.]

A.4 Before we were saved we were just like everybody else [2:3]

Paul states that Satan is 'the spirit now at work among those who are disobedient' - making a distinction between the present state of Christians and their past state. Before, he says:

  • All of us lived among them ... that is, we shared in their disobedience.
  • All of us gratified the cravings or desires of the flesh.
  • All of us followed the desires and the thoughts of the flesh.
  • All of us were, by our very nature, the objects of God's wrath, just like the rest of the world.

Before our conversion to Christ there was nothing about us or in us that singled us out for special mention or attention by God. We must not let the reference to the 'cravings', 'desires' or 'thoughts' of the 'sinful nature' [NIV] or 'flesh' [KJV] confuse us, for Paul includes himself in this description, even though he states in Philippians 3:5,6 that he was 'in regard to the law, a Pharisee ...' and 'as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

The Greek word translated 'sinful nature' is simply the word for flesh, and as Paul uses it, it does not refer only to 'bad' actions, but to all actions done outside of faith; he uses 'flesh' to man in isolation, man in his separation from God. 'Flesh' can be very 'good': indeed the Pharisees were exceptionally 'good', but it was a goodness of the flesh: a self-centred, self-promoting, self-sustaining goodness that had no relationship with the Spirit of God. They lived according to the flesh, not according to the Spirit, and as such were as spiritually dead and incapable of pleasing God as the vilest sinner [see Romans 8:5-11 (if you are reading the NIV substitute 'flesh' for 'sinful nature')].

So, Paul says, we were just like the rest, living our lives is isolation from God, and objects of his wrath. All of the judgement and condemnation that was due to sin hung over us ... just the same as it hung over everyone else.

In Romans Paul puts it this way: 'there is no difference ... for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God ... ' [3:22,23]. If we do not realize this, if we think that there is something in us that moved God to save us, then we will never be capable of appreciating the greatness of his saving grace. So long as we think that we have merited even the smallest bit of our salvation, so long as we minimize our sin even that little bit, we will also minimize grace, we will minimize God's love, we will minimize the impact of the cross, we will minimize salvation, and we will minimize our assurance and peace with God.

So Paul leaves us with no excuse for such a minimization of our sinfulness, and the associated minimization of grace. We were all just like the rest.

B. WHAT GOD REALLY DID FOR US IN CHRIST

B.1 Why God did what he did [2:4-10]

Having told us that we were self-focused, disobedient people who have followed Satan rather than God, and upon whom God's wrath is poured out, totally undeserving of salvation, quite unqualified to live with God or obtain a blessing from him, Paul goes on to tell us that God, nevertheless, has saved us ... and he tells us why.

Task #5: Read and discuss the verses below and write in the reasons why God did what he did for us in and through Christ. [The number of lines for each verse indicates the number of reasons in that verse.]
 
The real truth about why God did what he did for us in Christ

4

5

7

8

9

10

In these verses we find both 'Why did God save us?' reasons and 'What did God save us for?' reasons.

If God did not save us because of some merit in us, why did he save us? Paul answers:

  • Because of his great love for us.
  • Because of his rich mercy.
  • Because of his grace.
  • Because of his kindness.

To make sure that we understand that we contributed nothing to God saving us, Paul states:

  • It is not from ourselves.
  • It is a gift.
  • It is not because of or related to, our works.
  • We cannot boast that we have merited it.

To answer the question 'what did God save us for? ... what purpose in was in his mind when he saved us, Paul teaches:

  • God saved us to show the incomparable riches of his grace.
  • God saved us to do the good works which he planned for us to do.

The purpose and intention of God's saving us in Christ is that, having been restored to a right relationship with himself, we will live genuine human lives ... lives lived to his glory, lives that express his image. Thus our salvation in Christ is a reversal of the Genesis 3 rebellion, a restoration of a face-to-face relationship with God in which the reflection of his nature is again possible.

For Scripture references: Genesis 1:26,27; Matthew 5:16; 1 Corinthians 10:30; 2 Corinthians 3:181 Peter 2:9,10; Colossians 1:27.

B.2 What did God actually do when he saved us? [2:4-10]

Paul also tells us what God did when he saved us. Remember, we were 'dead in transgressions and sins', we 'followed the ways of the world', we followed the ways 'of the ruler of the kingdom of the air', we were 'disobedient', we were completely self-focused in our desires and thoughts, and we were the objects of God's wrath. But now Paul can describe a whole new reality ...

