The Christian Distinction

Can you tell the difference between a Christian and someone who isn’t a Christian?  Though all Christians used to walk according to the ways of the world, someone who has become a Christian should have a lifestyle that is clearly different.  In Ephesians 2, Paul introduces a discussion which compares the past and present lifestyles of the believer.  The comparison describes those who are “alive” with those who are “dead.” These concepts receive greater amplification in verses 2 and 3, but a foundational understanding of the two key words of “quickened” and “dead” is integral to Paul’s continued presentation on the topic.

And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. – Ephesians 2:1-3

First, understand the two key concepts in this passage: the concept of “quickening,” or to “make alive,” is clearly a contrast with the other concept of the state of being “dead in sins.”  The subject matter of the passage explains that quickening is an aspect of the redemptive work of Christ as well as an explanation of the standing of those who are unbelievers.  Man must be quickened because he is “dead in trespasses and sins.”

Paul’s detailed exposition on the continued contrast between the lifestyles. Paul presented first the lifestyle of the believers prior to salvation, or simply the life as an unbeliever. In “times past” believers “walked according to the course of this world.” The walk of the unsaved sought to capitalize on the carnival of worldly lusts. The implication of the word “walked” reveals a subtlety that the unbeliever is thought to make progress through the world. By the world’s standards, such a lifestyle of licentious pleasure and rebellion were the norms and were commendable by those who similarly practiced such sinful habits. Paul declared directly that sinners shared this sinful sentiment according to Romans 1:18-32. In the Ephesian text Paul identified the cause and effect principle: walking according to the world yields disobedience to God. Disobedience is instigated by the “prince of the power of the air” and a stubborn “spirit” in unbelievers. The reference of the “prince” is none other than Satan himself, who works in his spiritual children who emulate their “father” by fulfilling their own lusts (John 8:44). Disobedience is the obstinate opposition to the divine will due to a wicked relationship with the world and evidenced by the fulfillment of ungodly lusts in the carnival of life. Furthermore, the concept of walking in the world is later contrasted by a godly Christian walk, a discourse that dominates chapters 4-6 of the letter to the Ephesians. The godly walk is characterized as one that is worthy of God’s calling (4:1-32), one that forsook uncleanness and unfruitfulness (5:1-14), and one that is full of the Spirit’s power (5:15-6:22).

The emotional and negative tone continued with the amplification of one’s deadness in trespasses and sins in verse 3:

Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.

Paul indicted all people when he stated that “we all had our conversation in times past in the lust of our flesh.” This condemnation is characteristic of everyone at some point in their life. Their conversation, or lifestyle, revolved around the fulfillment of one’s sinful desires. The carnality of the flesh and the mind are emphasized in this verse, a progressive parallelism from the previous verse. The condemnation likewise is intensified as the children of disobedience are also identified as the “children of wrath.” Classification as such a child demonstrated that an unbeliever was worthy of the wrath of God. Not only was this true as a result of a disobedient lifestyle, but also by the “nature” of the unbeliever. The sin-nature of man is a result of heredity passed on from Adam (Romans 5:12). As a result, the sinful corruption of mankind places them in a condition which warrants the wrath of God (cf. John 3:36).

Nevertheless, an interchange began in verse 4 which contrasts God’s character and conduct which was portrayed against that of the prince of the power of the air.

But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, – Ephesians 2:4

Although the Father was betrayed by these children, He still expressed mercy, grace, and kindness through the offer of salvation. The tone of the text suddenly changed to become positive and full of praise. The negative emotional terms were replaced with those that reflected the love and grace of the Savior. The attitude and action of God were emphasized as Paul stated that the Lord both possessed love and acted lovingly toward the children who were separated from Him because of their sins. God’s character was highlighted as One who was abounding with good will toward those who were miserable and afflicted by the prince of the power of the air. The greatest expression of His love toward sinners was found in the gift of His Son (John 3:16). The sentiments of God’s love in the phrase “even when we were dead in sins” (2:5) alluded to Paul’s teaching in Romans 5:8, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” When one placed his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, he was “quickened” and saved by grace. Salvation became synonymous with a spiritual quickening that lists benefits which were enumerated in 2:5-6.

Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:

The sinner was now “quickened,” “raised,” and “made to sit” with Christ. The emphasis was placed on the work of God in salvation apart from man’s work. Salvation could not be earned by any deed of man. Man could not muster a holy nature or holy behavior due to their sinful heredity and propensity to yield themselves to the ungodly lusts of their flesh and mind (2:1-3; Hebrews 12:14). Thus, only the mercy of God resulted in salvation (Titus 3:5). Upon seeing the faith of man redirected from oneself to the Savior, the Lord dispensed mercy and grace in order to justify the sinner, reappoint his position before God, and redirect his walk entirely (2:7-10; 4:1; Romans 5:1).

The new “quickened” state of the believer put the believer “together” with Jesus. Though his previous “deadness” disabled the unbeliever from obtaining God’s promises, the redemptive work of Christ provided a new standing by grace through faith. Paul parenthetically broke from his discussion in order to insert the pertinent point that salvation was by grace alone through faith alone. However, the caveat briefly captured in verse 5 received direct declaration in 2:8-9. In conjunction with salvation, the new believer was also “raised up” from the separation caused by sin. God performed this same operation on His own Son that Christians might walk in the newness of life (Colossians 2:12; Romans 6:4). Though not directly stated in the Ephesian text, the implication of this statement was such that the new believer should have known that the old nature was crucified, that he could reckon his body to be dead to sin, and that he could yield himself in obedience as a righteous instrument for God’s glory (Romans 6:6, 11, 13). Simultaneously, the new believer was made to sit in heavenly places. Culturally in historic Ephesus, there was a two-fold implication. First, Paul desired to counteract the idolatrous teaching that the goddess Artemis, whose cult was based in Ephesus, was to be worshipped in all areas of nature. Paul previously noted the fact that believers are blessed in “heavenly places” (1:3), and he reiterated this principle in 2:6. He emphasized that true worship is not directed toward nature, but toward Christ who dwells only in the heavenly realms. The redirection of Paul to the heavenly world affected the Ephesians since their previous idolatrous focus kept their spiritual vision centered on the world around them. Secondly, 2:6 was a prelude to Paul’s expanded teaching on heavenly citizenship as explained in 2:11-20. Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia, and the Roman citizenship it offered came with many privileges. Despite the numerous benefits offered with Roman citizenship, such benefits were not worthy to be compared with the benefits of placement in heavenly places with Christ. The world could never duplicate the blessings afforded by Christ in heavenly places. Every Christian was afforded the opportunity to receive the grace of God and to inherit a new standing before God. This amazing promise stood in stark contrast to the results of dead living and the experience of carnality due to the lust of the flesh and of the mind. The unconverted experienced only the wrath of God, but the saved became recipients of grace and mercy. The truth of these verses should cause the believer to rejoice for the amazing grace bestowed upon them!

The sentence which ranged from verses 4 to 7 culminated with a statement of purpose for the transformative quickening in Christ.

But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.

Paul stated that one of the intentions of the Lord in salvation was to show the “exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” Those redeemed from the death of trespasses and sins have undergone a radical transformation. They have been delivered from the power of darkness through the blood of the powerful Son of God (Colossians 1:12-14; Romans 1:4, 16). Christians are testimonies of the saving grace of God that is evident through salvation. The full contrast of God’s riches of grace stood tall against the “prince’s” influence of sinners. In a new role, man became the object of God’s riches and was put on display for the world to behold. Although the world commended rebellion, such behavior produced only the testimony unfruitful despair. For the believer, such behavior was in “times past” and was never to be commended again (2:2-3). Presently, and for the ages to come, the believer would testify of the grace, mercy, and kindness of his Lord and Savior.

