Catechetical sermons preached in PCC Evening Worship Services, Feb 2013 to Dec 2017
WSC 17-19 of 107
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; 2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: 3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.Ephesians 2:1-3
WSC 17. Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?
A. The Fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.11 Rom 5:12
WSC 18. Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.11 Rom 5:10-20; Eph 2:1-3; Jas 1:14,15; Mt 15:19
WSC 19. What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. All mankind by their fall lost communion with God,1 are under His wrath and curse,2 and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell for ever.31 Isa 59:2; Gen 3:8, 10, 24; 2 Gen 3:17; Eph 2:2,3; Gal 3:10; 3 Ezk 18:4; Ps 9:17; Rom 6:23; Mt 25:41,46
We are on a series of messages based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. But unlike what is commonly done in catechetical preaching, we have not been elucidating the catechism directly. Instead, we have been expounding a selection of verses from which the doctrine of our catechism is derived.
Previously, we considered how all mankind descending by ordinary generation from Adam sinned with him and fell with him in his first transgression in the Garden of Eden.
We noted that that is because Adam was our covenant head in the covenant of works. Therefore, his sin was credited to us. We are regarded as sinners because he represented us. Moreover, because he is our first father, we inherited his sin nature, and therefore we are also sinners by nature and not simply by representation.
In this follow-up study, we want to consider the effect of the fall in a little more detail.
The Shorter Catechism questions that deal with the subject are questions 17-18:
WSC 17. Into what estate did the fall bring mankind? A. The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.
Take note of the two terms “sin” and “misery.” The next question, question 18, deals with the estate of sin, whereas question 19 deals with the estate of misery.
WSC 18. Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell? A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.
Notice how the estate of sinfulness has two parts: original sin and actual sin. Original sin is not the sin of eating the forbidden fruit. Our catechism calls it original sin because it is the estate of sin from which all actual sin of the sinner originates. It, likewise, has two parts: the guilt of Adam’s sin, which is imputed to us, and his sin nature which we inherit. Our catechism further informs us that this sin nature may be seen as having two sides: the want of original righteousness and the corruption of our whole nature. In other words, we have lost the desire and ability to do good, and everything we do is tainted with sin.
This is the estate of sin that we are in.
What about the estate of misery? This is covered in Question 19.
WSC 19. What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell? A. All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under His wrath and curse, and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell for ever.
In other words, we can, by nature, no longer enjoy fellowship with God like our first parents before the fall. Instead, we have become God’s enemies. We are under His wrath and curse. We are now subject to all the miseries of this life, to death, and to the pains of hell forever.
This is the estate of misery whereinto man has fallen.
But where in scripture are all these things taught? Well, they are found in several passages in the Bible. But one very significant passage is Ephesians 2:1-3.
The Lord helping us, we want to consider what the Spirit has to teach us through these three verses.
These verses are part of a long sentence that stretches to verse 7. Now, every sentence has at least a subject, an object, and a verb. If I say, “Tim kicked a ball,” the subject is “Tim,” the object is “a ball,” and the verb is “kicked.”
It is not so evident in English, but in Greek, it is clear that the main subject in Ephesians 2:1-7 is “God” (v. 4). The object is “us,” i.e. those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 5-6).
And there are three main verbs:
The first is translated as “hath quickened… together” (v. 5). The second is “hath raised… up together” (v. 6). The third is “made…[to] sit together” (v. 6).
Thus, the main idea expressed in verses 1-7 is that God has quickened us, raised us, and seated us together with Christ.
Our text basically describes the statement’s object, which is “us” believers. In particular, it describes the circumstance from which we are quickened and raised.
It contains three ideas corresponding to questions 18 and 19 of our catechism.
- First, there is a declaration of original sin, the first part of our estate of sin.
- Secondly, there is a description of our actual sin, the second part of our estate of sin.
- Thirdly, there is a summation of our estate of misery.
1. Our Original Sin
“And you [hath he quickened], who were dead in trespasses and sins” (v. 1).
The words “hath he quickened” are not here in the original text. It comes from verse 5. This verse cannot stand alone. As I mentioned, it is intended to describe our natural fallen state from which God quickened us. Our translators added the word “hath he quickened” in italics so that the sentence could be broken into more easily understood fragments.
To be quickened is to be made alive.
