In Ephesians 2:1–3, the Apostle Paul gives a concise description of the fallen human condition. After describing us in our natural state as “dead in trespasses and sins” (v. 1), he goes on to summarize the actions that emanate from that condition as “following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (v. 2).
Paul then transitions from writing about what the Ephesian believers were by nature to what they are by virtue of God’s grace in Christ received by faith. Verse 4 is the pivot point in Paul’s discussion. After this verse, Paul continues to lay out all the indicatives of God’s grace in Christ through the end of chapter 2. He then transitions once again in chapter 4 to exhortations in light of the indicatives.
Before exploring the gist of Paul’s exhortations, I want to briefly return to 2:2, where Paul describes the conduct of those who are “dead in trespasses and sins” as following “the prince of the power of the air,” which is a reference to Satan. In other words, the result of our fallen condition is that we do the bidding of the evil one. There are at least two things that are not meant by Paul’s description. First, it does not mean that every unbeliever is possessed by Satan (or demons) in the same way that some individuals in the Scriptures were who had demons cast out of them. All sinners are not demon possessed in that way, but all sinners follow the course or pattern of Satan in their resistance to and rebellion against the Word and will of God. Second, this does not mean that sinners in their fallen state are conscious of the fact that they are doing the bidding of the evil one. They are simply acting in accord with their nature, not realizing that by nature they are bound to a disposition that reflects the will of Satan.
It is with these two caveats in mind that we consider Paul’s exhortations in chapter 4, in light of the indicatives of chapter 2. In 4:17, Paul writes, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.” He goes on to say in verse 18, referring to the gentiles, that “they are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.”
The gist of Paul’s exhortation is that it is possible for those who are saved by God’s grace and therefore, by virtue of their faith, seated with Christ in the heavenly places to once again follow the course of this world and in effect do the bidding of Satan. It is not our intention to be in league with Satan, but when our thoughts and actions are not filtered through the lens of who we are in Christ, that is in effect what happens. Shortly after Peter’s inspired confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Christ rebukes him: “Get behind me, Satan! . . . For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Let us set our minds on the things of God so that we do not do the bidding of the evil one.