Eph. 2:3a “Among whom also we all had our conversation in timesPRIVATE
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 pastime 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 nature 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 the lead of their own unregenerate ego, wherever it directs. 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.
Eph. 2:3e (part one) “. . .and were by nature. . .”
Before conversion, all believers were “children of wrath” (EP 2:3f), a condition received “by nature,” or to translate the Greek word “phusei” more accurately and more straightforwardly, “by birth.” The word denotes what is inbred and innate, as opposed to what is acquired and produced by influence. “By nature” points to inclinations not developed, but inherent, springing from within the person.
Our text presents the doctrine of original sin, which I hasten to say is not the doctrine of original guilt. Infants who die do have a sin nature. Their death is the result of Adam’s sin, and had they grown to adulthood, they would all have chosen to sin. They possess a sin nature, but are free from any acts of sin, and are thus “innocents” (JR 19:4). This is one reason we Baptists do not baptize infants. We deem them free from guilt.
Man inherits a nature which makes sins inevitable, but does not become guilty of condemnation until he acts to alienate himself from God. A twisted mind might say, if this is the case, we would be doing some people a favor if we killed them as infants. This is a hellish thought. We are not allowed to do evil that good might come. Man is not God. Predestination, election–yea, salvation in every detail–is in God’s hands, not man’s.
The doctrine of original sin takes us to the very heart of what it means to be a human being. Three millennia ago, possibly when sitting under a tree while shepherding his nearby flock, David mused, “What is man?” (PS 8:4). It is a universal question. Every human being has an anthropology, an understanding of man, by which he lives. Thus, if one is wrong in his understanding of man, he will be wrong in how he lives. One reason for the dilemma we face in today’s secular society is our culture’s refusal to accept the grim, embarrassing truth about human nature.
Scripture does not paint a rosy picture of human nature. The Bible, a book of facts, minces no words and tells things the way they are. We need to face the truth about ourselves, however painful it is. Facts are facts, and we should know them, whether we like them or not. We must look to the Bible, for it is the only book which teaches “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” not only about God, but also about man.
Our text declares all men “by nature the children of wrath.” This idea is not popular today. “That is not modern talk” (Parker). The worldling dislikes it. Preachers, for fear of being labeled archaic or out of step with reality, have fallen terribly silent on this issue. Pastors often avoid what they deem “heavy theology,” which being translated is, “controversial topics.” As a result we have almost lost certain bedrock verities. If we deal only with the superficial, we end up with a shallow, trivial faith. To begin to fathom Christianity, we must deal with its grand and noble doctrines. Original sin is one of these timeless verities, and thus we have to study it.
A wise man said, “To understand anything, you must know its beginnings.” With Bible in hand, let us follow this advice to learn of our race. Adam, the first man, was unique in that the “nature” of his species was not determined in advance. Man was the only creature allowed to choose what type of nature he would transmit to his descendants. As the representative of all humanity, Adam had to make an irreversible and awesome decision.
Unfortunately, Adam chose unwisely. Originally perfect, Adam yielded to temptation, and was not the same after he sinned. Something changed inside him. He felt guilty, naked, and afraid. He hid from God, and tried to escape blame. Things went sour within. His nature became corrupt.
Adam thus transmitted to his children a self-determined, sin-defiled, nature. He begat sons “in his own image, after his own likeness” (GN 5:3). Thus, Satan did not have to “appear” to Cain as he did in Eden. Due to the transmitted flaw, Satan had a foothold within human nature itself.
Of all the billions who have proceeded from Adam by ordinary generation, not one has been found without sin. Every human being begins to sin at the instant of moral agency. This can not be coincidental. In any field of study, anything universal implies a law which produces the universal result. No one supposes anything takes place universally by accident. The phenomenon of universal sin can be adequately explained only by the doctrine of original sin. Every person is flawed from the moment of conception.
All people have skin. Why? It’s in the genes. Every human being has a heart. Why? It’s in the genes. Every human being has a brain. Why? It’s in the genes? Every human being sins. Why? It’s in the genes.
Something is wrong inside us from the first. The Bible is not alone in seeing this truth. When congratulated on the birth of his son, Nero’s father remarked that from himself and Agrippina nothing could have been born but what was hateful and for the public ruin. Plutarch recognized “a fatal portion of evil in all when born.” Shakespeare said it well, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
Every man who knows himself confesses inherent evil. Job, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Paul recognized their own innate propensity to sin. Ponder David’s self-analysis. Though a man after God’s own heart, he had seen himself commit adultery and murder. Reflecting on his heinous deeds, he agonizes, trying to understand himself. How could he do such a thing? Where can he affix blame? He finds the culprit deep in his own psyche. Hear him confess, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (PS 51:5). David was not saying his parents had engaged in immoral behavior. They were long married and had many children before David was conceived. David was talking about himself. When he was conceived, original sin immediately began coursing through his veins.
Moral disorder is ours at conception. We are wrong before we have opportunity of wrong doing. It is a fatal mistake to think of sin solely in terms of conduct rather than in terms of nature and disposition. The nature is corrupt before corruption reveals itself in thoughts, words, or deeds.
We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. We are not liars because we lie; we lie because we are liars. We are not thieves because we steal; we steal because we are thieves. No one has to teach a child to lie, steal, or be selfish. This is not learned behavior. It can be reinforced, encouraged, and made worse, but begins within the child. We are all infected by original sin. We are born with it, “as serpents bring their venom from the womb” (Calvin).
Our Master believed this. “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (MT 15:19). James (4:1) asks, “From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?”
The problem is one of nature. Dr. Criswell tells of a man in India who escaped a raging, flooding river by taking refuge on a little island. A tiger also emerged from the swift, moving current and came to the island. The tiger was scared, and cowed like a domestic cat, but the man knew what he had to do. He took his gun and killed the tiger. Why? Because he knew when the shock of the flood wore off, the tiger’s nature would take over. In time, the carnivorous tiger would inevitably try to eat the man. It was the nature of the beast. The tiger was born that way.
We, too, are born a certain way. Something in us inclines us toward evil. This does not mean men are incapable of doing kind and noble deeds. God in His mercy left enough of His image in us to enable us to live in community. I will talk more about this in my next sermon.
