Ephesians 2:1-5 “As for you, you were dead in transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.”
Ephesians chapter one tells us that God had a purpose, and Ephesians chapter two tells us how God worked out his purpose. Ephesians chapter one is the blueprint, and Ephesians chapter two tells us what was done. The apostle begins this chapter by telling us of our need of salvation – the sin of man. As Dr Kenneth Good once said, “In the first three verses of the chapter Paul employs language so devastating to human pride that only a Spirit-wrought humility can receive it. As the teaching of God choosing sinners to be saved strikes at man’s intellectual arrogance, so the teaching of sin, as expounded here, wields the deathblow. Man, in his natural estate, is shown to be altogether helpless and hopeless.” The great conclusion we are driven to accept is expressed in these eight monosyllables in verse 8, “it is by grace you have been saved.” Grace! God’s grace, not our efforts, saves us. But we will never appreciate our need of grace, or its wonderful power, until we have seen our predicament.
One of the things Paul wants to tell us about man are that he is in a state of spiritual death, that he is in a state of spiritual bondage, and that he is in a state of spiritual judgment. That is the pit out of which every man has to be lifted by Jesus. We are all in this threefold state of misery, but there is another more powerful threefold cord, not easily broken, which lifts us out of that helpless and ruined state. Christ’s grace gives favoured man life, freedom and righteousness. We have already examined the first state of man, in spiritual death, and so today we will examine man’s state of bondage in these words of Paul: “you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts” (vv. 2&3).
1. WE FOLLOW THE WAYS OF THIS WORLD.
What has sin done to people? It’s caused us to lose our individuality. Part of our uniqueness, as creatures made in the image of God, has been destroyed. We have stopped looking to God as our example, and so all that we have as role models are other men, and the more powerful and popular they are the more strongly we bind ourselves to them. What a strange way of expressing the fallenness of man, to say, “You’re just like the rest. You’re a child of your time. You’re exactly like the world. Where the world walks you walk. You are in bondage to peer group pressures. What they do, you do. What they drink, you drink. How they dress, you dress; the designer labels they have to have on their clothes you’ve got to have them too. What they watch on TV, you watch. The games they talk about you talk about. Their heroes are your heroes. You’re all reading about the antics of the same ‘models’. What the world listens to you listen to. What they spend their money on you are spending your money on too. The toys they get you must have too. Your sense of humour, and your values, and your enthusiasms, and your evenings and weekends are just the same as the in-crowd you belong to. You follow the ways of this world. You have the same prejudices about Jesus Christ, and you covet and lust and ache for the same experiences. You dream the same dreams. You worry the same worries. You are distracted by the same cares. You refuse to consider the same great realities of death, judgment, eternity, God. You are just like the world.” Paul is saying to us that the most appalling thing you can say about a person is that he’s just an ordinary guy or an ordinary girl. That is how the New Testament expresses its denunciation of a life, by saying that that life was just like the rest. The very worst thing Paul can say is that he acted just like a man acts; he followed the ways of this world.
Let me clarify that by removing what that does not mean:
i] It doesn’t mean that in the ways of this world there’s no conscience or a sense of right and wrong.
These people do have an impulse to do right, and a sense of remorse for doing wrong. If they hear that a paedophile has been released back from prison and is in their community they will demonstrate outside that man’s house and threaten his life. They all have a conscience, every single man and woman. You remember when the lynch mob wanted to kill the woman caught in adultery how Jesus said to them, “Let him who is without sin thrown the first stone at her.” What happened? “At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left” (John 8:9). The older ones had the most regrets and they were the first to leave. The work of the law is written in the hearts of all men and their consciences all bear witness, and their thoughts accusing or excusing them (Roms. 2:15). Of course, a guilty conscience is not the same thing as being convicted of sin but it is a powerful sign that God is our Maker.
We also find this that people in the gang all talk in terms of ‘ought’ – “They ought not to have done that. She’s gone too far. The government shouldn’t do that. How can American act like that?” and so on. People talk like that because every single person in the world is a moral being created in the moral image of God. The image has been ruined – like Aberystwyth castle has been ruined, but not annihilated. It is still a castle. So the in-crowd that influence you are certainly not a crowd of animals. They are rational and moral beings.
ii] It doesn’t mean that amongst the ways of this world are no pleasing and useful things.
