Having introduced at the end of chapter 1 “the church which is his body”, Paul turns to its constitution and describes how it consists of members who were once dead spiritually but are now made alive. In consequence, the paragraph is a series of dramatic contrasts. It is a picture of sinners becoming saints, darkness giving place to light, and spiritual death superseded by eternal life.
Continuing with these contrasts, which are sharply drawn, we behold two persons who are diametrically opposed the one to the other —“the prince of the power of the air” who is Satan, and “Christ Jesus” the Saviour. We see two groups of people; one was “dead in sins” and the other has been “quickened … with Christ”. Their spiritual state is two-fold — what they were “by nature”, and what they are “by grace”. Their two positions are equally diverse —“in sins”, and “in Christ”. All this involves two periods of time: the one is “time past”, and the other “now”.
This paragraph sub-divides into two. The first describes what we were, and the second what we are. The whole portion magnifies God and not man, and what the grace of God has done in us.
In verses 1 -3, we shall look at
In the sight of God, we “were dead in trespasses and sins”, 2. 1. To be “dead” spiritually means to be “alienated from the life of God”, 4. 18. The element, in which sinners are, is “trespasses”, indicating continuous breaches of the law which amount to deviations from uprightness, and “sins” resulting from an innate bias toward evil. In such a spiritual state, “in time past ye walked”, 2. 2. This is the first of seven occurrences in this Epistle of the word “walk” used metaphorically of both unbelievers and believers, and here it concerns our past conduct.
A three-fold description of our former behaviour follows. Firstly, our walk was “according to the course of this world” — our conduct was in the direction of the world. Here, the word “world” means the world-system, the organized world of unbelieving men, of whom Satan is the ruler, John 12. 31.
Secondly, our walk was “according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children (or, sons, R.V.) of disobedience”— our conduct was at the dictation of the devil. “In rabbinical theology, evil spirits were designated as the ‘powers of the air’”, says Conybeare, and so this title of Satan may be an allusion to it. This means that Satan is the ruler of demon powers in the atmospheric heavens, the first of the three heavens, from which he will be cast down to the earth after the rapture of the Church, Rev. 12. 9. From this aerial position, Satan is the spirit which constantly works in men, bringing about a state of obstinate rejection towards the Saviour and salvation.
Thirdly, concerning our walk, we all lived “in times past in the lusts of our flesh” and “of the mind”— our conduct was subject to the domination of the flesh. The personal pronoun “you” in verse 1 refers to Gentiles, but “we all” in verse 3 includes Jews as well, and so all men are in bondage to three forces of evil: the world, the devil, and the flesh. Hence, we were “by nature the children of wrath”, that is to say, under divine displeasure, for “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men”, Rom. 1. 18.
For consideration in verses 4-10, we have
“But God”: the opening words of verse 4 are a turning-point in the paragraph. The previous verses are a picture of hopeless gloom, but this and the remaining verses glow with hope. “But God” — such words strike a theistic note, indicating divine initiative and a movement of God towards the sinner. “Who is”, referring to God, “rich in mercy”, but why not rich in grace? We need to differentiate between these two attributes of God. “Grace describes God’s attitude toward the law-breaker and the rebel; mercy is His attitude toward those who are in distress” (Galatians, by hogg and vine). According to verses 1-3, as we have already seen, all men are in dire distress spiritually, and only God, who is “rich in mercy”, has the resources to meet their need. Despite our spiritual plight, God loved us with “great love”, which was expressed in the gift of “his only begotten Son”, who also “hath loved us, and hath given himself for us” in His atoning death, John 3. 16; Eph. 5. 2.
Those words, “But God”! What God has done for us now follows, and the path of our salvation to a position of exaltation is traced in verses 5 and 6. “We were dead in sins”— our need of life; God “hath quickened us together with Christ”— He has imparted eternal life to us; God “hath raised us up together”— to a position; God has “made us sit together in heavenly places (or, the heavenlies) in Christ Jesus”— our present place of exaltation. What God has done for us, He has already done for Christ as described in 1. 20. Christ has been raised from the dead, and we have been “quickened”. Christ ascended to a position, and we were “raised up” to one. Christ was made to sit in a position of exaltation in the heavenlies, and we too are made to sit with Him in that exalted position in the heavenlies. How we should rejoice and praise God for what He has done for us!
The next verse gives the purpose of our high and heavenly position. “In the ages to come”, that is, in the coming millennial age and succeeding ages of eternity, God will manifest to us our wealth, “the exceeding riches of his grace”. Not only time but eternity will be required for the unsurpassed riches of the grace of God to be shown to us!
Having struck the note of “grace”, Paul turns from the coming ages to the present, and he explains the instrumentality of God’s grace in our salvation: positively, we were saved “by grace”, and “through faith”; negatively, salvation is “not of yourselves”, and “not of works”. Therefore, our transformation from sinnerhood to sainthood is of God and not of man; it is by grace and not of ourselves; it is by faith and not of our works, “lest any man should boast”, vv. 8-9.
In verse 10, Paul clarifies the relationship between a man’s works and his salvation, which was as necessary then as it is now. Having said that salvation is “not of works”, by which Paul means that salvation is not the result of our works, he asserts that “we are his workmanship” signifying that we are the product of a creative act of God. The purpose of our salvation is “unto good works” in which “we should walk”. Hence “good works” do not precede and produce salvation, but “good works” follow salvation and are the fruit of it.
The paragraph opened with our walk when we were dead in sins, and it closes with our walk now that God has quickened us. Oh, the contrast between the conduct of sinners and that of saints! Sinners, dominated by the flesh, do “the works of the flesh”. But saints, “created in Christ Jesus”, do “good works” which “God afore prepared”, R.V. In a footnote on this verse, Cony-beare says, “God, by the laws of His Providence, has prepared opportunities of doing good for every Christian”. Let us seize every opportunity for doing good, so that we are “well reported of for good works”; see 1 Tim. 5. 10. We should ever remember that ultimately Christ, the righteous Judge, will review our works on the basis of whether they are “good or bad”; see 2 Cor. 5. 10.
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