Eph 2:1-3 Dead Men Walking
Dead Men Walking
A man went to visit his well to do friend who had been taken ill. When he showed up at the door, the butler at first refused to let him in stating that the man will ill and could not be disturbed. “Nonsense,” said the friend. “It’s all in his mind. He just thinks he is ill.” And with that he barged through to see his friend. The next day he returned, but again met with resistance by the butler who said, “He is worse today and should not be disturbed.” “Nonsense,” said the friend. “It’s all in his mind. He just thinks he is worse.” And he barged right on through again to visit with his friend. A few days later, he came back again, but this time the butler preempted him by saying, “I am sorry sir, but today he thinks he is dead!”
Unfortunately, we live in a world where the exact opposite is true. We have an epidemic of people who think they are alive, but in fact, God says they are as dead as a doornail. Oh, they walk around, they talk, they laugh, they live, but though they have physical life, and though many of them are quite nice people, but the horrible truth is that they are hopelessly separated and from God and thus as spiritually dead as they could possibly be. That’s the message of Eph 2:1-3, but why is it set in this context?
Now, why does Paul go into this subject? Well, remember the great overall theme of Ephesians? It’s found in 1:9-10 where he says, “9) making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10) as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. You’ll recall that when we studied this we found that there is a universal problem of alienation. Nations and people are alienated from each other. Humans are alienated from nature; from each other and from God. Everywhere there is apartness and isolation. Why is this? Well, we saw that the cause is sin. But God has an ultimate purpose to remove the alienation and bring about unity. He will restore paradise. The church a focal point for that effort and in chapter 2 of Eph He is going to show how that happens individually and then corporately. In Christ, God has started this great process and here is an example. It’s one of the great chapters of the Bible. But before He gets to the wonder of God’s grace, he must expose the horror of man’s condition – verses 1-3.
Then in Ephesians 2:4-10 we find hope and love and grace. Few verses in the Bible can match its magnificent message of hope, resurrection and life. We are going to look these verses for the next few weeks under a series entitled “Amazing Grace”, for that perfectly captures the message contained here. Paul is describing for those who are already believers their journey from death to life, from enslavement to freedom, from paralyzing darkness to glorious light – a first step by God in reuniting all things. We have entitled verses 1-3 “Dead Men Walking” – describing man without God. We will study verses 4-9 under the title “But God” – describing the only possible solution through God alone. And we have called verse 10 “New Men Walking” – where we will see described Man with God. We might also call verses 1-3 Our Sin. Verses 4-9 Our Savior and verse 10 Our Service.
All in all it is a stupendous reminder of where we have been, where we are going and how we got there. But in order to see the glory of the solution, we must see the depths of the problem. To fully appreciate the view from the mountaintop, the wonder of salvation and the glory of God, we must first see the depths and hopelessness of life apart from Him and that is our unenviable task today. What is mankind like without God from God’s perspective – and therefore, in reality?
I. They are Dead
Eph 2:1 says, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.” A very dark movie came out a few years ago  which illustrates quite graphically the truth of this condition. It was called Dead Man Walking and was based on the true story of a relationship that developed between a nun, played by Susan Sarandon and a death row inmate played by Sean Penn. The title was taken from the traditional call in the United States of “dead man walking, dead man walking here,” from a prison guard as a condemned prisoner is led onto death row. That almost perfectly captures the grim, but almost totally unseen and unrecognized reality of every single person who is outside of Jesus Christ. They are literally dead men and dead women walking. But until they realize their condition, there is virtually no hope that they can have life although life is richly and readily available.
In order to understand and appreciate God’s grace; jto get the full impact of man’s condition apart from God, we have to deal with this fact. However, good or bad they may look; however good or bad they may act; however good or bad life may have treated them – all people outside of Christ live with one drastic trait that renders them equal in the end – they are dead men and dead women walking. That is the verdict of Almighty God.
Look with me beginning at verse 1: And you were dead in the trespasses and sins. The word “you” is presented at the beginning of the sentence in the Greek text just as it is here. That means that it is emphasized. Paul is saying you Ephesian Gentiles will remember that it wasn’t that long ago that you were dead in trespasses and sins. However, he does not limit it to them at all. We have only to get to verse 3 and we see him moving to first person when he says that we all (meaning Gentile and Jews alike – me the apostle and you Ephesians alike) once lived in the passions of our flesh.
Also please note the words “were dead”. They are in the present tense, not meaning that they are still in this state, but emphasizing the ongoing, inherent, persistent quality of their existence. They were the walking dead.
Now, the big question is, what does it mean that they were dead? If they were physically quite alive, in what sense were they dead? We actually need look no further than verse 12 for our answer. Paul says, “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. That is as concise and accurate a statement of spiritual death as you could ever get. It is a state of hopeless separation and alienation from God. Death is always recognized in Scripture as a separation. Physical death is separation of body and soul as we clearly see whenever it happens. Spiritual death is the separation of the individual from his or her Creator, just as was being experience by the Ephesians in this chapter.
Now, what is the cause of this separation from God? Paul answers concisely. And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2) in which you once walked. The word “trespass” means to slip or to fall, to be on the wrong way. “Sin” means to miss the mark, a word that conjures up the image of an archer missing his target. The two words are used here to indicate the breadth of the problem and not to emphasize any particular difference between them. Man is dead because he simply cannot meet the standards of God. He fails utterly to live up to the perfection demanded by an infinite and holy God.
