Paul lastly describes man’s evil heart. His description of man is so straightforward and extensive probably for the reason that he doesn’t want anyone deceived. Those who are self-righteous are more likely to deceive themselves than others. Paul himself was like this. He was trying to pop their balloon filled with ego. It is so easy to compare ourselves to each other rather think of our true circumstances from God’s perspective. Paul uses three statements in this verse to completely unmask this deceptive thinking. He no doubt has mastered these arguments because he has had to rehearse many times for himself. Truth like light shatters darkness with all its lies.
1) Our participation in living by the lusts of our flesh (Ephesians 2:3)
"Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh" (Ephesians 2:3).
In a sense, we wish Paul did not write so clearly. We want to know the truth but it can get rather revealing. We certainly like hearing those things in chapter 1 rather here in these few verses. We must, however, understand his argument. Not one of us has lived completely separated from the lusts of our flesh. We were all utterly polluted streams which infected things adjacent to our streams. While you might subjectively see some people as innocent or that sweet girl, we need to allow the truth of God to shape our judgment.
While all have lusts, we acknowledge that some people have expressed their lusts more openly than others. The fact is that without the restraints from family, religion and law, we would all more openly live our sinful desires. Some have learned however, often through a parent’s discipline, that it is better not to express their selfish desires. We dare not deceive ourselves of our natural cravings to feed our own self-interests. “Among them we too all formerly lived….” A parent’s proper discipline of their child does not eliminate these desires but keeps them from developing and expressing themselves so that they dominate their lives.
Let us draw two conclusions from this scripture from the perspective of the believer.
(1) Firstly, we all lived in the lusts of the flesh. We are no better, holy or acceptable before God than another. Because of our training, we might think better of ourselves because we hold off from the excessive of others, but we still naturally operate from a sinful heart. We just do not allow others to detect us. We can say that we are equally guilty of living by our sinful desires.
Do we not hear the world say? “I feel like it.” Those feelings are very often the same as the lusts of our desires. “I feel like watching that movie rather than pick up my room as my mother said.” “I wish I was like her. I like how the guys watch her.” These are self-focused thoughts wanting to gain more attraction than another. Children as well as adults have them. Just because they are more obvious in some, it does not mean that we are not all equally guilty.
(2) Secondly, this passage states that operating by these lusts is something that no longer describes God’s people. It is part of our past. We must not only say that Jesus is our righteousness. We must say that Christ living in us produces righteous lives. Our righteousness does not save us because our lives as a whole has sin, but surely our righteous lives today is proof that Christ lives in us. God’s people must be more holy than the world or we are the world. “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Without holiness we will not see the Lord. That is quite clear.
This does not mean that a believer in Christ cannot sin but only that he is not like he was. He now wrestles with sin. Sin for him is no longer natural but an enemy that he has to fight. He doesn’t like it when he gives in, but he stands again and gains victory when he calls upon Christ.
So is Paul’s statement here. “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of the flesh.” This was a former act. The proof that we have exited the world and the influence of the prince of the world is that its lusts are no longer animating us. That tendency to serve the self or indulge the flesh is a thing of the past. It might have been the way we were, but it no longer is true of us.
God chose us before the foundations of the world in Christ. Our salvation is a result of God setting His affection upon us (called foreknowledge) and certainly not on the basis of anything good that we have done. Only God can forgive us and only God can rescue us. He does it not because we were more worthy or likable. It was by His grace alone that we are saved and therefore we should never forget our roots, our valley, our low point so that we can rightly bring praise, adoration and glory to God our Savior.
2) The destitution of our flesh (Ephesians 2:3)
"(Lived in the lusts of our flesh,) indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind" (Ephesians 2:3).
Paul further clarifies the phrase, the lusts of the flesh in the second line of Ephesians 2:3. He tells us how we lived in these lusts. What happens from a scriptural point of view is that all people are ruled by their desires. These strong desires are rooted in the flesh and the mind. The evil one’s spirit animates our flesh, and we, in agreement, desire those things that fulfill ourselves. Instead of thinking about fulfilling ourselves, we ought to think about fulfilling God’s will. The world has a substitute for every truth. He deceives us. Let me amplify this a bit.
Satan tempts us all. He shoots thoughts into our minds. All of a sudden we are aware that we want something. It might be the desire to want an Apple TV or envy another who got praise for his research. We say to ourselves, “I must have one!” “I want that!” When we are in the world, we do our best to indulge in these desires. Those who are wealthy cover up many of their desires. They do not need to get frustrated. We just go and buy one. This, of course, does not mean that those who bought the latest gadgets are sinners or purchased one out of their lusts. The issues are much deeper. We should not judge others.
The Christian must, however, be careful not to allow these desires to rule their choices. We do not have to indulge in them no matter how strong they feel. Non-Christians only have the flesh which is pulsated by the breath of the prince of the power of the air. We must not strive to be popular or accepted by the world by what we have, say or do.
This is how we all lived. We are utterly and horribly trapped, but the Lord in His great love reached from heaven and saved us through Christ.
Be careful to discern between the two kinds of desires. Desires of the flesh and of the mind. Paul differentiates between them.
(1) Our sinful nature, called the flesh, feed the desires of flesh. They focus on pleasing ourselves. More than often they focus on the desires of our bodies and appetites. God gave us these basic desires but our willingness to indulge them beyond reason so that we live for them is evil. Be careful with wanting to move up in the world. You might just be indulging your flesh.
(2) Desires of the mind are those ideas that go through our mind. We might think of them as the more complicated things we do. They are the plots to get what we want. Moving ahead in the world means this or that needs to be done. We are willing to compromise here and take a risk there in order to get those things.
What we want becomes so dominating that we will do all sorts of things to get it including: cheating, stealing, deny our calling to act as God made us man or female, abort a baby, take drugs, speed or lie. It would include our clever financial strategies to get rich or the means to get the affection of another’s spouse. Often the mind works with the flesh in getting its way. As Christians, we still have an old man. We can be tempted. Did you ever plan on doing something right and good, but then this evil thought comes up suggesting how you might be able to get a little extra cash, fame or attention? This is the sinful desires of the mind at work.
Religions are borne from the mind. They are not telling us truth but are a set of statements that would have us believe a certain way about the world, ourselves, the spiritual world and others. Satan deceives great masses of people through these exploits of the mind. They are usually connected to the desires of the flesh through pride in that we think we are better than others.
3) A clear picture of our judgment (Ephesians 2:3)
"And were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest" (Ephesians 2:3).
Paul started off by saying that we were spiritual dead. He clearly inferred that we needed spiritual life. Here he not only talks about our natural state but our deserved judgment. Paul is not trying to speak those words that please people’s ears here. You might not like what he says either because it goes against the way you think. Our hope is that the scriptures will actually shape how we think.
We talk a lot of God’s love. Paul talks about God’s love as it is revealed in Christ. Here he speaks of God’s wrath. This speaks of God’s anger and indignation on mankind. This is not a reincarnation of the Old Testament God of wrath. God has never changed. God has always been clearly upset and responsible to bring judgment on all those who oppose His ways.
There are only two groups in the world: the unsaved and saved. But the author goes back to a point when all the saved were not saved. This gives us only one homogenous group. We were all in the same bowl of wrath. God was indignant with our disobedience and had placed the curse of judgment upon us.
Will you, oh Christian, stop thinking about how good you are and remember the situations from which God saved you? Will you start glorifying God how He saved you through Christ rather than thinking well how your life is? Will you who say you are God’s people and start living like it? You need to repent. You need to turn from your sins. Only then will you find hope in Christ. Lastly, will you commit yourselves to be God’s evangelists? I do not mean those who hold these huge crusades but those who will tell others how bad you were and yet how Christ changed and saved you. Tell them they too can become God’s children and escape God’s wrath through Christ. Just as parents live to give birth, so the church lives to bring new life.
Do you see how the apostle through these few words have spoke so powerfully on our lost condition? He shows us how hopeless we are apart from Christ. As Paul goes on in Ephesians, he will begin to show more and more what great things He has graciously done for His people. But we will never understand the full power of the gospel unless we frequent these truths here in these verses.
Wretched. Hopeless. Undesirable. Dead. Immoral. Lust-driven. Condemned.
All these were put in contrast from the grand picture of what He has done for us in Christ in chapter 1.
- He humbles us.
- He wants us to better appreciate God’s love for us in Christ.
- He wants us to reach out even to the most desperate people around us.
- Reminds us that we are saved by grace alone and not anything good in ourselves.
Paul wants to encourage us to sing this song of praise to the Lord even as he did in chapter 1. But we only can do this when we see the great contrast. God chose unlikely ones to be blessed for evermore. God did not choose us because we were likable but despite our horrible and sinful ways. In all this, God’s gracious ways are made manifest to all.
In Christ we have moved from the power of the evil one to the kingdom of His Son.
“For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13).
Paul has written this section for a purpose. He is alerting us of our condition to help us. But once you step from here, you will forget all this. Satan will send his pinions to snatch the word of life from you. You will face distractions. You will be busy.
What can you do as a result from this important message? Let me suggest that you choose one of the above.
√ Repent and believe in Jesus
Paul is always bringing the message to unbelievers. If you have seen your sins and sense God’s wrath on you, now is the time to call out to Jesus to save you and bring you into God’s family. He will forgive you no matter what sin is oppressing you. Now is the time to come to Christ.
√ Leave your sinful life
You call yourself a Christian but are living in the world. It is time you pick a side. Either you will be one who formerly lived in your lusts or one that is living in your lusts. Either you will find freedom in Christ to serve God only or you will be judged under God’s wrath. Do not let your empty confession fool you. God knows your life and all your secret sins. Now is the time to repent.
√ Cut off that one sinful desire
If the above two, do not seem to fit, may I suggest that you think of one area of weakness in our lives. It might be one area of indulgence that we allow in our lives. Probably nobody else knows. But God knows. By His grace ask Him to help you to cut it off. The following passages will tell you more how to do it.
Lastly, no matter what your important decision. Tell someone. Share what God is doing in your life. Preserve the power of God’s Word in your life.