“But God, being rich in mercy…” (Ephesians 2:4)
Bible Reading: Ephesians 2:4-10
After Paul’s solemn description of life without God as a life of spiritual death leading to wrath, the words “But God” breathe hope into what otherwise might be a message of despair.
“But God,” he writes, “being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…” (Ephesians 2:4-5). These glorious words rank among the greatest statements of the gospel found in the Bible. They are so rich that they need to be explored carefully.
In beginning with the words, “But God…,” Paul is emphasising that the initiative in salvation comes from God alone. Furthermore, when he adds “even when we were dead in our trespasses” (v. 5), he underscores the fact that there was nothing that we did or possessed that contributed to God’s saving act toward us. God did it all when we were still his enemies (Romans 5:10), when we were “dead”. That is why the apostle immediately breaks into the train of his thought to exclaim, “…by grace you have been saved” (v. 5b). Truly, “salvation belongs to the Lord” (Jonah 2:9).
This grace flows from two sources within the character of God. The first is his mercy. “But God, being rich in mercy…” the apostle writes. Theologian Wayne Grudem defines God’s mercy as his goodness shown to those in misery and distress. A merciful person is one who feels for and seeks to help those who are suffering, whether they deserve such help or not. This is a quality that God possesses richly – he has it in a limitless measure. Were he an unmerciful being, he would have looked upon us in our need and turned away from us unmoved.
But not so. Out of the richness of his merciful nature, and the “great love with which he loved us”, he “made us alive together with Christ” (v. 5). Not only is God infinite in his kindness toward sufferers, he also has “great love” toward his people as well. His love eternally moves him to give himself to others. Love looks outwards. It is not primarily a feeling, but an inner disposition or attitude that desires the good of others and acts to bring that good to pass.
Here, the great love God has for “us” – in this context, those he makes alive in Christ – is that which moves him to bring us out of our state of spiritual death to life. This is the explanation of how dead sinners come to be saved. God, who is rich in mercy, out of his great love for people, makes them alive together with Christ. We will look further at what this means next time.
For now, however, it is enough for us to rest in the knowledge that God is good and that his goodness expresses itself in his great mercy, love and grace toward those who do not deserve it.
- Do you remind yourself continually that you are saved simply by the grace of God?
- How does the idea that God is “rich in mercy” affect the way you relate to him?
– Andrew Young