Okay, now, let’s take this sin issue one step further. I want you to listen closely now. You need to get this. It will help you immensely in this passage and with all of Scripture for that matter. What is the absolute essence of sin? What is it that makes sin, sin in the first place? If sin is missing the mark, what is the mark? Now – here it is. Sin at its very core is making a god out of myself. Sin in its essence is setting anyone or anything up in place of God and the vast majority of the time, that someone or something is me. Let me give it to you as straight as I can. Sin is me thinking I can run my own life. After all, it’s mine to do with as I want. No one can tell me what to do with it. It’s mine! That’s right, but that is also sin in its most blatant, irredeemable, ghastly expression. I insist on being my own boss.
Now – I don’t want you to take my word for this. Let me show you from the Word of God. To understand the essence of sin we have to begin where sin began, and the Bible speaks to that. Turn with me to Ezekiel 28. Here is what God says concerning Satan and the original sin in the universe which was committed by this beautiful angelic being. We’re going to skim through this passage. Let’s start at verse 14: You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God (absolutely free access to God Himself); in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. 15) You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you. 16) In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. So we see here a clear picture of the greatness of Satan in his original creation, and how he was perfect in his ways, among the highest and perhaps the highest of God’s creation. But then unrighteousness was found in him. What was it? What was the unrighteousness? I’m glad you asked.
Turn with me now to Isaiah 14:12 12) “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! 13) You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; 14) I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’
What happened is very clear here, is it not? What happened to Satan is the very same thing that happens to every one of us when sin takes over. Satan, the highest of God’s creation, was suddenly not happy to be the Day Star, son of the Dawn. He was no longer happy to be Lucifer. He was no longer happy with a subordinate position. Somewhere, somehow, in some way he decided that he must ascend the very throne of God. Not satisfied to be Satan, he aspired to be God. The very essence of sin is verse 14: I will make myself like the Most High.’ Stated in 21st century English – I will be my own boss.
Now, to see how this translated to man, look with me at Genesis 3 and you will see the very same principle at work there. Watch the temptation beginning in verse 1. 1) Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2) And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3) but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” 4) But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5) For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Don’t miss the appeal here, folks. What does he say? What is the temptation? What is it that appeals to Eve? There it is: “You can be like God.”
And, of course, Eve took and gave to Adam and he took and the result is in verse 7: 7) Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
What happened? Did they keel over dead? No they did not, did they? The expected to. Why? Because God had said they would in the day they ate of that tree and having done so, their consciences burned; they feared and consequently hid from God. They knew only about physical death; they did not know about spiritual death. But what did happen? What did happen is that they suddenly realized that they were naked. So they covered up. And when God came looking for them, they hid and could only be brought out at His insistence. What happened? They were alienated, separated from God? Unresponsive to His presence until He graciously led them back to himself, provided clothing from them from the skins of animals who had to be killed in the process and somehow, they began to understand the concept of substitution and knew that God had somehow provided for their need. You say, how do you know that? Well, because Adam named his wife Eve (she hadn’t had a name up to that time). Eve means mother of all living. Adam had heard in God’s condemnation of the serpent that a child born to Eve would bring about redemption of some kind and so by faith he named his wife Eve. But meantime, they had become susceptible to physical death and they had experienced spiritual death – separation from God, all because they wanted to be their own God.
The awful truth is that the worst sin is not murder or rape or betrayal or any of the other really hideous things that we can think of. The worst sin of all is to think I can be my own God, to think that I do not need God, to think that life can be had without Him. That is why some of the nicest people you will ever know are some of the worst sinners. They may live exemplary lives and give to the poor and establish hospital wings and drive Porsches and appear happy and content. They may even talk about God, but if He is at their disposal rather than they at His, they are among the worst sinners in the world, and among the least likely to ever be saved. We live in a spiritual graveyard among the living dead.
The vigorous athlete, the scholar with the brilliant mind, the vivacious filmstar. Are we to say that such people, if Christ has not saved them, are dead? John Stott answers:”Yes, indeed, we must and do say this very thing. For in the sphere which matters supremely ( . . . the soul) they have no life. And you can tell it. They are blind to the glory of Jesus Christ . . . They have no love for God, no sensitive awareness of his personal reality, no leaping of their spirit towards him in the cry, ‘Abba, father, no longing for fellowship with his people. They are as unresponsive as a corpse.”
Jonathan Edward perhaps saw this more clearly than anyone. He said that the problem is not with man’s will. The will is simply the mind choosing what the mind deems best. The problem is with man’s moral nature which is opposed to God. Edwards declared that the will is always free; we always choose what we judge best in a given situation. But as sinners, we always judge wrongly. We think God undesirable – or at least undesirable as opposed to us. Hence we make the fatal mistake of resisting and rejecting the gospel.
As the great Scottish commentator John Eadie said, “It is a case of death walking.” Men apart from God are spiritual zombies, the walking dead who do not know they are dead. They go through the motions of life, but they do not possess it”. They are dead men walking. However glitzy and glamorous and permanent and enticing it may look, the truth is, folks, we are living in Zombieland. We are among the walking dead. That’s what we have been saved from and if it hasn’t changed our lives, it’s probably because we are one of the walking dead still. According to the Bible, mankind apart from God is dead.
