God gives us new life in Christ. 2:1-10
In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, 1:15-2:20, he prays for his readers, asking for wisdom. This prayer is amplified through a description of God's wondrous power in raising Christ to life, 1:19-23 and by raising us to new life, 2:1-10. In this passage Paul deals with God's life-giving power.
v1. Paul is about to speak on the subject of salvation, but he interrupts the flow of his argument to first deal with the human condition of sin, v1-4.
v2. In this sinful state, we followed the lead of "this present evil age", Gal.1:4, living in bondage to dark powers. The "spirit", now manipulating those still in bondage, is not the Devil, or his "spiritual host", rather it is the "ways of this world" - the spirit of this age.
v3. Having identified the sorry origins of his Gentile readers, Paul points out that he, along with all Israel, were in a similar state. Religious people can follow "the ways of this world" just as easily as pagans, cf. Matt.23:23. Thus, the Jew also faces the wrath of God.
v4. Yet, the wrath of God is only part of the picture. God is also a merciful and loving God, and it is because of this that believers are no longer under condemnation.
v5. Paul now picks up on where he began in v1. Once dead, but now, through our identification with ("in") Christ, we are "made.... alive". Notice it is " we" - both Jew and Gentile. "Made alive", in a moral as well as a spiritual sense. He adds, in parenthesis, his formula for justification. This he develops in v8.
v6. The effect of justification, of a person being set right with God, is to move the believer in reality, although not necessarily in experience, out of the passing shadows of this age. As far as God is concerned, we are even now seated with Christ "at his right hand in the heavenly realms", 1:20. This state is ours already, cf. Col.2:12, 3:1-3. As far as our standing in the sight of God is concerned, both now and for eternity, we are already perfected in Christ.
v7. When this age is no more and the new creation gathers us together in the heavenly realms perfected in the image of Christ, then shall we stand as the crowning glory of God's grace.
v8. The doctrinal statement outlined in v5 is now repeated and developed. The "and this" does not refer to "faith", as if faith is "the gift of God", rather salvation is God's gift. Faith is but an imperfect acceptance, full of doubts and fears, of God's offer of salvation.
v9. The perfection we possess, through our identification with Christ, enables us to stand before the throne of our God; once in bondage, now saved to eternal life. This salvation is not achieved, confirmed, maintained, or progressed by an effort of our will, it is totally a gift.
v10. Although our salvation is wholly a gift of grace, we are saved for a particular purpose, namely "to do good works"; to this end God has shaped us. God's good work is partly played out here in the gathering of a people to be with him, but reaches far beyond this age in the reconciliation of all things as part of God's setting all things right. In John's gospel the good work is "love", compassion, mercy....
God's gracious plan |
In our passage for study the apostle sets before us the doctrine of justification, the driving force of the Reformation - sola gratia, sole fide, soli Deo gloria, "by grace alone, through faith alone, to God alone be glory." Our eternal standing in the sight of God, which demands of us an impossible perfection, is ours as a gracious gift from a merciful and loving God, and is appropriated through the instrument of faith. It is important to note that the context of this doctrinal statement shows clearly that the salvation offered in Christ is unconditional and eternal in dimension. On the basis of the faithfulness of Christ appropriated through our faith in him, we now stand before God eternally perfected. Nothing we can do adds to this gift of God's grace.
The extent of God's gift of salvation is quite wondrous. In speaking of our standing before God, we correctly say we are "declared right." Yet, it is also true to say that what God declares so is so. Although we are anything but right until "the old Adam is planted in the ground" (Luther), we are none-the-less eternally right such that we are actually "raised up with Christ" and seated "with him in the heavenly realms." Our eternal possession is a present reality. As the old country chorus put it, "this world ain't my home, I'm just a passin through"
God's unlimited kindness toward us is triggered by the instrument of faith. When a person rests on the faithfulness of Christ they receive in full the abundance of new life in Christ.
Although our faithfulness has nothing to do with the gift of salvation, faithfulness remains a natural consequence of salvation. In fact, the apostle says that the creation of God's blessed community has as its purpose the doing of "good works." God even "prepared in advance for us to do" them. Love is the sum of the good work. For the here and now, the gathering and nurturing of a people of God realizes love, and in eternity, love beyond measure.
1. Discuss what is meant by the "spirit" of this age - the "ways of this world" manipulated by the "ruler of the kingdom of the air."
2. If we are now seated with Christ "in the heavenly realms", can you think of anything that might improve our standing in Christ?
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