Bible Study Series: Ephesians - The Third Heaven Epistle
Ephesians 2:1-10 From the ash heap to the throne of glory
by I Gordon
The passage before us today is one of contrasting fortunes which begins with the deepest low before scaling the greatest heights. We'll explore both but the wonder of the latter can only be understood when compared with the depths of the former. All believers have, past tense, been lifted to the greatest of heights. There is a passage which I love in the Old Testament that expresses this truth wonderfully. It says:
He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the beggar from the ash heap, To set them among princes and make them inherit the throne of glory.
Now I won't say who in the Old Testament said that just yet.,, but it is a quiz starter for you to ponder. 50 JPN points on offer if you know who said it! (And I'm sure you'll agree that that is a lot of points! Though, to be fair, when converted it's about 3 normal points : ) But the truth of this verse is exactly what is expressed in the Ephesians 2:1-10 passage before us today. It charts the rise of the poor destitute beggar all the way, somehow, to the throne of glory.1 And that, if you are a believer, is your story. Both the depths and the heights of your experience are mentioned in this passage with everything pivoting of course around that wonderful phrase 'But God' in Eph 2:4. Let's take a look.
The truth of one without Christ
Eph 2:1-3 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, (2) in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. (3) All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.
Do you understand the position of those that do not know Christ? It is worse than we often see. If you are a born again believer in Jesus Christ it was your condition, but thankfully isn't now. Maybe you saw how bad your condition was? Maybe you didn't see it clearly. But it is important to understand because it highlights and glorifies God's grace for those that believe all the more. The verses that begin Ephesians 2 express this low position graphically. They are difficult but important verses. Pastor Ray Stedman writes on these:
As we read the first three verses, I would like you to remember that this is probably the most difficult truth in all of Scripture for human beings to believe. Here at the outset of this section is the revelation of a truth so difficult for us to understand and grasp, and believe, that most of us tone it down immediately, we simply water it down. We don't accept it; we won't believe it. As a consequence we have no realistic outlook on where we are -- either on the tremendous hopelessness of our condition if we are without Christ, or on the glory and the wonder of our position if we are in Christ. But if you want to have your heart set on fire, listen carefully to these verses so that we might see what is the immeasurable greatness of his power which has cured this condition.
So let's break this passage down. What does it say about the position of those without Christ?
- Dead in sins2 - Unbelievers are dead in their sins. Death speaks of complete and utter weakness. In the natural, when a person doesn't even have the strength to take another breath, they die. Well the Bible declares that all unbelievers are spiritually dead. They have no spiritual life in them. Utter spiritual weakness. Death also speaks of separation. Physical death is the separation of the spirit & soul from the body and spiritual death is the separation of the human being from God. This is how people are born into this world because of the fall of mankind. If left in that condition, the spiritually dead experience 'the second death' as Revelation tells us which is eternal separation from God. We are talking serious stuff here.
- Following the ways of the world - The ways of this world, which unbelievers follow, are diametrically opposed to the way of God. The ways of this world are to live for pleasure, seek power and wealth and temporal happiness. Live for now and don't think about eternal or spiritual matters or what happens after death. And by and large all the world swims in this same direction... down stream. It is always down, yet the believer is called to swim against this tide. Especially in these difficult last days. I love the advice that Pastor Chuck Smith's mum used to say to him when he was little. He writes:
When I was a small fellow I used to often ask my mother if I could go a certain place. Do a certain thing. And if she would say, "No, son, you can't." I would say, "Why, Mom? Everybody is going. Everybody is doing it." And she used to say, "Son, it doesn't make any difference if everybody is doing it or not. If everybody is jumping in the fire, are you going to jump in the fire? As a Christian you're going to have to learn to go against the current. Any dead fish can float down the stream, it takes a live fish to swim against the current." I thank God for that good godly advice from my mother.
It is good to remember that last line - 'Any dead fish can float down stream, it takes a live fish to swim against the current'. Believers are called to swim against the tide.
- Following the ruler of the kingdom of the air - Now it is not just that unbelievers are following the ways of the world. Behind it all they are actually following the god of this world - Satan. He is the one who controls the ways of this world. You see it in the places of so-called power like Hollywood and the music industry. Their servanthood to their leader is becoming more overt while at the same time their sinful corruption is being exposed (while they try to hide it!) You see it in the agenda of the world powers to bring the whole world into the 'great reset' and bring in global government. You see it in the 'big tech' move to purge conservative and Christian thought and ban their free speech. You see it when those in control use their power to prevent the Church from meeting together or on online social platforms. Those in power in this world are but puppets to the evil one - the unseen puppeteer pulling the strings behind the scenes. In our day these things are coming out into the open. We can see that this world is ruled by the evil one. It is becoming crystal clear. We can see that the movers and shakers in this world are doing his bidding... whether they know it or not.
