13. Past History

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!

Rescued

EFFECTS OF THE CROSS 7 of 7

Gal 1:3,4 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father

We considered yesterday the apostle Paul saying that before we came to Christ we had been stuck in a spiritually dead life, a life that was self-centred, godless and unrighteous, and there was nothing we could do to get ourselves out of it. We thought about iron filings and a magnet and saw how it was impossible without an opposing, opposite, stronger force for those iron filings to be set free from the attraction of the magnet. The picture that we have in today’s verses comes with the same idea but, perhaps, expands on it.

Paul, here, says we were trapped in “the present evil age” and we needed rescuing from it. Again the implication is that we were incapable of getting out of it on our own. But what was he saying when he said we were trapped in the present evil age? He was actually saying that we were trapped as part of this age that is godless and unrighteous. Paul is referring to the fallen world when he speaks about this “age”. Since the Fall (see Gen 3) every human being has been born with this tendency to be self-centred and godless, and so subsequently live unrighteous lives; it’s in our genes!

So there we were, one hundred per cent part of the fallen world, unable to escape the tendency to sin – and guilty! Deep down we knew we were guilty. We may have tried to deal with our guilt in a variety of ways. Perhaps we justified why it was all right to do what we did, perhaps we said, well everyone does it (as if that makes it all right!), or perhaps we did what many people do and denied there is any right or wrong and say anything goes (but we didn’t actually believe that either!). So there we were struggling with our guilt, caught up in this self-centred, godless lifestyle that we couldn’t break free from. Helpless and hopeless!

And then Jesus stepped in and dealt with our guilt by paying the punishment for all our wrongs by his death on the Cross. If you accept this, said God, I will not hold your sin against you. Jesus will have taken it. It seemed too good to be true, but we accepted it for we were desperate. But that wasn’t enough! It was wonderful that we were told we were forgiven and cleansed but we were still the old, powerless people we’d been before. So, at the moment of true repentance, God put His own power, part of Himself, His own Holy Spirit, into you and suddenly you felt different, suddenly you were different! There was a channel within you flowing with goodness from heaven. You were still in this world but now different. You had a different motivation and a new power that enabled you to live out that new motivation. You had been rescued from the old evil world that you were part of. The past has been dealt with. The present is empowered. The future is in God’s hands. How wonderful!

(This will be the last of this brief series for the time being. We may continue it in the future)