Original sin means we have inherited from Adam a nature which gives us all an inclination toward evil. We have a bent, a predisposition, a propensity for sin. One might say it is unfair for us to suffer for something which happened long before we were born. I disagree. Adam’s choice truly was the choice of us all. We would have done the same thing he did.
Another might claim it is unfair for God to reckon Adam’s sin against us. I answer without hesitation, “Is it fair for God to reckon your sin to the account of Christ, and is it fair for His righteousness to be reckoned to your account?” The root of our trouble is traced to someone other than ourselves, and the source of our salvation is traced to someone other than ourselves. God is just. Everyone can repudiate Adam, their first representative, and choose another representative, Jesus Christ. We have an option.
Adam was merely a man made in the image of God, but Jesus was God made in the image of man. Jesus can meet at all points the destructive consequences of Adam’s deed. It would be impossible for Adam, or the devil himself, to spew out a poison which Jesus could not negate. Christ’s antidote is more than adequate. The river of God’s grace always runs deeper and wider than the stream of man’s guilt.
The worldling views original sin as a depressing doctrine, and thus denies it or ignores it. The believer, on the other hand, acknowledges the sickness of his nature, but has received the divine remedy. In our old nature, sin was entrenched, but grace invaded.
There is nothing a man can do on his own to his old nature to improve his standing before God. Not even God tries to improve the old, Adamic nature. God instead places within believers a completely new nature to fight against the old. A man’s only hope for salvation is regeneration, a new kind of life.
Lost friend, you desperately need help. If nothing were wrong with our first birth, we would not need a second birth. Why would the Bible mention the need for a spiritual birth if nothing were wrong with the physical birth? If we were not born wrong the first time, why did Jesus say we need to be born again? Lost one, you need God as revealed in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 2:3e (part two) “. . .who were by nature. . .”
Due to Adam’s sin, each person is born with a loss of original righteousness and with an inability to reclaim it by merit. John Gill, prominent Baptist pastor and theologian of the 1700s, saw significance in the number of different names Scripture uses to describe man’s sin nature. Depravity is not trivial. It exerts extensive influence within us.
Our nature contains “sin that dwelleth in” us (RM 7:17). Its chief product is sin, a lack of conformity to the will of God. This sin is indwelling, not coming and going, not a visitor now and then, but an inhabitant which abides in every person, including saints, till physical death.
Our nature is a “body of sin” (RM 6:6b), an aggregate containing parts and members, a crawling mass of evil. “Body” expresses our sin nature as having means to express itself and wherewithal to bully us around.
Our sin nature is “the law of sin” (RM 7:23). Having force, power, and authority, our nature seeks to reign as a king, yea, as a dictator. Unless grace overcomes it, our sin nature tyrannizes us till death.
Man’s nature is called the “flesh” (RM 7:18), because it is carnal and corrupt, contrary to God’s Spirit, opposed to the principles of grace. In it dwells no good thing. Our sin nature is the “old man” (RM 6:6a), as old as every man in whom it dwells. As the first nature to inhabit every person, our “old man” begrudges the entrance of another nature.
Obviously, the doctrine of original sin is one of our foremost theological studies. It is also a most practical study, for it affects our understanding of government, society, religion, families, and individuals.
To understand government aright, one must acknowledge the doctrine of original sin, for the former is God’s way of helping us deal with the latter. God’s image, though marred, is still upon man. God left enough decency in us whereby we can be respectable citizens and good neighbors. Men have ample scruples and morals to live together in community.
People know how to be good to one another (LK 6:33), and are capable of noble deeds (LK 11:13). Nevertheless, our sin natures are so strong that if left to ourselves, chaos results. Thus, to control our baser instincts, and to accommodate for what we truly are, God instituted governments.
One reason for the success of our government in the United States has been the fact our founding fathers had a realistic view of sinful human nature. This was not the case in the French Revolution. It was based on the goodness of man and resulted in a bloodbath which continued until the iron fist of Napoleon brought order out of chaos.
Communism expounded man’s goodness. Marx saw the source of evil, not in man, but in socioeconomic forces. Russia was purged of these “evil forces,” and trust was placed in man’s nature. As a result, farmers plowed only beside roads the inspectors travelled. The system collapsed.
America’s founding fathers understood the evil nature of men. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary” (Madison, Federalist Paper Number 51). Why have government at all? “Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, without constraint” (Hamilton, Fed. Paper No. 15). Men “are ambitious, vindictive and rapacious” (Hamilton, Fed. Paper No. 6). “The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man” (Madison, Fed. Paper No. 10). Our forefathers believed government could not eliminate the cause of this problem, and thus had to deal only with its effects (Madison, Fed. Paper No. 10).
The role of government was to control not only the governed, but also to control itself (Madison, Fed. Paper No. 51). No one could be sure good men would always be in leadership, thus a government had to be built to protect the people when bad men take the helm. Checks and balances were built into our system. Human authority was diluted in such a way that no one individual could ever amass total control or wield absolute authority.
Power was diffused through many units of government–national, state, county, city. This was wise, for it emulated the practice of God Himself. At Babel, to divide centers of authority, and thus slow the progress of evil, God separated man into cultures and languages. The principle is clear, if corruption takes over in one area, it has a chance to be checked elsewhere.
The doctrine of original sin influences one’s attitude toward society. A proper understanding of man is the hope for ending racism. The Ku Klux Klan and Skinheads have to go. They are as wrong as Hell itself in claiming the superiority of one race over another. This is ridiculous, not only because we are all descended from one man, Adam, and from another, Noah, but also because we are all born with a sin nature. All are depraved. All men are equal at the foot of the cross. Calvary is the leveller of mankind.
To end sexism, understand the doctrine of original sin. Are males better than females? No. In fact, if I voiced my views of men, women would give me a standing ovation. All are equally undone apart from Jesus.
We must understand original sin to deal aright with the ills of society. If man is deemed innately good or even neutral, then all we have to do to improve man’s lot is to deal with his environment. This has been the leading secular philosophy in the United States for the past sixty years.
Man’s problems are usually analyzed in terms of education, housing, and economic betterment. These are important, but constitute only one-third of the equation of evil. We do need to deal with “the world,” but must also take into account Satan and human nature. By now our culture should be seeing that dealing with the environment is not the total answer.
