by Bob Wheeler
Salvation is all about saving lost sinners. But why does anyone, aside from a few depraved criminals, need to be saved? The answer is that we are all sinners. What we need to do is to see ourselves as God sees us. And it is not a pretty picture.
In Ephesians chapter 2 Paul gives us a vivid picture of a lost and sinful humanity. He begins by saying that we were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1; NKJV). But what does he mean by this? He goes on to elaborate.
First of all, he says that we “walked” in these trespasses and sins (v. 2). By this he means that we lived our lives this way; we routinely and habitually committed transgressions and sins in the daily courses of our lives. But we weren’t just acting independently in this. We were part of a larger and thoroughly corrupt social and cultural system. We sinned “according to the course of this world” (v.2), or “according to the age of this world,” as it might more literally be translated. The “world” is the whole organized system of human society; and the “age” is the period of time during which things are done a certain way. And during this present age we see human society acting in rebellion against God, routinely ignoring His commandments and breaking His laws. And we were all, at one time at least, very much a part of this wicked, godless system.
But there is even more to it than just that. When we “walked according to the course of this world” we were also walking “according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” (v. 2). This is a reference to none other than Satan himself, the unseen spiritual being who manipulates the actions of sinful human beings in order to achieve his own foul ends; and we, through our actions, played right into his hands. He is “the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.”
The result, on our part, was a lifestyle marked by sin and depravity. “. . . among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath, just as the others” (v. 3).
First of all, he tells us that we “conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh.” Paul often uses the word “flesh” to refer to our entire fallen human nature, and not just to our physical appetites, although it can include them (cf. Gal. 5:19-21, where “the works of the flesh” include such things as “contentions, jealousies . . . selfish ambitions, heresies.”). “Lusts” are not necessarily sexual lusts, but any kind of self-centered desires. Sometimes in American society we try to dignify these desires by calling them “the profit motive,” “consumer demand,” or “drive and ambition.” But it all boils down to “me, myself and I.”
Paul elaborates further: the lusts of our flesh include both “the desires of the flesh” and those “of the mind.” Here the word “flesh” clearly does refer to the physical appetites, the insatiable craving for food, drink, sex, and the such like. But our sin doesn’t stop there. Alas, it also takes in the “desires of the mind,” of our thoughts and reasonings. It is not just a matter of our animal instincts, but it includes our intellectual life as well. We are driven by pride and ambition; we scheme and plot to get ahead. But our more refined sins of the intellect are just as sinful and rebellious as the desire for wine and women.
But why do we behave in such senseless and self-destructive ways? The answer to that question is the most disturbing of all. We “were by nature children of wrath, just as the others” (v. 3). Our “nature” is our inborn quality or constitution. In other words, we were born sinners – it is part of our inbred nature.
Paul elaborates even further on man’s sinful, fallen condition in Eph. 4:17-19. There he says that the Gentiles walk “in the futility of their mind” (v. 17). The reasoning process leads to a false understanding of reality. And why? Because their understanding is “darkened” (v. 18). Why? Because they are “alienated from the life of God.” Why? “Because of the ignorance that is in them.” And why is that? ”Because of the blindness of their heart,” or as it might better be translated, “the hardness of their heart” (NASV;ESV). As a result they are “past feeling” and have “given themselves over to lewdness, to work uncleanness with greediness” (v. 19). It is a vivid depiction of the psychology of sin.
In a word, what we have here is a description of total depravity. Sin has affected every part of a man’s being: his emotions, his intellect, and his will. And this is why Paul could say that we were “dead in trespasses and sins” (2:1) and “alienated from the life of God” (4:18). It is not a pretty picture.
This, then, is the condition in which God finds us. And this, in a nutshell, is why we need salvation. The remarkable thing is that God would even think of saving us at all. We were His enemies. We were in rebellion against Him. We had broken His law. He would have been perfectly justified in sending us all to hell. But He didn’t. In His grace and mercy He chose to save us instead. But more about that in our next blog post.