“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 [flesh] and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:1-3).1
These verses are descriptive of the bad news that makes the gospel [euaggélion] “good news” (1:13; 3:6, 7; 6:15, 19). As one long sentence in the Greek text, the verb (which communicates the good news) is not supplied until v. 5. The former lives of the Ephesians were, for the most part, characterized by pagan idolatry, superstition, and black magic (cf. Acts 19:13-36). Thus they were spiritually “dead.” While physical death is the absence of animated life, being “dead in the trespasses and sins” is to be “destitute of a life that recognizes and is devoted to God” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon 423); see also vv. 5, 12; 5:14; John 5:25; Rom. 6:13; Rev. 3:1; cf. Luke 15:24, 32. Physical death is the separation of one’s spirit from the body (Jas. 2:26), whereas spiritual death (the consequence of sin) is the separation of one’s spirit from God (Isa. 59:2).
The terms “trespasses” [pl. of paráptōma] and “sins” [pl. of hamartía] could be used interchangeably and probably appear together here for emphasis. The former (see also 1:7; 2:5) means to fall away after being close beside; a deviation from truth and uprightness, thus a misdeed. The latter (its only occurrence in Ephesians) refers to missing the mark; it is self-originated and self-empowered rather than originating from and empowered by God (contrast 1:3-19). It is an error of understanding and/or a bad action or evil deed and is always employed in the NT in an ethical sense.
This is the typical mindset and behavior in which the Ephesians “once walked.” Note: the walking dead! The Hebraic idiom “walk” [peripatéō] means to live or conduct oneself, used repeatedly in Ephesians (2:2, 10; 4:1, 17[x2]; 5:2, 8, 15).2
This passage is often used as a proof-text by those with a Calvinistic perspective, wherein the pre-Christian state is described as, “by nature children of wrath.” However, the context shows that being spiritually dead is the consequence of “trespasses and sins, in which you once walked” [not inherited]. Accordingly, the Greek term phusis, rendered “nature” here, is not necessarily indicative of something innate but rather “a mode of feeling and acting which by long habit has become nature” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon 660). Prior to their conversion to Christ, the Ephesians (like the rest of us) were deserving of God’s wrath because of their habitual practice of sin.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:4-10).
Grace is a free gift of God (Eph. 2:8; cf. Rom. 3:24; 6:23), but in order for a gift to be of any value, it must be “received.” The Corinthians, for example, had received God’s grace by receiving the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-2; 2 Cor. 11:7), to which they responded in obedient faith (Acts 18:8; 1 Cor. 12:13). They are then admonished “not to receive the grace of God in vain” (2 Cor. 6:1) by neglecting God-given responsibilities (5:17-21) or by regressing into their former sinful affections (6:12-18).
Spiritual life or spiritual death is the choice available to each of us. If we choose the latter by continuing in sin and rejecting God’s gracious gift, we are among the walking dead – void of spiritual life that is purified, illuminated, guided, and invigorated by God. Will you choose to walk among the living, or will you choose to walk among the dead?
--Kevin L. Moore
1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the ESV.
2 See also Gal. 5:16, 25; Rom. 6:4; 8:4; 13:13; 14:15; 2 Cor. 4:2; 5:7; 10:2, 3; 12:18; Phil. 3:17, 18; Col. 1:10; 2:6; 3:7; 4:5; 1 Thess. 2:12; 4:1, 12; 2 Thess. 3:6, 11.
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