Paul's Summary of Grace


Paul’s letter to the Ephesians gives particular attention to the grace of God. God, through his eternal purpose in Christ Jesus, has blessed us with great spiritual blessings. The epistle focuses on giving God the praise for all these blessings—“to the praise of his glorious grace.” Thus, it provides an excellent summary of grace.

Grace is of God (Eph. 1:2; 6:24). The letter opens and closes with references to God’s grace. Grace is an attribute of God’s very nature and character. By his grace God has extended love and mercy toward us. This he has done because he desires to give it, not because of anything we have done to deserve it.

God’s grace was present from eternity (Eph. 1:3-6). The blessings of God upon sinful man were planned by God in keeping with his eternal purpose (3:11). So, his people are described as having been chosen and predestined in Christ, even before he laid the foundation of the earth in creation.

God’s grace was demonstrated at the cross (Eph. 1:7-8). The cross of Christ is the supreme demonstration of God’s grace. We understand God’s grace most perfectly when we see Jesus the son of God, the sinless one, suffering and dying to pay the debt of sin in our place. We did not deserve to be forgiven; Jesus did not deserve to die. But Jesus did die—for us; and we can be forgiven because of it.

God’s grace is revealed in the gospel (Eph. 1:9-10). The gospel is God’s message of grace. God revealing his mind to us is itself an act of his grace. Let us never minimize or disparage the careful study of God’s word, nor the importance of striving to follow its teachings. Before we can experience the joy of receiving God’s grace, we must first embrace the truth and be taught about Jesus and his plan. God’s word is a gracious gift.

God’s grace embraces man’s faith (Eph. 1:11-13). Grace does not mean there is no responsibility on man’s part to believe and obey God. Nor does our obedience nullify grace, or at all mean we have earned salvation. Paul elsewhere urges his readers not to receive the grace of God in vain (2 Cor. 5:20-6:2).

God’s grace gives us an inheritance in heaven (Eph. 1:14). Paul’s praise includes acknowledging that through faith, the Holy Spirit of promise has been given to believers as a seal and pledge of our heavenly inheritance. This, too, is “to the praise of his glory.”

God’s grace is the ground of salvation and reconciliation (Eph. 2). Paul’s message is that, though we were once dead in our sins, God has made us alive with Christ. We have been saved by grace. So, grace must be understood as the mercy of God extended to fallen man (vv. 1-10). We are fallen and undone because of our own sins. Our redemption is the gift of God. Christ himself is our peace and the basis of our being reconciled to God (vv. 11-22).

God’s grace is the mystery of the inclusion of the Gentiles in the church (Eph. 3). Paul was given a stewardship, the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. This truth he described as the mystery of Christ. It was a mystery previously hidden in God but now revealed through the Spirit. So, as previously stated (1:9-10), God had a purpose from eternity. It was a plan based on grace.

God’s grace includes provisions for the unity and growth of the body of Christ (Eph. 4:1-16). The basis of the unity of the body consists of essential elements of truth (vv. 1-6). The unity thus to be preserved is called the “unity of the Spirit” because it has been created and made known by the Holy Spirit. Believers are to be diligent to preserve what the Spirit has graciously given.

God by grace has also provided for the ongoing proclamation of, and instruction in, the word of God. Through these foundational gifts of grace (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers), the body of Christ is equipped for service, spiritual growth, and the attainment of the unity of the faith (vv. 7-16).

God’s grace is the basis of a new lifestyle in Christ (Eph. 4:17-5:21). This highly ethical section of Paul’s letter focuses on the Christian’s walk. It consists of a list of injunctions, stated both positively and negatively (how we should and should not live). It deals with attitudes, treatment of others, our speech, and the like.

The difference between the two ways of living is set forth in terms of redemption in Christ, and whether we have learned from Christ. On one side are those whose life is determined by their ignorance of God and characterized by darkness. On the other side are those whose new lifestyle is described in terms of learning Christ and being renewed in our mind.

The Christian’s walk is thus based on our having put on the “new self.” Our conduct is determined by our being members of one another. Our new lifestyle in Christ is patterned after God’s forgiveness (4:32) and Christ’s loving self-sacrifice on our behalf (5:2). We are to be imitators of God (5:1). We are to walk as children of light (5:8). In effect, Paul’s teaching is, be what you are. Live according to your calling of grace.

God’s grace provides a pattern for godly family relationships (Eph. 5:22-6:9). The grace of God, more than any other principle, informs us about how to be good husbands and wives, how to be the right kind of parents and children, and how to serve one another as servants and masters. The redemptive principle is stated clearly in each case—“as to the Lord,” “as Christ is the head of the church,” “as Christ loved the church.” The marriage relationship, in particular, reflects the glory of the relationship between Christ and his church. Holiness in each of these human relationships grows as we learn to imitate the holiness of God. The pattern is there by his grace.

God’s grace equips us with the strength to overcome evil (Eph. 6:10-20). Paul’s well-known description of the full armor of God reminds us that our ability to be strong and stand firm against the evil one is not in ourselves. Our strength in the daily struggles of life is found in the preparation of the gospel, the word of truth given by a gracious God through his Spirit.

For all these reasons and more, as believers we are called to be “giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20).

Dan Petty