The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann
The Church as the Sum Total of Men Saved by Grace.
The natural condition of man:
v. 1. And you hath He quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
v. 2. wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience;
v. 3. among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
This is really only a part of a long and involved period, the verb having been supplied by the translators from the next section; but the thought is clear and may be followed without difficulty. Addressing himself principally to the Gentiles, or speaking of his readers from the standpoint of the majority, Paul writes: And you, when you were dead by reason of your trespasses and sins (God has made alive with Christ). The Ephesians, like all men by nature, had been in a state or condition of death. All attempts to weaken the force of the statement by translating "dying," or "mortal," or "condemned to death," or by assuming that Paul meant to say that his readers had earned eternal death by their sins, come to naught in view of the uncompromising plainness of the text. They were spiritually dead, they had nothing of the life in and with Christ. See chap. 5:4; Joh_5:25; Rom_6:13; Rev_3:1. They were in this state of spiritual death through, by reason of, their trespasses and sins. The natural proneness to sin, in itself under the sentence of condemnation, found its expression in evil works of the flesh. The death in sins gives evidences of its power in the various and manifold trespasses and sins. Natural man, dead as he is to everything that is morally good, performs only that which is evil, such deeds as result in guilt.
This state of spiritual death is further described: In which formerly you walked according to the course of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit who is now operative in the children of unbelief. At one time, formerly, the Ephesians were actively engaged in sins and trespasses; that was their occupation before their conversion, to serve sin, to commit trespasses against God's holy Law. In this they followed the way of the world, the fallen, apostate humanity. In this world, men in the state of opposition to God impress their stamp upon everything, determining the character, view, and mode of life; and all men before their conversion are engaged with them in this opposition to God. Therefore their conduct is also in accordance with the will of the ruler of the domain of power of the atmosphere, namely, of the spirit which is now active in the children of disobedience. That is the devil's sphere of activity, that is his domain: the mind of sinful man. The atmosphere of the spirit which actuates the unbelievers is created by the devil as a spirit of disobedience. Men by nature refuse to heed and obey the will of God, the Law which is written into their heart and conscience by nature. The spirit of evil, the principle of opposition, is governing their lives; that is the atmosphere in which they live, and move, and have their being: sin, disobedience, unrighteousness. It is an atmosphere created by Satan for his purposes, full of poison and the fumes of hell. Thus natural man is under the influence, in the power of the devil, bound to oppose God in everything that He does.
But the moral depravity of the Jews was just as bad as that of the Gentiles by nature: In the midst of whom we also all had our life and walk formerly, in the desires of our flesh, performing the wishes of the flesh and of the thoughts. Paul includes himself and all Jewish Christians in the category of the children of disobedience by nature. Their whole conduct and behavior, whatever they turned to, whatever they were engaged in, was concerned with the lusts and desires of the flesh, of the old Adam. And thus they performed the wishes, the expressions of the will of the flesh and also of the intellectual faculties. Natural man, whether Gentile or Jew, is not only inclined to the low, sensual impulses, indecency, lewdness, immorality, but his spiritual, intellectual abilities and powers are corrupt and at variance with God's will. Thousands of books and articles in our days, most of them showing the use of a high grade of intellect, are charged with sentiments opposed to God and to His holy will and Word. Therefore it is true of all classes of people that are included in the category of natural man: We were by nature children of wrath, just as also the others. By nature, by birth, by reason of the fact that we are flesh born of flesh, we are subject to the condemning wrath of God; our inherited evil nature has made us children of wrath. Inherited sin is a fact, and it is a fact which makes us subject to wrath and damnation. We know from the Scriptures "that this hereditary evil is a guilt, that we all, on account of the disobedience of Adam and Eve, are under God's displeasure and children of wrath by nature. " And this fact, that we all have this deep, evil, terrible, indescribable, inexpressible, unspeakable vileness in ourselves by nature, serves all the more to set forth before us the boundless mercy of God toward man.
