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We Were Dead in Sins (Ephesians 2:1)
Why We Need A Savior
We Were Dead
Ephesians 2:1
Today we begin our annual pilgrimage to Easter, and I will confess to you that Easter is always a challenge for me as a preacher, not because I don't have any material with which to work, but because I am overwhelmed.
The responsibility of sharing the single most significant event in the history of the world, and doing it in a fresh way that speaks to people who are so familiar with the subject is always a daunting task.
Most of us have heard about the resurrection and know the story of Jesus and we can walk through the experience of the trials and the cross and the empty tomb, and we know the story all too well.
So my goal is always to present the timeless truths of the resurrection in a such a way so that those who are familiar are blessed and those who need to be saved are convicted, and at the same time, do it in a way that honors God and brings glory to Jesus.
To address that assignment, I've chosen, I believe under the direction of the Holy Spirit, to spend four weeks in the first few verses of Ephesians chapter 2.
Over these next weeks, we will study this passage phrase by phrase in an attempt to see the personal impact the resurrection has on every child of God.
Now the aim of these studies will be to help us answer one primary question and that is, "Why do I need a Savior?" And in particular, why do I need a Savior who has resurrected from the dead?
  1. if we had time, we could look back through chapter 1 of Ephesians, and there we would learn that Paul is writing a letter to the church at Ephesus and he begins by reminding them of all the blessings they've received through Christ. And by virtue of our salvation, everything they have, we have also.
They've been chosen by God from before the creation of the world and predestined to be adopted into His family. He reminds them of how Jesus has redeemed them from slavery to sin and an empty life and how the Holy Spirit has come into their lives as a guarantee of their spiritual inheritance.
And in particular, he talks to them about how God has filled their lives with His resurrection power, and that power, is
verses 19-23
That is a wonderful declaration of the power of God! But. . .it doesn't answer the question of why we need a Savior, and I think Paul realized his readers may have been asking that very same question.
So as we come to chapter 2, Paul takes his readers back to what their lives were like before they experienced God’s grace and power. Listen as I read
Chapter 2:1-3
There is a sense in which we don’t need to get too caught up in what our lives were like before Jesus redeemed us. The Bible is clear that our present lives are not to be paralyzed by thinking too much about what has happened in the past.
But at the same time, I don’t think that we can ever fully appreciate the significance of what God has done for us without understanding exactly what we were like before we were saved.
So as Paul continues writing in chapter 2, it’s like he holds up this gigantic mirror that allows his readers to observe what they were like before God entered into their lives.
And frankly, it’s not a very pretty picture. In fact, there is a sense in which this is one of the hardest truths in the Bible because most of us don’t really want to hear just how bad we are apart from Christ. In fact, many of us are convinced we were doing God a favor when we got saved, and He's fortunate to have us.
But once we are honest about what we really were, then we can be much more appreciative of what God did when he saved us. In fact, later in this text, Paul will say exactly that.
verses 11-13
So we remember so we can understand the nature and extent of God's love toward us. Now, Paul uses three word pictures to help us understand why we needed a Savior, and we'll look at those one at a time over the next few weeks.
Today, we see from verse 1, we needed a Savior because we were dead in sins. In fact, twice in this text, Paul uses that phrase. We see it in verse 1 and later in verse 5.
If you were to ask most people why sin is a problem, and why we need a Savior to rescue us from it, most would say that sin makes us guilty before God and brings us under His condemnation, and therefore, we need a Savior who can forgive our sins and take away our punishment. And that is absolutely right.
But that is not the point Paul is making here in Ephesians 2. We need that, no doubt, but that is not all we need.
According to this text, the reason we need a Savior is not just that we are in the doghouse with God and need to be forgiven for offending his glory. We need a Savior because we are in the morgue. In the doghouse you might whimper. You might say you are sorry. You might make some good resolutions. You might decide to cast yourself on the mercy of God. But what can you do if you are in the morgue?
So to understand why we need a Savior, let's begin with this: What Does it mean to be "Dead in Trespasses and Sins"?
