The Puritan Richard Sibbes famously said, “There is more mercy in Christ than sin in us. Paul asked, “ Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom 8:35). His answer: Nothing. God’s love and mercy are infinitely greater than our sin. God’s mercy and grace is breathtaking. We talk about salvation sometimes in such a casual or forensic way. It’s all text book talk. In the passage before us, God’s grace is seen up close and personal. It brings deep emotion and affection to God when we magnify it. Sometimes we are so amazed at a person’s testimony of salvation that we give undue honor to the person. No. We should not do that. We are just sign posts. No one honors and glories in signposts. We glory in what the signpost is pointing toward. We honor the God who has transformed us. We need to see what God can do up close so that we can turn around and give glory and praise to our great God.
Have you ever seen the Sears Tower? Many people have only seen it from a distance. It’s a whole lot different when you get inside it. I can remember going up to the sky deck where people looked like ants on the sidewalk below. There’s a big difference between seeing the Sears Tower up close and just seeing it from a distance. Most of us have seen God’s love for us from a distance. We know it’s there; we understand that God is love—that he loves sinners, but I want to look up close at it and be awed by it. In order to see the brightness of God’s love, we need to see the darkness and brokenness of the human condition.
God begins this passage with a very dark and miserable atmosphere in order to magnify the glory of his grace. Theologians have often noted that the first three verses of Ephesians 2 are some of the darkest verses in the Bible.
EPHESIANS 2:1-3│ 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— 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.
If the verses stopped there, we’d all be in trouble. But we see the magnitude of God’s grace after we see the depth of our sin.
2:4-5 │But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.
Truly there is infinitely more mercy in Christ than sin in us. But I want to look at the grace of God in our next post. In this post, let’s delve into the depravity and darkness of our life before we knew Christ. Seeing the sinfulness of sin makes grace truly shocking.
Grace is shocking. Those who experience the “fullness of him who fills all in all” (1:23) were once “dead in their trespasses and sins” (2:1). Those you see assembled here once lived very far from God. Had you gathered us ten or twenty years ago, or some of you just a year or five ago, we would have gathered for entirely different reasons. We once lived lives that were dead to God. We were unfeeling toward him. We ignored him and lived as if he didn’t exist.
This text tells us that there is hope. God came to save those who were in the worst condition. He didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Man today is in such a horrible state, and he is in a very unsafe and catastrophic situation. Man has misdiagnosed his problem. A misdiagnosis of a disease would be catastrophic—disastrous! Imagine you go in to the doctor with an illness, and he gives you the wrong medicine. Or you need the right ventricle of your heart operated on, and instead the doctor cuts open the left. Or imagine you go into the doctor for a kidney transplant, and instead he operates on your spinal cord. That would be disastrous! Imagine you enter an emergency room with chest pain. The doctor tells you it’s only a chest cold. You can see that misdiagnosis is fatal!
Most of us picture throwing out a lifeline to mankind. We just need to get them to latch on to the life line. Dear friend, man cannot latch on to the life line because he is not sick or struggling with the lifeline. He is dead on the bottom of the ocean floor. There are many people that would take offense to this. They say they know God, but the Bible describes them differently. “They have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge” (Rom 10:2). They have “a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof” (2 Tim 3:5). Listen to Jesus’ disturbing words in Matthew 7.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’ (Mt 7:21-23).
Many who think they know God have never known him, because they are dead in the trespasses and sins in which they walk. So, Paul brings us to verse one, and he gives us that unmistakable diagnosis. He says, here is the cause of all your problems! Here is the reason for all the war, the sadness, and the sickness; all disease and all death have its root in this. Paul says: You were “dead in trespasses and sins”. This is an ugly subject, but we cannot know the greatness of God’s love and grace except on the backdrop of the ugliness of sin. Grace is only as amazing as sin is awful and vile.
