Summary: 1) Before being alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-3) 2) Being alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:4-6, 8-9), and 3) After being alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:7,10)
This past weekend saw the season finale of one of the most popular shows on TV: The Walking Dead. One of the most popular elements in this genere are the zombies. A zombie is a person who has died but who is nevertheless up walking around. To make matters even more gruesome, the body is not only dead, but decaying, putrifying. That is what the Apostle Paul says the human condition is before God. In their opposition to God, men and women are walking corpses. They are the living dead. “They are an offense to God’s nostrils. These decaying spiritual corpses stink.” (John Gerstner as quoted in Boice, J. M. (1988). Ephesians: an expositional commentary (p. 47). Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library.)
Unlike the movie and TV fiction of zombies, Jesus Christ actually died and was raised back to life. The Father's bringing Christ back from the dead that first Resurrection Sunday, inaugurated a new era. He did not create a zombie army but transforms the previously spiritually dead, to spiritually living.
Clearly, physical death ends a previous experience of physical life and in that sense is an event, while spiritual death is a state in which all human beings exist unless given spiritual life. Furthermore, according to Jesus, a believer who dies physically will live forever spiritually and will also participate in the future resurrection; an unbeliever who dies physically while still in a state of spiritual death remains in that state and has no hope of resurrection to life. We are all dying physically and cannot by simple choice reverse that direction; we have all been dead spiritually, but some, by receiving God’s grace in Christ, can turn from death to life (Liefeld, W. L. (1997). Ephesians (Vol. 10, Eph 2:1). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.)
In the first ten verses of Ephesians 2 The Apostle Paul presents the past, present, and future of the Christian: what a believer was (vv. 1–3), what they are (vv. 4–6, 8–9), and what they will be (vv. 7, 10). Put another way, we can see how people are: 1) Before being alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-3) 2) Being alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:4-6, 8-9), and 3) After being alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:7,10)
1) Before being alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-3)
Ephesians 2:1-3 [2:1]And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (ESV)
The natural state of every person has not repented of sin, and trusted in Christ for salvation is one who is dead in … trespasses and sins. This indicates the sphere, or realm, in which something or someone exists (The Greek case is the locative of sphere). We were not dead because we had committed sin but because, prior to salvation, we were in sin. A ‘trespasses’ (paraptôma) is a false step, involving either the crossing of a known boundary or a deviation from the right path. A ‘sins’ (hamartia), however, means rather a missing of the mark, a falling short of a standard. Together the two words cover the positive and negative, or active and passive, aspects of human wrongdoing, that is to say, our sins of commission and of omission (Stott, J. R. W. (1979). God’s new society: the message of Ephesians (p. 71). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.)
In this context trespasses and sins do not refer simply to acts but first of all to the sphere of existence of the person apart from God. One does not become a liar when he tells a lie; one tells a lie because they are already is a liar. One does not become a thief when one steals; One steals because they already are a thief. And so with murder, adultery, covetousness, and every other sin. Committing sinful acts does not make us sinners; we commit sinful acts because we are sinners. Jesus confirmed this when He said, “The evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil” (Matt. 12:35) and “the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders” (Matt. 15:18–19).
Paraptôma (trespasses) means to slip, fall, stumble, deviate, or go the wrong direction. Hamartia (sins) originally carried the idea of missing the mark, as when hunting with a bow and arrow. It then came to represent missing or falling short of any goal, standard, or purpose. In the spiritual realm it refers to missing and falling short of God’s standard of holiness. Paul does not use the two terms here to point up different kinds of wrongdoing but simply to emphasize the breadth of the sinfulness that results from spiritual deadness. The apostle’s description is not that of some particularly decadent tribe or degraded segment of society, or even of the extremely corrupt paganism of his own day. Rather, it is the biblical diagnosis of fallen humanity in fallen society everywhere (O’Brien, P. T. (1999). The letter to the Ephesians (p. 156). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).