- Influenced by spiritual forces - In a similar thought, this passage tells us that unbelievers are influenced by 'the spirit now at work in those that are disobedient'. What a terrible position to be in being manipulated by unseen forces. Some may sense or experience it but most do not even know. And what are these spirits trying to achieve most of all? It is to keep people spiritually blind. That is the number one goal. 'The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.' (2 Cor 4:4) They don't want the light of the gospel penetrating their hearts and mind.
- Gratifying the lusts of the flesh and mind - So... being spiritually dead and following the ways of this world, what is the result for the unbeliever? It is sin. It is gratifying our lusts both outwardly, through our fleshly bodies, and also internally, in our minds. And what is the end result of all this? Emptiness. I think of King Solomon who tried everything to find meaning. He had the money, the fame, the wealth, the women... And yet without God all he could write was 'vanity, vanity, all in vanity.' It was pointless. Meaningless. A temporal fleshly pleasure followed by emptiness and ongoing despair.3
- Objects of wrath - Finally, by nature, scripture tells us, unbelievers are objects of wrath. Jesus said very clearly "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:36) Unbelievers are under the wrath of God yet blind to the fact they are one breath away from His judgement concerning eternity. What a serious state this is!
So that is the glory, of total lack thereof, of the position of the unbeliever. That is your condition now if you have not been born again. Is all lost? By ourselves it would be but God's light can pierce the deepest darkness! Maybe you remember when you started to see these things? I do. I remember the conviction I received when I first read the Bible. I remember the fear and uncertainly I had when I first was awakened to my condition and the reality of hell. John Bunyan portrays this experience of seeing your sin like carrying a large burden on your back and falling into the thickest dirtiest swamp... the swamp of despond.
"Christian was left to struggle in the Swamp of Despond alone. In spite of the difficulty, Christian still tried to get to the side of the swamp that was the furthest from the City of Destruction and nearest the narrow gate. He finally reached the edge of the swamp, but he could not, no matter how hard he tried, lift himself out of the swamp because of the heavy burden that was on his back. Just then I saw in my dream that a man whose name was Help... Then Help said, “Give me your hand.” So Christian gave him his hand, and he pulled him out, and set him on solid ground, and told him to go on his way...
Christian asked, “Sir, since this swamp is right between the City of Destruction and the narrow gate, why hasn’t someone filled this swamp so that travelers could walk over it safely?” “This miry swamp,” Help replied, “cannot be filled or repaired. It is the low spot where collects all the scum and filth that goes along with conviction for sin, and that is why it is called the Swamp of Despond. When a sinner is awakened to his lost condition, then doubts, fears, and discouraging apprehensions swell up in his soul, along with other miseries, which all get together and settle in this swamp. And that is why the ground is so bad in this place... One thing you can be sure of, though—once you go through the narrow gate, the ground is good."
Eph 2:4-5 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, (5) even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).
And here, having passed through the swamp of despond, is the narrow gate we come to where the ground is good. Here is the place to which 'Help' in Pilgrim's Progress, points to. Having just completed a study on that wonderful phrase 'But God' we should remember this one well. 'But God' was, and is, able to do something incredible to rescue the repentant sinner out of this terrible condition. Those that were dead, can be made alive. Those that were sinners, can be made holy. Those in darkness can receive the light. Those that were controlled by an evil spirit can receive the Holy Spirit. Those that there children of wrath can be saved and come under the Fatherhood of God. All because of this fabulous two word phrase - 'But God'. God did it when we were without hope.
Mat 19:25-26 When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?" (26) But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
As an example, I've enjoyed and benefited from the ministry of Israeli Amir Tsarfati over the years and was encouraged by a recent video4 I watched this week where he gave his testimony. I thought I'd share it briefly as it gives a great 'but God' salvation example.