If man’s only need were a perfect environment, Adam would not have sinned. He fell in Paradise. Also, if “the world” is our whole problem, we have no legitimate answer to the question, “Who taught Cain to murder?” The world gives our lusts an outlet and often encourages them, but evil tendencies and desires are all inside a person to begin with.
If we blame only society for crimes, ultimately no one is held responsible, and anarchy results. America is presently tottering dangerously close to this suicidal cliff. “The common thread running through all secular ideologies has been the focus on external forces as the sources of evil” (Dennis Prager). Society at large refuses to accept the truth that evil emanates from within human beings. We want to believe evil comes from outside us.
Thus, a murderer is not evil, he is sick, suffering from a disease received from a poor environment. A rapist is not evil, he is sick, mentally unnerved by forces at work around him. The result of such thinking is that no one is to blame for anything. Such thinking will destroy a society.
We need to avoid this error. God left enough of His image in man for him to be able to control himself in society. Man can live within the limits of imposed law and be responsible for his actions. No matter how bad the environment, ultimately choices are made in a person’s own psyche. Each individual is accountable for what he or she does.
The doctrine of original sin influences one’s attitude toward religion. Thomas Aquinas (1227-1274), the dominant theologian in Roman Catholic history, believed depravity did not affect man’s reasoning ability. Adam’s sin hurt other aspects of humanity, but the ability to reason was left intact. Aquinas’ error paved the way for thinking one could become so astute in knowledge that he could actually become infallible. The Reformers rejected this fantasy in toto. Every part of man–mind, emotions, heart, will–is tainted by the Fall. None nears infallibility. We absolutely trust only those whom the Holy Spirit protected from error while writing Scripture.
Total and absolute rejection of any belief in depravity has led some to believe religion can be dispensed with altogether. To some, man is not only good, but also self-sufficient. Humanist Manifesto I, signed in 1933 by, among others, John Dewey and the father of Vice President Mondale, sent out the call, “Religion must formulate its hopes and plans in the light of the scientific spirit and method.” God was set aside. “Man is at last becoming aware that he alone is responsible for the realization of the world of his dreams, that he has within himself the power for its achievement.”
In 1973, Humanist Manifesto II was written because the atrocities of Nazism proved Manifesto I “far too optimistic.” Manifesto II said “faith in the prayer-hearing God. . .is an unproved and outmoded faith.” The wise use of technology will “provide humankind with unparalleled opportunity for achieving an abundant and meaningful life.” “We find insufficient evidence for belief in the existence of a supernatural; it is either meaningless or irrelevant to the question of the survival and fulfillment of the human race.” “We can discover no divine purpose or providence for the human species. While there is much that we do not know, humans are responsible for what we are or will become. No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.” Signers of Manifesto II included Isaac Asimov, science fiction writer; Alan Guttmacher, President of Planned Parenthood; Lester Mondale, brother of Vice-President Mondale; B. F. Skinner, Harvard Professor of Psychology; Betty Friedan, Founder, National Organization of Women.
Man is God, and science is the only true religion. I think many in our culture are awakening to the foolishness of this position. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, says scientists “must learn humility and be ready to see our conclusions as temporary and open to challenge.” After World War II, he says, the scientific community became overly optimistic that science and technology had the power to “liberate human beings from the mental shackles that old-fashioned religion, political ideology and morality had imposed.” But, he says, they missed “an important aspect of human psychology that earlier religious approaches had recognized: that left to its own devices. . .human consciousness is typically in a state of chaos and conflict. . . .The human psyche is by nature more disordered” than some optimistic scientists would have it (U.S. News and World Report, 12-23-91, p. 64).
The doctrine of original sin influences one’s attitude toward the family. Many parents unwisely deem it wrong to try to influence a young child’s religious outlook. Some foolishly say, “Let the child grow up neutral. When he is old enough, then let him choose.”
The problem with this attitude is, babies are not born neutral. We begin in a deep pit. A child’s mind is not neutral. If not cultivated to grow flowers and fruit, it will grow weeds. “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (GN 8:21). “The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies” (PS 58:3).
Teach the children. At the first sign of lying, correct them. At the first sign of selfishness, teach them to share. At the first sign of rebellion, corral them. My children got one swing apiece at their mother. Neither took a second swipe. In an atmosphere of love, we must teach, correct, encourage, and spank our children, helping them place acceptable parameters around their sin natures. How young do you start? As soon as the sin nature begins to reveal itself. I tip my hat to the Catholics on this issue. They understand the importance of early training, and have a saying, “Give us a child until he is five, and he will be a Catholic all his life.”
The doctrine of original sin influences one’s attitude toward individuals. It helps us see ourselves aright by causing us to see our need for God. One reason the world hates the doctrine of original sin is because self-sufficient man hates to diagnose a disease for which he holds no cure.
The Church, though, views this doctrine as the gateway to help. It is the starting point for the cure every person desperately needs. Once we admit our problem is within us, we can let go and let God begin to do what He alone can do. Liberation begins in accurately diagnosing our problem.
As long as one blames parents, friends, or other elements of “the world” only, he is a slave to these factors. These influences are important, but need to be put in their proper place. They are secondary considerations, not primary. For instance, your primary problem is not what your parents did to you, but the response you allowed your sin nature to make to them. You reacted with bitterness and anger, not love and forgiveness.
Once I realize the ultimate problem is in me, I have control over my situation. I can then reach out for help. Man’s only hope is God; and God’s only cure is applied within the individual. One must recognize sin within, repent of it, and receive Jesus as Lord.
Paul himself illustrated man’s inability to deal with the sin nature. Before conversion, Paul was moral, but this was not enough to make him right with God. Paul demonstrated how Satan uses the sin nature to build up pride and keep one from sensing a need for God. Paul was educated, a scholar trained in the schools, well versed in law, and taught by Gamaliel, the premier teacher of his day. Education of the mind cannot foster enlightenment of the soul or eradicate the sin nature. Paul was sincere, zealous for God, but sincerity cannot overcome the sin nature. One can as easily be sincerely wrong as sincerely right. Paul was religious, a regular attender of worship who worked ceaselessly for his denomination. He was religious, but not redeemed, and had to let God do a regenerating work in his life.