Because if this means what it looks like it means, then that has a great deal to do with what kind of Savior we need. If I'm dead in trespasses and sins, I don't need just any, old ordinary Savior. I need a great Savior, a supernatural Savior, a Savior that can deal with death.
So first of all, let's be sure we understand what Paul is talking about when he uses this phrase.
Let's begin with the context first. In the context of the passage, Paul says, "We are dead in trespasses and sins". That means tells us we are
- Our Actions Declare We are Dead
Although the words are often used as synonyms by Paul and other New Testament writers, they have a slightly different meaning.
The word translated “trespasses” or "transgressions" means to take a false step, go off a path, slip, or fall.
As used here it is a picture of us wandering from the right path, whether that occurs as a result of inattention or a deliberate act.
The words "sins" is an archery term which means missing the mark. And again, as it's used here it is a picture of us failing to hit the target of God’s standard for our lives. So it includes both sins of commission – doing something in opposition to God’s moral standard – or omission – failing to do something that God has commanded us to do.
And these transgressions and sins in our lives do not just make us sick, they are deadly. They are our spiritual cause of death.
So why is it such a big deal that we are dead and not just sick or in God’s dog house? To answer that question, let’s think for just a moment about a couple of characteristics of a dead person. For instance, it is characteristic of a dead person that they are:
- Unable to respond
Something that is dead is completely unable to respond to its surroundings or to others in any way. Did you ever walk by a corpse in a casket and say to a friend, "He doesn't look very good!", and the corpse raises up and says, "You don't look so good yourself?" Of course not, because dead things don't respond.
I read about a woman who brought a very limp duck into a veterinarian, and as she laid her pet on the table, the vet pulled out his stethoscope and listened to the bird’s chest. After a moment or two, the vet shook his head sadly and said, "I’m sorry, your duck, has passed away."
The distressed woman wailed, "Are you sure?"
"Yes, I am sure. The duck is dead," replied the vet.
"How can you be so sure", she protested. "I mean you haven’t done any testing on him or anything. He might just be in a coma or something." The vet rolled his eyes, turned around and left the room. He returned a few minutes later with a black Labrador Retriever.
As the duck’s owner looked on in amazement, the dog stood on his hind legs, put his front paws on the examination table and sniffed the duck from top to bottom. He then looked up at the vet with sad eyes and shook his head. The vet patted the dog on the head and took it out of the room.
A few minutes later he returned with a cat. The cat jumped on the table and also delicately sniffed the bird from head to foot. The cat sat back on its haunches, shook its head, meowed softly and strolled out of the room.
The vet looked at the woman and said, "I’m sorry, but as I said, this is most definitely, 100% certifiably, a dead duck." The vet turned to his computer terminal, hit a few keys and produced a bill, which he handed to the woman.
The duck’s owner, still in shock, took the bill. "$750!" she cried, "$750 just to tell me my duck is dead!" The vet shrugged, "I’m sorry. If you had just taken my word for it, the bill would have been $25, but with the Lab Report and the Cat Scan, it’s now $750.
Before God entered into our lives, we were completely unable to respond to Him in any way, since we were spiritually dead. That’s why it’s crucial that it is God who is the one who initiates our relationship with Him as we’ve already seen in chapter 1 of Ephesians.
The second characteristic of a dead man is
- Decay
When a person dies, his or her body begins to decay immediately. Without Christ, that is also an accurate picture of what is happening to us spiritually. Since we’re spiritually dead, and there is not a thing we can do about it on our own, we’re decaying spiritually. Our lives are becoming more and more corrupt each day.
Remember the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11? By the time Jesus arrived at Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days and his sister, Martha, commented about the odor that resulted from the decaying of his body.
That is true of us as well! In fact, Lazarus illustrates both points in that his decaying, stinking body could not respond until Jesus initiated new life within him.
Lazarus didn’t do anything in order to be resurrected. He was completely dependent on what Jesus did for him.
