Reading Sermon by Rev. Martin VanderWal
Sermon Theme: THE BELIEVER’S NATURAL DEATH
Text: Ephesians 2:1-3
Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, I do not know if you are aware of it or not, but there is a certain methodology that the translators of the King James Version used in their work to bring forth the Holy Scriptures from their Hebrew and the Greek origins into the English language. I call your attention to that fact because it has to do with the way we view this evening’s text. Translators of the King James, when they determined that they could make their English translation smoother or easier for the reader to understand, they inserted certain words. In order to distinguish those inserted words from what belonged to the original text of the Holy Scripture, they indicated those insertions by means of italics.
Thus we have rendered in our text in the first verse. Introduced into the naturally flowing order are the words, “hath he quickened.” Now, that is accurate. It was accurate for them to insert those words in the text, mainly because they follow through and are a reflection of the truth that we have in verse 5, “even when we were dead in sins;” there it is in the original – “hath quickened us together with Christ.” The translators determined these important words were too far along to find that main verb, that main action of God in the text, so they determined that they would also put it at the very beginning of the passage. Thus we have it in our translation “and you hath he quickened.” That is accurate.
But it is my conviction that in a sermon on this text we ought not rush ahead to that fact. Far better, I believe it is for us to look at the first verse as it is written in the original this way. Quite simply, “and you.. And you were dead in trespasses and sins.” You. Before that quickening, you were dead in trespasses and sins. It is easy for us to gloss over that truth. It is easy for us to rush quickly to the fact, even the historical fact of our regeneration, our quickening. And thus we might easily forget what we were before that regeneration, and what we are by nature. It is easy for us to forget that unpleasant truth concerning ourselves. It is easy for us to ascribe that death in trespasses and sins to the world, and never to us, not in any sense. It is easy for us to skip over the end of that death in trespasses and sins, namely the wrath of God. And that, too, is identified in our text – that we were the children of wrath even as others. It is too easy for us to go quickly to the fact of our regeneration, to the fact of our election, that distinction made by God in eternity, and to pass too quickly over our death and the wrath of God that was upon us on account of our death.
We need to understand that because only in that way can we truly value, can we truly appreciate the grace of God to quicken us. Just as we saw last week in the beginning of last Sunday evening’s sermon, to understand the power that God wrought in Christ to raise Him up in the heavenlies to his own right hand above principalities and powers, we needed to see first how low He was. We had to see the death and the burial of Christ, that God raised Him from the dead by that power. In order for us to see the magnificent grace of that power to work that same way in us too, we need to consider and we need to know how deeply we had fallen into that death. Not merely the death of the grave, but the death of trespasses and sins. Therefore it is worthy of hearing an entire sermon devoted to this fact of our death in trespasses and sins.
So we consider this text under the theme:
THE BELIEVER’S NATURAL DEATH
I. The Spiritual Corruption
II. The Deep Bondage
III. The Heavy Wrath
I. THE SPIRITUAL CORRUPTION
We can draw a certain parallel from the death of our Lord Jesus Christ to our death in trespasses and sins. Certainly there is a very clear difference. We have to operate within a very distinct limitation. We must say of our Lord Jesus Christ that never at any time was He dead in trespasses and sins. We must always say that He was always fully alive as perfectly righteous, as perfectly sinless in and of Himself. Yet we look at a particular feature of His death, the very same feature that we looked at last week – His place, out of which He was risen by the power of God, His death. That death was signified by His burial in the grave, a place beneath, below, a place apart from the sphere of life and light. And in that grave, He was dead. And there His body was laid as weak and helpless, having no power at all.
We must carry over that fact, that significance of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, into the truth that is taught in our text this evening. We must move from the death of Christ mentioned in Ephesians 1:20, to the death mentioned in chapter 2:1. “You were dead in trespasses and sins.” Now we must move into a completely different realm there than the grave. Oh, we must say that the similarities are there between Christ’s being buried in that grave and our death in those trespasses and sins. First death speaks of a realm first of all. For Christ that realm was the dead, a place. The same thing is true with respect to us by nature. Where were we? In a certain place, in a certain realm or sphere; and that realm or sphere defined by the two words mentioned by the apostle, “trespasses and sins.”
These trespasses and sins were the ground upon which you walked, the air that you breathed, the ocean in which you did swim. And now in that realm you were bound. In that realm you were held. You were without power, without any strength, weak unto any good. Who is it that can under their own power rise out of the grave, rise out of that realm of death into life? None. So it is true with this realm in which we once were. Without power, without strength to deliver ourselves.
