What a Change!
E W Rogers, Oxford
Someone has said, "I am not what I should be, but by the grace of God I am what I am, and that at least is not what I was". Likely enough this was based on Paul's remark in 1 Corinthians 15. 10. At any rate, the section now before us deals with these three things, for in verses 1-3 Paul reminds the saints what they once were, in verses 4-7 he tells them what the grace of God has wrought in them, while in the remaining part of the section he emphasizes what they should be.
Twice he remarks "By grace have ye been saved" w. 5, 8 R.v. He uses the perfect tense, denoting that what took place in the history of each believer has abiding and unalterable effects. He is for ever saved. Moreover it is not only by "grace" on God's part but "through faith" on the individual's part, 2. 8. Not that there was any merit in "faith". Man's original sin was his not believing and trusting God, and if the damage of sin is to be undone man must go back on that action and believe and trust God. The words "grace" and "faith" are in the feminine gender in Greek but the pronoun "that" in verse 8 is neuter, thus showing that it is not faith which is the gift of God, but the salvation wrought by the initial work of God in grace on the one part, and which has become effective through faith exercised on the other's part. The capacity to believe and trust is an attribute of human nature. No one can truly say he cannot believe God, else how could God upbraid man for his unbelief? Hence the phrase "it is the gift of God" must not be restricted to one thing; it covers the whole work of salvation by grace through faith. That this is so is shown by the next sentence "not of works, that no man should glory", 2. 9 r.v.
Thus Paul assures the saints by this repeated statement "by grace have ye been saved" of their eternal security, a thing for which they will eternally give praise, and as to which they can claim no credit.
What They Were. Verses 1-3 describe their former state. The pronouns "ye" and "we" relate to Gentiles and Jews respectively. The verses may be summarized as follows:
(a) They were dead spiritually — alienated from the life of God, consequent upon their trespasses and sins. (Note "through" instead of "in" in r.v.). Their wrongful commissions and omissions brought about this state.
(b) They were dominated physically: "walked" denotes their way of life, their general conduct, which, though they might have claimed to be free, was governed by the time state (age) of this cosmos, this world, of which Satan is the "prince", John 14. 30. They lived for time and sense. The "course of this world" means the time-state of this world of matter, so that man in his fallen state, instead of knowing the freedom of eternity, is restricted by temporal and material considerations.
(c) They were disobedient morally: "the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience", R.v. "Sons" has to do with character; "disobedience" is a word that signifies the obstinate refusal of man to be persuaded by the will of God.
(d) They were selfish mentally — "lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind", 2. 3. This marked the Jews as much as the Gentiles; "we also" says Paul. It marked the Gentiles but it also marked the Jew. Neither loved the Lord with all their heart, soul or mind: rather, they loved self. They were condemned judicially: they were "children of wrath, even as the rest," 2. 3 R.v., that is, even as the Gentiles. The wrath of God abode upon them. Moreover it lay before them as an awful destiny yet to be experienced.
Sin and its effects had invaded every department of their being, spirit, soul and body. Their position was altogether the antithesis of what God desired: they were earth-bound, time-restricted, Satanically ruled, impervious to divine things for they were dead, and resistant to the divine rule, for they were "disobedient". What a state! what material on which God had to work! Yet, as we have said, verses 4 to 7 tell us
What They Had Become "by the grace of God". The old
things had passed away and everything had become new.
We may use an illustration to help us to understand these verses. Every (or almost every) river commences with a spring; it flows on into the river; it goes on to the estuary and thenceforward into the limitless ocean. Let us discover these four things in this section:
The Spring. This is defined in verse 4, "for his great love wherewith he loved us". We might substitute "on account of" for the word "for". Therein lies the source of all that God has done for us. He does not use the word phileo, but rather the stronger word of John 3. 16 and 1 Corinthians 13 — agape.
Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every blade of grass a quill, And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God abroad
Would drain the ocean dry, Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though spread from sky to sky.
Hence we must resist the temptation to dilate on this tempting theme of the "everlasting love" of God. But it accounts for all that follows.
The River, "but God, being rich in mercy", 2. 4 R.v. The timeless participle "being" reveals that God has always shown mercy, and that He still does, and ever will, where it is called for. God does not show mercy in abridging punishment; He cancels it altogether. The cases of David and Manasseh in the Old Testament show that this is the case. One has but to read Psalms 32, 51 and 2 Chronicles 33. 12, 13 to appreciate that, where there is real confession of sin, God's heart of mercy goes out to the delinquent. "God be merciful to me the sinner" cried the publican and it was he, not the Pharisee, who went down to his house justified, Luke 18. 13-14. Saul of Tarsus, the erstwhile blasphemer, persecutor and injurious, declares "but I obtained mercy", 1 Tim. 1. 13. And though we could multiply cases such as these almost ad infinitum, God is so rich in mercy that He still has plenty for whoever needs it.
