Part 11 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians
You can listen to this sermon here.
"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" (2:1-3).
The Walking Dead
Have you noticed that in popular culture there is a fascination with zombies? In 2011, the CDC posted a blog post entitled Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse. (It was a joke intended to raise awareness on preparedness for emergency situations.) In case you don’t know, a zombie is a reanimated corpse. It is dead, but also walking around. What Paul says about people without Christ in 3:1-3 reminds me of zombies: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” (vv. 1-2a).
Our Former Lives
The word “once” is found twice in this passage (vv. 2, 3). In this passage, Paul describes the helpless condition of the Ephesians (and us) before conversion.
1. We were spiritually dead.
We “were dead in the trespasses and sins” (v. 1). To be spiritually dead is to be separated from God. A dead person is helpless. There is nothing he can do to make himself alive.
2. We were controlled by three evil forces.
How the Ephesians “once walked” (v. 2) refers to their former lifestyle (cf. 4:1, 17). They once lived in “trespasses and sins” because they were enslaved by two outward forces and one inward force. The first evil force is the world. We were “following the course of this world” (v. 2). The NIV says, “when you followed the ways of this world.” The values of the world are temporary, not eternal. The second evil force is the devil. We were “following the prince of the power of the air” (v. 2). The “prince of the power of the air” is obviously the devil. In Scripture, he is also known as the “prince of demons” (Matt. 9:34; 12:24; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15), the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), and the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4). The third evil force is the flesh. We were “carrying out the desires of the body and the mind” (v. 3). The “flesh” is “our fallen, self-centered human nature” (Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, p. 162). “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8). “The works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Gal. 5:19-21).
As believers, we struggle against temptation that comes from the world, the devil, and the flesh. Paul confessed, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Rom. 7:18). But as believers, we are not controlled by these evil forces. We also have the Holy Spirit within us.
3. We were destined for God's wrath.
We “were by nature children of wrath” (v. 3). Paul later warns, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things [sins] the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (5:6).
We were “sons of disobedience” (v. 2) by our actions, and we were “children of wrath” by our birth. “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and do death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12).
Everyone born into this world is destined for the wrath of God (“like the rest of mankind,” v. 3). “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).
“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” (vv. 4-5). We deserve wrath, but we were given mercy!
The seriousness of our sin magnifies the greatness of God’s grace.