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 in 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 most profound 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, kick an angel, 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 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.
Eph. 2:4c “. . .who is rich in mercy,. . .”
“Mercy” is the compassion of God directed toward those who need relief from misery. Paul saw no contradiction in this stark contrast he has suddenly thrust upon us. God is wroth with misery-producing sin, but merciful with misery-laden sinners who repent.
Our symptoms are severe, our disease fatal, but we do not despair. There is a Physician who can cure the worst cases, if we take His medicine. However severe the misery, there is mercy sufficient, because God’s supply is “rich.” The word is well chosen. Denoting wealth and abounding assets, “rich” points to infinite resources of mercy available for the most miserable sinners. Where much mercy is needed, much mercy is provided.
“Rich” also bespeaks the infinite cost at which mercy was granted. God gave His only Son to relieve our misery. The mercy which relieves man’s misery sprouts from God’s misery.
Eph. 2:4d “. . .for his great love wherewith he loved us,. . .”
“For” means because of, on account of. God shows mercy due to “his great love wherewith he loved us.” Notice language laboring for expression: “rich” in mercy, “great” love. “Rich” points to the inexhaustible, “great” to the inexpressible. God’s mercy and love elude exact description and defy detailed definition. Whatever word or metaphor we use, however eloquent, “is but to stammer” (Hendriksen). Only those who experience mercy based on love can know what it is, and even they never comprehend it fully.
Like all the divine perfections, God’s love is as great as God Himself. It extends to all sins; despair not due to their number. It extends to each sin; despair not due to their hideousness. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). Even the worst of crimes can be forgiven. Moses was a lawless, vigilante-style murderer; Saul of Tarsus was of the same ilk. Yet God used both for His honor and glory.
God’s love is “great,” for it deals effectively with a sin which cannot repel it, and shapes itself into arms which embrace the sinner. It is the “great love” of a great God to great sinners. “God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creations in order that he may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing. . .the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves. . . .Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves” (C. S. Lewis).
In Eden our race had one golden opportunity, but failed. God could have responded to our rebellion by making millions of new creatures. He had but to speak, and could have surrounded Himself with creatures who would never disappoint Him. Had he left mankind to anarchy and Hell, none could have accused Him of injustice. Nevertheless, His “great love wherewith He loved us” would not let God leave His elect to perish. He had to make a way whereby He could bring His children back unto Himself.
There is an indescribably intense longing in the heart of God for His elect. He enfolds believers in His own bosom, engraves our names upon His heart, and never for a moment forgets we are His children.
God’s love for His children is pictured in David, the man after God’s own heart. David never quit loving Absalom. Bible students analyze the life of Absalom with words like vain, selfish, spoiled brat, lawless murderer, rebellious son, fornicator, traitor. But upon learning of the betrayer’s death, David mourned with a wail which centuries later continues to groan from the pages of Scripture (2 SM 18:33), “O my son”–note the word “son”; David used none of the words we cold analysts use–“Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would God I had died for thee”–do not miss the cry of substitution, the essence of love–“O Absalom, my son, my son!”
“The name and the relationship will well up out of the Father’s heart, whatever the child’s crime. We are all His Absaloms, and though we are dead in trespasses and in sins, God, who is rich in mercy, bends over us and loves us with His great love” (Maclaren).
Isaac Watts penned our only adequate response to God’s “great love”:
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Eph. 2:5a “Even when we were dead in sins,. . .”
We need rich mercy and great love, for when God looks upon this world, He sees it as a huge cemetery, and reads on every tombstone, “Dead in sins.” All men by nature are dead of the same disease, and nothing in lifeless, corrupting corpses can merit affection.
Paul inserts this clause as his knock-out punch to remove any lingering, albeit staggering, vestige of doubt regarding the seriousness of man’s plight. The Apostle meant to knock our pride down dead, as dead as our natural condition. Salvation is not merely the forgiveness of a handful of sins. In regeneration God is dealing with death, not merely sickness. We must go all the way back to our birth and acknowledge we have been all wrong from the first. The process is painful, but worthwhile. . . .
Eph. 2:5b “. . .hath quickened us. . .”
“Quickened” is “zoopoieo,” from which we derive “zoo” and “zoology.” It means to cause to live, to make alive. Everyone needs to be spiritually “quickened,” made alive unto God. It is a deed only God can accomplish.
At the moment of conversion, one is instantaneously regenerated, becoming for the first time sensitive to the true, holy, living God. Instead of asking, “Is there a God?” one begins to feel there is not a place where God is not, and sees God in everything.
A new convert said, “For fifty years I have lived and have not felt the presence of God. But for these last fifty seconds the greatest fact in the world to me is God” (quoted from Criswell). God appeared in a dream to Jacob, who was fleeing from Esau. “And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not. . . .This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (GN 28:16-17).
The new birth changes everything. A new convert said, “I do not understand. Either I am a new creature or the whole world is altered, for everything is different.” Many of us grew up being blessed by the radio ministry of Charles E. Fuller. In my household, we listened to many programs through the week on TV and radio, but every Sunday morning, without exception, my mother turned our pink kitchen radio to “The Old Fashion Revival Hour.” I knew for sure it was Sunday morning when I heard the piano roll through the introduction to “We Have Heard the Joyful Sound.”
Charles Fuller originally did not intend to be a preacher. In fact he was still unconverted when a young adult. The archives of the Billy Graham Center contain a letter which Fuller wrote to his wife the night of his conversion, July 16, 1916: “There has been a complete change in my life. Sunday I went up to Los Angeles and heard Paul Rader preach. I never heard such a sermon in all my life. Ephesians 1:18. Now my whole life and aims and ambitions are changed. I feel now that I want to serve God if he can use me instead of making the goal of life the making of money” (quoted in Hughes). Charles Fuller was “quickened” that warm night in Los Angeles. His life was forever altered, for which I thank God!
We describe the moment of quickening as regeneration, conversion, being born again, the new birth, the second birth, our spiritual resurrection. Whatever name we use to describe it, being “quickened” is by far the most wonderful and most important event of our human experience.
To picture quickening and its results, Spurgeon used an allegory all believers can adapt to their own lives. If you are lost, unable to relate to this allegory, May God merge your steps with its orb this very day.
