Theme: Ephesians 1 and 2
This week’s lessons describe how God’s grace in salvation impacts the Christian’s past, present, and future.
Scripture: Ephesians 2:4-8
The second chapter of Ephesians contains one of the best known passages in the Bible, and rightly so. It contains the best news that any man or woman can ever hear. With the exception of John 3:16 and possibly Psalm 23, it is probably the Bible passage which has been most memorized by Christians. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Ephesians 2:8, 9 say the same thing though in more theological language: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Our passage in Ephesians has three parts. Part one tells how God saves us. It is “by grace,” the theme of this series. Part two speaks of the channel through which the grace of God actually comes to us individually. It is “through faith.” Part three, a contrast, tells how God does not save us, and it explains why. It is “not by works, so that no one can boast.”
But verses 8 and 9 are part of an even greater chapter, and the way to understand them, as well as to understand how we are “saved by grace” is to view them in this wider context. And part of that is to see chapter two in the context of the entire book of Ephesians.
A few years after I came to Philadelphia as pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church, a committee met to review our Sunday school curriculum. We were unhappy with what we were using and also, for the most part, with what else was available. Some of the curriculums were strong pedagogically but weak theologically, while others were strong in Bible content and theology but weak in teaching. Chiefly we were disappointed by their failure to teach the great doctrines well. The result of our meeting was that in time we produced our own Sunday school material for the early grades. It followed a three year cycle, repeated three times.
In the first year of this cycle basic doctrines were covered: sin, salvation, Bible study, prayer, and the Christian life. In the second year the same areas were covered but from the perspective of the church and in terms of personal relationships. In this year, instead of talking about God providing salvation, we talked about the church, how one becomes a part of it, and how one is to act as a Christian. The third year focused on God’s view of history and the place of today’s believers in that plan.
The reason I mention our curriculum is that there is a sense in which Paul does the same thing we did as he moves from the first to the second chapter of Ephesians, and later to the third and remaining chapters. In chapter one Paul presented the grace of God in salvation from the point of view of God, showing what each member of the Godhead did to save us: the Father chose us in Christ; the Son redeemed us from sin; and the Holy Spirit applied that redemption to us by calling us to personal faith in Jesus. That is the picture in its grandest dimensions. Its goal is God’s glory. In chapter two this changes, for now Paul describes salvation from the perspective of the individual Christian. He shows what we were before the Holy Spirit called us to Christ, what God did for us in joining us to Christ, and what we are to become and do as a result. The remaining chapters tell how Christians are to function in the world.
In Ephesians 1, from what perspective does Paul present the grace of God in salvation? What themes are presented?
In Ephesians 2, from what perspective does Paul present the same grace of God in salvation? What themes are presented?