“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV)
Have you ever wondered if it’s OK to have a favorite Bible verse? Or maybe even a chapter or book? If such a thing is permissible, I believe this text would be in my top 5 favorite passages of Scripture. Ever. In fact, it is the first portion of Scripture that I committed to memory (other than 2-3 verse texts). There is something profoundly powerful about reading through those first 3 verses, then coming upon that beautiful conjunction:
I cannot read this text without being moved—often to tears—by those two simple words! The Apostle Paul, who knew a thing or two about new life in Christ (Acts 9), is writing to the church in Ephesus, calling them to remember their lives before Christ (Ephesians 2:11-12). In the first 3 verses, he describes their spiritual state before Christ:
They were dead in the trespasses and sins in which they once walked. There’s no mystical or deeply theological allegory going on here; Paul tells them plainly that they were totally and completely dead to Christ—slaves of sin. They had no desire to know God, and were most certainly not seeking him out.
They were following the course of the world. They were obsessed with doing what everyone else was doing. They were slaves of the world. Whatever new fads everyone was chasing, whatever new gods everyone was worshiping… they had to be in the middle of it all.
They were following the prince of the power of the air. Paul minces no words here. They were slaves of Satan, plain and simple. He was their god, and they followed him.
They lived in the passions of their flesh. They were controlled by their own impulses; they were slaves to their own selfish and sinful desires. They did whatever their sinful self wanted to do.
They were carrying out the desires of the body and the mind. If it felt good, they were doing it. If they wanted it, they were doing whatever they had to do to get it. Whatever selfish desire their mind could concoct, they were seeking to satisfy.
They were, by nature, children of wrath. As unregenerate slaves of Satan, dead in their sins, they were by nature (that is, instinctively—without even thinking about it) abiding under the wrath of the Almighty God, and without hope (Ephesians 2:12).
Paul is calling the Ephesian church to remember where God found them. But he has a purpose; he isn’t calling them to wallow in grief over their past. He isn’t calling them to live in or dwell on the past. No, he’s doing just the opposite! The focus of this text is not found in those 3 verses, but in the rest of the chapter. In verses 4-22, Paul uses the terms “with Christ,” “in Christ Jesus,” and “in him” repeatedly to show us that our new life in Christ looks nothing like our life without him. He’s careful to remind us, though, just how that came to be. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone (Ephesians 2:8-9); there is no room for boasting in ourselves here! Look back to verses 1-3; what is there to boast in? We boast in nothing but the cross (Galatians 6:14). Then Paul throws in a verse that almost feels out of place. He says,
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Follow Paul’s narrative: “You were dead in sin. You cared only about feeding your insatiable appetite for sin and were under the wrath of God, without hope. BUT GOD, because of his mercy and great love, made you alive, raised you up, and seated you with Jesus so that in the ages to come, he can shower with the riches of his immeasurable grace in kindness, and he did it all by grace—you and I did nothing to deserve this new life.” And then he says, “You were created in Jesus for good works, which have been prepared beforehand by God.”
What is Paul saying? Paul is telling us that long before God was even a thought in our minds, God had a plan to save us for his glory—to let us be a part of his story! And that divine plan included good works, prepared for us. When God made you alive, everything changed. As we say around Passion, “The Gospel Changes Everything.” You’re a completely new creation! (2 Corinthians 5:17) The “old you” has died, and the “new you” is now alive in Christ, and there are good works that God is now calling you to—works that he prepared beforehand just for you!
If you’re familiar with the book of Ephesians*, you’ll know that the first 3 chapters are all about what Christ did for us; how God’s glorious plan of redemption was summed up in Christ. The last 3 chapters are practical; how we ought to live in light of that truth. But don’t get bogged down—this is not merely a book of “do’s and don’ts.” It is a glorious book, describing our new life in Christ! Satan would have you believe that freedom is doing whatever your flesh desires; living like the old you. But doing whatever you want is a far cry from being free; it simply makes you slave of your own passions and selfish desires! God has made you alive—live like the new you!
God, may I never forget what your work on the cross accomplished for me. May I never forget where I was when you found me and raised me to walk in newness of life! The old me is dead, and I am alive in you! Thank you for purchasing my redemption on the cross. May I never find a way to turn this freedom into slavery; I don’t ever want to go back to who I was before you made me alive in you. Fill me with your Spirit, Father. Empower me to walk in the good works that you have prepared for me; I want to live like the new me! Thank you for sending Jesus to die for me. I pray this in his precious name, Amen.
* I highly recommend reading through the book of Ephesians. It’s a short read, but full of wonderful truths!