Paul's 2nd Letter to the Corinthians and Paul's Letter to the Ephesians

Commentary on the Book of Ephesians

By: Tom Lowe                                           Date: 2/27/17


Lesson 7: The Individual Believer’s Former State (2:1-3)


Ephesians 2:1-3 (KJV)

1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;

2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:

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.



In Ephesians 2:1, Paul turns suddenly to his readers and declares that, like Christ, they once were dead, and in Ephesians 2:2-3 he proves this. The intention of the apostle in this short section is to show the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and to express the sad estate and condition of man by nature, and to magnify the riches of the grace of God, and represent the exceeding greatness of His power in the conversion of sinners.


1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;


“And you hath he quickened”

The words “hath he quickened,” or “made to live,” have been supplied properly by our translators. “Hath he quickened,” is not in the original text, but is supplied from *Ephesians 2:5, where it will be explained. Here those who are quickened with Christ, and by the power and grace of God, are described in their natural and unregenerate state. The object of the apostle is to show the great power which God had demonstrated to the people (Ephesians 1:19); and to show that this was performed in connection with the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and his exaltation to the right hand of God in heaven. The words “hath he quickened” mean, he has made alive, or made to live. (John 5:21; *Romans 4:171 Corinthians 15:36)


“Who were dead in trespasses and sins”

It is affirmed here of those to whom Paul wrote at Ephesus, that before they were converted, they were “dead in sins.” There cannot be found anywhere a more explicit proof of depravity than this, and no stronger language can be used. They were “dead” in relation to that to which they afterward became alive, that is, “to holiness.” Of course, this does not mean that they were dead in all respects. It does not mean that they had no human life, or that they did not breathe, and walk, and act. Nor can it mean that they had no living intellect or mental powers, which would not have been true. Nor does it settle any question as to their ability or power while in that state. It simply states a fact--that in relation to real spiritual life they were, as a consequence of sin, like a dead man in regard to the objects which are around them.


A corpse is insensitive. It doesn’t see, it doesn’t hear, and it feels nothing. The sounds of music, and the voice of friendship and of alarm, do not arouse it. The world is busy and active around it, but it is unconscious of it all. It sees no beauty in the landscape; it does not hear the voice of a friend; it does not gaze upon the glorious sun and stars; and is unaffected by the running stream and the rolling ocean. And it is the same with the sinner in regard to the spiritual and eternal world. He sees no beauty in religion; he cannot hear the call of God; and he is unaffected by the dying love of the Savior. He is unconcerned with all these things, and sees no more beauty, than a dead man does in the world around him. In fact, this is the condition of a sinful world. There is, indeed, life, and energy, and motion. There are vast plans and projects, and the world is intensely active. But in regard to religion, all is dead. No human power can arouse the sinner to act for God, anymore than human power can rouse the sleeping dead. The same power is needed in the conversion of a sinner that is needed in raising the dead; and both acts demonstrate the omnipotence of Him who can do it.


2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:


“Wherein in time past ye walked,”

Sins and transgressions are a road or path, in which all unconverted sinners walk; and this path is a dark, crooked, and broad one, which leads to destruction and death, and yet it is a way, which they choose, approve of, and delight to walk in; and walking in it denotes a continued series of sinning, an obstinate persisting in it, a growth in iniquity, and pleasure taken in it. And the time spent walking in this path, which here is said to be in “time past,” shows that the elect of God before conversion, walk in the same road that others do; and that conversion is a turning away from this path; and that when persons are converted, the course of their walking is altered.


“Wherein” is used here to mean “in which” or “where.”


“Ye walked,” or rather,“you lived.”  Titus 3:3 tells how we lived in “time past” (before we were saved): “For at one time we too were foolish, disobedient, misled, enslaved to all sorts of desires and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.”


“according to the course of this world” 

“Wherein ye walked” in conformity with the customs and manners of the world at large. The word rendered here as “world” means “age,” but is often used to denote the present world, with its cares, temptations, and desires; and here it denotes chiefly the people of earth before conversion.


“The course,” or age: the whole stream and tendency of things looked upon as moving forward in time.


“According to the course,” that is, carried along by the moving current of men and things, all belonging to “this world.” The two words “course” and “world” represent the same idea in its reference to time and space respectively. And each word recalls the vast complexity of things and movements. The combination presents this idea with a completeness not found elsewhere.


“This world,” refers to the whole realm of men and things, which are looked upon as being hostile to Christ. The meaning is that they had lived formerly as other people lived, and the idea is strongly conveyed that the way of the people of this world is to walk in trespasses and sins. The sense is that there was by nature no difference between them and others, and that all the difference which now existed had been made by grace.


“according to the prince of the power of the air:”

This is not to be understood as applying to any supposed power the devil has over the air, by divine permission, to raise winds. It refers instead to a league of devils, which have their residence in the air. This is how the Jews saw it, that there are harmful and accusing spirits, who fly about “in the air,” and that there is no space between the earth and the firmament that is free of them, and that all space is full of a multitude of them. And this was also the opinion of the Chaldeans, and the Pythagoras, and Plato, that the air is full of demons. Now there is a prince who is at the head of these demons, called Beelzebub, the “prince” of devils, and the devils under him are as thick as flies in the air [“But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils” (Ephesians 6:12).]  There can be no doubt that Satan is Beelzebub, in this verse and that Paul means to say that they were under his control as their leader and prince. The phrase, “the prince of the power,” may mean either “the powerful prince,” or it may mean that this prince had power over the air, and lived and reigned in the air. The word “prince” means one first in authority and power. Apparently, Paul accepted and used this common perception of the devil as embodying a truth he wished to teach. His Words remind us that all around are spiritual enemies, as near as the air we breathe. Over these reigns a tremendous potentate who rules an invisible kingdom of countless unseen powers, who do his bidding; and the Christians to whom Paul now writes once walked among them.


“the Spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience;”

By “spirit” is meant, not the lesser devils (demons) that are under the prince, nor the spirit of the world which comes from him, and is not of God; but Satan himself, who is a spirit, and an evil one, and an unclean one; and who operates powerfully in unbelievers, who are called here “children of disobedience,” or unbelief; just as "children of faith” refers to believers. Satan exerts great influence over “unbelievers,” especially the reprobate part of them. He blinds their minds, and fills their hearts, and puts into them the desire to do the worst of crimes; and in fact, he has great power over the elect themselves while they are in a state of unbelief, and leads them captive at his will; and of these, it may be said that when they are in a lost condition that they walk after him, when they imitate him, and do his lusts, and comply with what he suggests, dictates to them, or tempts them to do.


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 fulfil 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 inclination, 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.



Scripture References

* 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.”


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