Having established the understanding that Christians are a special people (saints) and form the body of Christ as the church, Paul in this section explains about the grace of God in the death of Christ and the necessity of faith alone in taking hold of this salvation. Not only has the atoning sacrifice of Christ given us a new life, it also brings reconciliation between the Jews and Gentiles.
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1. Uncircumcision/Circumcision (2:11): Circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants (Gen 17:10- 14). Consequently, the Gentiles came to be known as “the uncircumcised.”
2. Apostles and Prophets (2:20): The prophets here refer to the New Testament prophets (cf. 3:5; 4:11).
3. Chief cornerstone (2:20; cf. Job 38:6; Isa 28:6): “The stone at the corner of two walls that unites them; specifically, the stone built into one corner of the foundation of an edifice as the actual or nominal starting point of a building.” [ref]
- Salvation (2:1-10)
- Our former condition (2:1-3)
- Salvation springs from God’s mercy and love (2:4-7)
- Salvation by grace, through faith and not of works (2:8-10)
- Reconciliation (2:11-22)
- The former condition of the Gentiles (2:11-12)
- Reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles through Jesus Christ (2:13-18)
- The one household of God (2:19-22)
Why does Paul emphasize that we were once dead (see verses 1 and 5)?Hide Answer
To help us understand that God saved us by grace (verse 5), for a dead man cannot help himself.
Describe the death that we were once in.Hide Answer
Through the trespasses and sins we once walked. Following the devil (prince of the power of the air) (2). Lived in the passions of our flesh (3). Following the desires of the flesh and of the mind (3). Children of wrath (3).
Why is the devil described “as the prince of the power of the air” (2)?Hide Answer
Air here is used in the sense of it being naturally circumambient (surrounding). The devil here is described as completely surrounding and controlling the world.
Although the passions of the flesh have been mentioned in other scriptures (see Gal 5:16, 17; Rom 7:18), here in verse 3, Paul elaborates that it consists of two parts i.e. the desires of the flesh (body) and of the mind. John meanwhile categorizes the love of the world into three—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (
1Jn 2:16). Discuss how these categorizations complement each other. Also discuss specific examples for each of the desires of the flesh and the desires of the mind.Hide Answer
It would seem that the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes neatly elaborate the desires of the flesh. Also, the terms ‘pride of life’ and ‘desires of the mind’ help us to understand intellectual pride and self-exaltation.
What spiritual transformation takes place in a believer upon his conversion?Hide Answer
He is made alive together with Christ, raised up together, and made to sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (4-6).
What is the nature of God’s salvation that Paul emphasizes here?Hide Answer
Our salvation is by grace, meaning that it is God’s free gift. This salvation is received through faith in Jesus Christ and His atoning work. It is not based on our merits.
Verses 8 and 9 are often misinterpreted as meaning that confession of Jesus Christ is all that is necessary for salvation. Thus they argue that the keeping of all other commands, including the command to be baptized or to receive footwashing, is not necessary. How would you explain these verses knowing full well the implications of verses such as Acts 2:38 and James 2:10?Hide Answer
Because this is such an important issue, please read the entire article in the appendix. Important excerpts are as follows:
As grace is the giving of salvation by God, so faith is the accepting of salvation on our part.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1 NRSV). By the above Scriptural definition, faith, being an ‘assurance’ and a ‘conviction’, can be seen as an abstract entity, a thing of the mind. James saw the misconception that could possibly arise from such a definition and stressed the absolute necessity of the projection of the abstract entity into action (which he terms works). He rejects the conception of faith as a thing purely of the mind or heart, independent of the actions proceeding from such an assurance and conviction. “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (Jas 2:17).”
A simple illustration of faith in its true sense – You are trapped in your burning office block. Out of the blinding smoke and chaos, you sight a fireman breaking through the flames. Salvation! You have faith in him, in his ability to save you from a fiery end. He beckons to you. You go to him. “Down on your knees and crawl so that you won’t choke on the smoke.” Down on your knees you go. “Up the stairway.” Up the stairway. Turn left, then right.” Turn left, then right. “Jump!” Jump? “Jump!” Jump. And you are saved.
The illustration underlines the intrinsic relationship between obedience and faith, action and faith. Is it possible to be saved from the fire if you have faith in the fireman but do not follow his commands? Is it possible to separate faith and works? “Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?” (Jas 2:22) True and saving faith is faith with works – not any kind of works but works which have their source in the conviction that Christ is the Saviour.
The doctrine that salvation is effected at the moment of confessing Jesus Christ faces serious disagreement in the light of Mark 16:16 and Matthew 24:13. The first commands the believer to be baptized for salvation. If one’s salvation is effected at the point of open confession, why this verse? The latter goes even further. It advocates a lifetime of faith, not a single important moment of faith alone. Salvation is to one who remains faithful to the end.
Salvation is a way. “Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it (Mt 7:14). Salvation begins (not ends) with belief in Jesus as the Saviour. Then follows the question, “Men and brethren, what shall we do (Acts 2:37)?” To which Peter replied, “Repent and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).” This next step is reconciliation with God through the removal of the barrier of sin by Jesus’ blood in water baptism (see Acts 22:16;
1Pet 3:21). Whereupon in due time, we shall be sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance (Eph 1:13, 14). Our feet are now firmly planted on the road to salvation. But the way stretches on for a lifetime, a lifetime to be saved by the Spirit “for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live (Rom 8:13).” This is a process of renewal, growing in the Lord, not an accumulation of ‘works of righteousness which we have done’ (see Tit 3:5) but a living by faith, quickened by the Spirit.
