In Ephesians 2.1–22, the Apostle Paul summarizes the Christian message of salvation. We might outline his points as follows:
- Sin: “you were dead in the trespasses and sins” (verses 1–3).
- Grace: “But God, being rich in mercy…made us alive together with Christ” (verses 4–7).
- Faith and works: “by grace you have been saved through faith…not [as] a result of works” (verses 8–10).
- Peace: “[Christ] himself is our peace, who has…broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (verses 11–18).
- Church: “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (verses 19–22).
Every day this week, I will examine each of these points in greater detail, beginning today with sin. Paul writes:
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.
These are not pleasant truths about ourselves. We freely admit that we are not perfect, but we like to think we are at least pretty good. But Paul tells us the uncomfortable truth: Before Christ, we were dead in sin.
What is sin? Paul uses the word trespass as a synonym for sin, and that gives us a good image of what sin is. It is the crossing of a boundary that should not be crossed. It is going where we should not go, or not going where we should—sins of commission and omission, in other words.
Paul identifies the original trespasser as “the prince of the power of the air,” that is, the devil. In the Christian tradition, the devil was the first of God’s creatures to disobey God, and he in turn led Adam and Eve astray (Genesis 3.1–7). He tempted them to trespass the boundary between what God had permitted and forbidden them to eat. He did this by questioning God’s words, “Did God actually say?” and by impugning God’s motives as selfish, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.” The devil’s words show us why sin is so heinous: It is always and everywhere the attempt to put ourselves in God’s place, to substitute our wisdom for God’s, and our sense of morality for his.
Just as trespassing is a crime that deserves punishment, so sin is an action that deserves judgment. That is why Paul speaks of us as “children of wrath.” We deserve to be judged by God for our sins. Unless we understand this piece of bad news about ourselves, we cannot understand why God’s grace is good.
More about grace tomorrow…