YOU WERE DEAD IN THE TRESPASSES
"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in 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— among 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
Throughout most of his letters to the early churches, Paul describes “following the course of this world” as a life of slavery that pays impoverishing wages—the wages of death. Paul imagines the lost as an enslaved people, living a life of mere subsistence, with just enough sinful pleasure and desire to keep us alive long enough for our diabolical slaveholder to eke out of us every last drop of work and sweat he could imagine. Paul depicts this life of slavery as hard toil, with sin and the world as cruel taskmasters motivated by great anger toward their slaves, the lost.
Under slavery, a person loses their will, their agency, their desire to live, their dignity and honor, their very humanity—this is why Paul uses the term “children of wrath,” for such a life enrages the human heart at the vast injustice it must endure at the hands of its slaveholders. Paul asserts that we “were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked,” to drive home the point that the more we labored under the yoke of slavery, and the more we worked to try and please our taskmasters (sin, the world, the devil), the more they repaid our efforts with death, destruction, and anger.
The “prince of the power of the air” was the lead slaveholder and we were following him into a living hell. We couldn’t work our way out, because at some point we each learned that the more we work, the more we die. Being a slave to sin is backbreaking, unbearable, toilsome work meant to drive us insane. We lose our minds and hearts to darkness, for we cannot say “no” to our slaveholders who demand more and more from us. We are thoroughly lost and cannot work out a means of escape for ourselves, nor can we work to buy our own freedom. Because the “wages of sin is death,” the more we work (sin), the more we die.
No amount of work would ever satisfy our taskmasters and no cleverly devised plan could spring us free from their deadly grip on our lives. In fact, most slaves of the world don’t even know they are slaves, ignorant to the fact that the seemingly ‘normal’ pursuits of “the course of this world,” with its temporal pleasures and desires, is a life of running the hamster wheel without getting anywhere but tired out. All the while, inwardly our hearts collapse into increasing fatigue, brokenness, and heartache, as our minds descend into confusion and rage—such is the slave’s lot in life, tending evermore to death, without escape.
We needed rescue. We needed a champion, a deliverer who, with mercy and compassion, would extract us from slavery. We needed Jesus.