Skip to content
Nov 10 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 9, 2014 – Ephesians 2:1-7

How We Got From There to Here

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Ephesians 2:1-2

Intro: Our first challenge will be to unravel this impossibly long sentence (vv. 1-10)

E. K. Simpson, “We have here another of Paul’s broken sentences; so that a verb made alive has to be supplied from v. 5 for the initial pronoun you.” (For example, as in the King James Version)

William Barclay, “In this passage Paul’s thought flows on regardless of the rules of grammar; he begins sentences and never finishes them . . . . That is so because this is far more a lyric of the love of God than a careful theological exposition.”

– the theme transcends the constraints of human language – it doesn’t fit any of our familiar categories
• the freedom Paul needed to give passionate expression to his message is better supplied by poetry than prose

Last week we read about the dynamic energy of Jesus’ resurrection that is at work in us
– I introduced Albert Schweitzer’s phrase, “resurrection mode of existence”
• this may have been news to Paul’s readers — “Hey, all I remember is that I decided I would be  a Christian”
• it could certainly surprise anyone who signed-up to become a Christian at a big evangelism event
– let’s imagine that someone has asked ,“Tell us more about this resurrection mode of existence”
• Paul’s answer would be what follows as he revisits our past to show how we got from there to here
• and what he lays out may be different from the way we remember it

Vv. 1-2, “Once upon a time, we were dead”

Paul turns from his depiction of the splendor of Jesus to us, “And you”
– to be dead, in this sense, is to be unconscious – unresponsive – inactive
• we may have known about God, but we had no vital link to him
◦ we were unconscious of his presence, unresponsive to his calling, and inactive regarding his will for our lives
• this is a different kin of spiritual death than Paul describes in Romans 6:11
◦ in our new life with Jesus we are dead to sin, but prior to that we were dead in sin
– “trespasses and sins” are two parts of our death-state
• the first part is our trespasses–that is our slip ups and lapses in thought, word and deed
• the second part is our sins, which means our failures to reach a potential goal
◦ ultimately it is a failure to become the person God designed and desires me to be
– sometimes I get nervous when reading Mt. 25:14-29

Jesus tells a parable about a man preparing to take a journey, but first entrusting a portion of his income to three of his slaves. Two of them were able to put the money they were given to work and both of them doubled the original amount they were given. But when their master returned and interviewed the third slave, he was only able to return the few dollars he had been given and that he had hidden in the ground so as not to lose it. His punishment was that he was no longer allowed to handle or be in charge of anything that belonged to his master. The point of the story: For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.”

• I have to ask myself, “Have I developed my gifts and potential as far as possible?”
◦ In entered the ministry way too young — I started my first church when I was twenty years old
◦ I had not been a good student in jr. high or high school
◦ but in the early, apocalyptic days of the Jesus Movement, an “establishment education” was not required
• as I met other church ministers, I realized how much I had missed by not going to Bible college and seminary
◦ so I began consulting with colleagues and seminarians and to do my own theological research and reading
◦ I read Jesus’ parable as a serious challenge:
Have I improved my knowledge and skills to my full potential or do I come up short? Have I missed God’s mark?

At this point we expect Paul to say, “God has raised you up,” but he got distracted
– perhaps he felt the need to delve further into our dark past

“Formerly” or “at one time” – this word appears four times in chapter 2 (vv. 2, 3, 11 & 13)
– for Paul, there is clear distinction between our previous life and our current one
• “walked” is a metaphor that refers to how we move through life and move through our days
• it is one of my favorites and we find it all through the Bible–e.g., “Enoch walked with God,” “walk humbly with your God”
◦ a key word for human behavior in the Hebrew Scriptures is “ways”
(it is used of God as well as men and women and includes inclinations, plans, actions, etc.)
◦ it is used neutrally (Isa. 55:8-9), negatively (Ps. 125:5) and positively – (Ep. 4:1; 5:2)

“According to course of this world”
– when Paul uses the word “world” in this context he has spiritualized it
• he is not talking about the planet, people, or even human cultures
(too often Christians have lashed out at the wrong targets — Ep. 6:12)
◦ although it can infect cultures as well as the heart and minds of humans
◦ it is a pervasive influence, a deviant mind-set, an invisible yet real force let loose in the world that is hostile to God
• for “course” Paul has “age,” which he used previously to contrast this age with the one to come (1:21)
◦ in Jewish thinking at the time, there were two great ages — the present time is flawed, the future will be perfect
◦ the ages are implied in Jesus’ prayer, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, in earth as it is in heaven”
– Paul characterizes this age as under the “authority” of “the prince of the power of the air”
• when you drive south from Oregon and reach LA county, you can feel the energy in the air
◦ people drive with a desperate urgency and aggressiveness
◦ that is what I think of when I read this phrase — we sometimes enter atmospheres that are all wrong
• “the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience”
(sons of is a Hebrew expression that suggests sharing character traits of someone or some quality)
◦ to walk according to the world is to be in society and see what everyone else sees
▫ material objects moved by natural forces
◦ it is to think like everyone else and to desire what everyone else desires

