1 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. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 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
Paul put a strong emphasis on the future but he never forgot the past. When addressing believers, he strived to stress the eternal significance of their redemption. He wanted them to understand that their faith in Christ had both immediate and long-term implications. They could enjoy the present benefits of a restored relationship with God, as revealed by the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
But the Spirit was also intended as a sign or proof of their inheritance to come (Ephesians 1:13-14).
But Paul knew that, in order for believers to truly appreciate the present and future blessings of God, they must constantly recall their former condition as enemies of God. There was a time when all followers of Christ stood on the other side of the door of grace. As Paul will remind the Ephesians believers in the very next section of his letter, “In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope” (Ephesians 2:12 NLT). This is the very same message he gave to the believers in Galatia.
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. – Galatians 4:8 ESV
Paul understood the power of recall. He knew that an accurate memory of the past was essential if the Ephesians were going to cultivate an appreciation for all that God had accomplished on their behalf. Looking back could provide a much-needed reminder of just how gracious God had been. Their salvation had been undeserved. They had been enemies of God, living in open rebellion to His will and ways. And Paul pulls no punches in describing the desperate state of their former condition.
Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. – Ephesians 2:1-2 NLT
Paul believed that having a healthy and honest view of the past was essential for understanding the glorious nature of God’s gift of salvation. Jesus had not come to redeem the righteous. He had not sacrificed His life on behalf of the good and the godly, but for those who were sin-enslaved and recognized their need for a Savior. On one occasion, when the Pharisees ridiculed Jesus for associating with notorious sinners, He responded, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” (Mark 2:17 NLT).
Paul’s mention of the devil was intended to stress the former enslavement of the Ephesian believers. Before coming to faith in Christ, they had not been free to do as they pleased. They had been the slaves to Satan himself, “the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God” (Ephesians 2:2 NLT). In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul described the sinister role of Satan in sobering terms.
Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT
And Paul’s obsession with Satan’s enslavement of the lost was well-founded. It was based on the message he had received from Jesus at the time of his conversion on the road to Damascus. He shared the details of this encounter in his trial before King Agrippa.
“And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. Now get to your feet! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant and witness. Tell people that you have seen me, and tell them what I will show you in the future. And I will rescue you from both your own people and the Gentiles. Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in me.’” – Acts 26:15-18 NLT
Paul’s commission from Jesus had been to help set captives free. His entire ministry had been to bring good news, to open the eyes of the blind, and to set the captives free. And Paul knew that, in doing so, he was simply continuing the ministry of Jesus Himself. When Jesus appeared at the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth, He had read a passage from the scroll of Isaiah the prophet.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” – Luke 4:18-19 NLT
And when He had finished, Jesus had sat down and calmly but boldly declared, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:21 NLT). Now, Paul was carrying on the mission that Jesus had begun. He had been tasked with the job of setting captives free and, somewhat ironically, his efforts had earned him imprisonment in Rome. Yet, he continued to use his pen to proclaim the glorious nature of the freedom made possible through faith in Christ. And he reminded the Ephesians that every believer, including himself, had at one time been a slave to Satan and an enemy of God, “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).
Those two simple words form one of the most powerful and impactful sentences in the entire Bible. Paul reveled in the idea of God’s undeserved, yet undeniable intervention in mankind’s desperate condition.
But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) – Ephesians 2:4-5 NLT
Mercy, love, grace. Those three words form the foundation of Paul’s thinking on this matter. God showered sinful, enslaved humanity mercy (undeserved kindness). He poured out His unselfish, sacrificial love on those who deserved His justice and wrath. And it was all a display of His unmerited favor (grace) and lovingkindness.
Paul wanted the Ephesians to understand that their salvation had been totally undeserved. They had done nothing worthy of God’s love, mercy, and grace. Their transformation from enemies of God to sons and daughters of God had been the work of God alone. And Paul is unapologetic in his defense of God’s sovereign role in the salvation of sinful humanity.
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. – Ephesians 2:8 NLT
This point is essential to Paul’s argument, which is why he repeats it three separate times.
It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved! – vs 5
So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us… – vs 7
God saved you by his grace when you believed. – vs 8
For Paul, one of the greatest sins a believer can commit is to attempt to rob God of glory by taking credit for something He alone has done. That is why he places so much emphasis on salvation being a gift and not a reward. It is not earned or merited. It is not a form of payment for services rendered.
Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:9 NLT
And yet, believers find it so easy to take credit for something over which they had no control. Their only role was to receive that which was freely given. Their blinded eyes were opened by God. The chains that once bound them were broken by God. The sins that once condemned them were forgiven by God. Their remarkable transformation had been the work of a loving, gracious, and merciful God.
You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. – Colossians 2:13-14 NLT
And there had been a divine purpose behind this radical reformation of their lives. The gift of salvation was not to be wasted or squandered. Their new identity as God’s chosen people was not to be taken lightly or treated flippantly. God had an objective in mind. His redemptive plan was not arbitrary or pointless. And Paul reminds the Ephesians that they were literal works of art, God’s “workmanship” (poieme). They were like priceless masterpieces, created by the hand of the Creator-God, and intended to bring Him glory. And the greatest way God’s people can bring Him glory is by doing what He redeemed them to do.
He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:9 NLT
No longer slaves to sin, the Ephesians were free to do the will of God. With their eyes opened, they could clearly see. With their chains broken, they could freely serve. With their former sins forgiven, they could gratefully obey. They were new creations designed to live new lives in the power of the Spirit of God. And God had important work for them to do.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.