The apostle Paul gives a breathtaking and controversial description of the human condition. It’s controversial because many believe that man is basically good. Paul is clear, as was his Lord Jesus Christ, that man is at his core, fundamentally bad. Paul says, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…” You had no way of coming to God on your own. Romans 3 tells us…
“There is none righteous, no not one” “none good not even one”. “No one seeks after God”
Paul tells us that by nature we are dead in his trespasses and sins (2:1-2a; 1 Cor 2:14). How awful it is to be blind or deaf: to not see or hear the obvious. But how much greater it is to be spiritually blind and deaf to God. By nature, we are born not feeling the degree of shame for transgressing against the glory of God. Paul says in verses 1-2a, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked…” The word “dead” is being used as a metaphor here, and it means to have no power or ability and to be completely “senseless”. A dead person has no ability to do anything concerning this world. He cannot make money. He cannot have a family. He cannot write a book. He is dead. He has no senses. He cannot see, hear, smell, or feel anything. In the same way, the natural man is dead toward God because of his sins. Something is wrong, and we don’t see it. We live in a way that is so contrary to our Creator, that we have no feeling for him. We are not concerned enough to stop what we are doing. Our concern is dead.
Have you ever been to a funeral? A funeral is sad because there has been a loss of life. The person you once knew is not with you on earth any more. You see their body. There’s no life in it. How do you know that life has departed? No life means no perception. When death comes all sensory perceptions are gone. A strawberry pie with whipped cream will not stir the appetite of one who has no life. They cannot enjoy it. When you’re dead you lose all sensory perception. The dead can’t see. The dead cannot hear. They cannot talk. They cannot taste. They cannot think or perceive anything! The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2:14).
He is senseless when it comes to sensing the need to please God. He does not feel the weight of his sin because he does not see the beauty of God. He is not compelled at all to adore him. He does not see the need to serve him. He is spiritually dead. Isaiah didn’t realize he was a man of unclean lips until he was awakened to see by God. He said,
“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isa 6:5).
He does not sense the atrocity of his sin. He is blind and dead to the need to live for God. Instead he lives completely for himself, breaking God’s law, trespassing the purpose for which God created him. What a sad reality! Man is dead to God. He has no sense at all that he should worship him. Instead he is very content to live his life totally centered around self. This is the reality of who man really is.
Paul tells us we are dead in trespasses and sins. We were spiritually dead people walking. Though we were dead to God, we were very much alive to our trespasses and sins. It was our rebellion to God that kept us dead in regard to knowing the beauty of God.
2:1 │ And you were dead in the trespasses and sins…
When I was a teenager I trespassed onto a friend’s property, knocking on my friend’s window in the middle of the night. Immediately I knew I had made a mistake. My friend’s large Cajun uncle considered me to be an intruder and called the police. I proceeded to jump into the Tickfaw River that runs into Lake Ponchatrain. As the police searched for the “intruder”, I was ducking under the swampy water. As the police drove away, I jumped out of the water, relieved that I had avoided arrest. But when it comes to our trespasses against God, no one escapes arrest. We have all trespassed against God’s law.
Dead in Trespasses
What does it mean to trespass? Not only do we miss the mark when we try to do good, but we actually choose to do evil. We trespass. God says about certain things, “Do not enter”, but we enter. He says, “No trespassing”, but we trespass. Theologically, the word trespass has the idea of breaking God’s law. 1 John 3:4 tells us “sin is the transgression of the law.” God says, “I am all wise, and these are my all wise judgments – live by them.” But we in pride and in smug audacity deviate from the all wise engineering of God, and we break his law and his instructions.
Dead in Sins
The word “sins” here means to “miss the mark”. We all try to reach God’s mark of perfection, but we constantly miss His mark. Paul says “there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:22-23). Paul is saying there is no difference between Jew or Gentile, the religious or pagan person. All have missed God’s mark. The spiritually dead are content to trespass God’s law regularly and continually. They are self-deceived, thinking that breaking God’s law will bring blessing and benefit, when it brings the opposite.
We were created to be servants of God, but we have indentured ourselves to follow other masters. Three are named in this passage: the world, the wicked one, and our own whims.
Enslaved to the World
2:1-2a │ And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world….
Man follows the world: “following the course of this world” (2:2). This world is the sworn enemy of God. 1 John 2:15 says “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” The world is the environment that we live in – which happens to be utterly in opposition to God’s holiness. It says NOW is all that matters – now is all you have. Your life is ultimately eternally inconsequential, so do what you like. It is a world system that is opposed to God. The whole world is in darkness and opposes God. This is part of encourages human beings to continue in their rebellion against God. It is the “group think” of our communities that oppose God.
