Ephesians 2:1

Sermon preached on March 19, 2006 by Laurence W. Veinott. Copyright 2006. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.newlifeop.org/.

There's a funny Monty Python skit that is set in the Middle Ages during the time of the plague. There's a guy going up the street with a cart collecting the bodies of people who have died during the night. He is calling out,

"Bring out your dead!"

At that point the John Cleese character walks up to him with an older man slung over his back and says to the cart driver that he has one for him. But then the guy who's supposed to be dead says, "I'm not dead." Then there follows a bit of an argument between the three of them. The cart driver says that he can't take him while he's alive because it's against the rules. He can only take dead people.

I don't know if the writer of that skit knew that something very similar happened in a Boston hospital on November 28, 1942. That night there was a horrific fire at the Coconut Grove nightclub. Four hundred and ninety-two people were killed. The badly injured were rushed to hospital. One survivor, a man named Dreyfus was lying among the dead and injured at the hospital when a group of people came up to him and briefly examined him. Then he heard one of the doctors say,

"He's dead. Cover him up."

At that point, Dreyfus said,

"I'm not dead."

That rather startled them but they quickly gave him some care and saved his life.

Those stories illustrate the point that
certain actions are appropriate for the living and certain actions are appropriate for the dead. When a doctor realizes that someone is dead, he's like that doctor in Boston, he'll order him to be covered up. There's nothing more he could do for him. Indeed, for a doctor to spend more time on him would be a waste. It's no good to give antibiotics to someone who's dead. It's no good to give him chemo, blood transfusions, etc. He's dead. You'd only be wasting your time with things like that. Indeed, when someone's dead—you don't need doctors—you need much more than that. You need God and His power. He's the only one who can give life to those who are dead.

This is what our text is about—how sinners are spiritually dead and for life to come to them they need God's power. There's a parallel between chapter 1 and chapter 2 here that we should not miss. Chapter 2 begins with the Greek word '
kai' which is normally translated by our English word, 'and'. In chapter 1 Paul told the Ephesian Christians that he prayed that the eyes of their heart would be opened so that they would be able to grasp God's power for them. That power was like the mighty working of God's power when He raised Jesus from the dead and exalted Him to the highest place. Then Paul turns from Jesus being dead to sinners being dead—dead in trespasses and sins. Hence the word, "and" at the beginning of chapter 2. The great truth we see here is that

man is dead in trespasses and sins.

Paul is telling the Ephesian Christians their state before they became Christians. He wrote,

"As for you,
you were dead
in your transgressions and sins,"

It's important that we understand the diagnosis here. If you know the condition of the patient—then you know what to do, how to treat him.

A few years ago when my brother wanted me to go winter camping with him and Phil Bridgman I was a little hesitant to go. I was worried about getting hypothermia. Seeing that Phil was a doctor (a pathologist) I asked him about how one knew he was getting hypothermia. One of the things I heard about it is that you just go to sleep and never wake up. So I wanted to know the symptoms of hypothermia. But when I asked him about it, he was basically not answering me. So I kept pestering him about it. Finally he looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said,

"Look, I'm a doctor. If you get hypothermia, I know what to do. And if it doesn't work, I still know what to do."

I love that. He would know what to do if I was sick or dead. But of course, his course of action would be different if I was alive or dead.

What's the condition of the natural man? What's wrong with man? Is he healthy, sick or dead? A proper diagnosis here is crucial.

One theory about man is that he's not even sick. This theory goes by the name of Pelagianism. Pelagius lived in the late 300's and early 400's. He was born in Britain and he and his followers denied that man's nature had suffered any moral taint or corruption from the fall. He rejected, (J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, p. 358)

"the idea that man has an intrinsic bias in favor of wrong-doing as a result of the Fall."

They believed that man has the capability to do good apart from God's grace and that, (T.H.L. Parker, in A Dictionary of Christian Theology, p. 266, article on Predestination)

"whether he chooses to do good depends upon himself…"

They held that all that man needs is teaching and education. They believed that man has the innate ability in him to choose and do the good. They denied that man needed God to save them. William Cunningham writes, (Historical Theology, Vol. 1, p. 330)

"Upon Pelagian principles, there is no occasion for, and really no meaning in, a Savior, an atonement, a Holy Spirit. No evil has befallen our race, and there is no occasion for a remedy…"

But thanks largely to Augustine, Pelagianism was correctly recognized as contrary to the teaching of the Bible and it was condemned by the church as heresy.

But there's another school of thought, called
Semi-pelagianism, that also teaches that man is not spiritually dead. Only, unlike Pelagianism, it doesn't teach that man is completely healthy, but teaches that he's merely sick. It believes that, (Wikipedia)

"man has the capacity to seek God in and of himself apart from any movement of God's Word or the Holy Spirit… man can (unaided by grace) make the first move toward God, and God then completes the salvation process."

