Ephesians Chapter 2: "You were dead in sins"


 Paul leads us gradually nearer to exhortation in this letter. He has passed beyond the general survey of what God has accomplished for all the saints, now, and in this chapter sets out what he has achieved, in particular, for each one of the readers. He told us before that our sins were forgiven (1:7), but the exaltation of his theme did not permit him to tell us exactly how low we were before the Lord raised us up. This he does now: 

·         “Ye were dead in trespasses and sins” (2:1)

·         “Ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience:, among whom we also all once lived” (2:2-3)

·         “Ye lived in the lusts of the flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind” (2:3)

·         “Ye were by nature the children of wrath, even as the rest” (2:3) 

There is little ground left for pride here. We were dead: as truly as the Prodigal Son was dead (Luke 15:24, 32); as truly as they were dead who heard the preaching of Jesus but had not yet received it (John 5:24, 25); as truly as those who put off the period of their following him (Luke 9:60). We were born dead by the very nature of our fleshly heritage, for death hath passed upon all men (Romans 5:12). This is what we were by nature, the children of wrath. By nature we could be nothing different: only a new nature, given by a new birth, could set that matter right. 

We walked, too, according to the course of this world. It is possible that those who read this letter first would have a particularly guilty conscience on this matter. Ephesus may, like Corinth, have been distinguished for its shame­less vice, and it might have been possible to say of these men also, “Such were some of you” (1 Corinthians 6:11.). The warning which follows later against lasciviousness, uncleanness and greediness (4:19) suggests as much. But it makes little difference. The real advantage of having lived in open profligacy is that there is no possible defense of the former manner of life: it was obviously wrong, and repentance is the only way to be rid of it. That, no doubt, is why the Lord’s word had easier progress among the publications and harlots than among the Pharisees:  their sins, which were many, were forgiven, for they loved much (Luke 7:47). The real peril of having lived a good life (as men count goodness) is that we may either refuse the message of the Gospel altogether on the ground that we do not need it, or accept it without any real sense of repentance or indebtedness. It is therefore right that here, the Apostle should concentrate on the mere fact of living “according to the course of this world”, and leave it to his readers to decide in what respect this was true of them. For it certainly was true of them all: the Pharisees are as much a worldling as the publican, for so long as he concentrates on his own righteousness, and neither the one nor the other can be saved unless he recognizes the essentially dead character of his former trust and life. “The World’’ here is the same word as that used in John’s Gospel, and in the latter it is evident that the World which was made by the Word, which rejected and hated the Lord, is a world made up, amongst other, of those Jews who turned away from Him and had Him crucified.

 It is striking, in passing, to notice the different attitudes to the world that the Gospel of John displays. In the beginning there is a warning that all is not well with the world, yet God’s purpose with it is wholly one of kindness:  

“God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever be­lieveth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).  

The world as a whole will not respond, yet its condemnation will be due to itself: 

 “For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved:  but this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and man loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:17, 19).  

As the Gospel proceeds, the world which Jesus met makes its decision, “The world hateth me” (John 17:7). So it comes about that Jesus considers the disciples and the world as separate things: the one for him, and the other against. ‘‘I pray not for the world, but for those whom thou hast given me” (John 17:9). In the truest sense, thereafter, “My kingdom is not of this world’’ (John 18:36). This is the spirit, which is main­tained in the First Letter of John, where the same hope of salvation is held out for the world. “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world’’ (1 John 2:2). But, where it is set out again that the world and the will of God are opposites:

 “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). 

And “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the vainglory of life” (1 John 2:16) cover respectable sin as well as the open kind. They are as true of the law-abiding self-esteem of the Pharisee as they are of the criminal self­ indulgence of the dissolute. All this is the course of this world and from all this they are redeemed who forsake their self-confidence or their self-indul­gence, and cone to the Lord through Christ. 

And yet again we are obliged to stress that this salvation is due to no virtuous act of ours, for this letter demands it of us. It comes from “God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us” (2:4). It is a raising to life by God - and who is so helpless to do any-thing for himself as a dead man? - And it is “by grace that we are saved” (2:8), coming “not of ourselves” but given by God. Nothing could so effectively cause us to abandon any credit for what has been done for us. Nor was anyone so well-equipped as Paul to teach us the lesson. For he had formerly believed that he had much to boast of “circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; as touching zeal, persecuting the church; as touching the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless.” (Philippians 3:5-6). But these things he came to appreciate at their true worthlessness. They were of the flesh, and to trust in the flesh was to deny the power of the workings of God. What he had boasted of, he now became ashamed of; what he had prized, he now counted but dung (v.9). His virtues he forgot, and that he had been “a blasphemer, and a persecutor and injurious” he remembered (1 Timothy 1:13). And he shared with all other true believers the knowledge that redemption came in spite of their unfitness, and not because of their worth: “We also were aforetime foolish, disobedient deceived, serving divers lust and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Saviour, and His love toward man, appeared, not by works done in righteousness which we did ourselves, but accord­ing to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, which He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” (Titus 3:3-5). 

