In Chapter 1, Paul looked at our salvation from God’s point of view. Listing and describing the gifts of the spiritual blessings that God has granted in the past, in the present and will grant in the future. Now, in chapter 2 he looks at salvation from the point of view of the individual Christian, not only those in Ephesus, but also directly to us, reading this today. Chapter 1 goes through the past, present and future of Gods’ plan. Chapter 2 then looks into the past present and future of the people that Christ saves through the cross.
The first 5 verses take us on a rollercoaster ride, from the very edge of despair to the heights of overwhelming love. We start with verses 1-3. The first three words “As for you” may well fill you with dread! When we read this, we know whoever the “you” is, is in trouble. Imagine an old fashioned headmistress, looking down her nose through her spectacles at 3 students who know they have been caught breaking the rules. She gets to the third student and, looking him in the eye, she says “As for you”
However, when we consider the context of this letter, and knowing that we can read Paul’s letter to the Ephesians as a letter which directly speaks to each of us today. We can assume that the “As for you" most certainly relates to us all as individual Christians today. Paul says “you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” He is obviously not referring to a person as being physically dead but rather to them being spiritually dead. Spiritually dead is to be separated from Christ, to be cut off from Christ, to be following anything or anyone other than Christ.
Paul is being very clear. He specifically tells us why and how we are spiritually dead, and it is because we are following the ways of this world and the world is fallen. We are sinful because all of creation is sinful. It is in our fallen nature to be sinful. As we've looked at before, anything that is not for God, is against God, even our very best intentions, if they are not for God, they are against Him.
Yet Paul goes further still verse 3, "like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath,"
The wrath of God is not something we find easy to talk about these days. It's much easier, when talking to people about Christ, to talk about Christ’s love, his forgiveness, his redemptive death on the cross. We don’t often focus on his wrath. This is perhaps because we underestimate the power that sin has over us? Yet, if our sin is as bad as the Bible declares it to be, nothing is more just or reasonable that the wrath of a holy, pure and perfect God.
In the Bible there are more than 20 words used to express God’s wrath, and there are hundreds of passages throughout the Bible that deal with it. If we look at these passages as a whole, we can see that God’s wrath is consistent, controlled and judicial. And that is what makes it so frightening. The doctrine of the wrath does not mean that God gets angry from time to time or lashes out in anger and then forgets all about it. It is rather that his wrath is an inevitable and growing opposition to all that is opposed to his righteousness. Again, if we're not working for him, we are working against Him.
How horrible the situation we find ourselves in! What is to be done for those who are so deep in sin and unable to escape from it. Surely they will experience the inevitable outpouring of the just and righteous wrath of our avenging God. Humanly speaking nothing can be done, the sinner can never save themselves. Even a redeemed person, who has seen the truth of salvation through the gospel, cannot save another sinner. Nothing we can do can ever change a persons heart. Although it may be impossible for mankind, it is possible for God. A radical problem like sin, requires a radical remedy, and God supplies it.
And this radical remedy is described by Paul in the next two verses. After Paul has told us how we are slaves to sin and ready to face the righteous wrath of God, Paul joyfully breaks in with, "but because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made it alive with Christ even when we were dating transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved!”
We were dead in transgressions. We were dead in our sins. But, God performs resurrections. He reaches down to where ruined, miserable, trapped sinners are living and he brings them into spiritual life. He calls them, and his voice, which calls the dead, brings them running to that which beforehand they shunned and feared.
George Whitfield, the great Calvinistic evangelist, compared this to Christ’s raising of Lazarus:
"Come, you dead, Christ-less unconverted sinners, come and see the place where they laid the body of the deceased Lazarus, laid out, bound hand and foot, with grave clothes, locked up and stinking in a dark cave, with a great stone placed on top of it. View him again and again, go nearer to him, do not be afraid, smell him! How he stinks! He is bound hand and foot with grave-clothes, so are you bound hand and foot by your corruptions, and as a stone was laid on the grave, so there is a stone of unbelief upon your stupid heart. Perhaps you have been dead, not only for four days, but for many years, stinking in God’s nostrils with your sin. And what is still worse you are as unable to raise yourself out of this horrible dead state to a life of righteousness,
as Lazarus was able to raise himself from the dead. You may try using your power of your own free will, and with the force and energy of moral persuasion and rational arguments, which do have a place in religion, but all your efforts will prove fruitless and abortive, till that same Jesus, who said "take away the stone Lazarus come forth", also calls you”
Apart from the calling voice of God there will be no hope for anyone. Because of it even the worst and most determined rebel may be saved. Praise be to God for it! The God of the Bible and of the Lord Jesus Christ, the God about whom Paul is writing. This God is who we need, though we did not know it in our sinful state. Instead of coming to him to find a new life and righteousness, we ran from him to wickedness and spiritual death. Only those Christ has called to him, can then refer in a past tense, of been dead in their transgressions, and can rejoice in the glory of their forgiveness and salvation.
When we look at verse 4, we should acknowledge the original Greek texts. The differences in the Greek and English syntax (the way in which sentences are formed) often means the order of the words are rearranged, and mostly rightly so. But in this case, the translation may read just as well, (if not better!) if the words were not re-arranged. Verse 4 in the Greek translation reads “But God, because of his great love for us” - note the difference. So consider verses 1-3… we were dead in our transgression and sins, we followed the wickedness of this world, gratifying the cravings of our flesh, we were deserving of wrath. Vs 4 “BUT GOD!” Isn't it wonderful to discover that although we ran from God, and had all that sin and un-righteousness in our lives, God did not leave us. Instead, he has come to us and has done for us precisely what needed to be done. Simply put, he saved us - and it was by grace we have been saved. He has rescued us from the desperate, deplorable conditions described at the beginning of the chapter. If we understand those two words “but God” they will save our souls. If you recall them daily and live by them, they will transform your life completely.
Two final points. Firstly, we were “dead, in [our] transgressions and sins” no more able to help ourselves out of sin as was Lazarus able to raise himself from the dead. That is, unless God speaks the command.
Secondly, God has dealt with the problem of wrath. In our sins we were indeed "objects of wrath”. But since Jesus has suffered in our place for our sin and we have been delivered from it, we are no longer deserving of wrath, we have been saved by grace. Read verses 8-9.
1) We were dead in our transgressions and sins.” What does this mean?
2) If we were dead in our transgressions and sin, this means that we are no longer, so if we are no longer dead to sin, why do we still sin?
3) Would you consider someone a Christian if they said “If Christ died for my sin and always forgives me, I can go on doing whatever I want!” Does it mater what you think of them anyway?
4) Do you think you could actually say to a non-christian that they are dead in their sin? If you could - how would you say it? Do you think they would understand? If you couldn’t say it - why not?
5) Do we find it hard to talk about the “wrath of God”? With each other and with non-Christians? If we do, why do you think so?
6) Is it easier to talk about the love of Jesus and His love for us? With each other and with non-Christians? If we do, why do you think so?
7) Consider the wonderful words of “But God”. Perhaps spend some time as a home group discussing what these words mean?
8) Every Christian has a “But God” moment in their life. Perhaps spend time talking about that moment with each other.
9) Think about people in your lives who are yet to know Jesus. Perhaps spend some time praying for them, pray that they will soon be able to say “they were dead in their transgressions and sins, BUT GOD saved me”