The Stark Contrast Between Death and Life
I was 14 years old when I first saw a dead body. Before my great grandfather’s funeral, there was a viewing held where people could pay their final respects at an open coffin. I was a believer at that point, so I understood that when my great grandfather died, his soul left his body. I didn’t personally feel the need to say goodbye to his body, because I understood he was already gone. However, my grandfather wanted to go to the funeral, so I went to support him.
When I looked in the casket, I was extremely disturbed by what I saw. I expected my great-grandfather’s body to look like it was sleeping, but it didn’t. His skin looked waxy and fake. His body was stiff and unnatural looking. His face was expressionless. He was completely and utterly devoid of life. The contrast of looking from his face and the face of my grandfather who was standing next to me was like night and day. One was full of death and the other was full of life.
In Ephesians 2:1-10, the apostle Paul talks about a similarly stark contrast that exists between the spiritually dead and the spiritually alive. In this famous passage, we see that, by the grace of God, believers have been brought from spiritual death to spiritual life through faith in Christ.
Dead in Sin
In Ephesians 2:1, Paul opens this section with a shocking statement. He says:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.
He says they were dead. How can that be? He opens the book by calling these Ephesian Christians “saints” and talking to them like they are believers. How can believers have been dead? The short answer is that everyone who has ever been born has been born spiritually dead (Rom 3:23; 6:23). Paul says that all people are born dead in trespasses and sin. The Greek word for “trespasses is paraptōma and means “slip” or “fall” or “going the wrong direction.” The Greek word for “sins” is hamartia and means missing the mark (and it is used 173 times in the NT).
All men and women are born spiritually dead because they are born with a nature that is spiritually fallen and has missed the mark of God’s perfect holiness. How is that possible? Doesn’t someone need to commit sin first? No—we are born in sin due to Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden (see Gen 2:15-17; Rom 5:12).
Since spiritual deadness is our natural state, the only thing we need to do to go to hell is nothing. We are born spiritually dead. Anyone who has not placed their faith in Christ is like a spiritual zombie—the walking dead. They may appear to have life, but they are rotting spiritual corpses. The fact of the matter is that we all were like this at one point.
in which you once walked,Ephesians 2:2
Paul uses the concept of “walking” throughout his letters to represent the direction of someone’s life. Unbelievers walk in trespasses and sin. However, Paul uses the past tense of this word to describe the Ephesians walk. They used to walk in sin, but they no longer do. That’s an amazing thought—that the spiritually dead can come to life and have a changed way of living (see also 1 Cor 6:9-11). The Ephesians no longer walk like unbelievers, because they have been saved and have a changed heart. Paul goes on to describe how unbelievers walk:
following the course of this world,Ephesians 2:2
In Scripture, when the term “world” is being used, it generally is not referring to planet earth. Paul uses the Greek word kosmos which speaks to the world order or system. “The world” is the sum total of how people operate and think, and what they value, and pursue. In 1 John 2:17, John explains that the world is characterized by “the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life.”
In that case, the course of the world is the direction that everything is moving in to pursue the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Why is that the direction of the evil world system? For one reason, that is how the spiritually dead walk. Why do they walk that way? Paul says it’s because of who they are:
following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—Ephesians 2:2
Who is the prince of the power of the air? Satan. He is the father of all unbelievers and the leader of the evil world system (John 8:44; 1 John 3:10; also 2 Cor 4:4). He has been given the ability to pursue his evil schemes on earth for the time being (Job 1:6-7; 1 Pet 5:8). Paul goes on to say that we were once following that same evil system:
among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind,Ephesians 2:3a
These Ephesian believers used to be following the course of the world—living only to fulfill the evil desires of their fallen flesh and mind (Gal 5:19-21). Those who live this way will not inherit the kingdom of God, because they are not believers. This is how Paul describes them:
and [you] were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.Ephesians 2:3b
Is it shocking to hear that unbelievers are children of wrath? This must be just the worst of the worst, right? The Hitlers and Charles Mansons of the world? No—Paul says, “like the rest of mankind.” So, is Paul saying that mankind as a whole can be considered children of wrath? Is he saying that they are under the wrath of God in their natural state? That doesn’t sound very loving to say that. That also doesn’t sound fair if we saw earlier in Ephesians 1:4-5 that God chooses who he will save. Is God unjust?
No—God is perfectly just to punish unbelievers for transgressing his perfect law and rebelling against him (Rom 9:14-18). It’s actually shocking that he would save anyone. That isn’t justice. That is mercy and grace.
The Good News of the Gospel
We will explore this more fully in our next article, but Paul goes on in this passage to share the amazing news that even though we are born dead in our sins, we can be made alive in Christ. By placing your faith in Jesus—by believing that he was fully God and fully man, that he lived a perfect life that was sinless, that he bore the wrath of God in his death on the cross for the sins of those who believe in him, and that he rose again on the third day—you can be saved. The gospel of Christ is the only thing that can raise the spiritually dead to life.
In our next article, we’ll explore what it means to be made alive in Christ.