The reason for defining and attempting to understand sin is to have the best practical approach toward leading sinners to conviction and repentance; it is not merely academic. Though it is a topic many believe we can stop speaking of or prefer ignoring, it is not beneficial to do so.
Though it is difficult for many in this age to appreciate the significance of this, sin is a moral, not physical, issue. Sin can be expressed and impact us physically, but sin, regardless of how it is manifest, involves moral choice – choice that could have been other than what it was. Sin is not a congenital disease, inherited or transmitted through physical means; it is not constitutional in nature.
Moral accountability is established by the person in question. In other words, one person cannot determine another person’s moral character, condition or accountability. We can influence one another but our response to influence produces or manifests our moral character and accountability.
Sin must involve and consist in choice. It results from an improper use of constitutional attributes or abilities as one yields to tendencies, influences or temptations to pursue self-supremacy. The essence of sin, the essential choice made, is establishing a purpose of self-supremacy, self-indulgence or self-gratification rather than surrender to the actual supremacy and revealed will of God, purposing to honor and please Him as one’s supreme goal in life.
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you 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 by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. (Eph.2:1-3)
Does verse one indicate that we are dead because we sin, or we sin because we are dead? It would appear that death is the result of sin. I have encountered people who, after reading this passage, insist that we sin because we are born spiritual dead and can do nothing but sin.
In verse two, Paul first refers to “the course of this world.” This would indicate that it is the approach most common among the human race. Some people justify inappropriate behavior by saying, “This is real life.” Just because it is the status quo, it is not morally proper. Next we read, “according to the prince of the power of the air.” This indicates it is consistent with Satan’s influence. One might attempt to associate it with satanic causation but behavior that is the result of causation is not actually moral behavior. Finally, Paul uses the word “disobedience” in reference to this approach. Disobedience is the opposite of obedience and implies a chosen response to the options before us.
As we move to verse three, we see a lifestyle described. The former lifestyle of those being addressed is said to have been “lived in the lust of the flesh.” He describes it further by saying they were “indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” This is descriptive of yielding to the impulses, desires, influences, propensities and tendencies of our physical urges and self-serving thoughts.
The final phrase is, admittedly, controversial. I have seen it most often used independent of the context. When Paul says they “were by nature children of wrath,” it seems, in its context, it indicates that the wrath of God is the naturally outcome of such an approach. In other words, it is not the behavior described that is natural nor is it to imply they were born as children of wrath (which seems to be a common conclusion).
We are separated from God (dead) because of our trespasses and sins (Is.59:2) and, consequently, subjects of His wrath.
(Note: In upcoming posts, we will continue to look at passages addressing the nature of sin.)