1-3 It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose His temper and do away with the whole lot of us.
The shift in the use of personal pronouns between verse 1 (“you”) and verse 3 (“we”) appears to be a distinction that is being made between non-Jews and Jews. Part of the purpose of Paul’s writing was to clarify that there is no distinction between people other than whether they are saved, or not. But beyond that, Paul wants to make clear that the means of salvation is the same for all—whether they are the biological seed of Abraham, or not. Thus, Paul says to the non-Jews, “We all were once as you once were, before Christ.”
Rather than follow the analogy of death—as is contained in other translations—the description in the Message Version of the old life of sin as being “stagnant.” It’s an apt description. “Stagnant” suggests that, while life is present, it is severely restricted. Such is the case of all who are outside of a faith relationship with Jesus; life is present, but there is no spiritual growth, no maturity.
Further, the stagnant person is helpless, incapable of taking any action to remedy their situation. In fact, they only aggravate their spiritual condition by breathing in unbelief and breathing our disobedience. In other words, our unwillingness to change our spiritual position only adds to our spiritual debilitation.
God calls on us to be holy, because He is holy (Leviticus 19:2). Holiness is always derived from a relationship to God. Only God can make people holy. But holiness is not something that we can merit; rather, it is something that is conferred upon us when we make the decision to move out of our stagnant status into an active and growing commitment to Christ as our Lord and Savior.
4-6 Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, He embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on His own, with no help from us! Then He picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.
These verses highlight God’s remedy for our sin—a remedy that stems from God’s rich mercy and great love; a remedy that results in the immeasurable riches of His grace. The remedy is God’s “incredible love”—agapè.
There are four Greek words that translate as “love”—eros (which doesn’t appear in our New Testament), philo, storgè and agapè. By far, agapè is most frequently used for God’s love. Agapè is the kind of selfless love that focuses on the welfare of the other person rather than one’s own self-interest. Agapè is as much about “doing” as “feeling.” It requires the person who loves to demonstrate that love in some practical fashion. In the case of God’s agapè for us, it prompts Him to show mercy to those who have not earned it.
God’s agapè works resurrection in our lives. Dead spiritually because of our sin, God raises us to a new life, through Jesus.
The Greek word used here is “charis,” which is usually translated, “grace.” The use of charis in the New Testament has its roots in the Hebrew word, “hesed”, used in the ancient Hebrew texts to denote God’s lovingkindness, mercy, and fidelity. “Charis” meant a display of generosity that demanded loyalty on the part of the recipient. God’s charis is His generous gift of salvation to all who accept Jesus as Lord. It is a gift for which He is solely responsible; we do nothing to merit it. In response, there is an expectation of loyalty to Him from us.
7-10 Now God has us where He wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all His idea, and all His work. All we do is trust Him enough to let Him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving.
God doesn’t measure grace in insignificant pieces. His grace is sufficient to cover even the most grievous of sins. God doesn’t require that we bow and scrape as a prerequisite to receiving grace but requires only that we repent and receive the mercy tendered through the gift of His Son, Jesus. God doesn’t limit grace to the first offense—or the second—or the third—or the seventh—or the seventy-seventh. Nor does God limit grace to minor offenses. God’s grace is beyond measure—excelling, surpassing.
As recipients of this grace, our lives demonstrate to others the possibilities of grace that are readily available to us through Christ. Our lives serve as a beacon to draw them to Christ to that they, too, might experience His grace firsthand, and be saved.
Grace, is undeserved favor. Since it can’t be earned, it must be a gift. But because we are accustomed to living in a world where we are required to earn our way, we naturally assume that we must earn our way in the spiritual realm as well. May try to accomplish that through benevolence—regular attendance at worship, tithing, philanthropy, helping the needy, etc. But here, we are reminded that our benevolent activities, however meritorious, are insufficient to win our salvation. Salvation is available only as a gift—as an outpouring of God’s grace. It is readily available, but only by God’s action, not by anything that we can accomplish on our own.
This grace is appropriated to us through our faith—our belief in the risen Lord. Paul says, “We don’t play the major role,” but that is far different than saying, “we play no role.” The role that we play is to, “trust Him enough to let Him do it.” Paul was raised in an environment that emphasized the importance of works—of obedience to Torah law. But after his salvation experience with Jesus, he came to realize the futility of trying to live the perfect life. Even so, Paul still struggled unsuccessfully to do the right thing, often failing (Romans 7:14-24). However, he also discovered the grace of God, which makes perfect living unnecessary. If our salvation is not the result of anything that we have done, but is strictly a gift from God, then we have no grounds for boasting.
10 He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join Him in the work He does, the good work He has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.
The idea here is that God has set things up to give us opportunities to do good works. Once again, those good works aren’t intended to save us—only God’s grace is sufficient for that—but once we have been redeemed, God expects us to begin behaving as redeemed men and woman. He expects us to take advantage of the opportunities that he has presented for us to do good works.