“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:1-3).
We are undeserving sinners saved by grace; there is nothing good in our hearts, and there is nothing good coming out of us toward God. Our sinful worship is motivated by selfishness. And this all pointedly says, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked . . .” (2:1-2a). Without Christ, we are dead. The Bible says this several different ways: we are in darkness (cf. 1 John 1:5-10), we are children of wrath and sons of disobedience (cf. Eph 2:2, 3), our hearts are hardened like stone (cf. Mark 6:51-53), we have eyes and ears but can neither see nor hear (see John 12:39-41; cf. Deut. 29:3-5, Rom. 11:7-9). Interestingly, Paul says that we were dead in the things in which we once walked; effectively, we were all like dead men walking. This does not mean that we were simply “in danger of death”; instead, Paul makes it clear that we were actively laboring in our spiritual death (Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, 219). In the Old Testament, there are a couple of instances that indicate that one could be both biologically alive and spiritually dead at the same time (Freedman, Myers, and Beck, eds., Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, 330). For example, 1 Sam. 25:37-38 says, “But it came about in the morning, when the wine had gone out of Nabal, that his wife told him these things, and his heart died within him so that he became as a stone. And about ten days later, it happened that the Lord struck Nabal, and he died.” Also, while in the belly of a great fish, Jonah says that God “brought up [his] life from the pit” (see Jon. 2:1-9). With that in mind, separation from God, including having a heart of stone, is much like death. In other words, “The verb ‘live/walk’ [periepatêsate] speaks of the pre-Christian way of life in [Eph 2:2]” along with ‘dead’ (nekrous) in v. 1 in order to colorfully insist that our unresponsiveness to the things of God is caused by our sinfulness and active rebellion. We actively sin and trespass against God because we have turned our love away from God and have given it to the things he has made and to ourselves.
“. . . Following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience . . .” (v. 2b). Our condition has overwhelmed any ability for us to do good works and cleanse our hands of the sins we have willfully committed. To make matters worse, we were following the natural course of this fallen world, following Satan who actively works “in the sons of disobedience.” Peter T. O’Brien adds that Satan’s present and active evil working in the lives of his victims is so effective that all men and women are “characterized by disobedience” (The Letter to the Ephesians, PNTC, 158, 161). To put it plainly, our radical corruption in our sin is influenced by the power of Satan and our willingness to indulge in sinful things.
“. . . Among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (v. 3). The passions of our flesh have both outweighed and destroyed our passion for God. Our position before God is complete depravity, and our hearts are dead to any Good News; and we do not deserve any Good News. We indulge in sin whether we say we like it or not. Donald Westblade, in his chapter on divine election in Pauline literature, in Still Sovereign, says that sin “has killed the human capacity for passion toward anything else but the flesh (v. 3) . . . The incapacitation is a moral one that does not hinder us physically but clouds ‘the eyes of the heart’ (1:18)” (72). Paul is not simply saying that a few people are dead in their sins and trespasses; he is saying that all people are “by nature children of wrath” (v. 3). This does not mean that we cannot create wonderful things (e.g. arts, sciences, literature), but J.C. Ryle rightly says, “the fact still remains that in spiritual things [we are] utterly ‘dead,’ and [have] no natural knowledge, or love, or fear of God” (Holiness: The Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, & Roots, 4-5). Even our best things are tainted by our fallen, sinful corruption. Both Jews and Gentiles—the first readers of Paul’s letter—and all peoples everywhere today—indulge in their sin. We are all without excuse, and we are all in desperate need of Good News.
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