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 our 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
Those two little words, “But God…” contain so much power and hold the key to the hopes of all mankind. In these verses, Paul expounds on the incredible gift of grace that has made possible man’s redemption from a life of complete enslavement to sin and his restoration to a right relationship with God. But the grace of God can be so overlooked and under-appreciated. There is in each of us a certain sense that we somehow deserved God’s grace. We weren’t that bad. We certainly weren’t as bad as some other people. But those kinds of thoughts are a reflection of either an over-inflated sense of self-worth or a very poor memory. Since having come to know Christ, some of us have just conveniently forgotten our former life. Time has a way of sanitizing our memories, white washing our minds and eliminating any traces of our pre-conversion condition.
But Paul seemed to have a knack for reminding believers of their past. He did not do so in an effort to demoralize or shame them. His purpose was to remind them of the unbelievable nature of God’s grace. He wanted them to realize that what had been done for them was totally undeserved and completely the result of God’s unmerited favor and love. Paul used very stark imagery to make his point.
And you were dead…
This had been their condition. Dead. Lifeless. Helpless. Hopeless. Dead men are incapacitated and incapable of doing anything to change their condition. And men apart from God are spiritually dead. They are headed to an eternity separated from God – which is the definition of spiritual death. This death metaphor was very popular with Paul. He wrote the very same thing in his letter to the Colossians.
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses… – Colossians 2:13 ESV
In the very next part of chapter two, Paul reminded the Ephesians that at one time their condition was one of…
having no hope and without God in the world… Ephesians 2:12 ESV
Why could Paul say this? What was the explanation he gave for their spiritual deadness and hopelessness? Their trespasses and sins in which they once walked. They had been following the course of this world, living according to its rules and obeying the commands of its prince, Satan himself. That’s a fairly sobering assessment of our pre-conversion condition for any of us to accept. But that was our reality, whether we like it or want to admit it. And just to make sure his audience fully got his point, Paul bluntly told them they were once sons of disobedience, living just like our father, Satan. “All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else” (Ephesians 2:3 NLT). None of us were righteous, no not one. All of us were separated from God by our sins. Each of us deserved death. Not a pretty picture.
But there’s good news. Very good news.
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… – Ephesians 2:4-5 ESV
When we read Paul description of our condition prior to coming to know Christ, our natural response is to say, “But I didn’t…”, “But I wasn’t…”, or “But how could You?” We want to somehow justify ourselves or explain that we weren’t that bad. Yet the painful reality is that unless God had intervened, we would have remained just as we were: Dead. But the good news is that God stepped in. He did what we could never have done for ourselves. He accomplished on our behalf what we did not deserve and what we could not have managed on our own. As Paul told the Romans, “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT).
Two times in these verses, Paul emphatically states, “by grace you have been saved.” We were not saved based on our merits. We were not saved based on our works. We were not saved because we somehow met God halfway and He took it from there. We were saved in spite of our sinful condition. We were dead and God gave us life through Jesus Christ. Not only that, God has “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6 ESV). We are as good as in heaven, right now. Our place is so secure, it is as if we are already there. We can’t do anything to blow it. We can’t do anything to lose it. By grace we have been saved. By grace we are being sanctified. And by grace we will one day be glorified. It is all by grace.
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. – Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV
No one will stand at the gates of heaven saying, “I deserve to be here!” No one will be able to claim admittance based on their own effort or hard work. There is no one who can claim that he or she is making themselves more holy in their own strength. Having a quiet time does not make you more righteous. Praying does not make you more godly. Going to church will never make you more like Christ. They are simply the means God uses, through His Holy Spirit, to accomplish His sanctifying work in us. In and of themselves, they are incapable of transforming anyone. More knowledge of Scripture can lead to pride. An attitude of prayerfulness can actually end up creating pridefulness. But God…when He is at work within us, can use anything and everything to accomplish His work in us.
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:10 NLT
God has done great things. He is doing great things. And one day He will culminate all His efforts on our behalf by accomplishing His redemptive plan for our lives. But God…that phrase should always be on our hearts and minds. He is the source of all our hope and help.