The syntax of verses 1-7 is amazing. Verses 1-2 center in the direct object of the verb. "Us" is the direct object. Verse 2 is a clause which describes a way of life. It appears again in verse 10. The way of life here is in keeping with this world age and Satan who is the ruler of the unbelievers. In verse 3 the way of life is governed by sinful lusts and thoughts. This resulted in their being "wrath children" just like all the heathen. Thus far the complete direct object.
Now, in verse 4, the subject is introduced. The triple verb, all with prefix "with," is found in verses 5-6. Verse 7 is a purpose clause which goes back to the three verbs. Verses 8-9 are a self-contained sentence which explains verses 1-7. Verse 10 is another sentence which explains what precedes.
Note how Paul switches from one person to another in these verses. This is obviously done so that it is crystal clear that God is no respecter of persons. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. But, likewise, all are saved by grace alone.
Note the frequency with which the preposition "in" occurs. Note also the phrase "in Christ." In verse 6 it is in the area of justification. In verse 7 it refers to the kingdom of glory. And in verse 10 it refers to sanctification.
Verses 1-10 tell us much about the true nature of man and also about the true nature of God. It is a beautiful text, well-known to most Christians. It deserves careful exposition and preaching.
All our versions translate with "but" because of the great contrast between verses 1-3 and 4. "Mercy" is the first of four attributes of God in verses 4-8. "Mercy" is the benevolence of God toward the wretched. The wretched have been described in verses 1-3. Here the subject "God" is introduced.
Tappert 114:54-56: Scripture contains many pleas for mercy, and the holy Fathers often say that we are saved by mercy. And so at every mention of mercy we must remember that this requires faith, which accepts the promise of mercy. Similarly, at every mention of faith we are also thinking of its object, the promised mercy. For faith does not justify or save because it is a good work in itself, but only because it accepts the promised mercy.
Now a second quality of God is introduced.
Bengel: Mercy removes misery. Love confers salvation.
Lenski: Paul uses the three terms: 'love, mercy, grace.' While they a synonymous, each is distinctive . . . Love is the broadest: as in 1:4 it is the love of fullest comprehension and corresponding purpose. It sees all our deadness, and is moved to bring us to life.
"Even when we were dead" brings out the great contrast. God, in His great love, did what He did because of our lamentable dead condition.
Tappert 470.3: As little as a corpse can quicken itself to bodily, earthly life, so little can man who through sin is spiritually dead raise himself to spiritual life, as it is written, 'When we were dead through our trespasses, he made us alive together with Christ.'
The text is speaking of conversion, the bestowal of spiritual life. What happened to Christ physically 2,000 years ago, happened to me spiritually when I was converted. All three verbs in verses 5 and 6 have the prefix "with." Together with Christ I was quickened, raised, and seated in the heavenlies. This is incomprehensible to me but it has truly happened.
Kretzmann: As Christ entered into a new manner of existence so we were made partakers of this life according to our spirit.
Stoeckhardt: The new life of regeneration is life from the life of Christ. . . . Christ is the heavenly man, 1 Corinthians 15:48. And we are through our conversion according to the spirit translated with Him into this heavenly status.
And now, at the end of verse 5, Paul introduces a parenthesis which will be expanded in verse 8: "By grace you have lastingly been saved." Paul is speaking about conversion and the continuance thereof throughout life.
Lenski: Grace is this love as extended to us sinners in our guilt and unworthiness, pardoning the guilt for Christ's sake in spite of our unworthiness.
God's love caused Christ's vivification, resurrection, and session at God's right hand. The benefits of this love were made possible for us through our faith union with Christ. In Christ Jesus God's love converted me, raised me from spiritual death, and caused me to sit in the heavenlies.
Bengel: He does not say 'on the right hand.' This pre-eminence is left to Christ.
Stoeckhardt: The sitting on the right of God is Christ's exclusive prerogative.
Lenski: In 1:3 and 20 the context indicates that the heaven of glory is meant; here evidently the Kingdom of God on earth is the meaning . . . The kingdom of the heavens (Matthew's expression), established here on earth, is heavenly throughout, and not of this world, John 18:36. It is the threshold of the Kingdom of glory, and is located wherever God's grace has sway.
All this surpasses our faint understanding. We shall begin to understand only when we are translated to glory. AAT simply renders "the heavenly realms" with "in heaven." KJV, NKJV, RSV, and NASB read "in heavenly places." By faith I am already sitting next to Christ in heaven. Think on that! The translations of this verse in TEV and NEB are not recommended.
This entire verse is a purpose clause which depends on the triple verb in verses 5 and 6. The subjunctive is middle voice: "In order that He Himself might show." We must remember that all subjunctives are future from the standpoint of the leading verb. The first "in" phrase is temporal, informing us when He will show. Then follows the direct object. The second "in" phrase denotes manner. It tells us how He will show it. And the verse tells us to whom he will show it. And the third "in" phrase very likely modifies everything in the entire purpose clause. It became possible for God to show us the wealth of His grace in his kindness only in Christ Jesus and our union with Him by faith.