Certainly our salvation is not of works, lest any man should boast (2:9), and certainly, if there is anything worthwhile in us when the last judgment shall reveal us, it will be because we are “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God had afore prepared that we should walk in them.” (2:10) The first man was made in God’s image, but the sin of men deface the image implanted in them. The second man was made in the form of God (Philippians 2:6), and maintained that form unimpaired by crucifying the flesh, which might have resisted it. And the perfect man in Christ Jesus must also be recreated accord­ing to the same image. Thus the new beginning of those who receive the way of salvation can be described as a re-birth (as in John 3:3, 5; Titus 3:3-5; 1 Peter 1:23, 2:2); or a new creation (as here). The creation is the thought in Romans 6:5ff also even though it comes about through the dying of the old Adam in baptism, and the spiritual resurrection of one who is to live in the way of righteousness. 

“That we should walk in them” (2:10). This is by no means a statement that God decided beforehand that we should have no choice but to walk in them. On the contrary, it is a statement that God of old prepared a way in which we could walk, if we would choose. It is not so much a matter of saying that we will walk in these ways or we will not. It is one of saying whether we are will­ing to have Him direct us in His ways. Otherwise we shall assuredly walk in our own. “It is not in man to direct his steps”. 


This was bound to come sooner or later. It is part of Paul’s method to develop a profound truth, almost. It might sometime seem without reference to his readers, and then suddenly remind them of the consequences which the truth holds for them. It is an instructive exercise to look up in the Concor­dance. Paul’s use of “therefore” and “wherefore”, and see how he says, in effect, many times: “This is true, therefore do that!” We might note these as illustra­tive examples: 

·         God has worked out his purpose of salvation by faith, “I beseech you therefore that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1).

·         The Lord Jesus is assuredly risen from the dead, and so our hope is not vain: “Therefore be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). 

·         The Lord Jesus has been exalted on our behalf to the highest positions, “As therefore ye received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Colossians 2:6). 

This is what we might call the Scriptural doctrine of ‘cause’ and ‘effect’:  the ‘cause’ being the divine goodness; and the ‘effect’ the human response. It is not necessary ‘cause’ and ‘effect’, such as scientists are used to, but the ‘effect’ follows with moral necessity from the ‘cause’ if the disciple is truly moved by what is done for him. 

In our verse it is not much which is asked. “Wherefore, remember that aforetime, ye, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called Circumcision in the flesh, made by hands; that ye were at that time separate from Christ (2:11-12). We are only bidden to remember, and it is but a moment before Paul’s revived spiritual activity takes us away from ourselves again into the boundless grace of God, as it is revealed in Jesus Christ. But it is much, indeed, that we must recall. For the first time the insufferable pretensions of natural Israel are brought into the picture, but with a delicate hand that we might scarcely recognise it, were we not aware of Paul’s own Jewish background. “Ye are called uncircumcision: they are call­ed circumcision.” But they take this title to themselves, these Jews. The name is claimed on the strength of that which is wrought with hands, and it is falsely claimed. It is denied to the Gentile believers because they have not submitted themselves to this outmoded Jewish right: but it is unlawfully denied. In another passage Paul heaps their contempt dreadfully back upon them describ­ing them merely as the “concision”, the ones who cut without purpose or the right spirit, and claiming for the believers the title: “We are the circumci­sion, who worship by the Spirit of God, and glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:2-3). This was a dramatic change for Paul, but it was a profound honour for those who came out of Gentile darkness to re­joice in the light of the Gospel. 

Ye were then separate from Christ, and as such aliens from the Common­wealth of Israel, strangers from the covenants of promise (2:12). All who are separate from Christ are these things, be they Jews or Gentiles. For the Commonwealth of Israel is made up of the members of the Seed, and the Covenants of Promise find every one their fulfilment in the One Seed, which is Christ (Galatians 3:16). Natural Israel has no claim to the title when it rejects the counsel of God against itself: the kingdom of God was taken away from them and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof (Matthew 21:43); and those who are now the people of God are those who have accepted the Lord Christ as the foundation stone of their faith (1 Peter 2:1-10). 

