Thursday, September 27, 2012

What Is Man's Natural Spiritual Condition?

As we study through Paul's letter to the Ephesians we come to chapter two, where Paul paints a very bleak picture of our condition before becoming a Christian by God's miraculous grace. Paul is not trying to depress his readers or make them/us lose hope. On the contrary! He wants us to recognize the truth of our condition so that we will join him in overflowing with praise to God for what he has done about it.

What follows is hard-core truth that we won't hear from anywhere but God's word.

1. You Were Dead (2:1-2a). “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…”
Paul comes out swinging and gets right to the point: Before the Ephesians were ‘in Christ’ they were ‘dead’ in sin. And as we learn in verse 3, this is true of ‘all.’ It is our common human ‘nature’ (v3) inherited from our first forefather Adam.
God promised that the day Adam sinned he would surely die (Gen 2:17), and this is what happened. He was cut off from his prior communion with God, running and hiding from God instead (3:8-10). And his spiritual death resulted in physical death later (Gen 5:5), for the ‘wages of sin is death’ (Rom 6:23), and ‘the soul who sins shall die’ (Ezek 18:4), and ‘sin…leads to death’ (Rom 6:16).
Adam’s sin did not just affect himself; his fallen nature and depravity were passed to his children. His first son murdered his second! And afterward he ‘fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth’ (Gen 5:3). The sinful nature passed down the line, for ‘that which is born of the flesh is flesh’ (John 3:6). Adam plunged the entire human race, who was in him, and of which he was the representative, into sin and spiritual death:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men… by a man came death…in Adam all die… Romans 5:12, 18; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, ESV
So we see that sin has infected all mankind, with the result that we are all born spiritually dead. This means we are ‘in a state of spiritual alienation from God’ (Duncan), and ‘dead in the sense that we cannot see or feel the glory of Christ; we are unresponsive to God and Christ and this word’ (Piper).
John Stott describes this condition:
Blind to the glory of Jesus Christ and deaf to the voice of the Holy Spirit. They have no love for God, no sensitive awareness of his personal reality, no leaping of their spirit towards him in the cry ‘Abba, Father,’ no longing for fellowship with his people. They are as unresponsive to him as a corpse.
Our deadness to God doesn’t mean inactivity. Paul says we ‘walked’ in our sins. Like a zombie we were the walking dead, and unaware of our pitiful condition.
2. You Were Enslaved (2:2b-3a).
Not only does Paul teach that we were DEAD in our sin, but that we were also ENSLAVED from without and within. The picture gets worse! Far from being free to live our own lives outside of Christ, Scripture teaches that we are dominated by evil influences (O’Brien).
We were enslaved to a three-fold enemy:
A. Enslaved To The World. “following the course of this world…” Following the crowd. Like everyone around us, simply walking single file down the ‘course’ or path that leads to destruction. Blindly going along with the worldview of this evil world system, which is ‘society organized without reference to God, in contrast to God’s kingdom; the social value system which is alien to God’ (Stott). The world’s agenda is our agenda. Enslaved by their ‘thought system’ (Boice). Controlled by their fashion, philosophies, values, and ideas. Current examples? Moral relativism, celebrated homosexuality and re-defined tolerance (tolerance no longer means to this culture that we can disagree in a civil fashion; now we cannot say that something is wrong. All things are tolerated...except intolerance). Such is our slavery to 'this world.'
B. Enslaved To The Devil.following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience…” Scripture calls the Devil the ‘ruler of demons’ (Matt 9:34; 12:24; Mk 3:22; Lk 11:15), the ‘prince of the world’ (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) and even the ‘god of this age’ (2 Cor 4:4) [O’Brien]. O’Brien further describes the ‘power of the air’ as the ‘realm of the devil’s influence; the abode of the principalities and powers (Eph 3:10; Dan 10:13, 21).
This evil ‘spirit’ is ‘now at work in the sons of disobedience.’ He is working against us: ‘an evil, supernatural activity whereby he exercises a powerful, compelling influence over the lives of men and women’ (O’Brien). Those under his control are so given to sin they are called ‘sons of disobedience.’ Observe the power Satan wields over people:
God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:25-26 (see also 1 John 5:19, 2 Cor 4:3-4)
C. Enslaved To The Flesh. “- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind…” Not only are we enslaved outwardly by the devil and the evil world system, but we are also enslaved inwardly by our own passions and desires! We are our own enemy! We are selfish and pleasure-seeking, casting off restraint and refusing to bow to God. Rather, we live for pleasure and temporary happiness. “Gluttony, laziness, lust, greed; pride, malice, envy” (Boice). Paul says this slavery to the flesh is universal – ‘we all once lived’ this way.
Do you see the Scripture's description of man? Far from being free to choose God on our own, our natural state is one of slavery to the way of the world, the will of the devil and the works of the flesh. We cannot make neutral choices (O'Brien). What do you mean by ‘free will?’ If you mean that we are completely untouched by powerful, dominating, evil influences that compel us toward sin, then that is not consistent with Scripture. Our great need is not for better information, so that we can make a decision to come to God. We need someone to raise us from the dead and set us free from our slavery to the world, the devil and our sinful, fallen flesh! We need a Rescuer!
3. You Were Condemned (2:3b). “and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Just when we think our condition could not get any worse, it does! Not only were we dead and enslaved, but we stood condemned before a holy God. Our ‘nature,’ inherited from Adam, brought us under the just and holy ‘wrath’ of God. His anger is not an emotional outburst, but a righteous response to evil.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. John 3:36
Dead, Enslaved and Condemned before God. No power to save ourselves. Nothing we can do to improve our condition. Total inability:
  • No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:44
  • For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Rom 8:7-8
  • “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Rom 3:10b-12
  • The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:14
 This is not a popular message, or one that you will hear anywhere but the Word of God. But Paul clearly and boldly unfolds the truth about our condition outside of Christ. Why? To glorify God for his glorious salvation!
God could have left us in this condition and merely exercised his justice towards us…but:
4. You Were Saved! (2:4-5). “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved…”
BUT GOD!!! Praise the Lord for those words and what they mean to us! The only One with power to do something for us chose to act on our behalf. God loved us in our depraved condition. He showed us his ‘rich…mercy’ and acted in ‘great love!’ Hallelujah!
Made Us Alive. Regeneration. A miracle! We were dead, and unresponsive to the gospel. We were slaves to the world, the devil and our own fleshly desires and sins. But when we were dead, apart from any goodness in us, power in us, or personal decision we made, God ‘made us alive!’ Just as Jesus called dead Lazarus to life, so he called us to life through the gospel, by the Holy Spirit. So Paul can declare, ‘by grace you have been saved.’
We were dead…and Christ made us alive (1 John 5:11).
We were enslaved…and Christ has set us free (Gal 5:1).
We were condemned…and Christ took our judgment at the cross (Rom 5:9, 19).
What a glorious salvation God has provided in Christ!

  • The Letter To The Ephesians; Peter T. O’Brien; ©1999; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, MI.
  • The Message Of Ephesians – God’s New Society; John R. W. Stott; ©1979; InterVarsity Press, USA. Downers Grove, IL.
  • Ephesians – An Expositional Commentary; James Montgomery Boice; ©1988, 1997; Baker Books. Grand Rapids, MI.
  • Sermons by Ligon Duncan:, and
  • Sermons by John Piper:,, and

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