And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 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— 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. 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—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 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)
You Once Walked
The Christian church has always been plagued by debates over how sinners can be saved. With that in mind, Paul offers a counterpoint for just about everyone who claims anything other than salvation by grace through faith.
Do you believe that works can save? Paul says, “By grace you have been saved … not a result of works” (Eph 2:8-9).
Do you agree with the tenets of hyper-grace where faith plays no part in our salvation? Paul says, “By grace you have been saved through faith.”
Do you suggest that born-again sinners can possess faith but remain unchanged, unconverted? Paul says, “We are … created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph 2:10).
Do you look back on your own conversion and claim too much credit for your faith? Paul says, “When we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ” (Eph 2:5).
The truth is, however, Paul isn’t directly arguing against anyone in this passage. There are none of the tell-tale signs such as Paul asking and answering rhetorical questions or responding to hypothetical arguments. Rather, he’s building on what he previously said and prefacing what he will say in the remaining chapters.
Paul is talking to believers here. He’s speaking to us. In the first chapter, he reminds us that something incredible has taken place on our behalf. God chose us. The Son of God redeemed us by his blood. God’s Spirit seals us. God’s power resides in us. Ultimately, we have a glorious eternal inheritance that can never be lost or taken away.
In short, you and I are different. We are different than we were before. We are different than most of the people living on this earth. We’ve been adopted out of the fallen family of Adam into the family of God. Furthermore, we’ve been changed, transformed into new creations. Motivated by unconditional love, God has rescued us not only for the future but also in the present.
Ephesians 2 makes great material for theological textbooks, but let’s not ignore its practical implications. This passage contains an important keyword that’s easy to miss: walk.
Paul begins by saying, “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” (Eph 2:1). He ends by saying, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10).
Even more than a future home in heaven, God has given us new lives, new identities, and new affections. He has dramatically and permanently changed the course of our steps. We were once dead, but we’re now alive. We once followed the same pattern of carnal disobedience as everyone else, but God has changed our direction. By his mercy, he has turned us around, pointing us to a life that resembles the perfect life of his Son.
In fact, everything Paul says in the first few chapters of this book lay a foundation for very practical exhortations. In Ephesians 4, he says:
You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. (Ephesians 4:17-18)
God has saved you from sin and its horrible consequences. Why would you want to return to that life which, according to Paul, is no life at all? It’s death. It’s hell.
You are free from the bondage of sin. Why would you voluntarily return? Why would you want to fit in a with a crowd that is marching toward wrath and destruction? Why would you want to assume the very behaviors that condemned mankind and necessitated your Savior’s death?
You Were Dead
Paul begins the passage this way:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 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— 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. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
Our lives before Christ are characterized here by ugly words such as death, sin, disobedience, and wrath. There’s no use arguing with Paul about this point. He could not have used clearer language to describe the natural condition of all human beings. “None is righteous, no, not one” (Ro 3:10).
In Romans 6, Paul says, “The wages of sin is death” (Ro 6:23). To be clear, we do not become dead because we sin. We are dead. Therefore, we sin. The original sin of Adam condemned us long before we were born or had the first opportunity to sin. Paul makes this point in Romans 5 when he says,”Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Ro 5:12). We sin because we are dead, and we are dead because we sin.
There is no escaping this reality. By that, I mean there is no reasonable way for us to claim that we were once anything less than spiritually dead. We were not sick. We were not dying. We were dead in our trespasses and sin. We were utterly incapable of responding to any spiritual stimulus or performing any act that might be pleasing to God.
I’m not suggesting, by the way, that spiritually dead people can’t do good works. I’m not implying that they can’t be religious or invoke the name of God, even the name of Jesus. Most of Israel during the first century is a testament to the fact that people can honor God with their lips and actions while their hearts are as hard as stone.
