Imagine you were written off as dead by your family. You have done something which has so alienated them that they decide to sever all relations with you. They will not reach out to you. They will not respond when you reach out to them. They go so far as to formally declare in your social circle that you are dead to them. It may be hard for most of us to imagine this, though I have met some people who experienced exactly this kind of rejection when they put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
As hard as it may be for you to imagine yourself in this position, by the end of our time together today, you’ll realize that you have been in this position, or, worse yet, that you still are in this position. You are not likely aware of it, but I hope to help you see it.
As we begin Ephesians 2, we find Paul reminding his readers of where they started out. We’ll see that he had a good reason for doing this. He wasn’t just trying to make them feel bad about themselves. In fact, as we see his description of them, we’ll become aware that Paul is talking about the condition of everyone of us before we receive the salvation God offers us through the sacrifice of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. So as I read this to you, think about how these things apply to you and your life.
Ephesians 2:1 “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 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 — 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.”
Wow! That’s rather depressing, don’t you think? I’m glad it’s not the whole story, but to be honest it is part of the story. It’s part of my story and it’s part of your story, either past or present. Anyway, let’s consider the facts:
Paul begins by stating plainly that, without God, we are spiritually dead – separated from the source of spiritual life. Paul realizes that this may be a revolutionary idea. Most living people aren’t used to being categorized as dead or even as having been dead.
This death is characterized by our following the ways of this world and its ruler. Most of us live our lives by the conventional wisdom of the world. This inevitably results in sin, because the world generally doesn’t accept the idea that God even exists. With that as their philosophical foundation, they conclude that since there is no God, there will be no final judgment, no heaven, and no hell. They believe that humans are just highly developed animals and that at death, our bodies return to the soil and we cease to exist as persons.
These assumptions have a profound affect on our behaviour. For example, if it is true that we have limited existence, then it is up to us to get as much good for ourselves as we possibly can. By “good” they usually mean comfort and pleasure. If there is no God, then reality is limited to what we can perceive with our senses, so we’d better get all we can get. Otherwise, other people will be getting our share.
If others who are stronger or smarter might be after our share of the good things in life, we’d better look after ourselves first. Don’t worry about breaking laws or breaking hearts. No one else is taking care of your interests, you have to do that for yourself. Since you’re putting yourself first, it’s likely that a few people might get hurt, but that’s their problem. People who get in the way deserve to be run over. If we have to trample the people who get in our way because they might be trying to get our share of the good life, then it’s their fault if they get hurt. This thinking relieves us of all responsibility.
At this point, we have become the centre of our own moral universe and, though we might say there’s no God, we know in our hearts that there is, and that god is us! There’s nothing for us to do but to simply get busy gratifying our sinful cravings, desires and thoughts, as Paul puts it. There is no pleasure or comfort which is off limits because there is no objective or absolute standard to hold us back. Our own craving, desires and thoughts become what is normal and good and we dare anyone to tell us otherwise.
Now let’s go back and look at the other factor in all of this. Not only are we following the course of this world which gives us freedom to take everything we can get, we are also following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.
Satan was the original enemy of God. He hates God and everything connected to Him. He hates the people God loves and he especially hates people who love God. In other places, the Bible speaks more of Satan. In John 8:44, Jesus said: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Then, in his first letter John affirms: “He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” (1John 3:8)
From the beginning, Satan has expressed his opposition to God through sin, particularly pride and competitiveness, by lying, that is denying the truth of what God says and replacing it with his own deceiving distortions, and by trying to take life from those to whom God has given it.
What did Paul mean when he said that the Christians in Ephesus used to follow the prince of the power of the air, the one who was still at work in everyone who was disobedient to God? Simply this, that just as the ways of the world appeal to us because they allow us to have the place of God in our own lives, the ways of Satan appeal to us because of exactly the same reason. Satan isn’t so worried about establishing a kingdom for himself. He isn’t looking for you to actively worship him. All he really wants is for you to turn away from God. He is perfectly happy when you take God’s place in your own life – anything, as long as you don’t worship God.
When we turn away from God to indulge ourselves, we sin and the Bible is very clear about what this means. Consider these verses:
Ezekiel 18:20 “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son.
Romans 6:16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
James 1:15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that there is a strong link between sin and death. We can’t hope to sin and expect to enter into eternal life. That is a logical inconsistency. Sin always leads to death. It’s just the way it is. We see the physical aspect of this regularly – people die. Their spirit is separated from their body and we put their body into the ground, where it eventually decays.
What we can’t observe with our eyes, but the Bible makes clear, is that sin separates us from God. The size of the sin doesn’t matter. Whether it’s telling a lie or murdering someone, it puts us in the place of rebellion against God. That’s not to say that humanly there’s no difference. Of course, there is and the legal system of every country in the world has different punishments for different crimes.
But consider this, when you are headed in the wrong direction, it doesn’t matter if you’re one step, ten steps or fifty steps along the way, you’re not going to get to the destination you’re hoping for. Proceeding along the wrong path can only take us farther from where we want to be. That’s what sin is about in our lives. It just takes us farther and farther away from God.
God is concerned about the direction you’re headed. Sin always takes you away from Him. It might be what society calls a “little sin” or it might be a very “big sin.” The kind of sin doesn’t matter, because all sin takes us in the wrong direction. That’s what does matter. That’s what makes us subject to death – the fact that we are headed away from God and getting farther away from Him all the time. If you’re going in the wrong direction you can go as far and as fast you want, the fact remains that you’re going the wrong way.
We love to separate actions and consequences. We all want to be the exception – the one to whom the rules don’t apply. We want to be able to walk north and arrive at a southern destination. We want to be able to walk away from God and end up in heaven when we die.
In today’s passage, we’ve seen that the same rule apply to all of us. We either were, or still are, people living in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and of the mind, and by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. I’m sorry to leave you with this bad news. Join us next time for the good news.