Welcome back to The Messy Coffee Table Bible Study! Today we’re reading Ephesians 2. If you’re just joining us you can get caught up with both parts of Ephesians 1 here:
If you’re ready, open up to Ephesians 2 in your Bible, or read through it here. I highly encourage you to read and pray through the chapter on your own first to get a sense of whats going on and also discover the things that stand out to you or raise questions. Let’s chat about those things after! You can always send me a message via my Connect page. After you’ve read, let’s continue the journey together.
Recall from Part 1 the themes that will come up over the course of these chapters: unity and reconciliation under Christ. To more fully understand this, Ephesians 2 highlights both the good and the bad news, the old life before Christ and our new life in Christ. Let’s start with the bad news:
The Bad News: The Old Life
As sons and daughters of Adam (through whom the sin of humankind was passed on), we are all born into a sinful, helpless state (Psalm 51:5; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Rom. 5:12; 1 John 1:8). Paul describes this state as spiritual death (v.1). Before we step into faith in Jesus, by nature (vs.3) we are helpless and separated from God.
Paul is pretty explicit in his description of those who are still separate from God (in other words, those who have not put their faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus). As believers, we can refer to this as the “old life” before our eyes were opened to the Gospel: living “according to the flesh”, meaning in our sinful nature, living in opposition to the Holy Spirit not yet indwelt within us. Paul says that unbelievers live only by “the ways of the word”, a world ruled by “the kingdom of the air”. Other translations phrase this as “the prince of the power of the air”…AKA, the enemy of the Holy Spirit, Satan (ESV Study Bible, 2264).
Okay let’s stop there.
This sounds pretty harsh, no? Does it really say that those not living according to the power of the Gospel are living according to the powers of—not just some lofty concept of “the world”—but actually of Satan??
Yet Paul is clear: there are only two sides to this story, God’s and the Enemy’s. Before we come to know the Gospel and believe in it, we are born into “the ways of this world”. ALL of us (v.3). Romans 3:23 echoes this idea: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” ALL. And because this is our nature, as mentioned before, without Jesus we are all headed for spiritual death—that is, handed over to the Enemy’s side (v.3; see also Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death”).
Paul paints this kind of picture so the Ephesians can remember the truth about who they were before they believed (v. 12). Literally separate from Christ. This means that before putting their faith in Him, they were far off, excluded from citizenship in God’s kingdom (as opposed to heirs to an inheritance), hopeless foreigners to his promises. This was all of us, before we believed.
Why be so harsh in this description? There’s a saying that goes something along the lines of “the deeper the darkness, the brighter the light can shine” (I don’t know if that’s credited to someone specific or if it’s just one of those things we’ve all been saying to each other…any thoughts on that, let me know!). To understand why the Good News is indeed good news, we have to know the truth about who we were before. And the truth is, we were dead.
And so, we are prepped to receive the Good News. The best news of all, in fact.
The Good News: Our New Life in Christ
Remember, the thing is: God loves us (see Part 1), and He is rich in mercy (v.4).
Where sin = death, Christ = life (see Romans 6:23 again). The moment we place our faith in Him, we are “raised up” with Christ (we discussed this in Part 2 – the same Power that brings us to faith in Jesus actually rose Him from the dead, and is able to do the same for us). As heirs to God’s inheritance, we are seated with him on the throne (v.6). Though we were once far away from God, now we are brought near to Him by the blood of Christ (vs. 13). A nearnessto God…this is our new life in Jesus.
Again we are reminded of God’s ministry of reconciliation and unity in the Gospel. Jesus both reconciles us to God and unifies us under Him. In verses 14 through 18, Paul tells us that Christ brings “both sides” to God, those near and far from Him, therefore unifying them under himself. We as believers in Christ are therefore united by one Spirit, and all have equal access to the Father. ALL. We are no longer strangers and foreigners but fellow citizens in God’s kingdom (v. 19).
So what does this mean for the communities of those who believe? Paul describes the church like the building of a house:
- God’s household (His Church, His people) is built on the words and lives of the apostles & prophets that came before us (v.20).
- Christ is the cornerstone of the building (v.20). A “cornerstone” is the critical stone in the corner of the foundation of a building that ensures the structure is square and stable (ESV Study Bible, 2266). He keeps the whole thing together. Without Christ, the Church cannot be a unified, reconciled people.
- The church “rises to become a holy temple” (v.21). This means that, as God’s people, among whom he dwells, God can meet with us in joyful worship no matter where we are or what state we are in (ESV study Bible, 2266). We don’t have to clean up or perform sacrifices to get ourselves “right” before coming before God in worship. He welcomes us as we are.
As believers in Christ, we are being “built together” (reconciled, unified) in a dwelling where God lives among us (vs. 21). This means, if the Church’s gaze is not daily directed towards the cross, towards Jesus, we miss the entire reason for being the Church. Our worship will be self-serving, our missions will be misguided, and our ministry towards one-another will be disoriented. We must fix our eyes on Jesus together to remember and reorient our ministries around the story that matters most, the best news we could ever hear or share: the Gospel.
Created for Good Works, For God’s Glory
Verses 4-10 are some of my favorite passages of scripture, informing how to approach this concept of “good works” in light of grace. In these verses we do find the famous reminder that we are indeed saved by grace; made alive in Christ, though we were dead in sin (vs. 5), to show the incomparable riches of his grace through this act of kindness towards us (v.7). It’s to bring glory to God, as it is a gift of God through faith, not by our own efforts (v.8-9).
Does that mean we’re off the hook to be good people? Why make good choices and do good things at all if “works” don’t save us?
Verse 10 is the kicker: God created us, in Jesus, to do good works, which He prepared in advance for us to do. In light of everything Paul says leading up to this, it means that we aren’t saved if we do good works; we are saved so that we may do good works. In Christ, we are invitedby God into works that advance His kingdom and bring Him glory (see my other posts, Creating with Coffee and Labor of Love). This is not as a means to test us or a command that, should we fail, would cost us our standing with God. No, in fact, the work of the cross frees us to create and work and do good things out of a heart that is grateful to God for what He has done and desires to be closer to Him. It’s that nearness I mentioned before. The more we recognize the depth of God’s love and longing to be near to us, the more we will make moves to be near to Him. And the more we walk with Him, the more we will prefer to glorify His name in all that we do.
As you’re reading through and processing all this (which is a lot, I’ll admit), here’s a few questions you can ponder and pray through:
- Do you truly understand the truth of who you were before you believed in Christ? And if you don’t yet believe in Him, how do Paul’s words sit with you? Do they make sense? Does it raise more questions? (If it does, ask them! Leave a comment or send me a message!)
- If you’re a believer, what has it looked like practically for you to come alive in Christ? Do you long to be near to the God who created you and fought to be near to you? How are you different now that you’re walking with Christ?
- Does your church consistently and urgently direct people’s gaze toward Jesus and the cross? How is this evident in its ministry, missions, and discipleship? How can your church be remembering the Gospel together on a more consistent basis?
- How does God’s invitation to good works in light of grace play out in your life? Do you still feel the burden of obligation or restriction? How can we have the freedom to create and work in a way that brings God the glory alone? What things do we need to let go of in order to do that?
Praying for you as we continue this journey together!
For God’s glory,
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