Before I was “quickened,” my dad often visited my spiritual catacomb. He would sit by my casket and talk of Jesus’ death and God’s love. I was content in my tomb, but things changed the day a Stranger accompanied Dad to my mausoleum. The Stranger had always come with Dad before, but I had not noticed. On this day Dad again spoke of Jesus’ death and God’s love, but this time the Stranger interrupted and called, “John, live!” I opened my eyes, tried to inhale, and attempted to move. For the first time I felt pent up, stifled in my coffin. My sepulchre was suffocating me. The coffin lid had not bothered me before, but was now giving me claustrophobia. As I began to panic, the Stranger raised the lid, and hurled it aside. Dad helped me from my casket and, quietly fading into the background, he placed my hand in the nailscarred hand of the Stranger.
I have walked with the Stranger of Galilee a third of a century. Our path is always in or near a cemetery. The Lord often pauses to stare lovingly at a particular coffin. At such times, I know what to do. Leaning over the casket, I talk of Jesus’ death and God’s love. My words are of no avail, but then the Stranger calls, “Krista, Michael, Matthew, Ashley, Elizabeth, live!” and lifts the lid. I reach down, help a newborn from the casket, and fading into the background, I put a hand into the nailscarred hand. Away they go, and off Jesus and I go, all of us walking to other cemeteries, where the adventure is repeated time after time. “Quickened”–it is beautiful, it is God “rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us.”
Eph. 2:5c “. . .together with Christ,. . .”
“Quickened together with” is the first of three “together with” words used here to correlate the salvation of believers with the resurrection, ascension, and enthronement of Jesus. What happens to a new convert spiritually is directly linked to what happened to Jesus physically after His death.
Unencumbered by limitations of time, God, at the moment of conversion, identifies the deadness of a sinner with the death of Jesus. In the instant of regeneration, God fuses, as it were, the sinner’s deadness with Jesus’ crucified body. This is a legitimate reckoning, because judicially and legally, Christ died not His own death but ours. When the life of Jesus departed, His body was under the Adamic curse of death, the same sentence of death all men inherit at birth. Christ’s body was dead due to sin–not His own sins, but our sins put in His body on the cross by the Father.
Christ died our death. No one can be saved without accepting this truth. The miracle of the new birth begins at the cross, when the repentant sinner agrees with God in linking his own spiritual death with the death of Jesus. Once Christ’s death is identified with ours, and accepted as our very own, we are then granted the unspeakable privilege of sharing in the blessed aftermath of Christ’s death. The first effect we enjoy is new life.
When the life of Jesus was allowed to return to His body, God was in effect saying He had accepted the death of Jesus as payment for the sin of the world. Thus, when our death is reckoned with Christ’s death, we are linked to that which pays the debt for our sin, and once our sin debt is remitted, the indictment against us is dismissed, death is replaced with life.
In this way, Christ’s death becomes the death of our death. “If we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection” (RM 6:5).
God has “quickened us together with Christ.” We shared with Jesus the same death, and thus share the same life. His death is our death, His life is our life. Our lives are fused. He is the head, we are members; He is the vine, we are branches. Jesus said, “Because I live, ye shall live also” (JN 14:19). “Whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (JN 11:26). It is as impossible for a believer to return to spiritual death as it would be for Jesus to return to the cross. A return to death is impossible because God has “quickened us together with Christ.”
Eph. 2:5d “(by grace ye are saved;)
This theme will be more fully developed in the next verses, but Paul could squelch his emotions no longer. His pen was forced to transcribe a shout of joy. Having spoken of the world, the flesh, and the devil arrayed against us (2:2-3), Paul celebrates the fact these three ravaging forces of evil are counteracted by the holy trilogy of God’s mercy, love, and grace.
Sinners being resurrected from death to life precludes any thought of merit. Nothing of value in dead corpses prompted God to act the way He did. A carcass accrues no merit from inherent goodness or strenuous effort. Salvation is rooted in God, not man.
“Grace is everything for nothing. It is helping the helpless, going to those who cannot come in their own strength” (Strauss). This is the grandest theme of all. Never stumble here. Whatever else you stammer on, be articulate in enunciating this truth: “By grace ye are saved.”
Eph. 2:6a “And hath raised us up together,. . .”
“Quickened us together” means we share Christ’s life. “Raised us up together,” in this context, means we spiritually share in the ascension of Jesus, and are lifted to a new environment. After His resurrection, Jesus was taken into Heaven. At conversion, the believer follows Christ in spirit. Salvation lifts a sinner up, and frees him from being limited only to the resources of this world.
At conversion, believers climb a “Jacob’s ladder” from their grave to glory. Jesus opens a highway from our cemetery to His celestial city.
Eph. 2:6b “. . .and made us sit together. . .”
“Quickened us together” means we share Christ’s life. “Raised us up together” denotes the environment we share with Christ. “Sit together” means we share Christ’s dignity. We are not second class citizens. Ours is a life of privilege, where Christ is always our nearby companion.
At the right hand of God, Jesus sits on a throne. We sit nearby, in the throne-room itself, and reign with Christ, a truth we often overlook.
Believers are “a royal priesthood” (1 P 2:9), “kings and priests unto God” (RV 1:6). As priests we intercede and offer sacrifices of praise, thanks, and worship. As kings we exercise authority and partake of victory.
We will someday judge the world and angels (1 C 6:2-3). Prayer is God’s way of letting believers share His kingdom authority now. We enter the deliberating process which determines the course of history.
Believers extend Christ’s authority and victory in this world. Thus, Satan hates us and stalks us. He never chooses of his own volition to retreat, but has to take flight before the prayers of kingly priests. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Rather than run and hide from the roaring lion, we rout him in the strength of Christ’s might.
Sometimes the easiest part of a given struggle is to drive away the Satanic. The hardest part is often overcoming the world, or the flesh, that awesome resistance exerted by a person’s own will.
We should learn to pray kingly prayers, and to share regal authority. Invoke your royal prerogative, “Lord, in this trying matter, let only your refining and purging work be accomplished. If the devil seeks to tempt me in this trial, rebuke him for Christ’s sake.” Plead for Satan to be sent running from your family members. If they use their awful freedom of will to rebel against God, let none of the blame rest at your feet by default.
