But God | A Bible Class on Ephesians 2:4-10
As we noticed in our previous study, this paragraph demonstrates three vital truths:
- The life one had prior to his conversion.
- The activity of God in the conversion/salvation process.
- The life one has after his conversion.
We further noticed that the thought changes at verse 4. Paul had been discussing in the previous three verses what life was like before one came to Christ. Beginning at verse 4, Paul discussed what God did to save us from sin and how one’s life changes from the moment God saves him.
Cause of Conversion (Ephesians 2:4, 7-9)
God is the One who saved the Ephesians. Although they were dead in their trespasses and sins in which they once walked, “BUT GOD, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us. . . .”
The phrase “But God” is one of the most significant phrases in all of Scripture. The phrase marks the dichotomy between a life of sin leading to hell and a life of salvation leading to heaven. The phrase points to the fact that God is the One who saved the Ephesians; they were completely incapable of saving themselves. What are some of the differences between a life of sin leading to hell and a life of salvation leading to heaven? Why could the Ephesians not save themselves? How can one come to realize that he cannot save himself? In what way(s) do some try to save themselves?
When “But God” occurs in Scripture, we see that in some way God is stepping in to fulfill his purpose. E.g.,
- “And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him” (Acts 7:9).
- “They took [Jesus] down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead” (Acts 13:29-30).
- “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:7-8).
- “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Cor 3:6).
- 2 Corinthians 7:5-6.
- “Indeed [Epaphroditus] was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow” (Phil 2:27).
How does Ephesians 2:4 show that God stepped in to fulfill his purpose? What is God’s purpose? Why did God have to step in?
The phrase “But God” shows the greatness and power of God to step in and change human history. He stepped in and changed the work of the patriarchs from evil to good; he stepped in and raised his Son to life after his crucifixion; he stepped in and sent his Son to give sinful man new life; he stepped in and blessed the ministries of Paul and Apollos; he stepped in and saved the life of Epaphroditus. In Ephesians 2, Paul taught that God stepped in and saved man from a certain death and an eternity in hell.
God is rich in mercy. “Mercy” in Greek indicates “the emotion aroused by someone in need and the attempt to relieve the person and remove his trouble.” From what trouble did God save us? In other words, why is sin so troublesome?
Notice that God is “rich in mercy.” God doesn’t just have some mercy, but he overflows with mercy. “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of your possession? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in showing clemency” (Mic 7:18). God’s being rich in mercy can never be used as an excuse to continue in sin. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:1-2). How do some folks use God’s great mercy as an excuse to continue in sin?
God loved us with great love. Notice the superlatives Paul used here. God is “rich in mercy” and has “great love.” That’s not the best way to write in English. You’re not to use redundant words. However, Paul wasn’t concerned with such “niceties”—he was writing the truth of God. Paul was making the point that God absolutely overflows with mercy and love. Notice the emphasis on God’s love—It’s the “great love with which he loved us.”
God has great love for us. One of the richest themes in the New Testament is God’s rich love for his creatures.
- “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
- “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God” (1 Jn 3:1).
- “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 Jn 4:16).
How do we know God has such great love for us? What are some of the different ways God has demonstrated his great love for humans? What are some of our responsibilities because of God’s great love?
In the ages to come God will show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness. God’s demonstration will be “in the ages to come.” When are “the ages to come?” Why does God not show his immeasurable riches in grace in this age?
How will God show his immeasurable riches in grace in the age to come? In context, it seems that God’s demonstration in the ages to come are to the spiritual forces in the heavenly places. Might some of these spiritual being doubt the love and mercy of God? Why would God want these spiritual beings to see his mercy and love?
God will also show his kindness and grace to all men on Judgment Day. Might some men doubt the love and mercy of God? Why would someone doubt the love and mercy of God?
The immeasurable riches of God’s grace in kindness is “toward us.” It must be remembered that Paul was writing to Christians. God’s grace in kindness “toward us” is only for Christians; it is not for everyone. God would absolutely love his mercy, grace, and kindness to be extended to all people. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). God has, of course, made his mercy, grace, and kindness available to all people. Why do some people refuse God’s mercy, grace, and kindness?
God’s immeasurable riches of grace in kindness toward us are “in Christ Jesus.” Only through Jesus can God show his kindness to us. Why can God only show his kindness to us in Christ? What does this teach us about Jesus?
Christ Jesus is the only way to the Father. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6). “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
God saved us by grace. What is grace? The Greek term (charis) is used several ways in the New Testament. The term can mean kindness, graciousness. Charis can mean favor, help, goodwill. In this way, the term can refer to the action of one who volunteers to do something. The word also refers to the practical application of goodwill, a (sign of) favor, gracious deed, or gift. Think of doing someone a favor; that’s the idea here. The word also means thanks or gratitude.