All the taunts of the Judaisers against the gentile Christians were unsound, for the tables had been turned upon Israel according to the flesh. Yet the new Israel must not be high-minded, but fear. Therefore comes this gentle reminder, “Wherefore, remember.” 

For here, as in the more logically developed Romans passage (chapters 9 to 11), we are left in no doubt that the privilege which the Gentile believer now finds to be his is not his by right, but by grace. It has been given, and it could be withdrawn, but no threat of withdrawal is here implied. We are simply being reminded again of our indebtedness; and the method used to do it is a representation of the doctrine of the Cross. We may not, perhaps, realise at once to what extent this doctrine is Paul’s own. Of course the events of the crucifixion are set out in the Gospels, but the discussion of them in these terms is more often found in Paul’s writing, by far, than anywhere else. It gives the deepest significance to baptism in Romans 6. It is the process whereby Paul acquired his new life in Christ, and whereby the Christian subdues the lusts of the flesh in Galatians 2: 20 and 5:24. It is the centre of the Christian’s glorying and the prime offence of the gospel in the eyes of the Jews in 1 Corinthians 1:17-18, 23. It is the means of the removal of the handwriting of ordinances which was against us in Colossians 2:14. And here, it is the breaching of the barriers which separate both Jew and Gentile from full communion with God (2:13-18). 

The barrier concerned the law. The commandments, which were against the Jew because he followed Moses and could not follow him perfectly (2:15), were also formerly against the Gentile because he could not be saved without becoming a Jew. The barrier could only be removed by putting both categories outside the scope of the law of works, and this had the double effect of making them one with each other, as well as making them one with God (1:15, 17-18). It then comes to pass that the enmity that God must feel against sin is dissolved in the love, which God can extend to those who receive the righteousness, which is in Christ. The curse that the Law imposes upon its every breach (Galatians 3:10) is abolished when the Lord himself takes the curse upon his flesh, and displays to all who trust in him that, by passing out of the Law’s clutches through joining him upon the cross, they can enter into the Law of Grace and be judged according to their trust and love. 

Thus the Lord preached peace to both categories. It is important to know that the peace of the New Testament is only exceptionally what the world means by the term. It is true that, in the prophets, the time will come when peace shall flow like a river, and when, through the work of the King who rules in righteousness and the princes who reign in judgement, there shall come peace, quietness and assurance for ever. The New Testament does nothing at all to weaken this idea, but it does extend it. The peace, which it principally offers, is the peace of God, the peace of the God of Peace. It can be enjoyed in the midst of tribulation: “In the world ye shall have tribulation; in me ye shall have peace” (John 16:35). It fills the hearts and minds of those who dwell upon the holy things of God (Philippians 4:7-9). The peace here in our Epistle which the Lord brings, to those who are near (natural Israel) and to those who are afar off (the Gentiles), all together in close unity with God in Christ. Where there is neither Jew nor Greek. Out of many disordered creatures there comes into existence one new man (2:15), and so, as we would expect, arises peace.  

If this represents the “Prince of Peace” to us in a somewhat unfamiliar light, it is a light, which is more fundamental than merely to think of Him as the one who will bring abolition of war to the earth. He will do this, of course, but the mere conquest of rebellious nations, and compelling them to beat their sword into ploughshares, would mean nothing if there were not provided also obedient men and women, at peace with God. Who could take over the dominion of the earth from them. The peace of the world (“not as the world giveth, give I unto you”) is the mere interval between wars, the breathing space where the defeated lick their wounds and the conquerors prepare for the next advance. But the peace of God, which the world cannot understand, commences in reconciliation with Him, in the subjection of all rebellious impulses, and blossoms in unbreakable unity with Him. This sweetens the entry into the sleep of death, and awakens in the morning of resurrection of abundance of peace, so long as the moon endureth. 

We both – converted Jews and redeemed Gentiles – “have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (1:18). The access is both “in one spirit” – in that all approach God in the same mind; and “by one Spirit”, in that our Lord by the Spirit maketh intercession for us with groaning that cannot be uttered (Romans 8:26-27). The access is real and unhindered:  the throne of grace stands bare for all who have liberty to approach within the veil (Hebrews 4:16; 10:19-20). The suppliants enter themselves into the fabric of the house, too, in the spiritual metaphor, for they are “builded together upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (1:20). 

