by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
“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.”—Ephesians 2:4-7
There is a sense in which we can say quite rightly and truly that we have here one of the profoundest statements with respect to the condition and the position of the Christian that can be found anywhere in Scripture…Now there are obviously a number of preliminary remarks that one must make about a statement like this. The first that I feel constrained to make is that this is true Christianity, that it is the very essence of Christianity and nothing less than that. What is described in these words is the very nerve of this whole matter! It is what God has done to us and for us, and not primarily anything that we have done. Christianity, in other words, does not just mean that you and I have [made] a decision…People can decide to stop doing certain things and to start doing other things: that is not Christianity. People can believe that God forgives them their sins, but that is not Christianity in and of itself. The essence of Christianity is the truth we have here: this is the real thing, and nothing less than this is the real thing.
I would emphasize, also, that this is true of every Christian…Here we come face to face with the wonderful teaching and doctrine about the union of the Christian with the Lord Jesus Christ…This is what makes us Christians; apart from this, we are not in the Christian position at all.
It is important therefore that we should understand at once that we are really dealing here with something that is basic, fundamental, and primary. At the same time, of course, the doctrine is so glorious and great that it includes the whole of the Christian life. The Christian life is a whole; and you, as it were, have the whole at once and then proceed to appropriate it in its various parts and to understand it increasingly. This is Christianity: “When we were dead in sins, [God] hath quickened us together with Christ…And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
What happens, I wonder, when we examine ourselves in the light of such a declaration? Can we say that we always think of ourselves as Christians in these terms? Is this my way of thinking of myself as a Christian? Or do I still tend to think of myself as a Christian in terms of what I am attempting and striving to do, and what I am trying to make myself or to make of myself? Now this is obviously quite basic because the Apostle’s whole emphasis here is that the primary thing, the first thing, is this that God does to us, not primarily what you and I do ourselves.
There are two ways of looking at this great statement. There are some people who take a purely objective view of it. They think of it exclusively in terms of our position, or our standing, in the presence of God. What I mean is that they think of it as being something that, in a sense, is already true of us in Christ, but is not true of us in practice. They regard this as a statement of the fact that beyond death we shall be resurrected and shall share the life of glory that is awaiting all who are in Christ Jesus. They hold that the truth is that the Lord Jesus Christ has already been raised from the dead; He was quickened when He was dead in the grave, He was raised, He appeared to certain witnesses, He ascended into heaven, He is in the glory in the heavenly places. “Now,” they say, “that has happened to Him; and if we believe in Him, it will happen to us.” They say that it is true of us by faith now, but actually only by faith. It is not real in us now: it is entirely in Him. But it will be made real in us in the future. Now that is what I call the purely objective view of this statement. And of course as a statement, it is perfectly true, except that it does not go far enough. All that is true of us. There is a time coming when all of us who are Christians shall be resurrected unless our Lord returns before we die. Our bodies will be changed and will be glorified; and we shall live, and we shall reign with Him and enter into and share His glory with Him. That is perfectly true.
But it seems to me that to interpret this statement solely in that way is very seriously to misinterpret it. And that I can prove. There are two arguments that make it quite inadequate as an interpretation. The first is that the whole context here is experimental. The Apostle is not so much concerned to remind these Ephesians of something that is going to happen to them: his great concern here is to remind them of what has already happened to them and of their present position. It is important that we should always carry the context with us. What the Apostle is concerned about in this whole statement is that we may know “the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead” (Eph 1:19-20). He is praying, in other words, that these Ephesians may have the eyes of their understanding so enlightened that they may know what God is doing for them now, at that very time, not something that He is going to do in the future…He is concerned that they should appreciate now in the midst of all their difficulties what is actually true of them.
