Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 2:3a “Among whom also we all had our conversation in times
past. . .”
“Conversation” now means to talk, but originally referred to conduct, behavior, and actions. “All” believers need to look back occasionally to ponder what they were. When God first took us by the hand we were no better than any other child of disobedience. Nothing in us made God love us. We were “all,” without exception, fitter to be loathed than loved.
We “all” lived according to the world’s standards. We may not have been guilty of gross immoralities. Many believers have no terrible, outward crimes in their past. I have actually heard some believers lament this fact, saying, “I do not have a dramatic testimony.”
If you cannot look “back” to see dramatic evidence of your deliverance, then look “around.” Examine others to see what you could have been. In the sixth grade, my “patrol boy” partner, Dennis, was a kind lad. Merely a handful of years later, in a fight over a girl, Dennis blew a man into eternity. Another sixth grade friend was Bobby. When I think of him, the word “gentle” comes to mind. He also later sent a man prematurely into the presence of God. Dennis and Bobby are spending their lives in prison. They were my friends, buddies; we thought alike and enjoyed one another.
When I was a teenage preacher, two of my young friends also entered the ministry. One became involved in a mail-order scam, brought reproach upon our Savior, and is now in prison. The other chose a horrible life-style and died of AIDS. All that remains of him is ashes in an urn.
Thinking of these and others, I am reminded of George Whitefield’s remark when he saw a man being taken to the gallows, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” They who walk close to God freely confess what they could have been, or could yet become, apart from their Walking Partner.
Have you a favored place? Is yours a blessed case?
Run each step of life’s race, shouting, “Grace, only grace.”
Eph. 2:3b “. . .in the lusts of our flesh,. . .”
“Lusts” are passionate longings, strong cravings of all kinds. “Our flesh” in this context refers to our fallen sinful nature. A lost man is a drudge to the urges of his own nature. A sinful principle dominates him from within. Evil lies deep within man, in the very texture of his being.
We wage war against the world, the devil (2:2), and ourselves (2:3). People are corrupt within. Pastor Kent Hughes tells of a little girl who was disciplined by her mother for kicking her brother in the shins and then pulling his hair. The mother asked, “Sally, why did you let the Devil make you kick your little brother and pull his hair?” Sally answered, “The Devil made me kick him, but pulling his hair was my idea!” This quaintly illustrates a sad truth. We are swayed by the world, the devil, and “our flesh,” a depraved nature which tries to dictate life without reference to God.
Eph. 2:3c “. . .fulfilling the desires of the flesh. . .”
“The lusts of our flesh” manifest themselves in two ways: through “desires of the flesh” and desires “of the mind.”
In the previous phrase (2:3b), “flesh” pointed to man in his totality. In the present phrase, “flesh” bears a different connotation. When used in conjunction with “mind,” the intellectual part of man, “flesh” refers to the sensual part of our being, our animal appetites. Wanting food, water, sleep, happiness, pleasure, sex, to be attractive–these are essential parts of our bodily, animal nature. They are God-given cravings, but our sinful human nature tries to distort them into obsessions.
“Desires” is the same word used in Acts 13:22 to describe God’s “will.” The word denotes a will which impels to action. “Desires of the flesh” make demands and assert themselves. They become a drive, a compelling force.
Nothing is wrong with wanting food and drink, but if we are gluttonous, if we live to eat and drink, we are all wrong. We all need sleep, but laziness ruins a man. It is okay to seek happiness and pleasure, but when a hobby or past-time takes away from spiritual things, it must be curbed. The sex urge is normal, but must be satisfied only within marriage.
It is good to be attractive, within the limits of modesty and humility. Something is wrong if having on your clothes a label which says “Christian Dior” is more important than having on your lifestyle a label which says “Christian.” “Guess” written on your sweater is okay, but no one should have to guess about to Whom you belong. Wear perfume and cologne–we all need it–but also don a lifestyle which lifts a fragrant aroma unto God.
Physical desires dominate the unbeliever, but should be controlled by God’s grace within the Christian. Our affections must not become “inordinate” (CL 3:5), not ordered, uncontrolled. They must ever be “subordinate,” under order, under the Spirit’s control.
Eph. 2:3d “. . .and of the mind;. . .”
A desire “of the mind” is any thought which absorbs and governs one’s attention, thereby keeping it from dwelling on God. Many of the unregenerate do not curse, murder, steal, etc. They thus think they are not bound by “lusts of the flesh” (2:3b). They overlook this second manifestation of their lusts, but a cultured lost man is as lost as a reprobate.
Desires of the mind are less visible than desires of the flesh, but equally horrendous. Our thoughts are as troublesome as our deeds. Our flesh manifests itself in ways mental as well as physical. There are inner, intellectual lusts–pride, sinful ambition, anger, bitterness, hatred, jealousy, envy, hostility to the revealed truth of God.
The mind’s desire for prestige, for place, for status has destroyed many. Unbridled ambition brought Richard Nixon to his knees. The lust for success and importance drives many to ruin. Petrified at the thought of failure, they work too long and too hard, building a financial empire on the rubble of a lonely, devastated family. Lorne Greene, the actor, once said a wife should work outside the home only to the extent it will not hurt the family. He then added, the same principle applied to the husband as well.
The mind’s desire for learning causes many to make an icon of knowledge. An insatiable thirst to intake data can crowd out time for prayer, meditation, and Bible study. I was once so proud of all the magazines I regularly read that I listed them by name in my diary to be impressive. Beware! This quest for knowledge can become a substitute for more important matters. I am not degrading education and learning. I encourage you to get so many degrees that you need to change your middle name to “Thermometer.” I am merely saying keep these things in their proper place.
Another desire of the mind is the urge to be independent of God. Some sophisticates see themselves above adultery, murder, and stealing, but not above making their own mind a substitute for God. They do not wallow in crime, but do not hesitate to follow lead of their own unregenerate ego, wherever it leads. Being self-satisfied and self-sufficient is the height of sin. Nothing is more brazen than to feel no need for the grace of God. No sin of the flesh compares to declaring one’s self independent of God, or believing Christ did not need to die on Calvary.
Many are driven by another desire of the mind, a craving for something new. Casting aside the contentment found in God, people are often swept along by an ungodly boredom, a restlessness of the mind which causes them to be ever seeking a new thrill. Oscar Wilde, one of the most gifted writers of the nineteenth century, cast off the ways of God. He scorned the Puritan ideas of earnestness and sincerity. At age forty, he was at the height of his career, he had three hit plays running at the same time, but his life began to unravel. He was taken in homosexuality and thrown into prison. He wrote of his ruined life, “The gods had given me almost everything. But I let myself be lured into long spells of senseless and sensual ease. . . .Tired of being on the heights I deliberately went to the depths in search for new sensation. . . .I allowed pleasure to dominate me. I ended in horrible disgrace.” His health broken, he died three years later.
Never underestimate the damage which can be done by the desires of our mind. We often stress outer things while downplaying inner things, but as a man “thinketh in his heart, so is he” (PR 23:7). “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (PR 4:23).
Ultimately, the war between evil and good begins in the mind. If you would win a war, it is best to do well at the beginning. It took our country six months to begin to recover from our poor start at Pearl Harbor in World War II. To win the “moral” war, guard your inner thoughts. “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (PS 119:11). “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things; and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things” (MT 12:34b-35).
This being the case, keep the heart clean. What we read, hear, and see on TV does make a difference. Keep out the filth! Whatsoever things are honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report; if there be any virtue and praise, think on these things (PH 4:8).
The lost are bound by lusts of the flesh, but believers have victory. The flesh still harasses us, but is no longer in the center of our lives. The flesh has been dethroned within Christians. Only one thing can accomplish this dethronement: God’s regenerating power in Jesus Christ.