Saved in a moment by God’s grace; transformed over a lifetime by God’s Word and Spirit. As Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus, we are saved by grace, not by works (Eph. 2:8-9). Yet, grace leads us to transformation, to obedience, and to devoted discipleship.

Our union with Christ through salvation is the beginning of new life in Him. Further, the Holy Spirit is the down payment of our eternal inheritance, as we’ve discussed the previous couple of weeks!

The gospel of John has special meaning to me. It was the first book of the Bible I read before coming to Christ as a young man. John 3:16 leaped off the page to me…

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (NIV)

I soon realized that, while God is merciful, our sin demands forgiveness. Rejecting Jesus is to reject God’s mercy and grace that pardons our sins. Further, I began to realize that my new life in Christ was just the beginning of a lifelong process of becoming more like Jesus every day.

I also came to understand that, while God forgave me of my sins prior to conversion, I needed to stay close to Him, be quick to repent for any past wrongs, and be ready to repent in the future for any sins committed then. Our union with Christ is mysterious and glorious. But effort—not works—is required to live fully in this union with Him.

Today, I want to discuss in our Ephesian series how we are united with Christ and what that spiritual union through new birth affords and requires of us.

Saved by Grace and United with Christ (Eph. 2:1-7)

“Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature, we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.” (Eph. 2:1-3 NLT)

Powers of the Unseen World

To understand Ephesians 2:1-3, we must comprehend the victory of Christ over all demonic powers (the devil Eph. 4:27) and what Jesus has entrusted to the Church.

“God put everything under Christ’s feet and made him head of everything in the church, which is his body. His body, the church, is the fullness of Christ, who fills everything in every way.” (Eph. 1:22-23 CEB)

Christ fills everything and the Church is the fullness of Christ … the Church has a profound impact on the world. Jesus is the light of the world and—through our union with Him—we radiate His light to the world!

“God put everything under His feet” is a quote from Psalm 8 (which was a favorite of the early Church). This was also a veiled reference to all of the earthly and spiritual powers in and around Ephesus that they were subject to Jesus. “It also speaks of God’s purpose for humankind; we should be sovereign over the whole of creation. This is what has been accomplished in Jesus the Messiah.” [1]

Christ is the fullness of God and we—the Church—are the fullness of Christ. In other words, all that pertains to life and godliness are found in Christ, and Christ is in us, and He is the fullness of every spiritual blessing.

The devil (Satan) is described as the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Eph. 2:2). It is difficult to understand what exactly Paul was referring to by using this description. This is the only place in Scripture where Satan’s realm is described in this fashion. Paul uses the Greek word aeros, which in ancient times carried an understanding of “thick air,” as opposed to aither or “thin air.” The inference could be that Paul is referring to that area close to the earth as opposed to the heavens. Philo, a second-century Jewish historian, described this area as the home of entities called demons by philosophers, and angels by the Christians.[2]  We often refer to this realm as the second heaven.

Paul references a prior spiritual experience where he seemingly was in God’s heavenly realm in his second letter to the Corinthians,

“I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know—only God knows.” (2 Cor. 12:2 NLT)

Wherever the exact location of this kingdom of air (aeros) in Eph. 2:2 may be, it is the place of the heavenly kingdom wherein are contained the rulers, authorities, powers, and spiritual forces of evil described in Eph. 6:12.[3]

Once Dead – Now Alive in Christ!

Paul explains, in Ephesians 2:1-3, that they (we) were once dead because of sin and have now been made alive through Christ. Colossians 2:13 is a parallel passage; we were dead in sin, now alive in Christ.

Paul is clearly stating in verses 1-3, “Yes, you were once like a dead person because of the things you did wrong and your offenses toward God. You used to do whatever felt good (lust of the flesh—sinful nature), being led by a destructive disobedient spirit; it’s the same spirit still working in those who are disobedient today. BUT GOD!” You once were… not now… walk in Him!

Those who are in Christ have crucified the sinful nature, including its passions and desires; they now desire to walk in step with the Spirit.

We recognize we are justified by faith and made righteous in Christ. We once had a proclivity to sin, but now we desire to live from life in Christ, led by the Spirit.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians regarding this truth of justification and imparted righteousness,

“God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit, God made Him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; He made us pure and holy, and He freed us from sin.” (1 Cor. 1:30 NLT)

Our union with Jesus in His resurrection life frees us from sin, makes us right with God, and positions us in His holiness. Oh, the depths of God’s grace and mercy!

But scripture also calls us to “be holy as I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16). Holiness matters. Character matters. We endeavor to obey God’s Word, follow the Spirit, and live from new life in Christ.

Paul would also write to the Corinthians their need, and ours, of walking in God’s righteousness,

“Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God…” (2 Cor. 6:14-16 NLT)

While we are united with Christ through His death and resurrection, Paul exhorts us to remember we are the temple of the living God, and we are to live in His light and righteousness.

