Thursday, April 21

His Workmanship, Part 1

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 and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  

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. (Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV)

This is my favorite passage in the whole Bible. I've blogged about it before, and now I'm doing it again. You can blame Rey, if you want.

The passage begins with a paragraph describing the original condition of all human beings--verses 1-3--and it's that paragraph we'll examine in this post. Every person living is either like this right now, or they have been like this in the past. Let's look at the phrases that describe this condition one by one to see what they can tell us.

  • Dead in the trespasses and sins  in which you once walked. There is disagreement on exactly what it means to be dead in trespasses and sins. It's a figure of speech, so it's not meant to be taken literally, but it is meant to communicate something definite about our condition. Considering that both of the figures most commonly used to describe the natural human condition--death and slavery--are conditions from which people can do nothing to extricate themselves, I suspect its the helplessness of the condition that is meant to be communicated by the word "dead".

    Contextual support for understanding this to be a helpless condition can be found in the initial positive act described in this passage--one done by God, who is "rich in mercy". Mercy, as defined biblically, is given out in response to neediness or helplessness. Doing mercy is helping those who find themselves powerless to help themselves. Deadness, then, puts us in an utterly helpless situation that requires outside intervention to extricate us, since we are unable to initiate anything to help ourselves.

    The rest of the paragraph gives us more detailed description of this dead in sin condition.

  • Following the course of this world. Following (or walking, as some versions have translated) describes a way of living, the way one's life is conducted. The way we were living was according to the way of the world, the world being the fallen world--or what Paul calls "the present evil age" in Galatians 1:3. We were not trying to buck the trend, or to walk a different path, but we were right at home living according to this worldly realm that stands in opposition to God.

    The Pied Piper of Hamlin.
    This passage always makes me
    think of this story.
  • Following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. Well, we can all guess who this guy is. It's Satan, of course, the one who rules over the "present evil age", and he exerts his rule by working within those who are sons of disobedience. The sons of disobedience are under the control of a bad ruler, a ruler who has ruled us all at one time.

    And just to make matters worse, sons of disobedience is an idiom that means "people characterized by disobedience." In other words, sons of disobedience aren't just people who act disobediently because they are following the wrong ruler, but they are people who are by their own character--their makeup--disobedient. What they do arises from the sort of people they are.

    This makes for two big strikes against "sons of disobedience." You might call it a double whammy: they are disobeying God willingly out of their disobedient nature; but at the same time, they are being ruled or controlled from within by the leader of the forces opposed to God.

  • Among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind. Once again, Paul reminds us that this condition has been true of all of us. We all, as sons of disobedience, lived in and carried out our passions and desires. Colossians 3:5-8 tells us more specifically what sorts of lusts those fleshly ones are:
    Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:  sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.  But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.
    All the nasty things you might expect, including covetousness, which Paul defines as idolatry, since covetousness--at it's core--is putting the desire for other things above the desire to serve God. Following the desires of one's flesh stands in direct opposition to loving and serving God.

  • And were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. Along with one last reminder of the universality of this condition, we are told that the condition includes being "by nature children of wrath." Children of wrath is another idiom, probably meaning "destined for wrath"--the wrath being, of course, the expression of the justice of God against sin. We are children of wrath by nature, so it's not only what we do that puts us in line for God's wrath, but what we are innately.

    It sounds pretty dire, doesn't it? Someone in this condition is doing what comes naturally to them, so they feel like everything's fine, and yet doing what comes naturally puts them under the just wrath of God. In addition, they are being ruled by Satan, the power who stands firmly against God, and he is working within them to keep them disobedient to God. He is keeping them in his control, even though they may not be aware of it, since what he desires for them to do is also what they want to do.

    Willing captivity is a good description of those who are dead in sin. They are under the dominion of a wicked ruler, and we shouldn't discount the power that wicked ruler has; but they are also quite agreeable to his rule. The piper holds them captive, yet they dance with pleasure.

    The news gets better as we go on, but that'll have to wait until Part 2.
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