In this instalment in the series of articles ofwe hope to finish our expository studies on this passage. Not that we could not write more on it, but we trust that what we thus contribute will aid our readers in some measure to appreciate their great heritage in Christ; to see by the strength of the enlightenment of the heart, and that by way of contrast, what is the exceeding greatness of the power of God in Christ to us who believe, in raising us out of such a great death with Him into heavenly places.
And we trust that what we intend to discuss in this final article on these verses will still be a substantial contribution to that knowledge in Christ. For Paul is here not adding an unnecessary detail, but he is adding an important element, which is necessary for our prayerful reflection. Paul is here still speaking of our awful depravity, of our being “dead by reason of our trespasses and sins”. However, in this last part (verse 3) he really underscores two elements, which were already implied in the former verses, but which are not so prominently set forth.
Before we state which these two elements are we will here quote this third verse, so that both you as reader and I as the writer know what we are discussing. Paul writes here: “Among whom we also all once lived in the lust of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest“. (verse 3)
Now, when we look at this verse rather closely, we notice that Paul here has two main points of difference in mind. In this verse he speaks, first of all in the first person, and in the plural number. Instead of speaking of “ye” he says “we”. And not only does Paul here speak of “we” but he also makes this “we” universally true of the whole believing Church, whether they be Jew or Gentile, bond or free, barbarian or Scythian. We “all” once walked among the “rest of men” in the power of sin and under the Prince of this world. The second prominent element here is, that Paul works out more in detail just wherein this being “dead by reason of our trespasses and sins” consists; he works out exactly how this depravity shows itself concretely in the sinful life of each believer in their former state and walk, and how we can therein see that we were indeed the “children of wrath” even as “the rest”.
Let us try to understand a little more in detail what this implies.
For we are sure, that by the sanctifying grace of God, such a better understanding of what Paul here states concerning our natural depravity, will enable us to gauge our thoughts in the light of the perfect law of liberty against which “even the smallest inclination or thought. . . .shall never rise in our hearts”. Heid. Cat. Qu. 113.
To our mind it may be deemed as being exegetically established, that in the phrase “among whom we all had our conversation. . . .” the translation “among whom” gives the correct sense as intended by the apostle and expressed in the Greek original. It is true that the original (en hois) may also be translated “in which”. Should this be the translation then the relative pronoun “which” would not refer to the “sons of disobedience” (vs. 2) but to the phrase “sins and trespasses” in verse 1.
However, we believe that the antecedent noun here is “sons of disobedience”, and that, therefore, the translation “among whom” is correct. In the first place because in the Greek “sons of disobedience” is in the masculine gender, and so is the pronoun “hois”, that is “whom”, while the phrase “trespasses and sins” is in the feminine gender. Secondly, because it is the more natural antecedent one naturally expects the relative pronoun to refer to the nearest noun. And, what is the most conclusive reason of all, is, that the limiting clause “in the lusts of our flesh” refers directly to the sins and trespasses, and that therefore, it would be confusing to refer us by this relative pronoun to “sins and trespasses” once more.
No, that relative pronoun here refers to “sons of disobedience”, to those who are in their whole life and conduct disobedient, unpersuasive, rebellious; in whom every word and command of God brings out nothing but obstinate rebellion. In them is no good at all, for they never seek out God. That they are estranged from the life of God is manifest in the last jota, in the extremity of their existence and walk. Children of unpersuasiveness they are.
Now, we formerly had our walk with them. We went in and out among them. Our whole life was intertwined with theirs, it was all of one fabric. It was not merely so that we were unavoidably cast into the same world with them in the sense that the Christian cannot wholly avoid having natural contacts with fornicators in this world. Of this latter Paul speaks in. There he tells the Corinthian converts, the believers, that they must not mingle with those who sell their body for lusts. These must in no wise be their chosen associates. The adage holds also here: tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who’ you are. Now, Paul adds here that it will be impossible to wholly avoid contact with fornicators, else one must go out of the world. So there is an unavoidable contact in this world. But that contact is quite other from the “going in and out” with the world, which formerly was the case with the saints in Ephesus. From the viewpoint of their natural disposition and walk they were then “world”, pure and simple. They were just like these sons of disobedience; they too were “children of wrath”. For disobedience brings the wrath and holy disfavor of God from heaven. And all that was in us evoked this wrath of God! Nay, it did not evoke the hatred of God, but that was not due to the lack of disobedience, but this is only due to the sovereign determination in everlasting love to save. But “by nature” children of wrath we were.