He continues this thought,

“Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God.” (2 Cor. 7:1 NLT)

We are not working for salvation. But our salvation—or new birth experience—compels us to live from Christ’s imputed righteousness and holiness. Are we taking up our cross daily and following Jesus?

Do we realize we are on a mission with Jesus to win the lost to Christ and disciple the nations? Do we live with an awareness of the eternal consequences of sin to those who are not in Christ?

Consider the cry of Scottish revivalist, John Knox, “Give me Scotland or I die!” Or the cry of Methodist Revivalist, George Whitfield, “Give me souls or take my soul!”

Nineteenth-century revivalist and pastor, D.L. Moody, was used mightily by God. 1871-1872 were pivotal years. Two sisters asked Moody after a Sunday sermon when they observed something missing, “Are you a man of prayer?” He was already successful, but… there was more. They began to pray for him. He began to believe in the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and hunger for more of God. Moody said, “I really felt that I did not want to live if I could not have this power for service.”

“The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to Him.” These were the words made famous by the great evangelist D.L. Moody, but the quote did not originate with him. It’s true that he added his personal Amen, saying, “By God’s help, I aim to be that man.” Yet, the actual quote originally came from Henry Varley, a British revivalist whom Moody met in Dublin, Ireland. It was Varley who made the comment to Moody in 1872, just before Moody returned to America. The quote changed Moody’s life.[4]

Moody would consecrate himself to the Lord in service and in prayer. He had an encounter with the Lord that changed him and released God’s power over his ministry. Today, once again, the Lord is inviting us to go deeper with Him. There is more!

Paul next describes in Ephesians how we have been united with Christ and made alive in Him,

“But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:4-7 NLT)

Notice verse 4, the divine conjunction, “But God!” Aren’t you glad that God saw before the foundation of time that His son Jesus would be given to humanity—love, mercy, and grace. In Jesus, we have been made alive together with Christ—United with Christ!

Verse 6 of this passage is mysterious and powerful, “He raised us up from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.” We are seated—spiritually, in Christ—in His ascension glory and victory. I’ll develop this more next week, but from this realization of who we are in Him and from Him, we live and pray with His authority.

Consider what the prophet Isaiah wrote,

“For this is what the high and exalted One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isa. 57:15 NIV)

Like Paul, Isaiah reveals that, through Christ, we dwell with God in His glory and holiness. But it begins with contrition for our sin. It requires humility. God desires that we abide in Him in humility, and He desires that we be quick to repent of our wrongs and sins. As a result, God can use us to help others!

Jesus proclaimed, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” Peter exclaimed—in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost—to those wondering what to do for salvation, “Repent! Turn away from your thinking and walk toward God and His ways!” Jesus said in Revelation 2 to the Ephesian church, “Repent, turn back to your first love!” To live in the fullness of our union with Jesus, we must stay surrendered to Him, and obey His Word and Spirit. This may require honest confession and repentance at times. Again, His grace saves us. This is not “works,” but honest spiritual “effort” to live in Christ.

In his book Revival or We Die, Dr. Michael Brown states an important truth,

“Remember, Jesus did not come to improve us or enhance us or make us bigger and better or more successful. He came to save us from our sins, to forgive us and transform us, to transfer us from death to life and from the kingdom of Satan to the Kingdom of God. That’s the gospel. He came so we could die to our old rebellious ways and live new lives of obedience in Him.”[5]

Dr. Brown continues,

“The biblical gospel proclaims that human beings are terribly sinful, and that God’s grace is truly amazing. The American gospel proclaims that lost sinners are truly amazing and that any talk of God’s judgment is really terrible.”[6]

Concerning God’s grace, Brown writes,

“It is absolutely true that God has not appointed us for wrath but to obtain salvation (see 1 Thess. 5:9) and that we are under grace, not law (see John 1:17; Rom. 6:14). But it is also absolutely true that God still judges here and now, during this age.2 The New Testament, from Jesus to Paul to Revelation, speaks frequently of the coming wrath, warning us not to partake in the deeds of the ungodly, because that wrath will fall on them.3 As Revelation warns God’s people living in Babylon, “ ‘Come out of her, my people,’ so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes” (Rev. 18:4-5). This, too, is New Testament truth. It also explains why Jesus spoke far more about the fires of hell than the blessings of heaven. We need to be awakened.”[7]

I’ll continue next week with part two of United with Christ in our Ephesian series, The Glory of Christ and His Church.

Have a Blessed and Safe Thanksgiving!

For a deeper look at this topic, watch the Passion Church message “The Glory of Christ and His Church: United With Christ”:


[1] Wright, Prison Letters, 17.

[2] Mark A. Holmes, Ephesians: A Bible Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition (Indianapolis, IN: Wesleyan Publishing House, 1997), 74.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Brown, PhD, Michael L. Revival or We Die (p. 193). Destiny Image, Inc. Kindle Edition.

[5] Brown, PhD, Michael L. Revival or We Die (p. 51). Destiny Image, Inc. Kindle Edition.

[6] Ibid., 48-49.

[7] Ibid. 37-38

Bob Sawvelle

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