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God's Great Grace

God's grace is one of the great revelations contained in scripture. The idea is simple: there is nothing humans can do to save themselves from their own sin and sinfulness and its consequences. That is - no one is ever saved from God's judgment against sin by their own good works; it is only by what God has done in Christ that anyone can be saved.

As simple as this statement is, people have difficulty embacing it. Why? simply, we dont' understand or are unwilling to admit the dire nature of the human condition. The gospel is the good news that people are saved through Christ's death, burial and resurrecton. In The Gospel in a Nutshell, I explain that Jesus died for our sins - his death burial and resurrection accomplish our salvation. But what is that we are saved from?

People have four big problems due to sin:

  1. We are legally guilty of breaking God's law, and thus condemned.
  2. We are spiritually separated from the life of God and thus dead.
  3. We are morally corrupted, and thus impure.
  4. We are relationally sepearted, and thus alienated.

In a nutshell, we are spiritually dead, morally corrupt, relationally separated - and we have legal problems. In short, we're in a mess. The reason it is important to be honest about our condition is that the gospel answers all of this. When people minimise the human problem, they also minimise God's solution. At the heart of this solution is God's great grace - his unmerited love and favour given to us in Christ. Ephesians 2:1-10 is a celebration of God's grace and reminder of what he has done.

The Problem: Death

v. 1: And you were dead in the trespasses and sins. 

The BIG IDEA is that grace is amazing because our spiritual death and separation from God is so profound. This is consistent with what Paul states in other places: ‘The wages of sin is death’ (Romans 6:23). This is the foundation of everything else that follows. “Human beings as sons and daughters of Adam enter the world spiritually dead. They have no inclination or responsiveness to God and no ability to please God.” (ESV Study Bible) See Romans 3:10-18. 

1. Understanding death

There are three key dimensions of our death:

Spiritually: we are separatec from the presence of God and the life of God. Our existence as spiritual beings is defined by an absence of God’s presence. God is the source of genuine spiritual life; we are, therefore dead – utterly lacking the life resident only in God. The dead are those separated from God. 

Really: it is a real death. God told Adam and Eve, “the day you eat from it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). This death pertains to us because ‘in Adam all die’ (1 Corinthians 15:22). This spiritual death happened when Adam and Eve sinned – they were immediately cut off from the life that is in God and his presence. 

Legally: we sit under the judgment of death, having been condemned because of our sin. Our life, as it is, is a life on death row: as those guilty of crimes against God, we sit, awaiting the final performance of the full judgment God has already pronounced. Unless there is some intervening pardon, those guilty and condemned on death row will ultimately die. 

2. tresspasses and sins

  • The word tresspasses (Gr. παράπτωμα paraptōma) means 'a false step, a blunder (para, ‘aside’, pipto, ‘to fall’); thus, “a lapse from uprightness, a sin, a moral trespass, a misdeed.”'. 
  • The word sin (Gr. ἁμαρτία hamartia) means to be without a share in; to miss the mark to err, be mistaken; to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and honour, to do or go wrong; to wander from the law of God, violate God’s law, an offence, a violation of the divine law in thought or in act.

Theologian R.C. Sproul summarised the impact of sin like this: 

Sin is cosmic treason. Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself. Have you ever considered the deeper implications of the slightest sin, of the most minute peccadillo? What are we saying to our Creator when we disobey Him at the slightest point? We are saying no to the righteousness of God. We are saying, “God, your law is not good. My judgment is better than Yours. Your authority does not apply to me. I am above and beyond Your jurisdiction. I have the right to do what I want to do, not what You command me to do.

v. 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 

The picture here is of dead men walking - kind of like a zombie film. They are dead, but following the course of this world. Dead people simply float downstream; it takes a live person to swim upstream, against the current. They aren't walking aimlessly, but are following the prince of the power of the air. Like the medieval legend of the pied piper who with his magical pipe playing led the children of Hamelin, Germany to their death, Satan leads humanity to death - with sights and sounds they absolutely love. At the root of our spiritual death is disobedience, our deep, deep commitment to do our own thing.

v. 3a: among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, 

Spiritual death is marked by passion: the passions of our flesh are the sin-rooted desires of the body and the mind. It's one thing to have a passion, it's another thing to carry it out. One dimension of salvation is deliverance from bondage to passion.

v3b. and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 

Our inherited spiritual nature: children of wrath. Sin isn’t simply behaviour and thought-patterns, it is our nature. We were born that way; it’s who we are outside of Christ. Not just the worst of humanity, but like the rest of mankind. As sinners, we are objects of God’s wrath. This isn't harsh; it's reality. God's wrath is is appropriate, righteous holy anger against sin. Once we understand how destructive of all good and beauty sin is, we understand that God's wrath is right. The phrase like the rese of mankind reminds us that everyone is an object of wrath.

Excursus: The gospel brings life to our spiritual death

The heart of the gospel is that Jesus is the answer to spiritual death. This is a key theme in the gospel of John. 

  • John 1:4: In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 
  • John 11:25: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. 
  • John 20:31: these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. 
  • The gospel is the good news of life precisely because the human condition is death. The clearer we are about the problem the more good the answer proves to be. 
  • Lazarus is a picture of the power of the gospel in John (John 11).

