Dead, Following, Alive, Walking (2:1-10)
This passage is surreal. Dead people are following things – the course of this world, the prince of the power of the air, and the passions of their flesh. We begin to see that death is a way of life more than an ultimate end. Those who are caught in a life-dominating sin will quickly attest to the fact that death can be an experience with a heart that beats and breath in your lungs. The fact that both Heaven and Hell are eternal means that death is not “the finale” we think it is. Death is merely a way of life made permanent.
The contrast to dead people following things is enlivened people walking. Following is a mindless act; the smallest children play Follow-the-Leader. In this contrast, walking implies engagement and voluntary commitment. Contrary to the perspective of those “dead in their trespasses and sins” the greater freedom is experienced by those who have had God invade their living death.
Reflection: After conversion there is a temptation to believe that the “good life” is the life of sin, without God’s restrictions. We reveal this tendency when we longingly ask “How far is too far?” regarding our particular sin of choice. In what areas of life are you tempted to view death as life and life as death?
By Grace (2:5, 8)
It is so hard to wrap my mind around what it means for grace to be the “method” of salvation. This is particularly true when, as a counselor, people come to me for “practical” (meaning “how to”) answers. To do/get something by grace is the epitome of an oxy-moron for the practical minded. It is so simple it’s profound.
Yet this does become practical (irony intended). We are called to forgive as we have been forgiven (Eph 4:32). Those who offend us can do as little to “earn” our forgiveness as we did to earn God’s. Forgiveness is always of grace and it is always a choice of the offended party. As we follow the development of Ephesians, we see that we can only obey 4:32 when we accurately see ourselves in light of 2:1-10.
Application: What is the significance that a discussion of salvation is immediately followed by a d
iscussion of good works for our discussion of interpersonal forgiveness? Two principles emerge. First, true repentance always results in corresponding fruits of tangible change. But this fruit does not grow pre-forgiveness. Second, forgiveness (salvation) is only the start of the process of restoration (sanctification). Too often we treat forgiveness (the release of bitterness) as a synonym for restoration (relationships restored to their original condition). This leads to many hurts, poor choices, and other problems.
Created for “Good” Works
Have you ever noticed how content the Bible is with the word “good”? Genesis 1 is filled with “good.” God does not seem to be competing with anyone, so words like better and best are unnecessary. In Ephesians 2:9-10 Paul uses the contented word “good” to describe our calling and links it with our other call not to boast.
That should be liberating. Often we get distracted by a fear of failure because wrapped up in the comparative language of being “great.” That is the kind of language that led the disciples to start bickering (Luke 22:24). It is the language of fear and division. It is the language that believes God loves for us to grow as our performance improves.
Use the following questions to help you assess whether you are fulfilling your calling with grace-based contentment or performance-based works righteousness.
- Am I intimidated by or jealous of the gifts and abilities of other Christians?
- Do I evaluate my work by comparing it with other’s work?
- Do I avoid doing or saying things in front of others?
- Do I get embarrassed when people comment on my work?
- Do I apologize for mistakes that are not moral wrongs?
- Do I think I am a good Christian because I have impressive gifts?
- Do I assume Christians “on stage” have it all together?
- Do I do extra good works to avoid feeling guilty?
Allow these questions to push you towards contentment in God’s grace and motivate you to fulfill God’s calling with joy rather than fear.