In Ephesians 1 Paul described of the past, present and future aspects of God’s plan for redemption. He wrote about God’s determining to redeem a lost humanity, of Jesus coming to provide for that redemption, and of the ministry of the Holy Spirit sealing those who make a commitment to Jesus. Paul then noted at the resurrection of Jesus God seated Him in heaven. Read Ephesians1:20-21.
In the first 10 verses of chapter 2, Paul presented the past, present and future of the believer. In verses 1-3 we have what the believer was before committing to Jesus. Verses 4-6 and 8-9 picture what it means now to be a Christian. Verses 7 and 10 picture what we look forward to as Christians. Collectively they present the best summary found anywhere in the Bible of what it means to be a Christian. Collectively they note that we who were dead in trespasses and sins (v.1), have been “made alive with Christ (v.5), and God has, “seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus (v.6) so that “in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (v. 7)
Read Ephesians 1:1-3. That was our condition before making a commitment to Jesus. Apart from God’s provision of a Savior that is not only what we were but what we would forever be. The message of Ephesians 2 is that God also has the power to raise dead men and women who were dead in sin to a new life in Jesus.
Verse 1 declares, “you were dead.” It would be easy to pass over this with a simple, “That’s what we might have but let’s move on to a study of all we have in Jesus.” The problem with that is we cannot appreciate what we have if we do not understand what we did not have. In addition, we will never grasp the seriousness of witnessing for Jesus unless we understand their real condition outside of Jesus.
Ray Stedman, in his study of Ephesians, looked at these verses as a commentary of every culture and in particularly ours today. He wrote, “In these verses we find Paul’s great analysis of our problem. We are not a little misguided. We are not culturally deprived or misled in our thinking. The solution to the human condition is not better education or a social program or enhanced self-esteem. No, our problem is more fundamental and hopeless than that. Our problem is that, apart from God, we are dead.” Our Riches in Christ,loc 1077.
There are the various ways mankind has evaluated himself over the years. Pundits have swung from extreme pessimism to extreme optimism. Historically, many have seen mankind doomed to an ultimate self-destruction because of his evil tendencies. Currently the prevailing view of humanity is extremely optimistic. Many, while acknowledging that we are far from perfect, declare we are moving forward in the right direction. The Bible evaluation is very clear. Without the life giving, life changing work of Jesus in an individual he is dead in transgressions and sins.”
To understand Paul’s analysis of our condition of being dead outside of Jesus we should review the biblical definition of death and the various deaths that the Bible describes. The root meaning of the biblical word for death is “separation” and the Bible describes three aspects of death. There is a “spiritual death”, “physical death” and “eternal death.” Spiritual death is separation from the Holy God caused by our sinfulness. The fellowship intended in creation is lost. We are unable to enjoy time Him. We are told that in the Garden of Eden God spent time with Adam and Eve, described as walking with them. Sin separated and that experience is no longer possible.
Physical death is separation of the body and soul. While modern man want to see mankind as simply a physical animal, the Bible sees him as complex with not only a physical dimension but a soul or spirit. Genesis records the creation of man as a part of God’s overall creation but notes in 1:25 that God created man in His image. Read Genesis 2:7. When a man dies the soul or spirit that God breathed into him separates from the body. The body decays and returns to the dust from which it came. The soul or spirit, however, continues to exist.
Eternal death is separation from God forever. Eternal life is living forever in the presence of God. In contrast, eternal death is being forever separated from God, dwelling in what the Bible describes as hell compared to the heaven prepared for believers.
Paul’s depiction of man before redemption as being “dead” is important to note. Paul did not say they were in danger of being dead, but they were in a state of being really, totally dead. Current thinking on man’s condition is that all we need is a little more learning and the desire to just pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. The problem is spiritually dead people can’t do a thing. Dead people can’t grab their boots and pull themselves up. Dead people can’t learn anything. Mankind is dead in sin and no amount of learning or motivational thinking or sensitivity training is ever going to change that.
The term that Paul used implies absolutely or totally dead. It is not a figure of speech but a picture of what we really are. When Paul called those outside of Jesus dead he was suggesting that they were behaving as if they were dead, they were actually dead in the biblical sense of the word. Outside of Jesus mankind is dead spiritually, will die physically and will be eternally dead.
In Ephesians 2:1 Paul wrote that mankind is dead in his transgressions and sins. Sin separates and that sin is described as being in the form of transgressions and sins. Some commentators see a difference between the two terms, seeing the first as unintentional sins and the second as intentionally doing what we know God has forbidden. It is not clear that Paul had those specific differences in mind but overall, the point is that we sin, and sin separates from God, a separation identified as “being dead.”
Being dead spiritually is a problem for all mankind. The “you” in verses 1-2 refers to the Gentile church in Ephesus but later Paul included himself as a Jew. Paul wrote in verse 3, “All of us”. Paul made that truth abundantly clear in Romans 3:23. Read that verse.
Why do we have that condition? Read Ephesians 2:2. Here Paul spelled out the truth that one is either a follower of God or of Satan. There is no other option. We may describe Satan in many ways but in the end, it is either God or him. We can give Satan the name of another god such “Buddha”, call him “scientific enlightenment”, call him “coming of age” but it comes down to either God or Satan.
Paul described the condition of a spiritually dead person as following the ways of this world. The word translated here as “world” is used 186 times in the Greek New Testament, and in almost every instance has an evil implication. Literally Paul was declaring that before we were given spiritual life through faith in Jesus, we were captive to the ethical and social system of the present evil age.
The reason this world is evil is that Satan, described here as “the ruler of the kingdom of the air” is ultimately the one who directs every aspect of it. Of course, the ruler of the kingdom of the air is not going to make it obvious that his ways are opposed to God and therefore evil. He knows how to hold the line, so he seems acceptable. Satan presents his evil ways as popular, fun, enriching, freeing etc. In the end it is all dead and leads ultimately to eternal death or separation forever from God.
The picture of mankind outside of Jesus is not a pretty one. We are dead in sin, cannot help ourselves and therefore, according to verse 3 “we were by nature deserving of wrath.”
For the Christian that is not the end of the story. Read Ephesians 2:4-5. Let us never take that for granted. We did not deserve the redemption offered by Jesus.
Don’t jump ahead without once more remembering what you were before you made Jesus your Savior. It is in remembering what we have been saved from that we can fully rejoice in what we have.
And do not forget those folks you know who have never made a commitment to Jesus. They may live exemplary lives compared to others but without Jesus as Savior they are dead, dead spiritually and they will ultimately be dead eternally. Read Romans 10:14. Each of us can be the someone who shares Jesus so they who are dead can be raised by the power of God to life everlasting. What an exciting opportunity that presents to us.