Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 2:3f “. . .the children of wrath,. . .”
Just when we think nothing worse could be said about human beings, Paul adds another dismal fact, a truth “so overwhelming that the other descriptions actually fade into the background when placed next to it” (Boice). “Children of wrath” is the most consequential thing Paul has to say about man in sin. The other facts in 2:1-3 are important, but subordinate to this.
“The children of wrath” is the most serious phrase confronting every lost man in the world. Bankruptcy, cancer, AIDS–all these pale into insignificance when compared to this ultimate truth.
Whatever the issue, the most important factor to consider is all the Universe is what God thinks. God’s opinion is all that matters. Daniel Webster, a statesman of the first order, was considered an intellectual giant. He was once asked, “What is the greatest thought which ever entered your mind?” He replied immediately, “My responsibility to God.”
Oh that more people shared Webster’s concern. The worldling soothes his thoughts by underestimating the true terribleness of being lost. The unregenerate do not take into account original sin and their connection to Adam, nor do they take evil seriously. The lost hold a trite view of sin and thus hold a trite view of God’s wrath. They say all men are the children of God, but our text says we are all “the children of wrath.”
Due to its extreme importance, we must be sure we understand the true Biblical teaching on God’s “wrath.” Do not conceptualize fits of passion or revenge, nor envision what is vindictive or arbitrary. Avoid any thoughts based on human temper tantrums. When people get angry, faces flush, ears turn red, the body twitches, everything goes out of control. This in no way pictures the wrath of God.
God’s wrath is His holy hatred of sin, His consistent resistance to everything evil. Sin, the anti-God in man, violates God, pushes into Him; God pushes it back, as it were, into the sinner. Like a spring recoiling, violence intended against God returns to the sinner. Sin invades God; wrath is His pushing back, His settled opposition to everything opposed to Him.
God does not get angry, lose control, and lash out. Rather, in a composed and collected way, long before man was created, He put joy in righteousness, and put poison in the cup of sin. R. G. Lee called this “God’s Moral Constitution.” The fiat of God is unalterable. His wrath against evil is a law, allowing no exceptions. No sin escapes it. “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness” (RM 1:17). This consistency is what makes God’s wrath so frightening.
Having a sin nature by birth, we come under this divine sentence. The only reprieve is to receive God’s pardon by means of a second birth. The wrath of God “abideth” (JN 3:36) on the lost. “He that believeth not is condemned already” (JN 3:18). This state of wrath is too hot a climate for anyone to thrive in spiritually. This is not an environment in which good works can be planted and raised to earn merit. The whole is under wrath, wrath, wrath–a terrible word, a frightening thought, but true.
This is why life goes wrong in this world. Crossways with God by birth, we turn every blessing this earth can give into an aggravated misery. We have the uncanny ability to make the sweet sour, and to turn the ripe rotten. Why? God’s wrath is against us. We choose the cup He poisoned.
Eph. 2:3g “. . .even as others.”
This denotes the rest of mankind. Paul wants none to deem themselves exempt from his terrible indictment of the race.
We can sink no lower than the facts of Ephesians 2:1-3 have dropped us: dead, the course of this world, the prince of the power of the air, children of disobedience, lusts of the flesh, by nature the children of wrath.
I feel the urge to cover myself with sackcloth, as did Hezekiah (2 K 19:1), to smite my breast with the publican (LK 18:13), to sit in ashes with the king of Nineveh (Jonah 3:6), to grovel in the dust by David (PS 119:25), to fall on my face beside Jesus in Gethsemane (MT 26:39), to moan forever with Isaiah, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isa. 6:5).
Oh God, what shall we do? We are totally, completely, absolutely, and damnably lost. Gabriel, put aside your harp. Michael, lay down your trumpet. Jeremiah, mute your joy, weep for us, wail again, “Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there?” (JR 8:22). We, of all God’s creatures, are most miserable. Is there no healing for our broken souls?
“Dear Paul, Apostle of grace, speak to us. The picture you have drawn is dark. Our souls can bear no more. Please give us light.”
