The Way We Were (Before Christ)

By: Dr. Steven C. Riser; ©2008
When I was a teenager I served as a life guard and had the opportunity of rescuing some and resuscitating others. About the same time I too was rescued, not from the pool or a lake, but from sin and death. I was “made alive,” by a Savior’s shed blood and by the Spirit’s regenerating activity. He made me spiritually alive and I became a new creature in Christ.

Text – Ephesians 2:1-7


When I was a teenager I served as a life guard and had the opportunity of rescu­ing some and resuscitating others. About the same time I too was rescued, not from the pool or a lake, but from sin and death. I was “made alive,” not by a lifeguard’s skill or CPR, but by a Savior’s shed blood and by the Spirit’s regenerating activity. He made me spiritually alive (regenerate or born again) and I became a new crea­ture in Christ. (2 Cor. 5:17)


Have you ever seen the old movie, “The Way We Were?” In Ephesians 2:1-7, Paul teaches us the way we were before God’s grace made us alive! The first part of this passage, verses 1-3, deals with: 1) the way we were, 2) who we were, and 3) what we were like before we met Christ.

The second half, verses 4-7, deals with: 1) who we are, and 2) what we are like now that the Holy Spirit has regenerated us. This look at the past is not one of nostalgia or pleasant memories. Rather it’s intended to help us appreciate God’s grace and all that means.

The highest spot in the 48 states is Mt. Whitney in California. It stands a majestic 14,495 feet. From its top, a beautiful panorama of landscape unfolds. You can see the Sierra Nevadas and the Mojave dessert. But just 80 miles southeast is Death Valley, the lowest spot in the United States at 280 feet below sea level. Death Valley is also the hottest, with temperatures reaching 134 degrees in the shade. It’s a stark contrast to Mt. Whitney. Paul takes us into the depths of human sin and depravity before he causes us to rise to the heights of God’s deliverance and pardon.

One of the great theologians of our day, John Stott, says this about our passage: “Paul first plumbs the depths of pessimism about mankind, and then rises to the heights of optimism about God. It is this combination of pessimism and optimism, of despair and faith, which constitutes the refreshing realism of the Bible. For what Paul does in this passage is to paint a vivid contrast between what man is by nature and what he can become by grace.” With these thoughts in mind, let’s consider several aspects of our gracious rescue by Christ and our regeneration by His Holy Spirit.

I. We Have Been Rescued From Death (Eph. 2:1-3)

Before we were saved, we were spiritually dead. Paul says that before we were “made alive” in Christ, before we were saved, we were “dead in trespasses and sins.” “Trespasses” comes from a word that means, “to slip, stumble, or go astray.” Sin means “to miss the mark,” like missing the center of a bulls eye (Rom. 3:23).

Those who don’t know Jesus are completely spiritually dead – no spiritual life. They’re spiritual zombies, animated corpses. We’re all born spiritually dead and until we meet Christ, we’re hopelessly and helplessly trapped in spiritual death. Lost people aren’t in danger of spiritual death. Why? Because they’re already spiritually dead. This isn’t a figure of speech, but it is a real and present condition (Rom. 3:10­12).

Every lost person is spiritually dead. In verse 1, Paul speaks of “you,” that is, Gentiles. In verse 4 he says, “We,” referring to the Jews. It makes no difference whether they are young or old, rich or poor, Russian or American; we’re all born spiritually dead. The only exception was Jesus who is the sinless Son of God.

One who is spiritually dead is unable to understand and appreciate spiritual things. A physically dead person doesn’t respond to physical stimuli. He can’t see, hear, taste, smell, or feel.

A spiritually dead person doesn’t respond to spiritual stimuli. He can’t worship, pray, understand spiritual truth or know God’s love, joy and peace.

The difference between one spiritually dead person and another is the state of decay. Though the drug-addicted derelict may seem deader than a prominent politician, both are spiritually dead. There’re no degrees of spiritual deadness, just decay.

I know it sounds weird, but it’s true. Even though many people around us seem alive, they’re alive only physically and psychologically. Spiritually, they’re dead, Dead, DEAD! You can’t be kind of dead. You are either spiritually dead or spiritually alive! If you are almost saved, you are completely lost.

There is a photo of Jeremy Bentham, a philosopher and the father of utilitarian­ism sitting in a chair, dressed with a gentleman’s outfit and hat from the 19th century. The photo is a result of his dark humor. Before he died, Bentham gave orders that his entire estate be given to the University College Hospital in London on the condi­tion that his body be preserved and placed in attendance at all the hospital’s board meetings. His wishes were honored and so every year, to this day, Bentham is wheeled to the board table and the chairman says, “Jeremy Bentham, present but not voting.” What a joke! He will never raise his hand to vote on an issue, he will never introduce a motion – because he’s been dead some 160 years! The fact is that dead people, those who are apart from Christ, can do nothing of any spiritual consequence.

