Ephesians 2:1-3 – The hopelessness of the human condition – :but God…



Ephesians 2:1-3. (Part 1 of 2:1-10)



It is very appropriate that we come to deal with 2v1-3 today in the light of the debate in the media this week about the essence of sin – should we even use that word – Is it now not outdated? Is it just a Churchy word for what the Church consider to be wrongdoing??


ILLUS: Article in the Independent – Thursday 8 June 1995 – “Where to find sin in the modern world” [refer to cutting] Compare Church view to Secular view.


The debate this week has centred around the phrase LIVING IN SIN referring to couple who co-habit rather than marry. BUT whether it is called LIVING IN SIN or CO-HABITATION doesn’t change the situation one iota. And God’s view of it doesn’t change either. Whatever label you give it, pre-marital sex, is wrong in God’s scheme of things. There is however a case for redefining [or broadening] the phrase so that premarital sex is not seen as a worse sin than say living dishonestly – as if pre-marital sex is sinful but dishonest business practice or being unkind to someone is not.


In these first three verses of chapter 2 Paul is giving us an insight into the condition of Human nature.

Whenever we think of sin or wrongdoing we are prone to think or it in terms of what other people do. BUT Paul is very clear in these verses that his discrption of the human condition includes everyone. [v.3 “All of us … Like the rest of them, we….”]


There is no escaping the seriousness of the plight of the human race. Paul focuses on three things to describe those who are unredeemed:

Spiritually dead, enslaved and condemned.



Ephesians 2:1

1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, (NIV)


Paul is obviously not referring to physical death because the people to whom he is writing are very much alive.


in your transgressions and sins …. discribes the kind of death that Paul is talking about. In fact this verse could be translated “… you were dead through [because of] your transgressions and sins.”


The basic problem that people have in life is not being out of step with their heritage or with the enviroment but being out of step with God. The principle problem is that there is no right relationship with God and consequently mankind is by nature physically alive but spiritually dead.


The two words Paul has used to describe the human condition are carefully choosen – transgressions and sins.


Tresspass or transgress means to go in the wrong direction – to deviate from the right path – it is to go into areas that are forbidden.

That is why you will see signs up on private properties that read “TRESPASSES WILL BE PROSECUTED”.


The word used here for sins [harmatia] carries the meaning of missing the mark – falling short, not reaching the standard. Thus – Romans 3:23 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (NIV)


ILLUS.: If we were standing on the side of the M25 trying to cross but there was too much traffic – I suggest we jump accross – Some could hardly jump off the hard shoulder – others could possibly jump into the middle lane – An Olympic long-jumper might even make it to the fast lane – but no-one would be able to jump right across. –


Whether you get to the slow lane or the fast lane is immaterial – you haven’t made it across – jumping into the middle of the M25 would probably mean death anyway!!


So in this verse transgressions means actively doing wrong things and sins means neglecting to do something – not meeting the standard – sins of commission and sins of omission.

We naturally live in this way because we are spiritually dead. The actions and attitudes come out of a nature that is bent in a direction that is opposite to God.


Matthew 12:35 35 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. (NIV)

Matthew 15:18-19 18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean’. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. (NIV)

BUT some of you may be thinking – this is not true – there are many people who have no belief in God nor any kind of Christian profession yet they are physically fit, have brillant minds and vibrant personalities. They don’t appear to be dead at all!!


But you see we are not talking about body or personality or mind – we are talking about a different sphere of life – the sphere of the spirit. It is in this realm that people are by nature ‘dead’. They can’t recognise who Jesus really is – they don’t hear God speaking – there is no relationship with God as Father – there is no desire for fellowship with God’s people —- no matter how alive and healthy someone may be physically or mentally – in the sphere of the spirit they are dead.


ILLUS.: In some countries coffins are left open at funerals – the deceased is worked on by a beautician to make them look as good as possible – often better than when they were living. A very pleasant looking corpse.

          Some people die on the battlefield and the corpse is left liying there in a state of decomposition – not a pretty sight.


