DEAD, DISOBEDIENT, DECEIVED
These are my notes for teaching the Cornerstone Bible Study on Wednesday, June 24, 2020.
Part 8 of Ephesians. Ephesians 2:1-3
Today, we're examining the underbelly of the human condition. This is a bad news teaching. But it will make next week's good news teaching feel all the sweeter.
Before we go any further, let's read Ephesians 2:1-4:
(Ephesians 2:1-4, NLT) Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. 2 You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. 3 All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else. 4 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much ...
The passage tells us that before we met Jesus Christ we were dead, deceived and disobedient. And that set humanity on a path to self-destruction.
Now, don't click out of this because it's not all happy clappy. We need to know this because: 1) it tells us why the world is so messed up, 2) it tells us why our hearts should be breaking for people in the world, and 3) it tells us how God responds to people who are dead in sins and disobedient.
I'm not pointing any fingers and I haven't forgotten that this is my biography too. I was once dead, disobedient, and deceived. Then Jesus rescued me. No, I did not turn over a new leaf. No, I did not get religion. I got Jesus and he changed my life forever. More about that next week.
DEAD AND DISOBEDIENT
Don't get the wrong impression. I'm not all doom and gloom. There are so many positive and wonderful people and organizations in the world. There is beautiful artistic work, and life-changing medical science, and breakthrough advances in knowledge. There are heroes and heroines. There are kind and generous friends and families. You don't have to follow Jesus to be a good, like-able, person. Obviously.
But that's not what our passage appears to be negating or denying. Rather, our passage is helping us look beneath the surface to see people from a different perspective - as God sees them at the core of their being.
Have you ever been snorkeling or diving in the ocean. When we were in the Florida Keys, we went on a glass bottom boat and it is was cool but the coral and fish weren't that impressive. But when I went snorkeling a few yards from our campsite, the situation was totally different. There are so many beautiful colors or fish and coral. It was amazing.
Things look different beneath the surface.
God's perspective on people is that he wants to measure them by their love for him. And that love is measured by their obedience to him. And when those standards are applied, God's perspective is that people are dead and disobedient.
Dead people don't love God. They deny him or avoid him. They don't want to know him or submit to him. Ephesians 4 provides more detail:
(Ephesians 4:18, NLT) Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him
Dead people don't all look the same or behave the same and they don't look dead - they are the living dead. There are a billion ways to live without God. But there is only one reason for it: their hearts are hard towards God.
Some Dead People Are In Churches
Dead people may attend churches. I used to use the phrase spiritually dead, but then I realized that isn't true. We may be dead to God, but we're still spiritual and we seek out spiritual things and experiences without God.
Dead people may serve in churches and may even be leaders and generous supporters of churches and charities. They may sing hymns and read the Bible but they aren't open to God and they don't love him. The light of Christ hasn't switched on. They are living in spiritual darkness and as we'll see soon their hearts are enslaved to Satan. Sadly, they may not realize what's going on.
In my experience:
A dead person is very pleased with Jesus until someone tells them they are a sinner who desperately needs a Savior. How dare you?
A dead person may affirm that Jesus is God with us but will adamantly refuse to submit themselves to his rule in their life. I had a boss who was an elder in a church. He was outraged and his face went purple when I told him I couldn't do what he wanted because it would be unfaithful to Jesus. He said, leave Jesus in church, this is business.
A dead person may sing hearty worship to God until the day God fails to give them the life they want. Then, they walk away from the faith and denounce God.
But what they do not do is glory in Christ and delight in him as their greatest treasure. They are not open to the voice of the Holy Spirit and they live on their own term and do things their own ways relying on their own resources.
Most Dead People Are Not In Churches
Obviously, there are many dead people not in churches. They may be religious one way or another, or they may irreligious. As I mentioned, there are a billion ways to live without God, but it all flows from the same spring: their hearts are hard to God.
That was me and I still remember what it was like to deny and avoid God. I remember resisting him and doing my own thing knowing it was wrong and not caring.
When our hearts are hard towards God, it results in extreme self-centeredness. That's what Ephesians 4 goes on to say:
(Ephesians 4:18-19, NLT) Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19 They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.
No shame. Ruled by pleasure. Guided by self-centered drives. What a bio. Result: a moral free-for-all in which people do whatever they want to get whatever they want without consideration for anyone else.
We can trace every evil in the world to this. We are technologically advanced but morally bankrupt, dead and disobedient. We ignore God and we are self-absorbed.
But that's not all. We are also captives.
