Ephesians Meditations No.13
13. Our Past History
Eph 2:1-3 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 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.
We’ve seen so much already in this letter that perhaps we should have a recap here before we move on. After the initial greeting (1:1,2), Paul praised the Lord for all the blessing He has brought us through Christ (1:3) having chosen and predestined us, given us redemption, the forgiveness of sins, and revealing the mystery of His will (1:4-10). He did all this so that we might be the cause of praise to God (1:11,12) and gave us His Holy Spirit as a seal and guarantee (1:13,14). This provoked in Paul prayers of thanks (1:15,16) and a request that God would allow them to ‘see’ the wonder of His work in them (1:17-19) and how He has made Christ head of all things for the church which is his body on the earth today (1:20-23).
Now, when we come to chapter 2, it seems as if Paul realises that he strayed from speaking about their salvation to speak about the wonders of Christ and now wants to come back to focus on Christian experience again as he starts, “As for you.” Having declared the great truths of calling, predestination and redemption, it is as if he now wants to go back to basics to remind us from where we’ve come in order to emphasise the wonder of where we now are as Christians. Hence these three verses are all about the way we lived before we came to Christ. In other words he is reminding us of the need that we had for salvation.
He starts out, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” Here is a fundamental truth. Before we came to Christ and before God placed His Holy Spirit in us, we were spiritually dead. Oh yes, we see people showing some signs of interest in spiritual things but that is only because they are responding to God’s promptings in the first place. Moreover, they seem to struggle in the dark. The Bible seems a dead book and God seems a million miles away. Oh yes, He prompts them but without them receiving His Holy Spirit, they are totally lifeless (dead) in respect of God. It even needs the Holy Spirit to convict them of the truth of their plight (Jn 16:8) for they cannot see it on their own. Before we came to Christ we were spiritually dead and our lives consisted of ‘transgressions’ and ‘sins’. We ‘transgress’ when we slip off the path. It describes our more casual drifting away from God while ‘sins’ are specific acts of wrong. Most of the time we didn’t think about the nature of what we thought, said and did, but these were all acts of self-centred godlessness.
Now this wasn’t just an occasional thing. Oh no, these were things, “in which you used to live.” It was our lifestyle; it was how we were! But because we hadn’t surrendered our lives to God it was, “when you followed the ways of this world.” Yes, the truth is that the whole world is in the grips of sin, ever since the Fall, and so it is a case of having to come back to God, and until we have done that, we are just going the same way as everyone else who have also not yet come back to God. What we didn’t realise though was that the godless world is under the control “of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” i.e. Satan. John ratifies this in his first letter: “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5;19). The world mocks the thought of Satan and demons and makes him a fun creature, not realising that they are blind to the truth that, because they have given themselves over to self-centred, godless living, they are open and vulnerable to Satan’s suggestions and directions as he seeks to reinforce that state and keep them from God.
Now, in our foolishness, we sometimes try to justify ourselves and pretend that we were never like that. Paul doesn’t let us get away with that! “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” No, that included every one of us without exception. We had no idea of our true state. Paul spoke of Satan and our state when he said, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:4). The world doesn’t realise it, but submitting to Satan’s rule (his dominion – Col 1:13) means that people make Satan their god. How terrible was our plight, and we didn’t realise it!
But there was a further aspect of it: “Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” ‘Wrath’ here simply means God’s controlled and unemotional anger against sin. If you had painted a wonderful work of art, and then someone came along and spoiled it by drawing on it with a pencil, you would be rightly angry that the wonderful beauty that you had created had been spoiled. It is a natural and good reaction which emphasizes the beauty of the work, and the evil of the wrong that spoiled it. This anger is directed against the sin, and then subsequently against the person who perpetrated it, until they say sorry. God’s controlled and unemotional anger is a simple determination to deal with the sin and the sinner unless they come to their senses, and He spends the whole of their lives calling to them. If they refuse to heed him up to the point of death, then they have purposefully declared their desire not to spend eternity with God and that declaration is honoured! The moment a person responds to that call of God and turns to Him, His Holy Spirit is able to show them their true state, and they are convicted and call out for forgiveness, and so the work of salvation is brought.
That’s what we were like before we came to Christ and the more we realise the truth of that state the more we realise the wonder of our salvation and the lives we now have. So, if you’ve been in a defensive self-justifying state about yourself, don’t worry; just come into the light of God’s truth and face what you really were like and then rejoice at the wonder of what He has now made you. Be blessed!