We have all experienced the kindness of ordinary people. If in the community someone’s child is desperately ill they’re quite likely to organise a collection and fly him to the USA for treatment. A thousand people will turn up for the funeral service of a young man who has suddenly died, expressing their sympathy with the widow and children – they did that here last week. We are not saying that ordinary people are all criminals. Mother Teresa and Albert Schweitzer were great humanitarians. Calcutta and Congo were better places for many people because of their lives. They were far better people than Saddam Hussein. Soldiers have just returned from Iraq and been awarded medals for their bravery under fire, risking their own lives for the sake of their friends. All the people you know and like and perhaps fear who are not Christians have vestiges of the image of God.
I can take you to a ruined Baptist chapel in Goginan, just outside Aberystwyth. I have preached there many times, but today the roof is falling in and the birds are building their nests there There is some beautiful woodwork and plastered cornices and some fine windows still intact, but it’s not a fit place for any congregation to gather. It is totally ruined for the purpose for which it was built, though a few parts of it are not ruined. So it is with the crowd you know – your own peers. They can do many things together that are good. They can organise charity events, and door to door collections, but they are ruined by sin as far as any ability to love ad serve the Lord Christ is concerned.
Let me use this illustration of John Reisinger. Suppose a doctor in the Navy leads a crew into mutiny and takes control of a Navy ship. He then uses the ship in piracy, boarding and plundering vessels all over the Pacific. The Navy hunts him down and finally finds him and by radio demands that he either surrender or they will start firing at the ship. Upon his refusal, the Navy brings in the necessary fire power and begins to bombard the ship. During the battle many men on the rebel ship are wounded. The doctor works without rest or food; he risks his life over and over again in order to give his men the necessary medical treatment to keep them alive, but when the Navy finally captures the ship they will hang both the doctor and his men for their mutiny. The heroic “good” which the doctor did in risking his life for his men will help neither him nor them at the trial. The judges who sentence the man to die may “admire his courage” but he is still a traitor against the government and he’ll be executed. None of his “good” will count anything. The same principle applies to the all of the “good” that your crowd – the group you hang around with – do. Grand people, with kindnesses and friendships, but before God it counts as nothing because of hearts full of contempt for him.
It is this principle that is being taught in a fascinating verse in Proverbs 21:4: “An high look, and a proud heart and the plowing of the wicked, is sin” (A.V.) It is not the actual plowing of the man that is sinful. He may be the champion ploughman of Wales, but his heart is wrong before God. Think of the men who attend the Young Farmers clubs. How few of them have any interest in the Lord Christ. It’s not just their blasphemies that show their contempt for the Lord. Their very plowing, the Bible says, indicates their hostility to God. How can that be? In two ways.
i] Their plowing exhibits their faith in the seasons. If they didn’t believe that spring and summer were sure to follow, they wouldn’t plough and plant. Their very act of plowing expresses a faith in God’s providence, and that will condemn their unbelieving hearts for refusing to worship the very God they acknowledge year by year.
ii] Those men will curse God if there is too little sun or too much rain, but they wont praise God from their hearts for a good harvest. Their very cursing shows that they know God is for real and that he is in control of the weather. The young farmers’ pride and self sufficiency won’t allow them to give God the credit for the good weather. The whole situation shows that their very plowing will some day be the evidence that condemns them in their sin of unbelief.
iii] It doesn’t mean that the ways of the world are as bad as they can be.
What the New Testament is saying is this: “Man is bad, but he is not as bad as he could be, or will be.” There is not one person who has ever expressed all the wickedness of which he is capable. The sin of the Amorites, God said, had not reached its full measure (Gen. 15:16). Paul warns Timothy that “evil men and imposters will go from bad to worse” (2 Tim. 3:13). Behaviour which we would have considered utterly unacceptable fifty year ago is now commonplace, and so it will be until our Lord returns. As someone once said, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!” I wouldn’t want to live in the same town, or nation as one in which God permitted a single individual to express all the rebellion he was capable of. The way of this world is wild, but God constantly puts a halter on it, like a man taming a wild horse, and restraining it. God has appointed the powers that be, the police and the army, to warn and punish evildoers.
So the first thing that sin has done is to make us follow the ways of this world.
