Elon, North Carolina
Today, we come to one of the most important chapters in the NT. It is one of the greatest chapters in the Bible on salvation. This chapter captures the essence of the gospel. It is one of the chapters in the Bible that teaches salvation by grace through faith.
It is a one-chapter summary of the Book of Romans. Everyone knows Ephesians 2:8-9. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast (NIV).
Like most verses of the Bible, we quote it out of context. It is a good proof-text if you are talking to a Mormon or a Jehovah’s Witness. It is one verse that EVERY new Christian learns but very few people know the verse that follows that passage or the verses that come before this passage. Today, we are going to looking at Ephesians 2 and we are only going to be looking at three verses. How does these verses relate to the last chapter?
Ephesians 1 is all about what it means to be in Christ. That is a key phrase in the chapter. Many Christians do not know what it means to be in Christ and all of the blessings that are in Christ. The theme of that chapter is our riches in Christ. That chapter says that Christians are rich. We are spiritually rich. They have God’s grace lavished on them.
We were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. We were not only predestinated but adopted as sons. We are redeemed and forgiven by the blood of Christ and we are sealed by the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption. Ephesians 1 paints an incredible picture. It tells us all of the blessings we have in Christ.
Ephesians 2 tells us how we got to be in Christ and what we were like BEFORE we were in Christ. The is a description of what WE used to be like. The picture in Ephesians 1 is all POSITIVE. The picture in the beginning part of Ephesians 2 is all NEGATIVE. They are some of the darkest verses in the Bible. Nothing good is said here about man. It is all bad. The first three chapters of Romans develop these three verses.
The Nature of Man
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. (Ephesians 2:1-3 ESV)
One of the great debates in philosophy is over the nature of man. Are people basically good or are people basically evil? Are we fundamentally good or evil? There are two basic views on the question. Some believe that people are basically good. They have a few minor flaws or imperfections, but they are basically good. They may do some bad things, but they are basically good to the core.
The problem with this view is that it does not fit with reality. All you have to do is to read the newspaper or watch the news for one day. If people are basically good, then where does all the violent crime come from? Why are there rapists, murderers and serial killers in the world? If people are basically good, why was there a Holocaust? Why are there beheadings going on in the Middle East? Some believe that people go bad things, some really bad things but they are good at heart. They mean well. They just do bad things.
The other view is that people are not basically good but basically bad. Everyone in the world is a sinner. We are sinners from birth. Our problem is not just external (environment), it is internal. We are bad on the inside. We all have a bad heart. It is what the OT taught. The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT). We all suffer from heart disease.
What Did Jesus Believe?
Did Jesus believe that people were basically good or basically bad? Jesus agreed that the human heart is wicked and that sin comes from the human heart.
17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” (Matthew 15:17-20 NIV)
He called The Pharisees evil. He said to them, “You brood of vipers, how can you who are EVIL say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matthew 12:34 NIV).
That is strange. The Pharisees were outwardly moral. They were religious people and yet Jesus here called them evil. In fact, he called His own disciples evil. If you then, though you are EVIL, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13 NIV)
What about the idea that people are basically good at heart but they do bad things? Jesus said the exact opposite. He said, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit” (Matthew 7:17-18 NIV)
Our Condition Before Salvation
Paul tells us what we were like before we became Christians. It is not who were are today or what we are today. It is our spiritual condition BEFORE Christ (BC).
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.
These verses may not describe us today, but they describe most people in the world today, from God’s point of view. These verses are not easy to read. This is a scary passage. Paul uses some strong language here. He gives us a true description of the nature of man and this description is UNIVERSAL.
It describes the whole human race apart from Christ. It does not describe some of them or most of them. It describes all of them. It is a problem for BOTH Jews and Gentiles. Paul is writing to a Gentile church. He says, “And YOU were dead in the trespasses and sins in which YOU once walked, following the course of this world.” Sin is a problem for Jews as well as Gentiles. That is why Paul includes himself.
Paul was a Jew. He was a Pharisee. He was religious, but he was under God’s wrath just as much as they were before he became a Christian. He says, “among whom WE ALL once lived in the passions of OUR flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind” (Ephesians 2:3 ESV). The whole human race was sinful. Paul says that we “were by nature children of wrath, LIKE THE REST OF MANKIND.” Sin is not an American problem or a western problem. It is a human problem.
