Because of the prevalence of coal mines in West Virginia, that state has been in the news many times due to mining disasters. The thought of going several miles underground to work is a scary thought to most of us, but the hardworking people of West Virginia have learned to live with the dangers involved.
• Five aspects of human nature made it necessary for Jesus to rescue us from our sins.
• Five facets of Jesus’ death work together to open the door to God’s forgiveness.
• Jesus’ suffering accomplished God’s purposes and gives our life meaning.
• Because Christ died, we can claim God’s free gift and apply it to our lives.
When a fire or explosion or cave-in happens in a mine, usually all communication to the surface is cut off. Rescuers race against time to locate the trapped miners and supply lifesaving oxygen and rescue apparatus to them. Imagine how the miners must feel. Completely cut off from life above ground, probably in the dark, and completely dependent on others, the miners are helpless to change their own circumstances.
I cannot imagine a better image of salvation than that. In fact, Paul uses some of those same images—helpless, cut off, darkness—when he writes about our condition before being saved by the grace of God through faith in Christ. If God had not come down to where we were and rescued us from our helpless and hopeless state, we would have been lost forever.
In the New Testament, there is no better place to turn than Ephesians 2:1-10 to understand the meaning of salvation. Although Paul wrote this letter to the church at Ephesus, he likely intended for it to circulate among neighboring churches. We can be confident that his message was not uniquely tailored to Ephesus—it applies to Christians in any place or time.
Whether you are investigating Christianity for the first time or you have been studying the Bible for many years, this passage is essential to your understanding of what God accomplished for you through Christ’s death and resurrection. It presents an overview of salvation that describes our past, present, and future condition.
5 Reasons for Jesus’ Death:
Our Past Condition (2:1-3)
Five aspects of our past condition made it necessary for Jesus to rescue us from our sins.
1. We Were Dead in Our Sins (2:1)
Before Jesus became our Lord and Savior, we were spiritually dead. And just as a physically dead person cannot climb out of his own grave, neither can a spiritually dead person save himself.
Dead means dead toward God—unable to communicate with Him. Ever since Adam and Eve disobeyed Him in the Garden of Eden, the soul of every human being has suffered spiritual death. God must give us newness of life if we are to be reunited with Him. Later in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul describes our former state as being “alienated from the life of God” (4:18), a good description of what it means to be spiritually dead. Unless we become alive spiritually, biblical truth doesn’t make sense to us because our connection with God is broken.
From the day we are born, sin causes us to be spiritually dead. It’s hard to imagine death having anything to do with a healthy newborn baby, but that’s how the Bible describes it. In Psalm 51:5, David states, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” He’s not calling sexual procreation sinful. He’s talking about being born into the domain of sin. Any honest parent can attest to the sinful inclinations of their children—“mine” and “no” are words we don’t usually have to teach them.
Paul says we were dead “in trespasses and sins.” When we see a No Trespassing sign, we know there will be consequences if we cross a line. That’s a picture of what it means to be dead in trespasses and sins. We have crossed the line of God’s righteousness and offended His holy nature. The word sin means to miss the mark like an archer misses the target with his arrow. God sets a standard, a target, for human righteousness, and we have missed His mark (Romans 3:23).
Imagine a group of people entering the Paciﬁc Ocean off the coast of California to swim to Hawaii. Those in peak physical condition will make it further than others. But in the end, they will all fall short. It makes no difference that some will swim a long way and others only a short distance. All will fall short of the goal, and all will perish. God’s standard of holiness is even further from our fallen condition than Hawaii is from California. Though some may come closer to it than others, no one can reach it.
2. We Were Deceived by Satan (2:2)
Because we were dead in our sins, we walked “according to the course of this world.” That means we lived according to this world’s values and beliefs—a world that is dominated by Satan, “the prince of the power of the air.” In our former condition, Satan led us to believe we were pursuing freedom when, in reality, we were subjugating ourselves to his tyranny. He orchestrates this world to make it seem normal; and because we are born spiritually dead, he deceives us until God opens our eyes to the truth.
God is ultimately in charge of everything in the universe, but for the time being, He has allowed Satan to have dominion over this earth. And you can see the evidence of his rule everywhere you look. Paul’s reference to the “power of the air” extends to Satan’s demonic forces who carry out his evil work. In the book of Daniel, we find the possibility that there may be demonic angels assigned to the nations of the world to stir up unrighteousness and evil works.
