I realize that I haven’t gotten very far in this study. I mean, I haven’t even gotten beyond the first verse of chapter two! But we have learned some important things like, before we surrendered our lives to Jesus, we were dead. I am not saying we thought we were dead or that we were symbolically dead. No, we were smelly, decaying and putrid kind of dead. Moses wrote, “humans had become evil on the earth. All day long their deepest thoughts were nothing but evil (Genesis 6:5). Paul wrote, “All have sinned and are falling short of the honor and glory which God bestows and receives” (Romans 3:23) The stink from our failures and sins have reached into Heaven. “You were once dead because of your failures and sins” (Ephesians 2:1)
Wow! So what is behind all of this? That is a great question and Paul had the answer:
You followed the ways of this present world and its spiritual ruler. This ruler continues to work in people who refuse to obey God (Ephesians 2:2)
Haven’t we all felt that? The Amplified Bible renders this as:
“You were following the course and fashion of this world [were under the sway of the tendency of this present age], following the prince of the power of the air. [You were obedient to and under the control of] the [demon] spirit that still constantly works in the sons of disobedience [the careless, the rebellious, and the unbelieving, who go against the purposes of God]”
It sounds like we are all running in the same shoes, doesn’t it? We don’t dare to be any different from those around us. It might come from the shows we watch on TV or the music we favor. Maybe even the clothes we wear or the food we eat. It doesn’ matter. We simply have to conform. If we don’t, if we try to be different we will be ostracized, outcasts, considered odd. Oh, my! We would hate to appear odd; to be strange; to appear different. We can even see this in our churches. Someone testifies to receiving a new revelation, and wow, a bunch of people break off and form another church!
Our conformity is also evident in the way we react, our attitudes, our actions and our language. That’s why the world hates Genuine Christianity. Genuine Christians don’t belong to any of the extremes that are present in society. They have to contrast, and as a result, they get attacked from all sides. If they are standing where Christ stands, the non-believers are going to throw the first stones. I would even argue that one of the initial indications of whether your faith is genuine, is whether you get attacked from both sides. I can say that because Genuine Christianity is right in the middle of it all. “Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right, here I am, Stuck in the middle with you.”
Beyond the world and our love for the world, Paul says, there is something else — an evil being. He calls this force:
a spiritual ruler. A ruler who continues to work in people who refuse to obey God (Ephesians 2:2)
Paul is taking us back behind the façades, behind what we call the normal activities of life! He is tearing off the veil and revealing what is really there. According to Paul, there is an organized realm of malevolent beings, headed by a ruler who is subtle and a power who is at work behind the world’s scene to create disobedience and chaos. That is the Devil’s stock in trade — disobedience. And he uses our Thoughts, Ideas, and makes Suggesttions. The T.I.S. I always talk about.
Paul calls him “the prince of the power of the air,” “the ruler of the kingdom of the air,” “the unseen ruler who is still operating in those who do not respond to the truth of God.” I don’t think he means literally the oxygen/nitrogen mixture we breathe. But this power, whatever it is, will attempt to steal, kill and destroy whatever gets in its way. And your mind is the devil’s playground. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop; idle lips are his mouthpiece” (Proverbs 16:27-29).
As I have pointed out over and over, so many of the spiritual battles we fight, take place in our mind. Maybe it is the guilt of a past sin that our spiritual enemy continually puts in our mind or the cravings of an addiction that we have not completely defeated. That rotten liar whispers negative words that give us doubts about our faith or our ability to fulfill what our Father has intended for you to do. Well, begin to follow the instructions that Paul gave us:
Don’t be conformed to this world, fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs, but be transformed by the entire renewal of your mind by its new ideals and its new attitude, [Why?] so that you may prove for yourselves what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect in His sight for you (Romans 12:2)
That is something you must do. It doesn’t come the moment you are born again. Nope. If you had stupid thoughts before you came to Jesus, you will still have stupid thoughts. You must renew, reshape, refresh your way of thinking “by its new ideals and its new attitude.” Amen!
It is imperative that you do this because that power, whatever it is, is attempting to draw you into disobedience. Really? Disobedient to what? I mean, you have to have something to obey in order to be disobedient. What is Paul referring to? Obviously, it is truth. The God of Truth, our Glorious Father is always trying to capture our attention and place reality before us. he declared, “I have set before you, life and death, truth and lies. Choose which you will follow!” But there is an evil spirit at work in our society which is constantly saying, “When you see it as truth, don’t do it! Run from it!” Well, if you decide to run from our Father’s Truth, you will be truly lost.
Now, I could provide a thousand different illustrations to show how this could work out. But it is simply amazing what a commitment we have to disobedience! It is our commitment to defiance that explains why we have to have, for instance, litter laws. Seriously. It should be enough to merely point out to people that if you throw beer cans along the road, you are going to destroy the beauty. You would think that putting up a couple of signs to remind people of that fact should be enough. But it isn’t, is it? People still throw cans out their car windows and hit the signs which say: DON’T LITTER. There is a rebellious spirit that is continually working in our lives. Yes, even in the lives of born-again, Spirit Filled Believers!
