Ephesians is a letter about the gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ. Clearly, Paul wants every reader to understand the immense blessing that has come to everyone who is a “saint” (1:1). Beginning in chapter 2, Paul reminds us of the past. In order to drive home the good news of the gospel, he remembers the bad news that preceded it. In particular, in Ephesians 2:1-3, Paul reminds us of this vital truth: if we do not have Jesus, we are dead because we are slaves of sin and enemies of God. Only with that understanding can we begin to see the full glory of the gospel of Christ.
The section begins with these striking words: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” (2:1-2a). Obviously, Paul is not referring to physical death because his readers were clearly “alive”, but he is speaking of spiritual death. Apart from God, they were without real, true life. And this was the case because of their sin – they were “walking” contrary to God’s will, and the result of sin is always “death” (Rom. 6:23). The one who is walking in sin apart from Christ is completely devoid of life – both now and in eternity.
But Paul does not stop with that simple declaration. He describes the nature of this “dead” life. When his readers were dead in their sins, they were “following the course of this world” (2:2). Instead of walking according to the standards of God, they walked according to the standards of the world – which is opposed to God.
Even more, they were “following the prince of the power of the air” (2:2). More than simply listening to other people instead of God, they were actually following Satan. This is a startling statement that should give us great pause. Many associate following Satan with “extreme” sins and bloody rituals, but the Bible says “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). Satan tries to keep people from God – by whatever means possible. In reality, even the most “moral” person in the world who refuses to believe in Jesus as their only hope for salvation is following Satan. Jesus made clear that the Pharisees – who were the most scrupulous “law-keepers” in the nation of Israel – were children of the devil because they refused to believe in Him (John 8:44). When a person refuses to believe in Jesus, it is because Satan is blinding them (2 Cor. 4:3-4). Apart from Christ, we are children of the evil one.
Paul continues by saying that they were living “in the passions of [the] flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind” (2:3). Notice: their problem was not simply that they did bad things. They were corrupt at their very core – wanting to follow Satan and desiring to disobey God. This is clear evidence that human beings are under the power of sin when they come in to this world (Rom. 3:9). They are incapable of seeking God and submitting to Him because they are so corrupted in their heart that they do not desire to seek Him or submit to Him (Rom. 8:7).
And the result of all of this? They were “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (2:3). Because God is holy and hates sin, those who are dead in sin come into the world with God’s wrath resting on them (note John 3:36 which says that God’s wrath will “remain” on the one who refuses to believe in Jesus). God hates sin, and He hates Satan. He opposes them and is working toward the day when both will be defeated and destroyed. This means that those who are walking in such sin and following Satan will be destroyed as well. The world and all that is in it – including those “following its course” and its “desires” – is “passing away (1 John 2:17). And this will happen because God will judge it (Rev. 20:7-15).
Why do we care about this? Why does it matter that is the way the Ephesians used to be? It matters because Paul’s words are spoken to all of us. The truth about the Ephesians is the truth about all of us. Every human being enters the world dead in sin (Ps. 51:5) – following the course of this world, following Satan, and following their own desires. As a result, every human being enters the world as an object of God’s wrath by nature. These verses are important because they remind us of the desperate need of every human being. We all need to be made alive, set free, made new, and rescued from the wrath of God.
Do not deceive yourself into thinking that you are not that bad. Apart from Jesus, you have no hope. If you are not a Christian, repent of your sins and run to Jesus so that He can deliver you. If you are a Christian, remember the depths from which Jesus has saved you. Remind yourself regularly of what you used to be so that you can rejoice all the more in what Christ has made you. And then go speak the gospel to those who do not believe. They are not okay. They are in desperate need of life and rescue and deliverance. You have the good news that will set them free. Jesus can make them life. We cannot be silent.