There are three principal topics treated in this section: First, the spiritual state of the Ephesians before their conversion. Second, the change which God had made in them. Third, the purpose for which that change had been made.
1. The state of the Ephesians before their conversion, and the natural state of mankind universally, is spiritual death, which includes (a) a state of sin; (b) a state of subjection to Satan and to our own corrupt affections; (c) a state of condemnation. (Verses 1–3.)
2. The change which they had experienced was a spiritual resurrection, concerning which the apostle teaches (a) that God is its author; (b) that it is a work of love and grace; (c) that it was through Christ, or in virtue of union with him; (d) that it involves great exaltation, even an association with Christ in his glory. (Verses 4–6.)
3. The purpose of this dispensation is to reveal God's grace through all coming ages. It reveals grace (a) because salvation, in general, is of grace; (b) because the fact that the Ephesian Christians believed or accepted this salvation was due not to themselves but to God – faith is his gift; (c) because good works are the fruits not of nature but of grace – we are created for good works. (Verses 7–10.)
2:1.You were dead through the trespasses and sins. There is an intimate connection between this clause and the preceding paragraph. In Ephesians 1:19 the apostle prays that the Ephesians might duly appreciate the greatness of the power which had been exercised in their conversion. It was to be known from its effects. It was that power which was exercised in the resurrection and exaltation of Christ, and which had brought about an analogous change in them. The same power which brought Christ to life has brought you to life.
2:2. In which you once lived. Their former condition was briefly described in verse 1 as a state of spiritual death. In this and the following verses it is described in more detail. They walked in sin. They were daily conversant with it, and devoted to it. They were surrounded by it, and clothed with it. They lived according to the course of this world. In this clause is stated not only the character of their life, but the governing principle which controlled their conduct. They lived according to, and under the control of, the spirit of the world.
2:3. We were by nature children of wrath. The expression children of wrath agrees with the Hebrew 'sons of' idiom meaning those to be punished. This wrath is God's displeasure and, of course, the idea of ill-desert is necessarily implied.
2:4. Thus the apostle has described people's natural state; and in this and the following verses he unfolds the manner in which those to whom he wrote had been delivered from that dreadful condition. It was by a spiritual resurrection. God, and not themselves, was the author of the change. It was not to be referred to any goodness in them, but to the abounding love of God. The objects of this love were not Jews, as opposed to Gentiles, nor the Gentiles as such, nor people in general, but us, i.e., Christians, the actual subjects of the life-giving power spoken of here. All this is included in this verse.
But God, i.e., notwithstanding our guilt and corruption, God, who is rich in mercy, 'because he is rich in mercy.' Mercy is 'the desire to succour the miserable.' Love is more than either pity or mercy. It was not merely mercy, which has all the miserable for its object; but love, which has definite individual people for its objects, which constrained this intervention of God for our salvation.
2:5. Made us alive together with Christ. The Greek word translated 'to make alive' means 'to impart life.' In the New Testament it almost always refers to the giving of the life of which Christ is the author.
2:6. And raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. This is an amplification of what precedes. In its broadest sense the life, which in verse 5 is said to be given to us, includes the exaltation expressed in this verse. It is, therefore, only by way of amplification that the apostle, after saying we are made sharers of the life of Christ, adds that we are raised … up and enthroned with him in heaven.
2:7. Why has God done all this? Why from eternity has he chosen us to be holy before him in love? Why has he made us accepted in the beloved? Why, when dead in trespasses and sins, has he made us alive, raised us up, and made us to sit together in heavenly realms with Christ? The answer to these questions is given in this verse. It was so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. The revelation of the grace of God, i.e., of his unmerited love, is declared to be the specific object of redemption. From this it follows that whatever clouds the grace of God, or clashes with the free nature of the blessings promised in the Gospel, must be inconsistent with its nature and purpose. If the salvation of sinners is intended as an exhibition of the grace of God, it has to be free.
2:8–9. These verses confirm the preceding declaration. The manifestation of the grace of God is the great end of redemption. This is plain, for salvation is entirely of grace. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). So here we have a manifold assertion, affirmative and negative, of the free nature of salvation. It is not only said in general, 'You are saved by grace,' but further, that salvation is by faith, i.e., by simply receiving or apprehending the offered blessing. From the very nature of faith, as an act of assent and trust, it excludes the idea of merit. If it is by faith, it is of grace; if it is by works, it is earned by him; as the apostle argues in Romans 4:4–5. Faith, therefore, is the mere act of accepting, and not the ground on which salvation is bestowed.
Not the result of works (Ephesians 2:9). The apostle says works, without qualification or limitation. It is not, therefore, ceremonial, as distinguished from good works; or legal, as distinguished from evangelical or gracious works; but works of all kinds, as distinguished from faith, which are excluded. Salvation is in no sense, and in no degree, of works; for the person who attains the reward has earned it. But salvation is of grace, and therefore not of works, lest any man should boast.
2:10. That salvation is thus entirely the work of God, and that good works cannot be the ground of our acceptance with him, is proved in this verse 1. By showing that we are God's workmanship – he, not we, has made us what we are. And 2. By the consideration that we are created for good works. As the fact that men are elected for holiness proves that holiness is not the ground of their election, so their being created for good works shows that good works are not the ground on which they are made the subjects of this new creation, which is itself incipient salvation.
The apostle has clearly taught in this paragraph that the natural state of man is one of condemnation and spiritual death; that from that condition believers are delivered by the grace of God in Christ Jesus; and the purpose of this deliverance is the manifestation, through all coming ages, of the exceeding riches of his grace.
—Commentary on Ephesians, A