Thursday, July 7, 2016

Dead In Your Transgressions

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 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— 3 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. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1–10).
"You were dead in your transgressions" is a Jewish way of speech; its force is nicely illustrated by a midrash (Jewish commentary) on Ecclesiastes 9:5 which speaks of ‘the wicked who even in their lifetime are called dead’. Those bound in sin are doomed to death, and so already belong to its realm; the very thing they think of as ‘life’ is but a foretaste of death, because it is without God (cf. Jn. 5:24; 1 Jn. 3:14). 

While Paul elsewhere teaches that this state of affairs is the result of sin, that is not the point here; rather the state in your transgressions and sins is what characterized their former existence. These things were the corrupt fruit of their ‘death’. In verse 2 Paul attributes this life marked by sins chiefly to two related factors—the influence of this world (i.e. the present fallen creation and the forces it generates in society, seen as standing in rebellion against God and in contrast to the ‘new age’ or ‘new creation’ awaited), and the influence of Satan, described here as the ruler of the kingdom of the air. The air denoted the lower heavens, closest to the earth, and was often thought to be the abode of the evil spiritual beings. 

The idea of Satan being at work in those who are disobedient could all sound like a determinism to evil for which we are not responsible, but verse 3 puts the blame equally fairly on our own rebellious nature with its corrupt desires and thinking. All this made us what Paul calls ‘children of wrath’ (NRSV); that is, those condemned to suffer God’s holy anger directed against sin.

What God in his love and mercy has actually done for us, then, comes as a stark and breathtaking contrast to the doom verse 3 envisages, and so dramatically reveals the nature of the power of God at work in us. Verse 5 portrays it as a resurrection power that transfers us from ‘death’ to ‘life’.