4. From Deadness in Sin to Coming Alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-7)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (24:24)

William Blake, Eve tempted by the serpent (1799-1800)
The temptation in the garden is not the story of man vs. woman, but the story of Satan blinding humankind with his enticements. Detail of William Blake (1757-1827), "Eve tempted by the serpent" (1799-1800), gum and gold on copper, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
"1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions -- it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:1-7, with verses 8-10 included for context)


Our passage runs in the face of our culture. A generation or two ago, the culture understood the concept of sin. Today, a large portion of our culture rejects absolute truth, and consequently any concept of sin -- at least at an intellectual level. Of course, this don't stop the powerful combination of the conscience and the Holy Spirit to convict the person of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment (John 16:8-11). Consequently, many nonbelievers have a sense of guilt, but no intellectual framework in which to understand it and thus no way to relieve that guilt of sin without explaining it away -- which is ultimately unsatisfactory.

Dead in Transgressions and Sin (2:1)

But it is vital that we Christians understand what is going on. Paul writes:

"1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. (2:1-3)

Paul says that people without Christ are spiritually "dead" -- dead in transgressions and sins. Our culture doesn't even like to use the word sin. Transgression? Transgression of what?

The word "transgressions" (NIV) or "trespasses" (NRSV, KJV) is the Greek noun paraptōma, "a violation of moral standards, offense, wrongdoing, sin."1 The word, of course, assumes a divine law. "Sins" is the Greek harmatia, the most commonly used word for sin in the New Testament, literally "a missing of the mark." But the word is not used in the New Testament of trivial, involuntary mistakes, but of serious offences against God, "a departure from either human or divine standards of uprightness."2

Our culture doesn't really believe in any absolute truth, so the idea of transgression or trespass of divine law is foreign to us. But whether or not we understand or believe it, our transgressions and sins against God's holy law have made us dead to God. Spiritually dead. And whether our age understands deadness to God, they do understand and experience emptiness. No wonder our culture is so interested in spirituality and hungry for spiritual fulfillment. Yes, our culture is vulnerable to the promises of the New Age movement -- but it is also potentially open to the power of a vibrant Christian faith!

Q1. (Ephesians 2:1-3) In what sense are our non-believing friends, neighbors, and relatives "dead"? What's the difference between us and them? If we really believed that they were "dead" and subject to God's "wrath," what would we do?
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Following Satan (2:2-3)

"[... Transgressions and sins] in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath." (2:2-3)

"The power of the air" (vs. 2) is an interesting expression. "Power" (KJV, RSV) is Greek exousia, "authority," "the power exercised by rulers or others in high position by virtue of their office," then "the sphere in which the power is exercised, domain"3 "Air" is a transliteration of Greek aēr. Great airy tomes have been written about what this word signifies. The Greeks saw heaven as the abode of the gods, earth the abode of humans, and the air as the abode of the demons.4 I think this is Paul's reference: to Satan as the prince of demons. Period. Paul didn't have to adopt Greek cosmology to employ it in speech. Our God is Creator of heaven and earth and everything in between. We need not cede the atmosphere to Satan and his minions; he is a usurper of God's creation, not its rightful resident.

In our deadness, we mindlessly follow the value systems of the culture around us --"the ways of this world" (NIV) or "course of this world" (KJV, NRSV).4 Oh, we don't admit to mindlessly following, and we do so in a very deliberate, individualistic, self-deterministic way, but we have absorbed the self-centered, relativistic values of our culture, and can't help but express those.

What is really scary, however, is that in our deadness we end up following Satan, "the ruler5 of the kingdom of the air," who is the great Deceiver. In our deadness we lack discernment. Our lives are filled with the cravings of our sinful nature (vs. 3) -- desires, lusts, thoughts, jealousy, envy, strife, selfishness, you name it -- which the Tempter inflames. Elsewhere, Paul writes:

"Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey -- whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?" (Romans 6:16)

We live in the myth of neutrality. We're not following, we're leading, we tell ourselves. We make our own decisions, we insist. But we are not spiritually powerful enough to lead in this unseen "heavenly realm." We end up being led, duped, victimized, usually without our even knowing it. Our lack of commitment in itself is a commitment, a commitment to follow our whims, and the Tempter is a master of subverting selfish whims.

Verse 3 uses the word sarx, "flesh," referring to the "cravings of our sinful nature" (NIV) or the "lusts of our flesh" (KJV). The Greek word sarx is used in several senses in the New Testament: (1) literally, the skin and muscles covering our bones; (2) the body itself; (3) the human or mortal nature, then mankind, the "world" as it stands opposed to God; and (4) especially in Paul's letters, "sinful, fallen human nature."4

Children of Wrath (2:3b)

"All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath." (2:3)

The wrath of God is another of those counter-cultural concepts. We don't like judgment or judgmentalism in our relativistic society. We have gutted the idea of penal justice to exclude retribution, and are left with a rehabilitative incarceration which fails more often than not, or a society-protective incarceration which produces guilt in us for locking up so many people.

