Series: My favourite texts
“But God…” is the most pregnant and hopeful phrase you and I can ever hear. There is no person and no situation so dead or so desperate that it is beyond Christ’s redemption. Do we truly believe that? Do we pray and live as if it were true? Today’s text is one of my favourites, as it takes me back in time and reminds me that nothing is impossible with God. We will save verse 8-10 for next week.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 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— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
“But God” is the key which unbolts the door to God’s stunning rescue of a people for Himself (Eph 2:4). I cannot imagine two more hopeful words to launch us into the strange and wonderful gospel of saving grace summarised in the next few verses. But the wonder of God’s grace is lost entirely if we miss the desperation of verse 1-3. Lest we forget who we once were, Paul paints us an arresting picture:
Spiritually hopeless and lifeless…but God.
Trapped in the orbit of our thoughts and desires…but God.
Captive to Satan’s power…but God.
Gripped by the ways of the world…but God.
Deserving of God’s just judgment…but God.
We were all in the same boat, whether we think of ourselves as good or bad people. We followed the trajectory of every son of Adam and daughter of Eve. We were God’s rivals. Rebels by nature and habit. We didn’t seek or love God. We couldn’t live for God’s glory, obsessed as we were with our own. We naturally did what God hates. ‘Sons of disobedience’ and ‘children of God’s wrath’ are not glowing titles, but according to God’s inspired word, they are accurate (Eph 2:2-3).
The walking dead
But Paul gets even more undiplomatic! He calls us dead. It is the Greek word necros, which means a rotting corpse. Just as a corpse cannot raise itself to life, neither can an unbeliever breathe life into his/her spirit. No matter how good, powerful, religious, smart or free we thought we were, we couldn’t grasp or accept the things of God (1 Cor 2:14). They were nonsense to us and we remained spiritually unclean. Jesus used similar words to describe the Pharisees– “whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Matt 23:27). It’s not a pretty picture.
But God intervened in our lives supernaturally. He gave us eyes to see that Jesus is the Son of God– the Saviour of the world. God gave us life, simply because we trusted in the good news that Jesus died and rose to life on our behalf. He made children of wrath into children of God. If you are a Christian, eternal life has already begun (John 3:36; 10:28). Eternal, abundant life started the day you put your faith in Christ. You are truly alive! (Eph 2:5-7)
But God! These two little gems point to the miracle of saving grace in every believer’s life. Instead of indifference or hardness towards God, we now know Him intimately as our Father and pray to Him as if He cares and listens. We delight in Him and read His Word as if it speaks to us. We can’t get enough of learning and growing in our faith.
Maybe this text is old hat to you. Maybe it’s a long time since you first felt the initial excitement of spiritual life pulsing through your veins. Maybe life has worn you down. But this Scripture begs three questions of us:
Do we know the amazing grace Paul writes about?
Have we lost the wonder of God’s love, mercy and kindness to us?
Have we forgotten how much we need God’s grace?
Rich mercy, costly love
For Paul, God’s great love and rich mercy are not esoteric, warm and fuzzy emotions (Eph 2:4). Nor do they depict a benign Grandfather in the sky, smiling down and overlooking our petty offences.
God’s love and mercy were expressed in His Son’s excruciating sacrifice on a Roman cross in 33AD (John 3:16). In love, the Lord Jesus paid the appalling price to free us from hell and death. Love cost Him everything. That’s why we cannot lose the wonder of saving grace.
Where Jesus goes, we go
The other wonderful phrase– with Christ or in Christ– is repeated five times in verse 5-7, so it’s critical for Paul. If you’re as literal as me, it’s hard to grasp how we’ve already been spiritually raised and seated with Christ in heaven, while we battle it out on earth’s dusty arena (Eph 2:6). But Paul’s verbs are in the Greek aorist tense and indicative voice to leave us no doubt. It’s done and dusted, eternally decreed from heaven, cast in stone. Christ is our forerunner, the “firstborn among many brothers” (Rom 8:29). Our bodies will be raised and glorified as His was, because where Christ goes, we go. We are already there with Him in spirit!