Unfortunately this belief is very common in churches today.

But again, that's not what Paul teaches in our text. He doesn't say that man is sick. He says that man is dead in trespasses and sins. Paul doesn't say that the natural man is almost dead. He doesn't say that he is seriously ill. He doesn't say that he's in critical condition and on life support. He doesn't merely say that he's brain dead, but there are parts of him alive. No. Paul tells us quite clearly and emphatically that he's dead.

The Greek word that Paul uses here is the common Greek word for 'dead'. It's like our English word in that in the vast majority of cases it means 'dead', in the normal sense of the word. It's true that sometimes in the New Testament it does not mean that someone is actually dead. For example, in the first part of
Matthew 28 we read that on the first Easter morning,

"There was a violent earthquake,
for an angel of the Lord
came down from heaven and,
going to the tomb,
rolled back the stone and sat on it.
His appearance was like lightning,
and his clothes were white as snow.
The guards were so afraid of him
that they shook and became like dead men."

They weren't actually dead—but that's how they acted. We see the same thing in the parable of the lost son in Luke 15. When the prodigal son returned home you'll remember that the older son, who had remained home the whole time, was dismayed. So his father said to him, (Luke 15:32, see also verse 24)

"But we had to celebrate and be glad,
because this brother of yours was dead
and is alive again;
he was lost and is found."

Now the boy wasn't literally dead when he was away. But he was using he word figuratively. It was like he was dead to them.

Paul is telling the Ephesian Christians that before they came to know Jesus, they were spiritually dead. They had no spiritual life in them at all. Charles
Hodge tells us that in Scripture the word 'life' is the term commonly used to express a state of union with God and 'death' a state of alienation from Him. Life involves holiness, happiness and useful activity; while death involves corruption, misery, slavery and helplessness. Man is dead in trespasses and sins—they are slaves to sin and cannot free themselves.

This is clear from the words that Paul uses. He says that man is dead because of trespasses and sins. These two words are used throughout the New Testament synonymously. But they see a point to Paul using two words instead of one. Peter
O'Brien writes,

"The plural transgressions draws attention to individual acts of sin, while the addition of the synonym sins helps to form one concept (a hendiadys) which gives a comprehensive account of human evil. It conveys the idea of the fullness and variety of the readers' sinful past."

In other words, trespasses refers to outward transgressions and sins to the inherent principle of evil. (Hodge) They are slaves to sin. They have been blinded by Satan and taken captive to do his will. Man is truly dead in sins.

This is also clear from the
context. In this section Paul is magnifying God's grace in salvation. The first three verses paint a devastating picture of man in sin. John Stott writes that in this section, (God's New Society, p. 69)

"Paul first plumbs the depths of pessimism about man…"

He tells the Ephesians that before they became Christians they were dead in transgressions and sins, that they followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. They gratified the cravings of the sinful nature, following its desires and thoughts.

Then in verse 4 he tells us what accounted for the great change in them. But God, who is rich in mercy—made them alive in Christ. He raised them up with Christ. He gave them faith. It's all by grace, not by works—indeed, they are God's workmanship—created in Christ Jesus to do good works. It's because of the incomparable riches of God's grace expressed to us in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. They were dead and now they're alive because God made them that way.

So when Paul says that they were dead in trespasses and sins he's saying that they were spiritually dead, that they had no spiritual life in them, that they were captives of Satan, who had taken them captive to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:26) They were dead because of trespasses and sins. Charles
Hodge tells us that these words assign the cause of the death—dead on account of trespasses and sins.

This means that people need God make them alive.

They can't even go to God without His help. As Jesus said in John 6:44,

"No one can come to me
unless the Father who sent me draws him,"

Remember what He said to Nicodemus in John 3? He said,

"I tell you the truth,
no one can see the kingdom of God
unless he is born again."

Nicodemus replied, 'How can a man be born when he is old? Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!'

Jesus answered,

"I tell you the truth,
no one can enter the kingdom of God
unless he is born of water and the Spirit.
Flesh gives birth to flesh,
but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
You should not be surprised at my saying,
'You must be born again.'
The wind blows wherever it pleases.
You hear its sound,
but you cannot tell where it comes from
or where it is going.
So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

Spiritual life comes only from God. Flesh gives birth to flesh. People need the Spirit to make them alive. The phrase 'born again' could also be translated, 'born from above'. Being born spiritually cannot take place without the Spirit working in someone's life.

This was clear even in the
Old Testament. In Jeremiah 13:23 the prophet declared,

"Can the Ethiopian change his skin
or the leopard its spots?
Neither can you do good
who are accustomed to doing evil."

We can't change our nature. Only God can do it. We're born in sin and slaves to it. We're dead in trespasses and sins.