2. WE FOLLOW THE RULER OF THE KINGDOM OF THE AIR.
You have heard the expression, ‘there is something in the air.” There’s a strange tension in the school, or the workplace, or in the community. “What’s wrong? Something’s going on. Do you know what’s happening?” There are police cars going up and down; the sirens are constantly sounding; there are helicopters hovering overhead; there are trucks full of troops driving down the highway. The banks have closed early. The shops are closing now and people are going home. “There is something in the air.” That is a way to understand what Paul is saying here about the devil, the ruler of the kingdom of the air. His deadly ideas, his schemes for defacing God’s beautiful creation, the way he seeks to destroy men and women – these thing are all around us in the air aren’t they? Imagine an angel coming for the first time from heaven to this world, and what he would notice as he considered how men and women behaved, their obsession with material goods, pornography, cruelty, and violence. The dismantling of the family. Wherever the angel looked he could sense the influence of Satan ‘in the atmosphere’ of a nation, in the media, in a room full of certain people, of a city after ten o’clock at night. Satan is a spirit at work among ordinary people who see no need to behave any differently.
Paul is saying here that it’s a terrible thing to be like the world because the world is dominated by Satan. Not only the general structures and infrastructures but the individual human life of the ordinary worldly man is controlled far more than he realises by the ruler of the kingdom of the air. John Stott says, “It is unfashionable nowadays in the church (even while satanism flourishes outside it) to believe either in a personal devil or in personal demonic intelligences under his command. But there is no reason why church fashion should be the director of theology” (John Stott, “The Message of Ephesians,” IVP, Leicester, 1979, pp.73&74). Did the Lord Jesus Christ know something about the powers of darkness? What did his apostles teach? The reality of such dark dominion. Then that is enough for us.
What you are being told here is that if you are just conforming to the values and attitudes of your group and follow the norms of ordinary society then that means you are walking under the influence and control of the ruler of the kingdom of the air. Just imagine if I took part in ‘Any Questions’ on the radio this week and said to the whole country that all the ordinary citizens of the British Isles were living their lives under the domination and direction of Satan. You can imagine the nation saying, “What a crank was on Any Questions last night!” Yet this is what Paul is saying. You understand, he is not saying that there are some men of spectacular and preeminent wickedness who are Satanic, but he is saying that we ordinary folk who walk as society demands we walk are being controlled by the ruler of the kingdom of the air.
That view is not being aired just here in the Bible, but the same insistence is found throughout Scripture. Jesus is tempted by Satan. The Lord Jesus casts our demons from many people, men and women, old and young. He says to the people of his day, “You are of your father the devil.” He spoke on one occasion to Simon Peter and he warned him of what great trial lay before him. “Simon, Simon, Satan has you.” There was this great apostle who had seen the glory of Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration, and yet what is he now? Someone gripped by Satan, and he doesn’t know it. Of how many of us is that true? Please consider that this is not theology. It is not doctrine. It is not something you find in books. It is the truth about your state tonight, that Satan has you.
The apostle Paul writes to Timothy about his duties, and one thing he must remember is to help people to “come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:26). Again, isn’t that true of so many of us, that we have been taken captive to do the will of Satan not God? Or go again to Colossians chapter one where Paul is describing the glory of our Christian redemption and what it all means. He compares Christ’s mission to a soldier going on a commando raid, going right into enemy territory and rescuing people from the kingdom of darkness. That is ordinary Christian salvation. There is this Satan-organised machinery of iniquity, and we were part of it. We belonged to it so thoroughly that we could only be rescued by God the Son coming into the world, living alongside the ruler of the kingdom of the air and rescuing us from that domination.
That is God’s verdict upon every life which is outside of Christ, that it is a life controlled by Satan. The ruler of the kingdom of the air determines the priorities; he sets the course; he formulates the ambitions; he lays down the principles, and alas, he also determines the goal. And we can look all around us at so many attractive men and women, boys and girls, and what do we see at last beneath the facade, and under the respectability, when we lift the cover of the ordinariness and sedateness? It is this appalling truth about the ordinary man, that his life is a satanic life. That doesn’t mean that it’s murderous, or adulterous, but it does mean that it is one that Satan has. That is the whole truth, and this is the simplest and most moving way to say it, “Satan has you.”