For a moment, just soak in what our union with Christ actually means by clicking on these texts:
God’s people are “one” with Christ (Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 6:17; 12:13; Col 1:18). If you’re in Christ, you were foreknown, called, justified and glorified even before the foundations of the earth (Rom 8:30; Eph 1:4-10).
When Jesus died, we died. When Christ was raised to life, so were we (Rom 6:4-5). When He was seated at God’s right hand in heaven, we were given a chair beside Him (Col 3:1). We are bound by an intimate, eternal, irrevocable covenant with Christ (Heb 13:20-21). We are not just saved, but also kept by God’s amazing grace.
If that isn’t wonderful, then I don’t know what is!
Living in the dust at the foot of the cross*
But you may also be wondering how all this heavenly talk can be of any earthly good, and why this passage is one of my favourites.
It’s because the kindness and grace of God means everything to me. For three years at university I turned my back on God and lived for myself and by my own rules. I thought I was free and revelled in the values of my culture, believing my sin to be insignificant and trivial. I didn’t trust the Lord to make me happy and in fact asked Him to leave me alone–the Father who had loved and kept me, whom I’d known intimately for many years. I was no different than the prodigal son in Jesus’ story. But when I realised it was all empty and longed to come home to my Father, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I felt too ashamed and unworthy. Guilt choked my repentance. I could see how God would accept an unbeliever who knew no better, but my betrayal was unforgivable. I’d tasted the goodness of God, yet had wantonly rejected Him. That’s when the Lord pursued me all the way to a far corner of Zimbabwe where I was kayaking with friends. In a dramatic series of events, the Lord gave me some object lessons in how costly his grace was. I didn’t go looking for Jesus, but C.S Lewis’s ‘Hound of heaven’ found me and showed me why I needed a Saviour to die for my sins. There were no audible voices or visions, but God’s love and mercy were unmistakable. It was His kindness that led me to repentance, not condemnation. I finally grasped, at a heart level, what undeserved grace means. And I realised that it was for people exactly like me.
It is not cheap grace. It is costly grace bought by Christ’s blood. And it is for everyone who knows they cannot save themselves, because nothing is impossible with God (Mark 10:26-27).
It’s almost thirty years since that experience, and I’ve not lived my Christian life on its heady emotional fumes. The truth is that nothing very dramatic has happened to me since, but today I still find myself crying as I read the first few verses of Ephesians 2, because I am more aware of God’s rich mercy and great love towards me each passing year. His kindness remains irresistible. His compassions are like a stream that keeps running through the dustiest deserts of life. If I didn’t know that Christ’s work was done and that I’m securely seated with Him in heaven, I would doubt my salvation every day. If I don’t depend each day on God’s undeserved grace, I swing like a pendulum between trusting in myself; striving to be good enough; or giving up altogether because I fail so often. If the Lord hadn’t pursued me with unfailing love when my back was turned to Him, I would surely still be lost.
*Listen to this beautiful song, Mercy, by Matt Redman.
(Prayer of Timothy Keller, Upon Rising).
Father, thank you for the grace that has preserved my life to this moment. Now give me enough love for this day—a sense of love from you (so I’m not scared or driven), a welling up of love for you (so I’m not proud or selfish), and a resulting love for others (so I am not cold or distracted). Let your Spirit illumine my mind and enlarge my heart for that. And because it means nothing to begin well if one does not persevere, I ask that you would continue and increase your grace in me until you have led me into full communion with your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, that I may see his beautiful and great glory. And as I laid down in sleep and rose this morning only by your grace, keep me in a joyful, lively remembrance that whatever happens, I will someday know my final rising—the resurrection—because Jesus Christ laid down in death for me, and rose for my justification. In Jesus’s name.