"But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." (Ephesians 2:4-7)Paul had just got done telling his audience the truth about our lives and the world we live in, and it wasn't good news. We are all sinners and that sin is working death in us every moment we are alive. We live in a fallen world ruled by a malevolent dictator who desires our destruction and lives to inflict harm, loss, and eventually death upon us. All this is due to our own devices; it is the fruit of our own sin and trespasses. Little is left to us to hope for. We are sinners and we are receiving our just deserts. However, Paul continues, "But God!" What two words could impart so much hope, so much joy, and so much anticipation in a life that is otherwise consumed by death? Things may be bad, but we are not left alone and there is still one who can rescue us and give us back the life we lost to sin. What we could not do for ourselves, God did on our behalf.
God's benefit on our behalf came to us through His great love for us by which He loved us. God did not just love us, that love for us was translated into action. God did not just sit in heaven thinking loving thought towards us, He came down in the person of Jesus Christ and demonstrated His love for us by bring about our salvation and our deliverance from this world and its sin and death. God's love is shown in action. Consider perhaps one of the most familiar verses in all of scripture. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16) Some have understood the phrase "so loved" as referring to the amount or height of God's love for us, as, "For God soooooooooo loved us!" However, in the Greek it refers to the manor in which God loved us, as "For in this way God loved us, that He gave" God's love moves Him to action on behalf of the very ones He loves.
Paul also tells us that God's benefit towards us was not out of compulsion, but out of grace, mercy, and compassion. God did not have to save us; He did not have to die to free us from our sin, guilt, and death. God was not forced to intervene in the affairs of a fallen world full of sinful men and women, rather He chose to. Between love that is a feeling and love that is an action, is love that is a choice. God chose to intervene, not because He had to, but because He wanted to out of His surpassing love for us. Furthermore, His choice towards action was not predicated on our own merit, worthiness, or value towards Him or anyone else. What merit could we ever offer Him, seeing that we were already dead in a life full of transgression and sin. In another letter Paul wrote, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." (Romans 5:8-10) Far from being fiends of God, we were His enemies when He chose to rescue us thought His own death on a cross; not because we merited it, but simply because in His grace He chose it. How great is His love for us!
Paul uses three interesting words that all begin with the same Greek prefix that means together or with. He says we have been made alive with, raised with, and seated with Christ in heavenly places. One could interpret this as meaning we have been made alive, raised, and seated together with other believers or that we have been made alive, raised, and seated with Christ. Under the first interpretation it is hard to understand what it means to be seated in heavenly places while we are yet still alive. However, if we understand these words in relationship to our union and identification with Christ then it makes since. I believe what Paul is saying is that we have been united with Christ and have been brought into vital union with His live, resurrection, and glorification. What Jesus wrought for Himself is also ours in our unity and identity with Christ. Paul speaking on us being united with Christ says, "Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin." (Romans 6:4-7) All that is Christ's is now ours including our regal position in heaven where we too will be granted to sit with Him on His throne.
All this God did out of His love for us, but He also did it with a plan and a purpose in mind. God is kind, loving, and gracious, but how does He show that and make it know to the creation He has made? How can God show the full extent of His grace and kindness to the angels and men who are looking on? God can say that "I am gracious" but how do we come to understand what that means and what the depths of that grace is in Him? He does so by showing us that grace and by demonstrating the richness of that grace towards those to whom it is extended. God chose us that He may be gracious towards us so that, in that grace shown to us, others may come to see and understand the unbounded and limitless grace of God. What a privilege to be chosen to serve as a reflection of God's grace, reflected through our lives as we first-hand experience His grace and love towards us. This being said, we must pause to consider how, when we leave faith to try and achieve the will and purpose of God through our own strength and the power of our will, we only serve to frustrate and obscure the true grace of God; that very grace that God has shown us that it may too be shown to the world? What greater offence can we offer to His rightful glory that to pretend that the grace we have received is some how due to our own merit, work, or worthiness? Leaving faith for works not only nullifies the grace of God in our lives but also misrepresents God to others. We must never forget that this salvation in which we stand comes to us completely by grace and is in no way effected by any merit of our own. Praise be to God who not only did what we could not do but also did what we did not deserve.