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. (Ephesians 2:4–5)
From beginning to end, the Bible celebrates the love of God. He not only loves his people steadfastly and faithfully, but he is love (1 John 4:8, 16). And yet, with so many descriptions of God as loving, only one place in holy Scripture refers to his “great love”: Ephesians 2:4–5.
What is it about these verses, in this context, that warrants not only the celebration of his love but “the great love” of God?
The Dead Are Coming
First is the condition of those he loves. We were not impressive. We were not even strong. And we were not just weak, says Ephesian 2:1, but spiritually dead: “you were dead in your trespasses and sins.” The greatness of God’s love begins with the greatness of our need, and the direness of our condition apart from him. “We all once lived” in such spiritual death (Ephesians 2:3), unable to revive ourselves, unable to please God (Romans 8:8).
But God, in love, did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He didn’t meet us halfway. He didn’t wait for us to express interest. He came all the way to us where we lay, dead. He loved us, with his great love, “even when we were dead in our trespasses” (verse 5). Not only did we not deserve his favor, but we deserved his wrath (Ephesian 2:3). And yet he called us out of the grave and into the light, as he did another dead man: “Lazarus, come out” (John 11:43).
My Heart Came Alive
Second is miracle God’s love accomplished in us. How was it that our hearts came alive? Dead men don’t decide to start living again. It’s not in their power. And it’s not to their credit when a medic revives them. No, we did not raise ourselves spiritually. Nor was it a coincidence. Nor was it the work of any human. God did it. “God . . . made us alive together with Christ” (verse 4–5).
Which is why this passage mentions this precious word grace: we didn’t make our hearts alive, but God did. “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9). A living heart, made alive to God and his glory, is a gift from God. This is what grace means. “Grace” is not that he gave us the chance to do it, but that he did it for us when we could not.
His love awakened us, not our love for him. Before we had the ability to chose him, he chose us. Before we had any waking spiritual consciousness, he broke down the walls. He unbound our chains.His love awakened us.
His Love Is Greater
So, because of the depth of our condition, and because of the heights of what love accomplished in us, it is indeed a “great love” with which we’ve been loved. Rightly do we sing of the greatness and strength of such love. But greater than what? Stronger than what?
For one, his love is greater than just an offer. He not only extends an offer of forgiveness of sins, perfect righteousness in his Son, restoration with himself, enjoyment of him forever, but he works in us to awaken us to his offer. He loves us more than to just leaving it decisively in our court to choose our own way. His love is greater than just an offer. His call creates what it commands. He awakens us.
His Love Is Stronger
And his love is stronger than our grip. When God awakens us to himself, he does so forever. He gives us his Spirit to keep us. He not only awakens new life in us, but his love sustains that new life in us. He will see to it, if we are genuinely in his Son, that nothing — including our own sin, weakness, and folly — will finally separate us from him. “Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39).
How can we not rejoice to praise the God of such “great love”? The God who awakens us is more glorious than one who only offers. And the God who sustains us to the end is more glorious than one who only helps for a while. This is a love worth celebrating. This is the one who is worthy of worship, the God of “great love.”