EPHESIANS 2:3e (part one)
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 2:3e “. . .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.