“He has given life to you who were formerly dead in trespasses and sins, following the ways of the world and obeying its evil and unseen forces. These same powers still influence and control the lives of those who do not obey God. Among such people we once lived, gratifying the passions of our corrupt nature. In that condition we were exposed to divine judgment, just like the rest of mankind.” (paraphrased)
In the previous chapter, Paul expresses deep feelings of gratitude for what God has done through Christ. But before Paul describes to the Ephesians how the plan of salvation is implemented, the apostle first stresses their obligation to fully appreciate what Christ has delivered them from. He urges them to compare their former spiritual condition to their current spiritual condition. Only after making this contrast does he proceed to elaborate upon the privileges associated with God’s grace and mercy.
Paul’s strong terminology comparing spiritual death with physical death fitly describes and accentuates their former depraved state. Neither are Jews superior to the Gentiles, for all men share the same sinful nature. Without God, all human beings are spiritually lifeless. The word “transgressions” (paraptomata) refers to moral laxity, whereas “sins” (hamartiai) are acts that directly violate God’s commands. These two terms combine to stress the reluctance of human beings to obey God.
Paul acknowledges that human beings are perpetually pressured by evil spiritual forces conspiring against them. Paul describes how mankind is alienated from Christ by stating their three-fold bondage:
1. The human race tends to follow “the course of this world” and is enslaved by humanistic desires.
2. The human race is strongly influenced by Satan and his cohorts and bound to follow evil tendencies.
3. The human race, apart from Christ, is subject to follow ungodly paths and motivated by carnality to disobey God’s commands.
To walk simply refers to one’s lifestyle, an analogy Paul uses several times in this letter (2:10; 4:17 & 5:2). “The course of this world” is a phrase that aptly describes mankind’s enslavement to secular values. The unsaved person is viewed as being under the control and influences of the world with its desires, priorities, and temptations.
Satan is seen as the “ruler” (archon) of the atmosphere that surrounds the earth (II Cor. 4:4). Archon refers to one who is has the pre-eminence. Jesus Himself refers to Satan as “the prince of this world” (Jn. 16:11). Because Satan is lord of the dominion where man resides, he is positioned to direct demonic activity against him. He endeavors to contradict the influence of the Holy Spirit by encouraging humans to ignore the laws of God. To follow “the course of the world” is to be under the control of Satan in his domain. Both Jews and Gentiles are “sons of disobedience,” for sinful tendencies are passed on from generation to generation. Paul does not disregard demonic influence as superstition or religious tradition, but affirms Satan energetically seeks to destroy the lives of those who do not follow Christ.
By his use of the term “we,” Paul includes himself as one who formerly lived in order to gratify carnal desires. He does not forget his former determination to eradicate Christianity (Acts 8:3 & 9:1). The use of “we” also infers mankind’s sinful condition includes Jews as well as Gentiles. The apostle is quick to dispel the Jewish myth that their relationship with Abraham will save them.
An unsaved person follows the dictates of the “flesh” (sarx). His fallen nature motivates him to embrace an egocentric reasoning process that leads him away from God. In this condition, he gravitates to the demands and dictates of carnal thoughts, impulses, and emotions. An individual who rejects Christ’s work on the cross is thus self-enslaved.
The mass of fallen humanity is described as “children of wrath.” The use of the term “children” means that every generation passes onto the next the desire to sin and is therefore under indictment. However, “wrath” (orges) does not describe emotional rage but rather God’s abiding opposition to evil (Rom. 1:18). Neither Jews nor Gentiles are born with attributes, privileges, or an exclusivism which exempts them from divine justice. The phrase “even as others” verifies that every sinner, regardless of ethnicity, will face judgment. But in the next passage, Paul describes in detail how individuals can enjoy the wonderful “life of God” made freely available through Christ (Eph. 4:18).
Points to Ponder
1. How does Jesus describe Satan in John 8:44?
2. What title does Paul give Satan in II Corinthians 4:4?
3. Why is it fair for God to reveal His wrath to the unsaved (Romans 1:18-19)?
4. What is the result of being “carnally minded” (Romans 8:6)?
5. What does Romans 8:7 tell us concerning the carnal mind and the Lord?
6. What can a carnal person not do (Romans 8:8)?
7. Why does John the Baptist warn the people not to pride themselves concerning their forefather Abraham (Luke 3:8)?