The following sermon was preached on March 28, 2010 at FBC Benbrook
Imagine the following scenario with me. You are riding in a car with a friend. You are sitting in the passenger seat while your friend is driving. When you were putting your suitcase in the trunk, you think you saw a bomb in the trunk with a countdown timer that showed only 23 minutes left, and counting. When you got in the car, you expressed your concern to your friend, but he just thought you had seen way too many movies. So he drove away. But as you are driving, you just cannot stop thinking about the possibility of there being a bomb in the trunk. Try as you may, you cannot convince your friend to stop the car. So, unbeknownst to your friend, you text a friend and ask them to call the police. In a few minutes, you begin to see the flashing lights of the State Troopers in your side view mirrors. A deep sigh of relief comes over you as you think that you are going to be saved. On the other hand, your friend is quite irritated. He sees the flashing lights as a threat or a nuisance. “Don’t they have anything better to do with their time than harass law abiding citizens?” The same flashing lights. To one person, they signify salvation or a rescue operation. To another person, they are nothing less than an interruption and a violation of their freedom.
Next Sunday is Easter Sunday, and our appreciation of the events of Easter will largely depend upon our assessment of our threat level, of our need for a Savior. The text we are going to read this morning from the book of Ephesians is going to challenge our understanding of our threat level. I would venture to say that when the average Christian is asked to explain why we need a Savior, they would reply that Jesus saved us from our sins. They would say that Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. And that would be a true and biblical statement (see 1 Corinthians 15.3). But while it is a true statement, it is also an incomplete statement. It is true that Christ died for the forgiveness of our sins, but it is not the entire truth. Its kind of like, in our made up scenario, the State Trooper pulling us over to let us know that we had a flat tire. They rescued us from only one problem, but not the full problem. If we simply understand salvation as the forgiveness of sins, then we do not have a full and biblical understanding of why we need a Savior.
I want to prepare you today for the text we are going to read. Ephesians 2 is going to take our nice, neat, little packaged version of salvation and blow it out of the water. I hope you have a copy of the Scriptures with you today, or that you will take the pew Bible and read along, because I want you to see how pervasive these truths are in all of the Word of God.
The problem with understanding salvation as “the forgiveness of sins” is that we treat salvation like spiritual bankruptcy. This idea of having my debts wiped clean so that I can manage my life. Many people who declare bankruptcy have good jobs, but their debt is so large that they can’t manage. If the debt were to be magically erased, then all would be fine. And we think of our spiritual life like that. I am basically a good person who is managing life just fine, but we have this pesky debt of being a “sinner.” If we can just get that label erased, then we would be just fine. So we declare spiritual bankruptcy, Jesus wipes away our debt, and then we can manage our life just fine because we are basically good, moral people.
The problem with that image is that it is totally, biblically inaccurate. That is not the full picture of what it means to be lost and in need of a Savior. Furthermore, if that is all salvation means to you, that your past debts have been erased, then you will not be all that excited about Easter. But if you will let the truth of Ephesians 2 wash over you this morning, then the rescue operation of Easter will amaze your heart and soul.
The focal text today is Ephesians 2.1-3, but to put that in context, we need to read the last part of chapter 1. The first words of chapter two are “and you also,” which means that the thought line of chapter 2 is a continuation of the line of thought in chapter 1. So let us begin our reading with Ephesians 1.18,
18I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Ephesians 1.18-23 NIV)
Notice that the power of God is for us who believe (1.19) and it is the same power of God that was at work in Christ, raising Him from the dead (1.20) and seating Him at the right hand of God (1.20) above all rule, authority, power, or dominion (1.21). And this same power is at work in our lives, too, as Paul continues this line of thought in chapter two.
1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus… (Ephesians 2.1-6 NIV)
Notice how this power of God was working for us who believe (1.19). The power of God raised us from the dead, making us alive (2.5) and seated us with Christ (2.6). This is why Paul begins chapter two with the phrase, “and you also” to show that the same power of God at work in Christ is working also in us.
But our focal text this morning is the first three verses in chapter two, where the apostle describes our condition before we were saved. Before we were saved, or redeemed, or born again, or rescued by Christ, we were dead in our sins, and we were followers of Satan, and we were objects of God’s wrath. Now those are some graphic and weighty words that must be examined very closely if we are going to get a biblical picture of what it means to be lost and in need of a Savior.
