Ephesians is an incredibly saturated epistle on the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection. I was meditating on Ephesians 2:4-5 this evening:
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you are saved!”
When I reflect on this passage, I am reminded how vital it is to embrace a Reformed understanding of our salvation, for without it, the precious truth in this verse will fall on deaf ears. Arminians measure God’s mercy quantitatively, or often the case, by how much he gives an “opportunity.” But Scripture’s focus is repeatedly on the quality of God’s grace. And we worship a great God who actually saves not give “opportunities.” Salvation is all of God, and none of Man. And this is no more illustrated than in this Ephesian’s passage.
Paul just characterized the hopelessness to be “children of wrath” (v 3). But (de) God! in his plousios (“plentiful-rich”) mercy is grounded in his great love. How is his mercy and love demonstrated? Was it through prodding a “neutral will” that convinced us to believe on him? No! We were dead (nekros) in our sins! Not injured or sick, but dead! We were not drowning in sin, but we were already drowned in our sin, at the bottom of the sea.
This deadness of the unregenerate nature is another way of saying we were slaves to sin. Our will was not free—it was enslaved. Elsewhere Paul describes the unregenerate’s will as possessing moral inability:
“(7) because the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so (ou dynamai, “moral inability”) (8) Those who are in the flesh cannot (ou dynamai, “moral inability”) please God.” (Rom 8:7—8)
Jesus uses the same moral inability language: “No one can (ou dynamai, “moral inability”) come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:44)
Jesus did not come to affirm a free will—but to set it free.
So the unregnerate cannot choose God because they do not want to. They choose according to their desires. The unregenerate cannot choose God because they are children of wrath. What do children of wrath desire? Paul explains:
“(18) They are darkened in their understanding, being alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts. (19) Because they are callous, they have given themselves over to indecency for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.” (Eph 4:18—19)
They freely choose according to their nature, yet their nature at the same time can be considered enslaved because it has not experienced the miracle of rebirth, which brings us to Paul’s next truth:
[Despite our enslavement of being dead to sin, God] made us alive [rebirth!] together with Christ—by grace you are saved!
Paul says then that it is by grace you are saved. What is the nature of grace? It is the bestowal of his love in the act of making us alive. It is irresistible because it is efficacious. That is, it cannot be a cooperative effort with Man’s will. For that is the whole point of God’s action in that he “made us alive” when we were spiritually dead. Anything less than irresistible regenerating grace cannot be considered redemptive grace.
Praise God for his plousios merciful miracle of raising nekros sinners to life in Jesus.