But there is still stronger proof, it seems to me, in the fifth verse. The Apostle says, “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ,” and then in a parenthesis “(by grace ye are saved).” In other words, he says, “What I am talking about is your salvation at this moment.” “By grace ye are saved” means “by grace you have been saved.” That is the tense: “You have been saved.” Clearly, that is something that is experimental. This is something subjective, not something purely objective. The tragedy is that people so often put these things up as opposites, whereas in reality the Scripture shows always that the two things must go together. There is an objective side to my salvation; but thank God, there is a subjective side also…That is the thing the Apostle is so anxious for us to understand. In other words, this must be interpreted spiritually and subjectively. It must be understood experimentally. “What God has done to us spiritually,” says the Apostle, “is comparable to that which He did to the Lord Jesus Christ in a physical sense when He raised Him from the dead and took Him to Himself to be seated in the heavenly places.”
We must go back to the end of the first chapter. The power that is working toward us and in us who believe is the same power that God “wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:20). “Now,” says Paul, “I want you to know that the self-same power that did that is working in you spiritually.” That, then, enables us to say that all that has happened to us, if we are Christians, has happened by this self-same power of God. All the tenses the Apostle uses here in these very words that we are studying are all in the past. He does not say that God is going to raise us, is going to quicken us, is going to put us to be seated in the heavenly places; he says that He has done so already—that when we were dead, He quickened us…We must say of ourselves as Christian people that we have been quickened, we have been raised, we are seated in the heavenly places.
Or, perhaps, we can put it best like this—and surely this is the thing that the Apostle had in his mind—the position of the Christian is the exact opposite of the man who is not a Christian. The man who is not a Christian is a man who is dead in trespasses and sins. He is being led about according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience. His conversation is in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; he is under the wrath of God by nature. That is the non-Christian.
What is the Christian? He is the exact opposite of that—quickened, alive, raised, seated in the heavenlies, entirely different, the complete contrast. The “but” brings out everywhere this aspect of contrast. Obviously, we cannot truly understand our position as Christians unless we realize that it is a complete contrast to what we once were. You see how important it is in interpreting the Scripture to take everything in its context. We must be clear about our state in sin because, if we are not, we shall never be clear about our state in grace and in salvation.
If that is the truth about us as Christians now, two main matters must occupy our attention. The first is, “How has all this happened to us? How has this come to be true of me as a Christian?” The Apostle answers the question: it is “together with Christ.”
Do you notice his constantly repeated emphasis? “When we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Here we are undoubtedly face-to-face with one of the greatest and most marvelous of all the Christian doctrines, one of the most glorious beyond any question at all. It is the whole teaching of the Scripture with regard to our union with Christ. It is a teaching that you find in many places. I would refer you to the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, which is in many ways the most extended statement of the doctrine to be found anywhere. But it is to be found in exactly the same way in the sixth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. It is likewise found in 1 Corinthians 15, the great chapter that is read so often at funeral services; but it is seen equally clearly in 2 Corinthians, chapter 5. Similarly it is the teaching found in those beautiful words at the end of the second chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). This is the most wonderful and the most amazing thing of all, and to me it is always a matter of great surprise that this blessed doctrine should receive so little attention! For some reason or other, Christian people seem to be afraid of it…[Yet] according to this teaching in Ephesians 2 and elsewhere, you are not Christians at all unless you are joined to Christ and “in Him”…
What is meant by our being joined to Christ? It is used in two senses. The first is in what may be called a federal sense, or, in other words, a covenant sense. That is the teaching of the fifth chapter of Romans, verses 12–21. Adam was constituted and regarded by God as the head and the representative of the human race. He was the federal head, the federal representative, the covenant head. God made a covenant with Adam, made an agreement with him, made certain statements to him as to what He would do, and so on. Now that is the first sense in which this doctrine of union is taught. And what is said, therefore, about the Lord Jesus Christ is that He is our Federal Head, He is our Representative. Adam, our representative, rebelled against God: he sinned, he was punished, and certain consequences followed. But because Adam was our representative and our head, what happened to Adam also therefore happened to all his posterity and to us.