But you can't read the Bible very long until you run smack into the judgment of the righteous God. I hate all that Old Testament judgment and hell-fire and brimstone, you protest. Just give me Jesus and his love.

Have you ever read Jesus' teachings carefully? He talks more about hell and judgment than anyone else in the New Testament. We can't escape it. There's no dichotomy between the Old and New Testament God. Our God is a God who insists on justice and its consequent judgment. And if we try to live free of God's absolute law we become "objects of wrath" like the rest of mankind.

This passage calls those without God "children" (NIV, KJV) or "objects"7 (NIV) of wrath in this case, a common characteristic of being subject to God's wrath. "Wrath" (Greek orgē) is a "strong indignation directed at wrongdoing, with focus on retribution, wrath.... of God's future judgment, specifically qualified as punitive."8

Sinners by Nature (2:3)

Moreover, we are this way "by nature," Greek physis (from which we get our word "physical"). It refers to a "condition or circumstance as determined by birth, natural endowment or condition, nature, especially as inherited from one's ancestors, in contrast to status or characteristics that are acquired after birth."9

So we are being punished for something that is not our fault? you might ask. No, we are being rescued from something that has overpowered our race and victimized us, and from which we cannot escape without assistance, without a Savior. This is Augustine's concept of "original sin" found clearly in the Scriptures. But "original sin" does not mean that we don't sin. We do -- and are responsible for the sins we commit. And because of our sins, we are subject to God's wrath and judgment.

Does God blame us for something we have no control over? No. We do have control over our actions or "free will" has no meaning. But we are weak and break God's holy standards of conduct and righteousness.

In a court of law is a person pronounced "not guilty" because he was ignorant of the law? No. If he was intoxicated and couldn't control his actions? No. Because he claimed he was raised in a difficult environment and shouldn't be blamed? No. Is God fair? Yes, eminently fair. When justice is fair, we lose because we sin -- willfully at times -- against God's holy law. What we need is not justice or fairness. What we need is mercy and grace. That's all we have left to hang onto.

Verse 4 repeats the judgment of verse 1: " dead in transgressions (paraptōma10)." Our sins have produced a spiritual deadness and dullness in us.

We don't like talking about judgment against sin, do we? So why spend time talking about it? Because it gives us a needed corrective to our culture's willful blindness and sense that we can live independent of God's mercy. And it enables us to really appreciate the gracious gift of God which Paul goes on to explain in the remainder of the passage.

Q2. (Ephesians 2:1-3) Few people would knowingly follow Satan. How can people unwittingly follow Satan? In what sense are we responsible for unwitting rebellion against God? How can God, in all fairness, blame us?
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Grace and Mercy (2:4-5)

"But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions -- it is by grace you have been saved." (2:4-5)

In the previous sentence, Paul was talking about sin and judgment. Look at these contrasting words:

  • "God, who is rich in mercy."
  • "God ... who made us alive with Christ."
  • "It is by grace you have been saved."

In the next chapter in this study we'll examine God's grace in detail. But here let's get acquainted with some of the words and their meanings:

"Mercy" (Greek eleos) means "kindness or concern expressed for someone in need, compassion, mercy, pity, clemency."11

"Grace" (Greek charis) means literally "favor ... a beneficent disposition toward someone, grace, gracious help, good will."12 It describes one's attitude toward another which is unilateral, that is, one-sided, not depending upon what another does. "Grace" is not about merit or deserving, but about an unexplained love and generosity and giving on the part of the shower of that favor. Perhaps the best short definition of "grace" is "unmerited favor."

God has given us freely what we absolutely do not deserve. But notice, that this is not a new revelation of God. It amplifies the ancient revelation to Moses:

"The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin...." (Exodus 34:6-7)

Nor is this an isolated quotation, but is repeated again and again and again throughout the so-called "judgmental" Old Testament: Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:15; Psalm 103:8; Psalm 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; and Nahum 1:3.

Our rich-in-mercy God has struck again. This time where we have no basis at all of deserving mercy, he has taken the judgment we deserved upon himself in order to spare us. While we were dead ... he made us alive, an echo from Romans:

"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:6-8)

The apostle Peter reinforces this truth:

"For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God" (1 Peter 3:18a)

Coming back to our passage in Ephesians 2:5, Paul sums it up: "It is by grace you have been saved." Think once more about grace. It is favor which resides in heart of the grace-giver, not in a reaction to the action or non-action of the recipient. It is unilateral, one-sided favor which isn't dependent upon our deeds. It is "while-we-were-yet-sinners" favor. There's no other explanation for it. God's favor in Jesus Christ is neither earned or deserved. It just is.