We will deal with what it means to be quickened in a subsequent message. But for now, we must understand why we need to be quickened in the first place. Why do we need to be quickened? We need to be quickened because we are dead!
In what sense were we dead?
We were “dead in trespasses and sins,” says Paul. We were not physically dead. We are all clear on that. But we were dead. We were spiritually dead.
When God created our first parents, Adam and Eve, He placed them in the Garden of Eden. There they enjoyed an abundant life that included fellowship with God. But amid the Garden was a tree known as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God warned Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of the tree. He told them that on the day that they ate of it, they would surely die.
As it turned out, one day, the devil succeeded in tempting them to eat the forbidden fruit. That day, they died physically, for they began to suffer all the effects of physical death. They began to suffer pain, illnesses, injury and ageing. They began on a sure journey to the grave. But most of all, they died spiritually. All mankind descending from Adam by natural generation would henceforth suffer the same two deaths.
Now, to deliver the elect of Christ from death, God must do two things. He must deliver them from physical death, and He must deliver them from spiritual death. Paul talks about deliverance from physical death in 1 Corinthians 15. We will be delivered from physical death at the resurrection, which is called the second resurrection by the apostle John in Revelation 20.
But God must also deliver us from spiritual death. This, He does in our lifetime, through regeneration or the new birth. This is what the apostle John calls the first resurrection. And this is what Paul has in mind in our text.
We were spiritually dead. God had to deliver us from spiritual death before we could enjoy fellowship with Him. But what do we mean by “spiritually dead”? Well, death denotes separation. When someone dies, he is separated from those who are alive in that he can no longer fellowship with or communicate with them. Those alive can see and speak to him, but he can neither hear nor respond.
Spiritual death carries the same idea of separation. One who is spiritually dead is separated from God. He cannot have any fellowship with God. God can see him and speak to him, but he can neither hear correctly nor respond righteously as long as he remains dead.
Now, Paul speaks about being “dead in trespasses and sins.” What does he mean? Well, we may think of trespasses and sins as being the wood and nail of the coffin. By nature, we are spiritually dead. By nature, our soul is interred in a coffin of trespasses and sins.
The two words carry similar meanings in the original.
‘Trespasses’ translates the word παράπτωμα (paraptōma), which literally means “fall beside.” It pictures a person who is supposed to walk along a straight line, whose footstep keeps falling outside the line. Think of Jared Connaughton in the 2012 Olympics. His team was sure they had won a bronze medal, but they were disqualified because he had stepped on the lane marking several times. We trespass when we step outside the path marked by God’s law.
The word “sins,” on the other hand, translates the word ἁμαρτία (hamartia), which speaks of missing the mark. It pictures a person shooting an arrow whose arrow fails to hit the target. When we fail to meet the mark, we sin.
The apostle John uses a different word for sin. He says: “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (1 Jn 3:4). The word translated “transgression of the law” is one word in Greek, namely, ἀνομία (anomia), which means, “lawlessness.” Sin is simply any words, deeds or action that is not in accordance with the law of God. What is sin? “Sin,” as we saw previously, “is any want of conformity unto or transgression of the Law of God” (WSC 14).
Can you see how the idea is synonymous? The point is that we cannot meet God’s holy standards by nature. Paul says elsewhere: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).
God is perfectly holy. His standard is perfect holiness. To pass God’s examination requires 100 % righteousness. But as fallen men, we can never meet the standard. “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Is 64:6) says Isaiah. Even our most righteous acts cannot meet God’s standards. They are unclean in God’s eyes. Filthy rags in Isaiah 64:6 do not refer to tablecloths or even floor rags which you can still use. They refer to soiled sanitary napkins.
The point is: by nature, a fallen man is radically depraved. He has no ability to do anything that does not fall short of the glory of God. He cannot do anything that meets God’s standard of righteousness.
Why? Because he is imputed with Adam’s guilt in the first place, and he has inherited Adam’s sin nature in the second place. Because of his guilt in Adam, he is guilty before he does anything. Because of his sin nature which he inherited from Adam, he has no desire or ability to do good, and everything he thinks, says or does is corrupted with sin. This is what our catechism (WSC 18) calls original sin.
Because of original sin, every one of us is, by nature, a sinner. Even the things that we do, which may appear good to man, are sinful in the eyes of God. The fact is that since the fall, man has been as wicked as can be in his heart. Yes, he is restrained in his actions for reasons of reputation, economic self-preservation, etc. But his heart is as wicked as can be and is capable of the worst atrocities.
