Ephesians 2:1-10 New Revised Standard Version
2 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
As the Lenten journey continues, we are continually invited to engage in self-examination. That can be challenging. If we look too deeply, we might find things buried inside that we’d rather not see the light of day. We all have those secret things that we wrestle with, and that we work hard at keeping them at bay, so they don’t define our lives. Here in the Ephesian letter, we read a word likely spoken to Gentiles, whom the author of the letter suggests had been children of wrath. That is, they once lived in bondage to a spiritual power that kept them separated from their Creator. But there is good news here. God’s mercy reigns. There will be liberation from the bondage. Once they were children of wrath, but that is no longer true, so now they can embrace the good works God has prepared from them.
Before we get to the heart of the matter, I need to address the question of authorship. While traditionally authorship has been assigned to Paul. After all, the letter begins with a greeting from the Apostle (Eph. 1:1). Nevertheless, many scholars have questioned that claim, believing that the letter comes from a later time. As for the identity of the author, I tend not to take sides. When I wrote my study guide on Ephesians, I left the question of authorship open. There are good arguments on both sides, but I’m not sure that authorship is going to make too much of a difference to our interpretation of this passage. However, in the pursuit of brevity, I’m going to use Paul’s name in this meditation. As I do so, I hold this ascription very lightly!
What I discern here in Ephesians 2 is a reminder that there is a spiritual realm that influences/affects our lives. According to Paul (remember for our purposes I’m using the traditional author) there are powers, both good and evil present in the universe. We would be wise to keep that in mind as we attend to our Lenten journey. Concerning this spiritual realm, Richard Beck has done a marvelous job in explaining how things work in his book Reviving Old Scratch. Just to be clear, “Old Scratch” is another name for the devil. He writes: “I’d love to have a Christianity full of rainbows and daisies, full of love and inclusion. But there are forces working against love and inclusion in the world, and some of those forces are at work in my own heart and mind. We call those forces hate and exclusion, to say nothing about everything else that is tearing the world to shreds, pushing the loving and gracious rule of God out of the world” [Reviving Old Scratch, p. 10]. So, have you noticed those forces at work of late? I have and sometimes they’ve been at work in me.
Might this be what Paul has in mind when speaking of the ruler of the power of the air? The Enlightenment mindset sought to eliminate the spiritual/supernatural realm. Science or at least reason was expected to explain everything (I’m not anti-science here, just to be clear). In this modern view of things, there was no room for the devil. While there might not be a “personal” devil out there, I do believe there are malignant spiritual forces that entrap us and keep us in bondage. Lent gives us the opportunity to pause and check to see if any of these forces have taken hold of our lives. If so, we can give thanks for God’s mercy that can recalibrate our lives, so we live in tune with God’s vision for creation. Although these spiritual forces continually seek to push God out of the picture, God isn’t going anywhere.
The good news that comes to us from the Ephesian letter is that God is “rich in mercy.” In fact, God loved us even when we were caught up in this web of wrath and because of that, God has been providing us a way out of the morass through faith in Christ. As we consider how Jesus does this, we might want to keep in mind that the Gospel writers regularly picture Jesus engaging in exorcisms. It was one of the ways in which he healed people. He did so as an expression of God’s mercy and grace. So, it is by this grace that we are saved, we are healed. We receive the healing by faith, but it is the work of God that provides the healing/salvation. In doing this, God raises us up with Christ so that we might be seated with him in the heavenly places.
In this passage, the emphasis is on grace. We can’t work our way into the heavenly places? We don’t earn the right to sit with Jesus. That’s a gift of grace. However, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing for us to do. In fact, God has prepared works for us to do. These works also come as gifts of grace. So, who we are now is not the same as who we were before the divine encounter with Jesus, and so we live accordingly. Once we were dead in our sins, now we are alive in Christ! That is because, due to the rich mercy of God, the prince of the power of the air no longer holds sway in our lives! That is good truly news.