Paul is describing Christians when he says, “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” (Eph 2:3). We, too, once caved to our selfish desires. We did what felt good to both our bodies and our minds. We, too, were once lost in the world’s system of sin and carnal pleasure. The devil was our king, and we didn’t think twice about it.
In 2 Timothy 3, Paul provides an overview of mankind’s behavior. He describes us this way:
In the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
Paul offers a similar list in Romans 1 as he describes what mankind has been in the past:
Their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men. … They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Romans 1:26-28, 29-31)
To be clear, Paul is not using hyperbolic language. He’s not exaggerating his point about human nature. If you can’t see these characteristics in our world, it isn’t because they don’t exist; it’s because you lack spiritual sight.
Homosexuality is no longer merely tolerated; it’s celebrated and literally paraded through the streets. The love of money is not condemned as a root of evil; it’s lauded as a virtue, an integral part of the American dream. The sins which Paul names can be found everywhere we look.
Of course, Paul is not suggesting that every person has committed every sin. But every person has lived in the same system. We’ve all followed the same course which inevitably leads to wrath. He says that we were by nature children of wrath (Eph 2:3).
When writing to the church at Rome, Paul addressed those people who felt morally superior to others. They didn’t feel that what Paul had to say about the sins of the Gentiles or the depravity of mankind applied to them. They felt themselves to be better than that. They assumed that they possessed a higher degree of righteousness than others.
Read to what Paul says in Romans 2:
You have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. (Romans 2:1-5)
For those who say, “I’m not that bad,” Paul responds, “No, you’re worse because you’re equally guilty of sin but lacking repentance.” Whether we violate one law or fifty, we fall short of the glory of God (Ro 3:23). James said, “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (Jas 2:10).
Jesus taught, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Lk 5:32). One of the most dangerous thoughts to ever cross a person’s mind is, I’m righteous enough. Why is that so dangerous? Why would you seek the Savior, your only hope for salvation, if you think you’re already righteous?
“If you keep down that road,” Paul tells the Romans, “you’re only storing up wrath for yourself.” He says:
God will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. (Romans 2:6-8)
If Ephesians 2 ended with verse 3, we’d all be in serious trouble. By nature, we’re children of wrath headed for the full fury of God on the final day of judgment. We can’t do anything to change our course because we are dead in our sin. Dead people can’t revive themselves. As Paul says later in the chapter, we’d be left with no hope and without God in the world (Eph 2:12).
But you’re a believer. You’re a follower of Christ. Having felt the burden of your sin, you have turned to Christ for salvation. You no longer assume that eternal paradise is the default destination of all people. You no longer think that you can get there by your own achievements.
Yet the question remains, do you fully grasp what God has done for you? Do you realize that you were once dead in sin? Do you understand that you once willingly followed the prince of the power of the air and were headed straight for God’s eternal wrath?
Paul wants us to consider these questions. He’s not preaching these things to unbelievers. He’s not even specifically talking about unbelievers. He’s talking about us and our pasts.
God deserves all praise because without him the story ends here.