Eph. 2:4a “. . .But. . .”
Nowhere in literature is this conjunction of contrast more beautiful. The Divine counter-fact will now burst before us, brighter due to the awful contrast preceding it. Paul has said all he can stand to say about our bankrupt condition. “The great throbbing heart of this marvelous missionary, a heart so filled with compassion, can wait no longer” (Hendriksen). It is time for a marvelous change in tempo, time to recount the turning point of man’s destiny, and to sound the note of deliverance.
Eph. 2:4b “. . .God,. . .”
Look downward and manward no more; glance upward and Godward. All was bleak, “but God” entered the picture. Our plight was helpless, “but God” broke in. Our world was a room of gloom, “but God” came to radiate joy in our midst. The condition of unsaved man confronts us with a human impossibility, but what is impossible for man is possible with God.
“But God” is the unique message Christianity has to offer man in sin. “These two words, in and of themselves, in a sense contain the whole of the Gospel” (Lloyd-Jones). Christianity proclaims, “God has intervened.”
Help must come from outside man, and God has always been the true Helper. “The earth was without form, and void” (GN 1:2), “but God” brought order out of the chaos. “Darkness was upon the face of the deep” (GN 1:2), “but God” said, “Let there be light: and there was light.” Adam was a lifeless lump of clay, “but God” tenderly knelt, “and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (GN 2:7).
Israel was trapped between the Sea and Pharaoh’s army, “but God” parted the waters and drowned the enemies (EX 14:21ff). Joshua’s day was almost done without the victory won, “but God” stilled the sun and stayed the moon (JS 10:13). Three Hebrews fell bound into the fiery furnace, “but God” forbade even the smell of smoke to come upon them (DN 3:27).
Return to Ephesians 2. We were dead, “but God” quickened us. We walked according to the course of this world, “but God” set us walking on the King’s highway. His voice caused us to run toward that which beforehand we both shunned and feared (Boice). We were children of disobedience, “but God” placed a spirit of humble submission within us. The evil prince once ruled us, “but God” took the throne of our lives. Lusts of our flesh dominated us, “but God” gave us the love of His Spirit.
We were by nature children of wrath, “but God” gave His only begotten son to take our place, to suffer in our stead. The wrath of God was poured out on Christ. The sword of God’s wrath was sheathed in the scabbard of Jesus’ flesh. At Calvary Jesus did something to break the cycle of despair. He altered everything, He reversed the sentence against us.
The transforming power of God, given through repentance and faith in Jesus, makes all the difference. Barclay tells of a river ferry-boat engineer who owned an old boat which he never cleaned. The boat was filthy, the engines soiled and grimy. This engineer was unsaved, “but God” soundly converted him. First thing the engineer did was to go back to his old ferry-boat and clean it. He polished the engines until they shone like mirrors. One of his regular customers asked an explanation for the radical change. The engineer replied, “I’ve got a glory.” He wanted to do things which would bring glory to God. The engineer had found a reason to rise above his old self. He had been had been content with squalor on his boat and in his life, “but God” brought him up to a higher plane.
When George Matheson arrived as pastor in Edinburgh, one of his parishioners was an elderly lady who lived in a cellar in filthy conditions. After several months of Matheson’s preaching, a church elder called on the lady, but she had moved. The elder tracked her down, and found her living in an attic room. She was still poor and still had no luxuries, but her attic apartment was as light and airy and clean as the cellar had been dark and dismal and dirty. The elder said, “I see you’ve changed your house.” She replied, “Ay, you cannot hear George Matheson preach and live in a cellar.”
Jesus lifts from the old way. He rekindles the ideal. Our cause is humanly not remedial, “but God” has the solution. Fanny J. Crosby wrote:
Deep in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,
Feelings lie buried that grace can restore;. . .
Chords that are broken will vibrate once more.
God grant you grace to share the testimony of Luther Bridgers:
All my life was wrecked by sin and strife,
Discord filled my heart with pain,
Jesus swept across the broken strings,
Stirred the slumb’ring chords again.