Paul, in describing the power of God (Ephesians 1.19), gives two incredible examples: Jesus and us. He says that the life of Jesus is a demonstration of the overwhelming power of God (Ephesians 1.20-23). He then turns and adds that you and I are another example of God’s power (Ephesians 2.1-10).
At the beginning of our passage, Paul sets up an incredible contrast. He says . . .
And you [He made alive], who were dead in trespasses and sins, 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, 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 the others.
Paul describe what our lives looked like before Christ. He is talking in past tense contrasting the spiritual death we once had with the spiritual life we now experience in Jesus. Previously we looked at the phrase “dead in trespasses and sins,” now we want to turn our attention to the rest of the passage.
According to the World
“. . . in which you once walked according to the course of this world . . .”
To walk in this context doesn’t mean to take a stroll but to live. It is an indicative which means it is a simple statement of fact – it is not up for debate, Paul is declaring what our lives were. He says that we lived according to the principles, attitude, and behavior of the world. In other words we lived under the control and influence of the world; the fashion, trend, and ways of the world dictated how we thought and lived. It is a mindset and lifestyle apart from God. We wanted to do our own thing, live in our own selfish desires, filled with the nature of sin, and pridefully felt we could live life on our own without Him.
Even if you grew up in the church and were the “perfect” child, you can’t escape the fact that you were filled with the carnal, fleshly, sinful nature – and were in desperate need of a Saviour.
- Romans 8.6: For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
- 1 John 2.15-17: Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.
- Romans 12.1-2: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Amy Carmichael once described a life that was opposite of the “according to the world” nature. She said: “A pure heart is one to which all that is not of God is strange and jarring.” A life that has been transformed from the “according to the world” nature is one to which anything that is not of God’s heart and nature becomes offensive and undesirable.
Does the things of God give you satisfaction and fulfillment? Or do you still enjoy the things of this world, participating in its pleasures and sensual offerings? Yes we are called to be in the world, but we are not to be of the world. To be holy (the root word of “saint” – which the early believers were referred to) is to be separate and different than the world. We are not to look, act, or think like the world . . . because we have been transformed and filled with a completely different nature and source, the Spirit of God.
Under the Authority of the Prince of Darkness
Paul uses similar language later in Ephesians but he is talking about the spiritual realm which affects our lives. He says we lived according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.
There are two mindsets and resources for life. One option would be God Himself. His intent and desire for your life is that you would have His mind and be sourced by His spirit. This is how Adam was created before the Fall and is what Jesus came to restore (His death upon the cross forgave sins and destroyed the power of sin, and when we repent and believe, we are transformed so that the Spirit of God may indwell and source our lives).
The other option is sometimes referred to as the carnal, self-focus, fleshly, sinful life. In essence this is the mindset of satan. You will either be sourced by the Spirit of God or you will be sourced by the spirit of darkness. There is no middle road, it will be either one or the other. Paul says we lived according to the nature and source of the prince of darkness (“air” in our modern-day context would best be understood as “darkness”). The heart and attitude of satan is what filled us – a life focused and energized by darkness.
There is another little contrast taking place in this passage. “Works” is the Greek word energeo and has the idea of energizing or flow. Previously, in reference to the power of God, Paul says that God is working (energeo) in our lives; He is the energizing flow and power sourcing our lives. This is contrasted with what we once were: energized and sourced by darkness . . . which made us sons of disobedience.
We were living against God, we were not keeping His commands, we were energized by evil darkness which is the heart of selfishness and sin. Romans 8.5-7 says: For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. For the carnal (worldly/fleshly) mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor can it be.
A Fleshly Conduct
Paul goes on to say that we 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.
The Greek word conducted conveys the idea of being turned upside down and overturned. It is passive which means I am not doing this myself but this is happening to me. In other words, I didn’t have a choice in the lusts of our flesh – I was born under the ruling thumb of lust (not just sensual lust but any desire, longing, and craving, that is ungodly). The selfish flesh (sin) of my life was throwing me in a washing machine and I was being tossed around and flipped upside down.
Because I was living according to the nature of the world. It has a grip on my life and I was bound to do what it wanted me to do. And yet while I was being tossed around by the lusts of our flesh, I was purposely fulfilling the desires of the flesh. I wanted to do it. No one was forcing me, I craved it.
Flesh and of the mind in this context refer to the nature of sin. What is interesting is that the word fulfill is the Greek word poieo. Poieo is often used to describe what trees do to fruit (they bear fruit) or what an artist does when she paints a picture. Poieo is an internal creative flow that produces a result. If I go paint a barn, there is no creativity involved, I just do it. That is a completely different Greek word. Poieo is not barn painting or paint by numbers, poieo is the artist who allows creativity to bubble up from within and then move through her hand to paint a masterpiece.
Paul is saying that there is a creative flow of sin in my life. While I have no choice but to be tossed upside down and overturned in my conduct with the lusts of my flesh, I do have a choice to fulfill the desires of my flesh and I creatively bring about new ways of producing sin in my life. While it sounds similar (and a bit contradictory) Paul is emphasizing two different aspects of the sin. I am under the rule of sin and have no choice, yet all the while I desire and find ways to satisfy sin.
This can be illustrated with sexual sin. I have talked with countless guys who say they have no power over sexual sin. They are in a washing machine of perverseness and they are tossed and flipped around. Yet they crave it. Not only do they desire more of it, they continually find greater and more perverted ways to satisfy the sin. What was satisfying a week ago is no longer enjoyable and they must find new creative ways to bring about the perverted desires of their heart. Paul talks about this in Romans 1 if you want to do a further study.
Where is Hope?
If you have been following Paul’s argument thus far it seems rather bleak and hopeless. But Paul is specific in stating that this is who you WERE, not who you are.
He is talking about the overwhelming power of God and to make you sure realize how tremendous and powerful God’s power is, he wants to make sure you know what God brought you out of. It was dark, damp, damned, and dead. It was lifeless. It was hopeless.
What seemed impossible, death inevitable, God brought about life. He didn’t leave you this way! He gave you His life and took your sin upon Himself (2 Corinthians 5.17-21). Some of the most encouraging words in Scripture are the first two in Ephesians 2.4 “But God.” Yes I was this way, but God!
Where are you? Do you find yourself in death? Are you enslaved to sin? Are you bound to what seems like hopeless chains of tyranny? BUT GOD! God doesn’t want you to stay where you are, doesn’t want you to be the man or woman you’ve always been – He wants to radically change you. Would you believe, repent, and throw yourself upon Him in faith? Would you allow Him to reach His hand into your life and bring you from death into life?