Given the description of human sin and depravity in Eph. 2:1-3, one might ask why would God ever want to save a sinful lot like that? And yet God does. As Paul goes on to say, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ . . .” (Eph. 2:4,5; NKJV). God saves sinners because it is His nature to be merciful and gracious.
God is “rich in mercy.” Mercy is the capacity to feel pity or compassion for those in need. When a merciful person sees someone in dire straits, he reacts by trying to help that one. And God is not just merciful; He is “rich in mercy”; He has an abundant store of mercy. Thus He can feel compassion for the most depraved sinner.
And God has the “great love with which He loved us.” Our English word “love” is capable of a wide variety of meanings, some of them contradictory to each other. But the Greek word used here (agape) came to have a distinctly Christian meaning. The classic description of agape is, of course, I Corinthians 13: “Love (agape) suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself ; is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil . . .” (I Cor. 13:4,5). “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
But how did He love us? How do we experience it? Our text says that He “made us alive together with Christ” (v. 5), “and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (v. 6). We, of course, were not literally and physically resurrected from the dead and ascended into heaven with Christ. We are still very much physically alive here on earth. What does our text mean, then? What is apparently referred to here our union with Christ, a union that is both positional and mystical. Positionally we have a new status with God. Our sins have been forgiven, and we have been adopted as God’s children and made heirs of eternal glory. We have a new relationship with God. In that sense we have been brought from death to life.
And all of this came about because once we believe and have sealed our faith in baptism we have become one with Christ. He is our representative; He acts on our behalf. Thus what is legally true of Christ is also true of us. He is righteous in the sight of God the Father, therefore we are as well. If He died, was buried, and rose again, then we are considered to have done the same as well.
But our union with Christ is also mystical. If we have been truly born again Christ is living within us through His Spirit. “For I through the law died to the law that I might live in God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:19,20). When I became a Christian I was born again; I received spiritual life from Christ. I have a new awareness, and new motives and desires. I want to please God in all that I do.
The passage emphasizes that all of this is the result of God’s grace, His pure, unmerited favor. “For by grace you have been saved by faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8,9). “Grace” (charis) means kindness, goodwill, favor. In this passage Paul draws a contrast between “grace” and “works.” Salvation is “the gift of God,” not something that is earned through our good works. We owe our salvation entirely to God’s good favor, not in anything that we have done or deserved. It is something that we receive “through faith” – we simply put our trust in Christ and His finished work on the cross.
And it is all of grace, “lest anyone should boast” (v. 9). God’s purpose in our salvation is that “in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (v. 7). That a holy and just God would save guilty, hell-deserving sinners is extraordinary indeed. It is a truly remarkable display of grace and kindness, and we rightly stand amazed at it all.
What it all comes down to is this: why should God have saved me? When I look back on my own past life there was nothing there deserving of God’s favor and blessing. I was a sinner. I willfully did things that were wrong and I justly deserved to be punished for the sins that I had committed. Even worse, I was a sinner by nature. Sin was deeply ingrained in my very psychology. God owed me nothing but His just condemnation. But He saved. Out of His own pure grace and mercy, and not on account of anything that I have done, He saved me. I owe it all to Him. I can take no credit for it myself. And hence I owe Him all of my gratitude and praise. What a wonderful Savior!
“Jesus paid it all,
All to him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.”
Elvina M. Hall