John said, “[Christ] came to his own [the Jews], and his own people did not receive him” (Jn 1:11). Why? He implies that they were not God’s children. They were not born of God’s Spirit. He says:
But to all who did receive [Christ], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
My point is, a spiritually dead person can certainly behave as though he is a spiritual person. We can’t always judge a book by its cover. Jesus told the Pharisees, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts” (Lk 16:15).
Religious people can fool us. Of course, the so-called sinners and tax collectors of this world can fool us too. God’s people begin in the same spiritual condition as everyone else. Plus, we’re capable of falling into sin. We may not be slaves to sin any longer, but our flesh still craves it as much as ever. It will always be a battle for us.
But Paul is not encouraging us to look outward at the people around us. He’s telling us to look back at our former selves. Remember who you were and from where you came. You were spiritually dead in the thick of sin and rebellion. Though you may say to yourself, “I wasn’t that bad,” God has a far more accurate assessment of the situation. He says, “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” (Eph 2:1).
Dead is dead. Fifty corpses on a battlefield may be in various stages of decay, but dead is dead. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Ro 3:23). Sin may manifest itself in different degrees, but the result is the same: spiritual death, a complete absence of spiritual life.
Following the Course of This World
As a result, the dead sinner has only one course he can take which is to “[follow] the course of this world [and] the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph 2:2). All he knows to do is go with the flow of this world’s values and behaviors. Without realizing it, he’s marching to the drum of Satan himself.
For example, there was a man in Luke 9 who had an opportunity to change his course. He met the Lord, and the Lord said to him, “Follow me” (Lk 9:59). But the man responded, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” In other words, he told Jesus, “I’ll follow you, but give me a few years. My father’s old. He won’t be alive much longer. Once he has passed, I’ll collect my inheritance and come find you.”
That man stood in the presence of God. God in the flesh invited him to come along. He had a chance to be with the one whom Peter said has “the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). But he valued materialism more than Christ.
Was he spiritually dead?
Consider what Jesus said to him: “Leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Lk 9:60). Did Jesus call that man, dead? Who knows. But he did insinuate that the man’s misguided priority was characteristic of the spiritually dead. The man was more concerned about his future inheritance than committing his life to the Savior.
Remember what Jesus said on another occasion: “My sheep hear my voice … and they follow me. I give them eternal life” (Jn 10:27-28). He also said to the unbelieving Jews that day, “You do not believe because you are not among my sheep” (Jn 10:26).
Sheep, goats, wolves—every creature acts according to his nature. As for the spiritually dead, Paul said they will “[follow] the course of this world,” which means they will continue to walk a path of disobedience to God (Eph 2:2). They will not have any regard for the will of God nor his Word.
Furthermore, they are incapable of truly comprehending spiritual things. To the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them” (1Co 2:14). Spiritual insight requires spiritual life which a dead person does not possess.
By Nature Children of Wrath
Again, Paul is describing us. He says, “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” (Eph 2:3). We, too, once caved to our selfish desires. We did what felt good to both our bodies and our minds. We, too, were once lost in the world’s system of sin and carnal pleasure. The devil was our king, and we didn’t think twice about it.
In 2 Timothy 3, Paul provides an overview of mankind’s behavior. He describes us this way:
In the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
Paul offers a similar list in Romans 1 as he describes what mankind has been in the past:
Their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men. … They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Romans 1:26-28; 29-31)
To be clear, Paul is not using hyperbolic language. He’s not exaggerating his point about human nature. If you can’t see these characteristics in our world, it isn’t because they don’t exist; it’s because you lack spiritual sight.
Homosexuality is no longer merely tolerated; it’s celebrated and literally paraded through the streets. The love of money is not condemned as a root of evil; it’s lauded as a virtue. It’s an integral part of the American dream. The sins which Paul names can be found everywhere we look.
Of course, Paul is not suggesting that every person has committed every sin. But every person has lived in the same system. We’ve all followed the same course which inevitably leads to wrath. He says that we were “by nature children of wrath” (Eph 2:3).