No, don’t send me that angry email telling me that you don’t. You don’t? Then why is your initial reaction to some demand almost always, “Why should I?” Who do you think you are?” “Why should I do what you ask?” Whenever you are asked to do something, your first reaction is “Why? I want to know that first.” Hey, I aq guilty of that as you are. I used to tell people that my favorite radio station was WII-FM. What’s In It For Me? Just the fact that my comment raised the hairs on the back of your neck proves that there is some truth in there.
There seems to be a tinge of disobedience about almost everything we do. Why is that? Paul says that it is because of a disobedient spirit, someone who is always challenging every single law and force which Yahweh has called into being, is at work. He is assaulting us and working through us, constantly trying to get us to be disobedient to the truth that we know.
However, Paul doesn’t stop there, he goes even further, bringing it right down to the individual. We have looked at society, back of which is the malevolent cruelty and malicious design of the Devil. A being of the incredible power of deception, subtlety, and pseudo-wisdom, with whom none of us can to any degree match wits — he will trap us every time, just as he has all throughout the history of the world. But when it comes right down to it, it comes right out at the individual level. Paul adds:
All of us once lived among these people, and followed the desires of our corrupt nature [literally, the desires of the flesh], We did what our corrupt desires and thoughts wanted us to do . . . (Ephesians 2:3)
That brings it right out to where each of us lives. Paul said that “we followed.” That is a voluntary action. We choose to follow. The passions of the flesh refers to an individual matter. Paul calls them the “desires of our corrupt nature.” Or more literally, the “lusts of the flesh,” or the passions or the desires of the flesh.
Now, don’t quickly read that as being bad. The flesh is our basic human nature. It is the way we are created. We live in a body of flesh and bone. However, the Scriptures teaches that something has happened to our spiritual nature, has gained control of it and has begun to twist it, and Paul shows us in a moment just what that twist is. But there are also some good things about the flesh.
What I mean is that there are basic desires in our flesh which Yahweh created and that benefit us. For instance, there is hunger and thirst, the desire for sex, the desire for attention, for acquiring goods, and the enjoying pleasure — all of these things are good, and there is nothing wrong with them. Jesus used the very word which is here translated passions when he said to his disciples in the upper room, ““I’ve had a deep desire to eat this Passover with you before I suffer,” (Luke 22:15). Literally, “With much lust have I lusted to eat this Passover with you.” So evidently, lust is not always wrong, and Paul apparently recognized this. Some of us have normal, natural desires — we want to eat, we want to drink, to sleep, to have sex. These are entirely normal desires and nothing to subdue or ignore.
However, Paul uses another term here which provides a little a twist to them. The satanic treachery comes out at this point — what is translated here “the desires of the body and of the mind” is a subdivision of these passions of the flesh. The word he uses for desires or lust is really the word will. You see, the thought here is of an unbreakable resolve, a determination. Perhaps the nearest English equivalent today is the word “drive.” These passions become drives. And when they become
These passions become drives. And when they become drives, they become wrong. That is the subtlety here. Think about it. What is wrong with eating? Nothing! If you don’t eat, you won’t live. However, when we cross the line between a normal satisfying of our appetites and a healthy enjoyment of food, we become gluttonous, where we live for eating, keep records of all the restaurants that serve the finest food, study them and plan feasts and build our life around them. We willingly sacrifice the natural relationships of life which are truly important, so we can indulge in eating? That is when it becomes a drive, an obsession that masters us. This is what Paul is talking about here — the drives of the body.
Is there anything wrong with sex? Do I have to illustrate how twisted we are in this area? But no, there is nothing wrong with sex. Yahweh made it, And, He made it pleasurable. It is an entirely normal practice of humanity. However, when it becomes a drive that we build our life around, that we must have, something that we sacrifice other values to fulfill, then it becomes idolatrous and is one of these drives, these inordinate passions, what Scripture sometimes calls “deceitful urges” — promising us much but delivering little.
And then Paul moves on to show that these drives involve not only the body — the things which concern our physical life — but also the mind, the thought life. This can also be an expression of the lusts of the flesh in this wrongful sense.
We have attitudes such as indignation and hurt, and emotional responses such as attraction to people, etc. Are these wrong? Nope. However, when they become jealousy and envy and malice and bitterness and a desire to seek revenge, they can enslave us and make us prisoners. These thoughts can run our lives to such an extent that we build our lives around them. Everything we think and do is related to some terrible envy — we want to show that we are better than someone else — or want to get even with someone, and hours and hours of our life are spent planning and scheming and maneuvering and manipulating so that we can obtain revenge. That is a drive, a will of the mind.
Or take other perfectly normal things like reading books. I love reading books. I love going to bookstores searching for books. However, our love for books is another thing that can become a ruling passion in our lives. Anything that controls us, anything that causes us to sacrifice normal relationships, and begins to enslave us, is the very kind of thing that Paul is describing. Whatever controls and drives us can produce our trespasses and sins. Do you see how subtle this is, how widespread, how deeply embedded in life, how inescapable it is? Who of us can win over this? Who can distinguish when we have passed the line? No one is capable. That is why the condition of humanity is hopeless.