Amir grew up in foster care in Israel after his parents got a divorce. He says it was a difficult childhood and seeing no hope he came to the point where he decided to take his own life. He was about to do it but felt something tell him that he may not have given the world enough chances. So he decided to give the world one last chance. That evening, the family he was staying with at the time prayed before their evening meal and closed their prayer with 'in the name of Yeshua'. This shocked Amir! 'Why did you pray in the name of Yeshua?' he asked. "We are Jewish people. We believe in the God of Israel!" In reply, Amir was told "why don't you ask God who Yeshua is?" So he actually wrote on a piece of paper 'God, please show me who Yeshua is.' The very next he saw a one page ad in the newspaper saying "Yeshua" - It was the Jesus film by Campus Crusade and it was, quite surprisingly, playing in Jerusalem! So he went and was stunned. It showed the Hebrew prophecies about the Messiah and how they were fulfilled in this Jewish man called Yeshua. Amir was blown away and knew he had to make a decision.
He went from being on the verge of taking his life to finding new life. And now he has a worldwide ministry testifying to the person of Jesus and His soon return! But God!
That is a great testimony of 'But God, rich in mercy'. It is still the mercy of God that brings salvation today. But always remember what that mercy cost. Salvation is a free gift for the one who will accept it. But it wasn't free for the One who had to pay the price. The "Today in the Word" devotion gives an example of the well known British Bible teacher G. Campbell Morgan who spoke of a coalminer who came to him and said:
"I would give anything to believe that God would forgive my sins, but I cannot believe that He will forgive them if I just ask Him. It is too cheap." Morgan said, "My dear friend, have you been working today?" "Yes, I was down in the mine." "How did you get out of the pit? Did you pay?" "Of course not. I just got into the cage and was pulled to the top." "Were you not afraid to entrust yourself to that cage? Was it not too cheap?" Morgan asked. "Oh, no," said the miner, "it was cheap for me, but it cost the company a lot of money to sink the shaft." Suddenly, the truth struck him. What cost him nothing salvation—had not come cheap to God. This miner had never thought of the great price God paid to send His Son so He could rescue fallen humanity. Now he realized that all anyone had to do was to "get into the cage" by faith.
Grace displayed for all to see
Eph 2:6-7 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, (7) in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
These are incredible verses. Firstly it says that believers are seated with Him. "You mean that terrible dark sin ravaged creature described in Ephesians 2:1-3?" Yep, that same one. Yet not the same. Yes it is the same person, but one who is now a new creation in Christ Jesus. Washed, restored, saved, lifted and seated. If only we saw the position that has been granted to us!
Now there have been some incredible stories in the Bible of those that were down and out being lifted to a great height. Without peeking below, can you think of any? Hey - I said no peeking! Here are some that come to mind:
- Joseph - One day he is in a Egyptian prison, the next he is exalted to the right hand of Pharaoh and in charge over all Egypt and the known world!
- Ruth - A poor widowed Moabite who finds favour and is redeemed and married by a Jewish man of great wealth and standing - Boaz.
- Mephibosheth - Crippled and poor yet shown mercy and exalted to eat with king David at his table.
- Meshach, Shadrack, Abednego - Thrown in the fire made 7 times hotter by a furious King Nebuchadnezzar. They are clearly gone. Yet they were kept within the flames by the Son of God (to the amazement of the king!) and then exalted into positions of authority within the Babylonian kingdom.
- King Manasseh - The 14th king of Judah who had the dubious honour of being the most wicked. He was taken and shackled in a Babylonian dungeon. Yet in his distress he finally, humbly, calls out to the God of Israel for help and the Bible tells us that the Lord was 'moved by his entreaty'. That is incredible! God's heart was moved even by the wickedest of kings once he humbled his heart and cried out. And the Lord restored and exalted him back to be king over Judah and his life was changed. Amazing story.
- Jonah - Swallowed by a great fish yet, as Jonah recalls: "In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry." (Jon 2:2) Now that is a comeback!
- Every believer in Christ Jesus - As amazing as these stories are, none are as great as that which has been done for the believer sinner who is forgiven, born again , lifted, seated and granted a position in the heavenlies!
Earlier I quoted this verse from the Old Testament:
1Sa 2:8 He raises the poor from the dust And lifts the beggar from the ash heap, To set them among princes And make them inherit the throne of glory.
Who was it that said this? It was Hannah who, at the birth of Samuel, was overjoyed and full of the Spirit, giving praise to God. Her words after being lifted out of her own misery by the Lord speak to every believer today. The beggar has been lifted to inherit the throne of glory. That's us. The Bible says in Eph 2:7 that God has done this so that in the coming ages we would be a visible living witness and testimony to the incomparable riches of His grace. Think on that for a moment! All of the angelic realm long to look into the things of salvation the Bible says. How amazed all of God's heavenly creatures are, and will be, at the sight of the lowest, most sinful human being, lifted and exalted to sit with Christ. The angels will see that He has brought down Satan and his angels who rebelled and exalted the unlikeliest of all - fallen men. As Mary, the earthly mother of Jesus spoke "He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble." (Luke 1:52)
It is a wonder that will stretch into the ages to come scripture tells us.
