Around the turn of the twentieth century, P. T. Forsyth wrote, “There are few dangers threatening the religious future more serious than the slow shallowing of the religious mind…. Our safety is in the deep.”1 For the Christian, “the deep” is the gospel. We must immerse ourselves in the deep waters of the gospel. This is the overriding theme of Ephesians.
Perspective is important for faithful, fruitful living. The big picture is important. In Ephesians 2:1–10 we have a big picture—and a deep one, at that. It is the big picture of grace—God’s saving grace. Paul wanted the Ephesian believers to see who they were in Christ, to see the glory of Christ and His church. He wanted them to consider God’s new community of faith.
When asked how they are doing, people often respond with something like, “Okay, under the circumstances.” Let’s face it: Circumstances can be daunting. And a flippant, Pollyanna-like response is rarely helpful. The reality is that we face real and serious challenges that require a thoughtful response. This is what God expects of His church.
As we thoughtfully consider the marvellous work of God, we will be able to face whatever challenges our sovereign God sends our way. The Ephesians, who lived in a materialistic, pagan, idolatrous, sexually immoral, politically unstable society, needed this. And so do we. As we give thoughtful consideration to the gospel, and all its implications for us, we will be able to respond, “It’s okay—all things considered.”
As believers, we often face daunting circumstances. But it is in the midst of daunting circumstances that we are to consider some important truths. So let’s consider some of these things together.
Consider Your Privilege
The first thing that we must consider together is our great privilege. Paul opens chapter 2 with two small, but important, words: “And you” (v. 1). He offers here a word of emphatic contrast in order to highlight their privilege in light of God’s power. These words link 1:15–23 with 2:1ff. As you read them, Paul intends for you to ask, “Who am I?” And your believing answer needs to take into account what you read in 1:15–23.
You are a Saint
The first privilege to consider is that believers are saints. Paul speaks in 1:15 of “your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints.” When we consider that we “were dead in trespasses and sins, in which [we] once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others,” what amazement there is to be experienced in the contrast: We were that, but we are now saints!
What a wonderful change has been wrought! You were dead, but are now selected by God, separated by the gospel, a son of God, and eternally secure in His hands.
You are “Spoken For”
The second major privilege to consider is that you are “spoken for.” Paul said of the Ephesians, “[I] do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers” (1:16). Paul was able to “give thanks” for the Ephesian believers because they were evidences of God’s grace—as are all true believers. They were therefore objects of his affection and intercession.
Believer, you are an evidence of God’s grace, and therefore you ought to be an object of affection and intercession. If your spiritual leaders are not praying for you, get into a church where you will be prayed for by its leaders.
You are Privileged with the Knowledge of God
The third major privilege to consider is that we are blessed with the knowledge of God. Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians was “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him” (1:17). This is the privilege of all believers. As Paul wrote elsewhere, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). And Jesus prayed that the Father would give to His followers eternal life, which He defined in this way: “that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:2–3).
As believers, we have the tremendous privilege of knowing God. This is your privilege as a believer in Christ. Do you exercise this privilege? Do you expect it? It is yours for the taking.
You are Privileged to be “HIP”
Believers, continues Paul, are privileged to be “HIP.” Paul continues his prayer for the Ephesians:
the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.
We are identified as “HIP” not by our fashion choices or the neighbourhood in which we live, but by our hope in all situations, our identification with the Saviour, and our power to overcome sin. These three things are, in many ways, the three essential things in life, and we are privileged to enjoy them.
You are Privileged to Belong
The fifth major privilege enjoyed by believers is the privilege to belong. Paul concludes chapter 1 by noting that God “put all things under [Christ’s] feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (1:22–23).
As believers, we are members of a body, which has a glorious head. There is nothing quite like this privilege, and we would do well to consider the privilege and to therefore commit to the body.
Consider Your Past
We who have these wonderful privileges ought, further, to consider what we were.