II. They are Disobedient
Secondly, human kind apart from God are Disobedient. Look with me again beginning at verse 1: And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2) in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— The second great characteristic of people who are operating without God is that they are disobedient. They don’t usually think of themselves that way, but if what we just learned about sin is true – that its inherent characteristic is establishing self on the throne, then by its very nature it is an act of rebellion and disobedience. And it turns out that we have plenty of help in becoming and staying disobedient, for here Paul introduces the 3 great foils, antagonists, enemies who are locked in life-and-death combat with God and with us – the world, the flesh and the devil. The world – outward influences that tease our fancy and pull us away from God. The flesh – That which is inside of me which wants and even demands its own way. The devil – a personal force above and beyond the other two absolutely set on my destruction. Each has its jaws fatally locked around the neck of mankind prior to the coming of a Savior. Let’s look why the unbeliever is disobedient.
A. Duped by the World
First of all, the unbeliever is duped by the world. Now, even as believers, we are often led down this path, but have resources available to fight the urge. The unbeliever has no such help. He or she is totally and fatally duped by this world. Paul says they are dead in their sins 2) in which you once walked, following the course of this world.
The word “walked” sometimes means to walk down the street, just as we would normally use the word. But in Scripture, and particularly in the New Testament – and even more particularly in the book of Ephesians, it is used as a graphic way of speaking about one’s conduct or lifestyle whether negatively or positively. Here Paul is emphasizing the previous existence of the Ephesians as those whose conduct was largely dictated by the outward influences of a godless society.
Now, look at the phrase “following the course of this world.” It’s quite an interesting phrase in the Greek. It literally reads, “following the age (αἰῶνα) of this world. The word “age” always has the connotation of time. Look for example back to 1:21 where we saw that Christ has been given power 21) far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. This is very consistent with many passages of Scripture that recognize that there are various periods of time, or ages, in God’s working in history. Right now we are in what Paul terms here the “age of this world”, and if you want to know how God characterizes it, you have only to go to kGalatians 1:4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. So what Paul is clearly saying here is that unbelievers are walking, conducting themselves, in accordance with the course of this world – that is the age or time period of this world, which he further characterizes as evil. It contrasts to a coming age that will be far different.
Now, why does Paul characterize the age of this world as evil? Let me give you a few examples. In John 15:18 we read: If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. The world is evil because it hates Christ – the very God in the flesh who came to redeem it. Paul says in I Cor. 3:19-20: For the wisdom of this world is folly (a word which menas lacking in common sense or even sanity) with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20) and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile (this word means “empty”, “usless”)” Why is this world evil? Because they leave God out of the equation, and can only live for the here and now (reference the old Coors commercial – you only go round once, so grab all the gusto you can) thus leading to empty, futile thinking.
Why is the world evil? I Cor 1:21: For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. It is evil because it does not know God. Why is the world evil? I John 4:2: 16) For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. It is evil because it is filled with ungodly desires.
I could go on and on, but you get the point. John MacArthur summarizes the world this way: Quote: “The three elements that most characterize our present world system are humanism, materialism, and illicit sex. Humanism places man above all else. Man is the measure and end of all things. Each man is his own boss, his own standard of good, his own source of authority—in short, his own god. Materialism places high value in physical things, especially money, because money is a means of acquiring all the other things. Sexual perversion dominates modern western society as it has no other societies since the lowest periods of ancient Greece and Rome. Along with the humanistic appeal to self–interest and the materialistic appeal to self–aggrandizement, sexual vice is used to promote and persuade in virtually every field of marketing, pandering to self–pleasure. That triumvirate represents the spirit of our age, the current course of this world.” End quote. No wonder James says in 4:4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
Listen, the unregenerate person is absolutely enslaved to this world. Don’t believe it? Then let me ask you, why is humanism the prevalent and basically only philosophy taught in our schools today and everyone thinks it is okay? Why is materialism, “getting things” viewed as the ultimate sign of success and achievement when God says that the love of money is the root of all evil? Why is pornography now an accepted middle-class addiction, pre-martial sex expected and often accepted often even in Christian circles, and an “if you got it, flaunt it” attitude engrained into our young women at the earliest ages? It’s because outside of Christ, people are duped by this world and enslaved to its every whim. As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes, “They think as the world thinks. They take their opinions ready-made from their favourite newspaper. Their very appearance is controlled by the world and its changing fashions. They all conform; it must be done; they dare not disobey; they are afraid of the consequences.”
Sometime in the early 90’s, Senator Patrick Moynihan of NY was once visiting some of his Amish constituency in upper state NY. The Irish Catholic and the Amish didn’t have much in common, but as they talked, an Amish leader expressed concern about his daughter. He said that she was influenced by Catholicism. Well, Moynihan’s first response was, “We can’t be that good that we are infiltrating and influencing the Amish community.” So he asked the fellow what he meant. “Well,” said the Amishman, “all she ever talks about anymore is Madonna.”
That’s it. That’s the world that enslaves us to every trend, makes us unresponsive to God and eventually squeezes the life right out of us. The unregenerate are disobedient to God because they are duped by this world.
B. Deceived by Satan
Now, Paul’s next assertion should strike fear into the heart of any unbeliever. Having talked about the effect that the impersonal but formidable influence of the godless society in which we live has on us, he now notes that it is also personal. It is personal. Some take biblical references to Satan as a kind of figurative representation of evil in general, but such an understanding does irreparable damage to any valid method of biblical interpretation. This being called Satan or the devil is found from Genesis to Revelation, always represented as a fallen spiritual being having personality and existence and location. This is the second foe of the unbeliever mentioned here by Paul and he is no amateur. Note Paul’s assertion again beginning in verse 1: And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2) in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— Now, first let’s understand the passage and then look at the implications.