Tit 3:5 is also an important parallel passage to Eph 2:9. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” Comparing with Eph 2:8, 9 we have:
1. works of righteousness which we have done – works;
2. His mercy – grace;
3. washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit – faith.
If we can see that the works mentioned in James 2 are different from the works in Eph 2:9, we are out of our muddle. The difference in the two kinds of works is in the source of each. The work in James has its source in faith. It is intrinsic in faith and without it, there is no faith. The works in Ephesians has its source in human moral exertions – deed done by us in righteousness. It is alien from a faith in Jesus, typical of the moral strivings of humanism, charity and other religions. Paul emphasizes that this kind of works cannot save since it is without faith in Jesus. It is then easy to understand why baptism or adherence to other commandments of God are necessary for salvation since these are NOT works done by us in righteousness but rather are works of faith.
Compare and contrast the two kinds of “works” in 9 and 10.Hide Answer
Verse 9 speaks of human endeavors to find justification in good works apart from the grace of God. Such kind of works cannot save us. On the other hand, verse 10 speaks of the good works after a believer’s conversion, and these good works are the result of becoming “God’s workmanship.” In other words, this kind of works is made possible by the spiritual regeneration and renewal in Jesus Christ. We are the works of God’s hands. Therefore, we ought to give God the glory for the good works we perform as Christians.
According to verse 10, what is the purpose of God’s calling?Hide Answer
God has chosen us in order to transform us in Christ so that we may walk in a new way of life and carry out good works.
In the light of our discussion on verses 8 and 9, it would now be clear that the good works for which we have been ordained to walk in are the works of faith. Starting with members in the Bible Study group, discuss what kinds of good works should prevail in the church and whether we have been successful in discarding the old ways and walking in the new way.
Ephesus was a city in Asia with most of its inhabitants being nonJews i.e. Gentiles. This passage describes how God reconciles Gentiles to Himself. Why are Gentiles without Christ in time past described as ‘having no hope and without God in the world (12)?Hide Answer
Because they do not partake in the covenants of promise that God made with Abraham. This covenant, whose sign is circumcision, remains for the descendants of Abraham through Isaac, Jacob (Israel) and finally the commonwealth of Israel.
What has brought the Gentiles near to God?
With reference to verses 14 and 15, what is the dividing wall of hostility that has separated Gentiles from Jews for centuries?Hide Answer
The dividing wall of hostility is the law of commandments and ordinances.
Why is it so important that the Gentiles and the Jews be reconciled?Hide Answer
Because God does not want two separate ways to Himself. From the beginning, His way of salvation is one and the people He chooses is one (see Eph 4:3-6). So while the promises and the covenants with the Jews cannot be revoked, God has to find a way to save both parties in one unified way and this He achieved through the blood of Christ and the death of His flesh.
The broken body of the Lord also reconciled all men, including both Jews and Gentiles, to God. Technically speaking, this fact as stated in verses 16 and 18 is to be seen as different from the breaking down of the middle wall of separation (thus reconciling Jews and Gentiles) recorded in verse 14. See the symbolic tearing of the veil that separated man from God (Ex 26:33) at the death of Christ (Mt 27:51). Read also Col 1:20-22.
Describe the household of God.Hide Answer
Built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone. In Jesus, the whole structure is joined together. It grows into a holy temple to the Lord. In Jesus also, we are built into the temple (see
1Pet 2:5) for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
What practical teachings can we gather from each of the following terms? a. Household of God b. Foundation of the apostles and prophets c. Jesus Christ the cornerstone d. Growing into a holy temple e. A dwelling place of God in the SpiritHide Answer
a. As members of God’s household, believers are children of God and siblings of the same spiritual family. There should be no division on the basis of race, gender, wealth, status, or personal interests (Gal 3:26-28). Because we are all part of this family, we all have a part to play in the work of the church. No believer is a guest waiting to be served, but we all ought to serve one another.
b. The church must conform to the teachings of the apostles and prophets, who had received the revelation of God (Eph 3:5; cf. Acts 2:42). Since the church is founded on the truth (
1Tim 3:15), she must preach the same gospel that the apostles preached (Gal 1:8-9). Any congregation that strays from the apostolic doctrine cannot be the church of God.
c. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the center of our faith (
1Cor 3:10-11). Our faith must be built not on man but on Christ the solid rock. People make mistakes and may fall away, but the Lord is always trustworthy. Furthermore, it is the Lord Jesus Christ, not our common interests or any other factor, that unites us together as one body. The only way to achieve unity despite our diversity is for all believers to be joined to the Lord and share the same faith in Christ.
d. From verse 21, we see that the church is a building project in progress. We are being fitted together by the hand of God until the entire building grows into a holy temple. Thus, the church needs to work towards spiritual maturity and unity in the faith (Eph 3:13-15). Our ultimate objective is to become a spiritual temple dedicated to God for His use, so that our assembly becomes a holy gathering in which prayers and thanks are offered to God continually and believers offer themselves as living sacrifices (i.e. they obey the will of God). Then God’s name will be exalted through this temple.
e. The church of God has the presence of the Holy Spirit. This means that believers in the church receive the promised Holy Spirit just as the apostles did on the day of Pentecost. Not only so, as a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, we need to seek to live a sanctified life (
1Cor 6:19-20) and submit to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all areas of church ministry (cf. Acts 13:1-3; Eph 4:3).