Summary: How are we saved and what are its implications
It’s the “After” Picture That Matters
This morning’s passage is one of the central texts of the Protestant church. Pastors and theologians far superior to me have unlocked the power of these verses. A proper understanding of this text is absolutely crucial to the Christian faith. What is the ground of our salvation? Is it because we do more good works than bad? Can the good works of other saints of God be applied for the deficit in my account with God? What gives us hope? Why should we believe on Jesus? This passage helps answer all the central articles of our faith upon which we stand.
Exposition of the Text
The first chapter of Ephesians helps set the table to this text. It teaches us that we who have been chosen have been included in the infallible plan of God before all time, in eternity past. This teaches us that God knew all along the things that would happen. He knew about Adam’s fall and the plunging of the entire creation into chaos. He knew that He would send His Son to redeem a people unto Himself. Some preachers preach about Jesus, saying: “While He was on the cross, you were on His mind.” This statement is true enough, but it is even more vastly mind boggling that we have always from eternity past been on His mind. Paul tells us that this plan of God was currently being achieved in the believers at Ephesus through the Holy Spirit who certifies to us that we are his people.
Chapter 2 continues in this same vein and zeroes in on the present reality of how God had applied His plan to the Ephesian believers. And as this may have been a circular letter to several churches, it also speaks in general to how God is working in the church of all ages including ours today. So what Paul says here is just as true today.
Paul begins this text by reminding the Ephesians of their “before” picture. The picture was uglier than even the worst “before” picture in the weight loss commercials. They were not just sick, they were dead. Dead people are by definition beyond all human help. Paul tells the believers that they were all dead spiritually speaking because of trespasses and sins. This left them continuously bound in the cemetery. Just like a decaying body makes an ongoing testimony of physical death, their sins and trespasses also testify again and again of the spiritual deadness of all people, including once, the believer.
The believer’s life was once controlled from within by their walking according to the dictates of the world. In this they were willing to be controlled by both worldly and demonic influences. This is the lot of the unbeliever and acts as common ground to reach out to them, the believer can relate to them. What Paul also implies by the word “were” is that they are no longer dead. Nor are they to live this way any longer. Paul will deal with this extensively later in the epistle. This past condition is further emphasized in verse three. Flip Wilson is famous for the quote: “The Devil made me do it”. Paul does affirm demonic influence, but demonstrates the willingness of humanity to serve the desires of the flesh. But they are dead as far as a desire to do the will of God. The unbeliever might protest at this and say they are serving God. But if they are confronted to God who is revealed in Scripture they will show that whatever god they claim to serve, it isn’t the true God.
Verse four teaches why the believer is now different. It again begins with reminding the believer for their former dead condition. Paul wants to make sure the believer knows this. Having repeated this, Paul now paints the “after” picture for the believer. This “after” picture is orders of magnitude prettier than any of the models on television. God has made us alive in Christ. God’s eternal plan from before the beginning of time is applied in time to the believer who is transitioned from wrath to grace. It is by the grace of God that the believer has been saved. The word for saved is in a Greek tense which is called the “perfect tense”. The perfect tense emphasizes the ongoing result of an act in the past. So there is a sense of an ongoing and permanent result of having God’s grace applied. The believer is now truly alive and has eternal life. A promise that physical death cannot sever. Paul had mentioned in the first chapter that we have received a down payment of the resurrection of which inheritance we shall someday receive in full.
In verse six, Paul elaborates more fully on what being made alive entails. It is a resurrection from the dead. Jesus’ physical resurrection and exaltation to heaven is actualized in us. Because Christ has entered into the highest heaven, we who are now in Christ are there with Him in a real sense in part with the promise that at the consummation of the age we shall be physically there as well. This is our glorious future. Jesus is seated there now which means that His work is completed. Because His work is completed and we are in Him, god’s work is completed in us. We might not feel this fully at this point living in this world, but if we remember that what God has planned for us from before the beginning of time will certainly come to pass in the realm of time and space. It is as good as done.