The first part of chapter 2 invites us to come to a healthy awareness of our queer stories, to critique our past, and then to acknowledge God’s love for us in our past, present and future. This journey of transformation, healing and wholeness, invites us to witness to what we most fully are, which is created in Christ Jesus for good works.
Critiquing Our Past
You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.
Ephesians asks us to do something hard, but something many queer people spend a lot of our lives doing. It is vital for the Christian, according to Ephesians, to have a critical awareness of their past, and especially the times that were hardest or most painful.
To help us do this, Ephesians draws a stark contrast between our life as Christians, which should be in hope (as we saw in the previous posts), and our life without the knowledge and love of God, living as “those who are disobedient” (v.2), following not God but the figure of the devil, “the ruler of the power of the air” (v.2).
This is strong stuff, but the point that it is making is that it is important to ask the question, What was the driving force of my life when I was younger? And Ephesians tells us to ask ourselves whether we charted our own course, or whether we were merely “following the course of this world” (v.2), following what magazines, our friends or the television told us to do. It tells us to ask ourselves whether we lived intentionally, considering our path, our motives and the impact we might have on others, or whether we “lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses” (v.3), just doing what we felt like, regardless of the impact on ourselves or others.
I look back at my queer story, and those questions make me sit up and think. All of us can look back at times when we have responded to our queerness in a less than healthy way. And all of us, I think, have made bad decisions at one time or another as we have learned to live with our queerness. We have all at some time or another been foolish, or angry, or “children of wrath” (v.3) as Ephesians puts it. And an important element of our maturing in faith is this self reflection and the self-awareness it begets.
As many of us spend a lot of time learning to self-affirm, it is also important, according to Ephesians, to learn to be healthily self-critical, especially in respect of where we have come from. This is the way to appreciate where we have come to, and to chart our course for the future.
God’s love holds us tight
4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.
Note the shift in emphasis at verse 4. We’ve moved from the critical awareness of our past to an exciting and hopeful assessment of our present and future. After the acknowledgment of the difficulties of our past, comes the affirmation that God loves us, and makes us “alive together in Christ” (v.5). And this is not due to our learning to be better people or more perfect, but he does this “even when we were dead through our trespasses” (v.5). He raises us up with Jesus and enthrones us “with him in the heavenly places” (v.6), such is the transformation God seeks to effect in our state and our self-esteem. And once more, the desire of God to bestow “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us” (v.7) is emphasised. After the critical section before, all the goodness that Ephesians expounded in chapter 1 is stated again. Even in the more difficult times, God’s purposes for us are good.
But this section does more than just re-emphasise God’s goodness. It reveals something profound about God’s love for us. God is “rich in mercy” (v.4), not because he is a soft touch, but rather “out of the great love with which he loved us” (v.4), even when we are at our worst.
And in this passage, that love means three things. In our past, God has mercy, loving us in our past stumbling and fumbling, however bad it got. In our present, God makes us “alive together with Christ” (v.5), raising us out of that stumbling and fumbling, “rais[ing] us up with him and seat[ing] us with him in the heavenly places” (v.6), firmly in God’s hands and firmly in God’s love, close to the Father’s heart, where our deepest identity is certain. And in our future, God will grant us the “immeasurable riches” of all the good things he has in store for us, in this life and the next.
This is the sort of love which can sustain us, which allows hope, comfort, and self-assurance, even in the profoundly difficult experience of self-reflection and criticism. God’s love strengthens us to go back into our darkest times and darkest places, and to grow through them, as we live in the present and look to a joyous future.
A Queer Life for Good Works
8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
A healthy sense of self-assurance, of independence and self-affirmation is good. But it can go too far. Many streams of queer culture can be difficult for Christians, because they suggest that once we are free to be ourselves, we will not need anyone else. And in a certain sense they are right. When we know ourselves to be children of God – our past, present and future held in God’s hands – in a sense we do not need to be worried about what other people say. But when we seek greater self-affirmation and independence, there is a danger that we can forget the God who brought us to that better place.
After Ephesians has affirmed the good and joyful elements of the life the believers have, their hope and God’s good gifts, they are reminded that “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (vv.8-9). Whilst we can feel some sense of satisfaction in how we have lived, the good choices and relationships we have made, we must always remember that the deepest things that matter in our lives are the things that God has given us freely. And to him we must give glory.
For however self-aware, self-affirming, composed and content in our identities we become, we are, at the end of the day, “what he has made us” (v.10). We have not created ourselves: only grown a bit more into the person God has made us.
And by our faith, we are “created [again] in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (v.10). This journey of transformation, healing and wholeness is not solely for our own benefit. The blossoming of the light within us by God’s good gift carrries with it an opportunity and a duty to share that light with others, to show it to others, to be ourselves not for ourselves but “for good works” (v.10).
This is the greatest challenge of Ephesians 2:1-10. Once we have come through the painful awareness of our past, and once we have come to rejoice at the love of God and his promise of a better future, we are called to live our lives “for good works” (v.10). Just what that means for each of us in our own queer circumstances, we have to discuss and discern for ourselves.