You can see the students with all their talents, and all their promise; Satan has them and he has the promise and talent too. You see the old people with all their knowledge and experience, and Satan has them. You see it of one and all, with their precious souls, that Satan has them. He controls and keeps them in his kingdom. He leads them captive, and he controls them. He brings them to his own place at the last.
3. WE DISOBEY GOD.
What is the distinguishing mark of this evil spirit at work in men and women? Paul tells us that it’s our disobedience towards God: “the spirit is now at work in those who are disobedient” (v.2). That is the typical response of sinners to God: it is Pharaoh’s question, “Who is ‘the Lord’ that I should obey his voice?” It is the cry of people who heard the King of kings, “We will not have this man rule over us.” Disobedience is around us here tonight. People who sit under gospel ministry will try to put off Christians who inquire as to their spiritual state by telling them that they are still ‘seeking for God.’ They are on the long search for God! How noble it sounds. It’s “not easy for us as it seems to have been for you, hearing the gospel invitations of Christ and responding. Not for us. We are ‘seekers’. . . ” It’s the great BBC phrase. Whenever that Corporation (which every license-payer supports) does a series of special religious programmes on radio or TV then it will talk in reverent tones about man’s ‘search for God.’
I was listening to Dick Lucas last Saturday and he spoke of a visit he made to a private school where the pupils are preparing to become officers in one of the armed forces. He chose to speak to them for fifteen minutes at their chapel service on this text, Genesis 3:8&9, “they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’ He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” So Dick Lucas looked at all these teenagers in their uniforms, and at the staff and headmaster, and he said to them, “Of course in our days we are always being told that it is actually man who is searching for God. That is what the BBC says and it is the opinion of the learned men, so we’d better change this passage in Genesis. It ought to read something like this, that man came walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and God hid from him, and man called out to God, ‘Where are you?’ God answered, ‘I am hiding, and try as hard as you can you are not going to find me.’ And if this is true for the Old Testament then we will have to do the same for the New Testament too. So we must go to Luke 15 and the parable of the lost sheep and change it to the parable of the lost shepherd, and tell of the sheep who left the other ninety-nine sheep and went looking for the lost shepherd until he had found him. At that comment there was a hearty guffaw from one of the members of staff. “Exactly,” said Dick Lucas, “The whole concept is utterly ridiculous. It is not men who search for God but the Good Shepherd who comes and searches for us.”
So it is with us. There is not one natural man who searches after God. Young people who say to me that they are seeking for God are talking through their hats. God is not hiding away in the corner of this building somewhere so that we can’t find him. He is not in a cave on Cader Idris and only a few over the centuries have ever been able to discover his whereabouts. God is not hiding from us; we are hiding from God. God comes here and finds us every Sunday. He speaks to us and tells us clearly about himself and ourselves, and what we need to know and do. That is why people refuse to come to church here because the preaching of God’s word is so direct, and people don’t want to meet him. They are hiding from him. God is here filling this place and continually speaking to our minds and consciences, but we don’t want to meet with him because it is so inconvenient to part with the sins that we love and dress ourselves in the holiness we hate. We are not seeking; we are disobedient. The Lord says, “Come!” and we say, “No!” and we are reinforced in our disobedience by the devil. “Don’t listen. Don’t obey,” he is saying to us, and we don’t.
As long as sinners can think they can go on an expedition and search for the God of love whenever they choose then they will sit back and take their time in planning it. They will wait until all the signs are propitious. However, when they hear God is searching for them and he is getting close then their true character of disobedience shows itself. A woman hears a wolf whistle from a man on a building site and she smiles to herself and goes into a shop. He is no threat, just a distant wolf whistle. But if that man climbs down the scaffolding and comes looking for her and finds her in a corner of the shop and tries to push her into a little room and seeks to close the door on them then she’ll lash out in her hostility and fear. Her true nature shows itself as he gets near. We see her true character. So it is with lost men. If I talk nicely about “the God up there, away in the sky somewhere, and we are all searching for him . . .” then you smile nicely and go home. But if I tell you that God is here today to have a word with you, and he is speaking to you and he is telling you to turn from your sins now and believe on his Son Jesus Christ – right now – then, without the Holy Spirit, you are bound to defy this God. “I will not have this Lord rule over me,” you say. So you are not seeking at all. You are disobedient.