Before God initiated a relationship with us, we were all spiritual Lazaruses – rotting away, completely helpless to do anything about our condition. We were dead in our transgressions and sins
Now couple that with what we read in
verse 3
Here we discover we are not only dead because of our actions, but
2. Our Nature Declares We are Dead
Paul describes those who are dead in trespasses and sins as being "children of wrath. That means the things we have done to bring the wrath of God upon us we have done by nature. We do them because that's who we are.
We need a Savior not just because we have sinned, but because we have sinned by nature. We are by nature sinners. That means we are not just sinners because we sin, but we sin because we are sinners
At the end of verse 2, we are described as "sons of disobedience", which is another way of saying that disobedience is in our spiritual genes. Rebellion runs in the human family. It is part of our sinful nature.
So what does that have to do with being dead?
In fact, we may appear to be very much alive. But our life is all about rebellion and disobedience and not about righteousness and faith
Think about that very practically. If we are alive to disobedience, then we were dead to obedience. If we are alive to rebellion, we were dead to submission. When we are alive to unbelief, we are dead to faith.
In other words, if we are "sons of disobedience", then there is nothing in our nature that inclines us to do anything for the glory of God and in reliance on His power. Instead, we were dead to righteousness, dead to holiness, dead to obedience and dead to faith.
So spiritually speaking, before my salvation, I was dead. Without a Savior, I had no spiritual inclinations at all because there was no spiritual life at all. Therefore I needed a Savior not only to forgive me for my sins, but also to give me spiritual life so that my heart would trust him and obey him.
And we have to go no further than that to realize the significance of the resurrection. When we are lost, we are dead, and the only way we can enjoy spiritual life is be resurrected and the only power greater than death is the power of God, as demonstrated when Jesus rose from the grave.
And to convince us how bad we really were, notice how Paul continues in
verse 10
Note the word "created." That tells us we were so bad as sinners, not only did we need someone to forgive us and give us new life, but we also needed someone to create us.
This image is even more radical than the one in verse 5. There we were only made alive out of our deadness. But in verse 10 we were created as though out of nothing.
That's what creation is. It is making something out of nothing. That's what the writer of Hebrews tells us about creation. God made something out of nothing. He spoke it into existence.
And what Paul is telling us here in Ephesians through both of these images is that it took a miracle like resurrection or creation to give us spiritual life. It was non-existent, and had to be created. We were dead and had to be raised.
So we weren't just in the doghouse with God. We really were in the morgue. And whatever thoughts we thought or whatever feelings we felt or whatever deeds we did—they were not the thoughts and feelings and deeds of the Spirit but of the flesh.
Nothing that we thought or felt or did was spiritual, because we were dead spiritually. Everything we thought and felt and did came from what we were by nature, and by nature we were children of wrath.
Does that help you see just how vile and ugly and wretched and sinful you and I were before a Holy God? Does that help you understand how amazing it is that you get to be saved by the grace of God?
If we had no spiritual life within us but only death, then everything we did was sin. For what is sin but falling short of the glory of God, and who does anything for the glory of God when he is spiritually dead? And so before the Savior came, before he quickened us and made us alive, all we did was sin.
But someone will argue, "But that can't be right because I know a lot of people who aren't saved, yet they do a lot of good things."
But those things you call "good" are by your standards and not God's. When you judge what is sin and what is righteousness, you can't limit it to your understanding and human standards.
You've got to consider it from God's point of view. We were made for God and to bring glory to God! He is worthy of all our love and trust and honor and thanks and obedience and worship.
We may build hospitals and feed the hungry and educate the ignorant, but if it doesn't spring from trust in God, and if we don't do it to give him glory, and if we don't do it to seek the salvation of the lost, then all we do is sin in respectable ways.
Presuming to do good to men without pointing them to God is sin. All that any of us can do without a Savior is sin because by nature, we are spiritually dead. And until we are made alive by our Savior, nothing we do is spiritual, everything comes from the flesh. And therefore without a Savior all our so-called good deeds are rags and ashes.
