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
Every other year, LifeWay research and Ligonier Ministries conduct a “State of Theology” survey. In last year’s survey, they asked 3,000 professing Christians various questions regarding faith, theology, and values.
Results of the survey were not very encouraging.
Just to give a couple of examples.
52% of respondents agreed with the statement “everyone sins a little but most people are good by nature.” 51% agreed with the statement: “God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.”
In a Pew survey, 66% of professing Christians said that they believed many religions can lead to eternal life.
There are all sorts of opinions people have about faith. Even those who claim to be Christians.
People like to undermine sin, our sinful nature and instead think that man is basically good.
We like to treat Jesus as a good teacher instead of worshipping him as the Lord.
Ephesians 2:1-10 contradicts all of those ideas.
It’s one of the clearest texts in the New Testament at getting to the heart of the consequences of our sin and the richness of God’s love and grace.
1. Dead in sin
Paul begins this section by talking about life apart from Christ. Right from the start, this passage gets at the grim result of sin.
Verse 1: And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.
You were dead. That’s the state in which all of humanity finds itself, apart from Christ. .
You were alienated against God, in rebellion against God. You were blind to the glory of Christ. You were deaf to the good news of the gospel. Your heart was cold to the grace of God. Your mind was turned off to the Word of God. You were dead in your sins. Lifeless in your sins.
Continuing from verse 1 into verse 2.
Paul says that they were dead in our sins in which they once walked following the course of this world.
The effects of sin are felt throughout the world. We’re sinful. But everyone around us is also sinful. It is a fallen world.
Paul says in Romans 8:22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth.
Even as Christians, we are not insulated from the world.
Generation after generation of sinful people in a fallen world. And sin impacts everything in our world. It impacts our culture and our political systems. It impacts our world view and the morals and values of our culture. Sinful desires often impact the things that we treasure and the goals we pursue.
Hurt people hurt people and it ripples throughout families and relationships. Sin impacts all of our interactions. Others sin against us and it’s so often tempting to respond in kind. Other hurt us, it’s so tempting to withhold forgiveness. The world is sinful and so life doesn’t seem fair and it becomes tempting to justify cheating to get ahead.
Sometimes people don’t make us feel the way we feel like we should feel, and so it’s easy to justify tereating others poorly.
God doesn’t give us what we want and so we look at something we know to be sinful and say to ourselves “I deserve this.” We live in a world where we’re both surrounded by sin and contributing to that sin. And we just continue living and walking within that.
Following the values of this world.
Chasing the goals of this world.
1 John 2:15-17 says:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
The world is not our hope.
In verse 3, Paul says: 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.
The Apostle continues to expound upon our fallen and sinful world and starts to zero in more specifically on our sinful nature. Paul says that before coming to faith, we all lived for the passions of the flesh.
Paul concludes this first section by addressing our own individual sinfulness.
We aren’t innocent.
It’s tempting to think that a baby is born with a clean slate, or morally neutral. Not so. We are born sinful.
In Romans 5:12, Paul talks of the universality of sin in our world: just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.
We are born sinful. But also, throughout life, we choose to sin.
We know what is right and often don’t do it. We turn to God and say “my kingdom come, my will be done.” Even for people who know Jesus, love Jesus, and who are walking with Jesus, there are still struggles and temptations.
And that is the situation in which all of humanity finds itself apart from God. We were by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind.
Alive in Christ
Paul totally changes the entire focus of a fallen and sinful existence with two words.
You were dead in the trespasses and sins.
You were following the course of the world.
You were following the prince of the power of the air.
You lived in the passions of the flesh.
You were by nature a child of wrath.
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).
Not because you were good. You weren’t.
Not because you were worthy. You were dead.
Not because you were special. You were sinful.
Not because of anything you did but because God is rich in mercy.
Our sin is great. The debt is high. But God is rich in mercy.
The text says “because of the great love with which he loved us.”
God loves us.
God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
Even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.
We were dead in sin.
Even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.
God works a miracle. Every time someone trusts in Jesus. God takes someone dead and makes them alive.
