Facing the Truth About Ourselves

The first step to overcoming or managing any addiction is admitting to yourself that you have a problem that you cannot control. For AA meetings to be helpful a person must reach the point where they admit “I am and always will be an alcoholic”. The principle is simple: you can’t address a problem that you won’t admit you have.

In the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians Paul focused on the nature of God and the power that God has extended to us. As we move to chapter 2, (there were no chapter divisions in the letter initially) Paul draws attention to why it is that we need this power that can raise the dead.

Paul tells us a truth about ourselves that is hard, but necessary, to hear. Some refuse to accept what Paul is saying. However, if you are willing to hear, this is one of the easiest doctrines to grasp because we can verify it by our own experience. Paul writes,

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. (1-3)

Our Condition

Paul begins by telling us that we were (before we became followers of Christ) dead in our transgressions and sins . . . “ The term “dead” is significant. According to the Bible, we are either alive spiritually or dead spiritually.

It is common today for people to try to take a middle position: mankind is not “dead” just  “sick”. They blame their plight on bad parents, a lousy education or difficult traumas in life that made them the way they are. The underlying belief is that we would be healthy if we could just . . .

  • Raise our incomes
  • Live in better housing
  • Get a better education
  • Find more affordable health care
  • Secure better friends
  • Stop hanging around people who talk about right and wrong/

Some of these things might be helpful but they don’t solve the problem! According to the Bible, this kind of thinking is similar to a Doctor who gives you a prescription to get rid of your pain, but never actually addresses the disease. You feel better but the underlying problem is still eating away at you – you are NOT really any better.

The Bible teaches that our very nature was altered by Adam and Eve’s choice to rebel against God. It is like the DNA of everyone who followed them was altered. It is like we now have a dominant “sin gene”. We are, are born sinners. We naturally resist and rebel against the Lord.  We do not really love Him. We do not hear the whisper of God’s Spirit.

Look around you and see if this is not verified by our experience. The first word of independence from a child is usually “No”. Why is it that a child will always test the boundaries that their parents set for them? Why do people find it so easy to lie and distort the truth? How can someone walk into a movie theatre, school, or place of business and start shooting people they don’t even know? Let’s make it more basic: Why can we remain focused on a sporting event for three hours but can’t concentrate for ten minutes when we try to pray or read the Bible? Why are we able to get up and do any number of things on a Sunday morning but can’t get out of bed to attend worship? It is because we are spiritually dead.

Think about it. Even some of the thing that look like “good things” are often motivated by selfish motives.

  • We help other people often because it makes us feel better (by eliminating guilt by fulfilling a sense of duty; by making us look good in front of others; by giving us a feeling of superiority over others.)
  • Many attend church not to worship and draw close to God but to look more respectable, or get their parents “off their back” or worse . . . to get God off their back for another week.
  • Sometimes we even pray and read the Bible not because we want to truly know God but because we hope that if we engage in religious disciplines we will earn “points” with God that we can then trade for blessings (again, selfish!)

We may fool others, but we don’t fool God. We may have sharp minds, winsome personalities, and a good reputation among others in the world but . . . our soul is dead! One theologian compared sinful man to zombies.

For the benefit of those who do not read such literature, a zombie is a person who has died but who is nevertheless up walking around. To make matters even more gruesome, the body is not only dead, but decaying, putrifying. It is the most disgusting thing many people can imagine. But that is what Paul says the human condition is before God. In their opposition to God, men and women are walking corpses. They are the living dead.[1]

The Characteristics of Our Condition

Paul describes our sinful nature this way. . .

you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts

Paul asserts three things. First, the sinful nature follows the ways of the world and the Ruler of the world, Satan. In other words in our pre-Christian state we are governed by our culture, our friends, and popular opinion rather than by God’s Word. Most people parrot opinions they have heard and adopt values that mesh with prevailing opinion rather than bending our hearts to God’s standards.

In our pre-Christian state we would pick and choose from the Bible (if we used it at all)! We embraced verses that said what we wanted to believe, rather than working to understand and embrace what the Bible actually teaches.

Second, Paul says this is the universal experience. “All of us also lived among them at one time.” It is tempting to read these words and say: This is certainly true of “those people”. Paul does not give us that option. He says it is true of all people. Until we became followers of Christ every one of us follows the ways of Satan!

Third, the result is that we “gratify the cravings of our sinful nature and follow its desires and thoughts.” We are driven by our hormones and our appetites. This is illustrated by our rising divorce rate, increasing out of wedlock pregnancies, the celebration of gay marriage, and our rampant debt as individuals and as a nation. We see it even in “consumer oriented worship” where the focus is on appealing to consumer rather than on faithfully honoring God.  We tend to be people who “want what we want when we want it” and heaven help the person (or divine being) that stands in our way!

In the letter to the Galatians Paul gets specific in illustrating this mindset,

19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery (raucous partying); 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:17-21)

Think about this list. Doesn’t it describe our contemporary culture? Does it not describe the values and behaviors of our world? This doctrine of our sinfulness is verified by our own experience and observation!

The Consequence of Our Condition

Paul says at the end of verse 3: “like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath”. Yikes! Because of our condition we are enemies of God!  Many people are offended by such talk. They believe it makes God punitive and petty. However, before we can understand the grace of God . . . we must understand the just wrath of our Holy God.

When we think of wrath we usually think about someone who has lost their temper; someone who is out of control. Such a person is violent, abusive, and irrational. Such is not the case with the wrath of God. God’s wrath is “an inevitable and growing opposition to all that is opposed to his righteousness.”[2]

The wrath of God is a settled, reasonable, measured, response to the offensive nature of our sinful rebellion. God is Holy, Pure, and just. Because of this, He will not stand idle while we make a mockery of all that is good, pure, wise, and holy.