Watchman Nee, in his splendid interpretation of our text, shows how spiritual victory always begins in our kingly seat. “Sit” is the key verb in Ephesians 1-3. “Walk” (4:1) and “stand” (6:11) come later, but “sit” is first.
The secret of Christian living is found in sitting first. Christians fail when they try to walk and stand before they sit. Our flesh craves independence. We want to do something, to take action, but this is not the first step to godliness. To succeed we must initially do nothing on our own.
At the outset, enter the room of royalty, sit in your chair next to Christ’s throne, immerse yourself in thoughts of kingly authority available to us because of Christ. Take time to honor Him. All our power is based on Christ’s finished work. We are able to sit solely because He is seated already. The power is ours, but always delegated.
This time of sitting is our way of confessing that all the power needed for victory must come from God alone. To sit means to transfer all our weight to something else. Sitting relieves stress from our legs, our muscles, and puts the strain outside ourselves. To walk or stand, we burn energy, but in sitting we relax. To sit together with Christ means to put down the weight of our load, to put the strain upon the Lord. Our first move must be to transfer responsibility to God, in whom the power resides.
Faith means to trust, to sit, to rest in God. This has been God’s plan for man since the beginning. Adam was created on the sixth day. His first full day on earth was the seventh day of creation, the day of rest.
Christianity starts with the premise God has accomplished everything we need in Christ. We should begin every new spiritual experience simply by enjoying this fact while sitting beside Christ. Unfortunately, we often do otherwise. Do we labor? This usually will be needed. We sit temporarily. A person who sits is expectant, planning to get up and move on. He is resting, preparing to walk or stand. However, the sitting comes first.
Do we fast and afflict ourselves? Maybe, to help us focus and concentrate, but only later. Do we pray and read Scripture? Yes, yes, yes, but even these must come later. We begin by sitting, by resting in what has already been done, in what has been given us apart from any human effort. We dwell on the fact God has from eternity past had in His mind and plan a solution to whatever difficulty we are dealing with at the present moment.
In nothing is this truth more needed than in our warfare against our own sins. “Our deliverance from sin is based, not on what we can do, nor even on what God is going to do for us, but on what he has already done for us in Christ. When that fact dawns upon us and we rest back upon it, then we have found the secret of a holy life” (Nee). “Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (RM 6:11). Reckon. Ponder. Meditate. Sit.
Yes, we will have works to do, strivings to achieve, battles to wage, but these things come later. Sit, walk, stand–the order is everything.
Eph. 2:6c “. . .in heavenly places. . .”
When “quickened” we are removed from a spiritual cemetery. When “raised up” we are transferred past the “air,” the domain of demons. When “seated” we take our place in the throne-room of the cosmos, “in heavenly places.” “Heavenly places” is the world above this world, the unseen kingdom, the God-dimension, the present, at hand, home of believers.
Every believer has two addresses. We dwell in this world, but converse with, and live in expectation of, another. Our five natural senses keep us ever conscious of Earth, and often drown out thoughts of Heaven. “We trust the naked eye, and therefore miss the grand astronomy” (Parker).
By faith, our sixth organ of sense, we can enjoy Heaven here and now. In “heavenly places” we find all spiritual blessings (1:3). Here Jesus sits next to His Father (1:20), and here, most precious thought of all, believers while yet on earth sit with Jesus. “Heavenly places” is the location of wisdom, where God unveils His mind (3:10), and the sphere of spiritual warfare, the place where we overcome forces of evil (6:12).
Our mansion in Heaven is prepared. We will someday possess it wholly. For the time being, enjoy the heavenly piece of furniture available to us, the seat of blessing, royalty, acceptance, wisdom, and victory.
Eph. 2:6d “. . .in Christ Jesus:”
All we enjoy in “heavenly places” flows from our union with Jesus. In knowing Jesus ever more fully, we enjoy increasingly wonderful foretastes of glory here and now. At times Heaven seems to explode among us. Ruth, in preparing for last Sunday night’s mini-concert, was practicing alone one night in this auditorium. I came to give her a ride home and quietly slipped in the auditorium to listen a while. I finally spoke, and asked, “How did practice go?” She replied, “It doesn’t get any sweeter than me being alone with my sweet Lord.” This epitomizes life in “heavenly places.” It is intimate, ongoing, sweet, ever increasing enjoyment of our Savior. “Every day with Jesus is (truly is) sweeter than the day before.”
My dad began preaching just before I was born. Being in the father’s waiting room and hearing me give a loud birth-cry, he immediately named me John in honor of John the Baptist, “one crying in the wilderness” (MT 3:3). At my ordination, Dad delivered the charge and used as his text, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John” (JN 1:6). Dad challenged me to use John the Baptist’s ministry as the pattern for my own.
Named for a preacher, and being the son, grandson, and nephew of preachers, I included preachers in my pantheon of boyhood heroes. Idolizing Mickey Mantle and Billy Graham, I wanted to be a professional baseball player and a famous preacher. A lack of talent ended my baseball fantasy, and years of ministry have mellowed the “famous preacher” dream.
I am still proud of being named for John the Baptist, but I more and more dwell on John the Beloved. To baptize Jesus and herald His coming were astounding honors for John the Baptist, but John the Beloved was the disciple whom Jesus loved, the one “leaning on Jesus’ bosom” (JN 13:23) at the last supper. I envy the intimacy he enjoyed with Jesus.
This may be one reason Jesus had to leave Earth. Once the disciples began to understand fully what Christ meant to them, and all He had done for them, they might have in envy trampled one another to share John’s place in the precious bosom of their cherished Lord. “Heavenly places in Christ Jesus” allows each of us access to this type of intimacy.
Eph. 2:7a “That. . .”
Paul will now explain why God has done the wonderful things described in 2:4-6. Rich mercy, great love, saved by grace, quickened, raised up, seated, heavenly places in Christ Jesus–How do we explain such goodness? Paul will now take us into the depths of deity to show us the deepest motivation behind God’s greatest acts. Remove your shoes, our next steps will be on holy ground. We are entering the inner sanctum.
Eph. 2:7b “. . .in the ages to come he might show the exceeding
riches of his grace. . .”
