Skip to content

Studies in Ephesians

Proclaiming the Unsearchable Riches of Christ (See 3:8)

Chapter 2:1-13

Our Rags To Riches Story

(Christ is the Key)

“All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags”–these words were Isaiah’s sharpened needle in the self-righteous balloon of a disobedient Israel. Good works cannot avert the doom of people–even very religious people–who fall short in holiness before God.

That same doctrine also punctures the optimistic religious theories of people who claim that man has some inner power or strength by which he can draw near to God or cause God to accept him. If any person is to be accepted before God, he must somehow escape the rags of his natural sinful condition.

The church in Ephesus seems largely to have been gentile (non-Jewish) in background. The Ephesians had come into the riches of God’s kingdom, as Paul had pointed out in the first chapter: “God . . has blessed us;” “we have obtained an inheritance;” I heard of your faith . . . and love.”

But now Paul bluntly reminds them of the rags that formerly adorned their lives: “you … were dead in trespasses and sins.”

Dead, of course, is an absolute term. Sin and disobedience render a person helpless and incapable before God. Later Paul points out that these gentile people had “no hope, and [were] without God in the world” (v. 12).

Still worse, they were spiritually dead to God though not spiritually neutral. Rather, man by nature is a spiritual rebel numbered with the ranks of that original rebel, Satan, and under his diabolical power.

Living apart from the true God, people wear–not robes of righteousness, but–the blood-stained uniform of disobedience and the rags of spiritual slavery.

Satan’s power and presence are so pervasive that the apostle calls him “the prince of the power of the air” (v. 2). Our success and salvation in spiritual matters is not due to a weakening or retreat of the foe’s ranks. The temptations, the influences, the assaults are all still as present as ever. And “we” (note the pronoun change from v. 2 to v. 3) cannot think ourselves different than any other person of this world: “We were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.”

Alive To God!

But here is where the story takes an amazing turn: even while the Ephesians (and we) languished in such ragged poverty, a great wealth of kindness and love was directed toward each of us. In the first chapter we were reminded that this love was directed our way before we were born (“predestined”). It is a love that was demonstrated here in time with the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And even while we personally were dead and revolting in our sin, God loved us and “made us alive” (v. 5) or “quickened” us.

“Made alive!”–to be alive is an infinitely wealthier state than to be dead! To be alive to God is to know Him in truth, to trust Him, to respond to Him. Alive to God we discover the abundance of His riches directed toward us: His “great love” (v. 4); His “rich mercy” (v. 4); the “exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness” (v. 7). God is rich in those qualities that spiritual human beings thrive on.

Those are nice words and noble sentiments, but are they real? How may we be certain that we have indeed escaped this carnal world?

The answer, and the key to our sure riches, is Christ. Paul is clear that Christ is the source and guarantee of our riches. The result of God’s great mercy is that He “made us alive together with Christ.”

When Jesus rose from the dead, the work of redemption complete, we were “raised together with Him” — united with Him in our faith. When He ascended to the right hand of God, “God made us sit together” with Him by our faith. We are liberated from the futility of this world to “seek those things which are above, where Christ is” (Col. 3:1).

The riches of God’s gracious salvation flow to us through such Christ-ward faith. (“By grace are you saved, through faith” v. 8). A true Christian spirit is not inclined to glory in self, but to glory in Christ. He is our all.

Our lives become fruitful in pursuing paths of service that our all-knowing God has already plotted out for us (v. 10). We are a people destined to be the salt and light for this corrupt world, as Jesus proclaimed us to be (Matthew 5).

Rich in grace, we have also been made rich in our association, becoming the true Israel of God grafted into a people who enjoyed God’s grace for so many centuries. We have a real communion and fellowship in an Israel that is pure and true, not stubborn and disobedient.

Our relationship to this body of believers is not the external and superficial act of circumcision–of which the earthly Israel continually prided itself (v. 11-12). Our inclusion along with the Ephesians is effected by the infinitely priceless blood of Christ (v. 13).

In Him we have gone from the rags of unrighteousness to the riches of grace. These alone are riches that endure.

–Pastor Peter Reim