The truth of salvation through grace is that man is incapable of saving himself. God, though, stepped forward with his kindness, help, and gracious deeds to save man. As we think of God’s grace regarding salvation, we must think of God’s grace as action—It is doing a gracious deed for mankind. God’s grace is not simply a nebulous concept. What are some specific ways God demonstrated his grace for man’s salvation?
Salvation through God’s grace is an important theme in the New Testament.
- “We believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 15:11).
- “The free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many” (Rom 5:15).
- “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” (Tit 2:11).
Because God saves man through grace, man cannot be saved by works. What type of works did Paul envision here? How would you define works? Why can man not be saved through works? Do some folks seek to be saved by works? What are some examples of people trying to be saved by works? Does salvation apart from works negate the need for obedience? Is obedience the same as works? Cf. Luke 17:7-10. Might God consider any of our obedience as “works?” Cf. John 6:29.
If we are not saved by works, why did James write that we are not saved by faith alone? James 2:18-26. This is a place where one absolutely must remember the context in which the biblical authors wrote. It’s obvious that James uses faith in the sense of simply believing there is a God. Paul used faith in the sense of a firm reliance on God, a firm reliance which includes a willingness/desire to do everything God asks.
God saved us by grace “through faith.” Grace is God’s role in the salvation of man; faith is man’s role in the salvation process. Faith plays a vital role in the salvation process. The Scriptures teach that salvation only comes to the one who believes.
- “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (Jn 8:24).
- “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31).
- “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb 11:6).
Why does faith playa vital role in salvation—i.e., why can man not be saved without faith? Romans 4:1-5, 13-25. Faith is the foundational step in salvation—without faith man will not take any further step in obedience. Romans 4:19-21 demonstrates true faith is trust; a trust as deep as Abraham’s leads one to obey everything God requires. Hebrews 11 demonstrates that faith leads to proper obedience.
It is important to note that this passage does not say one is saved by faith only. Many claim that this passage teaches all one must do to be saved is to believe in God. I would suggest that the overwhelming majority who claim to believe one is saved by faith only do not really believe that. They would not, for example, believe one can simply live in sin, refuse to repent, and be right before God.
“This is not your own doing.” There was absolutely no way for the Ephesians to merit salvation.
- “No one is good except God alone” (Mk 10:18).
- “We have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin” (Rom 3:9).
- “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom 3:12).
It’s excellent news that salvation “is not your own doing.” I don’t have to worry about becoming “good enough” to be saved (that’s not even possible). I don’t have to worry about my past—no matter how dark my past, God can save me. I don’t have impossible demands placed on me that I need to fulfill.
“It is the gift of God.” To what does “it” refer? Both “grace” and “faith” are feminine nouns; “it” is a neuter pronoun. Thus, grace and faith cannot be the gift of God in this context, for the genders do not match. “It,” in this context, must refer to the totality of what God has done to save man.
The salvation God gives is “not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” God does not save based on works. Romans 4:1-4; 11:5-6.
Throughout the Scriptures, the inspired writers inform their readers that we are saved in many ways.
Work of God in man’s salvation.
- The gift of Jesus would save the people of God (Matt 1:21; cf. Lk 1:68-71; Lk 19:10; Jn 3:17; 1 Tim 1:15). How did Jesus’s coming into the world save God’s people?
- The teachings of Jesus allow men to be saved (Jn 5:34). How do Jesus’s teachings lead to salvation?
- If man is to be saved, he must be saved by (through) the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12). Why is Jesus’s name the only name which will save?
- The proclamation of the gospel will save (Js 1:21; cf. Acts 11:14; 1 Cor 1:18, 21; 1 Thess 2:16). In what way(s) does the gospel save?
- The grace of the Lord Jesus saves (Acts 15:11). Why do people need the grace of the Lord Jesus for salvation?
- The blood of Jesus justifies, and he saves (Rom 5:9). How does the blood of Jesus make one right before God and in what way(s) does Jesus save someone from the divine wrath?
- The life of Jesus saves (Rom 5:10). How does the resurrection of Jesus the Christ lead to an eternal life free of sin?
- God has saved those who are saved according to his purpose (2 Tim 1:9).
- How does one’s being saved fulfill the purpose of God?
- Does Paul mean that those who are not saved are not fulfilling God’s purpose for their lives?
- Might Paul further mean that God determined who would and who would not be saved?
- The mercy of God saves man (Tit 3:5).
- Why does man need God’s mercy?
- How great is God’s mercy?
Work of man in God’s salvation.
- One must endure to the end to be saved (Matt 10:22; cf. Matt 24:13; Mk 13:13). [The context is of enduring in the face of persecution.]
- Why is endurance necessary for salvation?
- How does one endure so that he can be saved?