God's grace manifested toward the sinners:
v. 4. But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love where with he loved us,
v. 5. even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved,)
v. 6. and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
v. 7. that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
v. 8. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God;
v. 9. not of works, lest any man should boast.
v. 10. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
Paul now introduces the subject of the sentence begun in v. 1. His thought is: God gave to us, who are now Christians, while we were still dead with reference to our trespasses, spiritual life. The reason for this is given: God, however, being rich in mercy, on account of the great love wherewith He loved us. In the entire passage there is not a word of merit on the part of man, the entire process of regeneration or conversion is ascribed to God alone. Because He was rich, is rich to this day, rich beyond all human understanding, in mercy, in free favor and benevolence toward fallen mankind, and by reason of the great love, a love entirely unmerited on our part, with which He loved us, therefore He showed us mercy. The same God who is angry, who must be angry with sin, is the God of grace, of a mercy that is so rich as to be exhaustless, Joh_3:16.
Now comes the great contrast: Even when we were dead by reason of transgressions, He made us alive with Christ,â€”by grace you are saved. When we were in that terrible condition of spiritual death, as shown in our transgression of God's holy Law, when we were without the faintest bit of saving knowledge of God, without fear, love, and trust in Him, when there was in us nothing but a total inability with regard to the things which pertain to our salvation, then God gave us life together with Christ. As Christ, by the life which He received in the grave, did not return to the former mode of living on earth, but entered into a new manner of existence, as He is now in a new, transfigured, spiritual, state and life, so we were made partakers of this life according to our spirit, when God quickened us from our spiritual death. The new life of regeneration is life out of the life of Christ. By this act of God salvation has been given to us, by the free grace in Christ, as Paul is careful to remark by way of parenthesis. Note the sharp and absolute contrast between death and life: one moment a person is dead, without the slightest evidence of life in any form, the next moment he is alive, with at least some show of life, even if that be expressed merely as a desire for salvation. One thing is clear: there is no intermediate stage, no neutral ground; the change from spiritual death to spiritual life is one step, and that step is the work of God alone.
So wonderful is this process that the apostle expatiates upon it: And He has raised us with Him and placed us with Him in the heavenly regions in Christ Jesus. Just as Christ, as true man, was raised from the dead and placed at the right hand of God, where He now leads a heavenly mode of existence, 1Co_15:48, so we, by our conversion, have become partakers of the same essence. Our mind is now set, inclined, toward heavenly things. The exalted Christ has elevated our spirit into the spiritual, divine, heavenly life, all by means of the Gospel of our salvation, chap. 1:13.
God's purpose in working regeneration in us in this manner is finally stated: That He might show in the ages that are coming the superabundant wealth of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Our salvation here in time is an advance payment, earnest-money, assuring us of the last and most perfect manifestation of God's grace, which lies beyond the present age and world. When the ages of this world come to an end and the period of eternity dawns upon us, then we, who were by nature children of wrath, but now partakers of God's grace in Christ, shall experience the full riches of the grace of God. In Christ Jesus, our Redeemer and Mediator, we shall then receive the full benevolence and kindness of God in all eternity, we shall see the face of our heavenly Father and taste and see the beauty of the Lord, world without end.
All these wonderful blessings are gifts of God's free grace: For by the grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, God's is the gift, not of works, that no. one should glory. By and in our regeneration and conversion we have been made partakers of the salvation gained by Christ; by being awakened from spiritual death and given the life in and with Christ, we have become justified before God. All this is a work of God's free grace, transmitted to us through the hand of faith; we are thus regenerated, justified, by faith. In our heart, which was spiritually dead, God has enkindled the flame of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And this flame, just as soon as it sent up the first spark and began to glow, spread life throughout the formerly dead and cold members. Thus faith is the beginning of the new spiritual life. In this work of spiritual regeneration, of quickening to new life, all cooperation on the part of man is expressly and emphatically excluded. God's free gift and gracious present it is, not a reward for works performed by man by which he might have made himself worthy of being regenerated in the sight of God; no merit in us was considered, even had there been anything to point to in this respect, all boasting on the part of man is cut off absolutely. On our part we have not contributed even the slightest part toward our conversion, neither was it occasioned by any doing or conduct on our part. "That the glory of that salvation belongs wholly to God and in no degree to man, and that it has been so planned and so effected as to take from us all ground for boasting, is enforced on Paul's hearers again and again, in different connections, with anxious concern and utmost plainness of expression, Rom_3:17; 1Co_1:29; 1Co_4:7; Gal_6:14; Php_3:3."
And another fact is adduced by Paul to show that we Christians have no reason to make the advantages which we enjoy before others a matter of boasting: For His handiwork we are, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we should walk in them. The emphasis again is on the side of God; it is God who gave us the position which we hold as Christians. It is God, also, who performed the work of the new creation in us, so that we are in the fullest sense of the word the work of His hands, fashioned by Him in Christ Jesus, through whose redemption and life we have received the new spiritual life. By virtue of this new life, which is here again, in its totality, ascribed to the creative power of God, we are prepared for good works, we are able and ready to perform such deeds as are pleasing to our heavenly Father. These good works, which are the evidence of the new creature in us, by which our Christianity is tested and approved, have been made ready and set forth by God before we ever thought of performing them. God is the unseen Source from which the good works spring, His creative power is their final explanation. And by and through our fellowship with Christ these good works are performed in us; Christ, in whom we live and move and have our being, makes us partakers of His gifts and virtues, is expressed in our life and conduct; Christ's holiness, purity, humility, meekness, benevolence, and kindness appear in the lives of the Christians. And so all glorying on the part of the believers is excluded, as a matter of fact is never indulged in. A true Christian does not even boast of the good works which it is his privilege to perform, knowing that it is the power of Christ and God in him that enables him to follow the example of Christ.
A special reminder to the Gentile Christians:
v. 11. Wherefore, remember that ye, being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called uncircumcision by that which is called the circumcision in the flesh made by hands,
v. 12. that at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world;
v. 13. but now in Christ Jesus ye, who sometimes were far off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
The apostle here addresses himself specifically to the Gentile Christians, who constituted the majority in the Ephesian congregation: Wherefore, remember that formerly you, Gentiles in the flesh, called uncircumcision by that which is called circumcision in the flesh, made by hand. He refers to the entire preceding section: All these things being so, namely, that you were quickened by God into a new, spiritual life, therefore remember. They should keep in mind and in view not merely the riches obtained, but also the poverty and misery from which they were released. They had in their former state been Gentiles in the flesh, by birth, Gentiles in the full sense of the term, representatives of the heathen world. The name uncircumcision, a name of contempt, was flung at them; they were regarded as unclean by the Jews. The apostle intimates, at the same time, that the latter had little reason for proud boasting, for he himself refers with some show of contempt to the "so-called circumcision which is made in the flesh by hand," for a mere incision in the flesh cannot be made the foundation of a real advantage, has no moral or religious value. All the Jews, therefore, that make this mere external rite a matter of boasting, the apostle means to say, are foolish.
Aside from this fact, however, it remains true: That you were at that time, apart from Christ, alienated from the citizenship of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and being without God in the world. At the time when the Gentiles were without Christ, outside of Christ, when they as yet did not know, did not have, Christ, they were excluded from citizenship in the kingdom of Christ, they were strangers to the fellowship with Him. They likewise had no share in the covenants of the great Messianic promise which God gave to Abraham and the patriarchs, Gen_13:15; Gen_15:18; Gen_17:8. To this covenant of grace the Gentiles were strangers, because they were strangers to God's own people, to the children of Israel. As a result, they were without hope; being ignorant of the salvation promised in the Messiah and realized in Christ, they had nothing to hope for beyond this world. Moreover, the last element, the climax of the darkness and misery of their former life, was the fact that the Gentiles were without God in the world. In this world, in this miserable, vain, and transitory world, they were God-less, without knowledge, without worship of the true God, and therefore without a support, like a mastless and rudderless wreck in the midst of a typhoon. That is painting their old heathen condition in the darkest colors.
Their present condition stands out all the more cheerful by contrast: Now, however, in Christ Jesus, you, who were formerly at a great distance, have come near in the blood of Christ. At the present time, at the time that Paul is writing, those very people that formerly stood afar off, as strangers to the citizenship of Christ, have now come near to the people of God, have been brought into the Church of Christ. See Mat_3:2; Mat_4:17; Mat_10:7; Mar_1:15; Luk_10:9-11. This wonderful change has been brought about in Christ Jesus. Now they are in Him, united with Him, in living, present, personal fellowship with the Savior. By the blood of Jesus Christ, which was shed for their deliverance from sin, death, and damnation, they have been added to the number of the believers joined in the communion of saints. The blood of Christ was the means which brought about the wonderful effect, just as it does today.
The reconciliation effected by Christ:
v. 14. For he is our Peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us,
v. 15. having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, for to make in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace;
v. 16. and that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the Cross, having slain the enmity there by;
v. 17. and came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.
v. 18. For through Him we both have access by one spirit unto the Father.
The thought of the passage is that God, by the redemption of Christ, has gathered His Church out of Jews and Gentiles. So far as the present relation between Jews and Gentiles in the congregation is concerned, Paul writes: For He Himself is our Peace, who made both one and broke own the dividing wall of separation, the enmity, in His flesh. Jesus Christ is our Peace, He established peace between the two parties that seemed irreconcilable, between Jews and Gentiles. This great object of His life he brought about by uniting the two contending parties in one perfect unit. This He did by removing completely the wall, or partition, which separated Jews and Gentiles and caused constant enmity. The Mosaic Law, with all its precepts, institutions, and ceremonies, was a fence, or wall, which shut off the people of Israel from the Gentiles, which shut out the heathen from the privileges of the Jews. Christ abolished the Ceremonial Law and fulfilled the Moral Law.
This the apostle explains: (He removed the wall) by abolishing the enmity in His flesh, the law of commandments in ordinances. In His flesh, by the sufferings of His body, by going into death for the sins of the world, Christ has put the Law out of commission, He Bas abrogated the divine Law as a master of men. The curse, the guilt, the punishment lay upon Him, and so the Law has expended its might and power in His case. See Rom_7:6. Incidentally, Christ removed the enmity between Jews and Gentiles. The separation between the two could not exist without hostility, especially since the Ceremonial Law was a law of precepts in ordinances, and as such challenged opposition and enmity. The Gentiles were deterred from joining the people of God by the prospect of being kept in bondage by the countless and detailed instructions of the Law which governed the minutest acts of daily life, even as today people are not brought into church by the preaching of the Law. So Christ's purpose in abrogating the Law was: That He might create the two in Himself to one new man, making peace. By making peace between the two estranged parties in the manner described, Christ brought about a union of the Jews and Gentiles to a unit, a gathering of the Christian Church from the Israel according to the flesh as well as from the Gentile nations. The holy Christian Church thus formed is the one body of Christ, and Christ's work in bringing about this union is an evidence of His creative power.
In the same way and with the same object Jesus effected still more: And (that He) reconcile both in one body to God, having through the Cross killed the enmity in Himself. The word "reconciliation" in this connection does not refer to the removal of the hostile relation between God and man as much as to the abrogation of man's hostile position and conduct over against God. It was Christ's intention to bring both Jews and Gentiles before God as a unit people, as a single body, thus establishing perfect communion with God. This plan seemed destined for success from the start because Christ in Himself, by giving Himself into death, killed and removed the enmity between Jews and Gentiles. By sacrificing Himself and becoming obedient even to the death on the cross, He removed the obstacle that stood in the way of peace, the Law, which engendered hostility, thus making way for the union of Jews and Gentiles in one body, thus bringing about the perfect harmony of an evenly balanced and developed organic whole.
How this intention of Christ was realized and is being realized, Paul states: And thus He came and preached peace to you that were afar off and peace to those that were near. Having obtained a perfect redemption for all men, having removed the cause of disharmony and hostility, Jesus now comes in and through the Spirit, Joh_14:18; Act_26:23, in the Gospel. Christ, through the Holy Spirit, is personally present in and with the message of grace as it is preached throughout the world, and through this Word speaks to the hearts of men. It is a good, a joyful news, and its content is peace with God, the salvation earned by Christ on the cross with His suffering and death. This peace is now freely proclaimed to those that formerly were strange and distant, far from the chosen people of God and unacquainted with the evangelical promises, but also to those to whom the preaching of the Kingdom was entrusted of old: to Gentiles and to Jews Christ has proclaimed one and the same peace and thus restored peace between them. All believers in Christ are now united by the bond of this common knowledge and faith. Of them all together it holds true: For through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. To this the experience of both Jews and Gentiles will cause them to agree. Christ is the Way; through Him the way to the Father is opened, through Him all have become partakers of the one Spirit. This unity of the Spirit, the unity of the sonship of God, the same right as children toward the Father of Jesus Christ, that is the bond which unites Jews and Gentiles, all the members of the Church of Christ. They all address Him: Abba, Father, with the same certainty of being heard, for all hindrances have been removed.
The Christians God's living temple:
v. 19. Now, therefore, ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God;
v. 20. and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief Corner-stone;
v. 21. in whom all the building, fitly framed together, groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord;
v. 22. in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
The apostle here draws the conclusion from the foregoing statements, offering a summary of all that has been said: Accordingly, then, no more are you strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow-citizens of the saints and members of the household of God. Since all the points which the apostle has brought forward in the preceding section are so well established, it now follows that the Gentile Christians, who formerly occupied a station far from the citizenship of Israel, who were strangers or, at best, sojourners among the Jews, being suffered or tolerated rather than regarded as equals, are now citizens in the commonwealth of the Christian Church, with full participation and enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of the Kingdom. Or, by changing the figure to some extent, the Christian Church is a large, holy family, in which God is the Housefather, the Head of the house, and all believers members of the family, with free access to the use of all the goods which are freely dispensed by the Father. There is no difference here: the Gentile Christians belong to the household of God like all other believers, they have the right of children, the right of inheritance.
Again the apostle changes the figure and the picture: Being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, the corner-stone being Christ Jesus Himself. The believers are not only members of God's family, but they themselves constitute the house, the temple, of God; they are the lively stones in the sacred edifice of the Church. They rest upon by faith, they are built up upon, the foundation of the apostles. The apostles, as the teachers of the Church for all times, are the foundation course of this wonderful building, whose capstone will not be laid till the last day. Though they have died long ago, they still teach and preach through their writings. And the same thing holds true of the Old Testament prophets, for their writings are fundamental for the Church of all times, the apostles themselves continually referring to them, Rom_16:26. The books of the apostles in the New Testament and of the prophets in the Old Testament arc the Word of God, written by inspiration of the Holy Ghost, the unshaken and unshakable foundation of the Church of Christ. Upon this foundation the Gentile Christians and all believers are built up; in it they rest, through it they receive the strength to stand in the face of all storms. This is all the surer, since Jesus Christ Himself is the Corner-stone, 1Pe_2:6. In the building of the Church foundation and corner-stone are not two separate things, but the one includes the other. Christ Jesus is the content of the prophetic and apostolic writings; Christ is found in and with His Word, and nowhere else. The invisible foundation of the Church and the visible and audible medium which establishes the connection between the believers and Christ are named together, in order to maintain the figure of the house that is in the course of erection. Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinful mankind, of whom the Word of the prophets and apostles bears witness, is the Foundation of faith and of the congregation of saints which is being gathered out of the world of sinners.
The edifice as such is now described: in whom the whole building, fitly joined together, grows to a holy temple in the Lord. Not every building, but the entire building, which is only one, for the apostle is speaking of the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, not of individual churches or congregations. The one great building of the Church, by the addition of the individual members, who are properly joined or fitted together with those that were members before, gradually grows; it goes forward toward completion, the end coming with the conversion of the last elect member. Thus the building of Christ's Church everywhere shows symmetry and harmony. The members of the Church by love which is grounded in faith, preserve harmony; they submit to one another; they accommodate themselves to one another. Though of different nationalities and temperaments, Jews and Gentiles, Greeks and barbarians, wise and foolish, they are at peace among one another, and that in Christ. The common faith in Christ brings about this effect. On the last day the holy temple in the Lord will stand before our astonished eyes in the beauty of its perfection.
Then, also, the purpose of the building will appear: In whom you also are being built together for an habitation of God in the Spirit. The direct address serves to emphasize the personal interest of every believer in this building, the construction of which is being carried forward day after day, sometimes with signal success, sometimes with great difficulties. Wherever and whenever the Word of the prophets and apostles is being proclaimed, there believers are gained for the growth of the Church. And so the end will present the complete, the perfect Church, the habitation of God, the place in which God elects to live, in the Spirit; for it is by the Spirit's power that souls are gained for Christ, that new stones are added to this wonderful temple. Thus the Christian Church is a temple of the Triune God. The great God of heaven, who has revealed Himself in three persons, whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain, has his home in the midst of sinful mankind, in the Church of Christ. This wonderful glory and dignity of the Church is at present still hidden from the eyes of men. But on the last day the Church will appear before the eyes of an astonished world as a temple of beauty and magnificence, and the splendor and glory of the Lord mill shine forth from this singular structure. "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them and be their God," Rev_21:3.
The apostle reminds the Christians that, when they were dead in sins, God quickened them and gave them the strength of a new spiritual, heavenly life in Christ Jesus; he cells to the remembrance of the Gentile Christians especially that they, who formerly were strange and distant, have now been brought into the kingdom of Christ and been made members of the Church of Christ.
Monday, March 27th, 2017
the Fourth Week of Lent
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