Summary: We were dead in trespasses and sins - "But God..."! The gift of faith, and the works we are called to do.
Speaking to the Christians in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul said: “You - who were dead in your sins” (Ephesians 2:1).
Sin is any disobedience to, or breaking of, the law of God. By nature, since the fall of Adam, man is disobedient to God’s law. Man has broken, and goes on breaking, every commandment which God has given.
All of us know right from wrong. It is written in our hearts to know that stealing, cheating, murder, corruption, hatred - all these things are wrong. We know it is right to respect and honour parents, to love our neighbours, to help those in need. It is wrong to want what belongs to someone else.
Also, deep within us we have an inbuilt need to worship the true and living God, if only we could find Him. We know it is wrong to worship anything that He has created, or anything we have made with our own hands. We know of the need to honour Him, and to set apart time for His worship and to seek after Him. Hence in His commandments he says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy…”
Yet our consciences were deadened by sin. We knew not where we might find Him. There was a great gulf, a chasm, between God and us. We might have tried to find Him by reaching upwards to heaven with our ideas and our idols, but we fell short. “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Sin separates us from God. Separation from God is spiritual death. “Dead in our sins” (Ephesians 2:1) is just how we are when we do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Before they were Christians, these Ephesians lived like everyone else in the world. They were disobedient to God (Ephesians 2:2), consciously or unconsciously following the way of evil. They satisfied every fleshly lust and desire (Ephesians 2:3).
This is how the world was, and this is how the world is. People delight in sin, and take pleasure in those who corrupt themselves! Such people, left to themselves, are under the condemnation of God. They are “sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2), and “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3).
2. “BUT GOD…”! (Ephesians 2:4)
For most of the people to whom Paul first addressed this letter, they were no longer under this condemnation, this separation from God. Something had changed.
(i) Something had changed in their relationship to God.
It was not that they had suddenly found a successful religion that somehow gave them a more certain access to God. None of the world’s religions have succeeded in reaching up to God.
It was rather that God had reached down to them in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is what Christianity is all about. The chasm is bridged, but not by our feeble efforts to reach up to God, but by His powerfully reaching down to us.
The only thing that distinguishes Christians from other people is the blood and righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ. All humanity are sinners in need of a Saviour, and the only thing that makes Christians different from the rest of humankind is not that we have found Him, but that He has reached down to us.
The gulf is bridged by the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, who took upon His own holy Person the sins of His people. Thus God’s anger against sin is directed against His own Son, our substitute, who is the only acceptable sacrifice for sin.
Jesus’ followers are seen as partakers in His resurrection, being made alive, given a new life in Him (Ephesians 2:6). They are given citizenship of heaven. This world is not the Christian’s home: he is just a traveller here.
(ii) Something had changed within themselves.
The Christian’s passport to heaven is his faith in what Jesus has done for him. Yet faith itself does not originate with us. It is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).
People complain for lack of faith, but Jesus teaches that there is immense power in a true faith that is as small as a mustard seed. However, faith is not of our own doing: it is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). We need to get away from the idea that we can somehow “work up” enough faith: we cannot get faith by our own efforts.
If I want to give a present to one of my grandchildren, I don’t expect them to do anything, or to give anything in return. All that is required is that they reach out their hand to receive it.