Before God rescued us from the evil in this world, we were part of Satan’s system.
3. We Were Disobedient to God (2:2)
Paul refers to Satan as “the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.” In our lost condition, we were numbered among those “sons of disobedience.” Each of us has disobeyed not only God’s standards but our own standards as well. None of us make the right decisions all the time, but to fail in one area is to fail in them all (James 2:10).
4. We Were Defiled by Our Desires (2:3)
Not only were we dead, deceived, and disobedient—we were also deﬁled. Verse 3 describes sinful man as living to fulﬁll the lusts of the ﬂesh. Lust does not only point toward sexuality. It also refers to unbridled desires of all kinds—our unrestrained efforts to do what we want to do. Overspending, craving the approval of others, overeating, and other all-to-common habits are all forms of defilement. They represent our attempts to fill our life with something other than God. There are times when we are rightly humbled by the generosity and apparent goodness of non-Christians, but they are motivated by desires other than God’s glory. Good works performed for any other purpose are tainted by lustful desires, and they will not result in God’s acceptance.
5. We Were Doomed to Destruction (2:3)
Finally, the passage about our past condition concludes with this: We “were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.” In other words, when we were spiritually dead, we were headed for destruction.
Spiritually speaking, there are two families in the world: God’s family and the devil’s family. The devil’s family consists of those who are spiritually dead, deceived, disobedient, defiled, and ultimately doomed. God’s family consists of those who become His children through faith in Christ. It can be hard to accept the idea that our kind neighbor or upstanding relative is a child of the devil, but Scripture leaves no room for middle ground. Apart from newness of life in Christ, every person on earth is doomed for eternity.
Our Present Condition (2:4-6, 8-9)
Transitioning to the next section, Paul uses two words that may be the greatest in the Bible: “But God” (verse 4). Consider these other “but God” examples:
- Adam and Eve were lost forever because of their sin, but God….
- Noah would have drowned with the rest of the people of the world, but God….
- Abraham would have been forever forsaken because of his sin, but God….
- Jonah would never have been given a second chance, but God….
- Daniel would have been an insignificant refugee in a foreign land, but God….
- Peter and Andrew would have spent the rest of their days fishing, but God….
Throughout the Bible, God is the One who makes the difference. he is the One who steps in, extends grace, and saves sinners from the path of destruction. When Paul begins verse 4 with “But God,” we know the remedy for man’s condition is about to be presented.
How Did Jesus’ Death Accomplish Our Salvation?
There are ﬁve aspects of Christ’s death that work together to rescue us from spiritual death.
1. God’s Rich Mercy (2:4)
There is something satisfying about hearing that a hardened criminal will receive the punishment he deserves. And yet we forget that we are spiritual criminals—sinners—desperately in need of God’s mercy. Mercy forgives wrongdoing and forbears punishment. God is rich in mercy—He withholds the wrath and eternal death that we deserve. Not one of us would be able to be saved without His forgiveness. It is only because He transferred our punishment to His Son, Jesus Christ, that we can be saved. In the poetic language of an old hymn, “Mercy there was great, and grace was free… at Calvary.”
2. God’s Great Love (2:4)
Why would God lavish His mercy on us? It is not because we have done anything to deserve such kindness. It is because of the “great love with which He loved us.” According to Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (emphasis added). We have done nothing to deserve Christ’s love. Even our most noble deeds, our most costly sacrifices, and our best efforts are nothing more than “filthy rags” when compared to God’s holiness (Isaiah 64:6). He loved us before we loved Him. And 1 John 4:9–10 says God’s love was manifested through Christ.
God’s great love, directed toward individual sinners, is the reason we can be saved.
3. God’s Rich Grace (2:5-8)
Paul is often called the apostle of grace, and verses 5–8 reveal why. Three times in these verses, he states that God’s grace is what saves us. While mercy withholds the punishment we deserve, God’s grace extends blessings that we have not earned. God spared us from the penalty we deserved, and then He lavished His grace upon us.