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
We must consider where we came from, which will help us to live hopefully in the present. As Austen puts it, “Without a correct diagnosis of humanity we will not grasp the wonder and magnitude of God’s love and grace.”2 And as Blaise Pascal reminded us: “Grace is indeed required to turn a man into a saint; and he who doubts this does not know what either a man or a saint is.”3
So what were we? What do we need to consider as we think about our past? Paul identifies at least four things.
You were Dead
First, we were once “dead in trespasses and sins” (v. 1). We were not sick (though Scripture does elsewhere speak of sin as sickness), but dead. As such, we had no appetite for the things of God—and what appetite we may have had was certainly not for the things of God. We were foolish to have no appetite for the things of God.
As a preacher, I see this truth evident from the pulpit every week. It is sometimes painfully obvious that people in the congregation have no interest in the things of God. It is a sad reality that many who sit under the teaching of God’s Word have no appetite for it, but this is where we all once were, and would still be apart from the grace of God.
You were Disobedient and Disoriented
The second element of our past to be considered is that we were disobedient and disoriented. We “walked,” but we walked “in trespasses and sins” (vv. 1–2). We did not walk in truth. We did not walk in the light. And because we walked in darkness, we stumbled as we walked. We thought we were walking in liberty, but we were instead groping in the darkness.
You were Enslaved/Dominated by Wrong Dominion
Third, we must consider that were walked “according to the course of this world” (v. 2). We believed that we walked where and as we wished, but instead we were walking a course set out for us by our domination to the flesh. Our will was in bondage to sin, and so we lived disordered lives as slaves.
You were Damned
The fourth things to consider is that, as “children of wrath” (v. 3), we were damned. Paul reminded the Ephesian believers, who were mostly Gentiles, that they were “children of wrath, just as the others.” “The others” is probably here a reference to Jews (cf. v. 11). The point is clear: Believers—Jew and Gentile alike—can rejoice in the fact that they were once damned but are now delivered.
In sum, we can rejoice. In the light of our past, our present is pretty amazing. It makes our privilege that much greater. As we consider these things, we will, with the formerly paralysed man in Acts 3, find ourselves “walking, leaping and praising God” (Acts 3:8).
By considering and comparing, we will be moved to great commitment to and care for the community. Also, by considering and comparing, we will have better perspective not to compare. When we are tempted to wonder why the wicked prosper, or are tempted to envy when we see other Christians more physically blessed, we will instead rejoice that we are in a far better position than we once were.
Believer, consider that you have been moved from doomed and damned to delivered. You have been transported, in the words of Calvin, “from the deepest hell to heaven itself.”4 “He has taken us from: Hell to Heaven; bondage to freedom; gloom to light; despair to hope; wrath to glory; death to life.”5
Consider Your Position
The third major thing to consider is our now-and-forever position in Christ: “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (vv. 4–6).
Once again, there are several aspects of our position to consider here.
We are Loved
First, we are in the position of being loved: “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses” (vv. 4–5). That is an amazing thing: God loved us even when we were dead in trespasses! As Paul put it elsewhere: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). We can rejoice in God’s everlasting, forever love.
God’s love for us is factual—we know for a fact that He loves His own. His love is a “frame love,” in that He loves us despite our feeble frame (Psalm 103:14). His love is a fatherly love—He loves us as a father should, and deeper that a sinful father ever could.
The love of our heavenly Father should be something in which we revel. The only thing that Jesus ever “feared” was the interruption of the Father’s eternal love for Him. When He felt the full weight of God’s wrath, He cried, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” If Jesus feared the interruption of divine love, the same thought ought to fill us with dread. Conversely, if we know the love of the Father, it ought to fill us with great peace and hope.
We need to be reminded that not everyone is loved in this way. While there is a sense in which God loves the whole world, His love for His church is a far deeper, intimate love. It is a love that ought to humble us, for it is a love we certainly do not deserve.
