Paul describes our condition as being dead in transgressions and sins before God made us alive in Christ. It does not mean that everyone was terribly evil and committed all wrongdoings before they came to Christ, but the context says that we were not under our own control and were completely led by other forces. But God who is rich in mercy, because of his great love for us, made us alive in Christ while we were dead.
That we were dead before Christ was mentioned twice to emphasize that there was nothing we could do ourselves (a dead person cannot resurrect himself) and is also the reason that Paul reached his probably exclamatory remark, “it is by grace you have been saved!” (v. 5) The topic of salvation by grace is then described again in further details in verses 8 and on.
Ephesians 2:1 begins a new and long sentence, and it ends with verse 10.1 This is only the 4th sentence in the book of Ephesians!2 Since Eph 2:1 starts a new sentence and previous sentences are long, it is usually treated as the beginning of a new section, but as far as thoughts are concerned, this section is not completely detached from what has been discussed before. We all know that most of the time we need more than one sentence or even more than one paragraph to describe an idea or a thought.
Thus to fully understand this section, we need to look into the context to see how this section fits in the big picture:
Just before this section, Paul is praying for the Ephesians. He prays that the Holy Spirit may help them to truly know God. Specifically he mentions 3 things: to know the hope of God’s calling, to know the riches of his glorious inheritance in God’s people, and to know God’s incomparably great power for believers. On this great power, he says that the power God exerts on believer is the same power that he exerts on Christ. Then he describes the power that God exerts on Christ (namely, raising Christ from the dead, seating Christ on God’s right hand side, far above all authorities, and placing Christ as the head over everything for the Church). Not surprisingly, this is followed by some description about the power God exerts on believers.
The complete thought can be seen clearer in outline form as shown below. Part of the outline has been presented in the past, and you don’t need to remember all of them, but please try to see the overall flow of thought.3
I have not stopped praying for you
giving thanks for your faith in Jesus and your love toward the saints
praying that the Holy Spirit may help you to know God better, that you may know
what is the hope of his calling
what is the riches of his glorious inheritance in his people
what is his incomparably great power for us
the power that God exerted to Christ.
raising Christ from the dead
seating him on God’s right hand side, far above all authorities… in the present age and in the future.
placing (or subjecting) all things under Christ’s feet.
placing (or appointing) him to be head over everything for the church.
the same power that God is exerting to believers
making us alive with Christ while we were dead (2:1-10)
establishing a new entity, the Church, incorporating Jews and Gentile believers (2:11-22)
calling the apostle Paul to be a servant of this gospel, i.e. good news (3:1-13)
another prayer for strengthening (3:14-19)
a praise: “To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever, Amen!” (3:20-21)
With that, we are ready to look at some details from 2:1-10. It is good to always keep the big picture in mind: all things should bring glory and praises to God, should humble us and make us want to know Him even more. Such is the prayer of Paul. I hope it is our sincere prayer as well!
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:1-10 TNIV)
- Compared to previous 2 long sentences, it is harder to tell if this section is indeed just one sentence because the Greek word γάρ (often translated as “for” in English) can be used as a conjunction but can also start a new sentence. ↩
- I counted verses 1-2 as one sentence because of its verbless clause in Greek. The three sentences before this are 1:1-2, 3-14, and 15-23. ↩
- This outline shows that the first 3 chapters of the book of Ephesians has one continuous thought. Hopefully knowing the overall picture will help us in understanding the details better. This is also a reminder that we should read a letter as a letter. Most people, including Biblical authors, do not jump from one thought to another randomly. Usually there is a connection even when there seems to be a change in topic unless the author indicates that it is clearly a change in subject matters. ↩