"By Grace Alone" Sola Gratia (Ephesians 2:1-10)

The Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century was nothing less than a recovery of the gospel. Men like Martin Luther in Germany, John Calvin in France and Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland were used by God to bring both reformation and revival by emphasizing once again the centrality of Scripture and a gospel of salvation of Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone so that God receives all the glory. Thus, the theology of the Reformation can be summarized by the following phrases:

  • By Grace Alone
  • By Faith Alone
  • By Christ Alone
  • By the Scriptures Alone
  • To God Alone Be The Glory

As a result of the Protestant Reformation, the Church of England was formed. Many within the Church of England continued to work to purify the church and some separated to form independent congregations. These congregations were either congregational or presbyterian in their church government. Among these separate congregations in the early 17th century, a number of the pastors became convinced of believer’s baptism by immersion. The new Baptist churches which were formed as a result are our direct spiritual forebears. For this reason, the doctrines of the Reformation are extremely important to us as Baptists. Beginning today and continuing for the next four weeks, I will be presenting a message on each of these themes by taking a key text of Scripture that develops the particular theme and preaching an expositional sermon on that text. This morning’s topic is “By Grace Alone” and this morning’s text is Ephesians 2:1-10.

In this passage the Apostle Paul shows that salvation is by grace alone. Believers are those who were dead, sinful, slaves to Satan and their own corrupt desires who live in a state of condemnation. But that’s just their past! Paul goes on to describe believers as having been resurrected by the power of God and exalted with Christ by His great love and rich grace. But that’s only their present! Paul continues by saying this former group of misfits, saved by God’s grace, will be trophies of God’s grace for all future ages. Let’s now turn our attention to the Word of God in Ephesians 2:1-10. In these verses Paul shows that salvation is by grace alone by showing the Past, Present and Future States of Believers.

And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

I. The Believer’s Past State was Hideous, vv. 1-3.
Paul first describes the members of the church at Ephesus as having been previously spiritually dead. This is the past condition of all believer’s and the present condition of every one else who has not trusted in Christ and repented of their sins. In Scripture, the word “life” is the term commonly used to express a state of union with God, and “death” as a state of alienation from him. Paul goes even further and describes the kind of death experienced by unbelievers. They are said to be dead in “trespasses and sins.” The word “trespasses” has the idea of falling aside, while the word “sins” conveys the idea of missing the mark. John Stott sees these two terms covering both “the positive and negative, or active and passive, aspects of human wrongdoing . . . our sins of commission and of omission.”

But the death experienced by unbelievers is not passive toward evil, it is very active in this regard. Verse two declares that man naturally walks in accordance with the world’s system which operates in accordance with Satan who is at work in the children of disobedience.

In verse three Paul makes a shift in pronouns from “you” to “we.” By this Paul means to include Jews and Gentiles in this fallen condition. Even though the Jews had the Scriptures they still had the inner sin nature to deal with. Paul said this very clearly in Rom. 3:9 “What then? Are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;”

It is because of our state of spiritual death that Paul declares we are “children of wrath.” This means that by our nature we are worthy to receive Divine judgment. The word Paul uses here for the judgment of God is wrath which is God’s settled hostility against sin.

But this is all a result of this spiritual death that has passed upon all men because of Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:12). A dead person cannot react. He or she no longer responds to light, sound, smell, taste, pain, or anything else. He is totally insensitive. That is the way the spiritually dead man is to the things of God.

Imagine that we had a corpse here in the coffin at the front of the church. We could bring the most brilliant educator of our day by and attempt to teach this dead person, but it would do no good. Someone might say, “If we could just better his environment, I think he would do better.” So we could bring in some beautiful living plants, play lively music and surround him with many live people, but he would still be dead. Someone might suggest that there is a government program that would help this individual. He is probably eligible for disability benefits! No, that wouldn’t help him either. Perhaps we could invite Joel Osteen or Robert Schueller to come by and talk about the power of positive thinking. Still it would be no help to this individual, he is dead. No, Dr. Education, Dr. Environment, Dr. Government, Dr. Positive Thinking, none of these could help him in his dead state. What he needs is a resurrection!

Have you tried all those things and still have no power to live the Christian life? Are you still enslaved to sin and Satan? Do you find yourself living just like the world on Monday through Friday? Do you realize you are “by nature children of wrath”? What you need is a resurrection!
And that is exactly why salvation must be by grace alone. God has taken the initiative in man’s salvation because mankind is in desperate straights!

II. The Believer’s Present State is Gracious, vv. 4-6, 8-10.
This is seen as Paul describes the initiative that God has taken for us by giving to us the spiritual resurrection that we all so desperately needed (v. 4). This resurrection is completely based upon the character of God. There is nothing that we have done to deserve it since we were dead. It is because God is “rich in mercy” (v.4) that we have been saved. The phrase “rich in mercy” means that God is “overabundant in compassion.” This is the testimony of the whole of Scripture concerning our salvation. In fact, the Apostle Paul stated the case very plainly in Titus 3:5-7 when he wrote:

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior; that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Paul also describes this spiritual resurrection to be based on God’s “great love” for us. The Lord Jesus said in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” But here we are shown that God’s love is infinitely greater than that which can be shown by finite man. God’s love extends beyond his friends and reaches even to His enemies. He loved us, the spiritually dead described just a few moments ago. He reminds us of this immediately by saying “even when we were dead in sins.”

