Ephesians 2:1-3 The Way We Were
Years ago (1973), we all enjoyed a Robert Redford movie entitled “The Way We Were”. It was an idealistic nostalgic look at past better days. Appearances were that the men were young and handsome and the women were young, sweet, beautiful, and innocent. What could go wrong for the young lovers? Robert Redford and Barbara were star-crossed lovers. In college everything was romantic and sweet, and love was in the air, but when they got married and were out in the harsh cruel world, the real Robert and Barbara showed up. She was a socialist pseudo-intellectual, and he was a privileged spoiled golden boy. The “Way We Were” title revealed they were great until the world’s pressures and their fleshly desires came into play. The truth was that they were never the “way we were” perfect couple, and they just needed the stimulus to reveal the way they really were. Most people have the idealistic view that good people are like the young Redford and Barbara, and we can all be that way, but the Bible introduces a completely different view of human nature.
In Ephesians 2:1-3, Paul looks at the past of all Christians before they believed in Christ. This biblical view is not idealistic-it is realistic. It is the most pessimistic view of the human race living apart from God that I can imagine. This letter is to the churches at Ephesus, and the believers there had previously been immersed in worldly religion, and great indulgence of their fleshly desires. The Greek polytheistic religion they practiced was able to combine religion and sexual lust. One of the 7 Wonders of the World was the Temple of Artemis located at Ephesus in the first century. Housed in the Temple were hundreds of so-called priestesses who helped men worship the goddess of fertility. The worship was sexual and the priestesses were actually no more than prostitutes, and the economy enjoyed a robust boost from all that went on there including a box office bonanza of selling idols. Therefore, Paul’s sober realistic analysis of the past lives of Christians in Ephesus being totally depraved was no doubt true. Yet Paul is going way beyond just picking out one group of people. He is revealing the base nature of mankind in rebellion without God. Is this negative and cruel? Not at all, because after he reminds them of their past condition before Christ, Paul gave them the good news of their optimistic position after they were saved by the grace of God.
Examining the Human Condition
Don’t forget that for 4000 years of recorded history there has always been wars, human trafficking, slavery, murder, crimes of every kind, etc. etc. Today’s humanistic intellectuals ignore all these statistics and somehow believe we are actually evolving positively in a moral sense. But I agree with the theologian who said, “There is no fact with more empirical evidence than that human beings have a sin nature”. Nevertheless, there are basically 3 views of human nature:
I’m OK, you are OK. We live in an evolving world that is getting better. There is no absolute truth, so right and wrong are relative concepts. People are basically good.
2. Morally, mankind is flawed, or sick, and something is wrong with us, but we are not beyond hope. We are basically good so with religion, self-help, technology, and pharmaceutical breakthroughs we will be fine.
3.Biblical view—man is dead in his/her sin, meaning dead in that there is no spiritual life and they are separated from God. Therefore we are lost and without hope. Without God we are in bondage to three powerful forces—the world, the flesh, and the devil. Physically we are alive but spiritually we are dead toward God. We naturally follow the immoral ways of the world and spend our time gratifying the cravings and lusts of the flesh.
“Everyone is like a moon, which has a dark side which he never shows to anybody” Mark Twain
“I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies but not the madness of people” Isaac Newton
“We all lust in our flesh. When all is said and done, the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the spirit with every available weapon against the flesh” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“There is a savage beast in every man, and when you hand that man a sword and send him to war, the beast stirs” George R.R. Martin
“I believe in equality for everybody no matter how stupid they are or how superior I am to them” Steve Martin
I am aware that for every negative quote about human nature you could find a positive one, but what Paul does in Ephesians 2:1-3 is give God’s view of the nature of man in his alienated state from God.