Enslaved to the Wicked One
2:2b │ … following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—
Man follows the wicked one. Satan is called “the god of this world” – he is a prince or a governor in this world. He controls the power of the air or atmosphere of evil thought, the spiritually evil philosophies that are now at work in the children of disobedience. Satan is only at one place at one time, but he is crafty and intelligent, and he controls the spirit or outlook of the sons of disobedience. In other words, Satan sets the tone for what is in fashion. Satan the spirit being that is now at work in the sons of disobedience and controls both the sinful world system and the false religious system. All religious systems that do not hold Christ as being the exclusive way to the Father, “the way, the truth, and the life”, are controlled not by God, but by the wicked one. Jesus said to the Pharisees who were far more religious than most people: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (Jn 8:44). This dark ruler who roams the unseen spiritual realm is Satan. He is the one who brings evil influences to bear upon the world of men.
Enslaved to Our Own Desires
2:3 │ …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.
Unregenerate man follows his own whims. We all once lived in the passions of our flesh. It’s the universal past experience of all Christians. Whether a person was raised in a Christian home or in an unbelieving home, we all were lost and needed conversion. It was the desires and passions of the body that drove us. Our physical appetites were many: sex, food, rest, pleasure, socialization, and so many more. We were controlled by our bodies. But there were also desires of the mind. We were ego driven, people-pleasing, power hungry, etc. We were mastered by fear, anger, despair, jealousy, hatred, and pleasure. Self-focused, we lived in our power and for our own pleasure to the neglect of God and others. This kind of self-centered life is in direct rebellion against God, independent of his love, his guidance, and his good commands.
We were by nature, children deserving and inviting God’s just and right wrath. Rebellion was not merely learned by the nurture and culture and example of our own families, but it is by our own fallen, rebellious human nature. It’s still true that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom 5:12).
Man without Christ is destined for God’s wrath. The word for wrath has the idea: “to grow ripe for something”. It is God’s growing, intensifying opposition to sin. One day, God who is pure, holy, and just will send his Son to come “with flaming fire, taking vengeance on those who know not God” (1 Thess 1:8). Let me say, it does not get worse than this! Oh, dear sinner, wake up to your misery!
Until we come to know Christ through personal faith and fellowship, we remain abiding under the wrath of God, like the rest of mankind. There is no one exempt from the full fury of God’s wrath. Until we see our need of Christ, we cannot have God’s wrath removed from us. It’s not enough to have the knowledge and good doctrine of proper biblical teaching. We can have the most pristine gospel propositions memorized without actually coming to know Christ. We don’t get a prescription from the doctor and eat the paper script with the doctor’s signature. No, we want the medicine that will heal our body. When we go to a nice restaurant, we don’t eat the menu. We don’t savor the paper pictures of the food. No, we savor and taste and eat the actual food. So it is, we need to feel our real need of Christ and “taste and see that the Lord is good” through personal faith in Jesus. Until that moment of repentant faith and personal surrender to Jesus, we remain under God’s righteous wrath.
Here biblically is man’s condition. The Father had to predestine me in love, because I would never have initiated anything. Without Christ I have no hope for a number of reasons:
- I was dead. (I was positively, spiritually “dead” and unable to help myself. I needed to be raised up by God in order to live.
- I was disobedient (2:2b) – slave to my desire, the devil, and the world.
- I was depraved (Isa 64:6; Phil 3:8). I wasn’t unable to do anything. I was dead in sin. I was so full of sin there was no room for obeying God. Bottom line: I was my own god.
- I was doomed (2:3b) – I was a child of wrath unable to redeem myself. I could not help myself.
God’s Love is Amazing!
There is nothing in any of us that can cause God to love us. He does not love us because we are good. He loves us because he is good. Here we find the two most important words in the Bible, “But God”! Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “These two words, in and of themselves, in a sense contain the whole of the gospel.” 
 David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Way of Reconciliation: An Exposition of Ephesians 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972), 59.