Have you ever noticed that you don’t have to train your children to do something wrong? That first time they disobey you, you didn’t tell them to do that. They just did it. We didn’t have to tell our daughter that she should be jealous of the attention that James was getting. We didn’t have to tell her to start hitting James, either. Why is this? Why didn’t we have to tell her about these things? For that matter, let’s broaden the question: “Why don’t people want Jesus Christ? Why don’t they come to faith in Christ?” What’s their problem? What’s our problem? For that matter, what is the world’s problem? In a word, sin. That is the problem. But we must be careful to define our terms. Sin means breaking God’s law, yes. However, sin also means our sin nature, inherited from Adam. Just as a child inherits blue eyes from his parents, so also he inherits sin from his parents, who inherited sin from their parents, and so on all the way back to Adam. This is Adam’s legacy, and this is what Paul is telling us here in the first part of chapter 2.
In chapter 1, Paul told us about the salvation that has been accomplished by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Paul then gave thanks for the faith of the Ephesian believers, and prayed that they might know God better, especially Jesus Christ, who has gone before us into heaven, and to whom all things are now subject.
Now, in chapter 2, Paul wants to remind us what we were before we became Christians. And before we get into the details of what Paul says, we must note that there are three views about the state of human beings. The first view is that there is nothing wrong with mankind. Maybe he needs a little education, but by and large, man is okay. There is a name for this belief: it is called Pelagianism, and was condemned by the entire church during the time of Augustine, who fought Pelagius tooth and nail. Pelagianism is utter heresy. I remember my pastor went to another church and the minister said that all was right with the world. My pastor wanted to go up to the minister, shake him by his black robe, and yell at him, “What are you wearing that robe for?” Everything is most certainly not all right with the world.
The second main view (and probably the most common) is that mankind is sick. With all due respect, (since I disagree with this view) Billy Graham holds to this view. You are sick, and the doctor comes along, and holds out to you the medicine. All you have to do is raise your hand and take it. Now, I do believe that God can convert someone to the true faith, despite this unfortunate way of putting things. Another way of putting this view is that your are drowning, and God throws to you a life-raft, and all you have to do is grab hold of the life-raft.
Then, there is the third view, which is the biblical view. It is the most pessimistic view of mankind, and therefore, the most realistic, and this view states that we are not sick, and certainly not well, but rather dead. We are not sick and merely need to reach out and grasp the medicine. Rather, we are already dead. We are not drowning, but rather lying at the bottom of the ocean as fish food. This is what Paul says here, “you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” He doesn’t say, “You were sick,” and he certainly doesn’t say, “You were fine.” No, he says that we were all dead. Of course, he does not mean physical death. We were walking around, breathing, and committing sin. One has to be physically alive to do that. But in terms of our spiritual relationship to God, we were dead. We were the living dead, more like zombies and corpses than like living humans. Does the picture of a zombie make you uncomfortable? Then so must the picture of our spiritual state before God worked in our lives.
Like many good, fine preachers, Paul speaks of our spiritual state in three points. We were dead because of the world, because of the devil, and because of the flesh. Firstly, we were dead in sin because of the world. It says that “we followed the ways of this world.” Again, as we have seen before, the word is “age.” We saw how the two ages are overlapping in Paul’s thought. We saw that the former age, or “this age” is the evil age. The world belongs to it. They want their heaven now. Of course, the result is that they have momentary pleasures, but nothing lasting, except eternal condemnation.
Secondly, Paul says that we were dead in sin because of the devil. Now, here we must be careful. The old excuse, “the devil made me do it” will not work with God. And we recognize this ourselves, if we come to think about it. To illustrate, a little girl was disciplined for kicking her brother in the shins and then pulling his hair. When her mother asked her why she let the devil make her kick her brother and pull his hair, she replied, “The devil made me kick him, but pulling his hair was my idea!” We know that the devil cannot force anyone to commit sin. No, his method is temptation. He presents the possibility. This is certainly evil. It is what he did in the Garden of Eden. He tempted Adam and Eve. That is what he does today as well. He puts ideas before your mind. Notice here that Satan is described as the ruler of the kingdom of the air. Scholars are not united on what this means, but I think that Calvin is closest to the mark when he says, “He speaks purposely of the air to make us understand that they are above our heads.” That is, the spirits are above us in power. We should not underestimate them. C.S. Lewis once said that the two great dangers regarding demons are that we either deny their existence or ascribe to them power belonging only to God. Either way, demons are happy. But if they inhabit the air (and not heaven or the earth: nor are they non-existent), then we will place them properly. This is important. Satan is not the equal of God, much as he would like us to think. But we must also say that he exists, along with all the demons. Many people today do not believe in anything that they cannot see. That is a very dangerous error which will find them out eventually.