There is no doubt about the identity of the prince of the power of the air. The word “prince” is often translated “ruler.” It was sometimes used for Roman and Jewish officials. It is even used of Jesus in Rev 1:5 where it speaks of him as the ruler of kings on earth. It is more often used of Satan when speaking of his dominion over his empire. At one point in his ministry, Jesus was accused in Luke 11:15 of casting out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons. The word prince there is the same as ours here.
In calling him the prince of the power of the air, some have argued that Paul is just speaking of Satanic activity, but not a specific locale. However, I do not believe this is the case. “Air” means exactly what it says. In ancient times, “air” referred to the space between the earth and moon. Greeks thought of this term as referring to lower impure air, the home of the spirits, as opposed to higher pure air, the ether. In the NT, the term is used to refer to that place above the earth where Christ will meet his saints. Paul says in I Thessalonians 4:17: Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. That is the same word that we have in Ephesians 2:2 and I believe that we all would agree that it refers to the atmosphere around and above us in I Thessalonians.
In the context of Ephesians 2 it is talking about the place or sphere of activity of the devil. It denotes both universality and locality. In Paul’s day it was considered as the dwelling place of evil spirits. It is interesting that even a pagan philosopher like Philo asserted that the air is the abode of living beings identified as demons. The Scriptures agree, but label the inhabitants as angels or messengers, both good and bad. An interesting exchange occurs between God and Job in Job 1:7 The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” It could certainly be inferred from this that Satan spends time in and around the earth, and yet can approach God at some level – almost certainly through the air as a true spirit being. He is called the ruler of this world in John 12:31, 14:30 and 16:11.
Demons, which include Satan, are fallen angels. As such they are spirit beings, but that does not mean that they are just ethereal and without place? No, indeed. In the words of commentator William Hendriksen, they have whereness -- that is, they exist somewhere. They have location – are in a place. Let’s take a couple of examples. In Mark 5 Jesus encountered a man who was terribly tormented by not one but a many demons. Picking up with verse 8 we read: 8) For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9) And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” 10) And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11) Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, 12) and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” 13) So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs. Those demons certainly existed somewhere as opposed to nowhere. They had whereness.
Peter says in I Peter 5:8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Satan is clearly somewhere, and it is a somewhere from which he can access people. Now a prime passage that we looked at a few weeks ago really gives us insight here. You may remember that Daniel in chapter 10 had a most disturbing vision. He immediately inquired of the Lord for an explanation, but for three weeks, nothing happened. Then an answer came in the form of an angel who delivered an incredible and telling message. He said, beginning in Daniel 10:11: “O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.” And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling. 12) Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. 13) The prince of the kingdom of Persia (who must be understood in this context as a demonic minion of Satan with certain geographical authority) withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, (definitely an archangel of God) came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, 14) and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.”
Folks, we could hardly get a more precise indication of the reality, organization, and sphere of angelic beings, both good and bad, than we have in this passage of Scripture. This graphic image reveals that spiritual warfare is not all that different from the warfare of men. There are organized forces. Some group of demonic beings (the kings of Persia) who were assigned to that geographic area, were able to stall a messenger making his way from God in heaven to Daniel on earth. The messenger could only complete his mission with the aid of a stronger force, Michael from God’s side.
Now, listen to this description by Paul from Ephesians 6:12: For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Folks, I don’t know how to interpret these passages except to say that every indication is that there is a real and certain spiritual battle going on and it is taking place in the very atmosphere in which we live. For this particular period of time, the age of this world, Satan is the ruler of this world, occupying with his minions the very air around us, seeking to wreck as much destruction in people’s lives as possible. That’s the reality of the situation described by Paul when he speaks of the prince of the power of the air. Commentator Williams Hendriksen correctly concludes: “Accordingly, whatever figurative overtones the word “air” may have — due to the fact that the air is the region of fog, cloudiness, darkness — the literal meaning here is basic.”
Now, I’ve taken time to go through this explanation both to bring home to us the reality of our enemy and his proximity as described in this passage. It is important that we see him for what he is, and realize his reality and close proximity.
But far more important is to understand his ways. Oh, he is so deceptive. We read a passage like I Peter 5: 8) Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. And of course, that is true. But immediately we conjure up in our mind a traditional picture of the devil in red outfit complete with horns, a tail and a pitchfork – rendering him in our minds either kind of a joke or a fearsome, but very recognizable foe.
The reality is much worse, Beloved, much worse. Jesus said this to some of the most upright, church-going, outwardly successful and revered people of his day in John 4:42 when they made the claim often heard today to be the children of God. 42) Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43) Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44) You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45) But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.
Those words are almost unbearably sad to me because they describe so many people who believe they are good, who believe they are okay, who believe they are God’s children, but who refuse to accept the gift of Christ’s righteousness – who deny the central truth of the gospel. But, just as Paul describes in Ephesians 2:2, they are actually unwittingly following the prince of the power of the air. And no wonder, for the greatest attribute about him is that he is a liar, and he is ever so hard to spot.
Paul says in I Corinthians 11: 14) And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15) So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Now Satan himself is a created being. He is not like God. He cannot be everywhere at once. He is not omnipresent. You and I may not be big enough potatoes to ever encounter him personally. But he has those who will do his bidding, both spirit beings as well as human beings, as Paul was encountering in Corinth and we will surely encounter them. And the thing we must realize is that while Satan and his demons may on rare occasions present themselves as demonic to the truly depraved and degenerate, their usual mode is in the disguise of angels of light. Translation – they will make themselves look as much like god as possible – that’s god with a small “g” meaning whatever god you choose to worship.
