But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
History and Context:
Ephesians is one of four of Paul's letters which scholars believe were written from his time in prison in Rome. The other three are Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. It is very different in style than his other letters because it does not have the traditional greetings and it does not seem to deal with specific issues of that particular church. In fact the style is more like a general sermon than a letter and it very well could've been sent to various churches in the area of what is now western Turkey. The Ephesian church was clearly made up of mostly Gentiles who seemed to look down on the Jewish Christians. Paul stresses in his letter that we are all one in Christ and noone should look down on the other.
There is a lot to be said in this passage. It talks about how sin made us dead but Christ brought us life. Biblical death is generally portrayed as seperation from God. God is the true source of life and therefore seperation from Him is death. For this reason sin brings death as it seperates us from Him, but Christ conquered and took away that seperation if we only accept the free "gift of God". The point of this passage is to show that we have done nothing to earn our salvation, therefore we have no grounds to boast. We should not think we are better than anyone because we are all in the same boat, needing God's grace and mercy in order to be with Him. Some of us have found it and others have not, that is the only difference. But even though we were not saved by our works, Paul reminds us that God's plan is that we do good works. He says that we were created for good works, and that God had prepared them before hand so that we could walk in them. We still have the choice whether we walk in them or not, but they are there prepared waiting for us to choose to step into them.
Understand that you have not done anything to earn your salvation. God's grace is there for you, but it is also there for those around you. Once you have this understanding start seeking God for what works He prepared for you already. Do these good works not as an attempt to earn your salvation, but simply because you love God and trust Him that His way is the best way for your life.
Lord, thank you for this free gift! Thank you for your grace and your mercy! Help me to see the plans that you have already laid out for me. Help me to walk in them. Thank you Lord, In Jesus' name, Amen!