In Ephesians 2 we have details on the character of God who is described as a God of love, a merciful God, a kind God, and a gracious God. We also have details that help us understand what God has provided for us. Because of who God is, He has given us life, raised us up with Jesus, and allowed us to be with Jesus in heavenly places. That details the privilege that is ours to be spiritually alive and have fellowship here and now with God. They also assure us that we will ultimately spend eternity with our Lord in heaven.
First, we need look at the big picture Paul presented in the opening verses of Ephesians 2. In verses 1-3 we are described as those who were characterized being dead, following Satan and doing that which was evil. By the time Paul got to verse 10 the big picture appears. We are now described as alive, following God, and doing good works. That is the big picture. We were dead, evil, and following the wrong one, we are redeemed so we are alive, doing good and following the one who created us in His image so we can have fellowship with Him. The big picture contrasts two different individuals, one dead and one alive. It contrasts two lifestyles, one evil and one good. It contrasts two masters, one the devil and the other God. What a picture.
Keeping the big picture in view, let’s look at some more of the details that make that picture possible. Read Ephesians 2:8-9. To explain what made the big picture possible Paul used 3 key terms. Paul wrote about being saved, noting that two elements are essential to salvation, namely grace and faith.
Paul had already defined what he meant by being “saved” or salvation. Salvation is the term used to describe the transformation that changed us from being dead to being alive with all the benefits and blessings of that transformation. Grace means that the transformation provided by God was not something we deserved or, earned. Faith is our response to the offer of salvation. While that is straight forward, faith is not easy to define.
A description of faith is complex. First, faith requires a body of information that one must accept as true. Saving faith, therefore, has an intellectual dimension. Saving faith accepts the facts that God exists, that the individual is a sinner (Romans 3:23) and that God will punish sin. Saving faith also accepts the fact that God has made a provision for our sin (John 3:16 and Romans 5:8). Those are facts that one must believe are true. Christians may legitimately differ on many of the peripheral issues of our faith but there is a basic body of truth that is foundational to saving faith.
But there is more than acknowledging the truths taught in the Bible. There is a second element to genuine faith. Read James 2:19. Saving faith goes beyond intellectual acceptance and includes the fact that an individual must personally depend on what in his mind he knows is true. There must be the additional element of trust in those truths.
A common illustration of how the two fit together is that of a chair. One can have a chair and thoroughly studying it can determine that it is designed to be sat on. Then based on an examination of the materials, one can determine that the way the chair is made it will support him. That is agreeing with the facts, but it is not a chair for that individual until he sits in it. Saving faith is not only agreeing with what the Bible teaches, but also trusting one’s daily walk and eternal destiny to the truths those facts teach. There is a huge difference between believing that and believing in. Believing that can be nothing more than an opinion whereas believing in is a conviction that we stake our lives on. Read Romans 6:17.
Paul was deeply concerned that the Christians in Ephesus understood there was an additional aspect of saving faith, namely that it comes to us because of the grace of God. It is not the result of anything we do to deserve it or earn it. Paul made that clear when he wrote verse 5 and amplified in verse 8-9. Note the way Paul emphasized it. He wrote, “by grace,” “not from yourselves,” and “not by works.”
Read about Paul and Silas’s experience as recorded in Acts 16:16-31, noting especially verses 30-31. Believing is accepting as true for you the truths you already understand from God’s Word. Saving faith includes the personal acceptance of what the Bible says as being true.
Too often we stop at that point in our understanding of what is involved in saving faith. The Bible, however, goes on as Paul expressed the next step in verse 10 of Ephesians 2 where he noted first that we are “God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus,” and second that we have been saved so we can, “do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Two additional aspects of saving faith can be seen in that verse. The first is that salvation changes us from under the rule of Satan to being in Christ Jesus. Recall that the big picture contrasts two lifestyles, one evil and one good. The change of rule is described, theologically, as repentance. Repentance is an inward commitment to literally turn around. There are activities in the life of a non-Christian that do not belong there because God has declared them wrong or sinful. When one is dead, one follows Satan and sees no problem with such activities, When, however, one is made alive in Jesus, one realizes that he should not continue in some of the activities he once saw as being acceptable. One cannot make a genuine saving faith commitment to God and have no change in how he wants to live. That does not mean we live the perfect life, nor does it mean we easily kick habits that we know we should not have. It does means that under the lordship of Jesus we recognize the lifestyle expected and make a legitimate effort to live accordingly. Read Acts 26:20.
Incidentally, one of the realities of moving from dead to alive and the lordship of Satan to the lordship of Jesus is that Satan is not content to simply let us go. He will do everything he can to maintain control over us. Temptations will continue to come and if he thinks we have yielded one activity to Jesus he will seek to lead us in some other direction. That means there is the continually need to evaluate our daily living to see if there are activities or attitudes that must go or if there are new activities that need to be incorporated into our new life in Jesus. The good news is that the moment we make a life saving commitment to Jesus we receive the Holy Spirit. Among other things, the ministry of the Holy Spirit includes making us conscious of things that must change and then giving us the strength to do that.
One additional note on this passage from Ephesians 2. Paul wrote in verse 10 that, “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” If one reads Ephesians 2 very quickly it may appear that Paul has contradicted himself. In verse 9 he wrote that our life saving conversion is “not by works” while here he wrote of being created to do good works.
What we need to remember is that while works are never a part of the reason we are made alive, once we have been made alive the evidence of that new life is seen in repentance and in doing good works. We are not saved because of our works (Ephesians 2:9) but we are saved so we can do them. The Christian life is not a passive one whereby we commit to attending church when we can and giving to the support of the church. It is an active life in which we commit to doing the things God has designed for us to do.
In I Corinthians 12, Paul detailed the truth that God has given to every believer a spiritual gift that is intended to be used for His glory. Every Christian has at least one and most have more than one that we are to use as representatives of God in this sin cursed world. Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus and told them it was their responsibility to use their gifts to do good for God’s glory.
Paul’s thesis in Ephesians 2 is that saving faith means a radical change. We who were dead are now alive. We who served Satan now serve God. We who once lived under the control of Satan have repented and now seek to live as God wants us to live. We who once thought we could be saved by our works know we are saved by grace so we can really do good works for Jesus. What an exciting change in our lives! Rejoice in what it means to be a Christian and live each day as one who is genuinely alive in Jesus.