The third reason that we are dead in sin is our flesh, our own sin nature. Paul says that we used to walk in sin. That is, sin used to be our way of life. Then, in verse 3, Paul says that we used to gratify the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. We have a sinful nature that is ours because we are descended from Adam. This doctrine of a sin nature is known as original sin. Original sin is not canceled out at baptism. We were born with it. As David says in Psalm 51, “In sin did my mother conceive me.” That does not refer to the act of conception, but to the fact that David has always been sinful, sinful from the time his mother conceived him. So, if one asks the question of how many sins it takes to make one liable to the punishment of hell, the answer is zero. We deserve it already in the womb, because of our sin nature, which is itself sinful. If a person were to say that their child was born free from that sin nature, and that children are born with a blank slate, that person would not be speaking the truth. The Bible says that in this fallen world, we are born with a sin nature, and that we had that sin nature even from conception.
As if this picture of mankind was not bad enough, Paul describes it as being even worse. Not only are we dead in our transgressions, not only were we sinful by nature, but furthermore, we are objects of God’s wrath. Literally, we are children of wrath. The idea of children is that there is a close relationship between parent and child. So, rather than saying that we are by nature the children of God, having a good close relationship with God, Paul says that we have a good, close relationship with God’s wrath. God’s wrath is not a popular subject these days. However, it is essential that we talk and preach about the wrath of God. Without knowing the wrath of God, which is bad news for us, we would never know God’s love, the good news. Otherwise, why do we evangelize? If everything is fine with the world, then the world doesn’t need Jesus. If people are even sick, there is less need for a miracle than if the person is dead, and about to suffer God’s just wrath. How do we know about God’s love? How do we know how wide, deep, broad, and high is the love of God? Only by knowing just how angry God is with sinners. Even though our sermon text is the first three verses, Paul does not stop here. Verse 4 gives us the glorious good news. We have had plenty of bad news about ourselves. But Paul does not leave us there, wallowing in our sins, but he tells us of the love of God. God’s wrath is the reason He sent Jesus to earth. It was so that Jesus would bear that wrath for us. It was so that we could get a new nature implanted in us by the Holy Spirit. It was so that Satan would no longer be able to deceive us. It was so that we would have an alternative to the world’s way of doing things. So the three great problems with our sin, namely, the world, the flesh, and the devil, would have an answer in Jesus Christ. Jesus deals with the world by creating His church. He deals with the flesh by implanting in us the Holy Spirit. He deals with Satan and the demons by conquering them in His resurrection from the dead. Is Jesus your answer? Has He done these things for you? If Christ has not resurrected your soul from spiritual death, then you must realize your utter peril here this morning. Realize that your life totters on the brink of utter ruin, and that only Jesus can save you from the coming wrath of God. Of course, the wrath of God is not some fly-off-the-handle, kind of rage. Rather it is the flip side of His love. How else would God respond to someone who spurns the love of God? We must not attribute human rage and anger to the wrath of God. The wrath of God is holy, just and good. It is a measure of God’s holiness and justice, when God’s law has been broken. Therefore, you cannot put the blame on God for your predicament. God’s wrath has not over-reacted at all. And you do not know if you will be alive tomorrow. Flee to Jesus, and discover the love of God!
The best application of this passage besides the Gospel call comes in the relationship of God’s wrath to evangelism. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “Why is it that people are not Christians and not members of the Christian Church? Why does the Lord Jesus Christ not come into their calculations at all? In the last analysis there is only one answer to that question: they do not believe in Him because they have never seen any need of Him. And they have never seen any need of Him because they have never realized that they are sinners. And they have never realized that they are sinners because they have never realized the truth about the holiness of God and the justice and the righteousness of God; they have never known anything about God as the Judge eternal and about the wrath of God against the sin of man. So you see this doctrine is essential in evangelism.” Are we telling people to flee from the wrath to come? People might say, “Oh, what an unloving thing to say.” Actually, it is the most loving thing to say, since it is the truth. You wouldn’t think that doctor was doing his job, if you had an aggressive, dangerous cancer that needed treatment, but he said, “Oh, nothing’s wrong with you, you’re just fine.” You would think that that was a very unloving thing to say. In the same way, millions are perishing because they do not have the truth. We must reclaim the doctrine of God’s wrath against sinful humanity, if we are to be able also to give people the good news of Jesus Christ.