According to Ephesians 2.1–3, we are “dead” in sin. The metaphor is an apt one. A dead person is physically unable to do anything except rot. Similarly, a spiritually dead person is incapable of saving himself. All he can do is experience further moral and spiritual decay. Our spiritual death is the bad news we need to hear about ourselves first. But it is not the last word on the subject. The last word is grace.
Here’s how Paul describes the good news:
But God, 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—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 coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2.4–7).
Conjunctions are important words in the Bible, especially in these verses. The first word of verses 4–7 is but, a conjunction that implies a strong exception to the words that precede it. And that is exactly what grace is: God’s strong exception to the deadness of our spiritual condition. Our deaths are not something that he is willing to tolerate.
Why is he unwilling? Because of our innate goodness? Obviously not! If we were innately good, we would not be spiritually dead. Instead, God takes strong exception to our spiritual deadness because he is “rich in mercy” and “because of the great love with which he loved us” (verse 4).
Now, surely you can see that such a love is amazing. It is one thing to love a living, breathing person, but another thing entirely to love a rotting corpse. It is one thing to love those who “follow” you, but we “follow” God’s enemies: “the course of this world” and “the prince of the power of the air” (verse 2). And it is one thing to love people with healthy, normal desires, but we gratify “the desires of the body [literally, flesh] and the mind” (verse 3). God’s love for us is amazing precisely because it is the exact opposite of what we deserve. And that is how theologians define grace, as God’s undeserved or unmerited favor.
How does God give us this grace? Through Jesus Christ, who—in the immortal words of Charles Wesley—“breaks the power of cancelled sin” by his death and resurrection. Our sin is canceled because of Christ’s death, which pays the penalty for our spiritual crimes: “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Ephesians 1.7). But Christ’s resurrection breaks sin’s power over our lives. We are no longer “dead in sin” but “alive together with Christ” (verse 5).
Grace is God’s “mercy,” “great love” (verse 4), and “kindness” (verse 7) toward people—like us—who deserve the opposite. No wonder it is “immeasurable.” And such good news!