Sermon Title: The Dead Made Alive (part 1)
Sermon Text: Ephesians 2:1-3
MAIN IDEA: Embrace the truth that you were formerly a child of disobedience and the object of God’s wrath
“Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB."
I provide this manuscript as a courtesy. I do not follow the document word for word during the message. I also do not write the document with the intent of publication; there may be grammatical errors throughout. Unfortunately, there is not always time to proofread. I choose to use my available time for studying, finding ways to explain the truths of Scripture while keeping a balance of time for visiting and discipleship of people in the church. Thanks for understanding.
The general opinion of society is that everyone thinks people are good at heart. Most people don’t think of themselves as sinners. People are good.
Sometimes, news reporters will share a story of how someone did something kind for someone else. Did you ever notice, however, that these stories do not dominate the news? They are a rarity. They are not the norm. When it happens, we usually are taken back.
For those who think people are at their core good, let me introduce you to what the Bible says on the matter. There is the opinion of the world, and then there is God’s opinion. God does not think people are good. In fact, God doesn’t think people are good at all.
God does not think even babies are good. He says, “Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward speaking lies” (NIV Psalm 58:3).
Theologians refer to mankind as being corrupt from birth as the doctrine of total depravity. It is discussed in the church as early as Augustine. His teaching on the doctrine of original sin speaks of man’s depraved spiritual condition. We read about the doctrine of total depravity in many Protestant confessions of faith.
For example, the Heidelberg Catechism, after asking did God make man good and answering, yes, He did, asks this question:
FROM WHERE, THEN, DOES THIS DEPRAVED NATURE OF MAN COME?
From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise, whereby our nature became so corrupt that we are all conceived and born in sin. (Gen 3; Rom 5:12, 18-19; Ps 14:2-3, 51:5)
Total depravity teaches that people, by nature, are not inclined to fulfill God’s great commandment of loving Him with their whole heart, mind, or strength. Instead, all humans by nature are inclined to satisfy their personal interests and rebel against the sovereign commands of God. Total depravity teaches the only we will turn to God is if God divinely intervenes and works in the heart.
Total depravity is not a popular doctrine. Our culture rejects that people are born with an evil nature. Our culture influences the church. Not every Christian believes that people are innately sinful. Some Christians believe people are born good. But, is this what the Bible teaches? We need to know what the Bible says on this topic.
I ran across a great illustration which speaks of a Christian, who did not believe people are born basically good. The illustration is from the satirical website, The Babylon Bee. It humorously tells a fictional story to make a point.
Woman Finally Accepts Doctrine of Total Depravity.
NEW YORK, NY—Mary Eastwood, 29, says she struggled for years to accept the biblical teaching that human beings are innately corrupted by sin, preferring instead to think that people are basically good. However, now that her daughter Charlotte is right in the prime of her “terrible twos,” Eastwood has changed her mind, fully embracing and even espousing the doctrine of total depravity.
“I had the hardest time coming to grips with the idea that all the people I see around me are marred by sin and without hope but for the grace of God,” the young mother told reporters. “But now that Charlotte is two—hoo boy. That innate depravity is shining through with the brightness of a thousand suns.”
Noting that her daughter, though small and cute, some days leaves her and her husband weeping in despair, Eastwood went on to say that no one in their right mind could handle a toddler for any amount of time and come out on the other end thinking human beings are “basically good.”
“She’s like a Category 5 hurricane with a cute face,” Eastwood told reporters. “I love her to death, but wherever she is, darkness and destruction reign.”
At publishing time, Eastwood was inviting an unbelieving friend to come to her house so Charlotte could convince her of mankind’s radical corruption and desperate need for a savior.
For all of us who have had the opportunity to raise two-year-old children, we find this story to be a great illustration. We know from experience that nobody has to teach our children how to sin. They are born knowing how to lie, steal, and cause harm to others. The schools do not have to teach children that they should not cheat on tests. Nor do they have to teach children wrongful playground behavior. Parents and teachers spend most of their time teaching children how they should not sin, not how to sin.
After 18 years of teaching, once they reach adulthood, people become good, right? After all, only two-year-old children are monsters. Adults are good citizens.
Consider this. If somehow New York City lost electricity, there is no way to deliver food to the grocery stores, and the police force is removed, how long would it take for there to be total anarchy? Do you think the good in people would shine brightly or do you think we will see the true heart of mankind? We all know the answer to that question.
