Imagine being a member of the Ephesian church when Paul’s letter was read aloud. What would that have been like? Ephesus was a large city, so the church likely gathered in numerous houses across town for worship and fellowship. Now imagine your house’s church leader has just received a copy from your church’s founder, the apostle Paul. Read with fresh eyes to discover the grace of God.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
Paul was writing to a diverse group of believers who were new in their faith. At the time of this letter’s writing, Ephesus was the capital of the Roman empire. It was a busy commercial town on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea and, as a port town, it was a highly secular and global place full of different types and groups of people.
Yet the believers in Ephesus were not so different from you and me. Like the Ephesians, we are in desperate need of God’s grace. Like the Ephesians, our relationships are marked by a combination of friendship and conflict. Like the Ephesians, we can easily drift into disobedience and spiritual laziness. Like the Ephesians, we live as minorities in a secular world. And like the Ephesians, we are children of God, having received his amazing, astonishing grace by faith in his son Jesus Christ.
When Paul describes the spiritual condition of the Ephesians apart from God, he is not suggesting they were unusually sinful or corrupt. They were simply living as unbelievers.
The message of Ephesians 2, then, is just as timely and essential for us as it was for them 2,000 years ago. Paul paints a vivid contrast between what we are by nature —broken, dead in sin, drifting away— and who we are by grace.
The message of Ephesians is that God’s grace is greater than our sin!
But before Paul gives us the “Good News” about God’s grace in Jesus (verses 4-10), he has to tell us the bad news (verses 1-3). The bad news is that all who are not reconciled to God and one with Christ are dead in sin. Paul describes the condition of the unbeliever in multiple ways, and to discover the depth of God’s grace toward us in Christ, we must understand what we are saved from.
So how do we get from a place of being dead, disobedient, depraved and doomed to a place of being saved, reconciled, and restored to community? God’s grace!
Once the Ephesians could understand their condition apart from grace, they could fully realize the lavish acceptance they had received from God!
It’s not enough for us to merely understand these truths. God invites us to experience his grace against the backdrop of our need of him.