As I converse with unbelievers and try to talk to them about the Lord Jesus and about the salvation from the wrath of God that He offers, I consistently find that people in our culture have scant awareness of sin and have no consciousness of their own personal guilt before our holy God. The primary reason for this, in my opinion, is that the Bible, the word of God, has been methodically and systematically driven out of our American culture such that most people in our culture have never read the Bible. In earlier times in our history, the Bible was respected by most and revered by many. The people knew what the Bible said, at least in general if not in specific, and there was a national agreement on right and wrong; if the Bible condemned it, then it was wrong. Obviously, this is not so now, and we have a lawless nation that delights in wickedness and is ignorant of God’s coming judgment on our sin.
And so, we have become a people who are ignorant of how lost we are. The apostle Paul addresses this point directly in the second chapter of Ephesians. This epistle is written to those who are now in the church, but who, prior to the arrival of evangelists proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, were entirely pagan and were desperately lost. In Ephesians 2:12, Paul enumerates the lostness of these people when they did not believe the gospel.
“Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in this world.”
First, they were “separated from Christ.” “Separated from Christ” means separated from all that Christ offers. They had no peace with God, indeed, no relationship with God because they were separated from the only Mediator. They had no redemption, because they were separated from the Redeemer. They had no salvation, because they were separated from the Savior. These people who were outside of Christ were ignorant of the terrifying judgment that awaited them because of their unrepentant, unforgiven sin.
Second, these people were “excluded from the commonwealth of Israel.” Israel was the nation that God had chosen to be His people and there were definite privileges to being part of national Israel. “First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2). Israel had received the Law and the word of God and were aware of Yahweh and of what He demanded from them. They had received the earthly temple and they had the sacrificial system and the priests and the Davidic kingdom. Israel was a people that had been set apart to serve and worship the one true God, Yahweh. By contrast, those who were excluded from Israel were a scattered group of godless nations who had no divine Law and who did not know Yahweh. Outside of Israel, there was no knowledge of the Lord’s holy laws and thus no knowledge of their violation of those laws. They were excluded from God’s people and this added to their lostness.
Thirdly, these people were “strangers to the covenants of promise.” The word of God had given to God’s people various promises by covenant. Hearing and understanding these promises would give God’s people great confidence in the face of threat and tremendous courage in the face of fear. The LORD had made these astonishing promises and what God has promised, He is able also to perform (Romans 4:21). Prior to trusting in Christ and before being brought into the church and being taught the word of God, these people had been strangers to the covenants of promise. They were in darkness, with no awareness of any of God’s promises.
Fourth, people that are outside of Christ were “without hope and without God in this world.” Paul declares that these Ephesian church members had been without hope. Some may naively argue that unbelievers have hope even though it may not be the Christian hope. I must disagree with this. Biblical hope is not a baseless wish that all the stars will align and somehow all things will turn out well. This hope is the world’s kind of hope, a vague wish based on chance and good luck. Biblical hope, by contrast, it a rock-solid certainty that what God has promised in His word will occur, but that it has just not happened yet. This biblical hope is waiting for the inevitable to come into being. Unbelievers have no basis for their “hope.” It is a mere wish that their dreams would come true, which is no hope at all. So, prior to their faith in Christ, these people were lost without hope.
Paul also adds that they were “without God in this world.” It is possible that these people worshiped false gods before they came to Christ, but these gods are nothing. They have mouths but they cannot speak (Psalm 115:6). They are scarecrows in cucumber fields. They can do no harm and they can do no good (Jeremiah 10:5). The more frightening reality is that, by worshiping false gods, they incur the fierce wrath of the one true God. Outside of Christ, they had been without God in this world.
As you read this description of four-fold lostness, realize that all people are in this state prior to coming to faith in Christ Jesus. Although Paul is here directly addressing this church of Gentile believers, he is indirectly addressing all believers of all times and everywhere. As all believers were once “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3), so they are here described as “without hope and without God in this world.”
APPLICATIONS/THOUGHTS ON THIS TRUTH:
- When we realize that we who now believe in Jesus were once lost in at least these ways, we are led to praise and worship the Lord who exercised His great power to save us. “Blessed be our God and Father . . .” It is good to “remember how we were at that time” (2:12a) and praise the Lord for bringing us to faith in Christ.
- As we share our faith and consider how we can evangelize others, it is sobering to remember that all unsaved people, regardless of external appearances and no matter their moral uprightness, are equally lost in at least these four ways. If the person we are speaking to does not know Christ as personal Savior, they are “without hope and without God in this world.” This truth should give us a sense of urgency to persuade them to come to faith in Christ (2 Cor. 5:11).
- As we share our faith with others, desiring that they would come to Christ, we can be confident that the same gospel that made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with Him (2:5-6) has the power to raise anyone up with Christ. No matter how lost a person is, we know that “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). So, we proclaim the gospel with confident urgency.
SDG rmb 11/30/2019