Before we were saved, we were spiritually disobedient (Eph. 2:2). We used to walk, or live, “according to course of this world.” The word “walked” carries the idea of meandering around aimlessly. “Course” comes from the Greek for “weather vane.” An unbeliever is swayed by public opinion just like a weather vane is blown by the wind. “World” doesn’t refer to the physical world in which we live, but to the godless value system of the secular world in which we live.

Galatians 1:4 describes the world as “this present evil age.” Those who don’t know Jesus are captives to this secular system. They’re mindless – don’t think clearly, and aimless – no clear purpose; they follow the godless, secular world wherever it blows them.

There are some who “claim” to be Christians that knowing and willingly enslave themselves to our pop culture and media icons. They worship whatever’s on TV. The Apostle James (4:4) calls them “adulterers and adulteresses” and asks: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

We walked “according to the prince of the power of the air.” This refers to Satan, who is alive and well on planet Earth. 1 Peter 5:8 describes him as our “adversary” who “walks about like a roaring lion….” Matthew 9:34 says he is “the ruler of the demons.” John 12:31 says he is “the ruler of this world.” 2 Corinthians 4:4 calls him “the god of this age.

Satan will rule this world until Jesus dethrones him. He has leadership over hoards of demons, fallen evil angels who penetrate, dominate, pressure and control the life of every unbeliever. Paul says, in Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age and the spiritual hosts of wickedness.” Always remember he’s a defeated foe!

Before Christ, we submitted to “the spirit who…works in the sons of disobedi­ence.” This refers to “the demonic spirit of the times,” in the life of the typical unbe­liever. For example, even though every biologist knows that life begins at concep­tion, our culture impersonalizes it and calls it a mass of tissue. Why? So they can abort their baby whenever they want as a matter of convenience. That’s: the un­godly spirit of the age.

Before we were saved, we were spiritually dead, disobedient and depraved (Eph. 2:3). We used to be just like the unsaved people that we see every day. We were “among” them. We once “conducted ourselves” like them. Three things corrupt all men: the world – our external enemy; the flesh – our internal enemy; and the devil – our infernal enemy. One day a little girl pulled her brother’s hair and kicked his shins. She said, “The devil made me pull his hair, but I think kicking him was my idea.

We lived to fulfill “the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” The word “desires” refer to “seeking something with great diligence.” The “desires of the flesh” refers to abandoning any reason or restraint and satisfying all our bodies’ appetites. It represents the “if it feels good, do it” mentality. On the other hand, the “desires of the [depraved] mind” indicates deliberate, willful choices in rebelling against God. It means: hearing and knowing God’s truth but foolishly choosing to rebel against it.

We “were by nature the children of wrath.” We’re sinners “by nature” and by choice. Every part of us was tainted and infected by sin. We weren’t equally de­praved, but we were universally depraved. We were made in the image of God yet “by nature” became totally corrupted by sin (Rom. 3:10-12). The world likes to think that we’re all the children of God, yet apart from Christ all men are “the children of wrath.” John 3:36 says of an unsaved man, “the wrath of God abides on him.” At one time, that was us. We were “just as the others.” But, by God’s grace we’ve been rescued from His wrath!

II. We Have Been Rescued By Love (Eph. 2:4)

God, in love, initiated our rescue. Underline the first two words in Ephesians 2:4, “But God”! Aren’t those glorious words? They teach us that it was God who reached down to us. It was God who initiated our salvation. When we were spiritually dead, God’s strong arm of love rescued us. Only God has the power and love needed to rescue us and give us life. We can’t regenerate ourselves but God by His grace, “made us alive”!

God rescued us! Why? Because He’s “rich in mercy.” “Mercy” carries the idea of “withholding punishment.” Even though God is holy and we’re sinful, in His compas­sion, because of His “mercy”, He rescued us. God is not merely merciful; He is “rich in mercy.” His mercy is over-abounding and over-flowing.

God rescued us from spiritual 1) death, 2) disobedience, deception and 3) depravity because of “his great love with which he loved us.” His rich mercy is a river that flows from the tributary of His great love. God loves us but hates our sin. Jesus died to separate us from our sin. God’s greatest act of love was when Jesus died for our sin. Because God is just, He must punish sin. He can extend mercy to us because, in love, Jesus already died for our sin.

Paul said in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus said in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”

III. We Have Been Rescued For Life.

God has given us life. When we were “dead in trespasses” and “made us alive.” There are two truths here. First, we are alive for all eternity. Second, we are alive for a purpose…to live with Christ. We not only have eternal life, we have abundant life! The same power that raised Jesus from physical death to physical life is… The same power that raised us…… from spiritual death to spiritual life (Eph. 1:19-20).