What was our spiritual condition before we were saved? Paul tells us five things about the unsaved. These are five things that were true of us before we became Christians. If we have not accepted Christ, these five things are still true of us today.
Five Characteristics of the Lost
1) The lost are SPIRITUALLY DEAD
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1 NIV)
Some believe that people are basically healthy. They have goodness inside them. They have a spark of divine. It is the “I’m okay, you’re okay” philosophy. Other people are more realistic. They would say that people are not completely healthy. Many are sick. They do crazy things. They do stupid things. They sometimes hurt other people. They have a few bad habits. They have some problems, and some are serious problems.
Paul says something else. He does not say that man is sick. He says that he is dead. He is not diseased. He is dead. Man is not just a little sick or very sick, he is dead. He is not in danger of death, he is dead. That is strange. If you take a poll of unsaved people and ask how many of them think they are dead, they will think you are crazy.
When God looks at the word, He sees a cemetery. He sees a bunch of spiritual corpses. We were all in a coffin. We were all in a tomb. Outside of Christ, all men are dead. Every man is dead. Every woman is dead. Every child is dead. People on every continent were dead. People from every race were dead. If you are not a Christian, you are spiritually dead.
It comes from sin. We were dead in trespasses and sin. Sin causes death. Sin causes spiritual death. God told Adam and Eve that the day they ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would surely die (Genesis 2:17)
The Greek word for dead means “dead” (νεκρός). It refers literally to a corpse. It refers to a dead body but it is also used metaphorically. Paul is talking about people who are not dead physically. He is talking about people who are dead spiritually. He is talking about people who are dead in trespasses and sins.
All of us were born with a dead soul. Before we got saved, our body was alive but our soul was dead. It is a really strange picture. Our hearts were pumping but we were dead. The most beautiful baby in the world is born spiritually dead.
Characteristics of Dead Things
What does this mean? What does it mean to be physically dead? If you are physically dead, you are lifeless. You are motionless. You can’t move. You cannot grow. You are inactive. You cannot do anything. You are completely powerless. You are silent. You can’t communicate with anyone and you stink. Dead things decay and stink. They do not get better. They get worse.
All of that describes the unsaved spiritually. They are spiritually lifeless. They have no relationship with God. They cannot fellowship with God. They cannot talk to God. They live a life of moral decay and depravity. Their condition gets worse, not better. Evil men will grow worse and worse (II Timothy 3:13). Spiritual death is real. The real death is spiritual death. Physical death is just a picture of spiritual death.
Paul is describing here the living dead. He describes walking dead people. As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to LIVE when you FOLLOWED the ways of this world (Ephesians 2:1-2 NIV). He says that they were alive and followed a certain path but they were dead. They were dead in one sense but alive in another sense.
Many horror movies seem to have a morbid fascination with dead. There are a lot of zombie movies. There are a lot of zombie apocalypse. Dead bodies come out of the grave. They are still dead but they come out of the graves and attack people. In fact, there is a TV show called The Living Dead about the same topic.
In Ephesians 2, we see dead men walking. Paul pictures the human race like zombies. It is a zombie race. The world is full of them. We see zombies every day. They make up the majority of mankind. There are walking dead in your town. You probably work with some walking dead people. You may live with some. They are all around us. You may even go to church with some of them. There are some zombies in the local church. Some zombies even lead churches. There are some zombie pastors in some dead zombie churches.
2) The lost are CULTURALLY PROGRAMMED
in which you once walked, FOLLOWING the course of THIS WORLD (Ephesians 2:2 ESV)
What does it mean to follow the course of this world? What does that tell us? It tells us three things. First, the world has a course. It has a path. It has a mentality and a way to think. Second, we followed this path. We did what other dead people did and thought what other dead people thought. The environment around us in society (culture) had an influence on us and this environment is completely opposed to God.
There is pressure applied to people to follow this path. We are pressured to conform to the standard of society. They are pressured to think a certain way about race (Black Lives Matter), marriage (gay marriage) and gender.
We are pressured to talk a certain way (politically correct way) so as not to offend certain marginalized groups (e.g., by using the wrong preferred pronoun). If we do not conform to the model, we are automatically labeled a racist or a bigot or a homophobe, even if it is not true. We are shamed.
Three, this course is unbiblical. It is an unchristian course. It is anti-God. This course is in rebellion to God. We did not walk according to the course set forth in Scripture. We walked according to the course set forth in this world. Jesus came to this world and he said that it hated him. It crucified Him (John 15:18).