Our actions declare we are dead, our nature declare we are dead, and
3. Paul Declares We are Dead
Paul provides us with some commentary on what spiritual deadness means in the book of Romans were several times we talks about this condition. He's writing to Jews who believe their nationality caused them to be closer to God or better than any one else, and in
Romans 3:9–12
"What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.
As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.”
And without a Savior, there is nothing we can do about it! Dead people don't respond and act because we are ruled by sin. We have no inclination to seek God. Nothing we do has any spiritual value.
In fact, that's what Paul says in
Romans 6:17–18
But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.
Until the Savior set us free, we were slaves of sin.
He describes it further in Romans 8:6–9
For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.
In other words, until the Savior comes and makes us alive by his Spirit, we are simply "in the flesh" (verse 9). That means we are spiritually dead. We may be physically alive, but there is no spiritual life. And we prove it by having what Paul calls "the mind of the flesh"; and the mind of the flesh is in rebellion against God (verse 7).
In fact, it is so much in rebellion against God, that it CANNOT submit to God's law (verse 7), and it CANNOT please God (verse 8), which mean, without a Savior, everything we do is insubordination against God and displeasing to God.,
And Romans isn't the only place he talked about the problem of spiritual death. We see it in
1 Corinthians 2:14
But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Without a Savior to make us spiritually alive, we are so perverted in our values that when we hear the truth of the gospel, we think it is foolish, therefore we are unable to understand the truth for ourselves and be saved.
Ephesians 4:17–18
This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as [a]the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart;
Without a Savior, our hearts were so hard that they can only be described as spiritually ignorant and alienated from God. And it is this very hardness of heart that we see here in Ephesians 2.
But let's draw the message to a close by looking at a word from the Savior himself concerning our deadness in sin. Was this just Paul's idea or did he learn it from Jesus?
In the eighth chapter of Matthew, we are told about Jesus calling a certain man to follow him, and the man says, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father."
Do you remember how Jesus responded? My father is dying. Jesus said in Matthew 8:22; "Let the dead bury their own dead." At first reading, that sounds very callous and insensitive until you understand that Jesus is combining these two thoughts of spiritual death and physical death. What He says is "Let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead. I've got better things for you to do."
So Paul didn't originate the idea that there are people who are alive and yet dead—spiritually dead. The final thing I want you to see is that
4. Jesus Declares We are Dead
In Matthew 23:27–28, Jesus said,
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity."
So here is an example of the "righteous" dead man. Jesus is describing a man who is clean and religious on the outside, just like a whitewashed casket in the county morgue, and yet inside there is rotten bones and filthiness and death.
And what he was telling us was we need a Savior because we are spiritually dead and helpless without him, no matter how good we look on the outside.
In fact, that's why he came. In John 10:10, Jesus said, "I have come that you might have life". In fact, in John 5:24-25, the Lord encourages those who are dead by saying,
"Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live."
That is His invitation today. Live! We can make the choice to live by responding to His call.
On April 15, we will observe the 107th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. On that night, in the cold Atlantic, a grim countdown reached zero for over 1,500 of the 2,224 that were on board when the ship touted as unsinkable sank.
One of the saddest parts of the story is that many of the people on board died voluntarily. While the band played and people were running for their lives, many simply refused to believe the ship was going down. And while half-empty lifeboats pulled away to safety, they remained convinced the ship was unsinkable.
So they went to their death.
It seems to me that the Titanic is a graphic reminder of much, if not most of the population of the world. The world is quickly sinking, and taking them to their death. And all the environmentalists and politicians and educators and psychologists and religionists can’t stop the leaks. The band is playing and the party continues, but the whole world is sinking fast.
And for some people, it's just life as usual. But they are what John Eadie, the nineteenth century Scottish preacher described when he said, “Men without Christ are death walking."
But we’re going down, and Jesus is the only lifeboat, the only lifeboat who saves from inevitable death and takes you to the shore of God’s immortal heaven. What kind of fool dies voluntarily? Jesus offers Himself as your lifeboat.
Let’s pray.
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