Being Spiritually Dead | A Bible Class on Ephesians 2:1-3
We’ve come to one of the more important passages, in my opinion, in the entire New Testament. This passage demonstrates what life is like before and after conversion and what God has done to save man.
Most editors of Bible editions (English and Greek) make verses 1-10 one paragraph. They’re smarter than I, so I don’t want to doubt their ability. However, there is a clear change of thought at verse 4. Paul used the word “But” to introduce this change. (The phrase “But God” is the most important phrase in the entire Scriptures).
- In verses 1-3, Paul discussed what life was like before conversion; in verses 4-10, Paul discussed the process of conversion.
- In verses 1-3, Paul discussed a person’s actions; in verses 4-10, Paul discussed God’s actions.
- In verses 1-3, Paul discussed “the ruler of the power of the air;” in verses 4-10, Paul discussed God.
One’s Life Prior to Conversion (Eph 2:1, 3)
As we think of one’s life prior to conversion, we think of his general existence rather than specific acts. We’ll think about his specific acts a little bit later.
One’s life before coming to Christ is described as being “dead through the trespasses and sins.” “Trespasses and sins” are in the dative case in Greek. There are two possible ways of understanding and translating the dative in this context.
This could be translated as a causal dative.
That is the understanding in the New Revised Standard Version: “You were dead through the trespasses and sins.” Trespasses and sins would be the cause that these Christians were once dead. The causal dative is used in Ephesians 2:5: “By grace you have been saved.” The causal dative is also used in Ephesians 5:6: “Let no one deceive you with empty words.” You could translate “by” in 2:5 and “with” in 5:6 with “through.” The causal dative would demonstrate the reason one was dead prior to God’s work. He was dead because he had sins and trespasses in his life.
This could be translated as a dative of sphere.
The dative of sphere indicates an abstract, logical, or figurative realm; in other words, this would indicate where the lost were living—they were living in a place of sin. That is the understanding in the New International Version: “You were dead in your transgressions and sins.” The dative of sphere is used in Matthew 5:8: “Blessed are the pure in heart.” The dative of sphere is used in 1 Corinthians 14:15: “I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also; I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also.” The dative of sphere would indicative where (metaphorically) these Christians had lived. They had lived surrounded by sin.
I’m not sure which would be preferrable. Both ideas do seem to be true—Those outside of Christ are dead because of their sins and they are living in the sphere of sin. However, grammatically the dative only functions one way in a sentence. Paul cold not have intended both ideas. If forced to choose, I would prefer the causal dative.
Sin does cause one to be dead. “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins” (Jn 8:24). “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23).
There are two words used for sin in this text: “You were dead through . . . trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1). “Trespass” means a false step; this is a deliberate act. “Sin” refers to a departure from the way of righteousness; this is a wrong act, whether or not it is deliberate.
Sin is made personal in this passage. “And you were dead in the trespasses and the sins of you” (My literal translation). The Greek of verse 1 has ten words; a form of “you” is used twice. Paul emphasized that sin is not simply an abstract concept, but it is personal. Those to whom Paul wrote were sinners. The first—and most important—step in coming to Christ is a recognition that one is a sinner.
- “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’” (Acts 2:37).
- “This saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim 1:15).
“All of us once lived among them.” Every single Christian once lived in sin. There is no such thing as a Christian who does not have a past. The Apostle Paul himself is a good example of that truth. So are the Corinthian Christians (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
- Mature Christians have no reason to look down on immature Christians (or anyone else).
- Christians shouldn’t write people off because they have committed certain sins.
“Among them” refers to the sons of disobedience whom we discuss below.
“We were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.” “Of wrath” is a genitive of destination. This idea is that wrath is the place we were headed. Calvin and some others have used this passage to teach the idea of Original Sin. The passage says that we are children of wrath by nature. The Greek term for “nature” means “the natural order of things.” The idea is that those who live in sin are naturally subject to wrath. In other words, it is natural for those who live in sin to be headed for wrath. There is nothing here about naturally being a sinner; the truth taught is that it is the natural order of things for wrath to fall on sinners.
One’s Actions Before Conversion (Eph 2:2-3)
“You once lived” in “the trespasses and sins” which made you dead. “Lived” is literally “walked.” Notice the past tense of “walked.” The Ephesians no longer walked in trespasses and sins, but they once did. The verb is in the aorist tense. The aorist tense provides a snapshot of a past activity; the aorist tense points to something which occurred in the past without saying anything about the length of time the activity took place. The idea here is to point to the totality of the unconverted life.
“Walk” is often used in a metaphorical way to speak of the way one lives. E.g.,
- “Live [walk] by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:16).
- “Whoever says, ‘I abide in him,’ ought to walk just as he walked” (1 Jn 2:6).
