But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in our trespasses. It is by grace you have been saved! And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might display the surpassing riches of His grace, demonstrated by His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7 BSB)

Twice in these first two chapters of Ephesians Paul has used this word “surpassing.” The first was in 1:19 when he wrote of “the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” The second is in 2:7, above, which speaks of “the surpassing riches of His grace.” He goes on to use this same word one more time, in 3:19 where he wrote, “to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.” The surpassing power and surpassing grace of God in Christ Jesus result in a personal experience which surpasses knowledge. 

Clearly there is something here that Paul was seeking to communicate, as the Spirit directed and empowered him, and I believe it involves two thoughts: (1) the immeasurable nature of God, of His knowledge, love, and power, and (2) the unknown depth of our own spirits. Both of these potentials have been hidden from our own minds by two realities. The first is the limitations of being a creation which can never assail the summits of knowledge and greatness of the Creator, nor can we understand fully the greatness of our own spirits, what they can truly contain and absorb. The second is simply the fact of sin, which has blurred, blinded, and obscured from our view and understanding these matters even further.

Can we imagine what it must be like to be God? There is joy in the heart and nature of God that the Father, Son, and Spirit share together in eternal existence that we can hardly fathom. But neither can we truly understand what it means to be fully human, and in the redemption of grace there will be fullness of joy and awareness of love that we can hardly grasp today. Just as the person and greatness and love of God are beyond our ability to comprehend, so the depth of our own spirits and our divinely fashioned capacity to receive this love are unknown even to us. 

God is higher and we are deeper than we know. This divine experience of knowing His love is “beyond knowledge,” meaning that we cannot learn this by studying – neither the reality of God nor the capacity of man. The psalmist wrote: “My mouth will declare Your righteousness and Your salvation all day long, though I cannot know their full measure” (Psalm 71:15). He made us to be reservoirs of His love, to absorb and receive and dwell in this reality, yet is only the redeemed man who can experience this. 

Rich in mercy

Mercy means “pity and compassion.” The previous verse, Eph. 2:3, said that we were “children of wrath” but instead of wrath God felt pity and compassion. God is somewhat like a parent who cleans his house and prepares to give his child a birthday party, only to see the child has misbehaved and dirtied the house, running through it with muddy feet, and tore up the decorations, even pushed over the cake and threw the presents out into the rain.

Yet this parent does not say, “Bad child! No birthday party for you!” Instead, inexplicably, this parent is moved by pity and compassion and sits with the child, stilling him, and embracing him, and graciously tells him that he will repair the damage, clean up the mess, and the party will still be held. But he wants the child to apologize, to trust that the parent wanted to do something good for the child, and to get cleaned up. Every analogy breaks down eventually, but we could say that just as this party schedule has been postponed due to the child’s bad behavior, so God’s plans for our own blessings have been postponed due to the problems of our own bad behavior.    

The Psalm says:

As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:13-14 ESV)

God “made us alive” and just as He raised Christ from the tomb, so he awakens the dead spirit of human life and raises us to the knowledge of His love. Perhaps the greatest loss of the human heart after the fall of mankind due to sin is the lost knowledge of His love. What greater thrill could the child have than to know the love of his parent? And this knowledge of the love of the Father was always with Christ, and He prayed that it would always be with us: “That the love with which You love Me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26).

Raised us up

Christ died for us, and just as He identified with us in His death, so we identify with Him. We own His death as our own, believing each one of us that our personal sins were transferred to Christ on the cross. And just as surely as we died with Him, we also believe that we are raised with Him.  “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom. 6:5). (See Colossians 2:12-13.) 

This is a strong teaching of Paul’s theology, which he received by the inspiration of the Spirit. He often repeated this truth, stressing that each conversion of each human heart reflects the miracle of the resurrection. Just as God breathed life into the dead body of Jesus of Nazareth, so He breathes life into our dead spirits. And the reputation and glory of God is upheld in the ages to come by His work of redemption in human lives: “So that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7).

Our own power or God’s

But this truth is not only about the resurrection of the body and heaven, but it also applies to our daily lives. We can live each day in the reality of His resurrection today. His power is available to us through faith. The Christian life is not to be one of constant striving in our own effort to follow Christ, to please Him. Rather it is to be the daily receiving of His resurrection power that transforms our hearts. 

Our own power will inevitably focus on outward results, on how we appear to be doing to others. We will want to look holy and kind on the outside rather than be holy and kind on the inside. This is why legalistic religion always fails, because it insists on fruit while denying the source of life to the branch. But the constant biblical teaching is that we bear fruit in our lives only as the Spirit moves in our innermost person, changing our thoughts, values, and hearts. Christ said: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4).

When we speak of spiritual growth, the very heart of it is to be connected to the life of Christ. Miles Stanford wrote:

There are two main aspects to this source principle. First, the Lord Jesus is the source of our Christian life—we were born into Him; God has made us complete in Him. This truth we are to hold by faith; it is true of each of us. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” (II Cor. 5:17). Second, as we hold to this fact by faith, we are brought into the practical reality of it day by day in our experience. Little by little we receive that which is already ours. The important thing to know and be sure of is that all is ours; we are complete in Him—now. This fact enables us to hold still while He patiently works into our character that life of ours which is hid with Christ in God.

So the choice is ours – whether to believe, to cling to Him, to depend on Him, to trust in Him, or whether to try and please others by our “christ-like-ness.” In the last days there will be many who seek to appear religious, “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). Focus as a matter of first priority on the heart and everything else will fall into place. 

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  1. Matthias Luebke
    January 25th, 2019 at 09:35 | #1

    Thank you Pastor David for your thoughts on Eph. 2,4-7.
    They are very meaningful and deep, pointing from so many angles to Christ!
    This thought touched me very much: He (Paul) often repeated this truth, stressing that each conversion of each human heart reflects the miracle of the resurrection. Just as God breathed life into the dead body of Jesus of Nazareth, so He breathes life into our dead spirits.
    Please continue to write and proclaim the Word of God.
    Jesus is truely amazing.
    Shalom, Matthias

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