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (I John 2:15-17 NIV)
That is why Paul tells us, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2 NIV)
3) The lost are DEMONICALLY INFLUENCED
FOLLOWING THE PRINCE OF THE POWER OF THE AIR, the spirit that is now AT WORK in the sons of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2)
This does not mean that every unsaved person is demon possessed but before we got saved, we followed Satan. We were influenced by him and there was a demonic spirit at work inside us. In fact, the Greek word for work is ἐνέργεια. That is the same word that was used in Ephesians 1. There is a power working in believers and a power working in unbelievers and the power working inside unbelievers is demonic. It is satanic.
This explains many things that happen in the world. The Holocaust was not just a bad idea. It was demonically inspired. Some feel a compulsion to commit suicide. Doctors immediately assume that they have mental problems. In many cases, it is clearly more than a medical issue. It is demonic. The devil came to steal, to kill and destroy.
In Ephesians 1, we learned that Jesus ascended into heaven and was exalted “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named” (Ephesians 1:21 ESV). Now in Ephesians 2 we learn that there is another power far below him that has incredible power on earth.
That ruler is called a spirit. It is an invisible demonic spirit. Paul does NOT name this spirit, but the spirit is Satan. Paul calls him “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2 ESV). Why was he given that name? “The ancient world apparently viewed the air between heaven and earth as the domain of spirits.”
Satan has incredible power. People follow Satan even when they cannot see him. He gets people to follow him without even being aware that they are following him. Many who follow Satan do not even believe in Satan. He does not do it by himself. He has a whole army of demons that help him to deceive people.
He deceives not just a few people. He deceives entire nations. He deceives entire religions. He deceives the whole world (Revelation 12:9), not just some hippies out in California. This serpent is cunning and crafty. He not only tricked Eve in the garden. He tricked the whole world today
People think that they are free an autonomous. They do their own thing. They make their own decision. This verse says that they are influenced by an invisible spirit being that they cannot even see. They follow this being. They follow the leader of the dead. They follow their zombie leader. They are not just dead. They are enslaved.
4) The lost are MORALLY DEPRAVED
following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the SONS OF DISOBEDIENCE— 3 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. (Ephesians 2:2-3 ESV)
Disobedience defines us. It defines who we are as a race. We were called “sons of disobedience” by God. Satan was the original rebel against God. He was disobedient. He committed the first sin and the unsaved are the sons of disobedience. They are just like him. They are disobedient in mind and in body. We cannot just blame Satan for our own actions.
We cannot just blame our environment. We all have a sin nature inside us. Our problem is not just external. It is internal. We did what everyone else is doing, what other dead people were doing. We did what the devil wanted them to do and we did what we wanted to do. We followed our own passions and lusts.
Disobedience takes many different forms. Everyone follows their own passion and lusts. Just because we are all sinners and are all disobedient does not mean that we are all rapists and ax-murders. We all sin. We all do not sin in the same way or to the same degree. There are different degrees of sin and depravity. Everyone is not as wicked as Adolf Hitler. We are NOT all mass murderers.
Some are people live outwardly moral lives. Some people have never killed anyone, never used drugs, never robbed the liquor store and never had an affair with their spouse, but they are still sinners. No matter how moral you are, if you are unsaved, you can’t have a relationship with God. You cannot fellowship with God. They live in rebellion to God. Some lived in rebellion like the Pharisees and some lived in rebellion in other ways. “Those who are in the flesh CANNOT please God” (Romans 8:8 ESV).
5) The lost are ETERNALLY CONDEMNED
Paul calls the unsaved “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). They are not only CHILDREN OF DISOBEDIENCE, they are CHILDREN OF WRATH. They are not children of God. They are children of wrath. God’s wrath will come on the unsaved. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. (Ephesians 5:6 ESV).
Some preachers teach that God does not get angry. He is not an angry God. The Bible teaches that God is angry with the wicked EVERY DAY (Psalm 7:11 KJV). That is strange. That verse says that He is not only angry with the wicked, He is angry every day. He is not only a loving father, He is also a righteous judge. The Bible talks about God’s wrath in the OT and NT, but God is not only a God of wrath, He is also a God of love. We will see that next time. The three verses today were all bad news. The next verses we look at in Ephesians will be good news.
 Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians (The NIV Application Commentary), p. 97.
 Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, 324.