Fallen man, by nature, neither can nor wants to keep the law of God or do anything right. He is dead in trespasses and sins.
Unless God quickens him by His grace, a fallen man cannot do what God wants him to do—including to repent of his sin and to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus says: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:3). To be born again is to be quickened or made alive and regenerated. Unless a man is born again, he cannot even see the kingdom of God. How, then, can he enter into it?
This is an essential doctrine summarised not only in question 18 of our catechism, but in the first point of the five points of Calvinism, namely Total Depravity. And it is one of the things which our Lord rebuked Nicodemus for not knowing. “Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?” (Jn 3:10).
Over the years, I have heard different preachers and ministerial students illustrating the conversion process.
One man pictured sinners as people stuck in a pit and preachers as rescuers lowering ropes down to them. All the sinners need to do is grab the rope, and the preacher will pull them up. What’s wrong with this illustration?
Another described the sinner as a man who has fallen overboard a cruise ship. He is drowning. He cries for help. “Help, help! I can’t swim!” Someone hears his cry and throws him a life buoy. “Grab it!” he shouts. The man struggles vigorously and grabs the life buoy with his last ounce of energy. He is saved. All the sinner needs to do is reach out to the life-saver thrown at him. The rest God will do. What is wrong with this illustration?
Yet another describes the sinner as a sick man. He is very sick. He is lying on the hospital bed alone. He is feeling the pain in his chest again. He knows he is going to die. The doctor comes along and hands him a pill. He tells him that he must take the pill, or he will die. He holds the pill in his hand. He has to make a choice. “Should I, or should I not take it?” he debates. Ultimately, he pops the pill into his mouth and experiences instant relief. He is saved. But what is wrong with this illustration?
Is the gospel a rope to those trapped in the pit, a life buoy to a drowning man or a life-saving pill to a sick person?
What does the apostle Paul tell us? The sinner is dead in sin and trespasses! He is not alive in the pit. He is rotting in the tomb like Lazarus. He is not drowning. He is decomposing at the bottom of the sea. He is not sick and dying. He is frozen in the mortuary.
He is dead in trespasses and sin. He has origin sin—both the guilt of Adam and an inherited sin nature that is as corrupt as can be. By nature, our heart is a cesspool that spews all sorts of wickedness.
So consider, secondly, Paul’s description of our actual sin.
2. Our Actual Transgressions
“Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: 3a Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind” (v. 2-3a).
Before we were converted, we “walked according to the course of this world,” says Paul. Walking is a beautiful metaphor for life in this world. Human beings are responsible beings. We know how to live purposefully or deliberately by nature. Therefore, our lives can be described as a walk, whereas the lives of animals cannot be so described. But the question is: to what purpose did we live? We walked. But what path did we walk on?
We walked according to the course or path of this world, says Paul. We did not walk in the path of God’s law.
This world is a fallen world whose prince is the devil. All fallen men are, by nature, his loyal subjects. So the world is fundamentally ungodly and anti-Christian.
We were in the world. We were part of the world. We adopted a worldly lifestyle, together with worldly wisdom, worldly reasoning, and worldly priorities. We allowed ourselves to be sucked into the rat race, expectations and peer pressures of the world.
We did not know any alternative. We simply did what everybody else did. We did not think it was wrong.
We did not even realise that there was a cosmic war going on. We did not know that the devil had been leading an insurgency against Christ. We were unaware that the devil was using us to fight his battles against Christ and his seed.
We walked “according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (v. 2b). Who is this prince of the power of the air? He is none other than Satan. Satan was a fallen angel, so he is called a spirit.
How were we walking? We were walking according to his wishes! We were being led by the nose by the devil. We did not realise it then, but we found his ways irresistible.
The devil did not compel us. We walked with him willingly and freely.
Today, if you are a believer, you will not walk with him willingly. But the same spirit is at work “in the children of disobedience.” Who are the children of disobedience? They are all who remain unregenerate and, therefore, unbelieving. The devil is working in the heart of all unbelievers just as he worked in our hearts.
We see it clearly now. So, according to the apostle John: “we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness [under the control of the Wicked One]” (1 Jn 5:19).
But we did not see it then.