Do you see how subtle this is, how widespread, how deeply embedded in our lives it has become, how inescapable it is? Is there any of us who can win over this? Who can distinguish when we have passed the line? That is what Paul asked in his letter to the Roman Church:
It is at war with the standards my mind sets and tries to take me captive to sin’s standards which still exist throughout my body. 24 What a miserable person I am! Who will rescue me from my dying body? (Romans 7:23-24)
Oh, man! None of us is capable of a rescue. That is why the condition of humanity is hopeless. Now, look at how it all comes out. The inevitable results, Paul says, are:
We did what our corrupt desires and thoughts wanted us to do. So, because of our nature, we deserved God’s anger just like everyone else (Ephesians 2:3b RSV)
That is powerful: “Because of our nature, we deserved Yahweh’s anger.” I don’t know what that means to you, but it shakes me to the core.
Years ago, I was teaching on the book of Romans, and we were discussing this very subject. It didn’t take too long before I realized that they had very distorted ideas of what Paul was saying in the letter. They saw the Lord as some cosmic, terrible-tempered monster. That He was sitting up in the heavens, ready to fiendishly torture anyone who stepped out of line; as if our God was looking down at us as we were trying to struggle and live our normal lives; that He was shouting down at us, “CUT THAT OUT, OR I’LL ZAP YOU!” But that isn’t what the Lord was saying.
God’s wrath is what we might call “the law of inevitable consequences,” the fact that what we do will have consequences. If we make a wrong decision it will affect us, it will hurt us, even though we intended it to be right.
If I decided to jump and walk over to the wall and begin to bang my head against it, I would suffer the wrath of God. It would hurt! That wrath is designed t0 wake me up, to cause me to realize that I am violating a fundamental law of my own nature. If I shove my hands into my pockets and nonchalantly decide to casually stroll off the top of a 20-story building, hoping that I’ll make it, I will experience the wrath of God! There are all kinds of people acting that way these days. Several years ago, a former classmate of mine, jumped out of a window because the narcotics he had taken deceived him into believing he could fly. But he suffered the wrath of God — even though he thought he was doing right.
Why can we accept the wrath of God in those physical terms and don’t struggle with it when it moves into the moral realm? When we face the repercussion of our actions, w say, “It isn’t fair. Why shouldn’t I run off with my neighbor’s wife?” “Why shouldn’t I find the happiness I desire after years of living with this slob I’ve been married to?” “Why should I experience any evil results from that?” But it is the same kind of law which applies, the same situation. And evil results will come, inevitable consequences which will destroy our life, tear down the beauty of the human dignity within us. All of us become brutalized, dehumanized, depersonalized — all these terms which are thrown around today. That is the wrath of God.
And Paul says that we are subject to it because of the Devil, with his deceptive and subtle strategies, which are working through the world, forcing us to conform to patterns which destroy, and working through the flesh. We never know where to draw the line, and so we move in utter naiveté from a normal satisfying of human need into an excess which destroys.
Paul also states that it is “by nature.” Don’t miss those two words. They mean that we are born this way. We never like to admit that, but we are born with this condition, and there is nothing we can do about it! I don’t know how to make that any clearer. Ultimately, education, legislation, a change of environment — all these “remedies” which we propose as being able to release us from this condition — will rearrange the pattern but will never change the root of the problem. That is why humanity struggles endlessly trying to correct itself but never succeeds!
Do you know of any other philosophy which can explain life in realistic terms like that? We are born into this condition. There is no escape, no way out. We are part of a fallen race. So, Paul says, we are “like the rest of mankind.” It doesn’t matter whether we are men or women, whether we are born into a civilized country or raised as savages in the jungle — the condition is still the same. There is no escape, no escape — except for my favorite two words: “But God . . .” (Ephesians 2:4).
Oh man, you can’t find a better phrase in our entire language that can top, “But God . . .” Now, do you want to learn how to value your salvation and to praise our God with a heart which is simply enraptured by what He has done? Then you need to understand the depths from which you have come, the condition from which you have been released. Don’t be fooled on this! I need to warn you, though, contrary to what the TV preachers may have told you, the condition is still present in our Christian lives. This is proved every time we choose not to act on the resources Jesus has provided for us! However, in the life of a non-Christian, there is no hope without God.
If there is anything that should cause us to praise and worship our God, it is when we fully grasp the hopeless condition that humanity is in: completely unable to help itself, struggling, miserable, wretched, unfulfilled, unsatisfied, getting worse, becoming more corrupt, and trying in all sincerity to find answers to our condition, but we will never, ever, handle life properly, or understand history, until we accept this divine revelation of our condition. Then we can finally say, “But God,” “but God . . .”
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I do thank you for your gifts. It is your faithful and continued support that makes these messages possible.