1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; 2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: 3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. (Ephesians 2:1–3)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE SPIRITUALLY DEAD?
Ephesians 2:1 And you <hath he quickened>, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
1 Καὶ ὑμᾶς ὄντας νεκροὺς τοῖς παραπτώμασι,
καὶ ταῖς ἁμαρτίαις,
There are at least three ways to view human nature. One is to say that humans are basically good, albeit with flaws.
Second, you could say that humans are morally sick, but there is much that they could do to help themselves.
Biblically, however, the view is that human beings are spiritually dead—dead in trespasses and sins.
What does it mean to be dead? A dead body, human or animal, is completely unresponsive to stimuli. You can shake it, poke it, drop it, or whatever, and it will not respond. Death is the complete inability to communicate with the living.
Spiritual death, then, is a complete inability to communicate with God. There is a complete separation from God. The spiritually dead person cannot reach God through anything that they can think of doing for themselves.
Our spiritual death is because of “trespasses and sins.” These words refer to “deviating from the right path” and “missing the mark” (Wuest).
It’s like driving a car off into the ditch, high centering it on a rock. There’s nothing that you can do, your car is dead in the ditch. You need a tow truck.
Because of our sins, we are spiritually dead. We are “dead in trespasses and sins.” What does that look like? We know that a car is in the ditch because we can see that it’s not on the road and it is in a place that it’s not supposed to be.
In the same way, you can see if a person might be spiritually dead by how they live.
I. THE SPIRITUALLY DEAD LIVE ACCORDING TO THE WORLD
Ephesians 2:2a Wherein in time past ye walked
according to the course of this world,
2 ἐν αἷς ποτε περιεπατήσατε
κατὰ τὸν αἰῶνα τοῦ κόσμου τούτου,
Paul is speaking to Christians, so he reminds them of the time before when they were spiritually dead that they “walked according to the course of this world.”
The idea behind “walked” is that they lived according to the course of this world. The idea behind “course of this world” refers to the ways of this world.
A spiritually dead person, then, lives according to the ways of this world. What does that mean? It means that, instead of choosing God’s ways, they consistently choose the opposite. They choose revenge and murder and hate over forgiveness.
They follow the lifestyles of other unbelievers. They are materialistic, in that they care much about things. They are narcissistic, in that they care about themselves most of all.
The world could also be described as seeking fame, fortune, pleasure, and power. That pretty much sums up what unbelievers, in one way or another, seek.
Many unbelievers have these worldly tendencies tempered by godly parents, or by godly principles that still reside in our culture. But as you see these godly principles diminish in our culture, you will see more and more people plainly following “the course of this world.”
Where did this worldly mindset come from? It comes from a person named Satan.
II. THE SPIRITUALLY DEAD LIVE ACCORDING TO SATAN
Ephesians 2:2b according to the prince of the power of the air,
the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:
κατὰ τὸν ἄρχοντα τῆς ἐξουσίας τοῦ ἀέρος,
τοῦ πνεύματος τοῦ νῦν ἐνεργοῦντος ἐν τοῖς υἱοῖς τῆς ἀπειθείας·
We learn here that Satan is the “prince of the power of the air,” which is a way of saying that he is the ruler of this world. Other scriptures confirm this:
4 In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. (2 Corinthians 4:4)
31 Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. (John 12:31)
34 But the Pharisees said, He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils. (Matthew 9:34)
Satan was the first to rebel against God. His rebellion is recorded for us in Isaiah:
12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! 13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. (Isaiah 14:12–14)
This is precisely the same type of rebellion that humanity has against God. We want to rule ourselves. We want to be equal or even greater than God. Why is that?
As ruler of this world, or more precisely, this world’s value system, Satan dominates those who are spiritually dead. It’s not that they are conscious of his dominance and influence, but they are on the same spiritual wavelength; they are tuned to the same channel.
This doesn’t mean that everyone is demon-possessed, but whether unbelievers know it or not, they are influenced by Satan.
Paul says that they are “the children of disobedience.” Children often exhibit characteristics of their parents in some way. They might have their father’s nose, their mother’s eyes, or their father’s temper, etc.
That’s the idea here. Unbelievers are children of the very first disobedient one, Satan. They have similar characteristics as Satan. Jesus reverses the image, but says the same thing in John:
38 I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father. 39 They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. 40 But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham. 41 Ye do the deeds of your father.
Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God. 42 Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. 43 Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. 44 Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. (John 8:38–44)
By the way, one thing we pick up from this account is that even religious people can be children of disobedience.
People do the things that they do because they are children of their father — Satan.
III. THE SPIRITUALLY DEAD LIVE ACCORDING TO THE FLESH
Ephesians 2:3 Among whom also we all had our conversation [behavior, conduct] in times past in the lusts of our flesh,
fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind;
and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
3 ἐν οἷς καὶ ἡμεῖς πάντες ἀνεστράφημέν ποτε ἐν ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις τῆς σαρκὸς ἡμῶν,
ποιοῦντες τὰ θελήματα τῆς σαρκὸς καὶ τῶν διανοιῶν,
καὶ ἤμεν τέκνα φύσει ὀργῆς, ὡς καὶ οἱ λοιποί·
The word “conversation” (ἀναστρέφω) means, “to conduct oneself, with apparent focus upon overt daily behavior” (Louw-Nida).
The unbeliever’s behavior is according to the flesh. The word “flesh” refers to our sinful or depraved nature. It’s the basic instinct of a human being; centered around self, caring for self, seeking pleasure for the self, striking out at any who might hurt or disenfranchise ourself in some way.
Paul lists the deeds of the flesh in Galatians:
19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19–21)
By nature we act to fulfill “the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” We act, especially as unbelievers, to do the opposite of what God wants us to do. That means we are “by nature the children of [God’s] wrath.”
It’s not a matter of us having committed a few sins and needing forgiveness for those sins. By our nature we are sinners. The old question is “are we sinners because we sin or do we sin because we’re sinners?” We are born sinners. We are “by nature…children…wrath.”
By our nature we are sinners, and so God’s wrath on us cannot be easily swept away. And God’s wrath is terrifying: it’s eternal condemnation in Hell. There is no human escape from God’s wrath. We need a new birth, a new life, and a new nature given to us by God through Christ Jesus.
17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
HOW DO YOU LIVE? ARE YOU SPIRITUALLY DEAD?
What does a spiritually dead person look like?
I. The Spiritually Dead Live According To The World
II. The Spiritually Dead Live According To Satan
III. The Spiritually Dead Live According To The Flesh
What are you? How do you live your life? Are you alive in Jesus today? Are you spiritually dead?
In the account of the Prodigal Son, the father says something really interesting when he welcomes his repentant Prodigal back.
20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. 21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. 22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: 23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. (Luke 15:20–24)
The Father in Heaven has provided a way for even a dead person to come to him. It’s through Jesus Christ that we can be made alive.
When you repent of your sinful lifestyle of living for the world, for Satan, and for the flesh—trusting Jesus for forgiveness—you can come running to the Father and hear him say, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again.”