Q3. (Ephesians 1:4-5) In verses 4 and 5, which words describe God's motivation and character? Which verbs describe what has happened to us in Christ?
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Seated with Christ in Heavenly Realms (2:6)

"And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus...." (2:6)

Greek is full of compound words. We see three such words in verses 4-6, each containing as a prefix the preposition sun- which is a "marker of accompaniment and association,"13 "together with" or "along with."

  • suzoōpoieō (sun + zoō, alive + poieō, "make"), "make alive together with someone"14 (2:4). See also Colossians 2:13.
  • sunegeirō (sun + egeriō, "awaken, lift up"), "cause someone to awaken or to rise up with another"15 (2:4). See also at Colossians 2:12; 3:1.
  • sugkathizō (sun + kathizō), "cause to sit down with someone"16 (2:6).

These words assume our union with Christ so that his action is our action, since we are in him.

God's grace is more than forgiveness of the past, it is the equipping to live now -- in the present time -- with new power, power to transform our lives and the lives of those around us.

"And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus ..." (vs. 6)

You'll notice in Ephesians 1:20-22, Jesus is exalted to the right hand of the Father "in the heavenly realms," far above all demonic and human authorities and powers, with everything "under his feet." So, if we are seated "with him in the heavenly realms" then we are elevated above the demonic and human authorities in this spiritual sense. Instead of being victimized by the enemy, we can exercise spiritual authority -- when we learn our place of authority, and learn how to exercise it -- over the enemy and make him the victim of Christ's victory again and again.

Surely, this is what this passage is intended to mean!

But the typical Christian is blind to his place of authority and power in the heavenly realms, oblivious to promises of answered prayer, with the "eyes of his heart" blinded and blinder-ed. That is why in 1:18-19 Paul prays for the Ephesians for revelation of their true hope, their true inheritance, their true power. We can't see this except by revelation from God. But, thankfully, God desires to reveal it to us.

Q4. (Ephesians 2:6) What does it mean that we are seated with Christ in "the heavenly realms"? What does this say about God's grace? What does this say about our spiritual authority? How should this knowledge affect our prayers and our boldness?
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Ages of Grace (2:7)

Disciple Lessons from Ephesians, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
All the lessons are now available as an e-book or printed book for your convenience.

Paul's soliloquy closes with God's great plan for us for "the coming ages":

"... in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus." (2:7)

God's love isn't just to "get us saved," but to continue to shower us with his love and blessings forever and ever, world without end. Amen.

We started the chapter with bad news of man's blind following of the spirit of the age -- and of Satan himself -- into spiritually-deadly "transgressions and sins" and "wrath." Not a pretty picture. But without hardly drawing a breath, Paul continues to contrast our fallen human state with our exalted grace-filled state of forgiveness and rescue, of spiritual power and authority, of long heaven-summer-days of basking in our Father's wonderful riches for us. I can't think of much better news than that!

Prayer

Father, we thank you for your incredible, undeserved love and forgiveness. What a gift to us! All we can say is "thank you." All we can do is kneel in surrender and rise to serve you. We love you. In Jesus' awesome name, "God saves," we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions -- it is by grace you have been saved." (Ephesians 2:4-5)
"And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus." (Ephesians 2:6)

References

  1. Paraptōma, BDAG 770.
  2. Harmatia, BDAG 50-51.
  3. Exousia, BDAG 352-353, meanings 4 and 6.
  4. Aiōn, "age," then "the world as a spatial concert," then perhaps Aeon as a person (BDAG 32-33). But here it probably carries the idea of "world-age" (O'Brien 158-159).
  5. Archōn, "ruler, lord, prince," here a transcendent figures such as evil spirits, the devil" (BDAG 140).
  6. Sarx, BDAG 914-916.
  7. Teknon, here expresses a Hebrew idiom that refers to "a class of persons with a specific characteristic," BDAG 994-995.
  8. Orgē, BDAG 720-721.
  9. Physis, BDAG 1069-1070.
  10. Paraptōma uses an imagery of making a false step so as to lose footing, "a violation of moral standards, offense, wrongdoing, sin" (BDAG 770, b.γ).
  11. Eleos, BDAG 316.
  12. Charis, BDAG 1079-1081.
  13. Sun, BDAG 961-963.
  14. Suzoōpoieō, BDAG 954-955.
  15. Sunegeirō, BGAD 967.
  16. Sugkathizō, BDAG 951.

Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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