Before we start pointing fingers at New Yorkers and judging them as depraved, let’s consider one another. Are we good as Christians? Have you ever said:
Without sleep, our need for sanctification becomes evident. When we have an illness, we often lose our niceness. Take away our food and our patience becomes very thin. Throw in multiple financial challenges, and it is no more Mr. Nice Guy.
Let’s face it, food, sleep, good health, and plenty of early morning COFFEE has a lot to do with our living as sanctified Christians.
We all battle hardship in life. When circumstances are good, we are nice Christians. But, take away the good circumstances and we find there is still a remnant of our sin nature waiting to jump out of our heart. Call it “old-self” left-overs. We need God to be saved, and we need God to stay saved.
I love the illustration Paul Tripp uses with a water bottle. Let me show you. (water bottle illustration).
Humans have a sin nature, and it is only by the grace of God we overcome sin.
Enough with the illustrations. Let’s let the Bible speak on the matter.
Let’s turn first to Romans chapter three. The reason we will begin with looking at the book of Romans is that we may know for certain the Saints in Ephesus, when reading the current letter Paul later wrote to them, would be reminded of the teaching Paul gave when he was present.
The first three verses of Ephesians chapter two are a summary of what Paul teaches in his gospel presentation found in Romans chapters one and two. Romans chapters one tells of the spiritual condition of the Gentiles before salvation. Paul summarizes Romans chapter one in Ephesians 2:1-3. Chapter two of Romans tells of the spiritual condition of the Jews before salvation. Paul summarizes chapter two of Romans in Ephesians 2:3.
In Romans and Ephesians, Paul makes the point that both Jew and Gentile are guilty before God. When Paul writes Ephesians 2:1-3, he is not teaching new doctrine to the Ephesians. They would have heard Paul teach this when he spent two years in Ephesus pastoring their church.
We are not going to look at chapters one and two of Romans, but we will instead look at Paul’s summary statement, his conclusion, that he formulates in chapter three. We will be looking at verses 10-18. Paul uses six Old Testament references to present a clear case of mankind’s, both Jew and Gentile’s, total depravity.
10 as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; 11 There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; 12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.” (Psalm 14:2-3) 13 “Their throat is an open grave (Psalm 5:9), With their tongues they keep deceiving,” “The poison of asps is under their lips” (Psalm 140:3); 14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness” (Psalm 10:7); 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood, 16 Destruction and misery are in their path 17 And the path of peace they have not known.” (Isaiah 59:7-8) 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes. (Psalm 36:1)”
The implications of this are very clear. There is no human being, Jew or Gentile, who seeks after God. There is none who does good. Not even one. Every human, whether they are Jew or Gentile is filled with deception, cursing, destruction, and no one seeks after peace. There is no fear of God in any human.
The reason for this total depravity, as the Heidelberg Catechism states, is original sin. It all started in Genesis with Adam.
Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:15-17)
When Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he died. He didn’t die physically. He died spiritually. The righteous spiritual man which God imputed to Adam when Adam was created died. Adam had no righteous spiritual life which he might pass on to future generations. That which is dead may not produce life. A physically dead man may not impregnate a woman with life. In the same way, a spiritually dead man may not impregnate a woman with spiritual life.
Adam’s seed has no spiritual life. That portion of his DNA is dead. This is what Paul teaches in Romans, again, something he would have taught the church in Ephesus (and every church he planted). Paul writes:
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned (Romans 5:12)
Every one of us needs to understand this essential gospel truth. Whenever we share the Gospel with others, we need to be sure this truth is part of our gospel presentation. The pattern of Scripture shows that when the gospel is preached, the spiritually dead sin nature is proclaimed. This is how Paul begins telling the gospel to the Romans and as we look through the gospel presentations in Acts, we see the Apostles telling of the sinful nature of man.
Let’s now look at verses 1-3 of Ephesians chapter 2.
The first two verses refer to the Ephesian Gentiles.
1And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.
Our trespasses and sins are what comes about from our spiritual deadness. We do not walk in righteousness, but we walk in sin.
Spiritually dead trees do not yield righteous fruit. The tree is alive, but it is of no value.
