Walking in Darkness – Ephesians 2:1

This is one of the best loved passages in the Pauline letters, virtually everyone knows Ephesians 2:8-9 and is able to recite it quickly. Paul describes how far separated from God the Gentiles really were, they were dead in their sin, separate from God and his people the Jews. Gentiles were unwilling and unable to respond to God, nor were they accepted by God’s people. Like the first chapter of the letter, verses 1-7 are a single sentence, the main subject/verb is “God made us alive” (v. 5).

The first words of this long sentence (124 words!) are “and you…” The pronoun “you” is accusative and the object of the verb “made alive” in verse 5. The content between the verb and the object is the state of the Gentile believers before coming to Christ. Despite the fact were dead in our sin, God made us alive in Christ!

Paul describes a person before they come to Christ as dead in trespasses and sins. “Being dead” describes the spiritual state of the Gentiles apart from Christ. The participle is present active, indicating this was an ongoing state.

The reason for this state of death is “trespasses and sins.” These words are used as synonyms here, although Paul uses transgression for Adam’s sin in Romans 5:12-21.In verse 3 he includes himself (and all Jews) as also living by passions of the flesh. It is not that the Gentiles are evil and damned and only the Jews are saved: all have fallen short of the glory of God. Paul’s view of salvation is therefore built on the foundation of the Old Testament’s view of sin and death. Romans 5:12-21, all who are “in Adam” die, but all who are “in Christ” will live.

The Gentiles once followed the dark spiritual forces at work in the world. There are three descriptions of the spiritual forces which once held the Gentiles in bondage to sin. The “course of this world” (ESV) or the “ways of this world” (NIV) translates αἰών as a reference to the worldview of the present time (cf. Gal 1:4, this present evil age). Paul uses the preposition κατά to express “being under the control of” in several expressions, such as “walking according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:4). The sense of the phrase is “conforming to a norm.” (Arnold, Ephesians, 130).  In a Jewish context, the noun can refer to eternity or history, or an age of the world history (like an era or dispensation, “this age and the age to come,” Eph 1:21, 2:7). Paul uses the word for “this age” on several occasions (1 Cor 3:18, for example).

If this is the nuance of the word, then Paul is saying the Gentile readers thought like all the other Gentiles because that is the way the all think. They are simply following the thinking of the time they were living.

To anticipate the rest of the letter, Paul is saying that the time we now live is different because God has made the Gentiles alive in Christ and saved them into a new Body of Christ. To know this new age exists changes how we think and live out our lives.

But in a Hellenistic context, the word can refer to the Aeon, a ruler of the world in Greek mythology. The word appears in magical papyri and will be used in Gnosticism to refer to the real deity (O’Brien, Ephesians, 158). There are few who take this word as a reference to a deity, however, since Paul never refers to pagan gods in his other letters.  Paul has already mentioned the common Jewish two-age view of history (this age and the age to come) using this word. It is possible Paul used this word in order to evoke the Jewish idea of ages but also the Greek idea of a god.

The Gentile readers of Ephesians once lived in accordance with the “spirit of the age,” whether that is just the worldview dominant at the time or the god who controls the age.

What is the “spirit of the age” in which we once walked in a modern context? What is an example of a “pattern of thought” which controls the way we think before we came to Christ?

6 thoughts on “Walking in Darkness – Ephesians 2:1

  1. If we all “were dead” in some sense as found here in Ephesians, God’s warning was accurate to Adam and Eve. The serpent’s cruel technicality of “you surely will not die” is explicitly exposed by Paul as a lie. Of course the misery of human history and existence told the same story.

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  2. The whole reason we are “living in sin” is due to the initial sin of man. We were then all “deemed dead” as God states “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Then only by the death and resurrection of Christ we were set free from all our sin. As long as we “in Christ” we will live as
    “God made us alive” (v. 5). In this we are to live for God and try to worship Him in all that we do. We must learn and be able to live outside of the sin of flesh! As the title of this Blog states we need to not walk in darkness but in the light of Jesus Christ. As Jesus is the reason we are here today able to live the lives we want whether in flesh or in Christ. “Despite the fact were dead in our sin, God made us alive in Christ!” (P. Long).

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  3. The “spirit of the age of modern age” that comes to mind for me is the selfish and superficial United States culture we live in. We live in a culture that thrives on the sinful nature of man and it embodies selfishness and vanity; the patterns of thought if you will. Much like the gentiles before their rebirth through Christ, we walk around in this world with blindfolds over our eyes (Ephesians 1:13). A verse from John comes to mind in this example; “So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, ‘Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.’ He answered, ‘Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see’” (John 9:24-25). We are also separate pieces and stories that cannot be brought together until we are one in the body of Christ. Christ made the Israelites and the gentiles one and created one humanity. Jesus’ death on the cross “‘put to death’ hostility and enabled unity between the two parties (2:15-16)”(Longenecker, 244). Just as the Jews and gentiles were brought together as one in Ephesians, so can the Christian body today.

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    • Rachel Smith

      “What is an example of a “pattern of thought” which controls the way we think before we came to Christ?” (P. Long, blog-Walking in Darkness – Ephesians 2:1). One example of a ‘pattern of thought’ that controls the way we think before we come to know Christ is the thought of “I am number one! Everything in life is about me and I need to make sure I have what I want to be happy.” By the nature of our flesh, we want to focus on ourselves and our own needs and wants. The flesh says that our selves are the most important thing in the world; and we should take care of self and pander to self as such. This is contrary to what a life lived in Christ is supposed to look like. Those who live in Christ are supposed to, among other things, live in humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another in love (cf. Eph.4:2). Followers of Christ are supposed to live for His honor and glory; not for personal honor and glory. To live in Christ is to be transformed by His grace into a new creation. Paul talks about our transformed life in Christ when he writes to the Ephesians. “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Eph 4:22-24.

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  4. I agree with Allison… I think the patterns of our thoughts stem from the selfish world that we live in today. We live in an everyday thought of what can I do for myself today and how can I make my day the best it can be. We tend to let the things of this world take control sometimes. The media has a big influence in our lives and I believe it can be used to take control of our hearts and minds if we are not careful. I believe we can become even more selfish with the social media and posts that we make online as well. It is easy to post online because we can hide behind a screen. I think that as our world evolves we are taking away the real truth and rawness we once had before we placed ourselves in front of screens. “‘God has exalted Christ to be ‘head over everything for the church, which is his body,’ and a body that Christ is said to love, feed, and care for (1:22-23; 5:29) (Longenecker 241).

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