BUT what difference does it really make – they can’t see or hear or respond in in anyway whatsoever – they are dead. And so it is in the spiritual realm –

By nature people are DEAD in transgressions and sins.


Our sin has cut us off from God: Isaiah 59:2

2 But your iniquities have separated

you from your God;

your sins have hidden his face from you,

so that he will not hear. (NIV)

That is the plight of every person UNTIL God in his mercy gives Spiritual life.




Ephesians 2:2       2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.   (NIV)

Paul shifts his emphasis now from the realm of spiritual deadness where there is no activity in relation to God — to the realm where people are active – They don’t follow God but they do follow the way of the world and all other forces that are opposed to God. ie the world, the flesh and the devil!!

In other words they live life according to an authority contrary to God.

“World” is used here in this way – the life of people apart from God – life lived in an earth-bound way – worldly motives!!


Whenever we speak of darkness and evil we tend to focus on violence and deviant sexual behaviour – the extremes of wrongdoing. We focus on Rwanda – on rapists — and armed robbers.


The outlook of society is secular – it is amoral [it rebuffs absolutes] — it is very materialistic [it glorifies the consumer market] – and people are carried along by these values in society – people like to think that they have a mind of their own but it is naive to think that they are not moulded by the media.


Philips translation says “we drifted along the stream of this world’s ideas of living”. Does this mean that the multiple murderer is equally as bad as the kind, loving, considerate self-giving person. They may not lead equally sinful lives BUT they are equally in a state of sin – they are equally seperated from God.


Being good on a human level is certainly a good thing – The unbeliever can and does perfom natural good; Jesus talked about that in Luke 6:33 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. (NIV)

but it cannot change a sinners nature nor his basic sphere of existence.


Worldly systems have many faces but the underlying commonality is that they oppose God and that is because the ultimate leader and master-mind is Satan himself.


– The prince of the power of the Air is a reference to the devil –

It is not popular – even in the Church to speak about a personal devil and the occult.

Yet in spite of it being unpopular to speak about these things, interest in the paranormal is on the increase – [there are more witches in the UK than there are clergy] – Not to speak about a personal Devil is also to go contrary to scripture – the Bible has a lot to say about Satan – and we would do well to give more attention to the fact the we are involved in a spiritual battle and that satan and his demons will use every trick available to keep people from turning to God.


the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient – It is not surprising that those within the realm of Satan’s control exhibit a similar spirit. A spirit of disobedience and rebellion against God. That is the nature of the devil who rebelled against God – it should not surprise us therefore that those who persistly disobey God exhibit the same spirit as Satan.


The phrase “at work in” [energho] – energy – the source of all evil and error and violence is ultimately Satan himself.


This word ‘energy’ is the same word use in Ephesians 1:19 19………. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, (NIV)

The believer is energize by the spirit of God the unbeliever is energized by the spirit of the Evil One. It is the power that raise Christ from the dead which is the only power strong enough to rescue us from the power of Satan.

To transplant people from the kingdom of Darkness into the Kingdom of Light.


But least we fall into the trap of blaming the evil for all our wrong-doing and sinfulness we need to move quickly to the first part of verse 3.


Ephesians 2:3 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts…… (NIV)

It would be very comfortable to be able to blame someone else for our sinfulness and some try to do that – even convince themselves that it is not their fault and actually believe that it is not their fault. But Paul knocks that idea on the head showing that.


The word Paul uses to refer to ‘our sinful nature’ is the word for ‘flesh’ – he does not mean the stuff that covers our bones BUT rather our passions and desires.





Regarding our passions and desires we need to makes two things clear:

1) our natural desires for food, sleep and sex are not in themselves wrong!! God made us and these desires and passions are part of our human nature.

2) natural desire are not restricted to the body but include the mind as well.


Sinful desires and selfish attitudes characterise the flesh – the natural God-given desire and need for food becomes sinful when it turns to gluttony — when sex turns to lust and all kinds of perversions then it becomes sinful. — When the need for sleep turns to laziness then we have moved from God-given natural desire to sinful desire!!