It is like going to Wellwood Orchards and giving the proprietor seeds of trees which will yield no fruit. They are apple trees which grow with branches, limbs and leaves. But, year after year the tree never produces apples. We would walk by the trees and think they were alive. But, the man who owns Wellwood Orchards would consider those trees dead and would cut them down.
All of creation was made to reflect the righteous and holy glory of God. We were created to yield righteous fruit. But, from the womb, we are dead and do evil continuously.
And, we are influenced. Our influence comes not from what is good, but that which is evil. They walk according to the course of this world and by the prince of the power of the air who is the spirit working in the sons of disobedience.
Spiritually dead people are not influenced by God, but by the world. In other words, they do not live according to heavenly principles. Their life is not characterized by obeying God. Spiritually dead people are like lemmings who blindly follow one another to destruction.
When the Bible talks about being influenced by the world, I think you know what that means. Living by the course of this world is to follow the world’s ways. Those who do so desire to wear the world’s fashions regardless of modesty. They worship idols (Artemis in the times of Ephesus, sports and celebrities in today’s age). The most popular music is that which sings about sin. Business is conducted according to the world rather than God’s ways, because, after all, everybody is doing it. Celebrities become more popular when they perform immoral acts.
Spiritually dead people have no discernment. So, they listen to evil influences. The Apostle Paul refers directly to Satan as the one who works in people and influences their lives. He calls Satan the prince of the power of the air; the spirit who works in the unbeliever.
Satan and evil spirits work in men to influence them. This is often taught in the Bible (Matthew 9:34, 13:38; John 12:31, 8:44; Acts 26:18; 2 Corinthians 4:4).
Understanding the Greek word Paul uses for air helps us understand why Paul refers to Satan as the prince of the power of the air. The word implies a few meanings when taken together, help us understand. Typically, the word was used to refer to the lower, obscure, misty atmosphere, as opposed to the Greek word used for pure air. It is understood to refer to that which is obscure, dark, and hidden from sight.
Another interpretation of this phrase, which retains the common meaning of the word as being air which obscures, is that the word implies the nature or origin of the spirit. In other words, ‘of the earth’ may be taken to mean something which comes from the earth, or earthly. The prince ‘of the air’ implies above the earth and not belonging to our earth (our realm). The prince of the power of the air does not have an earthly body nature but belongs to a different order of being which is aerial or spiritual.
Since the Garden of Eden, Satan has influenced mankind. Because we have a fallen sin nature, the ways of Satan are more attractive to us than God’s ways of righteousness and holiness. Satan rebels against God’s glory, and he endeavors to have us rebel as well.
Satan is the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4), not because he has control and rule, but because this world has set him up to be their god. They follow his ways.
Because they follow after the world and the god of this world they are sons of disobedience.
The word son may be translated, children. It expresses their relation to disobedience. They are the offspring of disobedience which is the source of their character. Those who are perpetually hungry would be the children of hunger. Those who are continually being selfish and hoarding goods would be the children of greed.
Children of disobedience are easily identified because they bear the family trait of being disobedient to God. We may look at children and say, you look just like your mother or father. The children have the characteristic of the parent which identifies their heritage. Children of disobedience have the birthmark of disobedience. God says go and they stop. God says stop and they go. God says to give, and they take. God says, to tell the truth, and they lie. It is their nature.
In short, the Gentiles were spiritually dead, living in sin, and their life was characterized by disobedience to God.
After talking about the Ephesian Gentiles, Paul now draws their attention to the Jews.
3Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
The Jews were not walking according to the course of the world as the Gentiles. They were walking according to the Mosaic Covenant. They were seeking to honor God with their outward actions.
Depravity is depravity. It might look different on the outside, but on the inside, it is the same. Although the Jews did not practice magic or build a temple to Artemis as the Ephesians did, on the inside, they were just as spiritually dead.
Gentiles are a poison pill dipped in chocolate. Jews are a poison pill dipped in caramel. Both are poison on the inside.
Paul puts himself in with the Jews. He does not say, “those Jews” but instead says, “we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh.” Paul wrote to the Philippians around the same time as he wrote the Ephesians. In that letter, he tells them not to put confidence in the flesh. It did him no good.