Dead In Our Sins And Trespasses
The first description of a lost person is that we were dead in our transgressions and sins. Transgression, or trespass, means a “deviation from truth.” The word translated sin means “to miss the mark.” The Bible uses various words to describe sin. Sin is transgression (to cross over a boundary line), missing the mark, rebellion, and perversion, to name just a few. But the focus of this verse is not on the two words that describe sin but on the fact that we were “dead in our sins.” To be dead means to have no spiritual life. In Ephesians 4.18, Paul describes those in sin as “separated from the life of God.” In First John, salvation is described as passing from death to life (1 John 3.14). Jesus described His very mission as coming that we might have life (John 10.10). An unsaved person is spiritually dead, void of life.
There are two passages of Scripture that I would like for us to read together where this idea of spiritual death is described with more color. The first is in Romans 8,
1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.
5Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.
9You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. (Romans 8.1-11 NIV)
Notice that Christ came to set us free from the law of sin and death. Also notice what Paul said in verse 7: in our sin nature, we do not submit to God’s laws, nor “can we do so.” When we were spiritually dead, there was not spiritual life within us.
To borrow an image from John Piper, when we were still in our sins, we were not in the “doghouse” with God. We used the expression of being in the doghouse with our wives or parents or friends to say that we have done something to offend them and need to make it up. We might send flowers or do some good deed to get us out of the doghouse. But, according to the Scriptures, we were not in the doghouse with God, we were in the morgue. If you are in the doghouse, you can do a few good things to make it right, but dead people don’t do a few good things, indeed, they cannot.
What makes this image of “dead in our sins” hard to swallow is that we all know people who are unsaved but who live good and moral lives. How do we square “dead in our sins” with good deeds? Jesus Himself gave us the answer in Matthew 23. He was describing people who do good deeds but who are spiritually dead when He said,
27“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. 28In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matthew 23.27-28)
Yes, it is entirely possible to do good deeds but to be spiritually dead on the inside. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6.23).
We are not comfortable with this idea. We are OK with being labeled “sinners,” though we like the idea of being called “mistakers” even better. (After all, we have all made mistakes, right?) But to say that we were spiritually dead means there was nothing we could do to help ourselves. Dead people don’t help themselves get undead. And that is the point of Ephesians 2. Just as God raised Jesus to life, so He has raised us to life. If God did not breathe life into our dead bodies, we would still be dead and powerless to do anything about it.
Followed The Ruler Of The Kingdom Of The Air
But the picture gets far worse. Not only were we dead in our sins, void of any spiritual life. But we also
….followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. (Ephesians 2.2-3 NIV)
In these two verses, three rather shocking truths are laid out. First, there is a ruler of this world. Second, the spiritual forces of evil are at work in those who are spiritually dead. And third, the result is that those who are spiritually dead are in tune with this evil age.
The Ruler of the Kingdom of the Air is a reference to Satan. Here, Paul uses the image of air because air is everywhere in the created order. In other places, Satan is called “the prince of Demons” (Matthew 12.24), the “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4.4), and the “prince of this world” (John 14.30), and here he is called the “ruler of the Kingdom of air” (Ephesians 2.2). According to the most recent poll by George Barna, the majority of those who call themselves Christians do not believe that Satan is a real spiritual being. 55% of protestant Christians believe that Satan is just a symbol of evil, but that is not what the Bible teaches. Later in Ephesians, Paul tells us very plainly,
12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6.12-13 NIV)
According to the biblical image of what it means to be lost is that there are very real spiritual forces of darkness, and there is a ruler of those forces whose name is Satan. And to be lost means that you are a follower of Satan. It is not possible to say, “I have been a Christian all my life.” No you have not. You were a follower of Satan. You were a disciple of the Devil. That is what it means to be a lost person.
Furthermore, the spirit of the ruler of the kingdom of air is at work in the spiritually dead. The spiritual forces of darkness are at work in the hearts and souls and minds of those who are lost, and unless the power of God overcomes the work of Satan in our live, we would remain spiritually dead.
What is the ruler of this world doing in the spirits of those who are spiritually dead? Let me show you two different passages of Scripture that describe his work. The first is from 2 Corinthians 4,
4The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4.4-6 NIV)
One of the ways the ruler of this world is at work in the spiritually dead is by blinding the minds of unbelievers. Satan keeps them from seeing spiritual truth. And notice, the only way that the lost are able to see the light of the glory of the gospel is if God makes his light shine in our hearts to give us the knowledge of the glory of God in Christ. So, if you are able to see and understand the gospel, it is because God has made His light to shine in your hearts so that you can see the gospel truth.
You see, salvation is so much more than just needing a fresh start. No. You were spiritually dead. You were a follower of Satan. You were blinded by the god of this world. You would have never seen or understood the gospel or believed upon Jesus if God had not made His light to shine in your hearts.
