Recognizing our sorry state • Ephesians 2:1-10
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)
Paul here describes how his readers were previously, before Christ. In their former state they were dead, not physically, but dead in the sense in which Adam and Eve were dead the moment they ate from the forbidden tree. Inside them, purity died, all the good and perfect things God had created them for. Unity with each other died as did unity with God. Peace and joy died.
Paul explains what he means when he describes them as “dead.” Their death had to do with their trespasses and sins, with all those things they did daily that they knew weren’t good, that they understood perfectly they shouldn’t do, but which they did anyway. Their bodies were alive, but inside their hearts they were dead, governed by a sin they were unable to conquer. Paul’s readers allowed themselves to be carried by a whole series of influences when they lived this “death” existence. They walked in their sins, carried by the current of this world that is also sin-filled.
They were also carried by the desires of a mysterious figure that Paul describes here as “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” Again we see the serpent from the Garden of Eden rearing its head. The Ancient Serpent, whose punishment for deceiving was a perpetual enmity against woman and her progeny, continues with its work of destruction, continues encouraging us to draw further and further away from God, to focus more and more on our own self-centered destructive desires. He has great influence in our world. Paul’s readers lived dragged along by an entire humanity given over to hearing and following the advice of our enemy Satan, tied up by sin and led like lambs to the slaughter.
What else guided their footsteps? What determined the choices they made? Who counseled them in their waltz to destruction? They were guided by their own selfish desires and physical passions, governed by their justifying reasonings and their appetites. Paul uses the phrase “the passions of our flesh.” In Paul’s writings, the term “flesh” is used to describe an animal existence, a life lived as though God were not a part of the picture. Notice his words to the Corinthian believers in 1 Cor. 3:3 • You are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For Paul, flesh = merely human, human minus the divine. For the only creatures in all creation imbued with the image of God, nothing is more tragic than a life reduced to the status of mere flesh. They lived like meat, like animated flesh, nothing more. Nothing numinous going on here, no communion with God, no spirit, only meat. They lived as children of wrath, people whose only inheritance in this life was destruction, the just wrath of God against all evil. And make no mistake about it, for a human being to be reduced to such a state is an evil thing.
Trust me, what Paul goes on to say in the next few verses is much better news. I will be preaching on Ephesians 2:1-10 in our service this coming Sunday, September 18, 2011. Worship begins at 10:45 am. Come and join us, 3201 W 15th St. Plano, TX 75075. Video and audio of the sermon is posted during the week at our website: www.pcbcplano.org. To access the messages directly, click here.