Now that is one aspect of the matter and a very important one. We know something about this in ordinary life and living. The ambassador of this country in a foreign court represents the whole country, and he engages in actions in which we are all involved whether we want to be or not. As citizens of this country, we all suffer the consequences of actions that were taken before we were ever born…What the leader or the official representative of a nation does is binding upon all the citizens of that nation. Now that was true of Adam. It is also true of the Lord Jesus Christ. Adam was the first man; Jesus Christ is the Second Man. You have the first Adam; you have the Last Adam. Now Jesus Christ, according to this teaching, is the Representative of this new humanity. Therefore, what He did and what He suffered is something that applies to the whole of this new race that has come into being in Him. So that the union of the believer with Christ must be thought of in that federal sense.
But it does not stop at that. There is another aspect of the union that we may call mystical or vital. This is something that was taught by our Lord Himself in the famous words in the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel according to John, where He says, “I am the vine, ye are the branches” (Joh 15:5). The union between the branches and the vine is not mechanical: it is vital and organic. They are bound together: the same sap, the same life is in the stock as in the branches. But that is not the only illustration used. At the end of the first chapter of Ephesians, Paul says that the union between a Christian and the Lord Jesus Christ is comparable to the union of the various parts of the body with the whole body, and especially with the head. Now, any one of my fingers is a vital part of my body. It is not simply tied on: there is a living, organic, vital union. The blood that flows through my head flows through my fingers. That indicates a kind of internal, essential unity and not merely a federal, legal, or covenant union.
All these blessings that we enjoy become ours because we are joined to Christ in this double manner: in the forensic, federal, covenant manner, but also in this vital and living manner. We can therefore claim that what has happened to Christ has happened to us. This is the marvel and mystery of our salvation, and it is the most glorious thing we can ever contemplate! The Son of God, the Second Person in the eternal Godhead, came down from heaven to earth; He took unto Him human nature, He joined human nature unto Himself, He shared human nature; and as the result of His work we human beings share His life and are in Him, and are participators in all the benefits that come from Him. Now I reminded you at the beginning, and I must repeat it: that, and nothing less than that, is Christianity. If we do not realize this, I wonder what our Christianity is? This is not something you arrive at; this is something with which you begin…What the Apostle is primarily concerned to emphasize is, that whereas we were dead, we are now alive.
The question arises at once, “How can this happen?” Something must happen before we who are dead and under the wrath of God can ever be made alive. I can derive no benefit whatsoever until something has been done to satisfy the wrath of God, for I am not only dead and a creature of lusts and controlled by the god of this world, I am under the wrath of God—we were “by nature the children of wrath, even as others” (2:3). And, thank God, that something has happened. Christ has taken upon Him our nature, He has taken upon Him our sins, He has gone to the place of punishment; the wrath of God has been poured out upon Him. That is the whole meaning of His death upon the cross: it is sin being punished; it is God’s wrath against sin manifesting itself. And if we do not see that in the cross of Calvary, we are looking at that cross without New Testament eyes. There is that terrible aspect to the cross, and we must never forget it. We must never forget the cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mat 27:46). That was because He was experiencing the wrath of God against sin, nothing less. But the Apostle, here, is much more concerned to emphasize the positive aspect. Christ not only died and was buried; He rose again. God “raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named” (Eph 1:20-21). All that involved a quickening, a raising, and an exaltation. And the same thing, says the Apostle, is true of us because we are in Christ—“hath quickened us together with him.” This has happened to everybody who is a Christian. It is God’s action. Surely, this does not need any demonstration. That man who is dead in sins and under the wrath of God, what can he do? He can do nothing. God does it to him; He quickens him. As He quickened the dead body of His Son in the grave, He quickens us spiritually.
What does “to quicken” mean? It means “to make alive,” it means “to impart life.” The first thing then that is true of the Christian is that he has come to the end of his death—we were dead in trespasses and sins, we were not born spiritually. There is no divine spark in anybody born into this world. All born into this world, because they are children of Adam, are born dead—born dead spiritually. This whole idea of a divine spark remaining in man is a contradiction not only of this Scripture, but also of the whole of Scripture. The position of every person born into this world is that he is dead. The comparison used to illustrate this is the dead body of the Lord Jesus Christ buried in a grave with a stone rolled over the mouth. This then is the first positive truth: I have come to an end of my death. I am no longer dead in trespasses and sins, I am no longer dead spiritually. Why? Because I have died with Christ. I have died with Christ to the Law of God and to the wrath of God.