- One must lose his life for the sake of Jesus to be saved (Matt 16:25; cf. Mk 8:35; Lk 9:24).
- How does one lose his life for Jesus’s sake?
- How does losing one’s life for Jesus’s sake lead to one’s salvation?
- One must enter through the door of Jesus to be saved (Jn 10:9).
- Jesus is obviously speaking in a parable and not literally.
- However, how is Jesus the door for salvation? How does one enter the door of Jesus to find salvation?
- One must call on the name of the Lord to be saved (Acts 2:21; Rom 10:13).
- How does one call on the name of the Lord?
- Why does one need to call on the name of the Lord to be saved?
- One must save himself (Acts 2:40).
- If God saves through grace, why does man need to save himself?
- How can one save himself?
- One must believe in the Lord Jesus to be saved (Acts 16:31).
- Why is faith in the Lord Jesus necessary for salvation?
- In what way(s) would the jailer’s household be saved through his believing in the Lord Jesus?
- One must confess with his mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in his heart that God raised him from the dead (Rom 10:9-10).
- Why must one confess with his mouth that Jesus is Lord?
- Why must one believe in his heart that God raised Jesus from the dead? What if someone believes Jesus is Lord but that he was never raised from the dead?
- One must hold fast to the word of Christ to be saved (1 Cor 15:2). Why must one hold fast to the word to be saved?
- One must love the truth to be saved (2 Thess 2:10).
- How does one demonstrate that he loves the truth?
- What’s the connection between loving the truth and salvation?
- Might some Christians fail to love the truth with all their hearts?
- Women will be saved through childbearing (1 Tim 2:15).
- Paul here used a figure of speech where a part stands for the whole (e.g., “our daily bread” means food for the day—it’s more than just bread).
- Childbearing at 1 Timothy 2:15 seems to stand for the totality of a woman’s proper role.
- What is a woman’s role as outlined in Scripture?
- How does fulfilling that role lead to salvation for a woman?
- Timothy needed to keep a close watch on his doctrine to be saved (1 Tim 4:16).
- Might this verse indicate that error can lead to damnation?
- How does a careful adherence to doctrine lead to salvation?
- One must draw near to God through Jesus (Heb 7:25).
- How does one draw near to God through Jesus Christ?
- Why must one draw near to God through Jesus to be saved?
- One must be eagerly waiting on Jesus to be saved (Heb 9:28).
- Why must one eagerly wait for Jesus?
- How does eagerly waiting for Jesus lead to salvation?
- One must have works to be saved (Js 2:14-17).
- Paul has declared in Ephesians 2 that we are not saved by works.
- What is the role of works in our salvation?
- One must be baptized to be saved (1 Pet 3:21).
- Why is baptism important?
- What is so special about the water?
Our salvation by grace instead of works is “so that no one may boast.” One only has a right to boast in the cross of Christ. Paul refused to boast in his salvation. “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14). Paul would have had far more reason than most to boast. Philippians 3:4-6. He worked harder than the other apostles (1 Cor 15:10). What boasting might one do if salvation came by works instead of by grace?
Boasting is itself sinful. “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring” (Prov 27:1). “You boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil” (Js 4:16). It’s important to note here the connection between boasting and arrogance. Why is boasting sinful?
Life One Had Before His Conversion (v 5a)
One was dead in his trespasses. Paul had already mentioned this truth earlier in the paragraph (v 1). The previous occurrence looked at how one lived prior to coming to Christ. At verse 1, Paul emphasized the life one had prior to his repentance and coming to Christ.
Here at verse 5, the emphasis is on God’s grace. God’s mercy and grace were so great that he saved us even when we were dead in trespasses. Paul also demonstrated how one was dead in sin and God made that person alive in Christ—this shows God’s great power.
Also, when a biblical writer mentions something more than once, it’s time to sit up and take notice very carefully. One needs to understand that before he came to Christ that he was dead. His situation was beyond dire. Sin is serious and deadly. God is life, and the opposite of God is death.
In this sentence, Paul emphasized the power God displayed when we were dead in our trespasses. We were just as dead spiritually as Jesus was physically. God made Jesus alive through the Spirit (Rom 1:4). We, likewise, are made alive by God’s great power.
God has the power to make dead people living people. He demonstrated that throughout Jesus’s ministry as the Lord raised folks from the dead. He demonstrated that in a marvelous way when he raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:20). Yes, Jesus raised people from the dead, but he only resuscitated them. I do not mean to minimize the power that Jesus showed over death or the care and compassion he demonstrated. However, all those whom Jesus raised from the dead died a second time; Jesus, however, lives forevermore (cf. Heb 7:25).
Only God can raise the dead—the resurrections Jesus performed help to establish his identity as God in the flesh. God can not only give people physical life once they have died (he will do that for all mankind on that last and great day), but, as in Ephesians 2, God gives new spiritual life. Ezekiel 37:1-14.
