18: Before and After

Lesson 18: “Before and After”

Ephesians 2:1-3

One of the most important themes in the world of advertising is the “Before and after” approach. It is used for everything from lap band surgery to cataract surgery to Diet and exercise programs. And interestingly enough it is a one of the major themes of the Bible. In fact there is a sense in which it is the most important theme in the Bible. And one of the places where we see this theme is in Ephesians chapter 2. This chapter falls into 3 sections: First there is “an assessment of the past” in verses 1 through 3, then in verses 4 through 10 we find “an appraisal of the present,” and in verses 11 through 22 we have “an affirmation of the purposes of God.”

So let’s begin our study by looking at this assessment of the past in verses 1 through 3:

And you he made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins. (2) In which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, (3) 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 children of wrath, just as others.

A lot of people like to think about and talk about “the good old days.” But someone has said “hindsight doesn’t always have 20/20 vision.” Sometimes, if we are honest with ourselves we have to admit that the “good old days” were not all that good. And that is true of the assessment of the past that we find in these verses. It is not a very positive one. This assessment indicates that we have a serious problem in our past which is going to have important repercussions in the future.” And that is pointed out in the first sentence of this second chapter. Look at the verse again: (you) were dead in trespasses and sins. You see, this problem is so serious that it is characterized as death!

First let’s think about the scope of the problem. And we find that in the first two words of the chapter: “and you.” Several years ago I was in a meeting of doctors and pastors which was designed to discuss how both groups could work together for the best outcome for the patients with whom they were both involved. Somewhere in the course of the discussion one of the pastors asked, “What is the difference between major surgery and minor surgery?” And with a perfectly straight face the doctor said “minor surgery is the surgery your neighbor is going to have; major surgery is the surgery you are going to have. And that is really true, isn’t it? Things that affect us directly are much more important than when we are not so involved.

And that is what Paul wants the Ephesians (and us) to understand. As he had had written to the Christians in Rome, all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Then in chapter 6 of his letter to the Romans he went on to say that “the wages of sin is death.” And this has been true throughout history. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah said hundreds of years ago, “all we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned, every one to his own way.” (Isaiah 53:6) And so the scope of the problem comes right down to you and me. Even we are sinners!

But that is not all of the problem. The last part of verse 1 and going through verse 3 outlines another aspect of the scope of this problem, and that is that not only do we all face death because of our sins, we also are under a domination that threatens to keep us in that pattern of sin.  Look at verse 2 again:

 

(2) In which you once walked according to the prince of the power of the air,

 

And you he made alive who were dead in trespasses and sins (2) In which you once walked according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, (3) 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 children of wrath, just as others.

This problem is so serious that it is characterized as “death.” Now obviously this is not talking about physical death. But in effect it is talking about something even more serious from an eternal standpoint. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah gave a good example of this problem in Isaiah 59:1-3

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened that He cannot save, nor is his ear heavy that it cannot hear, but your iniquities have separated between you and your God so that He will not hear.”

 

Although the people of Isaiah’s day were alive, they were as much cut off from God as they would have been if they were physically dead. And the same thing is true of every sinner until they accept the gift of salvation offered to us through the payment for our sins by Jesus Christ in His death on the cross.

I can imagine that someone is reading this and thinking “Well, I don’t know about that, I’m not so bad; sure, I do some bad things, but I also do a lot of good things for others too. Surely this doesn’t describe me.” But you need to know that these verses were written in a tense in the original Greek text that could be translated as “a state of sinfulness,” not specific sins. So this is not saying that all unbelievers are outlandish sinners. In fact, Revelation 20:11-15 says that God keeps a record of all the good deeds that unbelievers do, as well as their sins. But he also keeps a record of those who have believed it Jesus Christ for their salvation. And the only people who get into heaven are the ones whose names are written in that book.

There are many unbelievers who have done great acts of philanthropy, for which they should be praised and recognized. But Isaiah 64:6 puts this in perspective. That verse says,

But we all are as an unclean thing, and all of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.

 

It is helpful to know that the rags that are mentioned here are a specific type of rag which was used to wipe down the camels that had just come off the dusty, dirty trails of the trade caravans. And of course the rags would quickly be completely soaked with sweat and dirt and other things picked up along the trails, so they were “used up” in the purpose for which they were made. And that is the way God looks at the good deeds of unbelievers; they accomplish some good in the world, but they are used up in the doing of that good. They only accomplish whatever earthly good that they did, so they can’t be used to “buy” salvation or to “bribe” God into letting them into heaven.

Earlier in the chapter the Apostle Paul characterized unbelievers as “dead in trespasses and sins.” Dr. S. Louis Johnson once gave a similar illustration. He said “on a battlefield there are many corpses in varying stages of decay, but they are all dead.”

But going back to Ephesians chapter 2, we find in verses 2 and 3 another problem besides the problem of death, and that is the problem of domination.  Look at those verses:

And you he made alive who were dead in trespasses and sins (2) In which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, (3) 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 children of wrath, just as others.