We would do well to remember that every Christian is loved this way by the Father. We must therefore be careful how we treat those who bear the name of Christ. At the same time, we must take great heart when we face opposition that, though the world may oppose us, we can rejoice in God’s great love for us.
We Have Life
Second, we must consider our position of life. God “made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together” (vv. 5–6). Secret Garden’s great love song, You Raise Me Up, which was popularised by Josh Groban, has very real application for believers. I don’t know all that the authors intended when they wrote it, but the lyrics might be interpreted as far more significant than a simple love song. Believers have been raised up from spiritual death to spiritual life. What a glorious privilege!
The phrase “you have been saved” indicates a completed action, with continuous and permanent results. This salvation has resulted, for the believer, in changed appetite, affections, aptitude, attitude and aspirations (cf. Matthew 6:19–21). It may even result in changed abilities. My father-in-law, whom I also consider my pastor, graduated high school at the very bottom of his class. He was in his high school years an unbeliever who, by his own admission, was often at school, but very infrequently in school. But God saved him late in high school, and he went on to graduate at the top of his class in college. What happened? God’s saving grace gave him the drive that he needed to work hard in college.
I am not suggesting that salvation is the only key to academic performance. I am suggesting, instead, that changes the way that we think and do things in profoundly significant ways.
We Have the Supreme Location
Third, we must consider that, having been “made [to] sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (v. 6), we have the supreme location. The entire church is located in Christ in heaven. By divine right (John 1:12), we are seated on the right hand of the Father. It is not a right intrinsic to us, but a right bestowed upon us by grace. Nevertheless, it is our right in Jesus Christ.
Since we are seated in Christ in the heavenlies, we must consider the fact of our union with Christ. Paul laid out the practical implications of this in his letter to the Colossians: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1–3).
At the same time, we are to consider our everlasting communion with the Father. We are secure regardless of the situation in which we find ourselves. This consideration of our position will have an enormous influence on our disposition. This is why Joseph was so impressive to Potiphar and, later, to the keeper of the prison. It is why Paul and Silas could sing praises to God in prison. It is why John, imprisoned on a deserted island, was able to remain “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:9–10).
If we are honest, we will admit that we need to be more heavenly minded so that we can be of more earthly good.
We have the Lord
We can summarise this all by saying that we have the Lord. Therefore, our earthly location is not the issue. Regardless of our current circumstances, we know that the Lord is with us always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). All things considered, we’re fine.
Consider Your Purpose
In the last major portion of this section, the apostle exhorts us to consider our purpose. He reminds us that we are recipients of God’s great salvation
that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Here is the big idea: The church, God’s called out and converted community, will forever redound to His glory. This is the purpose of the church. This is the purpose of your conversion. And it is all because of grace (vv. 8–9).
Consider Yourself Purposeful
Verse 7 begins with a conjunction: “that.” In other words, vv. 1–6 took place in order that vv. 7–10 might take place. There was a distinct purpose, one intended for “the ages to come,” that is, for eternity.
What is the purpose for which we were saved? Paul says that it was in order that we might, for all eternity, “show” the glory of God’s grace. Our purpose is to point out, to demonstrate, God’s grace to a watching world. The apostle described this as his own purpose in 1 Timothy 1:16: “However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.”
Austen observes “God displays his goodness in creating the church.”6 And Wood notes, “This was God’s publicity program for the whole of history—and beyond. He planned a continuing exhibition of his favor toward man to cover all the centuries between the ascension and the return of Christ, and after that through all eternity.”7
We are trophies of an exceeding gracious power (1:19), and God’s design is that His trophies will display that gracious power to a dark world.
Consider Yourself Pardoned
Second, we can consider ourselves pardoned. In perhaps the most well-known verses in this chapter, Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (vv. 8–9).