The prophet Ezekiel was clear about this too. In
Ezekiel 36:24f God said,

"For I will take you out of the nations;
I will gather you from all the countries
and bring you back into your own land.
I will sprinkle clean water on you,
and you will be clean;
I will cleanse you from all your impurities
and from all your idols.
I will give you a new heart
and put a new spirit in you;
I will remove from you your heart of stone
and give you a heart of flesh.
And I will put my Spirit in you
and move you to follow my decrees
and be careful to keep my laws.
You will live in the land I gave your forefathers;
you will be my people,
and I will be your God."

God had to remove their heart of stone. In order for them to love God and obey His commandments, God had to give them a new heart.

People are dead in transgressions and sins. They aren't merely sick. They don't seek, indeed, can't seek God on their own. As we read in
Psalm 53:2-3,

"God looks down from heaven
on the sons of men
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.
Everyone has turned away,
they have together become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one."

The apostle Paul quotes this in Romans 3 and concludes that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin and that,

"no one will be declared righteous
in his sight by observing the law…"

Rather we all need a righteousness that comes from God. Salvation is outside our grasp—we need God to save us.

Now what does all this mean in practical terms?

First, you Christians should be praising God for your salvation.

We should be praising God and thanking for saving us, for seeking us out. We ought to be like the Psalmist in Psalm 100:3,

"Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us,
and we are his;
we are his people,
the sheep of his pasture."

We should be like Jonah, firmly declaring,

"Salvation comes from the LORD."

Paul gives no credit to man for his salvation. Rather he declared, (1 Corinthians 1:31 and 2 Corinthians 10:17)

"Let him who boasts
boast in the Lord."

Paul knew that salvation comes from the Lord. He took the initiative to save us when we were dead in trespasses and sins. He chose us, the weak things of the world, the lowly things of the world so that no one may boast before Him. (1 Corinthians 1:29)

Secondly, this has implications for our evangelism.

This means that people cannot respond to the gospel it a positive way on their own.

They are dead in trespasses and sins. They have no spiritual life in them.

You Christians shouldn't be surprised when you witness to someone and you get a negative response. That's how they responded to Stephen. In Acts 7:54 we read that after they heard Stephen's preaching,

"they were furious
and gnashed their teeth at him."

They stoned him to death.

You can't bring anyone to Christ. God needs to do that. We need to rely on God, on His power, to give them life. We need to recognize that they cannot respond without God's power. We need to be praying that God will open their hearts to the gospel.

It also means that

we shouldn't use gimmicks to try to bring people to Christ.

We want people to come to Christ. But how do we do that? Some combine the gospel invitation with emotional music, repeated altar calls and so on.

Dead men don't respond to emotional music. Dead men don't respond no matter how many times you repeat human words to them.

What we need to do with those dead in trespasses and sins is to press the Word of God upon them—the need for repentance, the love of God, the invitations of God, the promise of acceptance—press the Word, the promises of God upon them. And pray that God would make them alive.

This also means that

you should take no credit for it when someone comes to know the Lord.

We have a job to do, yes. We need to be diligent in proclaiming the Word. But even when we do that it's a matter of God's grace. As the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:10,

"No, I worked harder than all of them—
yet not I,
but the grace of God that was with me."

And when people respond, it too, is all of grace. We can plant. We can water. But it 's God who gives the increase. (1 Corinthians 3:6)

Thirdly, for those you who are not Christians.

Does this mean that there is no hope for you?

In yourself you have no spiritual life in you. Jesus calls and in yourself you can't respond in a positive way. Does that mean that you're going to be lost? Not necessarily. The whole thrust of this passage of Scripture is one of hope. Paul goes on and writes much more than verse 1. His message here is one of good news. God does what man cannot do. The message here is a message of hope. John Stott tells us that what the apostle Paul does in this passage of Scripture, (Stott, God's New Society, p. 69)

"is to paint a vivid contrast between what man is by nature and what he can become by grace."

People are saved through faith in Jesus Christ—by looking to Him alone for salvation and trusting in Him alone. But even that faith is a gift of God. (verse 8)

So what you need to do is to look to God and ask Him to save. You need to recognize that you have nothing to offer him. You're dead in trespasses and sins. You're by nature an object of God's wrath. You have nothing good in you to recommend you to God. You need to go to God and realize that you are lost without Him saving you. You need to go as the hymn writer said,

"Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling."

You need to go to Jesus like the criminal on the cross. When he realized his need for Jesus, he knew that he didn't have anything good to endear himself to Jesus. Just before that he had joined in the mocking of Jesus like everyone else. He had nothing to recommend himself to Jesus and he knew it. So he said, (Luke 23:42)

remember me
when you come into your kingdom."

You'll remember how Jesus replied. He said,

"I tell you the truth,
today you will be with me in paradise."

Go to Jesus like the criminal on the cross. He will accept you.