Context matters. If we learn to read the Bible for what it is—and not as a collection of independently assembled proverbial sayings—we’ll discover that some of our most familiar passages have even more to say than we’ve always assumed.
Salvation By Grace
The doctrine of grace is both astounding and alarming. It is astounding that sinners can receive a righteousness from God, which they do not deserve, and be adopted as his sons and daughters. And it is alarming that they can do nothing to deserve such favor. All they can do is trust the one who makes it so.
Few places define this doctrine more clearly than Ephesians 2:1-10. A skeletal outline of the text shows Paul’s flow of thought. You were…But God…So that…For…For…
- YOU WERE (Eph 2:1-3): dead, following this world and its prince, living for our own desires, children of wrath like the rest.
- BUT GOD (Eph 2:4-6): made us alive with Christ, raised us up with him, and seated us with him.
- SO THAT (Eph 2:7): he might display you as trophies of his grace.
- FOR (Eph 2:8-9): you have been saved by grace, not works.
- FOR (Eph 2:10): we are his workmanship, created and prepared for good works.
How It’s Possible
In the previous section, Paul describes his prayers for these people. He asks God to give them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation (Eph 1:17) so they might understand:
- the hope to which he’s called them (Eph 1:18),
- the riches of his inheritance (Eph 1:18), and
- the immeasurable greatness of his power (Eph 1:19)
That power is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead and seated him in the heavenly places and put all things under his feet (Eph 1:20-22). This raised, seated, and authoritative Jesus is God’s gift to the church (Eph 1:22-23).
The content of this prayer provides the context for Paul’s remarks about grace that follow in Eph 2:1-10. Though God’s people have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph 1:3), the greatest blessing is the gift of the raised, seated, and subduing Christ.
Why It Matters
But why is it so critical that we understand the nature of grace and the gift of the Lord Jesus? What does Paul want us to take from this doctrine?
We must observe the word “therefore” in Eph 2:11. In the second half of the chapter, Paul does not change the subject. He applies the doctrine of grace to the life of the church. Even a skeletal outline of the text shows immediate connections to the chapter’s first half. Remember that you were…But now in Christ…So then…For…For…
- REMEMBER THAT YOU WERE (Eph 2:11-12): separated, alienated, and strangers; having no hope and without God. (In other words, you were dead in your trespasses and sins…)
- BUT NOW IN CHRIST (Eph 2:13-17): you far-off ones have been brought near by the blood of the one who brings peace, breaks down hostility, abolishes the ordinances, creates one man, reconciles both to God, and grants equal access to the Father. (In other words, you have been made alive, raised with Christ, and seated with him and with his people.)
- SO THEN (Eph 2:18-22): you’re not strangers, but fellow citizens, being built into a new dwelling place on the proper foundation. (In other words, you now show off the riches of God’s grace through your new community.)
- FOR (Eph 3:1, 14-21): Paul the prisoner of Christ asks the Father to strengthen his people through this indescribable grace and immeasurable love.
- FOR (Eph 4:1-32) Paul the prisoner of Christ urges you to walk in the good works that you’ve been created and prepared to do.
The main thing to catch is that the structure of the argument of Eph 2:11-4:32 follows the same structure of the argument of Eph 2:1-10 (with the possible exception of Paul’s mid-sentence digression in Eph 3:2-13). That repeated structure, together with the opening “therefore,” indicates that Eph 2:11-4:32 describes the implications, the ramifications, even the point of the doctrine laid out in Eph 2:1-10.
As presented by Paul, the glorious doctrine of grace serves a rather practical purpose. We are not saved by grace so we can feel great about ourselves or maintain an insider club. We are saved by grace so we can be built up together as a new temple, where members of all races are involved in one another’s lives and growing together in faith and good works. This shows the world how astounding God’s grace truly is.
Perhaps our generation might find greater help with race relations and reconciliation within the church by looking harder into the doctrine of grace.