The Solution: Resurrection

v. 4: But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us 

  • But Godthese may be the two best words in Greek, English, or any other language. THis is the best contradiction in the world - yes, we are dead, BUT GOD. This means that God does not leave us in our condition, he acts.
  • Being rich in mercy: God's mercy is the foundation of God’s action of bringing us from death to live. The word mercy means God's kindness, compassion, pity, and good will towards sinners. That is, God is merciful to us by offering us clemency in Christ. Note that God is rich in mercy: he doesn't have just enough, he has an abundance.
  • Because of the great love with which he loved us: This is God’s big why. Love and mercy go together and are the foundation of God's action in saving us. The thing that makes this grace is that we don't deserve it. God's mercy on his helpless enemies flows from his loving heart, not from anything they have done to deserve it.
  • Why does God love us? Simply, he chooses to. The why of God is ultimately bound up in his love; he loves us because he loves us.

v. 5: even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved 

Note these three concepts in verse 5:

1) God's timing: even when we were dead in our trespasses. That is, God doesn't wait until we are righteous to act, what God does in salvation happens when we are dead in sins. 
2) God’s action: made us alive together with Christ. This is what God does - he makes the dead alive. That is, God raises the dead. Another term in scripture for what God does is born again (John 3:3-7, 1 Peter 1:3): God makes us spiritually alive.
3) God's Mechanism: by grace you have been saved. God's grace is the means by which he does what he does. Because we were dead in our tresspasses and sins, this is the only way that we can be saved. There is no alternative; there is nothing else that can take a person from death to life - it is only God's grace. Remember: ‘Grace is God’s over-the-top kindness, love, and favour that is totally unearned’.

v. 6: and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus 

1) And raised us up with him: in the same way that Lazarus was made alive before he walked out of the tomb, regeneration happens before resurrection. That is, God makes us alive and then raises us up. Our being raised up is with him: that is, by God's grace we are vicarious participants in the resurrection of Christ. There is a profound union with Christ into which believers are brough. For more on this, read Romans 6:1-12. Our new identity is that we are now in Christ and with Christ. 
2) And seated us with him in the heavenly places: Here Paul reminds us that we not onlynot just a new identity, a new address. Our spiritual address - the location of our spiritual life - is with him in the heavenly places. Not only are we legal citizens of God's kingdom, this is the place of our spiritual abode.
3) In Christ Jesus: Paul reminds us that Christ himself is the locus of all spiritual blessings. When you have time, do a study of all the places scripture uses the phrase 'in Christ' or 'in him': this is where we experince all the blessings God gives. This is why anyone who is outside of Christ experiences none of these blessings. There is no other place God dispenses his blessings. Note how beautifully Paul states this 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, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. Colossians 2:13-14

v. 7: so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.  

This is a short verse but it has an eternal implication in further explaining God's motivation.
1) so that in the coming ages: the phrase 'so that' implies that God has a reason for doing what he is doing. That is, in addition to 'because of his great love', God has saved us so that:
2) he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us: Do have a favourite film, one you've seen so many times that don't grow tired of it? Is ther a film so good that you could watch it every day without getting bored? God's rich grace given in Christ is so rich, so beautiful, so amazing that he is going to put it on display for the rest of eternity. It's like a diamond with an infinite number of facets, and each facet having infinite depth. God's great grace is so beautiful we can gaze at it for th rest of eternity and still be perpetually delighted by it.
3) In Christ JesusRemember, this is the location of all God's benefits, kindness, grace, goodness and love: it's all found in Christ.

The Result: Salvation

v. 8: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God 

This verse summarises in simple but dramatic fashion the gracious nature of our salvation.
1) For by grace you have been saved to be 'saved' means to be delivered from the power and bondange of sin and brought into a relationship with God. This salvation includes being forgiven, being justified (declared 'not guilty'), being adopted into God's family, and being made spiritually alive. That is, salvation is a comprehensive re-working of our personal and spiritual identity by being placed in Christ. The point of this verse is that this is all by grace. That is, it is God's unmerited and unearned love and favour that brings us all these benefits.
2) through faiththe appropriate human response to the gospel is faith - that is, believing this good news. To disbelieve is to tell God that he is really not as gracious as he really is. 
3) And this is not your own doingNew Testament scholars debate whether the 'this' refers to 'faith' or 'salvation'. Whereas even the ability to believe is a gift from God (Acts 16:14), in the context of verse 8, the 'this' refers to salvation: we cannot save ourselves; being saved is not of our own doing.
4) It is the gift of God: in case we missed the point, Paul comes back to affirm that 'it' - our salvation - is the gift of God. We cannot accomplish, earn, or merit salvation - it is completely a gift. We do not deserve to be saved at all - God gives salvation because He is gracious.

v. 9: not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 

Paul is not afraid of repeating himself; humans hvae an incredibly difficult time believing that we contribute NOTHING to our salvation. But God's grace is so gracious, and our salvation so completely dependent on God, he emphasizes this point.
1) Salvation is NOT a result of works. That is, human good works contribute NOTHING to salvation. Nada. Zippo. El zero. We are saved by grace, not by works.
2)   No boasting allowed: When we walk through the gate of heaven (pardon the metaphor), no one is going to be patting each other on the back saying, 'well done you!'. No, it's all going to be 'Well done God!'. All the praise, all the glory, all the honour goes to God - 100%. There is not one iota of boasting that goes to humans because we contribute nothing to our salvation.

v. 10: For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. 

In short, good works are the fruit of salvation, not the cause. That is, we are not saved by good works, but neither are we saved without them. Good works contribute nothing to salvation, but the saved person works. In this sense, Grace Works. That is, God's grace is efficacious in saving us, and that salvation produces good works for his glory. Here is a simple formula to keep the gospel clear in our minds: 
Faith = Justification + good works 

Justification is not good works, and we are not justified by good works. We are justified by faith; we are saved by grace. But in addition to being justified, true faith also works. Thus, we can summarise Ephesians 2:1-10 like this: 

The grace of God saves us: we were dead; He makes us alive together with Christ. Salvation is a gift of his grace. It is precisely because of our deadness that grace is the only way we can be saved. We contribute nothing to our salvation because as dead people we can't make ourselves alive. But those who are made alive in Christ by God's grace through faith produce good works for God's glory.