“Walking” does remind one of a repeated action—we repeatedly acted in trespasses and sins.
Not only does “walking” remind one of repeated action—but the basic idea there is action. Walking is an activity. The Ephesians were active in the trespasses and sins in which they once lived.
“Walking” is a conscious decision. Walking is not a function of the autonomous nervous system (e.g., heart beats, breathing, etc.) We chose to live in sin. Why would anyone choose to live in sin? If living in sin is a decision, how can we go about choosing to leave sin?
“Walking” would also indicate direction—The direction of one’s life was toward trespasses and sins.
“Walking” could also indicate following someone. In the first century, rabbis and philosophers would walk while they taught and their disciples would literally follow behind them. That’s why we find the metaphorical use of “following” Christ throughout the New Testament. Paul told the Ephesians exactly whom they followed—the course of this world and the ruler of the power of the air.
“Course” in the Greek points to a period of time (something like “era” in modern English). Paul specified that the time period is “of this world.” In other words, the Ephesians prior to their conversion focused on temporary things in this present world instead of eternal things in the next world. When one lives in trespasses and sins, he focuses on temporary, not eternal, matters. What are some of the dangers of focusing on temporary matters of “the course of this world” instead of eternal matters? How can we do a better job of focusing on eternal matters?
The Ephesians also followed “the ruler of the power of the air.” We’ll spend time discussing him below.
“All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh.” Paul made a subtle change at verse 3 which is rather significant. In verses 1-2, Paul spoke directly to the Ephesians—e.g., “You were dead.” However, at verse 3, he began to include himself—e.g., “All of us. . . .” In the first two verses, Paul spoke with his full apostolic authority (he obviously continued to speak with that authority throughout Ephesians) and told the Ephesians where they were in their previous life.
At verse 3, Paul included himself among those who lived in the passions of the flesh. It had to be encouraging to those reading this epistle to know that Paul himself struggled with sin. While Paul’s background was certainly no secret in the early church, it had to be an encouragement for the early church to hear of the apostle’s transformation. What encouragement might we be able to take from the fact that Paul himself once lived int eh passions of his flesh?
“Lived” at verse 3 refers to conducting oneself or behaving. One’s behavior—his life—is characterized as being “in the passions of [the] flesh” prior to conversion. “Passions” is literally “lust.” “Flesh” refers to the mortal, sinful part of man.
While we lived among the sons of disobedience in our flesh we were “following the desires of flesh and senses.”
“Flesh” once more refers to the mortal, sinful part of man. Paul’s repetition of “flesh” so close together seems to emphasize the life apart from God. God had to save us, for we were trapped in the flesh and not living according to the will of God who is a spirit (Jn 4:24).
“Senses” refers to thinking faculties in Greek. The English Standard Version renders the word as mind. The idea is that our thinking was totally given to our sinful pleasures. We didn’t, in other words, even think about spiritual matters; our minds were filled with how to commit the next sin. How do we see people’s minds given over to sin in today’s world?
Paul presented here the two parts of man as being involved in sin. The English Standard Version renders this: “carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.” That is certainly the right idea. Our total selves were involved in sin. In what way(s) to we see people given to sin in today’s society? How do we avoid giving ourselves over to sin? Why is it important that the Christian take steps to keep from giving himself over to sin?
One’s Ruler Before Conversion (Eph 2:2)
The Ephesians were “following the ruler of the power of the air.” Notice that the Ephesians were “following.” The Greek does not have following here. Instead, verse 2 literally reads: “In which you in times past walked according to the age of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit now working in the sons of disobedience” (JISV—Justin Imel Standard Version) In other words, following the ruler of the air was simply an extension of the life of sin. A life of sin is according to Satan; you cannot separate the two.
Everyone on earth is following some authority. Romans 6:15-19. Paul made clear to the Romans the choice belongs to us—we choose what authority we will follow. Many folks want to reject authority and live however they choose to live. The irony is that such a life is absolutely impossible. We are following some authority every day in every way.
The one whom the Ephesians followed is described as “the ruler of the power of the air.” While this being is not identified by name, he is clearly Satan. Only Satan has the authority described in this passage.
Paul used two different words for authority here. “Ruler” refers to a person who has command over others. Satan has command over “the power of the air.” “Power” refers to the authority to do something. This authority Satan has is over “the air.” “Air” in this passage apparently refers to demonic forces; in other words, Satan is the commander and authority over the demons which roam the earth.
We do not see it with our eyes of flesh, but we are surrounded by a fierce spiritual war. Ephesians 6:10-13. Because of that spiritual warfare, we need to put on the armor of God.
While Satan does have real power in this world, we must remember that his power is limited. Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6. 1 Corinthians 10:13.