When writing to the church at Rome, Paul addressed those people who felt morally superior to others. They didn’t feel that what Paul had to say about the sins of the Gentiles or the depravity of mankind applied to them. They felt themselves to be better than that. They assumed that they possessed a higher degree of righteousness than others.
Listen to what Paul says in Romans 2:
You have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. (Romans 2:1-5)
For those who say, “I’m not that bad,” Paul responds, “No, you’re worse because you’re equally guilty of sin but lacking repentance.” Whether we violate one law or fifty, we “fall short of the glory of God” (Ro 3:23). James said, “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (Jas 2:10).
Jesus taught, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Lk 5:32). One of the most dangerous thoughts to ever cross a person’s mind is, I’m righteous enough. Why is that so dangerous? Why would you seek the Savior, your only hope for salvation, if you think you’re already righteous?
“If you keep down that road,” Paul tells the Romans, “you’re only storing up wrath for yourself.” He says:
[God] will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. (Romans 2:6-8)
If Ephesians 2 ended with verse 3, we’d all be in serious trouble. By nature, we’re children of wrath headed for the full fury of God on the final day of judgment. We can’t do anything to change our course because we are dead in our sin. Dead people can’t revive themselves. As Paul says later in the chapter, we’d be left with “no hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12).
But you’re a believer. You’re a follower of Christ. Having felt the burden of your sin, you have turned to Christ for salvation. You no longer assume that eternal paradise is the default destination of all people. You no longer think that you can get there by your own achievements.
Yet the question remains, do you fully grasp what God has done for you? Do you realize that you were once dead in sin? Do you understand that you once willingly followed the prince of the power of the air and were headed straight for God’s eternal wrath?
Paul wants us to consider these questions. He’s not preaching these things to unbelievers. He’s not even specifically talking about unbelievers. He’s talking about us and our pasts.
God deserves all praise because without him the story ends here.
He Loved Us
Thankfully, however, Paul continues: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us—” Stop right there (Eph 2:4).
Clearly, something drastic has taken place. We’re not like everyone else. To borrow Wade’s metaphor, the taste of pig slop no longer appeals to us. Sin doesn’t provide the same pleasure it once did. More than that, we have hope for something greater than this world. We find joy even in the midst of suffering. What’s going on? How did this happen? After all, we were spiritually dead.
The answer is God. “But God,” Paul says. “Yes, you were dead in sin. You were following the course of this world. You were destined for wrath, but God.”
We may not have known it at the time, but our transformation didn’t begin with us. It began with God and his love. He loved us, so he showed us mercy even in our fallen state. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).
We can’t begin to explain why God loves us. There’s nothing inherently lovable about rebellious sinners, but he loves us anyhow. Not only does he love us, but he loves us with an unfailing, everlasting love. Through his prophet Jeremiah, God said, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer 31:3).
And because he loves us, he sent Jesus to pay for our crimes against him. Paul wrote, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Ro 5:8).
Spurgeon once said, “Nothing binds me to my Lord like a strong belief in His changeless love.” I feel pity for those Christians who underestimate the extent of God’s love. They cripple themselves with a view that God might love us immeasurably one day but revoke his love the next.
How much more proof do you need that God loves you and will always love you? You were “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Eph 1:13-14). You were dead in sin, but God has brought you to life. You’re a walking miracle. Let me show you.
Alive Together With Christ
“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—by grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:4-5).
Just the other day, a fellow believer said to me, “If only I could see a miracle.” What kind of miracle would you like to see? How about the raising of the dead? Would that be enough to solidify your faith?
If so, you’ve seen it. You’ve experienced it firsthand. You, my friend, are the miracle. By the grace of God, you have been raised from the dead. Elsewhere, it’s what Paul refers to as “[walking] in newness of life” (Ro 6:4).
When I was a kid, I would sleepwalk every now and then. Occasionally, I would do something embarrassing such as use the toilet while my mother was standing in the bathroom. But to my knowledge, I never did anything that put my life at risk. I did, however, have a classmate who also sleepwalked. One night, she opened the back door and walked across the deck toward her family’s swimming pool. Thankfully, her dad caught her right before she fell in.
