By Mike Willis
The recent controversy regarding grace-unity has raised certain questions pertaining to how man is saved. All kinds of theories are being stated, including those which have God saving men who are walking in sin and unrepentant about their sins. However, a study of how men are justified is worthy of our attention at any time but especially in the midst of this controversy. I know of no better passage to consider than Eph. 2:1-10 to understand how men are saved. Examine with me this important passage.
Man’s Condition: Dead In Sin (2:1-3)
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins: wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: among whom also we had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
Like the first three chapters of Romans, Eph. 2:1-10 opens with an establishment of man’s need of salvation. Certainly no one will become very much concerned about salvation until he is convinced that he is lost. Hence, this passage begins by showing man’s universal need of salvation. Verses two and three contain two different pronouns, ye and we. By these two different pronouns, Paul designates the Jews and Gentiles respectively.
1. The condition of the Gentiles (v. 2). Their past manner of life is described as walking “according to the course (aion) of this world (kosmos). ” The “course” (aion) of this world is defined for us by Trench as follows:
All that floating mass of thoughts, opinions, maxims, speculations hopes impulses, aims, aspirations, at any time current in the world, which it may be impossible to seize and accurately define, but which constitute a most real and effective power, being the moral, or immoral, atmosphere which at every moment of our lives we inhale, again inevitably to exhale,-all this is included in the aion, which is, as Bengel has expressed it, the subtle informing spirit of the kosmos, or world of men who are living alienated and apart from God (Synonyms of the New Testament).
These are under the “prince of the power of the air” (v. 2), the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4), Satan himself.
The Gentiles of the first century were no different from those of us today. Every one of us knows the temptation of being conformed to this world around us. The world’s acceptance as respectable of such things as the usage of marijuana, fornication, adultery, gambling, drinking, petting, homosexuality, and a hundred other sins causes men to become involved in these transgressions. When a young person sees everyone else “doing it,” he wants to do it too. No one wants to stand out like a sore thumb in opposition to acceptable conduct among his peers. And, my brethren, the God-fearing man of this day stands out in just that way. Hence, the spirit of this world under the control of Satan leads men to walk in sin.
This disposition is further described as “the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” We understand what the spirit of disobedience is; it is rebellion. This is manifested when the man refuses to submit to God’s holy commandment and openly and defiantly rebels against God Almighty. It was the spirit which Adam and Eve manifested in the Garden of Eden. It was the spirit which King Saul manifested when he refused to slay Agag, king of the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15).
2. The condition of the Jews (v. 3). Having shown the sinful condition of the Gentiles, Paul turned to describe the sinful condition of the Jews. He mentions their “conversation” (an archaic usage of the word meaning “general behavior, deportment”) as being marked by the lusts of the flesh. The Jews had walked in the lusts of their flesh.
There is a great civil war going on inside each of us. This war is the battle of the flesh against the spirit. Paul said, “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Gal. 5:16-17). The flesh pulls man in one direction; the revelation of God through the Holy Spirit commands that man walk in a different direction. There is a great conflict going on inside each of us.
The man who walks in the lusts of the flesh is the man who has allowed the lusts of his flesh to triumph over the commandments of God. He has allowed his body to be controlled by the natural fleshly lusts rather than by God’s holy commandments. Hence, he does whatever pleases his flesh and whatever his mind so desires that he should do.
By Nature The Children of Wrath (v. 3)
The special terminology used in this verse needs special comment. The phrase has been interpreted by Calvinists to teach that man inherits the sin of Adam and is born into this world an object of God’s wrath because he is totally depraved (depraved in all of his parts). The Scriptures, of course, teach that the guilt of sin is not transmitted from one man to another (cf. Ezek. 18). However, Calvinist commentators have a field day on this verse.
Joseph Henry Thayer commented specifically on this verse when he defined the word phusis (nature). He defined the word to mean “a mode of feeling and acting which by long habit has become nature” (p. 660). He specifically distinguished this from something that was innate, something obtained through birth. We still use the word “nature” to mean “the essential character of a thing; quality or qualities that make something what it is, essence” (Webster). Let us notice the “nature” of those who were “children of wrath.”
The Nature of These Men
1. “Ye walked according to the course of this world” (v. 2).