His method is first revealed in Genesis 3:1) Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2) And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3) but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” 4) But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5) For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
This is his classic approach. First – question what God actually said. “Are you sure God said that? Did he really mean that? Surely he didn’t really mean that?” So he gets people first defending God, then questioning God and finally adding to what God actually said. Look at Eve’s reply. Had God said that they should not eat of that tree in the midst of the garden? Yes, he surely did. Had he said that they should not touch it? No, He had not. So already, Satan has her mixed up about God’s word. But then the crux of his strategy. The lie – the lie – but mixed with just enough truth to make it palatable. He says to her directly, “You will not surely die.” Now had he stopped there, I think Eve would have been okay, don’t you? I think she would have seen the lie of Satan for what it was and told him to take a hike, but he added that next little bit. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Was that true? Absolutely. Not only true, but desirable and suggestive that God was unfairly withholding something, and in a moment, Eve was lost. Half truth, half lie, and she was done in. You know, I’m sure that God fully intended that Adam and Eve know good and evil, but His plan was that they know it by experiencing good. Satan’s plan was that they know it by experiencing evil and that’s exactly what happened.
To give you the full flavor of Satan’s power to deceive, please turn with me to II Thessalonians 2. For some reason the Thessalonians were had become enamored of what would happen at the end of this age, and so there is teaching on end-time events in both I and II Thessalonians. In II Thessalonians 2, that teaching gives some information about one whom Paul calls the “man of lawlessness” – elsewhere referred to as the Anti-Christ – an end-time world leader who is really an ego-maniac. Notice verse 4: “who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. 5) Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6) And you know what is restraining him now (that is a reference to the Holy Spirit – at work now in the world holding Satan back – allowing him to go only so far) so that he may be revealed in his time. 7) For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work (this is an important phrase because it tells us that while not in full bloom, Satan is being allowed reign, just not full release). Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way (this is a reference to the fact that the Holy Spirit is in the world today within believers – the church. When the church is taken out of the world at the time of the Rapture, which these believers knew all about as taught in I Thess 4, Satan will be free to do his worst. The horrendous evil of Satan seen in incipient form throughout this church age will now be seen in its full fury). 8) And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming (so he is not big deal to Christ, but we had best be on Christ’s side, because look at what happens in the meantime) 9) The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, (Folks, these are the same words used for the miracles performed by Christ and the apostles. As part of his ultimate deception, for those susceptible to this kind of activity, Satan will also provide miracles by the bushel – and remember that this, the “mystery of lawlessness is already at work, just in a somewhat controlled form now. That’s why we are told to test the spirits – miracles are not necessarily an indication of God’s presence. That’s why he always puts His Word and His will above miracles on the scale of things to desire) 9) The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders 10) and with all wicked deception (there is our term again – Satan is above all the master-deceiver, giving people exactly what they want until he has their very soul) with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11) Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12) in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness (note that unrighteousness is never lacking for pleasure. Never mistake pleasure for right. They are not synonymous. “If it feels good, do it, is some of the worst advice ever concocted – although, don’t forget that there is even greater pleasure in true righteousness, something we sometimes overlook).
Wow! What a picture, huh? That is Satan at his worst, master deceiver, leading unbelievers to their destruction and believers to wasted, useless lives if possible, by promising the world – whatever you want, whatever you want – while beneath it all exacting a price that no one really wants to pay.
Let me illustrate further from history. Although an ardent supporter of the FDR’s New Deal, Governor and then Senator Huey Long of Louisiana was wary of wholehearted support for Roosevelt. The only difference between Hoover, who had been president before Roosevelt, and Roosevelt, he once said, was that Hoover was a hoot owl while Roosevelt was a scrootch owl. Of course someone asked, what’s the difference between a hoot owl and a scrootch owl? Long replied, “A hoot owl bangs into the roost and knocks the hen clean off her perch, and catches her while she’s falling. But a scrootch owl slips into the roost and talks softly to her. And the hen just falls in love with him, and the first thing you know, there ain’t no hen.”
Satan’s strategies are no less nefarious today. Half truth, half lie. Money is a good thing. True or false? Of course, it is good. But now the lie. Get all you can and you will be happy. Follow that line and you are dead. There’s nothing wrong with money and nothing wrong with earning a living, but get to the point where you want it and want it above all else and soon, there ain’t no hen.
Half truth – sex is good. True? Of course. God invented it and speaks freely of it in His very Word. But look out for the next line – with anyone, anywhere, anytime or through any means. Soon, there ain’t no hen.
Leisure is good. True? Of course, it was God himself who prescribed a day of rest from labor. But look out for the next line. You need to fill in the blank – go on every cruise you can find or afford, retire to a life of ease, travel the world in search of adventure. Nothing wrong with any of those until they become your god and crowd out any thought of devotion to or service for the Lord God – and soon, there ain’t no hen.
Being good is good, right? Yes, fully supported by God. But insisting against the message of the gospel that I am good enough, that I don’t need Christ’s sacrifice, or that He is just one of many ways to God (one of Satan’s most devastating current half truths). Buy into that and pretty soon, there ain’t no hen.
And folks, don’t forget that even miraculous activity is at times inspired not by God but by Satan and can lead us down a road at the end of which, there ain’t no hen.