This phrase describes the first way unbelievers are dominated: By “the prince of the power of the air.” Without taking the time to go into all the details, let me just say that this is a reference to Satan, or “the devil.” Verse 2 gives us some details about him. First of all, he is “a spirit.” He sometimes assumes a visible appearance, but most of the time he is invisible and operates on the level of our human minds and putting evil thoughts into our heads. A second thing that verse 2 tells us about him is that he is “a prince.” The book of Daniel makes reference to demonic creatures who are organized into categories, one of which is “princes.” When we get to chapter 6 of Ephesians we will see a reference to “wicked spirits in the heavenlies.” So we can assume that Satan is the “prince” of those wicked spirits.

But there is a second way in which unbelievers are dominated, and that is by the peer group. There are many expressions of this condition: “keeping up with the Joneses” (or the co-workers), climbing the corporate ladder, “don’t be old fashioned.” Having “the next big thing” James Dobson says that peer group pressure is the #1 most important problem that teen-agers face. Legislators (most of whom are just about on a par with teen-agers) soon learn to “go along to get along.” All of this is summarized in the middle of verse 3 with the words “fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” Just doing whatever we wanted to do.

But there is another form of domination in these verses. Look at the phrase in the middle of verse 2: “the prince of the power of the air.” His description is given in verse 2b, but to understand it we have to break it down into its parts. First, he is a “prince.” The book of Daniel tells us that there are “ranks” of fallen angels (also known as demons) and one of those ranks is “prince.” So this is saying that unbelievers are under the sway of demons organized by a prince of the demonic hosts. Most people in the Western world make light of the whole idea of demons, because there are so many ways to account for their activities in the western world today. I am convinced, for example, that much of the unexplained and unexplainable violence around the world that we hear about nearly every day is the work of demons.  Much of what we call mental illness is probably the work of demons, but because of our sophisticated society we find other names for it.

Now we have seen the seriousness of the problem and the scope of the problem. But thank God, verse 1 also brings out the solution to the problem also.

And you He made alive who were dead in trespasses and sins.

Everything up to this point in our study of chapter 2 has been past tense. But Paul emphasizes all of these things about our past because it is still present for so many. What about you? Have you been “made alive” by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ and asking Him to save you from all of this death and domination? You can do that right now, even as you read these pages. Just pray this simple prayer, but pray it sincerely, from the heart: “Jesus I believe that you are the Son of God and that you died on a cross to pay for the sins that I have committed. I admit that I am a sinner and I ask you to save me from my sins and make me spiritually alive.” And God’s promise is that He will do just that. And that life that He

Lesson 18: “Before and After”

Ephesians 2:1-3

One of the most important themes in the world of advertising is the “Before and after” approach. It is used for everything from lap band surgery to cataract surgery to Diet and exercise programs. And interestingly enough it is a one of the major themes of the Bible. In fact there is a sense in which it is the most important theme in the Bible. And one of the places where we see this theme is in Ephesians chapter 2. This chapter falls into 3 sections: First there is “an assessment of the past” in verses 1 through 3, then in verses 4 through 10 we find “an appraisal of the present,” and in verses 11 through 22 we have “an affirmation of the purposes of God.”

So let’s begin our study by looking at this assessment of the past in verses 1 through 3:

And you he made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins. (2) In which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, (3) 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 children of wrath, just as others.

A lot of people like to think about and talk about “the good old days.” But someone has said “hindsight doesn’t always have 20/20 vision.” Sometimes, if we are honest with ourselves we have to admit that the “good old days” were not all that good. And that is true of the assessment of the past that we find in these verses. It is not a very positive one. This assessment indicates that we have a serious problem in our past which is going to have important repercussions in the future.” And that is pointed out in the first sentence of this second chapter. Look at the verse again: (you) were dead in trespasses and sins. You see, this problem is so serious that it is characterized as death!

First let’s think about the scope of the problem. And we find that in the first two words of the chapter: “and you.” Several years ago I was in a meeting of doctors and pastors which was designed to discuss how both groups could work together for the best outcome for the patients with whom they were both involved. Somewhere in the course of the discussion one of the pastors asked, “What is the difference between major surgery and minor surgery?” And with a perfectly straight face the doctor said “minor surgery is the surgery your neighbor is going to have; major surgery is the surgery you are going to have. And that is really true, isn’t it? Things that affect us directly are much more important than when we are not so involved.

And that is what Paul wants the Ephesians (and us) to understand. As he had had written to the Christians in Rome, all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Then in chapter 6 of his letter to the Romans he went on to say that “the wages of sin is death.” And this has been true throughout history. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah said hundreds of years ago, “all we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned, every one to his own way.” (Isaiah 53:6) And so the scope of the problem comes right down to you and me. Even we are sinners!

But that is not all of the problem. The last part of verse 1 and going through verse 3 outlines another aspect of the scope of this problem, and that is that not only do we all face death because of our sins, we also are under a domination that threatens to keep us in that pattern of sin.  Look at verse 2 again:

 

(2) In which you once walked according to the prince of the power of the air,

 

And you he made alive who were dead in trespasses and sins (2) In which you once walked according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, (3) 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 children of wrath, just as others.