Now a Christian is a man who must assert this truth. The beginning of Christianity is to say, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). The Christian is not a man who is hoping to be forgiven; the Christian is not a man who hopes that ultimately he will be able to satisfy the demands of the Law and to stand before God. If he is a Christian who understands Christianity, he says, “I am already there, I have ceased to be dead, I am alive, I have been quickened, I have been made alive!” The first important aspect of that statement is the negative one, which says that I am no longer dead. I have finished dying; I am dead to sin, I am dead to the Law, I am dead to the wrath of God. “There is therefore now no condemnation.” Can you say that? It is the statement that every Christian should be able to make…The Scriptures make this definite assertion: I am not a Christian; I cannot be a Christian at all without being in Christ. It follows that if I am in Christ, what is true of Him is also true of me. He has died unto sin once, and I have died unto sin once, in Him. When the Lord Jesus Christ died on that cross on Calvary’s hill I was dying with Him…when Christ died on that cross and endured the wrath of God against sin, I was participating in it. I was in Him, I was dying with Him. I am dead to the Law, I am dead to the wrath of God…But, more, He has quickened us, He has made us alive…Are you dead spiritually or are you alive spiritually?
But look at the case more positively. It means that God has put a new Spirit of life into me. “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:2). “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ” is in the Christian. This is the opposite of death and deadness. Before this new Spirit of life in Christ Jesus came into us, we were dead in trespasses and sins and subject to a very different spirit—“the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph 2:2). But that is no longer true. There is a new Spirit of life.
What is “quickening”? Quickening is regeneration and nothing else. When the Apostle says here, “You hath he quickened,” he means, “You He has regenerated.” He has given you new life, you have been born again, you have been created anew, you have become partakers of the divine nature. What is regeneration? I cannot think of a better definition than this: regeneration is an act of God by which a principle of new life is implanted in man and the governing disposition of the soul is made holy. That is regeneration. It means that God by His mighty action puts a new disposition into my soul. Notice I say “disposition,” not faculties. What man in sin needs is not new faculties: what he needs is a new disposition. What is the difference, you ask, between faculties and disposition? It is something like this: the disposition is that which determines the bent and the use of the faculties. The disposition is that which governs and organizes the use of the faculties, which makes one man a musician and another a poet and another something else. So the difference between the sinner and the Christian, the unbeliever and the believer, is not that the believer, the Christian, has certain faculties that the other man lacks. No, what happens is that this new disposition given to the Christian directs his faculties in an entirely different way…What is new is a new bent, a new disposition. He has turned in a different direction; there is a new power working in him and guiding his faculties.
That is the thing that makes a man a Christian. There is this principle of life in him; there is this new disposition. And it affects the whole man: it affects his mind, it affects his heart, it affects his will…
Are you alive? Has God put this principle of life into you? Just as you are at this moment, do you know that this has happened to you, that there is this essential difference between you and the man of the world?…Quickened! We were dead, lifeless, could not move ourselves spiritually, had no appetite spiritually, no apprehension or understanding spiritually. But if we are Christians that is no longer true. We have been quickened together with Christ, the life principle has come in, we have been regenerated. There is no Christianity apart from that…Because we are joined to Christ, something of His life is in us as the result of this vital, indissoluble union, this intimate, mystical connection…Have you life? Have you been quickened? It is the beginning of Christianity. There is no Christianity apart from this…Are you aware of a principle that is working within you, as it were, in spite of yourself, influencing you, molding you, guiding you, convicting you, leading you on? Are you aware of being possessed?—if I may so put it, at the risk of being misunderstood. The Christian is a possessed man; this principle of life has come in, this new disposition possesses him. And he is aware of a working within him…God has begun a good work in me, and I know it. He has put this new life in me—in me! I am born again and in union with Christ.
May God by His Spirit enlighten the eyes of our understanding so that we may begin to comprehend this mighty working of God’s power in us.
From God’s Way of Reconciliation: An Exposition of Ephesians 2, 70-81