DECEIVED - CAPTIVES
God made people to enjoy him and his love forever, but something has gone badly wrong. Without Jesus, we are held captive to three forces that control our lives - and we don't know it:
The world - verse 2: the social value-system, which is alien to God. The price tags have all been switched so that we value what God hates and we hate what God loves. When we're controlled by the world, we think everything is just great. What's wrong with loving ourselves, and enjoying shopping, and getting more and more stuff, and living for success just like everyone else in our subdivision? We don't realize that it's all a great deception that works against us to keep us from God.
The sinful nature or flesh - verse 3: God made us with legitimate needs and desires. However, by launching out on our own without God, we have turned these needs and desires into out-of-balance obsessions. We twist God's good design for such good things as food, possessions, relationships, sex, safety and meaning into ways of living that are harmful, hurtful, destructive and self-destructive. No boundaries, no truth, no right and wrong. All we're left with is doing whatever feels good.
The devil - verse 2: The devil is a stealth agent of evil, secretly working inside our minds to influence us away from God. He lies to us, deceives us, tempts us to sin, and kills us. We're in an unseen war and we don't know it.
This was our story before Jesus set us free. We were enslaved to internal and external influences that worked together to destroy us and deny God his glory. We thought we were flourishing and really doing well. In fact, we were blind and dead to God and his plan to love and take care of us. We go for what we think is the good life now and miss out on God forever.
WHY IS THE WORLD MESSED UP AND WHY SHOULD IT BREAK OUR HEARTS?
So, everyone without Jesus Christ is dead and disobedient to God. We avoid him, deny him, and defy him. Not only that, we are deceived and held captive to invisible forces, ideas, and persons who want fill our minds with lies so that we pursue what does not ultimately matter but miss out on God who matters supremely.
This manifests itself in a billion different ways and most of the ways look really healthy and positive, but the root is always the same - it is a life lived without God.
And that's why the world is messed up. It's under the control of Satan and he has sown lies that keep people without God in bondage to ideas and ideals and ways of life that are ultimately empty.
The world is full of people living a lie, following false philosophies, planning their lives without any interest in what God wants. Our communities are full of godless, self-centered, and self-absorbed people who stop at nothing to get what they want.
You can be a godless suburban family. You can be a godless urban terrorist. But you are still godless.
That sounds grim, but that is exactly what the Bible teaches us about life without Jesus Christ: dead, disobedient, and deceived.
And you can see why it should break our hearts.
HOW DOES GOD RESPOND TO DEAD, DISOBEDIENT, DECEIVED PEOPLE?
Thank God he does not leave us dead, disobedient, and deceived. He steps in to help.
There is a bit of a division among Christians, between those who emphasize God's love for sinners and those who emphasize God's anger at sinners. Who is correct?
The answer is right here in Ephesians 2:
3b By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else. 4 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much ...
Is God angry? Yes. Is God loving? Yes.
John Stott describes God's anger as "his personal, righteous, constant, hostility to evil, his settled refusal to compromise with it, and his resolve instead to condemn it" (God's New Society, p. 76).
God does not shrug at sinful people. Nor does he turn a blind eye to them. How does God manifest his anger? In Romans 1, Paul writes:
(Romans 1:18, 24) But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness... 24 So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired.
God manifests his anger leaving us to do what we want. That is truly frightening. We see the evidence every day. As American culture drifts further from the historic consensus about what constitutes goodness, beauty, value, right, and wrong, we see increases in selfish and self-absorbed behavior, whether in riots in the cities or school shootings in the suburbs.
Drug abuse, child abuse, pornography and human trafficking. Oppression, injustice, poverty, wealth, and the pursuit of pleasure as the purpose of life. Homelessness and house proud. Self-indulgence. Indifference to the sufferings of others. Loss of conscience. People who won't work and people who live to work. Depression, anxiety, exhaustion. It's all the same: We remain selfish, uncaring, afraid, greedy, angry, bitter, entitled, racist, abusive, perverse and on and on because without Jesus we are all dead - God is dead to us.
These are all signs that Satan has orchestrated human division, conflict, violence, immorality, emptiness, foolishness, desperation, and godless living. He wants to destroy us and to steal God's glory and he's doing a great job at it.
Why? God lets us do whatever we want. That's how he shows his anger.
But that's not the whole story. God also acts towards us in love and mercy - verse 4. He intervenes. We know how: he comes into the world to rescue us in his Son, Jesus Christ. He raises the dead to life. He opens blind eyes. He sets the captives free. He is the truth that defeats the lies. He cleanses and removes our guilt. He brings us home to God. The love and mercy of God are revealed in Jesus Christ.
More about Jesus next week. In the meantime, know this: Jesus is here, now, wherever you are. He is waiting for you to invite him in to change your heart. Reach out and receive him now as your God and Rescuer/Savior.