Lenski: Paul adds a fourth verb, defined as benignity and sweetness, such as invites to familiar intercourse and sweet converse, and bestows all manner of good. Christ's ministry was full of this quality of grace . . . In the eons to come the benignity of God will display itself in still higher ways . . . Even in the eons to come all will be pure grace, undeserved favor.
Kretzmann: When the ages of this world come to an end then we shall experience the full riches of the grace of God.
Bengel: The plural 'ages' in opposition to the one bad age, verse 2, which blessed ages effectually supplant.
TEV wrongly translates: "for all time to come." The text is speaking of eternal life. Nowhere else in the New Testament does the expression "incomparable riches" occur. The versions variously render this with "immeasurable, incomparable, surpassing, exceeding." People clamor for earthly wealth in this life. But in heaven God will show us the wealth of His grace to which we apply the four adjectives mentioned above. And how will He do it? In the very sweetest manner. We like to have people be nice to us. That is only a faint picture of what heaven will be like. This verse is powerful beyond description.
Here begins an explanatory subparagraph. Now we have a fuller explanation of the parenthetical clause introduced in verse 5. The article "it" is the article of previous reference. We have a perfect periphrastic which denotes a state begun at conversion but which is endless. "Through" begins to expand the statement. The remainder of the verse is an explanation of what precedes in the verse.
Synergism and salvation by works and merit are totally excluded. "Of God is the gift." The gift is everything mentioned in verses 4-7. One never earns or works for a gift. In fact, a true gift is not even deserved.
The Book of Concord, Tappert 474.10: We believe, teach, and confess that if we should preserve the pure doctrine concerning the righteousness of faith before God, we must give special attention to the 'exclusive terms,' that is, to those words of the holy apostle Paul which separate the merit of Christ completely from our own works and give all glory to Christ alone. Thus the holy apostle Paul uses such expressions as 'by grace,' 'without merit,' 'without the law,' 'without works,' 'not by works,' etc. All these expressions say in effect that we become righteous and are saved 'alone by faith' in Christ.
AAT translates the second part of this verse: "You didn't do it. It is God's gift." The synergism of non-Lutherans is as much a danger as is the work-righteousness of Rome. Sola fide and sola gratia are correlatives. That leads us to the next verse.
How the synergists and Pelagians can maintain their false doctrines in view of this verse is incomprehensible. All boasting is excluded. Even the good works in sanctification are works which God prepared, verse 10. How could conversion and justifying faith possible be a product of man's endeavor?
Lenski: Nothing so militates against God's grace and what it does in saving us as the boasting of self-righteousness, the falsehood of Pelagianism and of synergism. To know what grace is, and to have saving faith in that grace, is to glory only in the Lord, 1 Corinthians 1:31.
Since the fall into sin man has been a braggart. Read Luther's marvelous comments on Paul's exhortation: "Let us not be vainglorious" Galatians 5:26, pp. 97-104 in Volume 27 of Luther's Works, American Edition. Luther stresses the fact that self-glory is an unavoidable cross for all of us. But the scenes of heaven, pictured for us in the book of Revelation are one long Soli Deo Gloria.
In verse 9 "God," emphatically placed forward, reminds us that conversion and justification are wholly of God. And now in this verse, "of Him," [in Greek, translated by NIV with "God"] again placed emphatically forward, reminds us of the monergism of sanctification. The verse begins with "for." This verse further explains that simply everything, even what we do, our entire sanctification, is "of Him." "Workmanship" is a work of art. I am God's work of art. The artist has worked hard and long on this product. The create means to make out of nothing. For the third time we have the phrase "in Christ." By our union with Christ by faith we have been created as a work of art, each of us. For what purpose? For good works. "Good" means "beneficial." The Christian's "works" are beneficial to neighbor, God, and self. God prepared the works in advance. I can understand that as little as I can understand my initial physical creation and my subsequent spiritual creation. For what purpose? This is answered by "for us to do."
Bengel: That we should walk, not that we should be saved or we should live.
As in verse 2 "walk" denotes one's entire walk of life, one's way of life. The Romans called it modua vivendi. It is true that God prepared us for a life of sanctification. But this verse is saying that God prepared beforehand the very works which the Christian does. We are reminded of what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Galatians 6:15. "In Christ" I am a new "creation," a creation which did not exist previously.
Kretzmann: These good works have been made ready and set forth by God before we ever thought of performing them. God is the unseen Source from which the good works spring. His creative power is their final explanation.
Tappert 552.7: Truly good works are not done by a person's own natural powers but only after a person has been reconciled to God through faith and renewed through the Holy Spirit, or, as St. Paul says, 'has been created in Christ Jesus for good works,' etc.
The translations of TEV and JB of this verse are not recommended.
Stoeckhardt: We walk as Christ walked.
Sometimes a Christian stands in awe of his own Christian living, not that he boasts about it but because it is God's work of art. Soli Deo Gloria!!!