His mercy flows on like a river
His grace is unbounded and free: His love is for ever sufficient,
It reaches and saves even me.
"Children of wrath" though we may be, due to His mercy "we shall be saved from wrath" through Christ, Rom. 5. 9. That mercy went out toward us "even when we were dead through our trespasses", Eph. 2. 5 r.v. Truth would have condemned us; justice would have doomed us; but mercy has saved us.
The Estuary. This is something wider, deeper and larger in every way than the river. And so it is here. Note the words used: "the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus", 2. 7.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found,
Was bound but now am free.
These were the words of that deeply dyed sinner John Newton, so marvellously saved by the sovereign grace of God. Note "the exceeding riches of his grace"; not merely that God is rich in such an attribute, but that when He shows grace He confers wealth untold such as is called "the unsearchable riches of Christ'*. Grace is unmerited favour, for there is nothing in the object of it which is worthy of such favour. Moreover, note the word "kindness" — such as meets our need in our distress, and does for us what is utterly impossible for us to do for ourselves. Love, mercy, grace and kindness exceed all displays of these in times past; they are all now shown to us in Christ Jesus. The word "exceeding" does not mean merely the comparative nature of these qualities; it denotes their superlative quality. What God has done in and through Christ Jesus, His Beloved Son, i. 6, finds no equal in any of the activities of God whether prior to or since the cross.
The Ocean. In the oncoming ages of eternity He will show what He has wrought, and the vast sphere into which He has brought the redeemed. He "quickened us together with Christ". The Lord Jesus became dead through trespasses and sins, but not His own; He did so substitutionarily for His people so that they might be redeemed. He came down to where we were, that He might bring us up to where He is now. As we all shared in the one action of disobedience of our earthly Federal Head, Adam, so all believers now share in what God has wrought in the case of our new Federal Head, the Lord Jesus. When He was quickened in death, so were they. The fact that they did not then have being should cause no difficulties, for all were present in the mind and purpose of God at the time. Further, "he raised us up with Him", 2.6 r.v., so that we share His life. Moreover, He made us to "sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus", 2. 6 R.v. His being there is the sure guarantee of our ultimate presence there sharing His glory and kingdom. But meanwhile, God reckons it as true of the believer now. This is further developed at the end of chapter 3, which will be examined later. But as the ocean is immeasurable, so we may ask who can measure the depths to which Christ went, and the heights to which we have been taken, or the length of the love that wrought and even planned it, or the breadth of its embraciveness? Let us now deal with the third item:
What They Should Be. We have seen what the grace of God has made us, and have reviewed what we were prior to our experiencing it. But are we, in practice, what we should be?
The word hina, which means "in order that", occurs three times in verses 7 to 10. It is first found in verse 7, "that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace". While this, of course, primarily relates to the millennial age and beyond, surely the present age cannot be excluded. Time would fail to tell of those conspicuous displays of "the exceeding riches of his (God's) grace in his kindness toward" some noted sinners such as Saul of Tarsus, John Newton, Ned Wright and many another known in their own special sphere, monumental testimonies to what God has done for them and can do for others. See particularly in this connection 1 Timothy 1. 12-17.
The second occurrence of the word hina (in order that) is in verse 9 R.v., "not of works, that (in order that) no man should glory". God has rather so wrought that he that boasteth must do so only in the Lord, 1 Cor. 1. 31. "All things" pertaining to our salvation "are of God", 2 Cor. 5. 18, leaving no ground whatsoever for anyone to glory in himself. This cuts from under our feet all credit as to moral, educational, national or any other advantage as Paul well knew, see Phil. 3.
The third occurrence of hina is in verse 10 r.v. "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them". Good works are not a necessary precursor to salvation: they are, however, a necessary sequel to it. Our daily "walk" (cf. v. 2) should now be characterized by them. Instead of the erstwhile selfishness which characterized us, and instead of the formal ritualistic observances which characterized the Jewish religion, God has now prepared a forehand a life designed to be "full of good works", Acts 9. 36; such was the life of Dorcas.
In all these things it must surely be obvious that there are defects with us; how imperfect is the display of God's kindness in us through our inconsistencies and the like! How liable we all are to boast in our own status and achievements! How liable we are to endeavour to avoid opportunities for doing good instead of walking in such a path where we know we shall find them! There is certainly room for improvement in these respects.
What I was in my old Adam-state is a matter of the past. What I am by the grace of God is unalterably perfect. But what I should be calls for constant occupation with the Lord of glory so that there may be a continuous transformation into His likeness, 2 Cor. 3. 18.