Because we have been “made alive” or “regenerated”, we ought to live differ­ently. Can you tell the difference between a living person and a corpse? You can also tell the difference between someone who is spiritually dead and spiritually alive. God has made us “alive together with Christ.” We have a new nature with new desires.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” Because we have a new nature, we no longer love the old things, we love that which is new, those things that Jesus loves! Our old nature still loves to sins but our new nature loves to please God.

In John 11, we have the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. It’s a beautiful analogy of what happened to us spiritually when we were saved. What did Lazarus need to do for Jesus to raise him from the dead? Nothing! When Jesus commanded Lazarus to come forth, could he have stayed in the grave?

After Lazarus was raised from the dead – through no credit of his own: Don’t you think Lazarus saw the world differently? Don’t you think Lazarus saw Jesus differ­ently? Don’t you think Lazarus had a whole new love and devotion to Jesus? So should we!

God has saved us by grace. We’re not saved or made alive because we de­served it. Face it; we’re spiritually dead, disobedient and depraved. Pardon doesn’t come because we’re guiltless; we’re pardoned in spite of the fact that we are guilty. Ephesians 1:7: we have “redemption” and “forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.

IV. We Have Been Rescued For A Reason (Eph. 2:5-6)

Note three similar phrases in verses 5-6. God “made us alive together with Christ.” He “raised us up together” and he “made us sit together in the heavenly places.” We, as His Body, are eternally linked to our head, Jesus. Wherever He goes we go.

First, we are raised and seated with Christ (Eph. 2:6). God “raised us up to­gether” with Jesus. When Lazarus was raised, Jesus said, “Loose him, and let him go.” (Note: Someone who is alive doesn’t need to remain in the trappings of death.)

God “made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” “Heavenly places” refers to God’s presence. We’re “made alive” and “raised up” for this purpose that we might “sit together” with Jesus in heaven. Philippians 3:20 says, “For our citizenship is in heaven.” To “sit… in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” is to be removed from Satan’s domain or kingdom of 1) death, 2) disobedience 3) deception and 4) depravity. It is to be placed in the full fellowship and blessings of God (Col. 1:12-13).

The word “sit” in the Greek New Testament is in the aorist tense meaning that, in the mind of God who is not limited to time and space, we’re already there! Though we’re yet to see our inheritance physically, it’s still ours. 1 Peter 1:4 says, it is “an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled and that doesn’t fade away, reserved in heaven for you.

Second, we’re to be examples of “the riches of his grace” (Eph. 2: 7). We will receive the “exceeding riches of his grace” and “his kindness” for two reasons: 1) The minor reason is: to experience the fullest extent of his “grace” and kindness. 2) The major reason is: that we might be examples, and/or trophies, of His grace.

Some of you, who were treasures of darkness, are now trophies of God’s grace!


We will experience all this “in the ages to come.” It will last forever. Someone said, “God will give us the all-surpassing riches of His grace in the limitless future as age succeeds age.” John Stott tells about the retirement of his high school principal, of whom a magnificent portrait was unveiled. He said… “In the future people will not ask, who this man is, but who painted this portrait.” In eternity we will not be admired, but the God who rescued us will be exalted.

We’ve moved from death to life. That’s like going from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, or from being on death row to being the President of the United States.

C.H. Spurgeon once remarked: “If Niagara could suddenly be made to leap upward instead of forever dashing down-ward from its rocky height, it were not such a miracle as to change the perverse will & raging passions of men. Conversion is a work comparable to the making of a world. The labors of Hercules were but trifles compared to this: to slay lions and hydras, and cleanse Augean stables-all this is child’s play compared with renewing a right spirit in the fallen nature of mankind.”

This requires nothing less than: a miracle of grace! When we consider the way we were before Christ, it helps us see in a whole new light… the way we are after Christ, by the grace of God.


  1. Adam on February 21, 2021 at 6:43 pm

    I have seen several commentaries/ study guides say that the word “course” used in Ephesians 2:2 comes from the Greek for weather vane. From a contextual point, it makes sense. But strongs and all the interlinear notes I can find refer to the greek word AEON being used, referring to an age or length of time. Almost every translation uses the word “course”. I have done some (limited) etymology research and haven’t been able to figure out where this claim came from. Is there a reference from a biblical Greek scholar that can clear this up for me? Thanks for your help

    • JA Show Staff on February 23, 2021 at 9:47 am

      See here is a page with the Greek usage of the word aeonas used in Ephesians 2:2. It can be used as age, time, period of time, or even universe depending on context.

      In Ephesians 2:2, it refers to the course of time in the sense of progression or age. I have not seen the connection with a weather vane, though.

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