Life Before Christ
What is the plight of man without God? What is the past condition of believers and the present condition of everyone else? Paul writes that their state of being is “dead in their trespasses and sins”, meaning that in God’s view they have no spiritual life, no spiritual pulse. He used two different Greek words here for sin, which give two views of the same truth. They have committed particular sins, but also they exist in a condition of falling short or missing the mark of God’s holy standard. This gives us God’s view as opposed to man’s view. The typical person might say they are good, but that goodness is compared to other people. God’s judgment compares us to His holy standard, and who among us can measure up to the righteousness of God? Peter quoted from Leviticus 11:44 to make this point as God said, “You shall be holy, for I am holy”. The problem we have now is that if we are not influenced by God, then three other powerful forces take over and run our lives. Paul says in Ephesians 2:1-3, that these forces are the world, the flesh, and the devil. Without God, man lives by “the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air (atmosphere we live in)…among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh carrying out the desires of the body”. The world we live in is constantly brainwashing us with its lies such as “The ends justify the means”, or “if it feels good do it”, or “Winning is not the main thing, it’s the only thing”, and many others. The peer pressure in this world is overwhelming, and would have us believe that we can fix our own problems. We just need better education, social programs, enhanced self esteem, better technology, and better drugs. All this has been tried and failed miserably. In order to give us a choice, God allows the adversary of God to have a limited rule in this world. Therefore the devil could tempt Jesus (or us) by offering him instant gratification, or fame and fortune. Perhaps the most corrupting force is that which comes from within us—the desires and passions of our physical body. Remember that all marketing and advertising is developed to appeal to our sense of desire for pleasure and gratification. Our basic desires are a good thing, but they have become greed, adultery, gluttony, self-obsession, and drunkenness. Clearly we need help from someone greater and better than ourselves.
Two Necessary and Wonderful Words—“BUT GOD”
In Ephesians 2:4, we find two great words “But God”. This is the literal translation, and I like it better than the NIV translation, “But because”. This is the hinge between the gloom of being dead in our sins (v.1-3), and the gladness of being alive in Christ. Our previous alienation from God was our fault, but the initiative was with God in providing the power of salvation. People often ask why God doesn’t do anything about evil, but He has in sending Jesus to die for us. Paul has given us the bad news-good news through the contrast from verses 3 and 4. We have failed to live up to God’s holy standard, but God has intervened to save us. In Christ we have moved from death to life, from hell to heaven, from bondage to freedom, and from no hope to the greatest hope. In v.5 we read that God has “made us alive” together with Christ, and it is purely a work of God. In v.6 we get even better news that we are now future citizens of heaven. This is the “already but not yet” reality of being saved. In God’s view we are “seated with Him in the heavenly places”, but we still have to live in this world for a short period of time compared to eternity. In v. 7 we read about the result and the purpose of what Christ has accomplished for us—God has revealed His surpassing riches of His grace and all the glory goes to God. I think the word “surpassing” or “incomparable” used in the NIV is the key word that what God has done out of love has far overcome what we did back in verses 1-3.
Amazing Grace, Ephesians 2:8-9
I think the three most widely memorized passages are the 23rd Psalm, John 3:16, and Ephesians 2:8-9. John 3:16 gives God’s motivation for providing Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice—purely love, but Eph.2:8-9 says the same thing theologically. Eph.2:8-9 has three parts. First of all, how does God save us, or what is the means by which He saves us? It is by grace alone. Grace is the unmerited favor of God giving us a free gift we did not earn. The second part is the method by which we receive our salvation, which is our faith. We believe in God and we believe in the grace of God, which is Christ dying on our behalf. The third part is a contrast, which is explaining how we are NOT saved—we are not saved by works. Don’t miss the last part of that sentence “so that no one should boast”. When people say that they are saved by works, or more subtle “I’m saved because I’m a good person”, then in God’s view they are boasting about what they have accomplished instead of what God has accomplished. The fact is that we have a “BOAST FREE GOSPEL”, and instead of us, God gets all the glory.
What is Faith?
Biblical faith has at least three parts. We have to know what it is that we are believing in, and it must be the truth. The Bible says the Word of God is the absolute truth. We believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not enough to just know it, we must respond to it by receiving it personally by faith. It is a sincere heart response to the truth. The third element of faith is commitment. Entrusting yourself and your future upon Christ. Hebrews 11:1-2 also gives a definition of faith, it is “the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen”. This means that you are certain of your future with Christ, and so much so that you act upon it and your life changes. Then Hebrews 11:6 says “It is impossible to please God without faith”. My favorite illustration of the commitment of biblical faith is the one about the tightrope walker who strung a wire over Niagara Falls. The sign said to come see the man walk across Niagara Falls. The acrobat asked a man if he believed he could walk across and he said yes. Then he asked if he believed he could push a wheelbarrow across—again yes. “Could I put a man in the wheelbarrow and push him across?” Again he said yes—to which the acrobat said “Then get in”! Needless to say he declined, but God is asking us to commit our eternal lives to Him and get in the wheelbarrow, and we say YES to the Gospel of Christ!