The principles of the letter were written to Christians, and 2:1-7 focused on areas that were relevant to all people, including the lost and the saved. For the saved, a special significance could be felt given the explanation of one’s testimony prior to and after salvation. Ephesians 2:1-7 explained the principle that people were separated from God due to their trespasses and sins prior to salvation in Christ. This separation stemmed from their natural sinful tendencies caused by their Adamic nature. Unbelievers were classified as the “children of disobedience” and “children of wrath” because they were influenced by an ungodly spirit. However, God saved sinners according to the richness of His mercy and grace and showed His love and kindness toward them through Christ. Sinners who were saved by grace through faith obtained a new standing before God: they were made alive, raised up, and placed in Christ. As a result, Christians will testify of God’s goodness throughout all ages.

Paul’s desire (expressed in 1:18) for the Ephesians as well as for modern readers was for them to know the hope of their calling, to know the riches of God’s glory in their inheritance, and to know the power of God toward those who believe. Based upon this pedagogical intention, Paul explained that a believer who was saved could live for the glory of God in all ages, both in their present time and in the one yet to come. Though the believer’s former lifestyle was characterized by death and disobedience, his new life in Christ would be characterized by grace and faith. Good works should naturally follow the person who has been quickened, raised, and placed in Christ (2:8-10). His life should not reflect disobedient living reflective of God’s wrath and judgment, but should model holy living that manifested the grace of God. A modern example could be that of a man who subjugates his spouse and children using anger. Such behavior indicates that a spirit of disobedience is at work. Such a man satisfies himself by forcing his family to conform to his will. The husband and father should be filled with grace and lead by the Spirit instead of fulfilling the lusts of his flesh and of his mind. When a gentle man seeks to serve his family, he can portray the grace and kindness to his family that God has portrayed to him through salvation. In an additional application for the modern reader, the text points the believer to share his testimony of salvation by grace without works. With many lost sinners attempting to earn their way to heaven via good works, such a godly testimony from a believer who previously lived in disobedience (as all people have done) can be instrumental in the acceptance of the Gospel by an unbeliever.

Since fulfilling such a godly purpose was only possible through Christ, Ephesians 2:1-7 serves to qualify the unfruitfulness practices of the unbeliever’s life of sin. The text further served to demonstrate that fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose was impossible without salvation through Christ. Additionally, Paul’s development of the “in Christ” concept was contrasted in 2:1-7 with the statement that unbelievers were separated “in trespasses and sins.” The only way to be placed in Christ was to be “made alive” by grace through faith. Without faith and grace, one’s position could not change, and one would only “walk according to the course of this world.” As a result, the unbeliever was destitute of hope and without God. However, through salvation in Christ one could be brought close to God.

When a believer lived for the glory of God his life no longer was characterized by death and disobedience, but reflected his faith in the grace of God. Righteous living followed the person who was quickened, raised, and placed in Christ (2:5-6, 8-10). The believer was united with Christ and empowered to live in unity with the brethren of the church. The prayer of Paul can be answered by Christians today as they seek to know God and apply the principles of “grace-filled” living as afforded to them by the riches of God’s glorious grace.

Is there a “Christian distinction” in your walk with God?  Can others tell that you’ve been changed by the grace of God?  Perhaps you are still living a lifestyle that reflects trespasses and sins more than the glory of God.  If so, I urge you to trust Christ as your Savior if you have never done so.  If you are a believer who has walked away from God and back into an inappropriate lifestyle, repent and restore fellowship with the Lord who saved you.  Today can be the first day of your new Christian life.  Take this opportunity to begin anew!   Ensure there is a Christian distinction between you and the rest of the world!

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3 thoughts on “The Christian Distinction

  1. Pingback: The Christian Distinction | A disciple's study

  2. Pingback: The Grace of God | Learning the Way of Wisdom

  3. Pingback: The Holiness of God | Learning the Way of Wisdom

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