Now you must understand how fully and how completely that weakness operates. It is not the case that in midst of that death of trespasses and sins, that you and I looked at ourselves and understood our state to be miserable, wretched. It was not our death that, knowing that wretchedness, that misery, somehow we might have cried out for deliverance, but yet be unable, too weak, to accomplish it. That death extended even to our hearts, to our wills. That death meant not only could we NOT deliver ourselves out of that sphere, out of that realm, but we neither wanted to be delivered out of that sphere, out of that realm, trespasses and sins.
But at a certain point, the parallelism ends. We cannot say – would that we could, I suppose – would that we could say it ended there, would that we might say, “My death in trespasses in sins is only a stillness or a resting.” Would that we might be actually and really according to that death, lying in the grave, not lifting a finger, not moving at all, not speaking a word, not having our hearts beat once, because the death in trespasses in sins is far worse.
You see, that one so dead still has within him a certain force or power of physical life. Though dead, in trespasses and sins, he stills lives, he still moves, his heart still beats, he still speaks. So that death in trespasses and sins means this: he is active in that realm. As he walks upon the ground, as his eyes look over the creation, this world, as he conducts himself in his business, he is dead in trespasses and sins. His death is a living, active death! Operating out of that principle of earthly life, all he does, ever, is commit trespass. All he does, ever, is sin against God. Not inactive, but very active. That is our death by nature.
That has its implications, you know. It has its implications for the doctrine of the well-meant offer of the gospel, that salvation is offered to all men head for head, as a possibility obtained by the death of Christ. And the idea is that God offers a gift, life, to everyone. But He requires something of them before they might receive that gift of life. He calls them to believe. And representing God, the minister preaches the gospel as an free offer to be accepted or rejected by all men. They need to do something. And it is not enough that they should sit in their chair. They must do something. They must come to the front. They must sign a decision card. And when they do that, they receive the gift of life.
That is utterly contrary to
the death expressed in our text. A dead
man cannot decide to believe the gospel.
A dead man cannot choose Jesus Christ.
A dead man cannot believe. He must
live before he can do one thing. He must
live before he can see, let alone enter, the
The second point of application. It is a burden for me to address the antithesis as it touches our daily lives in the midst of this world. And I say that in particular to the young people, but I’m sure it holds true of all of us. You young people look at the world. You see so much life there. They live. They move. They speak. They breathe. They talk. And they seem in certain ways to be more alive than you and I. They have the parties. They have the fun. They can do whatever they want. And you look at them in their activity, and you look at our text, “you are dead in trespasses and sins” and you think, “how can that text be true? I look around me and I see them as living. Perhaps I see the good that they do. The world can’t be all that bad.” And so it is very easy for us to justify a walk with that world, to have the children of this world as our companions, as our friends, to develop deep relationships with them, perhaps even to marry them, or at the least to date them. The truth of the matter is, they are dead in trespasses and sins. To run with the world is insane. What would you say of a man who took his shovel, went to the graveyard, dug up a grave, found a dead man lying in his casket, climbed into the casket and pulled the dirt back over him. What would say of that man? Is he not insane? When you run with the world, when you traffic in this death, is it not exactly the same thing?
Dead in trespasses and sins.
We have to work even further to uncover this death in all of its horror. There is one thing, another strong point of temptation for us to live with the world in the midst of it’s death, and that is the certain freedom that they boast of. Do you hear it? We draw the comparison. These boast of their freedom. They can do all the things that they want to do. They can do all the things that they want to do. They know what the scripture says. They know the law of God. They know it. And they understand that law of God to set a very tight and narrow way, the way of righteousness. They know that. They, in their trespasses and sins, range freely over the course of sin, from one sin to another sin. And they look at the church walking in this narrow way, and they say to us, “Why must you be so strict? Why must you be so uncompromising with the world? How awful you must have it. You’re bound up so tight, how can you even move at all? How can live? How can you breathe? Look at us! We have the freedom. We have the excitement. We can do whatever we please.” They look on us as dead, so narrow, so tight are we.
That is a powerful temptation. You and I look at that freedom. You see them enjoying the ways of their sin. It appeals to us. Are they not free? At least, are they not more free than what we are? Can they not do whatever they please? Not at all.
The first question that you must ask of this world, dead in it’s trespasses and sins, is not, “Do you have the freedom to do this?” Or, “do you have the freedom to do that?” That is not freedom according to Scripture. According to Holy Scripture there is one sort of freedom. And that is the freedom of righteousness, the freedom of holiness, the freedom of the love of God, the freedom of doing good. You ask of that world, “Can you do the good? Can you love God? Can you serve Him? Can you praise Him?” Not at all. Not one bit. Who is free? They cannot do any good. What bitter bondage.
II. THE DEEP BONDAGE
I want you to see how that bondage is identified very clearly in our text. On two different levels does this bondage consist. First, the world. And we according to nature are bound in that way. This is identified in verse 2 this way, “Wherein in time past ye walked..” A walk, a mode of behavior in which people live and move. Not just doing certain things, but a walk. Verse 3, “Among whom also we all had our conversation.” Along that walk, turning about here and there, carrying on certain business, carrying on certain trade with the world, in the midst of this world, speaking with others, doing things with others, a certain turning here, turning there, wherever we pleased. A walk and turning comprising the whole course of one’s life. Where is that course? It is all together bound to something. That course is identified by the phrase “according to” in verse 2. “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world.” A certain pattern, a certain mold, a certain way of this world. And according to that certain definite way, ye walked. According to this certain definite way, we all had our conversation in times past.
We have to go deeper than that. What is the source of this course? We find it in verse 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.” Lusts, heated desires and passions, uncontrollable, all coming out of the flesh, the depraved nature of man. That nature is pictured here as being on fire, being filled with a passion and a zeal, a fervency after the evil in order to do it and it alone, trespasses and sins.
You do not see that. The world does not see it. But understand how it operates as identified in our text. “Fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” You see, the hidden zeal, the hidden fire of the flesh is deeper than the mind, the mind through which the thoughts run, the mind in which careful deliberation takes place, one’s consciousness. But what drives that mind, even though it may calmly deliberate certain circumstances, even though it may make very careful deliberations, it is always under the government of the heated lusts of the flesh. The mind carries out those desires into the actions, fulfilling, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind.
No freedom at all. Deep bondage.
That is only part of the bondage. To be sure, that is bad. To have a mind fevered in its rebellion against God, out of that rebellion to think, and then to speak, and then to do. But there is another government at work as well. Under another being, terribly evil. Again you must see beyond what the world calls freedom. You must even see beyond the world itself, the children of the world themselves, but you must also see that world under the dominion, under the power of Satan. See the truth of the second verse. “Wherein in time past ye walked according to [the idea of rule] the course of this world, [and then another rule] according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” You see that course of the world – enveloping everything about that world, against God, dead in trespasses sins – that course of the world is under the complete control, under the authority of another being, the prince of the power of the air.
See those words, words that we considered in Ephesians 1:21. There you find that same word, “power.” In verse 21, “principalities.” Here is one of those, no longer heavenly now, but earthly, cast out of his former estate on account of his disobedience. He has no place in heaven, but now instead he is in the air. Words are used to describe his authority. There, “of the air,” (not of heaven) he is the prince. There he exercises, there he possesses a certain authority. He rules. He has dominion. And that dominion is the whole human race by nature.
Freedom? Does the world ever do as it pleases? Does the world ever do only according to what it wishes, even as dead in trespasses and sins? Such is this slavery that it is bondage even to the devil himself. Not free, but bound, in a very low, low way. As Christ is far above all principality and power and dominion and might and every name that is named – so far as Christ is above that, so far below is the unregenerate world under Satan. Such is the world’s death, such is its humility. He determines the course of unregenerate mankind. He determines the trends. He determines the fashions. He determines what its inhabitants will do. And he directs that world all in one way – against God. Using the world, as an instrument in his hand, he seeks to overthrow the works of God. He ever seeks to destroy the cause of God in this world. Satan is at work.
This rule and working of Satan is cloaked. It is not apparent to men. It is not understood by the children of men. We have that identified in this way, “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.” The spirit, this personal being, having a mind and a will, plotting and planning, called Satan, also acts as a spiritual being, not seen. His influence, as he influences, is not readily discovered. He works as a spirit, blowing like the wind. You see its effects. It has a definite effect, but he himself is not seen. Yet, presently working is he in these children of disobedience. Not seen, but he is active. And part of his activity is even the denial of his own existence. He understands that it is to his benefit that these men, women, and children, bound in the most wretched and miserable way, nevertheless think themselves to be free. It is to his advantage.
