I have the privilege and responsibility of teaching a small Bible study every week at a local high school. This blog series will be the fuller versions of the lessons I give there, yet I do want to maintain the simplicity of the lessons, so I won't endeavor to expand them too much. If you do happen to read, please pray for the students; high schoolers are in dire need of the gospel. This is the first full lesson of the year, in which I endeavor to explain a full understanding of hamartiology and total depravity (point one of five-point Calvinism) — in twenty minutes. Difficult? No. Impossible. But, the Lord is good, and by His grace, I think I helped more than I confused.
Regardless, pray for me. I need it. And pray for them; they have to listen to me.
Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins
This is our theme for the semester: We are more sinful than we could ever fathom. And yet, we are more loved than we could ever imagine. Today we're going to learn a bit about the doctrine of sin.
You may ask me, "Why? Why focus on such a unpleasant, unsettling thing?" Believe me, I don't enjoy per se teaching about sin. It's uncomfortable, hard, and generally not something I get excited about. But I teach it because the Scriptures do, and because without a right understanding of sin, there can be no right understanding of grace, the gospel, or of Jesus Christ. If there is no plight, there is no need for salvation.
As we saw in the introduction to Ephesians 2, the crux of Ephesians 2:1-10 is "by grace you have been saved." We need to ask, "Why by grace? And saved from what?" This is the answer: sin.
Here's our text for the day: And you were dead in your trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1).
I have four questions to answer from this verse.
- Who is Paul speaking to?
- What is trespasses and sins?
- What does it mean to be dead in sin?
- What is the only hope for sinners?
I. Who is Paul speaking to?
First, who is this text speaking to? The book of Ephesians was written to the church in Ephesus by the apostle Paul. He is speaking exclusively to Christians, in particular Ephesians Christians.
However, this chapter also speaks to every Christian. In one sense, the story, or testimony, of every Christian is the same: first, I was dead in my sin. Second, God loved me in Christ. Third, by grace through faith I'm saved. And fourth, I live in thankful obedience unto Him!
So, even though this letter was no originally addressed to us directly, it is assuredly directed towards all believers. This principle applies to all of God's Word: we must first understand what it meant for the original audience. Then, and only then, can we extrapolate it to us. It is absolutely critical to do both!
II. What is trespasses and sins?
Next question. What does trespasses and sins? Let me broaden the question to this: when I say, "sin," what does that really mean? Some people [like R. Culver in Systematic Theology, where I got most of this organization of material from] break "sin" down into three broad categories: commission, omission, and guilt. This is because the many different Hebrew and Greek words, all translated in various ways in the Bible, can be grouped into these three categories. Let's explain each of them one by one.
This means a breaking of a law, the crossing a line, the violation of a standard, a revolt against authority, a rebellion against the established rule. This is probably the most easily understood concept of sin. If I do something wrong, it's sin.
This means fault, ignorance, blemish, missing of the mark, going astray. Now, this concept is a little foreign to our modern ears. "What?" we say. "I'm guilty even if I don't do anything?" Yes. The sin of omission is a failing to do what is right, an imperfect life, a negligence of a responsibility. Yes, you might not have done anything, but when God commands we do something, and we do not respond, it is sin. It is a departure from God's revealed will.
Think of it this way: if commission is doing what God has said not to do, omission is not do what God has said to do.
One verse that clearly shows this is Isaiah 53:6 — "All of us like sheep have gone astray, / Each of us has turned to his own way …" Are the sheep culpable, that is morally responsible, for their own departure from the path? Absolutely. They have disobeyed God by not walking in His ways. They are guilty. That brings us to the third category of sin:
This last category is the culmination of acts of commission and acts of omission. It is the punishment deserved for sin, the blameworthiness before God that results from committing and omitting. It is not just a feeling, but a righteous, declaration of judgment and punishment.
What is that punishment? Death. As Romans 6:23 says, "…the wages of sin is death…" and as Romans 5:12 says, "through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…"
But just what does this death mean? Assuredly it means physical death, for that is what God brought to pass when Adam sinned. But, that is not all it means. Let's go on to the third question.
III. What does it mean to be dead in trespasses and sins?
Now, to be dead in ones' sins means many things. Entire theses could be written about it (and have been). But, however much one could write, to be dead in ones' sins means at least these five things:
1. We are sinners by nature (Ephesians 2:3, Psalm 51:5)
This means that from the very moment of our existence, we are bent towards sin, with a proclivity towards and a taste for sin. We are born sinners, and while we do not necessarily sin from the very beginning, we do carry with us the guilt of our father Adam. No normal man is born pure or blameless of innocent.
2. We are sinners by choice (Ephesians 2:3, Romans 1:18-20)
We are not merely victims of our nature. We work out our corruption in various ways, even from a small age. We act out in seemingly inexhaustible ways what we are at the very core. All of our sin, whether commission or omission, we ourselves choose to do as sinners.
3. We as sinners deserve punishment (Ephesians 2:3)
God promises He will punish sin. Because He is good, He hates sin, and as the ultimate Judge He will ensure that it is punished accordingly. We see this at the end of Ephesians 2:3 especially: we were "children of wrath, even as the rest."
4. We as sinners cannot hear, see, feel, or know the living God in our deadness (1 Corinthians 2:14)
We in our natural state as sinners are blind to our own sin. We simply cannot see our sin as God sees it, do not believe we deserve damnation for it, and, perhaps most devastatingly, no human power can make us see.
5. We as sinners are powerless to save ourselves (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Deadness means utterly helplessness. A dead man has never raised Himself from the dead. No sinner has ever saved himself by his own authority or power. There is no hope of salvation within ourselves.
The doctrine of sin is universal. All people, no matter what culture, time, place, or background, are sinners. There are no people who are "less of sinners" or "less dead." All of us, left to our own devices, are born spiritually dead, live our days as spiritually dead, and would continue to our physical deaths as spiritual dead people. The declaration, total. The depravity, complete. And all hope of saving ourselves, gone.
IV. What is the only hope for sinners?
Now, this lesson has been very hard, very "in your face," and quite stark. But there is a glimmer, really a flicker of hope. Look back at Ephesians 2:1 — And you were dead in your trespasses and sins. Were. This speaks of a past reality, not a present one.
Now, to be honest, I have to say that the word "were" isn't technically there in the original language. But the implication of past tense verb, taken from the word "formerly" in both verse 2 and 3, is absolutely justified. You were dead in your sins, meaning that Paul was saying to the Ephesian Christians, "Now, you no longer are dead in your sins!"
Wait, what? No longer dead in sin? How? What happened? What changed them? It is certainly nothing inside of themselves. It is the same thing that can change us, the only thing that can change us: the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Romans 5 6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Helpless. Ungodly. Sinners. This is who we are. And God knows it well. Yet - yes, there is a "yet!" - He loved us still, crushed His Son for our salvation, that by His death, we may live.
There is no hope in ourselves; but there is hope in Jesus. There is no salvation ourselves or our works. But by grace, through faith, there is salvation in Christ. When we learn about sin, we cannot stop there; we must push on towards knowing Jesus Christ.
Next lesson: Ephesians 2:2 — Walking in the Ways of the Dead.