Chapter two, again, divides neatly into two sections; the first addresses salvation (Ephesians 2:1-10), the second adds new revelation about the Church (Ephesians 2:11-22). In Ephesians 2:1-3 Paul set out the natural state of unsaved humanity. Without Christ we are “dead in our transgressions and sins,” living “according to this world’s present path” which is determined by “the ruler of the kingdom of the air” and characterized by “the cravings of our flesh.” We are also “by nature children of wrath.”
This is a horrible picture of the real state of unsaved humanity, so much so that Paul never actually finished that thought. The first two words of verse four, however, change everything: “But God.” Salvation is available for one reason: God’s character, demonstrated by his rich mercy and great love. Even in our sad state God accomplished two things: he “made us alive” and “seated us with [Christ] in the heavenly realms.” This was done, partially, “to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness.” Exactly what that means and how it will happen has yet to be revealed. However, the truth is that the entire “by grace through faith” package of salvation is available only through God, not through anything that we can do. 1 Although a gift, this salvation was also given for a purpose: that we would accomplish the spiritual works that God has prepared for us to do.
While the first half of the chapter displays the “before and after” picture of an individual believer, the second half displays the before and after of believing Gentiles as a whole. Before Christ Gentiles were just as bad off corporately as they were individually: “without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promises, having no hope and without God in the world.” Because God was working through Israel, Gentiles with no association to Israel had no association to God. “But now” (Ephesians 2:13) is the corporate parallel to “but God” (Ephesians 2:4). Since Jesus’ death and resurrection, Gentiles are no longer in that state. Believing Gentiles “have been brought near”; they have been reconciled with believing Jews “in one body to God through the cross.” They now “have access in one Spirit to the Father,” because they are “members of the God’s household.” This new entity, the Church, is built on the New Testament apostles and the prophets – both Jewish and Gentile – and is a unique entity during this dispensation which serves as the “dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
- There is a great debate over whether the “gift of God” refers to the grace, the faith, or salvation as a whole. Grammatically and theologically it makes the best sense to see all of salvation as the gift rather than just the individual parts of grace or faith. In fact, trying to limit the gift to either one of those creates major doctrinal issues with other parts of the New Testament.↩