I recently read an article about companies we should boycott, because they oppress people or damage the environment
– I thought to myself, “It won’t be terrorists or nukes, but greed that destroys our world”
• greed that eventually causes the world’s economic bubble to burst, depletes our natural resources, or incites revolt

Barbara Taylor, “Where there is money to be made, there is no rest for the land, nor for those who live on it.” [she provides a short list local examples] “No resistance to such ravenousness will come from those who are heavily invested in its revenue. The resistance will have to come from elsewhere, from those who live by a different rhythm because they worship a different God.”

– for Paul, that would be people who have been freed from the spirit of the world

V. 3, Paul probes a level deeper into our former condition

The change from “you” to “we” may be Gentile to Jew
– I think, from who we were (like everyone else) to who we are today
• “formerly lived” – is a reference to our old lifestyle (habits, etc.)
– twice Paul uses the word “flesh” in verse 3
• it is central to his theology of spiritual transformation, but we need to understand that it has more than one meaning
◦ even in this chapter flesh can refer to people of specific ethnicity or the human body (vv. 11 & 15)
• but in this verse, flesh is spiritualized in the same way Paul spiritualized the world
◦ flesh is the old self, addicted as it was to all our natural drives (see Ep. 4:20-24; Ro. 6:5-13; Gal. 5:16-21)
◦ the flesh is the traitor within us – it operates in collusion with the world
– it is ruled by “lusts” and “desires” — that is, strong desires and whatever it wishes and wills

We never signed up for this — it is what we are “by nature”
– “children of wrath” – that is, those whose destiny is self-destruction
• the well-known fate of every addict and alcoholic that does not progress into recovery
• “like the rest” – NSRV, “like everyone else”

Vv. 5-7, At last Paul returns to his point

“But God” — a friend has formed an attitude-changing theology around these two words
– taking every instance in scripture where the words “but God” appear, he submits the outcome of every situation to this key factor
• Paul describes an “intervention” (like those that target addicts and alcoholics, but for all of us)
• “mercy” reveals the nature of God’s action and “love” reveals his motivation
◦ he loved us too much to leave us in that state — he could not leave us there but had to take action
– so it was “even when we were dead” he intervened

– the action God took was to connect us with Christ
• notice: “with” occurs three times, He:

  1. “made us alive together with Christ”
  2. “raised us up with Him”
  3. “seated us with Him in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (notice “raised” and “seated” repeats 1:20)

– Paul could not wait to tell us what is coming, so he places it in parentheses, “by grace you have been saved”

“Ages to come” – it is odd for Paul to use the plural word “ages”
– last week I spoke to a man whose son claims to be an atheist
• he had told his father,

“Eternal life would be boring, because eventually it would become a repetition of everything we had already done billions of times–that is, unless God was continuously creating new colors, new sounds, new things for us to experience.”

• I couldn’t help but think of Michael Herbert’s near-death experience that he described in Caught Up To Paradise
◦ he tells of seeing colors not visible to us on earth and hearing sounds never heard before
◦ he was taking in so much new information he thought he would burst, but then God enlarged his ability to absorb it
◦ this experience continued to repeat itself — there was always more
– so for Paul, it’s possible that he envisions each age bringing new revelations
• of course, this succession of ages has already begun for us
• even in this life we are already seeing God’s kindness toward us Christ Jesus

Conc: I want to wrap this up with a couple of quotes

Frank Tuoti, “Like Lazarus in the tomb, our true inner self is encased in darkness and isolation. We must prepare and dispose ourselves so that when our name is called to ‘come forth,’ we will be able to hear the Voice that can set us free and remove the fetters that bind us.”

Let’s work at drawing awareness of God to surface of our consciousness more often
– let’s recognizes all the opportunities in our day to do this

Francois Fenelon, “You must learn [to] make good use of chance moments,–when waiting for someone [or] going from place to place. . . . One raises ones heart for an instant to God, and renews ones strength for further duties. . . in a moment you can recall the presence of God, love Him, adore Him, offer Him what you do or what you suffer, and calm before Him all the agitation of your heart . . . to repair the inroads which the world makes.”

Leave a comment