2. They manifested “the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (v. 2).
3. They had their conversation “in times past in the lusts of our flesh” (v. 3).
4. They fulfilled “the desires of the flesh and of the mind” (v. 3).
These terms from the context describe “the essential character of” the man who is outside of Christ; these are the “quality or qualities” that make them what they are.
Obviously, such men are “children of wrath.” This simply means “children” who are the objects of God’s wrath. Any person who lives as the ones who are described above live are objects of God’s wrath. Hence, we see Paul’s description of man’s condition.
Dead In Trespasses And Sin (v. 1)
The phrase at the end of the third verse, “even as others,” is somewhat like the summary statement in Rom. 3:23-“for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” This statement wraps all of humanity-both Jews and Gentiles-in sin. There is none righteous, no, not one!
The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). The death intended is not physical death; we suffer physical death as a consequence of Adam’s sin. (Men suffer the consequences of the transgressions of another without bearing the guilt of their sin. This is one of the mistakes committed by Calvinists. They have the guilt of one man attributed to another.) The death intended is spiritual death-separation from God because of sin.
Some have pressed this metaphor beyond its intended usage. Here is an example of an abuse of this phrase .
. . . First of all if a man is physically dead there is no sense asking if he is entirely dead, is there? We just accept the fact that he is completely dead and is not able within himself to do anything physical. And spiritual death is the same way. If God’s word says that a man is spiritually dead then it doesn’t make sense to ask to what extent he is dead, but just accept the fact that he is completely spiritually dead, and is not able to accomplish a single spiritual act. Now, what if your loved one lay in a casket and a great physician said to you, “I will give that loved one of yours physical life if only he will believe in me and come asking for it.” Wouldn’t that be a hopeless case! We can see right away that there`could be no hope for that loved one.
Now suppose that loved one did raise up out of the casket and say “give me this physical life. I believe.” Wouldn’t you know that this loved one is asking for something that he already had? Just the fact he has completed a physical act would be enough to let you know that he is already alive. But there are those, my friends, that read God’s precious word every day and hear God say that before a man’s eyes are opened by the Holy Spirit he is spiritually dead, but that they want to make Jesus say who is the great physician, I will give unto that loved one eternal,. spiritual life if only he will of his own free will give me this spiritual life, although God says that he is spiritually dead (Carl D. Tharp, “Salvation-Offer or Gift?” The Christian Baptist, Vol. II, No. 8, p. 3).
This usage of the metaphor states that a “spiritually dead man” is unable to do one thing to obtain salvation by grace. Rather, God has to give that man spiritual life before he acts and without him acting in any way. Under these presuppositions, they raise the question, “What can a dead man do?”
In response to this question, let me mention that a spiritually dead man can some things. For example, a spiritually dead man can (1) do good (Lk. 6:33), (2) hear the voice of God (Jn. 5:25), (3) do the things of the law (Rom. 2:14-15, and (4) be provoked unto emulation (Rom. 11:14-15). In a similar vein, one should notice the usage of “dead” in the phrase “dead to sin” (Rom. 6:2). Does this mean that a man cannot commit sin until God acts upon him to cause him to be able to sin? Certainly not! The man who would so state would be soundly rebuked for pressing a biblical metaphor beyond its intended usage.
Col. 2:13 offers a divine definition of what it means to be “dead in sin.” There, Paul wrote, “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses.” Notice that the Colossians, like the Ephesians, were dead in sin. However, they were made alive (quickened). They were made alive by this method: “having forgiven you all trespasses.” Hence, a man who is dead in sin is simply an unforgiven man! Those who make this phrase men a man who cannot act spiritually to do anything with reference to his salvation should be consistent by saying that a man who is “dead to sin” cannot act so as to commit a sin! One is no more wrong than the other.
When we consider salvation by grace through faith, we need to begin by stating man’s need for salvation. All men are “dead in their trespasses and sins.” We all stand before the Lord unforgiven and doomed to an eternity in Hell. Having committed sin, we each deserve the just penalty for sin-death! Yet, man’s deplorable condition is not hopeless. Continue this study with me next week to see what God has done to save sinful men.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 25, pp. 403-405
June 21, 1979