Preaching exclusively on the love of God doesn’t draw out such defiance. Preaching the search for God doesn’t make anyone disobedient, but the God who in love sent his Son to die in agony and bloodshed on the cross to reconcile himself to us, I say, the God whose Son rose from the dead and now tells his people to preach repentance from our dead works and faith in Christ as man’s only hope, then that message creates a real defiance in the heart of those who walk with the crowd and are under the influence of the ruler of the kingdom of the air. Men will love a god of their own imagination because he is a god they can always control, but confront them with the Sovereign Lord of the Bible and they will immediately defy him. Ecumenical religion is acceptable to so many because it is a vague and unspecific religion with every kind of viewpoint acceptable. But when the God of the Bible is declared with his sovereign demands for faith and repentance then there is immediate hostility. Let me illustrate the disobedience of the natural man to you from another story of John Reisinger:
Harry bitterly hated a next door neighbour. The very sight of his neighbour made Harry furious. They had had a feud over high hedges that the neighbour had planted. The conifers had darkened Harry’s house, and he was glad when his neighbour finally moved to Scotland. Several years later, someone visiting Harry said, “You really hated that guy who used to live next door didn’t you?” and Harry would probably say, “Well, I didn’t like him too much, but I wouldn’t say I actually hated him. That’s a strong word.” No amount of arguing would convince Harry of how deeply resentful he was of that neighbour. Harry hadn’t seen the man for a long time and had started to forget him. There was nothing confronting him that aroused his strong feelings.
Five years later someone knocked on Harry’s door and said, “I am collecting money to buy flowers for the widow of that man who used to live next door to you.” It seems the former neighbour had died a tragic death. All of a sudden the person at the door said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot how much you hated the man. You wouldn’t be interested in helping. You’re probably glad he’s dead.” Harry would protest that he was being misrepresented. “I admit we had our differences, but as I look back, I’m sure that part of it was my fault. He really wasn’t all that bad. Here is five pounds for the flowers.” It would be impossible to convince Harry that he’d really hated his former neighbour. The nastiness had long settled at the bottom of his heart.
Five more years pass by and then one day out of the blue a self-drive removals van pulls up next door to Harry’s house and that man, his former neighbour, got out and started to unload the van and move back into the same house. There’d been a mix up and obviously it wasn’t this man who’d died, it was his brother. How long would that man have to live back in the old house next door before all of Harry’s buried hostility would once more be felt and expressed? A week? A month? A year? The old saying, “Out of sight, out of mind” is true. God is not in the thoughts of any man and so he is amazed if you tell him he is at enmity to God and defies him. Man’s hatred of God is like the dirty mud puddles on the road right after rain. Those same puddles become clear as crystal after several days. The mud is still there but it has all settled to the bottom and is not visible. However, if you started stirring the puddle with a stick, the mud would soon come to the surface. Man’s sinful heart is the same way. As long as Harry is not directly confronted with his enemy he can never be convinced of the depth of his hatred.
So it is with us all. As long as men are not being directly confronted with a true picture of God, they do not disobey him. They don’t feel the natural enmity towards God that is in their hearts. However, the moment we begin to tell them what God is really like then their rebellion against God’s authority and their love of self comes to the surface. The God of the Bible is a forgotten God in our society. The weak and wishy-washy deity that is preached in most churches, even evangelical churches, would never stir up any antagonism or reverence or holy love of any kind. This is why men can hate God while being deeply religious. Because men today love a God of their own imagination, there is neither deep faith nor visible antagonism in the churches today. It was not so when John the Baptist and the apostles of Jesus Christ preached to the men and women of the first century.
The Word of God says all men by nature disobey God. We need only preach God’s revealed will to sinners, and press on them their absolute duty to do that will, and we see as a fact what Paul says in Romans 8:7 that the one indelible mark of every lost man are those words of the apostle, “the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God neither indeed can be.” Likewise, the one mark of a true believer is the exact opposite: “For this is the love of God that we keep his commandments; and his commandments are not grievous” (I Jn. 5:3). The Christian has been translated from disobedience to obedience.
