Ephesians Study 6: Sin

Hello, TYM! Just a few verses this time. Let’s jump in.

Teaching Text: Ephesians 2:1-3, 5

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 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— 3 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.

5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 2:1–3,5). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

The majority of our exploration will be the first three verses of chapter 2, but verse 5 contains a hook to the next set of very important sentences. The fifth verse of Ephesians 2 contains possibly the most important concept found in the Bible: “by grace you have been saved.” But before we get into that and explore what that means, we need to look at the first part of verse 5 which states: “we were dead in our trespasses.” And exploration of what that means begins in verses 1-3.

The culture of the world loves to downplay the severity of sin. Specific sins are downplayed based on the perceived severity of their consequence. Phrases like “oh, it’s just a little white lie;” “no harm, no foul;” or “the ends justify the means” can be used to not only excuse sin, but frame it as necessary at times. The terminology of sin is even used out of proper context, sometimes in a playful way. “That dessert is sinful,” as one example, places the word in a setting that truly lacks the severity it represents.

Christians can even be uncomfortable with the word “sin.” In an effort to downplay our own sins, we might use words like “struggle” or “trial.” There is nothing inherently wrong with using those words, but if it takes away the severity of sin, then we can slip into a mentality of complacency. Or we might just take on a quality of sin as who we are. “I know it’s wrong, but that’s just my personality.”

Dead

When you start to justify sin or downplay the severity, you miss that there is a severe consequence to walking in the ways of sin. Paul says at the start of this chapter “you were dead in the trepasses and sins, in which you once walked.” This consequence is in stark contrast to how the world frames sin as mentioned above. When we casually use the word sin, we undermine the outcome sin brings.

Ultimately, the real issue with sin is that it separates us from God. Look how this is succinctly explained in Isaiah 59:1-2:

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, 
or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; 
2 but your iniquities have made a separation 
between you and your God, 
and your sins have hidden his face from you 
so that he does not hear. 

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Is 59:1–2). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

The passage mentioned in the last lesson from James 4 explains that sin and passions of the flesh are obstacles to God. It is only through God that we are able to have life.

For more on this concept, check out Romans 5 and 6.

Opposition to God

As we have already mentioned a few times in this study, Paul is encouraging the Ephesians to look beyond the physical world and see a spiritual realm. In the first chapter, he is pointing out spiritual blessings and knowledge. Here, we get Paul’s first glimpse at the other side of the spiritual realm and the battle that is waging. This point gets hammered home closer to the end of the letter (this will definitely be explored more when we get to chapter 6), but he identifies a spiritual entity in direct opposition to God.

This spiritual entity is drawing souls to take a worldly course. In the ESV, the word “course” is used when Paul refers to “following the course of the world.” You can think of an airplane setting a course, a very intentional act. Or perhaps less intentional, you could think of getting on a raft in a river and letting the direction of the river take you wherever it goes. The course of the world here is not a direction set by God, rather “the prince of the power of the air.”

It is generally assumed that Paul is referring to Satan when he mentions the prince of the power of the air, though there is some debate about that due to the metaphorical language. Michael Heiser, whom I mentioned in lesson 3, offers an explanation for why Paul used this term: 

On one hand, “air” is part of the vocabulary for the spiritual world—the world which humans do not inhabit, but which divine beings do inhabit. But “air” was also a descriptor for the heavens below the firmament in Israelite cosmology—still distinguishable from God’s abode, which was above the firmament (Isa 40:22; Job 22:13; cp. Gen 1:7 to Psa 29:10). The “air” metaphor allowed people to think of the spiritual world in terms of (a) not being the realm of humans, and (b) still beneath the presence of God, or the place where God lives.

That meant Satan wasn’t in God’s presence or in control of God’s domain. Angels could be sent into the world to assist humans and would of course be opposed by those spiritual beings in control of earth’s “air space” so to speak. Ultimately, the spiritual world has no measurable parameters, or latitude and longitude (the celestial sphere is no help locating it!). Human writers have to use the language of “place” to describe something place-less (in terms of what we, as embodied beings, can understand). For that reason, it isn’t always a neat picture.

It is important to see “passions of the flesh” as a weapon employed in this spiritual battle. Paul is not alone in identifying this notion. Peter says this in 1 Peter 2:11:

11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Pe 2:11). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

The aforementioned James 4:1 says this: 

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jas 4:1). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

So what do we do?

First, be aware that there is a war going on. Acknowledging the seriousness of sin and its role in the spiritual battle helps you give it the attention it needs.

Next, you need to be ready to put up your defenses against sin. James 5:16 and 1 John 1:9 offer one tool to fight back—confession. Sin loves to stay secret and hidden and keeping it secret and hidden gives it power and keeps us from God.

Finally, we need to call in the true power and pray to God asking for him to cleanse us from our sin. And we should pray for each other in this way as well. As a bit of practical application, I recommend reading through Psalm 51 and praying the words of that passage to God.

This might have come as a bit of a downer lesson, but hopefully it has communicated the severity of sin. Next time, we will fully explore God’s answer to sin and the hope it gives us.

Carlin