Why does God save sinners? To make them in all ages to come monuments to His grace. Raising Christ from death to the seat of exaltation is the supreme demonstration of God’s power. Raising sinners from death to a seat of exaltation is the supreme demonstration of His grace. In the limitless future, all creation will glorify God for what He did for sinners.
God’s motivation in this is not selfish, but to demonstrate the extent of His grace. How else can God show the limits of His love apart from loving the unlovable? The only way He can show He cares is by caring.
God can be touched, God has feelings, God wants to love and be loved–these truths will be demonstrated forever through the way God treated undeserving sinners. As eon rolls over eon, believers will be ultimate spectacles, chief exhibits, trophies of God’s grace.
One more thought here–we saved sinners will forever be monuments to the grace of God. Lost friend, let us be this for you in the present age. Let what God did for us encourage you to seek in Jesus what we found.
Eph. 2:7c “. . .in his kindness toward us. . .”
“Kindness” is love acting gently. God’s grace operates tenderly. Grace can be shown in ungracious ways. People often give undeserved favors with a lecture or a scowl, but God’s grace is kind, kind enough not only to forgive sin, but also to forget it. He did not quicken us and then keep us at arm’s length. He saved us and enthroned us. God sent Christ down to us, and sends us up to Christ. God neither deems me a burden nor begrudges my presence. I am His son, welcome in “heavenly places.”
Eph. 2:7d “. . .through Christ Jesus.”
The Greek preposition here is the same as used elsewhere and should again read “in” Christ Jesus. Unfortunately, phrases like this one often pass glibly over unthinking lips. Paul repeated certain phrases many times because they held extraordinary meaning for him. We treat them often like well-worn coins, of less value because use has worn the luster off them.
Do not pass quickly over words repeated often in Scripture. The repetition denotes importance. The words are Holy Spirit inspired. Each is more precious than volumes of any other writings known to man.
“In Christ Jesus” is not vain repetition. It meant everything to Paul. He was a man in love. One relationship he could never escape. He was enthralled by his union with his Savior. Jesus was the center and circumference of everything in Paul’s thinking. Jesus is ever the great center of Paul’s epistles, the point toward which all the rays of thought converge.
Jesus is the circumference, the brim over which the reservoir filled with God’s blessings spills to us. From Jesus alone the water of life flows into a thirsty world. Jesus is the river of God which is full of the waters of life. Jesus is “the molten splendor into which have been dissolved gold and jewels and all precious things” (Maclaren).
God’s grace is enshrined only in Christ. From Jesus all blessings flow. Lest we forget this, Paul constantly repeats, “in Christ Jesus.”
Herein we discover the total picture of the spectacle which creation shall adore through the ages. Angels, demons, saints, and unbelievers will revere the way, the Person, in which God wrought triumph for sinners.
When God created our world, He saw “it was very good” (GN 1:31), but an enemy ruined it. In wreaking havoc and utter devastation, Satan was not primarily concerned with hurting human beings. His main interest was to besmirch the majesty and glory of God. He desired (the words are difficult to say) to make a fool of God. Before all the Universe, Satan defied God and laughed, “What happened to your perfect world?”
God had to do something to vindicate Himself. He could not walk away, ignore the problem, and let Satan appear to be supreme. God chose to send a dread champion to thwart Satan. Everything Satan tore down, Christ restored. Where Satan planted death, Jesus sowed life. To everyone who dies in Adam, the offer is made to live in Christ. This undoing of Satan on behalf of sinners, accomplished by God through His Son, shall be the never-ending phenomenon of eternity. Jesus shall forever evoke awe.
When the nobles of England forced King John to sign the Magna Charta in exchange for their allegiance to him, the fires of liberty were lit among English speaking people. (I take pride in knowing one of those nobles bore the surname Marshall.) Generations later, in a foolish outburst, the King of England rashly demanded his assembled nobles to declare by what title they held their lands. At this implied threat upon cherished liberties, a hundred swords leaped from their scabbards. Advancing on the frightened monarch, the nobles replied, “What title? By these we won, and by these we will keep them.” This is the manner of Earth, but not of Heaven. When the question is raised there, “By what title do you hold these lands?” all thoughts converge “in Christ Jesus.” All eyes fasten on Jesus. Every gaze is gratitude; every look is love. Songs of praise begin to swell, and crowns are cast in one glittering heap before the nail-scarred feet.
Eph. 2:8a “For. . .”
Paul uses this preposition to begin a summary of the profound truths he has set forth in verses 1-7. Verses 8-10 take us to a magnificent pinnacle, a spiritual mountaintop. These verses are Paul’s “John 3:16.” The Apostle here brings the essence of his theology into focus, and provides one of the best known, and most often memorized, passages in the Bible.
These immortal words, one of the great evangelical statements in the New Testament, helped spawn the Reformation cry: “sola gratia, sola fide, soli Deo gloria” (by grace alone, through faith alone, to God alone be glory).
Alas! time and use have taken a toll on Paul’s grand declaration. When dealing with people, “familiarity breeds contempt.” When dealing with words, familiarity breeds boredom. Terms like “grace,” “saved,” and “faith” often become old and threadbare. These concepts once flowed like molten lava from blazing lips, but now the words are cold. We often quote them pedantically, and read them with a shrug of weariness.
Familiarity with the words has made us careless. We have not taken time to understand them fully. “We substitute acquaintance with the sound for penetration into the sense” (Maclaren). This sermon is an attempt to help us rediscover some of the original lustre of these priceless truths.
Eph. 2:8b “. . .by grace. . .”
Many attributes of God converge to make salvation possible. Wisdom devises, power accomplishes, immutability preserves. Other traits are also brought to bear, but the great fountain-head of salvation is grace, “charis.”
In the Hellenistic world, “charis” was often used on official government inscriptions. It was the term commonly used to describe a ruler’s bestowal of favor. The philosopher Philo said “charis” was only for the righteous. One had to be worthy of it, otherwise it vanished.
Early believers adopted the term, but retained only half its meaning. They continued to see in the word the generous bestowals of a king, but deleted the thought of worthiness in the recipient. For believers, grace is God’s unmerited favor toward man, as revealed and verified in Jesus Christ.
