I have the privilege and responsibility of teaching a small Bible study every week at a local high school. This post is the third in the series, a series that I am trying to keep as simple and clear as possible (as is fitting to my audience). If you do happen to read, please pray that the Lord would bring unsaved sinners to our Bible study times; high schoolers are in dire need of the gospel. %%
Ephesians 2:1-2b And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air,
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. Last time we learned what it means to "be dead in our sins." Today, we're essentially going to elaborate on that 'deadness' and ask , "Well, just how dead are we? Are we really that bad?"
Now, I want to remind you again, we learn about sin because if we fail to understand our guilt, grace means nothing to us. If we want to understand the love of God, we must understand just how much we don't deserve it. The glorious truths of grace are coming (verse 4!), but we must first see our plight.
Our text for today is the first parts of verse 2: "in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air"
Just how bad are we? First, this verse says that we walked according to the world. Second, this verse says we walked according to Satan.
I. Walked According to the World in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world
Paul says that as those dead in our sin, we walked according to the world. But, what does this mean? First, we need some definitions.
In the Scriptures, walking is constantly used as a metaphor for someone's pattern of life, their direction, their habits, their way of living, that which they devote themselves to. To walk in a certain way means to have a life marked by a persistent dedication, a singular focus. So to walk means quite simply to live a certain way.
Next definition. There are at least two different ways that the biblical writers use the word "world" in the New Testament. In some places, it can mean the people in the world, as in John 3:16 ("for God so loved the world…"), and has a neutral connotation. In other places, it can mean the world system, and always has a negative connotation. We can see this in two verses:
1 John 2:15-17 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
James 1:27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
This world, this world system, is entirely opposed to God. All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the lust of pride, is against God. It is the corrupt and perverse ways of sin and of the sinful man. There is nothing good in it, nothing that God is pleased with, nothing that beneficial.
Now, all that is a little abstract. Let me make it more down to earth. You can see the world system, and it's anti-God bent, at the very least in these realms:
- Philosophy: secularism (the assumption that there is no supernatural), relativism (my truth is right when I want it to be right), pluralism (multiple, contradictory truths)
- Religion: make-your-own religion, Christ-less morality, pantheism (the worship of everything as God), atheism (there is no God), works-righteousness (God will accept me because of what I do)
- Government: selfishness and power-mongering, cruel and evil rulers, systems that reward sin and punish righteousness
- Science: presupposition based on the evolution lie, anti-God assumptions, speculation and bias rather than experiment and results
- Popular culture: using illicit sexual pleasure to sell, exaltation of horrific "role models", normalization of the sinful & obscene
- Social conditions: oppression of the weak, neglect of the helpless, racism, castes
This is the world that we live in. And to all unbelievers, this is the sphere, the ecosystem, in which they breathe and move and exist. Like a fish that only knows how to live in water, it is their standard mode of operation; they don't know anything else. In one sense, we should pity them; how could those who love the world live in any other way?
And in another sense, because they are guilty of loving everything that the world loves, in imbibing everything they are offered, and thus they are guilty of loving everything that God hates. And we too, dead in our trespasses and sins, formerly walked according to the course of this world system. Unbelievers are guilty. And those who call themselves Christians, we were guilty too.
II. Walked According to Satan In which you formerly walked … according to the prince of the power of the air
This part of the verse raises two questions: "Who or what is this prince?" and "What is the power of the air?"
I'll give it straight: Satan is the prince of the power of the air. He is called the "ruler of this world" by Jesus Himself (John 12:31, 16:11), and thus fits the description "prince."
The phrase "power of the air" is metaphorical language, and means one of two things. Either it means that this prince has power over the celestial space, in which demons supposedly dwell (a pagan idea, not a biblical one), or it literally means that this prince has power over the physical atmosphere that encompasses the physical world, and thus the world that it encompasses. Good men have good arguments for both sides, and I haven't been able to figure out which I side with, but regardless, the meaning is clear: the prince of the power of the air is Satan himself.
Now, notice that this verse does not say that Satan is the king of this world. God is the King; but temporarily, in a limited way, Satan has reign over the earth. This is easy to see; if God had already crushed Satan like He promises He will, the world would not be the way it is. All of the vice, the evil, the destruction, the pain, is not God's fault, but sin and Satan's doing. Oh, believe me, God will soon do away with Satan forever and the world will be as it should be, but for now, God has allowed Satan, His inferior, to roam on a leash.
We will go a little more into what the Bible says about Satan, and his relationship to the True King of the world, next week. But for now, the thrust of the text is this: being dead in our sins, we not only walked according to this world, we walked according to Satan. We walked according to the enemy of God, according to the one who is pure evil, who hates everything God loves and loves everything God hates. His name, Satan, which literally means "adversary," fits him well.
Last week we learned what it means to be dead in our sins. But this week, we asked, "How bad were we?" A little? No. We have seen that we were terribly bad, evil to the core. We walked according to the world system that is entirely against God. We walked according to Satan, the enemy of God.
The Bible does not have a high view of humanity; it has a true and accurate one — we are dead in our sin, rebels to the core, aligned with the world that hates God, aligned with Satan himself.
And yet, how does God respond? Grace.
Colossians 1:13-14 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
He reaches in, rescues us from the domain of darkness, that is, the domain of Satan, and transfers us to the kingdom of light, His kingdom, the kingdom of Christ. Why? Because we're good? No, but because He is good, because He is gracious and kind. God reaches down to the sinners of the world, transforms their hearts by the Holy Spirit, and gives them Christ. This is the gospel of grace, God's magnanimous pity and benevolent character that compels Him to love those who would never seek Him, never come to Him, never want Him, apart from His initiation. This is the God we love, because He loved us first.
Now, notice, I gave no commands at all during this lesson. I did not say, "Stop loving the world!" or "Stop following Satan!" That is not Paul's point. In fact, there are no commands in the chapter until until verse 11, and that command is "Remember! Remember what God saved you from!" which really isn't about doing anything. And that makes sense; the point of the gospel is not about external conformity to a set of rules; it's about God, by His grace and power and gospel, transforming us from the inside out so that we would to love and glorify — and thus obey — Him.
Next week: Ephesians 2:2-3a — The Spirit of Disobedience