There’s an interesting phrase at the end of verse 2 where Paul says of unbelievers that they are: following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. See that phrase “at work”? It’s the word energeo that we’ve seen before. We get our English word energy from it. It’s one of the words that Paul used to describe the power of God in chapter one. Here he notes that Satan is “energizing” those who are following him to destruction. Think of the word picture that he’s now created.
Here are unbelievers – here we were before we accepted Christ – absolutely dead in their trespasses and sins, incapable of responding to God, just like you could prick a corpse with a pin over and over and get absolutely no response, so are unbelievers when it comes to spiritual things – absolutely dead, unresponsive, uninterested, unmoved and uncaring. Yet they are moving around, they are experiencing some kind of life. They have a certain spiritual sensitivity. Where is all that coming from? Where from? How about unwittingly they are being energized by Satan.
He is the master at propping up dead souls, persons who are totally missing what they were made for, and convincing them that they are living because they are clothed, entertained, reasonably happy and looking forward and working to their utmost to have enough to spend their last 10-15 years on this earth in relative ease – with absolutely no thought for the millions and millions and millions and millions of years that are to follow. Would you think someone smart who took every penny he or she had and spent it all within the next week, with absolutely no thought for the years left to live beyond that? And yet, that is where the mind of most of our world is. Do you see that? Do you see that that is the biggest lie of all? Satan can energize only for the here and now, for the present life, for the next however many years you can manage to eke out here in this world. Welcome to Zombieland, folks. That’s what dead men walking do. Because they are deceived by Satan. Somehow, they willingly and willfully trade the possibility of eternity with God for the pittance that Satan offers now. I plead with you, do not let that be you.
Remember that as powerful as Satan is, he is nothing compared to Christ. Nothing. Christ will eventually kill him in a moment with the breath of his coming and by His mere appearance. And any power that Satan has over you right here and now can is broken the moment you say Yes to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, by asking His forgiveness of your sins, asking Him into your life and accepting His righteousness in place of your sins. I urge you – do not delay that decision. Overcome the deception. Get God’s eternal perspective. Get on the right side. And if you’re are a believer – resist the Devil and he will flee from you. Why? Because greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world. Satan notwithstanding, the future is bright.
C. Drugged by the Flesh
The final way that unbelievers are led into disobedience is by the flesh. In essence, they are drugged by the flesh, unable to see beyond the next fix, captivated by the next thrill, satiated by desire.
We read in Ephesians 1:3: 3) among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Let me make several observations to exposit this text and then we will apply it. First of all, notice please that through verses 1-2 Paul has been using the second person – you – to describe the enslaving nature of sin. He wants his Ephesian Gentile readers to remember their former hopeless condition. But beginning here, he lumps himself and his Jewish colleagues right in with them and by the end of the verse, he has included all of mankind. Beloved – outside of Christ, no one is exempt from the outwardly glamorous, but ultimately tortuous imprisonment to sin and Satan.
Paul says among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh. What does he mean when he says among whom? Well he is referring back to the sons of disobedience in the previous verse. Do we really believe that if the apostle Paul had to include himself among the previously deceived and disobedient, good as he was, that any of us are excluded? From a human perspective, Paul’s record was without blemish. And he was living what he so fervently believed. He was not just sitting it out in front of the TV; man, he was active. And yet he came to see that it was all for naught; that he too was duped by the world, deceived by Satan and drugged by the flesh. And so is every man outside of Christ.
Now, look at the words “the passions of our flesh.” These are well translated, but a little background will help even more. The word “passions” is the Greek word ἐπιθυμία which is also often translated “desire.” The word itself has no inherent intimation of right or wrong. It can mean desire in either a good or bad sense. For example, when we read of Paul’s desire to be with Christ in Philippians 1:23. same word as here. However, in Romans 1:24 we read: Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves. Clearly a bad connotation there.
Here in Ephesians 2:3 it is clearly a bad connotation, not because of its inherent quality but because of the company it keeps. And this is important to understand. Here, passion or desire is keeping company with the “flesh”, and that makes all the difference. The word flesh can sometimes mean simply the material part of the body. We find it with that meaning, for example right here in Ephesians 6:12 where Paul says that we wrestle not against flesh and blood. He is obviously referring to the physical body.
But “flesh” also, and more often, refers to that nature inside of us which constantly opposes God. So Paul says in Romans 8:7: 7) For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8) Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. It is in that sense, describing the inside of us that is hostile toward God, that Paul speaks of the flesh in Ephesians 2:3.
Now, when one combines passions which are neutral with the anti-god flesh, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what we get, right? That desire, which may be neutral in and of itself, let’s take entertainment or sports, for example, will inevitably become idolatry when combined with and under the control of the flesh. Do you see? That desire or passion which is neutral in and of itself, let’s take love, for example, will become jealousy and envy when combined with and under the control of the flesh. That desire or passion which is neutral in and of itself, let’s take appetite for example, will become gluttony when combined with and under the control of the flesh. That desire which is neutral in and of itself, let’s take sex, for example, will become lust and fornication when combined with and under the control of the flesh. Do you see?
The flesh wants to take everything which God has made and turn it into slavery by making it a god in and of itself. As we have already explained and as we see again here, the essence of sin is to become one’s own God and our flesh is on a never-ending quest to turn every good instinct, passion and pleasure into a god by overindulgence, over-emphasis and participation without God in that which was intended for good by God. Do you see that? Do you see? It’s not the passion that is wrong – it is the passion without God; it’s the passion made into God that is wrong – that entices, entraps and enslaves. It’s not the desires that are wrong but the fleshly incentive to take them outside of God’s defined boundaries.
