The Individual Believer’s Former State: Page 2 of 2 (series: Lessons on Ephesians)
by John Lowe
It is evident to my mind that Paul does not speak of this as a mere tradition, opinion, or fantasy, or as a superstitious belief: but that he refers to it as a thing which he regarded as true. In this opinion, I see no absurdity that should make it impossible to believe it. Because:
(1) The Scriptures abundantly teach that there are fallen, wicked spirits; and the existence of fallen angels is no more improbable than the existence of fallen people.
(2) The Bible teaches that they have much to do with this world. They tempted man; they inflicted disease in the time of the Savior; they are represented as alluring and deceiving the human race.
(3) They must have “some” locality--some part of the universe where they dwell. That they were not confined down to hell in the time of the Redeemer, is clear from the New Testament; for they are often represented as having afflicted and tortured people.
(4) Why is there any improbability in the belief that their residence should have been in the regions of the air? That while they were permitted to be on earth to tempt and afflict people, they should have been permitted especially to occupy these regions? No one can “prove” that the opinion expressed here by Paul is “not” true; and no one can show how the doctrine that fallen spirits may do mischief in any part of the works of God, is anymore improbable than that wicked “men” should do the same thing.
“The spirit that now worketh” still lives, still uses his energy for evil, and is still seen and felt among the wicked. Paul here means undoubtedly to teach that there was such a spirit, and that he was still active in controlling people.
3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
“Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past,”
What the apostle says of the Gentile Ephesians before conversion, he says of himself and other Jews. He does so, partly to show that it was not from ill will, or with a desire to upbraid the Gentiles, that he said what he did; and partly to deflate the pride of the Jews, who thought they were better than the Gentiles (they thought all Gentiles were sinners); as well as to magnify the grace of God in the conversion of both groups. The sense is, that the apostle and other Jews in the time before their conversion had their conversation according to the customs of the world, and to the prince of the air, and among unbelievers, as well as the Gentiles; and that they lived equally sinful lives; “also we all.”
It is observable here that the apostle changes the form of the discourse from “ye” to “we,” thus including himself with others, and saying that this was true of “all” before their conversion. He means undoubtedly to say, that whatever might have been the place of their birth, or the differences of religion under which they had been trained, they were substantially alike by nature. It was a characteristic of all that they lived to fulfill the desires of the flesh and of the mind. The “design” of the apostle in thus grouping himself with them was, to show that he did not claim to be any better by nature than they were, and that all which any of them had of value was to be traced to the grace of God.
“Among whom,” that is, as belonging to their number. Paul thus asserts that all men, Jews, and Gentiles, were once sons of disobedience.
“in the lusts of our flesh,”
The most important thing to them is living to gratify the “flesh” or the tendencies of a corrupt nature. By "flesh" is meant, the corruption of nature; so called, because it is spread by natural generation; and is opposed to the Spirit, or principle of grace; and has for its object fleshly things; and is found mostly in the body, the flesh; and it makes persons carnal or fleshly: and this is called "our", because it belongs to human nature, and is inherent in it, and inseparable from it in this life.
“fulfilling the desires of the flesh, and of the mind;”
or of their wills; what they are predisposed to do, to will, and to crave. There are various degrees of sin, and its numerous activities. And sin is universal in its corruption of human nature; not
only the body, and the various members of it are defiled with sin, and inclined to do it, but all the powers and faculties of the soul; even the more noble and principal ones, the mind, understanding, and will, as well as the affections; and great is the power and influence which lust has over them.
This was clearly true of the pagan, and it was no less true of the unconverted Jew that he lived for himself, and sought to gratify the purposes of a depraved nature, though it might manifest itself in a way different from the pagan.
The “desires of the mind,” referred to here, relate to the wicked “thoughts and purposes” of the unrenewed nature, the sins which relate to the “intellect” rather than to the gross passions, the sins of pride, envy, ambition, covetousness, etc. Paul means to say, that before conversion they lived to gratify these inclinations, and to accomplish these desires of the soul.
“and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others”
By this, the apostle meant, not only that they were wrathful persons, living with malice and hate, and hating one another; but that they were deserving of the “wrath” of God, which comes upon the “children” of disobedience, with whom they had their conversations.
The words “by nature” increase the darkness of Paul’s picture of lost humanity, for it tells us that not only are all men sinners but they are sinners by virtue of their birth. No one can save them except the One who can change their inborn nature.
“The children of wrath” They did not by nature inherit holiness; they inherited that which would subject them to “wrath.” Many modern expositors have supposed that this has no reference to any original tendency of our fallen nature to sin, or to innate corruption, but that it refers to the “tendency” to sin, or to the fact of their having been the slaves of appetite and passion. I admit that the direct and immediate sense of the passage is that they were, when without the gospel, and before they were converted, the children of wrath; but still the fair interpretation is, that they were born to that state, and that that condition was the regular result of their native depravity; and I do not know a stronger or more positive declaration that can be made to show that people are by nature destitute of holiness, and exposed to eternal damnation.
“Even as others,” that is, “do not suppose that you stand alone, or that you are the worst of the human species. You are indeed, by nature, the children of wrath; but not you alone. All others were the same. You have a common inheritance with them. I do not mean to charge you with being the worst of sinners, or as being the only transgressors. It is the common lot of man; the sad, gloomy inheritance to which we all are born. This doctrine that people without the gospel are the children of wrath, Paul had fully defended in Romans 13. Perhaps no truth is more frequently stated in the Bible; none is more fearful and awful in its character. What a declaration, that we “are by nature the children of wrath!” Let me ask you this, “Who should not inquire what it means? Who should not make an effort to escape from the wrath to come, and become a child of glory and an heir of life?”
Romans 5:12--Why, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed on all men, for that all have sinned(Romans 5:12)
Ephesians 4:17-19--So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18
being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19
and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.
* Ephesians 2:5--“even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),”
* Ephesians 1:19--“and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might”
* Romans 4:17--“(as it is written, "A FATHER OF MANY NATIONS HAVE I MADE YOU") in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.”