When Paul speaks of the flesh, he is not talking about skin or the body. He instead is referring to the ego of people. Our ego feels an emptiness inside. The ego is hungry and tries to use everything in its power to fill the empty belly. The flesh uses all the resources in its own power to attempt to satisfy the hunger. The flesh looks to food, sex, material things, money and power, human achievement such as sports, and complements from people to fill the empty void in the ego.
The void may never be filled because the void may only be filled by God. We were created to find our satisfaction in God and His righteousness, but because of our spiritual deadness, we look to fill the void everywhere but with God.
Listen to how Paul describes his religion before Christ in his letter to the Philippians.
… put no confidence in the flesh, although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. (Philippians 3:3-6)
Paul may have looked like a good Jew on the outside, but on the inside, his heart was filled with pride, coveting, and hypocrisy.
Those who indulge the desires of the flesh and mind are not putting God first, but self. We have all suffered from fleshly desires of immodesty, greed, gluttony, lust, hypocrisy, idolatry, unbelief, unfaithfulness, lacking self-control, impure thoughts, self-centeredness, sarcasm, rudeness, prejudice, pride, gossip, self-pity, conceit, overly critical, impatient, insensitive, lazy, opinionated, overbearing, bitter, resentful, workaholic, unreliable … and on and on.
All men, regardless of the outward conduct, are in their natural state living with “a fleshly mind” as opposed to “a spiritual mind.”
5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:5-8)
Paul, and all the Jews who were not in Christ were unable to please God no matter how hard they tried. The Law they tried to do only revealed their sin, it did not make them righteous. Their mind was set on the flesh. Even though they were religious on the outside, seeking to do the law, their motive was not righteousness, but indulging the lusts of the flesh and the mind.
In the end, both Jew and Gentile cannot please God. Their flesh is not set on God but is instead hostile to God. Because they are hostile to God, they are His enemy.
Here is Paul’s point in these verses. The Jews were not better than the Gentiles, just different. Jews and Gentiles both needed God. They both needed a miracle. He ends by saying, we were by nature children of wrath “even as the rest.” Gentiles were children of wrath and Jews were children of wrath. They looked different in their lifestyle, haircut, diet, and religious practices, but as far as God was concerned, they were all children of wrath.
All who do not obey Christ are children of God’s wrath.
He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. (John 3:36)
God’s wrath is a building anger. Mankind mocks His name. The glory of God is that He is slow to anger. God is gloriously patient. His wrath is building. His anger is just and righteous. There will be a day when God says, ENOUGH.
Right before God destroyed the world with the flood, the Bible says, “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5).”
Jesus said this about His return:
For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. (Matthew 24:37-39)
It is not too difficult to think that these times are much different than in the days of Noah. People are trampling upon the salvation of God, and they are mocking His Son. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.
Beloved, we were formally children of wrath, just as the rest.
The goal of this message was to be sure we all understand where we came from before God saved us.
We want to know the truth about ourselves, but sometimes it is not always good to hear the truth. Our first reaction is to deny the truth and then become angry. We need to see our formal selves from God’s perspective. We need to embrace the truth that you were formerly a child of disobedience and the object of God’s wrath. Here is why.
Knowing the truth of our condition before God saved us allows us to more fully appreciate God’s grace.
Not seeing ourselves as totally depraved before salvation is like seeing our salvation as though we were swimming in the middle of the ocean, far from land, and Jesus came to save us. If we see our salvation as we were alive and swimming, though far from land, there is always that little thought in our mind which says, “maybe I would have made it to land, it is possible I may have survived.”
The reality is that before we were saved we were not swimming, but we were lying dead on the bottom of the ocean. We had no hope whatsoever of being rescued. But, Jesus came, and He saved us, lifting us up from the miry depth of darkness. He breathed into us new life and brought us to land so we may never drown again.
When we understand our salvation rightly, we have a better understanding of the magnitude of our salvation. In the first scenario, there is a thankfulness for the work of salvation to be sure, but there is not going to be the depth of understanding of salvation which will bring about the right level of praise and gratitude.
In the second, biblically accurate scenario in which we were dead, we more fully understand the grace and mercy of God. The praise of God’s grace is full and complete. We were dead, “But God …”
It is impossible for a dead man to be made alive. But, what is impossible with men is possible for God.
Embrace the truth that you were formerly a child of disobedience and the object of God’s wrath.
Give God the glory.