This chapter can be understood in three basic segments. The first describes the condition of man prior to regeneration (vv. 1-3). The second is a treatment of how God’s grace works in such people, and the nature of the change accomplished in them (vv. 4-6). And the third is a description of the design God had in working such a transformation in them (vv. 7-22). All of it results—if we are paying attention—in a hymn of praise to the free grace and kindness of the most sovereign God.
“And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others . . .” (Eph. 2:1-22).
Summary of the Text
The Ephesian Gentiles were dead in their trespasses and sin, and God made them alive again (v. 1). They had been the walking dead, under the dominion of the prince of evil, and in line with the world’s way of doing things (v. 2). Everybody has been in this condition (“we all”), and were therefore children of wrath by nature, walking in accordance with that nature (v. 3).
But God, motivated by the richness of His mercy and the greatness of His love toward us (v. 4), quickened us together with Christ (v. 5). This is the meaning of grace. He has joined us to the resurrection of Jesus, and to His ascension (v. 6).
The reason He did this was to put on a show for the coming ages (v. 7)—a fireworks display of mercy, grace and kindness. The Ephesians were saved by grace through faith, and not from themselves (v. 8). It is not by works— contextually, anything autonomous, anything from ourselves (v. 9). For we are God’s project, fashioned for good works (v. 10). We are saved to good works, not by them. So the Ephesians should remember that they used to be called Uncircumcision, Gentiles according to the flesh (v. 11), and at that time they were utter outsiders (v. 12). But now in Christ they are brought close to all those things they were far away from before (v. 13). So the blood of Christ has made them citizens of Israel, friends of the covenants of promise, full of hope, and possessors of God in the world. Christ is our peace, making one new man (Christian) out of the two men before (Jew and Gentile), and He did this by breaking down the middle wall of partition (v. 14). He did this by abolishing the laws of separation contained in the Mosaic law (v. 15), and in this He reconciled both unto God (v. 16). And so He preached peace to those who were far away from salvation, and those standing right next to it (v. 17). Through Jesus, everyone has access by one Spirit, to the Father (v. 18). The Ephesian Gentiles are therefore no longer aliens, but rather are fellow citizens with the saints, and full members of God’s household (v. 19). Jesus is the cornerstone, the apostles and prophets are the foundation stones, and we are all being built on that (v. 20). With that foundation, the whole Temple (an organic Temple) grows, as we are being shaped and fashioned (v. 21). The whole point is to make a dwelling place for God (v. 22).
In verse 18, we are given a glorious picture of the Trinitarian nature of prayer and the approach to God. Paul says “we both,” meaning Jews and Gentiles alike. Another way of saying this is “everybody.” He uses three prepositions to make his point—through, by, and to. We come to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. This is why, when we pray, we address the Father, and not Jesus. This is why, when we close, we pray in Jesus’ name, and not in the Father’s name. And this is why the Spirit moves us to pray. Think of it this way—all three Persons are members of the Godhead, of course. But the Father is the city we are driving to, the Son is the road, and the Spirit is the car.
A Living Temple for God
The apostle Peter uses a similar image, when he says that we are all living stones—stones for a Temple, and all the stones are alive (1 Pet. 2:4-5). Here Paul says that the Temple is being worked on (“fitly framed,” and “builded together”), but he also says that the building grows. Given the quarry of death we were all brought from, it is striking that God uses us to build a Temple that is entirely alive. Dead stones are made—by regeneration—into living stones.
The World, the Flesh, and the Devil
Our condition apart from the efficacious grace of God (by which I mean the new birth) is absolutely hopeless. Notice first the familiar triad of the “world, the flesh, and the devil.” First, the world—he says the Ephesians walked “according to the course of this world” (v. 2). He says that they did this in accordance with their own nature (“by nature children of wrath” (v. 3)). In this condition they pursued the desires of both flesh and mind. And then, he says that this was under the prince of the power of the air, who exercises dominion over the children of disobedience (v. 2). There you have it—the world, the flesh, and the devil. Are you going to escape on your own? Not a chance.
Notice also that covenants, ceremonies, circumcisions, incense, Scriptures, sacrifices, and membership in Israel do not fix this problem. Saul had been “blameless” when it came to the law (Phil. 3:6), and yet here he includes himself in this mess that original sin created—we all were by nature children of wrath (v. 3).
The Glory and Grace of the New Birth
Dead means dead. And this means also that there is no salvation apart from resurrection. If Christ is raised from the dead, and if that resurrection is imparted to you, then you are alive in Him. If not, then not. And you can be without this life even though you are a learned teacher in Israel, as Nicodemus was.
There is only death and life, and no third category in between them. Sprinkle water on a dead stone, and what you get is a wet stone, not a living one. Only life can impart life, and so baptism is only a blessing if it is done with living water. And it is only living water if it is Christ Himself. And Christ is only apprehended where there is true evangelical faith (vv. 8-9). Living faith—the gift of God, remember—transforms it all. It transforms dead faith, dead water, dead stones, dead people, dead religion, and any other dead thing we like (in our death) to carry around.