Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 3/15/1998
"And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which your formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were children of wrath, even as the rest."
The first chapter of Ephesians ends with a discussion of the power of God which will perform his eternal purpose, a power that has already brought Jesus from death to life and exalted him from the pit of Hell to the pinnacle of Heaven. Chapter two then begins to apply that power specifically to the believer, who, like Christ (and indeed in Christ as his representative, mediator, and head) is alao brought from death to life, from sin to justification, from defeat to victory. In vv. 1-3 we have the death from which we are delivered; in vv. 4-7 the life to which we are delivered; and in vv. 8-10 the means by which and the purpose for which we are delivered.
VV. 1-3 then are a spiritual autopsy of man dead in trespasses and sins; they are a spiritual morgue. It is not a pleasant place, but we must not hurry over it to get to the more pleasant description of the life we have in Christ in vv. 4-7. For these verses are absolutely foundational. One of the main reasons for the cheap and shallow understanding of salvation that afflicts the Church is an inadequate realization of what we are saved from. Last week we looked at the meaning and nature of spiritual death. This week we examine the world of living death created by that principle of sin: its nature and its influence on your life.
What does it mean that we formerly walked "according to the course of this 'world'"? The word "world" in Greek is KOSMOS, which mean not the planet as such but a world or universe considered as an ordered whole. We get from it our English word "cosmetics," the mysterious process whereby ladies put the "worlds" of their faces "in order." (At least, that's the propaganda the industry puts out. Hamlet knew well enough what fools you women make of us: God hath given you one face, and you make for yourselves another!). The emphasis of KOSMOS is on organization. It can refer to the physical universe or to any system of thought or things (like a woman's face) organized and unified by a single principle. In a Scriptural context like this, then, "this world" does not mean the physical creation but rather the fallen order of things organized under Satan in opposition to God. That is its meaning in 1 Jn. 2:15 ("Do not love the things of the world"), 5:4 ("Whoever is born of God overcomes the world"), etc.
In Ephesians 2, it expresses the important truth that salvation is not just an escape from death so much as a deliverance from the whole "world" or "system" of death, the racket that keeps the spiritual cemetery stocked with victims. The believer should not be walking in accordance with that any more. The greatest need of the hour is to realize this: To follow Jesus Christ is to swim upstream, to refuse to go with the flow of this world that leads but to the grave. H. Dermott MacDonald said that when we were dead in sin we were just "drifting along on the stream of the world's ideas of living." When believers were dead, they were like a stick floating in the river; they had no choice or ability to do otherwise. To be made alive by Christ means being made able to swim again! The tragedy is that so many Christians continue to drift. I therefore call upon you to buck the current, to go against the flow of this world in the power of the One who lives within you!
This world system of death is run by "the Prince of the power of the air," a curious designation for Satan. Just as salvation is not merely an individual affair by involves us in a solidarity with all other believers in the Church, that body of which Christ is the head, so there is a solidarity in sin as well. The "world" is the "body of Satan" as it were. What does it mean to call him the "Prince of the power of the air"? It may be that air stands for the region between heaven (the abode of God) and earth (the abode of man). Satan would then be pictured as coming between us and God. It may be that air is totally pervasive and fills all spaces. "The world" has that kind of influence on earth. Either way, Satan is described as a spirit that is "working" in the sons of disobedience. He is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Sin is not just an option sitting "out there" that you can choose or not as the whim takes you. We tend to think of it as a neutral choice; we can take it or leave it. But it is not. It is an active principle; it is after you. The "world" as Stan's organized kingdom also is aggressive, and it will get vicious when it is challenged. Just take a clear and forthright stand against promiscuity, abortion, and relativism on most campuses or in most jobs in this country and see what will happen to you! Therefore a strong and conscious and deliberate stand against it is necessary. Otherwise we will be co-opted by it if not ensnared by it, and our witness will be neutralized. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world; for if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. They are utterly incompatible one with the other, and no one can serve two masters.
Too often we have been satisfied with a concept of "worldliness" that is not only incredibly superficial but also utterly unbiblical: "I don't drink, smoke, cuss, or chew / And I don't go with girls that do." The actual content of worldliness is laid out clearly in this passage in terms of two principles: Rebellion and Indulgence.