So much is his rage against God, that he works in this way, worse than any human dictator ever to appear among the children of men to rush them to their destruction. This one has been at work. All the talents, all the abilities, all the wisdom with which he was created, he now uses in the service of rebellion against the God who made him. And in his rebellion he uses and abuses the children of the world. They are merely pawns, yes, rational, moral, and therefore responsible. Nevertheless he uses them as pawns in his warfare against God and against Christ. That is the world. That is also you and I by nature.
We must not allow that to pass. We must understand that is exactly the point. All the things that I have said, you must be able to say (all of that), not about the world out there. But you must say that of yourselves. Application to the redeemed, renewed church is the very point of this text, beginning with the very distinct words, “and you.” You were dead in trespasses and sins. “Wherein in time past ye walked.” Then he joins himself, along with the Jewish believers, to them. Verse 3, “Among whom we also all had our conversation.” Then at the end of verse 3, “and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” That world out there – they are the children of wrath, they are the children of disobedience. Now they are dead in trespasses and sins. Now they walk according to the prince of the power of the air. Now the spirit of disobedience works in them. But aforetime, before, so were you. In times past, so did you. Do not minimize that. Do not pass over that fact so easily.
It is easy for us to do that. We look at our election, elect in Jesus Christ before the foundation of the world. It is true. On account of that election, the grace of God upon us, His grace of election in eternity. True. But, by nature as the children of disobedience, we are also children of wrath. Children of wrath.
III. THE HEAVY WRATH
It is important that we remember that awful word, “wrath.” We cannot deny it. We must know what that means. Children of disobedience, children of wrath. The one follows upon the other. Should you fail to heed the warning that I have given about running with the world, should you join the children of disobedience, you must never say, “That’s quite all right. I believe myself to be regenerate. I’m elect. So if I run with the world, I still have God’s favor, I still have God’s grace. I’m chosen.” You can never say that. Children of disobedience, children of wrath: We need to understand the weight of that.
It does not merely speak of what we deserve from a legal standpoint. It is not merely for us to say, “Well since we are sinners, since we know ourselves to be sinners, we know that rightly as we might otherwise deserve we ought to have God’s wrath upon us, we ought to be these children of wrath. But God is gracious. He has forgiven us through Jesus Christ. No more wrath, no condemnation.” We must see this from a very real standpoint. As the text puts it, “We were by nature children of wrath,” not in the legal realm, but by nature children of wrath. This is the way in which you and I were born into the world, with a nature that was dead, dead in trespasses and sins. It is put so well by the form for baptism. The first point of holy baptism is that we and our children are conceived and born in sin, and are therefore the children of wrath, and therefore we must be born again. Really children of wrath. The natural consequence of such disobedience in our nature even, is wrath, the heavy weight of God’s anger against sin and the sinner, that one who is disobedient.
Have you still doubt about that, the real character and nature of God’s wrath against His people by nature? Look at the cross. See the Son of God hanging upon the cross. Understand what He bore there, the heavy weight of God’s wrath as anger, as a destructive force, causing the Son to know and experience Himself as forsaken of God, suffering so greatly the heavy weight of that wrath crushing Him, requiring divine strength to sustain Him under that very real power. And exactly that was the wrath under which we were by nature. We were the children of wrath. Not merely those others, those disobedient ones, but we were the children of that wrath. What a difference has been wrought! How glorious is the grace of God!
Yes, there is a distinction, a distinction not by nature, a distinction which we could not nor would not make, a distinction that God made. How glorious to read of that distinction in our text. “You were that in times past.” You have to go back. Only when you go back can you see that depravity. Only when you go back can you see that death. But now, in the present, it works in those children of disobedience, but no longer in us. The difference, how glorious to read according to these words: “You hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins, wherein in time past ye walked.” Verse 3, “Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past.” Distinguished from those others!
Whenever you are tempted to walk with the world you must remind yourself of that. “I was once like that world. Their death was once mine. But I’m alive. I’ve been raised up out of that death. Why? Why would I want to go back to that death? I was that, but not any longer.” Only by the grace of God. That made the difference. We had no power to make ourselves different. We were dead in trespasses and sins, but when we were dead God did quicken us, taking us out of that awful bondage, out of that miserable death. And He brought us into the freedom, into the life of His service. By that deliverance He brought us into His glorious kingdom, raising us from the dead into the life of Jesus Christ. Yes, we were dead. But grace has quickened us. Rejoice in that grace! Give glory, give thanksgiving to God alone for it!