Article for the August 2018 edition of The Hillside Messenger
New Life with Christ:
An Exposition of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, Chapter 2:1-10
This article continues where my article on Ephesians 1 (June edition of The Hillside Messenger) left off. The first five verses of Ephesians 2 hang together, being linked by the theme of God’s gift of life to all believers even when they were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). Interestingly, in the King James Version, the first portion of Eph. 2:1 reads: “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” The italicized part of this consists of words supplied by the translators, but not occurring in the original Greek. Later versions do not supply this sentence, for example, the English Standard Version (ESV) reads: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.” If we were to translate literally, this section would read, “And you being dead in your trespasses and sins.” The Greek uses a present participle, and there is no main verb. Only in verse 5, when the participial phrase is repeated, does St. Paul use a main verb, “hath quickened” (KJV). What is the effect of delaying the main verb here, and repeating the participial phrase? The principal effect gained by this is to focus the reader’s attention on the phrase, “And you being dead in your trespasses and sins.” It is easier for the reader to concentrate on being alive in Christ, if he first reads, “And you hath he quickened.”
But the author’s intention, and one might say, the Holy Spirit’s intention, is that the reader realize his spiritual state, the state of being dead in trespasses and sins before he ever came to salvation in Christ. It is also the Lord’s intention for the readers to grasp the importance of the use of “you.” In writing about Christians and their blessings, St. Paul often uses “we” and “our.” For example, in Eph. 1: 7 he writes, “In whom (Christ) we have redemption through his blood, the remission of transgressions” (my translation). But here the readers must know and appreciate their desperate spiritual state before salvation – being dead in their trespasses and sins. No one can experience the joy of Christ’s salvation without knowing the heavy weight of his sins which have separated him from God and are causing his spiritual death. Admittedly, St. Paul is looking on the spiritual death of his readers as something of the past, but the heaviness of it must not be forgotten, because otherwise they might easily fall into sinful habits again, or become unthankful for the great salvation which the Lord Jesus Christ has purchased for them by his own blood. That this habitual sin lies in the past is emphasized by the relative clause which follows after “trespasses and sins”: “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world” (Eph. 2:2a, KJV), or “in which you once walked, following the course of this world” (Eph. 2:2a, ESV). In this way, St. Paul makes it clear that the sins of the readers were not simply inherited, but that they lived in these sins, committing them by their thoughts, words, and actions. Although “the course of this world” is used in the two versions of Eph. 2:2a above, it would be better to translate “the present age of this world”, as distinguished from the eternal age to come, or, as the Revised English Bible (REB) translates, “this present world order.” These translations imply ways of thinking, ideologies, behavioral patterns that conflict with God’s will and are rooted in evil. Following these sinful ideologies and behaviors, St. Paul continues, means that one is obeying “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2b, KJV). The “prince of the power of the air,” or “commander of the spiritual powers of the air” (REB), is the Devil, or Satan. The term “of the air” probably refers to darkness, being parallel to the use of “darkness” in Luke 22:53, Eph. 6:12, and Col. 1:13. Demons were believed to inhabit the lower atmosphere (Gk. aer), as opposed to the upper, pure atmosphere (Gk. aither). Satan, who controls all the demons of his dark kingdom, continues to be at work in “the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2b, KJV).
To show that this state of sinful living is and ought to be something of the past, and yet a highly dangerous state, St. Paul returns to the use of the first person plural in Eph. 2:3 (KJV):
Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
Characteristic of being dead in trespasses and sins is following the ideologies, philosophies, sinful habits and behavior patterns which belong to this present wicked age of the world. To follow these is essentially to obey Satan, who is now at work in all the children of disobedience. These children of disobedience, whose lives and thoughts are rooted in disobedience, live in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and the mind. We all were once like this, St. Paul writes, and by nature we were children of wrath like the rest. This means that the wrath of God rested upon us, and we would have been condemned to everlasting hell, if we had not believed in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. It is necessary for Christians to appreciate the amazing miracle of their salvation and to know that they have been saved from spiritual and eternal death by God’s grace alone, through turning away from sin and putting their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who died to redeem them from sin and eternal death.
Having considered the meaning of spiritual death in trespasses and sins, the reader of Ephesians is now given new hope, as St. Paul goes on to write about what God has done for believers:
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
(Eph. 2:4-5, KJV)
God in his great love (John 3:16) and rich mercy gave life to us together with Christ, saving us from this spiritual death by grace alone. When God raised the Lord Jesus Christ from death, he made alive with him all who would come to believe in him. God saw the helplessness of the human race to save itself, and gave them life through Jesus Christ. This was all the wonderfully gracious and kind act of God’s love and grace. All who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and been baptized in the Name of the Blessed Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, have been raised from spiritual death and made alive by God in Christ.
But this is not the end of what the Lord has done for us who have believed. According to Eph. 2:6-7, KJV:
And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
Spiritually at one with Christ through faith in Him and Holy Baptism, all the faithful have been given new life and will be given resurrection and seated in heaven in the coming ages, so that God’s infinite riches of grace and kindness to them through the Lord Jesus Christ may be revealed.
Twice in the ensuring verses (Eph. 2:8-9), St. Paul makes it clear that this great salvation Christians have received is not by their own deeds, but it is by the grace and the gift of God, received by faith. No one can boast of this, because it is God’s gift.
But there is a great purpose of our salvation to be fulfilled on earth. In Eph. 2:10, St. Paul writes that we are God’s workmanship (Gk. poiema, from which we derive our English word “poem”). God has created us in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared beforehand for us to do. No longer must the ideologies, philosophies, and sinful lifestyles dictate to us, or form our thinking, conversations or behavior. Instead, God’s word, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit’s words to us, must shape our minds, direct our words and control our actions. For now we must no longer live as if we are products of the world’s thinking, which is essentially directed by Satan, but as God’s new creations, doing all the good deeds that he has called us to do.