In 2 Timothy 2, the apostle Paul describes another way that the spirit of the ruler of this world is at work in the spiritually dead. Paul is giving instructions to Timothy about how to be a minister, and he writes,
24And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. (2 Timothy 2.25-26 NIV)
One of the conditions of being lost is that we are held captive by the devil to do his will, or as Paul describes it in Romans, the lost are slaves to sin (see Romans 6.16-18). Again, slaves do not set themselves free, but are rescued by one who has the power to redeem. There is a bondage to sin in the condition of the lost person, and even if your life is “pretty moral” and “law abiding,” it does not mean that you are not in bondage to sin. The outside may be whitewashed and clean, but inside is the bondage to selfishness, pride, and rebellion against the King of Kings.
This is why, when Jesus describes His mission, He uses words of deliverance. The risen Christ told the apostle Paul what his mission would be,
I am sending you to them 18to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me. (Acts 26.17-18 NIV)
Or as Paul said very clearly in Galatians 1, Jesus “gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age” (Galatians 1.3).
And what happens when the spirit of the ruler of this world works in the spiritually dead by blinding their minds to the gospel truth and holding them captive to do his will? They naturally follow the ways of this world and gratify the cravings of our sinful nature and follow its desires and thoughts. Because the spiritually dead are blind and in bondage, they live in step with this present evil age and see nothing wrong with it. Of course, we defend ourselves because we have not murdered anyone, or we have not committed adultery, or we have not stolen anyone’s property. But that is just it. When we live in rebellion against the lordship of Christ, whether it is murdering another person or lashing out with angry words, whether it is committing adultery or having lustful thoughts, or whether it is simply doing what we want to do the way we want to do it, that is transgression and sin. And we are at home in a world that lives in whatever way that seems right to us and ignores the Sovereignty of Christ.
Objects of God’s Wrath
But the picture gets even worse. Not only are we spiritually dead, and not only were we following the ruler of this world, and not only was the spirit of Satan at work in our lives blinding us to spiritual truth and holding us captive to do his will, but we were objects of God’s wrath. For those of you have bought into the lie that the god of this world has been selling, that God is too loving to be a judgmental, vengeful, wrathful god, you need to see that the Bible clearly speaks of the wrath of God. I could read for you dozens of verses from the Bible about the wrath of God, but I will only point you to a few.
- The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness (Romans 1.18)
- 8The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. (1 Thessalonians 1.8-10)
- This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power 10on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. (2 Thessalonians 1.7-10)
- 5For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. (Ephesians 5.5-6)
Don’t let anyone deceive you with empty words, words that say that you haven’t done anything worthy of God sending you to hell, words that claim that God is a loving God and wouldn’t send anyone to hell, words that say hell is a place for Hitler and his ilk. No. The wrath of God is revealed against all of those who are void of spiritual life. The wrath of God is revealed against all of those who follow the ruler of this world. The wrath of God is revealed against all of those who are blinded to spiritual truth. The wrath of God is revealed against all of those who are held captive to do Satan’s bidding. The wrath of God is revealed against all of those who live comfortably in this present evil age.
This is why the rescue operation of Easter is such good news. We were dead, and He raised us to life. We were followers of Satan, but He has accepted us as followers of Christ. We were blinded by the god of this world, but He made his light shine into our hearts so that we could see the light of the gospel. We were held captive by Satan to do his will, but Christ has set us free from this present evil age. We were followers of the ruler of this world, but God has forgiven us for that transgression and made us alive in Christ! We were objects of His wrath, but God has given us grace and mercy instead.
And the word of God still speaks, and the light of God still shines, and the Spirit of God still convicts. Even now, the Spirit of God is convicting someone in this room. The Spirit of God is shining His light into your hearts and you are seeing for the very first time that you are a sinner dead in your trespasses and sins. The Spirit of God is showing you that you are being held captive by the Devil to do hi will. The Spirit of God is showing you that you are gratifying the cravings of your sin nature. And the Spirit of God is convicting you that are an object of God’s wrath. And if Jesus were to return today to punish those who do not obey the gospel with everlasting destruction and to shut them out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of His power, that would be you.
If the Spirit of God is at work in your soul today, please don’t miss that today is the day of salvation for you. Will you confess that you are a sinner? Will you admit that you are dead in your trespasses and sins? Will you admit that you need God to raise you from the dead and give you new life in Christ? Will you believe upon the name of Jesus? Will you believe that Christ died for your sins to rescue you from this present evil age? Will you ask Jesus to forgive you of your sins? Will you ask Jesus to make you alive and to set you free? Will you call upon the name of Jesus to be saved?