That’s a similar picture to the one Paul paints here. We are the walking dead moving toward eternal destruction. We have no idea it’s happening, and there’s nothing we could do about it anyhow. But God steps in and wakes us up. He brings us to life. We are born again.
The Heavenly Places in Christ Jesus
Furthermore, God has “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6-7). Not only does God give us life, but he also gives us life eternal.
Notice that Paul doesn’t say that we will be raised up. He uses the aorist tense here. While the fullness of our spiritual life is yet to come, it is so certain that Paul speaks of it in the past tense as though it’s already happened. We might as well be in the heavenly places (the supernatural realm where God rules) because it is absolutely certain. Christ and his Spirit have guaranteed it.
Even more important from a practical standpoint, our salvation has a purpose. God’s love motivated him to show us mercy. In turn, he brings us to life in Christ. The question is, why? For what purpose?
In the end, God has made us alive to sit in the “heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6). Did we need to be made alive for that?
When Jesus brought Lazarus back to life, he instructed the other people present to “unbind him, and let him go” (Jn 11:44). Lazarus was wrapped in cloths, but a living person can’t function while he’s still wrapped in the trappings of death.
God’s grace and kindness are shown to us even now as he begins to accomplish the very thing for which he saved us. According to Romans 8, “Those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined [not to merely go to heaven, but] to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Ro 8:29). For us to become like Christ, we must be raised again. “Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Ro 6:4).
Saved By Grace Through Faith
So the last piece of the puzzle is to determine (1) when this change in us occurred and (2) what exactly it changed about us. Paul says:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
Paul has already established the point that we are saved by grace because there can be no other way. Dead men can’t do a thing to help themselves. But here he adds that we are “saved by grace through faith” (Eph 2:8). In other words, faith is the pipeline by which we receive God’s grace.
In Romans 3, Paul words it this way:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:23-25)
In Romans 5, he says, “We have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (Ro 5:2). That’s why I refer to faith as a pipeline. It is God’s appointed means to bring sinners who have been saved by his grace into the fold. It is a result of God bringing sinners to life.
Like Lazarus, God doesn’t save his people only to leave them wrapped in their grave clothes. He transforms us, and that transformation results in faith. He reveals to us “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). In John 17, Jesus prayed, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word” (Jn 17:6).
But before we are tempted to brag about our faith (our belief in Christ for salvation) as though we accomplished something on our own, Paul reminds us that even faith is a gift of God. Paul told the Romans, “[Righteousness] depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace” (Ro 4:16). Don’t mistake your faith for human works. Faith is a byproduct of God’s saving grace.
Having said that, good works are natural byproducts of faith. Let’s just be careful not to put the cart before the horse. Grace leads to faith which leads to works. If we put them in any other order, we are contradicting the clear teachings of Scripture. Human effort (or works) is the antithesis of faith. Therefore, good works must follow faith, not be the cause of faith.
Created In Christ Jesus For Good Works
Lastly, Paul says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). Our good works are the fruits of eternal life.
Do you remember what God promised about the new covenant through Ezekiel? He said, “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Eze 36:27). Since the people proved themselves incapable of keeping God’s law over and over again, God said, “I’ll fix that. I’ll give them the divine power to obey me.”
Paul told Titus, “Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ … gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Tit 2:13-14). He told the Philippians, “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Php 2:13).
You are not saved by good works, but you are saved for good works. Do you see the difference?
The tenth verse is a sneak preview of what’s to come. Paul is building up to a series of practical exhortations that begin in Ephesians 4. In other words, what we know about our salvation is not where a gospel sermon ends. What we know is only the beginning of discipleship.
Examine your life. What was it like before Christ? What is it like after Christ? If there is no difference, there’s cause for alarm. Do you see what a marvelous thing God has done?
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3).