Application - His workmanship then and now
Eph 2:8-10 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- (9) not by works, so that no one can boast. (10) For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
These are some of the most well known and loved verses in the New Testament. They say, as clearly as can be, that salvation is by grace (not our works), coming through the avenue of your faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus on our behalf. When it comes to salvation, our own righteousness and 'good works' are as filthy rags to the Lord. But according to a recent 2020 survey5, even Christians (let alone non-Christians) haven't got the message that good-works don't and cannot save a person.
"The study found that “huge proportions of people” associated with churches whose official doctrine says eternal salvation comes only from embracing Jesus Christ as savior “believe that a person can qualify for Heaven by being or doing good.” That includes close to half of all adults associated with Pentecostal (46%), mainline Protestant (44%), and evangelical (41%) churches. A much larger share of Catholics (70%) embrace that point of view...Overall, 54% of U.S. adults believe they will get to Heaven after they die and only 2% believe they are going to hell. Additionally, 63% of adults believe “having faith matters more than which faith you have.”
We can only come and bow down at His feet. No one can boast. Could Mephibosheth boast in himself when King David showed him kindness? Did Manasseh praise himself when he was taken from the Babylonian dungeon and exalted by God back tot he throne? Did Jonah talk about how he prevailed over the great fish by his own efforts? Obviously not. And yet they would have spoke about the one who rescued them and showed them such kindness. Salvation is the gift of God.
Any idea that man can earn or deserve salvation is forever exploded by the words, and that not of yourselves. Dead people can do nothing, and sinners deserve nothing but punishment.
So what is the application for a message such as this? What does it do in that heart of yours? How does it make you feel? Hearing again of what God has done for you (assuming you are a believer) what type of response will you give?
Remember Hannah who we mentioned earlier? She determined that if God granted her a son, she would give him back to God. And that is what she did and that boy turned out to be the amazing Samuel! Or what of Jonah? Having been delivered from certain death he went to Nineveh and proclaimed the word of the Lord. What about Manasseh? After being released from his dungeon he went back to Jerusalem and ruled in righteousness as best he was able, getting rid of all idols and foreign gods, and rebuilding the altar of the Lord so that peace and thanks offerings could be made to the true God once more. What about you?
The Bible tells us that we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.
For we are His workmanship: God saves us not merely to save us from the wrath we rightly deserve, but also to make something beautiful of us. We are His workmanship, which translates the ancient Greek word poiema. The idea is that we are His beautiful poem. The Jerusalem Bible translates workmanship as "work of art."
Now, granted, you probably don't think of yourself as a 'work of art'! But God sees what we do not... the new creation! And we are an ongoing work in progress through this life, walking in the works that He has prepared in advance. Our job is to find and walk in the plan that God has for us. We are to be like Hannah and offer ourselves back to God for His use. We are to be like Jonah and having seen His salvation, share the word of the Lord with others so that they too can be lifted from their despair. We are to be like Manasseh and allow the grace of God to work through our life, getting rid of that which draws us back to our pre-Christian past and press forward in what the Lord would have for us. Works cannot save but they show the reality of our faith.
Proverbs 30:28 tells us that 'The lizard you may grasp with the hands, Yet it is in kings' palaces.' If you are a believer, in a strange sort of way, that is a picture of... you! You, argh, we, are the lizard (or spider as the King James version says) in our fallen nature. But remember - even the lizard can be found in the King's palace. In like manner, through the wonder of God's grace, the worst of sinners have been lifted to the greatest of heights. Of course the believer is no long seen as a lizard but a son of God, spotless in Christ. And that is what this passage in Ephesians has been all about - 'From the ash heap to the throne of glory!'
What a story! It is one greater than the exaltation of Joseph, greater than the comeback of Jonah. It is one that exhibits greater mercy than that which was given to Manasseh. Greater kindness than that shown to Mephibosheth. I hope you have experienced this exaltation. It will be proclaimed throughout eternity by countless numbers of redeemed sinners from every tribe and tongue. Each individual with their own story. Yet each story linked by the indescribable grace of God and the person and work of Jesus Christ that made it all possible.
God invites us in these early chapters of Ephesians to come and see. Come and sit. Come and rest... in all that He has done. And if there remains a rest of God, let us make every effort to enter that rest! (Heb 4:8-11)