Summary: A road map to New Life in Christ - from being Dead, Enslaved and Condemned - through the Grace of God, telling us What God Has Done,Why God Did It and What We Are Now (Or Should Be).
The Bible is great literature but to the Christian it’s more than that – it’s God’s Story of His self-revelation to mankind. The story-line is God’s working out of His sovereign purpose in effecting a re-creation of what was fundamentally damaged by the sin of our first parents. God chose to do it in the lives of the patriarchs and the nation of Israel. By the end of the Old Testament Israel had proved to be as much part of the problem as part of the answer except for one redeeming factor - it was the emergence of the One true Israelite, the Messiah Jesus. He’s the climax of God’s Story and we can’t remind ourselves too often of what He accomplished – Eph 2:1–10.
The apostle Paul would have made a great physician in diagnosing the ailments of his patients, going to the root of the problem. It wasn’t a matter of rectifying some minor faults in the lives of the populace of Ephesus. It was a fatal disease that had infected the whole of the human race – it was the human condition apart from God. Although he’s writing to Gentile readers he makes it clear it’s a universal complaint, including himself as a Jew in the words “All of us (were) … like the rest (of mankind)”. He proves his point by stating three appalling truths about unredeemed human beings - until God had mercy on us. In the first place:
WE WERE DEAD – BUT HOW? “THROUGH TRANSGRESSIONS AND SINS”
What can that mean? How can somebody evidently alive, warm and breathing, be written off as dead? It doesn’t make sense to ‘Mr Average Man In The Street’! This is the spiritual condition outside of Christ. A ‘trespass’ is the wrongful crossing of a boundary. A ‘sin’ means missing the mark, a falling short of a standard. Putting the two together they cover our all human wrongdoing, whether acts of commission (when we do something wrong) and acts of omission (when we fail to do what we should).
In Guernsey there’s hundreds of notices ‘Ces premises sont a l’amende’ warning that it’s ‘Private Property’ and if you park your car there, you’re trespassing, you’re acting unlawfully. Sometimes we may take a chance and not get caught! But with God there’s no such possibility – we’re “dead” (and Paul tells us why) “through transgressions and sins”.
The unconverted person can’t understand this – ‘Of course I’m alive, what nonsense!’ Yes, alive physically, but dead spiritually and blind to the glory of Jesus Christ, and deaf to the voice of the Holy Spirit. We sometimes see sad pictures on TV of a person in the intensive care ward of a hospital, unconscious and apparently clinically dead except for the medical equipment that sustains them for a time. This is a picture of fallen human beings: people who were created by God and for God but living without God. They are as unresponsive to Him as a corpse. How sad, but let’s think of the next picture of unconverted mankind:
WE WERE ENSLAVED – WHY? BECAUSE WE “FOLLOWED THE WAYS OF THIS WORLD”
This is the whole value-system prevailing throughout history, which is alien to God. It’s the evil in society – where human beings made in the likeness of God are dehumanised and oppressed; where truth and morality are repudiated; and where materialism and injustice reigns. This is bondage as a result of being captive to what Paul calls “the ruler of the kingdom of the air.” It’s Satan at large in the world.
This isn’t a popular doctrine in our day of great achievements in scientific knowledge and the harnessing of technology in the enjoyment of life. But there’s a darker side as the apostle mentions that mankind is guilty of “gratifying the cravings of our sinful flesh” where the God-given appetites are perverted by the evil-one into lust, pride, envy and so on. Yes, we’re all fallen beings under the domination of Satan. We’ve become a law unto ourselves, to do anything and everything we want to do, without having anyone interfere. As Frank Sinatra’s famous song goes, ‘I’ll do it my way.’ God’s lordship has been renounced to the sway of another master, the prince of darkness. But there’s another unpleasant truth that Paul has to state:
WE WERE CONDEMNED – HOW? WE ARE “BY NATURE OBJECTS OF WRATH”
This is most unpalatable to unbelievers and even to many Christian theologians! One such, a doctor of divinity, (R W Dale) called this a ‘dreadful doctrine’, that by being born we incur the divine anger and are under the divine curse before any voluntary wrongdoing! How should we understand Paul’s shorthand expression that all humanity is “by nature the children of wrath”? (AV). We have to go to Romans 5 : 12-14 for an explanation.