Grace is nothing less than God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Christ accepted our penalty so that we could receive the forgiveness and salvation we do not deserve. He transferred, or imputed, His righteousness to us so that we might be saved.
Paul was a passionate apologist for God’s grace because he was painfully aware of his own sinfulness, having persecuted the Church of Jesus Christ before his conversion. Even though he was “formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man,” he obtained “exceedingly abundant” grace from God (1 Timothy 1:13–14). The same gift of grace is available to every person, no matter what they have done, if they trust Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of their life.
4. God’s Free Gift (2:8-9)
The fourth element of God’s formula for salvation is its cost. Jesus paid the price for us, enabling us to receive it for free. Salvation is “the gift of God”; it cannot be earned or bought. The only way to become a Christian is to accept the gift of salvation God offers by His grace.
When we receive a paycheck from our employer, it is not a gift—it is money we are owed. If we receive a button-down shirt for Christmas, it is a gift from someone who loves us and wants to bless us. We haven’t earned it, and they don’t expect us to repay them. Not only does God expect nothing from us, but there is also nothing we, as spiritually dead people, can offer Him to purchase our salvation.
5. Our Faith in Christ (2:8)
Finally, the last part of the formula is faith. That’s how we receive God’s free gift, “lest anyone should boast.” God offers us salvation through faith alone. Instead of bragging about our marvelous deeds when we get to heaven, we’ll boast about what Jesus did for us.
2 Outcomes of Jesus’ Death
Our Future Condition (2:7, 10)
We can think of the results of salvation from two perspectives: results for God and results for mankind.
1. Jesus’ Death Accomplished God’s Purposes (2:7)
God’s purpose in salvation is to demonstrate “the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Every Christian saved by grace will be a trophy of that grace for all eternity in heaven. God will receive the glory of His own grace as a result of our salvation. Because of salvation, God will spend eternity with His redeemed children.
2. Jesus’ Death Gives Our Life Meaning (2:10)
The result for mankind is the opportunity to perform “good works, which God prepared beforehand” for us. We are not saved by good works, but we are most deﬁnitely saved for good works. The New Testament is ﬁlled with verses that describe the Christian’s responsibility to perform good works (John 15:8; 2 Corinthians 9:8; 2 Timothy 3:16–17; Titus 2:14; James 2:20). It’s essential to understand the sequence of salvation first, then works. Our good deeds demonstrate our faith and give our life meaning, but they do not save us from the penalty of sin.
Christians are God’s masterpieces, fashioned by Him to represent Him on this earth and in heaven for eternity. God has done all the work necessary to save us in order that we might become prepared and equipped to do works that glorify Him. How well does your life reflect His workmanship?
The Opportunity of Jesus’ Death:
Claim God’s Free Gift
If you have wondered how to become a Christian, it is as simple as receiving a gift. Your part is to reach out and accept it. Tell God you would like to accept His gift by praying a simple prayer, such as the following:
- From Romans 3, answer the following questions pertaining to salvation.
- What point does Paul make by the evidence he sets forth in verses 10–18? (verse 9)
- Who can be made righteous by means of keeping the law? (verse 20)
- So how are the sinners in verses 10–18 to be made righteous? (verse 22)
- Why does the same method of salvation apply to all men everywhere? (verse 23)
- What price does each individual have to pay to be justified? (verse 24)
- How does verse 27 contain the same message as Ephesians 2:9?
- What wages has each human being earned by his actions? (Romans 6:23)
- How does Romans 6:23 convey the same message as Ephesians 2:8?
- How do you know that you have received salvation as a gift from God?
- What evidence do you see in your life that proves to you that you could not earn your salvation by your own righteousness?
- Read Psalm 103:8–12.
- What two traits do you find in verse 1 that Paul talks about in Ephesians 2?
- Why is verse 10 a perfect illustration of the concept of mercy?
- Recall from this lesson the difference between mercy and grace:
- Mercy is ____________ giving us what we ____________.
- Grace is giving us what we ____________ deserve.
- How is God glorified? (John 15:8)
- Why does God provide all our needs? (2 Corinthians 9:8)
- Why did God inspire the Scriptures to contain His truth? (2 Timothy 3:16–17)
- Why were we redeemed from our lawless deeds? (Titus 2:14)
- What are good works an evidence of in our life? (James 2:20)