This problem is so serious that it is characterized as “death.” Now obviously this is not talking about physical death. But in effect it is talking about something even more serious from an eternal standpoint. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah gave a good example of this problem in Isaiah 59:1-3

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened that He cannot save, nor is his ear heavy that it cannot hear, but your iniquities have separated between you and your God so that He will not hear.”

 

Although the people of Isaiah’s day were alive, they were as much cut off from God as they would have been if they were physically dead. And the same thing is true of every sinner until they accept the gift of salvation offered to us through the payment for our sins by Jesus Christ in His death on the cross.

I can imagine that someone is reading this and thinking “Well, I don’t know about that, I’m not so bad; sure, I do some bad things, but I also do a lot of good things for others too. Surely this doesn’t describe me.” But you need to know that these verses were written in a tense in the original Greek text that could be translated as “a state of sinfulness,” not specific sins. So this is not saying that all unbelievers are outlandish sinners. In fact, Revelation 20:11-15 says that God keeps a record of all the good deeds that unbelievers do, as well as their sins. But he also keeps a record of those who have believed it Jesus Christ for their salvation. And the only people who get into heaven are the ones whose names are written in that book.

There are many unbelievers who have done great acts of philanthropy, for which they should be praised and recognized. But Isaiah 64:6 puts this in perspective. That verse says,

But we all are as an unclean thing, and all of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.

 

It is helpful to know that the rags that are mentioned here are a specific type of rag which was used to wipe down the camels that had just come off the dusty, dirty trails of the trade caravans. And of course the rags would quickly be completely soaked with sweat and dirt and other things picked up along the trails, so they were “used up” in the purpose for which they were made. And that is the way God looks at the good deeds of unbelievers; they accomplish some good in the world, but they are used up in the doing of that good. They only accomplish whatever earthly good that they did, so they can’t be used to “buy” salvation or to “bribe” God into letting them into heaven.

Earlier in the chapter the Apostle Paul characterized unbelievers as “dead in trespasses and sins.” Dr. S. Louis Johnson once gave a similar illustration. He said “on a battlefield there are many corpses in varying stages of decay, but they are all dead.”

But going back to Ephesians chapter 2, we find in verses 2 and 3 another problem besides the problem of death, and that is the problem of domination.  Look at those verses:

And you he made alive who were dead in trespasses and sins (2) In which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, (3) 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 children of wrath, just as others.

This phrase describes the first way unbelievers are dominated: By “the prince of the power of the air.” Without taking the time to go into all the details, let me just say that this is a reference to Satan, or “the devil.” Verse 2 gives us some details about him. First of all, he is “a spirit.” He sometimes assumes a visible appearance, but most of the time he is invisible and operates on the level of our human minds and putting evil thoughts into our heads. A second thing that verse 2 tells us about him is that he is “a prince.” The book of Daniel makes reference to demonic creatures who are organized into categories, one of which is “princes.” When we get to chapter 6 of Ephesians we will see a reference to “wicked spirits in the heavenlies.” So we can assume that Satan is the “prince” of those wicked spirits.

But there is a second way in which unbelievers are dominated, and that is by the peer group. There are many expressions of this condition: “keeping up with the Joneses” (or the co-workers), climbing the corporate ladder, “don’t be old fashioned.” Having “the next big thing” James Dobson says that peer group pressure is the #1 most important problem that teen-agers face. Legislators (most of whom are just about on a par with teen-agers) soon learn to “go along to get along.” All of this is summarized in the middle of verse 3 with the words “fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” Just doing whatever we wanted to do.

But there is another form of domination in these verses. Look at the phrase in the middle of verse 2: “the prince of the power of the air.” His description is given in verse 2b, but to understand it we have to break it down into its parts. First, he is a “prince.” The book of Daniel tells us that there are “ranks” of fallen angels (also known as demons) and one of those ranks is “prince.” So this is saying that unbelievers are under the sway of demons organized by a prince of the demonic hosts. Most people in the Western world make light of the whole idea of demons, because there are so many ways to account for their activities in the western world today. I am convinced, for example, that much of the unexplained and unexplainable violence around the world that we hear about nearly every day is the work of demons.  Much of what we call mental illness is probably the work of demons, but because of our sophisticated society we find other names for it.

Now we have seen the seriousness of the problem and the scope of the problem. But thank God, verse 1 also brings out the solution to the problem also.

And you He made alive who were dead in trespasses and sins.

Everything up to this point in our study of chapter 2 has been past tense. But Paul emphasizes all of these things about our past because it is still present for so many. What about you? Have you been “made alive” by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ and asking Him to save you from all of this death and domination? You can do that right now, even as you read these pages. Just pray this simple prayer, but pray it sincerely, from the heart: “Jesus I believe that you are the Son of God and that you died on a cross to pay for the sins that I have committed. I admit that I am a sinner and I ask you to save me from my sins and make me spiritually alive.” And God’s promise is that He will do just that. And that life that He gives you will be eternal life.

 

gives you will be eternal life.

 

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