Summary: Ephesians 2 contrasting our state "before" Jesus and "after" Jesus.
Not By But For – Eph 2:1-10
Steve Simala Grant – Aug. 19, 2001
Intro: before and after pictures
Have you seen the popular advertising tactic of “before” and “after” pictures? They are probably most common for diet products, but I’ve also seen them for hair and make-overs. The “before” picture is almost always the least flattering picture possible – no doubt altered at least a little in photoshop to make it look even worse. And the “after” picture is the exact opposite – the most flattering possible. The goal, of course, is to get you to spend your money on the subtle assumption that you can purchase the improvement that you see comparing the two pictures.
Eph. 2:1-10 uses a similar tactic but to a different end. Paul does paint two pictures for us – one “before” Christ (vss. 1-3) and one “after” (vss. 4-7). He then brings it all together in vss. 8-10 and tells us what the goal of this comparison is. read.
The “before” picture is not very flattering. In fact, it is hard to imagine it being much worse! The first word Paul uses is “dead” – it doesn’t get much worse than that! Apart from Christ, in our pre-conversion state, we are spiritually dead. That is the result of sin – sin kills. It destroys. It annihilates.
The second part of the picture is described as in slavery – though that word doesn’t appear, that is certainly the sense of how we are described in “following the world” (vs. 2), the devil “at work in those who are disobedient” (vs. 2), and in our slavery to our own “cravings” (vs. 3). The picture being painted there is of us subject to the control of these three things, of us enslaved to them.
It is worth stopping to notice that Paul includes all three of those in describing our sinful nature.
A. The World.
Our environment, our culture, works against God to keep us in sin. You name the sin, I can probably give you an example of how society glamorizes it and makes it look appealing and normative: lust – look at any billboard. greed – what our economy is built on. self-centeredness – almost every movie/TV show/self-help book has as a theme someone trying to get what they want. I could go on, but you get the picture. I love how JB Phillips paraphrases Rom. 12:2 – the familiar verse that in the NIV says “do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world” Phillips says “Do not let the world squeeze you into its mold.”
B. The Devil.
Ephesians talks more about the spiritual realm and the forces there than any other NT book, so it is not surprising that Paul mentions it here. He is described as “read”. We all know that “the devil made me do it” is no excuse – it does not make us any less responsible for our actions. But it is based at least in part on something that is true – the devil is active in our world, and is working to keep us from God.
C. The Flesh.
Vs. 3 lists the third thing to which we are enslaved – our sinful nature. Our “old self”, with its desire for evil and self-destructive tendencies. It seems strange to describe ourselves as slaves to our own desires – our culture defines freedom as basically the ability to do anything we want. The problem is that in our sinful state, the things we want are ultimately self-destructive. Ask anyone who has ever struggled with addiction if they understand what this verse means. True freedom comes when we are no longer subject to fleshly desires that are ultimately self-destructive.
We tend to try to pick one (the world, the devil, the flesh) to blame when we sin, but in fact all three are operating to keep us in sin and death. All three work conspire to keep us from God. We need to confront each one in our battle for holiness – remove ourselves from worldly influences that cause us to sin, stand up against the devil, and rely on God to remove our old flesh and replace it with His Spirit.
Paul sums up the “before” picture with what may be the most uncomfortable descriptor in the passage: “we were by nature objects of wrath”. Ouch! I don’t like that! Our old self, prior to coming to Christ, was by nature the object of God’s wrath. That is a pretty helpless place to be! Wrath is a strong word, it means God’s holy anger against sin and the judgement that results – and that is the word Paul uses to describe God’s response to our sinful state prior to coming to Christ.