It would be profitable to consider the use made in the New Testament of the Corner Stone predictions of the old (Psalms 118:22; Isaiah 28:16). In the first of these, the stone which the builders rejected is made the head of the corner; in the second, those who believe on him shall not be confounded. In the Lord’s answer to the Pharisees after the parable of the Husbandmen, the first of these compared with Isaiah 8:14-15 for the discomfiture of unbelieving Israel (Matthew 21:42-44): the nation rejects the heir in the interests of its own independence, and finds itself crushed as it stumbles in its way. The Kingdom of God is taken from it. In our passage, it is difficult to believe that Paul has not in mind the use which the Lord has already made of such passages, for he also implies “that which is called circumcision has failed through its unwillingness to build upon the Lord”, and goes on to establish the confidence with which they can build who lay such a foundation. And in 1 Peter 2 we have what amounts to direct commentary and quotation of the Lord’s own words, as we should expect from a disciple who had certainly heard the words from Jesus’ lips. Those who taste that the Lord is gracious come unto that Stone, but lately rejected by the Jewish builders (v. 3), and are built upon it as God’s holy house; those who reject this foundation stumble, fall, and are replaced. From the fact that the Apostles so rarely say anything like “Thus saith the Lord”, when they are referring to the words of Jesus, we might sometimes be led to suppose that they made little use of his words in their thinking and writing. But the artless way in which Peter in this chapter captures the entire thought of the Lord, and uses it for the edification of his readers, shows the case to be otherwise. They did not so much quote the Lord’s words, as have them living in their hearts, so that they came out naturally and unconstrained when circumstances called them forth. 

The structure, which is built upon this foundation, is not merely God’s home: it is God’s temple. It is difficult to adjust our minds to understand the continuity between the temple of God which was prefigured in the Ark of the Covenant, and erected by Solomon in Jerusalem; and the spiritual temple which is here described, When we say, “The Lord dwelleth not in temples made with hands” (Acts 7:48; 17:24), we are perhaps disposed to connect the words with those of the Lord Jesus, “Neither in this place nor yet in Jerusalem shall men worship the Father, but they that worship must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:21-25), and the connection is obviously intended. But it would be wrong to draw from this the conclusion that God once did dwell in temples made with hands, and now does so no longer, as though some change had taken place in the divine indwelling. The plain fact is that God never did dwell in temples made with hands; if by “made with hands” we mean, “devised and executed or inhabited by sinful man”. The tabernacle had to be made according to the pattern showed Moses in the mount, and every defilement of human hands must be removed by atonement before it was fit for God’s habitation. And into the space where God revealed His glory between the cherubim there might come none except the cleansed, anointed and sanctified high priest, at the appointed time. It was essentially the same with Solomon’s temple, too; and the most vivid demonstra­tion that God could not dwell there when it-was defiled by man is shown in Ezekiel, where the glory of God first forsakes the stricken temple, then hovers for a moment on the threshold, and then departs altogether, not to return until the appointed Prince shall come to erect and glorify the new structure (Ezekiel 1:4; 10:3; 11:21-25; 43:4). 

When men turn the temple of God to their own uses, and then it becomes the temple of idols, or, as in the days of the Lord’s weakness, a den of robbers (John 2:16; Mark 11:17). And in either case it becomes unfit for the Lord’s habitation, and he will not dwell there. The Lord’s sorrowful lament over Israel was “Your house is left unto you desolate”, for it was no longer poss­ible to speak of the house of gain and oppression as though it were the house of God. Israel of old “set up their idols in their hearts” and might not there­fore enquire of God. It has in all ages been the same as it is now. There never was a time when men who would come to God did not need to worship in spirit and truth. Jesus, in making this known to the woman of Samaria, was not telling her anything that was not known before. He was merely preparing her for the fact that a visible temple of any kind would soon be dispensed with. 

This is our situation now. Yet it is not true that God is without a temple. Israel was deprived of its national temple because it resisted the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51): the temple as it is, is made up of those who are suited to be a habitation of God through the spirit (2:22). Elsewhere Paul couples this with warnings against those who destroy the temple of God. He denies us the liberty of choosing for ourselves whether God shall dwell in us or not, for that we decided in His favour when we heard His invitation, and so warns us that, if our members are turned aside from God’s purposes to the uses of evil desire, then we stand to be judged for misuse of God’s premises (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). The temple of God has no agreement with idols, and this is the reason why, in face of the evils and alliances of the world, we are commanded to “come out from among them and be separate, touching not the unclean thing” (2 Corinthians 6:14-17). It is un­reasonable to expect God to enter into part tenancy of a house largely given over to Mammon, and He will not do it. 

In this letter, however, Paul is content to let the positive lesson speak for itself. It is characteristic of the gentle appeal of reason and love by which the Epistle is marked out.

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