But how is this salvation received? Paul establishes in verses 8-10 that salvation, in general, is of grace. (v. 8a). Grace is God’s unmerited favor. We don’t deserve it! There are no works that we can do to earn it. It is of grace from first to last. It is the “gift of God” (v. 8b). But the evidence of this salvation is clear. It is seen in the faith of the individual (v. 8) and in the good works which follow that were prepared in advance by God (vv. 9-10).

It was the German Reformer Martin Luther who said, “The law saith do this, and yet it never will be done; but grace says believe on Him,—and behold it is already done!”

Paul goes even farther in his description of our present by saying we have not just been made alive with Him, we have been raised up to sit in heavenly places with Him. All of this is based upon our union with Christ. This is see in verse five “together with Christ,” verse six “in Christ Jesus,” and verse seven “through Christ Jesus.” These verses (2:5-6) refer back to 1:19-20. Paul’s desire is that we as believers would realize that the same power that raised Christ from the dead and raised Him up to sit in heavenly places is the same power that brought about our own salvation. Whatever happens to the Bridegroom has an immediate effect upon the bride. Whatever happens to the Head has an immediate effect upon the body. That is the relationship that is described in verses twenty-one and twenty-two of chapter one.

What if you were walking around and someone came up and hit you across the top of your head with a two by four. Whatever else you might do later, you would probably immediately fall to the ground and writhe in pain for a while. What if someone who saw this all happen walked up to you and said “What are you lying there crying about? He just hit your head. He didn’t hurt your body at all.” You would probably attempt to demonstrate to him what we all know, that when something happens to your head it affects your entire body.

This is exactly what Paul is telling us in this passage. Christ has been resurrected from the grave and exalted to the Father’s right hand as the head of the church which is His body. Whatever happens to the Head has an immediate effect upon the body. Our spiritual resurrection is united with Christ’s physical resurrection. Our positional seating at the Father’s right hand is based upon Christ’s literal ascension.

Are you depending on the grace of God for your salvation or trusting in your own works of righteousness? Do you see evidence of faith in the finished work of Christ? Is there the evidence of good works in your life? Believer, have you come to realize the greatness of the power which saved you?

Not only does Paul show us the past and present state of believers, he also shows us that . . .

III. The Believer’s Future State will be Glorious, v. 7.
This is salvation’s purpose. Why has God done all this? Why did He from all eternity chose us to be holy before Him in love? Why has He made us accepted in the Beloved? Why, when we dead in trespasses and sins, hath he quickened us, raised us up, and made us to sit together in heavenly places in Christ? The answer to all these questions is given in verse seven, “That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” All this, the spiritual resurrection from spiritual death, has been done to “shew the exceeding riches of his grace.” The manifestation of the grace of God, of His unmerited love, is declared to be the specific object of redemption. “This is all said to take place in the “ages to come.” Some say this refers to the age which ends with the second coming. Others say that this refers to the age immediately following the second coming. I believe the language of this passage indicates that this is true for all future ages!

The final phrase again establishes the basis of God’s kindness to us. It is said to be “through Christ Jesus” All God’s grace and kindness toward us is exercised through Christ. The ground of our salvation then is not our goodness but Christ!

The following quote by the great Puritan pastor Richard Baxter further illuminates this great truth:

As we paid nothing for God’s eternal love and nothing for the Son of His love, and nothing for His Spirit and our grace and faith, and nothing for our eternal rest . . . . What an astonishing thought it will be to think of the unmeasurable difference between our deservings and our receivings. O, how free was all this love, and how free is this enjoyed glory . . . . So then let “Deserved” be written on the floor of hell but on the door of heaven and life, “The Free Gift”.

If God’s salvation is so free and if the purpose of this free salvation is that we might show the exceeding riches of God’s grace for all future ages, are we praising His grace and His kindness to us now? What can we do in our lives to make this a living reality?

Today we’ve examined the Reformation slogan of “Grace Alone” by looking at the past, present and future of believers in Ephesians 2:1-10. It is all of God’s grace that He has made us members of this wonderful body called the church. We who were dead in trespasses and sins have been made alive through Christ in order that we might forever show God’s greatness! God’s purpose for us in this world is that we show forth His greatness to all of creation. Therefore, salvation does not rest upon human merit, but upon the grace of God alone.

As Martin Luther states:

There is no such thing as merit; but all who are justified are justified for nothing (gratis), and this is credited to no one but to the grace of God. . . . . For Christ alone it is proper to help and save others with His merits and works. The works of others are of benefit to no one, not to themselves either; for the statement stands: “The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17). For faith grounds us on the works of Christ, without our own works, and transfers us from the exile of our sins into the kingdom of His righteousness. This is faith; this [is] the Gospel; this is Christ.

This the gospel which comes by grace alone, and there is no other!

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