Beginning v. 8 with the word “for,” Paul intends to exhort us to remember an important principle: “Lest you forget—lest anyone is tempted to take credit—your privileged position is completely by God’s sovereign grace.” We were dead and it took God’s power to raise us. As Austen cautions, “If faith is dependent on us, then we are not really dead in sin; we would be capable of making a decision for or against God.”6
Believer, rejoice in God’s free gift or pardon, which leads to God’s eternal goal of showing forth His gracious power. The gift and the goal are inseparable. The church is God’s theatre in which God performs His drama of redemption. We should be humbled as we consider that we have been assigned a part.
How are you playing your part? Are you trying to steal the show? Or are you submitting to the Director? After all, He knows the conclusion. And it will be amazing!
When I was in the fifth grade I wrote a play called “The Christmas that Almost Wasn’t.” I showed it to my teacher, who decided that the play should be performed in front of the school, with me as director. The play was about a time when Christmas almost didn’t happen because there was no snow in the North Pole. (Profound, I know!) Because I wrote the play, I knew how it ought to be acted out, and so I directed the actors who were chosen to play the various parts. I don’t remember how the play went, but I do remember being deliberate in my direction about how each part was played.
God is the director of the play that the church is putting on, and He wants us each to play our part. He has written the script and gifted us to play a part, and He expects us to perform well so that He will receive the glory.
This has practical implications for the church, especially on the Lord’s Day. Dorothy Sayers noted long ago, “It is the dogma that is the drama.” Through her plays and essays, she tried to show people the dynamite of the gospel. And that is precisely the purpose of corporate worship.
Calvin called worship, as he called creation and redemption, “the marvelous theater” in which God descends to act before a watching world…. This stands in contrast to much of worship today…. It is that presence of the Spirit through his ordained means that makes the worship service a theater of grace in which Christ and all his benefits are communicated to those who were once “not a people”—living aimlessly without any definable plot to make sense of or give a sense of significance to their fragmented lives.9
But, of course, we who have been saved by grace know the plot. And, as we gather corporately to worship, we do so to consider this plot and our place and purpose in it. Therefore, we must listen carefully to the preached word so that we might learn our part under the divine Director. As the church gathers, we are in a dress rehearsal for the future and forever and flawless performance.
Consider Yourself a Poem
Finally, Paul calls us to consider ourselves a poem: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (v. 10).
The word translated “workmanship” is a translation of a root from which we derive the English word “poem.” We might say that the great and gracious Poet has composed the stanzas of our lives—for our good and for His glory. “Our good works are not in response to God’s gracious initiative, but are a part of it.”10 Augustine noted that we were once “not able not to sin” but that we are now “able not to sin” and “able to do good works.”11
The local church is both a poem and, in its individual members, a library of poems. Each poem fits into the whole. Consider what the poem of your life is communicating. Consider what we are communicating. Ours is to be a love poem, which helps others to make sense of life. The church’s poem is a tragedy (in the best sense): The church is a serious community, dealing with serious matters, which makes sense of an otherwise senseless world. The script has been written; play your part. The stanzas have been produced; speak them with passion, meaning and credibility.
We are all to participate in the cosmic poetry slam. The community of faith is made up of originals sharing a common experience. Consider celebrating this.
All things considered, we are greatly blessed. And the blessed will praise the Lord. “When we come to the end of our logic we should not turn away from Scripture but rather affirm our humanity and humility by singing the Doxology.”12
- David Wells, God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (Grand Rapids: CRC Publications, 1987), 56. ↩
- Simon Austen, Teaching Ephesians: From Text to Message (Ross-shire: Christian Focus 2012), 77. ↩
- R. Kent Hughes, Ephesians: The Mystery of the Body of Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 1990), 75. ↩
- Francis Foulkes, Ephesians: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 82. ↩
- Hughes, Ephesians, 71. ↩
- Austen, Teaching Ephesians, 79. ↩
- A. Skevington Wood, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 11:35. ↩
- Austen, Teaching Ephesians, 79. ↩
- Michael S. Horton, A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), 15. ↩
- Austen, Teaching Ephesians, 80. ↩
- James Montgomery Boice, Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), 74. ↩
- Brian Chapell, Ephesians: Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2009), 88. ↩