Second Reading: Ephesians 2:4-10

In Christ Jesus

Popular Translation

4 Our God has a huge heart! He loved us and has shown us mercy that never ends. 5 Once we were dead because of our sins. But God brought us alive again with Jesus. After all, God is saving you with his grace. 6 God will raise us up together. And he will seat us with Jesus in heaven. 7 God will do this at the end of time to show just how rich his grace is. It is greater than anything we can imagine! God is truly kind to us.

8 Remember, God saves you with his grace. And you will know you received his grace when you trust him. These are gifts God gives you. You can't do all this by yourselves. 9 It's not just by doing something. If it were so, someone could brag about it. 10 In fact, we are products of God's hands. We were created to be with Jesus so we could do the good things God planned for us to do.

Literal Translation

4 But God, being rich in mercy, by means of his great love which he loved us, 5 and us, being dead in (our) trespasses, made (us) alive together in Christ - in (whose) grace you are being saved - 6 and (God) raises (us) up together, and sits (us) together in the heavens in Christ Jesus, 7 so that he show in the coming ages the overflowing wealth of his grace in kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. 8 For, you are being saved by grace through faith. This is not from you; (it is) a gift from God. 9 (It is) not from works, so someone might not brag. 10 For we are his work object, having been created in Christ for good works which God prepared previously, so that we might walk through them.

2:8 What is God's gift in this verse: faith, grace, salvation, or any combination of the three? Theologically, all three come from God, so all are aspects of God's gift to us. But, the author of Ephesians did not clarify. Possibly 2:4-7 described salvation. This process (and events) were God's grace (his gift). And, faith was the means to realize the gift. Nonetheless, none of these could happen without God's initiative.

These verses from Ephesians form a difficult knot. The popular translation above does not begin to tease out the meaning caused by the phrase "in Christ" (or "in Christ Jesus") that occurred five times. This phrase is shorthand for the intimate spiritual union the believer has with Christ. The preposition "in" can mean "with" or "by." On the one hand, spiritual union can mean fellowship. As Christ becomes part of the believer, the believer becomes part of Christ, incorporated into his Body. In other words, the believer becomes part of the Church.

On the other hand, spiritual union means change. The preposition "in" can be a relationship of "cause" (i.e., "by" Christ). Being with Christ causes a change in the believer. The root of that change is Christ.

With the many sides of "in Christ" understood, let's look at the verses themselves. 2:4-7 form one long sentence. In 4-5, God is the subject; we are the object. The author described God as full of love and mercy (synonymous with the "living" God). We are dead because of our sins. Yet, God brings us alive together in Christ. In other words, we are alive because of what Jesus did for us on the cross and because of the life he shares with us now. We are also part of a living unity, the Church, the Body of Christ.

2:6-7 continue the sentence with the verbs of resurrection and heavenly enthronement. Both are in the present tense, as if God is presently or has already brought these events about. To add to the confusion, the present tense can be used to refer to the future. So, did the resurrection and assumption of the faithful already happen? Is it happening now? Or will it happen (as the popular translation above indicates)?

Again, the phrase "in Christ" will help to explain the answer to this problem. When we have intimate union with our Savior, we enjoy his risen and eternal life. So, the present tense of the phrase is appropriate. What happened to Christ is happening to us now in a spiritual sense. But the physical sense still needs fulfillment. The general resurrection has not occurred. Like the Kingdom, the reality is only partially present. But, in the end, the overflowing ("superabundant") nature of God's grace will be fully realized.

2:8-10 describes how dependent we are on God to realize his salvation in our lives. We are not, nor cannot ever be, morally self-sufficient to receive God's love. We must accept what God offers us. More important, we must trust God with his gift.

Where do "good words" fit into the life of the Christian? In other words, what is the basis for a believer's moral life? Again, the phrase "in Christ" is the key. The Christian's moral life is the result of an intimate union with Christ. In other words, our relationship with Jesus causes us to think and act differently. Again, God does it, not us. In fact, the author of Ephesians spoke of our moral life as part of God's plan. Our activities are only "good" when we work according to divine providence.

While these verses from Ephesians are packed, they are far from meaningless. God has done so much for those of us "in Christ." We enjoy life with Christ. And he will change us for the events to come.

Reflect on your life in Christ. How has God changed you? What changes do you expect from God? How have you shared your live in Christ with others?