Task #6: Read and discuss the verses below, and write in what they say has happened to us:
 
The real truth about what God has done for us in Christ

5

6

7

8

10

The Christian, united to Christ by faith, now exists in a completely new set-up, in a completely new relationship with God. While, if the Christian were to try to stand on his own two feet in the presence of God, the old reality would still be valid, and the wrath of God would still be upon him, the believer no longer stands before God alone and naked in his sinfulness: he is in Christ, he is with Christ. All that accrues to Christ, the one perfect human being, is also his. Thus Paul states:

- God has made us alive with Christ [2:5]. This did not happen after we managed to improve ourselves, or to reach out to him: it happened when we were dead in transgressions. God, in an act of overwhelming love and grace, reached into our deadness and made us live. This is why the conversion experience is sometimes referred to as being 'born again' or 'regenerated.' We cannot generate new life for our selves: it takes the action of God. We were dead: he made us alive in Christ.

- God saved us by his grace [2:5,7-9]. What can save us from his wrath? Not our merit, because we have none. What can turn his wrath, his condemnation, his punishment away from us? Only he himself - by his own choice, by his own decision, by his own action. We have already seen this in chapter one, where we read that we are saved because of God's will and pleasure, in accordance with his rich grace that is 'lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding'.

God knew there was only one way out for us: a massive and costly action of grace on his part. Paul describes this grace as 'the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus' [2:7]. Are our sins big? Yes they are, but God's grace is bigger. Is our rebellion against him of long standing? Yes it is, but God's grace is eternal. Is our self-focus, self-opinion, self-conceit, self-glorying enormous? Yes it is, but God's grace is more extensive. In our spiritual deadness are we totally lifeless, immobilized, blind, darkened, hardened? Yes, in ourselves, we are, but God's grace is able to overcome even that.

The phrase 'by grace you have been saved' is written twice. Both times it is in the perfect tense, which refers to a completed action in the past with effects that continue to the present: in other words: you have been saved, and you still are saved; it was by grace when it first happened, and it is by grace right now.

To emphasize the permanence of the grace nature of our salvation, and the permanence of the salvation itself, Paul adds that it is not from ourselves and it is not by works [verse 8,9]. We did not do it, we did not achieve or implement it, we did not merit or earn it. Just as our original creation was the work of God, so our new creation in Christ, our regeneration from spiritual death to spiritual life, is the work of God: we are, Paul says, God's workmanship.

- God raised us up with Christ [2:6]. Paul returns here to what has been in his mind all along - the power of God that raised Christ up from the dead. Not only did God raise Christ up from the dead after he had paid the death penalty for our sins - after he had died for us: he also raised us up with Christ. This fact that God has raised us up with Christ affirms that our sin has indeed been paid for. Christ bore our sins; he took our guilt; he took our condemnation; he experienced the wrath of God that was upon us; he suffered rejection by God on our behalf. He did all of this as our substitute: and then God raised him up, validating that it all did actually happen. Just as his death was our death, so his resurrection is our resurrection [Romans 6:8-11; Galatians 2:20; Colossians 3:3,4;]: it is a restoration to life beyond the reach of the judgement, condemnation and wrath of God.

- God seated us with Christ and in Christ in the heavenly realms. We learned in chapter one that Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Here we learn that believers are right there in Christ and with Christ. The Greek text makes it quite clear: made alive together with Christ [verse 5], raised together with Christ, and seated together with Christ [verse 6] in the heavenly realms in Christ. While we would not be so foolish as to think that because of this we have the power and authority that are his by divine right, we can nevertheless understand from this that:

  • We will never again be the objects of God's wrath, banned from his presence by our sin.
  • We will never again come under the condemnation and judgement of our sins [Romans 8:1; John 3:18; 5:24].
  • We will never again be under the authority of the prince of this world - we have been removed forever from his kingdom [Colossians 1:13].
  • We have, as Jesus pointed out to those who believed in him, already crossed over from death to life [John 5:24] - we already have eternal life.

- God created us in Christ Jesus [2:10]. What Paul has written so far in Ephesians has assumed the existence of a powerful reality: the reality that the believer is 'in Christ'. We saw in 1:3-14 that the spiritual blessings of salvation are ours 'in Christ'. We have now seen in 2:1-10 that this 'in Christ' does not teach us only about the place where salvation is to be found: it also teaches us that we ourselves now exist only 'in Christ' in God's sight, in God's economy.

Because Jesus Christ stood completely in our place as our substitute, God treated him as us. We have, in Christ our substitute, died, as far as God and his law is concerned. The record of our sin has been deleted. We have a new name and a new identity: from the point of faith onwards God never again sees us apart from Christ.

Yes, God knows that in ourselves we are sinners: but, as we have already seen in Ephesians, it is his pleasure, his will, his choice, to deal with our guilt and make us his own.

Task #7: List significant insights you have gained from Ephesians 2:1-10: