Ephesians 2:1-10 is one of the great and more memorable sections of the Epistles. It has everything a preacher wants and, frankly, needs to proclaim — a raw portion of the Law and a glorious Gospel announcement. In fact, this text seems to embody the core “solas” of the Reformation: Grace alone, faith alone, on account of Christ alone. The preacher of this text should follow the logic of the text, the divinely inspired genius of Saint Paul, and get out of the way. Ephesians 2 brings its readers from sin and death to grace and life. It follows the pattern of every person baptized into Christ: From a domain of death to God’s gracious redemption on account of Christ through faith, and into a life of service as the people of God. Sin, salvation, sanctification — they are all within these ten verses.
Preachers will do well to note the chiastic structure of these verses. It builds from the considering “you—when you were dead in your trespasses and sins” to a great transition at verse 4 with that marvelously strong adversative, “—but God, being rich in mercy.” After sustaining the crescendo through verses 5, 6, and 7, it returns to the “you” but this time it is a redeemed “you,” “...created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand, that in them we should walk” (2:10). This structure yields the pattern articulated above. Put differently, Paul’s chiasm hands the preacher his sermon structure.
Go deeper. The chiasm moves from A, B, C, D, E, F — G — F’, D’, C’, B’, A’. What you find in A receives an antithesis through redemption in A’. Take for instance verse 1 (A): “You Gentiles were dead in sins, walking according to the age of this world.” Now compare it to verse 10 (A’): “God has re-created us in Christ to walk in good works.” Let us explore another. In D: “thus, we [Jews], too, by nature deserved God’s wrath like the rest of mankind.” Now D’: “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (verse 8). Tom Winger explains the significance of the chiasm:
First, there is an in-out movement by which the depths of man’s plight are introduced step-by-step and then undone step-by-step by God’s actions. For each failure, lack, or rebellious act on man’s part there is a corresponding act of redemption on God’s part. The old walk, in trespasses and sins, is replaced by walking in good works. Slavery to the Devil is replaced by a new creation in Christ. Desires of the sinful flesh are replaced by God’s gift from outside ourselves. Our sinful nature’s work is replaced by the grace of God. Wrath gives way to salvation.
Sin, salvation, sanctification — they are all within these ten verses.
The preacher will note Paul’s great Gospel proclamation is not found at the end, but smack dab in the middle F—G—F’:
“[God] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
Preachers will take note of the potent theological vocabulary and phraseology throughout this text, any of which can be exploited to declare the Law and the Gospel:
“Dead in the trespasses and sins,” “following the course of this world,” “following the prince of the power of the air,” “sons of disobedience,” “passions of our flesh,” “desires of the body and the mind,” “by nature children of wrath,” “but God,” “rich in mercy,” “because of the great love,” “He loved us,” “even when,” “dead in our trespasses,” “made us alive together with Christ,” “by grace you have been saved,” “raised us up with Him,” “seated us with Him,” “in Christ Jesus,” “the immeasurable riches of His grace,” “kindness toward us,” “saved through faith,” “not your own doing,” “the gift of God,” “we are His workmanship,” “created in Christ Jesus,” “for good works,” “God prepared beforehand,” “walk in them.”
There are several critical themes worth noting. First, there is a clearly articulated biblical anthropology that leaves no room for optimism or synergism, much less out and out Pelagianism. There is no hope in our ability to save ourselves or availingly seek or serve the only true God. No, we are, “...dead in trespasses and sins.” What comes naturally to called humanity comports with the will and ways of the “prince of the power of the air.” That is, devilish philosophical thinking and corresponding behaviors. Hope cannot be found in us and, in fact, Paul paints the direst picture. We, “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” There can be no turning inward. Neither humans nor humanitarianism can provide a solution to our individual and collective predicament. We are a lost cause “in Adam.”
Then comes the great pivot: “But God.” And what follows is a stream of radiant availing gospel: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (2:4-7). The Gospel is so clear, so simple, so pure in these verses that they are well worth heralding as is, without comment. But then comment to unpack the fact it was God’s love for us which moved Him to action in Christ Jesus. His love gives rise to mercy. His mercy actions His grace. His grace is manifest in Jesus the Son. Jesus the Son makes us alive in Him.
His love gives rise to mercy. His mercy actions His grace. His grace is manifest in Jesus the Son. Jesus the Son makes us alive in Him.
In case there is any question about how all this takes place, especially when we do existentially experience choosing God, consciously loving Him, expressing repentance and faith, just in case there is any question from where such abilities and status arise, Paul makes it plain. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that on one may boast” (2:8-9). There is death concerning our anthropology until resurrection takes place in the waters of Holy Baptism. There are two things here that qualify as the gift: Salvation and faith. Both are of God’s grace in and through Christ Jesus. Christ is our salvation and Christ is present in faith. To say that “it” is the gift of God is to say we have participated in the resurrection in baptism through which we were united to Christ. In short, Paul, in saying God gifts us with Christ otherwise under the auspices of salvation and faith, says only the action of God in Christ who gives us Himself could save us. Only God could justify the unjustifiable. The impossible becomes possible “in Christ Jesus.” He can represent us by way of a new anthropology, not in Adam but in the Last Adam, Jesus the Son. The result is new life, new creation.
Now comes the final juxtaposition: Our former works of death contrasted by the works of God planned for us. Having been translated from the kingdom of death and its monstrous ethic, we are now empowered or, better, inspirited for walk in the ethic of the Kingdom of God.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in Ephesians 2:1-10.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Ephesians 2:1-10.