Activity of God in Conversion (vv 5b-6)
God made us alive together with Christ. We were not made alive from our sins in a vacuum; rather, we were made “alive together with Christ.”
Only because God raised Jesus from the dead can we be made alive. “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:14, 16-19). Why did Jesus need to be raised from the dead for us to have the forgiveness of our sins? In what way(s) would we deserve more pity than anyone else had Jesus Christ not been raised from the dead?
“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 3:21). Why does baptism do no good without the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Notice how this verse destroys the idea that there is anything “magical” about the water: Not removing dirt, appealing to God for a good conscience, and the necessity of Jesus’s resurrection.
As we were raised up with Christ, God “seated us with him in the heavenly places.” As we examined in a previous lesson, the use of “heavenly places” here at verse 6 seems to metaphorically make a sharp contrast between the realm of flesh where we once lived and the spiritual realm which we now seek to follow.
We were seated “with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Although “heavenly places” is being used metaphorically in relation to our seating with Christ, we know that Christ Jesus is literally in the heavenly places, having been exalted to God’s right hand. “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (Acts 2:33). The Day of Pentecost was, in a sense, Jesus’ “coronation day,” for he was then enthroned as the King of the church. What are some of the implications of Jesus’ being the church’s king? “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (Heb 1:3c-4).
The metaphorical picture of our being in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus does remind us of the glory which awaits us with him in the literal heavenly places.
- “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col 3:4).
- “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:2).
- “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev 3:21).
What is the glory of Christ? What glory will we share with Christ in the heavenly places? Notice once more the connection between having glory and being with Christ. “You will also appear with him in glory.” “When he appears we shall be like him.” “As I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” There is no glory without Christ. Why do we need Jesus in order to have glory? Is it fair that I need to go through Jesus to have glory? In other words, shouldn’t my good works be enough to get glory on my own?
Life One Has After His Conversion (v 10)
Throughout this paragraph, Paul has mentioned the life one has after he has been brought to God through Jesus’s blood.
- He is alive together with Christ instead of dead in his trespasses (v 5).
- He now sits with God in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (v 6).
- He does not boast (v 9).
Yet, at verse 10, Paul became much more specific and spoke only of the life a person has after he has come to Christ.
“We are [God’s] workmanship.” The New Revised Standard Version renders this phrase as “We are what he has made us.” That is literally an accurate translation; a workmanship would be “what he has made us.” However, the NRSV doesn’t permit the beauty of Paul’s statement to come through.
The Greek term for “workmanship” is poiéma, from which we get the English term “poem.” The term carries the connotation of “a work of art,” especially a poetic product, including fiction. In the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament done around 250 BC), used the term to refer to God’s work in creation. In what way(s) are Christians “a work of art?” We might be tempted to talk about how Christians should have healthy self-esteem, for they are “a work of art.” However, notice that Christians are a work of art as they fulfill the purpose for which God made them. It’s not about self; it’s about serving God. We become what God wants and needs us to be only through serving him. Why did God create us to serve him?
We are “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” The Greek term for “create” here is only used of the work of God. Not even once is the term used for the activity of man in the New Testament (the word occurs a total of 15 times). Man can create nothing; he can make from what has already been created, but he can do nothing “out of thin air.” This reminds us of the great power of God. How should man respond to the great power of God?
The word points to our being a new creation in Christ. When we come to Christ, all things are made new. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Co 5:17). Likewise, God has promised to make all things new when history comes to a close: “According to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13).
We don’t have the same Greek term in 2 Corinthians 5:17 and 2 Peter 3:13 as we have in Ephesians 2:10. At 2 Corinthians 5:17, the word “creation” is the noun cognate of the verb found in Ephesians 2:10. 2 Peter 3:13 doesn’t even mention the word “create” or “creation.” However, theologically there is the emphasis on the new creation God brings about.
In what way(s) are Christians new creations in Christ? How can a Christian show that he is a new creation in Christ? The Greek term “for” indicates the purpose for which Christians were created in Christ Jesus. Christians were made new creations in order to do good works. The emphasis here isn’t on the salvation from sin or from hell. At verse 10, Paul emphasized that Christians were saved for the purpose of doing good works. What does being saved in order to do good works say about the importance of serving God? What are some good works the Christian should do?
“God prepared beforehand that we should walk in [good works].” God prepared good works to be a Christian’s way of life long, long before any of us came into this world. The Greek verb is in the aorist tense which points to a specific time in the past. In other words, this was a one-time event where God prepared good works to be a Christian’s way of life. Since it was a one-time event in the past, the good works God expects from Christian’s have been settled since that time.
“We should walk in them.” In other words, good works should be the way that Christians live. Do you think enough Christians make good works their way of life? Why or why not?