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  • Writer's pictureThomas R. Schreiner

Five Truths about Humans (Ephesians 2:1-3)

[And] you were dead in the trespasses and sins ²in which you once walked, 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— ³among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. —Ephesians 2:1-3

We see five truths about human beings in these verses. 

First, Paul teaches that we were dead in our sins. We are not merely a little bit sick. As sons and daughters of Adam we are born into the world with no spiritual inclination, no desire to seek God. 

Second, sin has a sociological dimension. The world refers here to the environment in which we live—human society. If you grow up in a family that parties and gets drunk on Friday nights, you will probably get drunk on Friday nights. If you grow up in a white culture that has hated black people for generations, you will likely grow up to be a racist. What Paul speaks of here can be identified as peer pressure. We all have a desire to be liked and admired by our peers. The world squeezes and shapes us so that we sin. We follow the fads and fashions of the day.

Third, sin has a spiritual dimension. This is clearly a reference to Satan. Satan is the ruler of demons (Matthew 9:34). Jesus says he is the ruler of this world (John 14:30). Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that he is the god of this age (CSB). 1 John 5:19 says that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 

Fourth, sin has a psychological dimension. The flesh isn’t limited to bodily sins like gluttony, drunkenness, or illicit sin. The flesh represents who we were in Adam. The flesh represents the old person that dominates our lives before we come to know Jesus as Savior. The natural desires of our hearts display that we are captives to sin. We are born into the world in bondage to sin. 

That is why we need a new birth. That is why we need the supernatural grace of God. We need God to invade our hearts and to give us new desires. We will never turn to God on our own because the flesh never desires God or His will.

Fifth, we are sinners from our birth. Paul refers to the way we were when we were born into the world. This fits with Romans 5, which describes human beings as the sons and daughters of Adam. We were born into the world as the descendants of Adam, born spiritually dead and condemned before God. 

All human beings enter the world as children of wrath—as those deserving God’s wrath because they are sinners. No one enters the world neutrally suspended between good and evil, as if we could simply choose between them. By birth, by nature, we are children of wrath. We see, then, that we need God’s grace, God’s life, God’s power to rescue us from our terrible plight.


For Reflection

  1. The notion that we are born good and corrupted by our circumstances is widely believed in our day. How does Paul contradict this trendy way of thinking?

  2. What evidence can you recall from your pre-conversion life that you were born dead in your sins?

  3. How should the horror of being under God's righteous wrath cause you to feel about His grace and power to rescue you? How should it motivate and shape your evangelism of lost friends and relatives?


Thomas R. Schreiner is the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation and associate dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. A Pauline scholar, Schreiner is the author or editor of several books including Romans, in the Baker Exegetical Commentary Series on the New Testament.

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