You can’t do that on your own.
All because of God’s love and goodness.
End of verse 5, Paul says by grace you have been saved.
All of it is grace. All of it is the free gift of God that he bestows upon sinful people who trust in Jesus.
And the more appreciation you have for your own sinfulness, the more appreciation you can have for God’s grace.
Not only are we rescued from the deserved penalty of our sins.
But we partake in the blessings that God offers.
Verse 6 says and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
Because of the gospel, you have been saved. Jesus has raised us up with him.
There is a future sense in which you will be united with Christ and experiencing all of these Spiritual blessings, but there is also a present sense in which we already have them.
Paul doesn’t say that we will be saved. It’s “by grace you have been saved.” He doesn’t say Jesus will raise us up with him but that Jesus “raised us up with him.”
Verse 7. Based on the previous few verses. All of these blessings. Sharing in what Jesus has accomplished, being seated in the heavily places. Verse 7 gets at a purpose for it.
Yes, it is because God loves us. But it is also so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.
He shows it through forgiving sinful people. Sin is not good, but God is so good that he manifests his glory through the gospel in forgiving sinful people.
God is glorious and we are not. Yet a glorious God is so glorious that he has allowed inglorious people to be with him.
Jesus came into the world and died so that inglorious and rebellious people could be with him.
All glory to God for that.
Verse 8, Paul repeats what he said in verse 5. By grace you have been saved. But he elaborates even further.
For by grace you have been saved through faith.
Faith is what matters. Faith is the means by which we are forgiven.
It’s not in realizing what we can do for God but what God has done for us and promised to us, and trusting in that. By grace, you have been saved through faith and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.
We’ve talked about this throughout the passage but now Paul says it explicitly. It’s not your own doing. It’s not how good you are, how religious you are, how moral you are. It is the gift of God. There is no room for pride at the cross. There is no leverage we have to go to God with our chest puffed up. It is all God’s gift.
Living for Christ
In our second point, the focus was on the new life that Christ brings through the gospel.
But as this section winds down, where I ultimately want to take us is how we are to respond in our daily life as followers of Jesus.
Let me unpack this idea. The end of this section contrasts living to justify yourself vs living for Christ.
We see that at the end of verse 8.
Paul has again established that we are saved by grace through faith and then adds:
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).
It logically follows if we are saved by grace through faith that we are therefore not saved by our own doing.
If we think we are earning favor with God, earning salvation, then we aren’t living for Christ. We’re living for ourselves.
But this passage says that’s impossible. This passage is saying that anyone who thinks that God will forgive them because they’re good…is wrong.
That’s a message which is not the gospel.
And at the end of the passage, Paul comments on the Christian life in light of the gospel.
Verse 10 says For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
But Paul concludes the section by saying that we, that is to say Christians here, are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.
So our works cannot save us but we are created for good works.
How does that work? It works because our works are not the means of our salvation but they are the response to our salvation.
We are invited into new life through the gospel.
There’s a significant theological point that people often get wrong. On the one hand, there is the mistake of works based righteousness. It’s thinking you can earn your way to God.
This passage flies in the face of that.
We don’t earn God’s favor but for a person who has truly tased the goodness of the gospel, a person who has truly come to God and recognized their sin and God’s love and grace, that the result of that is fruit that is produced in the life of a believer.
So you can’t earn your way to God. But when you have come to faith in Christ, your life will change.
Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17).”
It’s a point the world often misses. The world loves the message of cheap grace. The world loves the message of “Jesus will forgive me anyway, so it doesn’t matter what I do.”
That is why the Apostle James said “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17).
The point isn’t that you can’t earn God by your works. But the people of God exist for good works.
We are created in Christ for good works. Not so we can save ourselves by those works but so we can shine the light of the same Lord who saved us from our own sins. So we can bring glory to God with our lives. God is glorified when people are redeemed. He’s glorified when people stop living for themselves and start living for him.
Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear what you think, and don’t forget to subscribe!
Josh Benner has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has served churches in Minnesota and Illinois. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in St. Louis.