We were just like the rest!
God looked from heaven to see if any understood. And there was not one. No, not one!
Here is the condemnation not merely of “the Pharisee” pictured in Jesus’ parable. Him, there in the parable, it is easy again in pharisaistic self-righteousness to condemn. To say that self-righteousness is terrible, and to condemn this most profusely is an easy matter. But to understand that thus you and I cannot even stand before God; yes, in joyful thankfulness and still in deep contrition of heart to confess that such is our picture, our actual state and condition by nature, that is another matter.
Yes, we too walked “in the lust of our flesh, doing the will of the flesh and of the mind”. We all did, says Paul.
Here the apostle lifts the veil on the inner depravity. Here is the valley of the dry bones. Here is the inner part of the cup that must be cleansed. Here is striking corruption in the Holy nostrils of God. The lusts of the flesh? Lusts are misdirected desires of the will when measured by the perfect law of God. If this latter be forgotten, namely, that “the least desire against any of God’s commandments never even rise in our hearts”—I say, if that be forgotten, or what is worse, be denied, then there are no lusts and then what the Scriptures denote are being lusts are merely natural self-expressions with which we must not tamper. But we, who believe the Word of God, know that “lusts” are nothing else but misdirected desires, desires contrary to the perfect law of God. And the most common expression of these is in our flesh. Now it is true, that lusts are not limited to the sensuous is most often on the foreground. Adam and Eve immediately perceived that they were naked when they had eaten of the forbidden tree.
However, lusts are such that they reveal themselves as being rooted in a conscious purpose. Paul here speaks of the “things willed of the flesh and of the mind”. Recently a brother asked me—asked me as though it were a doubtful matter, whether most of our sins were not perpetrated with the “thoughts”. Now of this latter there should be no question at all to the enlightened saint. And that for the very simple reason that this is simply taught us here in Holy Writ and it is verified in the experience of every man. Oh, those thoughts! Who can discern his errors, pleads the Psalmist, cleanse Thou me from secret faults (sins). Let the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer. ()
Yes, lusts and thoughts, are closely related and they together have a will, or rather, they desire certain concrete ways, which are contrary to God.
That we did. We executed this in life, says Paul. Yes, we all did by nature. And, even now this law of sin in our members often takes us captive. And, if we are honest in our spiritual inventory, we will say:
I know that in me, that is in my flesh, there dwells no good. The law is holy and righteous and good, but I am carnal, sold under sin! Always this old master of sin wants again to take over the reins in our life. It wishes to rule in our body. And by grace we pray “that since we are so weak in ourselves, that we cannot stand for a moment; and besides this since our mortal enemies, the devil, the world and our flesh, cease not to assault (!) us, do thou therefore preserve and strengthen us by the power of thy Holy Spirit, that we may not be overcome in this spiritual warfare, but constantly and strenuously may resist our foes, till at last we obtain a complete victory.”
Oh, I know Paul is speaking of what we were prior to faith in and obedience to the Son of God, but a little inventory on what we are now will verify in our own mind the unshakeable truth of what we were then!
Yes, we were just like the rest. We were just like the rest of men: extortioners, unjust, adulterers, publicans and sinners!
We all were so, says Paul. Yes, Paul means: such were all the saints in Christ Jesus. Of these Paul is here speaking. He is not here speaking of himself and all the Jewish-Christians, but he is standing here speaking in the first person among all the saints, whether they be Jew or Gentile, bond or free, man or woman. It makes no difference: we all were thus.
Yes, Paul in the front row. He calls himself the chief of sinners. God made an example of him. He, the proud Pharisee, as to the righteousness of the law blameless. But when the grace of God is revealed in him: he asks on the road to Domascus: Lord, what wouldest Thou have me to do? How Paul here prayed for mercy! He smote upon his breast, and did not dare to raise his eyes! He, the man perfect according to the righteousness of the law, now says: my sins, Lord, are more than I can count. Oh, remember not the sins of my youth. And he received mercy. (; ). And he became the medium through whom Christ might show all His longsuffering for an example of them that should thereafter believe on him unto eternal life!
Rut Paul does more here than make a personal confession. He is here writing in the name of God the Father and His Son by the Holy Spirit. And we are here placed next to Paul, we who have heard and believed the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation. And our name is: redeemed sinners!
I read in the gospel narrative: And all the publicans and sinners came to Him.
We, too, are in that group, and now His love is only sweetness.