And it’s not just the desires of the body. Notice Paul says, “carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.” Even the mind gets into the act. You can’t trust it either. Where does pride and ambition and rationalization come from? It’s all correct instincts of the mind carried outside God’s intended boundaries to produce a god in its own right. Led by the flesh and leading to death. It all leads to death. It inevitably leads to death. Paul says in Romans 8: 6) For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. There’s the end of the life lived in the flesh. And in order to get there, to arrive at death, you just have to follow one little, tiny, fleshly maxim – and you all know what it is. “If it feels good, do it.” Yes, do it. Do it until you die.
Paul says in Galatians 5:19-21: Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20) idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21) envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. What does it mean not to inherit the kingdom of God? It means to be separated from Him for eternity. It means spiritual death. If it feels good, do it. Do it until you die.
Oscar Wilde was a brilliant mind and won the highest academic honors. He was a scintillating writer and won the highest rewards in literature. He was all charm and man whose instinct it was to be kind; yet he fell to the temptation of unnatural vice and came to prison and disgrace. He wrote De Profundis when suffering for his fall and in it he said: “The gods had given me almost everything. But I let myself be lured into long spells of senseless and sensual ease. . . . Tired of being on the heights I deliberately went to the depths in search for new sensation. What the paradox was to me in the sphere of thought, perversity became to me in the sphere of passion. I grew careless of the lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased me, and passed on. I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber, one has some day to cry aloud from the house-top. I ceased to be lord over myself. I was no longer the captain of my soul, and did not know it. I allowed pleasure to dominate me. I ended in horrible disgrace.”
How sad. And how much sadder that he never really fully realized that it was not his lack of self-control, but his lack of God-control that led him to his disgrace. For you see no man is ever captain of his own soul. It only seems so. In truth, it is either God or it is Satan disguised as god to whom we bow. Duped by the world, deceived by Satan, drugged by the flesh, the truth is we need do nothing to become the sons of disobedience. We are born to it. Which brings us to our final point regarding those outside of Christ.
III. They are Doomed
One would think that we have been through enough by this time, would you not? But here is Paul saying, “oh, by the way – there is one more little thing.” Not only are those outside of Christ dead and disobedient because they are duped by the world, deceived by Satan and drugged by the flesh – he adds one more thing. It may seem kind of obvious, but he adds that with all of that, they are also doomed. I’m ready to get to grace, aren’t you? And Paul was anxious to get there too. But before we do, we must understand the full and complete ramifications of life without Christ.
His final word is found at the end for verse 3. In the final analysis, outside of Christ, we all were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. What does it mean? “Were by nature”? – we were born this way. “Children of wrath”? We were under God’s condemnation. That is as simple as I can make it, Beloved. A lot of people don’t like this verse. They don’t like to think that we are born under God’s condemnation, but I would remind us, this isn’t what some man said, or what someone made up to support his theological supposition. This is the very word of God and we must take it seriously.
There are several implications we must see. First, note the term “children”. It is a term that denotes small, dependent children as contrasted to the “sons” of disobedience that we find in verse 2. Sons are refers to those who are old enough to make their own decisions and the emphasis as we have seen is that we choose to sin. We are sons (and daughters) of disobedience because we are willfully following the world the flesh and the devil. But here Paul emphasizes that the root of the problem is the fact that we are by nature, by birth, inherently the children of wrath. A son is one who by his own choice disobeys God. To be a child of wrath is to be one who by his relationship with his parent or ancestor comes under God’s wrath. This is the great culmination of this passage. We are not in the end sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. Both are true, of course, but at the root of everything is that we are born in sin.
Paul says it this way in Romans 5:12:Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. It’s just part of the package, folks. When we are born, sin is there from the get go. Just in case we didn’t get the message Paul repeats in verse Romans 5:18: 18) Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. Thankfully, Paul adds the wonderful good news there. If you want to object that it’s not fair for you to get a sin nature from Adam (and the fact is, it probably is fair, for who among us can say we would have done any differently in the Garden of Eden?), but just in case you want to object, Paul immediately points out that by one act of righteousness (the death of Christ on the cross) we can all be justified. So just a we got a sin nature by default, we can get a righteous nature as a gift. God has the bases covered folks.
These first three verses of Ephesians 2 have been called a summary of first three chapters of Romans which teach the total depravity and death of humankind. Depravity means that every part of the human person is tainted by sin. It does not mean all humans are equally depraved – most never go near the depths they could. John Gerstner says, there is always room for “deprovement.” People aren’t as bad as they could be. Nor does it mean that people are not capable of good (Luke 11:13 13) If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”. But it does mean that even our righteousness is like filthy rags compared to God’s standard. No part of us – mind will and emotions is unaffected by the fall. All of us are depraved – totally! And therefore in the words of Romans 3:10-12 10) as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11) no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12) All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Not a single one ever seeks God without the prompting of the HS.
Now, let me stop for just a moment for a brief application. What does all of this say about our children? Those precious little bundles of joy who steal our hearts away and tug at our emotions like nothing else in life. What about them? Well – like everyone else, they are born in sin. They are not, as popular psychology would tell us born good and taught bad. Only an educated fool would see the anger expressed by even the smallest baby when his bottle is not forthcoming – or the selfishness expressed by the toddler who has been asked to share his toy -- and conclude that “oh, he or she is basically good. They only become bad when we teach them bad things.”
God’s perspective is a bit different. He says in Psalm 51:5 5) Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. So parents – and grandparents, too. Take God’s word for it that the sin problem is inherent with that precious package and begin from the earliest moments to orient that child toward Christ. He or she needs to be saved – needs to become “in Christ.” And it is our solemn responsibility to teach and prod and point in that direction by every conceivable means. That is priority one.
I think there is a very important second application as well. This one is found in Proverbs 22:15: 15) Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. Parents – you will do yourselves and frankly, everyone around you a great favor if you assume that your child has folly bound up in its precious little heart. And the Bible speaks often of the need for discipline to drive it out. We won’t take time today to talk about the kinds and types of discipline, but you see what justifies it, indeed what makes it necessary, is the fact that we are born in sin. Let me add this. Failure to discipline not only makes life tough for you and your child, but it subconsciously teaches him or her that there are no consequences. Oh, don’t let that happen.
Look at the larger consequences that Paul talks about. He says that outside of Christ we children of wrath. The Greek language has two primary words for wrath. One speaks of the passionate rage that wells up within us all too often. But the word used here speaks of a settled state of mind. It is emphasizing the constancy and consistency of God’s hatred and judgment of sin. It is not depicting some angry reaction of a surprised God every time we “do it again.” What is seen here is the thing we can always count on – God’s consistent, steady, condemnation of sin. God’s wrath is not spite or malice or revenge. It is simply another attribute – there because of who He is. We should be grateful for this wrath of God against sin, for it is the thing that guarantees that there will one day truly be an end to sin. Without His wrath there would be no peace and no hope of ultimately bringing an end to alienation and uniting all things in Christ which we have seen to be His ultimate goal.
Now we must fully realize what this passage is saying. The person outside of Christ is doomed. He is subject to God’s wrath – His judgment against sin. What I believe is the only exception is those young children who are yet to reach an age of accountability or responsibility. I believe there is indication in the Bible that should they are covered by God’s grace. But outside of that, the only hope of faith in Jesus Christ.
Most people like to think they aren’t "that bad", whatever "that bad" means. I’ll tell you what it means. “That bad" means telling God to leave you alone, to live "on purpose" away from God. But who does that? The answer is: Everyone outside of Jesus Christ. And when we live without God, we are inherently evil with a capacity, expressed or not, to do almost anything.
In 1960, Israeli undercover agents kidnapped one of the worst killers in Hitler’s army from his hideout in South America. His name was Adolf Eichmann. They took him to Israel to stand trial for crimes against humanity. Prosecutors called a long list of witnesses who had either seen Eichmann commit those crimes or had seen the evidence of his crimes. One witness was a small elderly man named Yehiel Dinur, who had escaped death in Auschwitz.
When it was his day to testify, Dinur entered the courtroom and stared at the man in the bulletproof glass booth – the man, who had murdered Dinur’s friends, personally murdered hundreds of Jewish men, women, and even young children, and presided over the slaughter of millions more. As the eyes of the two men met something happened that shook the center courtroom. Yehiel Dinur stood in silence, looking at the man who had done all that, and then he began to sob uncontrollably. He collapsed on the floor and had to be carried out until he was composed enough to go back and testify.
What made Mr. Dinur react that way? He was interviewed by Mike Wallace on TV years later and this is what he said. He said he had always pictured Mr. Eichmann as this hideous monster who had nothing but evil in his eyes. But when he entered the courtroom that day and saw him, he saw a small, older man who had soft eyes and a vulnerable expression on his face. He said he saw nothing but an average man. He said it was at that moment he realized everybody has the same capabilities of being evil. He said he began to sob because he was afraid of what he might do in a different set of circumstances. He told Mike Wallace, "I saw myself in him and it scared me to death." And then he finished by saying that all of us have an Adolph Eichmann lurking somewhere in us.
Beloved, whatever we may think of ourselves, the three verses we’ve been studying give us God’s assessment and that’s the only one that counts. Outside of Christ we are dead, disobedient because we follow the world the flesh and the devil, and consequently we are doomed. No hope, no ability to help ourselves, in truth no desire to seek God.
We may think of ourselves as better than the next guy, and indeed we may be, but it is as though we all decided that we are going to jump from here to Denver. So we all run up and take off. Some jump 2 feet, some 3 feet, some 10 feet, and if we have an Olympic champion in the mix, perhaps as much as 30 feet. What a jump – 30 feet– and only 316,770 feet short. Do you see? Whatever our virtues God’s verdict is “All have sinned and fall [far] short of the glory of God.”
A Sunday school teacher wanted to teach her class about God’s saving grace. So, she asked the class, “If I sold my house and my car and gave all my money to the church, would I get into Heaven?” “NO!,” the children all answered. Again she asked, “If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would I get into Heaven?” And again, the answer was “NO!” “Well,” she continued, “then how can I get to Heaven?” One of the children spoke up, “To get into Heaven, first you gotta be dead!”
Lot of truth there, isn’t there? Of course, Paul’s whole message is you are dead. So you have step one covered already. Outside of Christ you are a citizen of Zombieland. Energized for a time by Satan, but completely, totally, irrevocably dead to the things of God. And the thing is, you will never, ever get to heaven until you realize that you are dead. But then – if you do, if you will only acknowledge your own helpless state, then we have God’s marvelous promise to save.
For just as God’s wrath is consistently, constantly and unceasingly being revealed against sin out of one side of His being, out of the other side, pouring forth just as persistently and faithfully and consistently and intently is His grace and love. Question – Will you continue in Zombieland under His irrepressible wrath – or will you move to the glorious sunshine of his grace and love? That decision is entirely up to you.