The problem is that we don’t have any concept of how offensive sin really is. People say “I don’t want to serve a God of wrath, I want a God of love!”  That sounds noble but you can’t have one without the other.  If someone truly loves us they will care when the relationship is threatened or when the one loved is heading down a destructive path.

If someone attacked a member of your family would you simply stand there with a loving smile on your face? Of course not! You would be filled with fury! You would seek to rescue and defend the one being attacked and you would seek to punish the attacker! Love is passionate. This passion is not just reserved for love-making, this passion also comes out when that love is threatened!  A person who has no reaction when marriage is threatened is not seen as loving . . . they are seen as cold and heartless.

God cares about us. He will not simply stand by while we wander away from Him. He will not be indifferent to our sin, because He cares!

It is a desperate situation: we not only are spiritually lost and in need of a Savior – we are spiritually dead and don’t even know it! To the Corinthians Paul said,

The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)

Jesus said,

“No one can come to me (we don’t even have the ability) unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:44 emphasis added)

The Cure for Our Condition

4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

In the King James Version this starts “But God. . . “ Some have said these are the two most important words in the entire Bible and they sum up the Gospel message. We were hopelessly lost BUT GOD intervened. God used His great resurrecting power to awaken us. He made us alive with Christ! This is the only solution to our sin addiction.

Think about a person who has a heart attack. Can that person suddenly decide that they are going to start their heart again? Can they exercise their will and get better? No. Something must be done to them from another. They need intervention by someone else. They may need a defibrillator and likely other repairs before they will be healthy again.

When we are ‘dead” in our sin we were spiritually unresponsive. We can do nothing to save ourselves. We come to faith because God did something in us that we could not do for ourselves. He awakened us. He gave us a new heart. God does this before we can ever exercise our will and declare our allegiance to Him.

Perhaps you have seen the movie “Awakenings”. It starred Robin Williams as doctor Dr. Sayers who took a job in a facility that cared for people who were severely disabled. Robert DeNiro was a patient who had been in a catatonic state since he was a boy. As a result of his disease, he was unable to respond. After much attention, study, and experimentation, Dr. Sayers began administering the drug L Dopa to his patient. Suddenly, one day DeNiro became fully alive. He was reunited with his mother and savored every moment. The drug was administered to all those suffering from this disease and the same thing happened. They were raised from death to life.

In the movie (based on a true story), the patients eventually developed a tolerance for the drug and they slipped back into their catatonic state. However, what Dr. Sayers (or Dr. Sachs in real life) did for these patients is a picture of what God does for us spiritually. He makes dead and spiritually unresponsive people alive and responsive again. Unlike the movie, the life God gives does not fade . . . it only gets richer.

We were dead . . . God makes us alive. This is the gospel message. Our only hope for salvation is for God to graciously awaken us so that we can know Him, respond to Him, and serve Him. We can’t earn this blessing (because until we are awakened, we don’t even “want” to truly know Him). It is a gift; it is grace. We will look at the issue of grace more fully next week. For now, let’s draw some conclusions.

The Conclusions

Here is the conclusion we must face: of all the great problems in the world, the greatest is the “sin problem”. The problems of war, dishonesty, infidelity, violence, injustice, immorality, abortion, and godlessness all stem from one place: the sin-engulfed human heart.

We will not solve the problems of the world until we address the problem of sin in the individual. This is not a side issue – it is the core problem!  We cannot breathe life into dead people. God must do that. So our job is pretty simple

  1. If we have come to know and truly love Christ, we must not take pride in our wisdom, strength, or ability. We should daily and constantly be in a state of gratitude that God has (and continues to do) in us what we cannot do in our own strength. If we have been made alive by His Spirit, we will be worshippers not because of some external law; we will worship and adore Him because it is the only appropriate response.
  2. We must recognize the residual elements of our sinful nature and daily repent of our old sin habits and addiction. We must recognize the problem in our hearts and turn to God for help. We must remind ourselves daily that “We are recovering sinners” and live that way. We must make decisions every day to choose freedom and confront the residual elements of sin.
  3. We must pray. We must ask God to awaken the hearts of those we love and cherish. We must pray that God would “turn on the lights” in the lives of those around us. We can’t claim to really love someone if we are not praying for God to awaken them to eternal life. We must pray because we need a true revival . . . where God awakens people and draws them to faith.
  4. Those who have been awakened to new life must live that life fully. Think about someone who had been unconscious at catatonic for years. Suddenly they are “awakened”. What would you expect them to do? Would you expect them to continue to simply sit in their chair or lie in their bed with a faraway look in their eyes? No, you would expect them to make the most of their new life! You would expect them to embrace the gift they had been given. Think about how many of us have been given this new life in Christ and we have seem to have responded with a shrug . . . we continue to sit on the “side of the bed” and do what we have always done. It is time to live in the newness of God’s life!
  5. We must proclaim the truth to others. Though it is true that our words by themselves will awaken no one, it is also true that God works through the testimony of His people to awaken the hearts of others. We don’t know who will respond and who will not. We don’t need to know. All we need to know is that some dead people will be able to live if we faithfully continue to share His truth.

It is a truth, that before we can know healing and deliverance we must first recognize and admit the painful reality that we are in bondage. We must face the bad news before we can ever be set free. And once we face that truth and receive the new life of Christ our only regret will be that we did not do so sooner.