We are saved by grace only. Salvation is not given because we pray earnestly, repent bitterly, turn over a new leaf, make restitution for past sins, obey the ten commandments, heed the golden rule, or live a good life.
Grace strips away vanity, and crushes pride to the dust. This stabs the ego, and sometimes makes a person reluctant to receive grace. Pride is often the foremost stumbling block to being saved.
Others go to the opposite extreme, saying, “I am not good enough, I am too sinful to be saved.” Beware this false, Satanic imitation of true humility. Godly humility also acknowledges unworthiness, but then presses ahead to accept God’s free grace. It is wrong to reject what God offers.
Let no overt transgression impede your salvation. Grace, properly understood, nullifies despair over some sin deemed extraordinarily heinous. Unmerited favor can forgive any sin as easily and quickly as another, and thus removes our fear of rejection. Transgressions do not take us past the border of forgiveness. When we come as suppliants to grace, we are done with bounds and limits, and though unworthy, we are confident of salvation.
Salvation hinges solely on grace, God’s unmerited favor. No good deed can help bring salvation to pass, no bad deed can prevent it.
Eph. 2:8c “. . .are ye saved. . .”
We dare not fly past the word “saved” without letting its glory soak in. We love to sing the chorus of Jack Scholfield’s song, “Saved by His power divine, Saved to new life sublime! Life now is sweet, and my joy is complete, For I’m saved, saved, saved.”
The New Testament concept of salvation was taken from two sources, the field of medicine and the realm of danger. Salvation referred to the healing of a physical disease. The woman (MT 9:20) with an issue of blood twelve years, touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, saying, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be “whole,” or literally, “saved.” Jesus healed her, and said, Thy faith “hath made thee whole,” or literally, “hath saved thee.”
Our concept of salvation was taken also from the realm of danger. Salvation referred to being delivered from danger. During a storm at sea, the disciples awoke Jesus, saying, “Lord, save us: we perish” (MT 8:25).
Salvation signified healing of disease, and deliverance from danger–concepts summed up in our phrase “safe and sound.” The New Testament lifted the concept to its highest and noblest application. Salvation is God healing man of something which infects us spiritually–the sickness of sin. Salvation is God delivering us from something dangerous–His own wrath.
“By grace are ye saved”–beautiful, wonderful, but remote and general. Individuals need salvation brought home to their own doorstep. How does one solitary person receive salvation? How do we personalize it?. . . .
Eph. 2:8d “. . .through faith;. . .”
We speak cautiously here. Faith contains no merit, and is not the source of salvation. Faith is merely the instrument, the medium, the channel, the pipe, the conduit, by which the gift of salvation is conveyed to us.
Faith being our only requirement for salvation proves we bring no merit of our own. “To have faith” by definition implies trust in something outside one’s own self. Faith brings a man “empty to God, that he may be filled with the blessings of Christ” (Calvin).
Faith is the chosen means of salvation because it matches grace perfectly, as a hand fits a glove. Grace only gives; faith only receives. Faith is to our spirit what the hand is to our body. Hands are created to grasp, to take, to receive. To give someone a fifty dollar bill by sticking it in his ear would look strange. We put cash in a hand, for it is made to receive.
Faith functions the same way. Created by God, faith was put in the spirit of man, for the purpose of receiving. Faith is the hand of the heart.
Do not make faith more mysterious than it is. God gives faith to us in the social realm in abundance to illustrate how it can function in the spiritual. Faith, the cement of human society, enables couples to live together in harmony and helps parents let their children become independent. Faith is the common denominator of human life. Each person, including the most skeptical and cynical, lives every day by faith. We expect the sun to rise, our money is in banks, we drive over bridges without inspecting girders, we enter new buildings, trusting they will not collapse, we eat food, believing it is not poisoned. The whole fabric of life is woven with trust.
Salvation occurs when this natural, God-given ability to trust is enabled by the Holy Spirit to turn in the proper direction. This divine miracle of saving faith begins in the written Word of God. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (RM 10:17). Faith hears and receives the testimony of Scripture. Refuse the Bible, and there is no faith; but give heed to the Word, and saving faith begins. Saving faith hears the message of salvation, believes it, and decides to receive the grace of God.
Saving faith is not as speculative as we often deem it to be. It is not a blind leap into the dark, but rests on historical facts which are verifiable and sure. Saving faith is not impractical or dreamy; it stakes itself in knowledge gleaned from reliable Holy Writ. In salvation, the Holy Spirit roots our faith in the Bible, and then turns our faith toward what God has done for us in Christ.
An illustration from nature might help. A vine left to itself spreads across the ground, but put a stake or trellis nearby and the plant will take hold and begin to climb upward. The vine has a God-given yearning for more sunlight, and is able to climb by means of God-given tendrils.
By nature, the vine of faith sprouts in every human life, but grows only along the ground. The Holy Spirit, though, places a Bible in our path, and drives into our lives a stake shaped like an old rugged cross. Spiritually quickened, the vine of faith roots itself in the Bible and suddenly desires more Sonlight. As it reaches for the cross, God gives the vine spiritual tendrils which enable it for the first time to grow upward. With the Spirit as its vinedresser, faith twines itself around the cross, spiralling its way upward until it grasps a seat in heavenly places. To the end of its earthly life, faith remains lifted up to God, intertwined with the cross, tended by the Holy Spirit, and rooted in the Bible. Faith thereby constantly takes in more Sonlight, making the vine ever more opulent and fruitful.
Why not exercise saving faith this moment? Faith is not a meritorious work, but is indispensable. Salvation is “by grace” and also “through faith.” If one does not accept Jesus, he does not have salvation. God loved sinners so much that He sent His Son to Earth to die for them. God loves His Son so much that sinners enter Heaven only if they believe on Him.
To be saved one must “lean hard” on Jesus. The Puritans explained true saving faith by using the word “recumbency,” which means lying down, reclining. It means leaning with all your weight on something, as when we lie down on our beds at night. Throw yourself down before the cross, and if you perish, perish there. Go to Calvary, “and resolve that if it can be that a sinner may die at the cross’ foot, you will die there, but nowhere else” (Spurgeon). Come solely with your miserable and undone condition. Tell God you are utterly lost if He does not save you. Fear not, His grace will be sufficient. You will find recumbency very comforting.