REBELLION: In v. 2 the dead in sin are described as "sons of disobedience." This is a Hebrew idiom meaning "having the essential nature of." Sons of thunder are thunderous people; a "son of stripes" is a person who deserves to be beaten. So to call sinners "sons of disobedience" is to say that worldlings are rebellious by nature. So the first key element in worldliness is disrespect for authority. This was the original sin of Satan, who refused to accept God's authority. And still he works to impale us on the horns of the false dilemma of chaos or tyrrany. He loves tyranny (not to be confused with legitimate authority) because it breaks the human spirit and leaves it susceptible to every form of evil. And he loves and promotes chaos because it leads to tyranny.
We see this spirit of rebellion in the world. The world says, "Nobody has the right to tell me what to believe." (Well, maybe not; but I do have a responsibility to tell you the truth.) The world says, "Don't impose your morality on me!" (OK, fine. There is, after all, no such thing as "my" morality or yours; there is only morality and immorality.) We see it in pop culture, in music and tv shows. We see it in the Supreme Court, which makes a wax nose of the Constitution, and in scholarship which does the same thing to literature. Do not forget that the word "authority" derives from the word "author." The driving force behind the subjective hermeneutic of today's secular academy is ultimately the refusal to accept any authority over the way we read: Derrida says that "The author must die so that the reader may live." And he knows quite well that this is merely a sophisticated version of the Nietzschean claim that God must die so that the sinner may live with no external claims on his life or his allegiance.
Unfortunately, we also see this worldly spirit of rebellion reflected in the Church. We see it in the hordes addicted to the media church because they value convenience over obedience, but even more because they can thus avoid commitment and accountability. We see it in seminary professors who waffle on the authority of Scripture, who toy with the worldly postmodern hermeneutic that theoretically strips any text of its "pretensions" to authority. We see it in Christian celebrities with their easy divorces, rationalizing their way around the fact that Jesus said not to. We see it in the incredible credibility given to the theology that says that Jesus can be savior without being lord. We see it in young people who do not take their devotions, their Sunday School teachers, their parents, or anything else seriously. They are walking according to the course of this world, whtever they may mouth about their devotion to Christ.
INDULGENCE: This spirit of rebellion leads to "indulging" the desires of the mind and of the flesh" (v. 3). "Flesh" is SARX, which means, not the body (SOMA), but fallen human nature as it is opposed to the Holy Spirit. "Desire" is EPITHUMIA, sometimes translated "lust." It refers to any strong, demanding, craving desire that tries to rule your life. It does not necessarily refer to sex. It can be any desire, for sex, food, sleep, excitement, knowledge, power. These things are not evil in themselves; they become manifestations of worldliness when they rule you, when you insist on enjoying them outside God's authority over them and you, when they become the reason for your existence rather than loving God, serving him, glorifying him, and enjoying him forever.
The world is then absolutely committed to indulging the lusts of the flesh and of the mind. What does the world say? "You only go around once in life, so you've got to grab all the gusto you can get." Teenage sex is inevitable; self control would go against our commitment to rebellion, so just provide them with free contraceptives and let them have fun! "Master Card, I'm bored." The world says you can stitch your self worth in a label on the back of your jeans or the side of your tennis shoes. The world says, "The quality of your life just might depend on the quality of your investments."
Do we not see? Smoking, drinking, dancing, cards, etc. can be manifestations of worldliness but they are not the essence of it! The essence of it is rebellion against God and all rightful authority under him leading to and justifying the indulgence of the desires of the flesh and of the mind, not as good gifts to be received from him and used as he directs but as in themselves the ultimate reason for living. The world has been saying these things all along, but the 60's was the first decade and the Boomers the first generation that made it respectable to say them: "Do your own thing" (rebellion) and "Let it all hang out" (indulgence). In newer, more up to date, and hipper slang, and in the jargon of acdademia, it continues to say them loudly, cleverly, subtly, blatantly, and constantly. Do you not think this has gotten into the Church--even those churches that still don't drink or dance? Where else did we get the theology of "health and wealth," the most unashamedly worldly theology in the history of the Church? Open your eyes! We are not winning the world or transforming those we do win because we are not presenting a real alternative to the world: we are walking according to the course of this world!
The cure for worldliness does not lie in the number of rules we have or the zeal we expend in keeping them. That is to fight the symptoms and ignore the cause. It does lie in three basic steps:
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams