1 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.
In a recent article in The New York Times (March 15, 2106), David Brooks wrote of the way a ‘shame culture’ is replacing a ‘guilt culture’. ‘In a guilt culture’, he writes, ‘people sometimes feel they do bad things; in a shame culture social exclusion makes people feel they are bad’.
Paul the Apostle, in his Letter to the Ephesians sees a deeper problem with us: You were dead through the trespasses and sins…
Our first response to this may be to think he is writing nonsense. We only have to observe the vigorous bodies of athletes, the agile minds of scholars and the vivacious personalities and perfect teeth of celebrities. How can he say that people like these are dead?
Clearly he sees life from a perspective we usually overlook – the issue of our soul. We all know that we are much more than the sum of our parts, that there is a spiritual dimension to our lives. When it comes to the real issue of life, Paul is saying that having a perfect body or a brilliant mind or the most charismatic personality will not help us. We have a soul problem.
And he tells us why we are spiritually dead: it is because of our trespasses and sins. Trespass is a false step – involving either the crossing of a known boundary or stepping away from the right path. Sin is missing the mark – falling short of a standard.
The two words highlight our predicament. There are our sins of commission: we have done what we ought not to have done. And our sins of omission: we have not done what we ought to have done.
CREATED IN GOD’S IMAGE
Here in a sentence is the irony of our human state. Created in God’s image for relationship with him, we choose to live without him. In his essential nature God wants to give life and to love the life he has given. We, also having the capacity to love, turn our love away from the very God who has given us this gift. And, Paul tells us, this is our condition until the Good Shepherd finds us.
So Paul goes on to write: But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us… (2:4) .
With these words he moves from speaking about the wrath of God to the mercy and love of God. He holds both together because he understands that they are held together in God’s essential nature.
It is so important we think about this, for it makes us realize that we need to pay careful attention to what angers God. It makes us realize that it is only right that we should turn to him and worship him because his justice is perfect.
It is because we fail to recognize the gravity of our true condition that we tend to put our trust in superficial remedies – better government, better education, better laws, more acts of charity, more equal distribution of wealth. There’s no doubt these things are pleasing to God but they can never rescue us from spiritual death, spiritual captivity or God’s condemnation.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should give up on providing better education or working towards a more just society, but the fact is we need a radical remedy – and this is just what God has done. God has given us a message of good news that offers life to the dead, freedom to captives, and forgiveness to the condemned.
This is what the first Easter was about – God providing the means for his reconciliation with us through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
You may want to consider:
- a ‘culture of shame’ and the real human tragedy;
- the way we turn the gift of love to anything but loving the Giver – God;
- God, who is rich in mercy.
Let me encourage you to pray
© John G. Mason, Reason for Hope – 40 Days of Bible Readings and Reflections – 2016. All Rights Reserved.