It is no good pointing out the sinfulness of sexual perversion while ignoring laziness.


BUT sinful passions extends beyond the physical to attitudes. It is easy to be pharisaical – holier than thou – —

what about a bitter spirit, a critical attitude, are there things you know are true yet won’t accept them,

Do you look down on those of a lower class – or resent those of an upper class?

When someone drives passed in a flashy new car do all the feelings of jealousy rise within you?

Are you derogatory about people of other nationalities?


Sin is very sublte and disguises itself in very respectable ways – but it is still sin.


Paul Galatians 5:16-21

16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (NIV)

There is an inbuilt selfishness and self-centredness within us – it can express itself in sensual debauchery or self-righteous smugness but is till points to the fact that we are children of disobedience.


It is no wonder that God is anger with mankind!




Ephesians 2:3 ……. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. (NIV)

The wrath of God is another subject that is not very popular today – We like to talk of the love of God and the kindness of God – and those things are true BUT God is also an angry God. We need to be careful how we understand God’s anger – He is not a capricious bad-tempered God who flies off the handles when we irrated him.


God’s anger is a settled and consistent indignation at people’s refusal to accept the gospel of grace and salvation that he offers in Jesus Christ.


These verses make is clear that God is angry with ALL people – not just with Jews or Gentiles but with everyone. The self indulgent Gentile was just as guilty and the self-righteous Jew. God’s judgement and anger is not arbitary – it is consistent and predictable. How is it predictable?? God is ALWAYS anger with sinners!!


Is it not true that God hates sin and loves the sinner??!! That might be a nice sentiment but it is not Biblical.


Romans 5:12-19

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned –…………… ….. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

18 Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (NIV)

John 3:18    Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (NIV)

John 3:36 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” (NIV)

God is anger with sinners because they have disobeyed -“Children of disobedience”


Let none of us ever try to kid ourselves that we are good enough to be accepted by God.

We must never down play the gravity of the human condition – people, ALL people, are sinful in the eyes of God and there is nothing you can do to remedy that situation.




NOW look at the first word of verse 4. “BUT” !!! {KJV “BUT GOD, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us..}


  1. BUT GOD…


Mankind is charaterised by sinful pride, stubborn disobedience and ignorant unbelief and will remain in that condition until God in his mercy changes the situation.


But God is rich in mercy – he hates the stubborness and impetitence of the sinner but he loves him as the creature he made. He loves the world – He gave his Son!! Can you get a glimpse of why God is so angry with those who spurn his love!!


Better education – better NHS — better ecomony — better legal system — all good BUT none can remedy the sickness of sin. Only Faith in Christ can do that!!


Christian, we have the remedy for the sinner – Jesus Christ — Why do do we pussy-foot around? Why are we content to be comfortable while our neighbours are hell bound? Don’t you care that your unbelieving friends are going to Hell!! What is more important, the salvation of your friends and neighbours or your comfort zone — your garden, — cleaning your house that you have already clean too much — What are you doing to warn people of the coming wrath of God?? We need to wake-up and get our priorites straight.


There is no one more selfish that a Christian who is content to go to heaven alone!!


If you have never put your faith in Jesus Christ – if you are unsure about your eternal future then get your life right with God today! What we have describe this morning is how God sees you and until you repent and turn to him he remains angry with you!!!

And please come back next week to hear the BUT GOD that follows!!




  1. The ‘living’ who are dead.

     – spiritual lifelessness as a result of sin

                  – sins of commission

                  – sins of omission


  1. The ‘liberated’ who are enslaved.

     – to the world’s agenda

      – to Satan’s influence

      – to fleshly desires

      – to selfish attitudes


  1. The ‘self-pleased’ who are condemned.

     – God’s anger directed against all:    


      &  self-righteousness


[The past condition of the believer]

[The present condition of the unbeliever]


BUT ….. GOD ….


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