4. WE GRATIFY THE CRAVINGS OF OUR SINFUL NATURES.
Paul has not finished with us yet. He says, “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts” (v.3). We know how the world behaves because once we lived like that. “We also lived among people who behaved like that,” says Paul. They were our companions, and this is what we noticed about them, that they were constantly “gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts” (v.3). They were surrounded by forces targeting them that constantly stimulated their baser cravings, and they went ahead and yielded to them, the craving for sex, and they gave in, just like an animal in heat. The desire for food, the familiar tastes, soothing and sweet, and they had to have it whether it was fast foods or fine restaurants. The craving for alcohol and nicotine and drugs – they gratified them. They complemented themselves on their fine palates. The craving for something new, for soft and expensive clothes – and they’d get them. A father sighed to me about his son – “he likes nice things,” he said. The craving for omnipresent music and constant visible stimuli, the flickering screen of the TV set always on, hour after hour. The craving for people to be with them, the noise, the stimulation of talk and laughter. The big game and the crowd with its chants and singing and shouts of victory. Aren’t these words again a remarkably accurate description of the age we live in, that our world is a world of followers, not leaders? That the agenda is set out by the media, that it stimulates these base cravings, and so the world goes along with it and follows these desires and thoughts.
How interesting that he talks not only of the ‘desires’ of our sinful nature but the ‘thoughts’ of our sinful nature and how we follow them. What does he mean by ‘thoughts’ of our sinful nature? He is certainly talking about those forces that control your attention and take up your emotional energy, self-pity, bitterness, hatred, jealousy, envy, pride and so on – they are the cravings of our sinful natures. There is ambition, the lust for wealth and power; the desire for position and recognition. Men will stop at nothing in order to have a name. Or you take the itch for gossip – “Have you heard . . .?” It is nothing but a lust of the mind, all these sad attempts we are only too familiar with personally of pathetic attempts to show just how clever we are.
Then there is this new craving for status. We are told that ‘status anxiety’ seems to have reached its height in the very period in which we live. A series of programmes on BBC television expounds this along with a new book by Alain de Botton entitled “Status Anxiety.” We are told that men and women worry about their standing in the world, whether they are going up or down, whether they are winners or losers. People care about this because other people’s reactions to them matter intensely, and if others perceive them to be on the way up then they will treat them nicer. If, however, people are judging them to be ‘losers’ then status anxiety kicks in. So there is this craving in their thoughts for admiration and respect from the world.
Many years ago I read Dr Lloyd-Jones’ sermon on this text in the second volume of his series on Ephesians. (Incidentally the Banner of Truth are offering the entire series of eight volumes today at an extraordinarily cheap price. You all must get that set and read it and keep dipping into it for the rest of your lives. It is remarkable preaching.) I was very struck about one of the things that he said about following the thoughts of our sinful natures. I happened to be with Professor Paul Helm and mentioned what I had been reading to him, how these very sentences which I am about to read to you now had hit home, and he said that he had read them too and they had made the same impression on him. This is what had struck us; “Reading is an excellent thing; we can never know too much and we should read to have greater understanding and to improve our minds. But, you know, it becomes a lust like this: you have started reading one book, then you suddenly hear about another book and you get that also. You have not finished the first yet, but you start reading the second. Then a third comes, and you are reading three books! Well, it is a lust at that point. You are no longer in control, the thing has mastered you, it has run away with you, it has captured you. And it can happen at all levels. I have seen people read novels exactly in the same way as others take drugs. I remember the case of a poor woman who could be seen walking round her house with a novel in her hand. Even while she was cooking she was still reading her novel. It may sound laughable, but I am not sure that it is not something to weep at. I see no difference in principle (and leaving out the social consequences) between that and taking drugs and taking alcohol, or giving way to a lust of the body. I see no difference whatsoever; it is equally a lust, but it is a desire of the mind and not of the flesh. It manifests itself like that. Then you can think of it in terms of people with their hobbies and their games and their interests. These things are quite innocent. A hobby is all right, a game is all right; but if you live for it, it is not all right; it has become a desire of the mind” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “God’s Way of Reconciliation”, Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1972, p.65). So we live amongst a generation who gratify the cravings of their sinful natures, following its desires and thoughts.
5. WE ARE BY NATURE OBJECTS OF WRATH.
“Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath” (v.3). Let’s not miss that phrase ‘by nature.’ In other words, Paul is speaking of what we are by conception, and heredity, and by our union with Adam, and by birth, from that moment on. It is not that the influence of evil habits, and bad companions, and abuse, and unfortunate education, and key wrong decisions we took made us the kind of people to whom the wrath of God is revealed. It was not like that. By nature we behaved in this way; this was our inclination and the wrath of God was the inevitable response. What am I by nature? What are old age pensioners by nature. What are students by nature? What are children by nature? What are you boys and girls? Paul tells us here that we are objects of wrath. That is what I deserve. That is where I stand, under the holy condemnation of a righteous and sin-hating God.
