It isn’t what the Bible says that’s at issue today. It is what those words mean that really counts.
Fifty years ago, I taught a government class to Seniors in high school. My goal was for them to be good citizens by keeping informed about the nation’s challenges. So I required them to read newspapers and magazines carefully for the point of view of the writers and editors. Then they had to present their own opinions and stand up for what they believed. This approach created quite a storm; it was easier to just sit back and be told what to believe! Any “close reading of factual prose” takes some thinking about definitions and grammar and visual images, along with some evaluation of your own values and prejudices.
In order to get the meaning of Ephesians 2, closely read Ephesians 1. Some phrases can throw a wrench in your thinking!
“…he has chosen us in him before the foundation of the world,..”
“In love having predestined us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ…”
“To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.”
“That we should be to the praise of his glory…”
You might feel your teeth on edge as you read phrases like this. Paul’s word choices can do that to you! That feeling is just telling you to identify and put aside your preconceived notions. What would these phrases mean to you if you were a child? Unburdened, you go on into the second chapter with much less difficulty. Try it. Then read Ephesians 2 before going on.
It is hard to believe that one can be accepted by God simply because of his loving glance and favor. That is why the phrase, “in love,” can’t be overlooked (1:4-5). Paul explained the process of salvation by contrasting life with death. The dead are those who are worldly, under Satan’s influence, fulfilling their own desires. Paul made it personal. You, he says, broke God’s rules, missed the mark, and were like a dead person— just lying there waiting for the Judgment Day (2:1-4)!
“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has made us alive together with Christ,…” (Ephesians 2:4-5).
The alive are those who, because of God’s favor, have trusted in Christ Jesus as their Savior and Lord. They have been raised from the dead like Jesus was, resurrected by the Father with the same power. God does it so they might forever reflect the riches of his grace and kindness toward them. They are made alive in order to do good. Jesus was raised from the dead in order to reign. Believers have been resurrected in order to serve and do good for others…no matter their culture or politics or past sins (2:7;10;17-18).
This is the good news…the gospel…It is about a glorious God, the Creator of the universe, who is kind, loving, and forgiving. Because of his kindness, the Father, Son, and Spirit, devised a plan to buy back those who were dead in their sins. It included the suffering of the Son as a ransom for our rescue. And it also included a gift of faith and belief:
“For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: Not of works, less any man should boast” (2:8-9).
Now here you have to use a little of that grammar and sentence outlining you hated in English class. Assuming this is translated from the Greek correctly, “that” and “it” both refer back to “faith.” So the meaning is that faith is a gift. You can’t brag about how you believed when others did not. Salvation is about God’s plenteous mercy and kindness, not about anyone’s superior mind and heart. This is the Main Idea of the passage.
Where do you stand with all this? It is easy to admit you have done wrong; much harder to call it “sin.” It is more difficult yet to willingly turn away from those sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Left to ourselves, we probably would never do it, much less stick with it. So because God is merciful and knows we are as unresponsive as a corpse, faith is his gift. We can’t brag about how we figured it all out, how we believed and trusted!
So then, what do you do?
I used to tell my children to pray for a new heart…one that would be soft toward God, seeking him, and trusting in his mercy and kindness. Why not pray that for yourself? How can you resist such love, mercy, and kindness? How can you turn rigidly away from such a gift? How could One who loves so richly turn you away?
Won’t you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ today, believing that he suffered for your sins, and rose from the dead? It is an image of your own rising out of your trespasses to faith and eternal life. If you believe, it will all be to the praise of God’s glorious mercy, kindness, and love.