You protest that many preachers and your teachers in school have told you that we are all children of God. That may very well be, but that is not what the Bible says. The New Testament says that we are all objects of wrath, every single person who is dead in sins, who follows the ways of the world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air, who gratifies the cravings of our sinful nature – all such are by nature the objects of wrath. Paul tells the Ephesian congregation, “We were like the rest.” They were just like that, standing under this condemnation until the great change had taken place God’s great love and mercy made the difference, he says.
Isn’t it a solemn thing to be an ordinary person? Ordinary people are dead in sin, and following the ways of the world, and serving the devil, disobeying God, and gratifying the cravings of their natures, and are the objects of God’s wrath. Is there any way I can project these great and solemn truths into your hearts and consciences? Can I get you to see that this is truth, and as long as you’re ordinary and unchanged, and unconverted, and live like all the rest then this will continue to be your condition before Almighty God? You will be the objects of his wrath?
Maybe this must be my main emphasis, and I must let it find its lodging and place in your hearts and minds. Let these thoughts disturb you, but they are God’s thoughts, and the divine assessment, and the New Testament analysis, and the diagnosis of the Great Physician, Jesus Christ. I wouldn’t mind if we went home and couldn’t sleep tonight. It wouldn’t matter to me if we just felt the utter hopelessness of our condition. If these words are true that there is an appalling solemnity about them. They are great and disturbing realities.
Then you protest, what about the gospel’s side? You think, Well, he can give us that next week. No, I am not here next week. I am preaching in Northern Ireland. It will be two weeks before I preach here on a Sunday again, and even with that plan there is the great proviso, “God willing.” But are you dependent on me to spell out the good news? Have you not heard this message for many years? Are you not one of the disobedient ones who has heard the gospel and said No? Do you depend on me telling you these things again? Don’t you need to go to God with this spiritual problem of yours?
But I must assume that you may never return to this building again, that you will never hear of Jesus Christ’s love again, that this will be the last sermon you will preach, as one day we will all have heard our very last sermon. The day of grace will soon be over for us. So I cannot leave you on this note of solemnity and hopelessness. Maybe that is the predominant note, but let me sound another one: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (vv. 4&5). These Ephesian men and women were dead, and Paul was dead, but God did a wonderful thing in them, he made them alive. They were the objects of God’s wrath, but God was rich in mercy to them. So might not you know life and forgiveness too? As God does not discriminate against the people of the 21st century or against the Welsh as a race, might you not be delivered from this mess? Don’t go to the psychiatrist. Don’t send for the doctor. Don’t look for a teacher. Don’t go into meditation. Don’t think in despair of the undertaker. Go to the one who raised Lazarus, to the living One who himself was raised from the grave and lives as the mighty powerful King. He can raise you. In his grace he can pardon your sins. He can, for Jesus’ sake, terminate his wrath and love you with a love which will not let you go.
Let me look today at this wreck of a life, a ruin, a tragedy, a dead human soul, on his way to hell with all his companions, and gripped by Satan. Poor soul! He is destined for the condemnation of God and the endurance of his unmitigated wrath. Let’s look at him. Let’s look at him again and again and again. Let’s go round and round and round him. Let my eye pity him, really feel compassion towards this broken ordinary person, and let me see that it’s me! And let me hear the great words being spoken to me, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ . . .” (vv. 4&5). I’m dead, and it’s hopeless . . . but God. I’m indistinguishable from the lost world . . . but God. I can’t break the power of sin over me . . . but God. I’m an object of wrath deserving judgment . . . but God, not any God but the God and Father of our Lord Jesus, the God who sent Christ to become the Lamb of God who would bear away our sin. Let us go to him, and cast ourselves on him, and plead his mercy in Christ, and if these Ephesians sinners found it, and if many of us ordinary people here today found it, then why not you? Who has ever cast himself on the mercy of God and found only wrath? Not one. Then cry mightily to him, and do not cease until you know he has answered you.
7 March 2004 GEOFF THOMAS