We dwelt amongst “the children of disobedience.” We lived like them. We lived “in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” It was natural and normal for us to do whatever felt right for us to do.
We followed worldly principles happily. We were perfectly at home walking according to ungodly principles. Those principles appealed to our fallen nature.
If it works, it must be right. If it feels good, then we will do it. We cared not about God’s law. We almost took pride in walking in rebellion or disobedience.
As Christians, we have a different principle. We no longer simply do what feels good. We want to do what is right. We want to glorify God. We have a new relationship with God which differs from our old relationship with him. But those who are outside Christ remain in the estate of sin, and so actually sin moment by moment in words, deeds and thought. This is what our catechism, Q 18, is teaching us when it says: “The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in … original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.”
This is the estate of sin: Both original sin and actual transgression.
But what about the estate of misery? Consider, thirdly, our estate of misery.
3. Our Estate of Misery
“…and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others” (v. 3b).
Paul, we must remember, is addressing Christians. The elect were never ever hated by the Father, for we were beloved in Christ from all eternity, even before Christ laid down His life for us.
Yes, at the foundation of the world, God the Son had not died for us; and yes, God the Spirit had not indwelt us. But no, God did not hate us, for our sins were as good as paid for by the Lord Jesus Christ! This is why the apostle John speaks of Christ as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8). We were beloved from the foundation of the world.
However, there was a time when we were “children of wrath.” Though God did not hate us, His wrath was directed against us like a father would not hate his children, yet would be angry with them when they rebel against him.
Do you understand what I am saying, children? Why does your daddy spank you when you are naughty? Is it because he hates you? No, it is because he loves you. But does he get angry when you sin? Of course!
Before our conversion, we rebelled against God, and therefore, we experienced God’s wrath. The reprobates are in constant rebellion against God. Therefore, they also experience God’s wrath.
Thus, Paul tells the Romans:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.Rom 1:18
God is our Creator. He made all men in His own image to glorify Him. But men fell and became God’s enemies in unrighteousness and ungodliness. Therefore, God’s wrath is kindled against them.
And we were among those who were ungodly and unrighteous. By nature, we are “children of wrath,” even as others. We know that by nature, we are all “children of wrath.” All who remain in unbelief, Jews or Gentiles, elect or reprobate, Christian or non-Christian, are children of wrath. Because of the fall, all men are, by nature, children of God’s wrath.
As children of God’s wrath, we cannot enjoy God’s fellowship like our first parents did in the Garden of Eden. Indeed, as our catechism (Q. 19) reminds us:
All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under His wrath and curse, and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell for ever.
This world is full of pain, suffering and tears because of the fall. Diseases, accidents and death challenge us because of the fall. And all who remain in unbelief will experience the pains of hell forever.
This is the misery of the estate whereinto we have fallen at the fall.
By nature, because of the fall, we are at enmity with God, and God is at enmity with us. God would have us know that we deserve His wrath and curse.
But thanks be to God; we need not remain in this state. For Christ came that those who believe in Him may be freed both from sin and misery.
8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.Rom 5:8-10
But now, what is the significance of all these things to us? Well, let’s apply what we have learned to three groups of people.
a. First, allow me to speak to you, beloved brethren and children who believe and love the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you realise that it is a miracle that you believe Him? According to the Scripture, you were dead in trespasses and sin. Had not God the Father elected you, Christ died for you, and the Holy Spirit quickened you, would still be in your sin and serving Satan. But because of what God has done for you, you are a child of God’s love rather than His wrath.
Therefore, beloved child of God’s love, how will you respond to God’s grace towards you? Will you not respond with gratitude? Will you not examine yourself to see if you are still living in sin? Are you still fighting Satan’s battle? Do you still indulge in sin and trespasses? Do you ignore God’s law in your thoughts and decisions? Do you ignore God’s law in what you do or do not do? What are you doing with your time and energy? Are you seeking first God’s kingdom and His righteousness?
Turn away from sin. Start walking with the Lord. If you believe in the Lord, you can, for you have been quickened. You are alive unto God. Do not continue to live as a dead man, for the odour of death is displeasing to God and spreads disease to fellow pilgrims.
b. But secondly, let me address you if you have loved ones or friends who are not converted, and you are desirous of their conversion. They may be your parents, your children, your relatives, your colleagues, your neighbours. It does not matter who. So long as you know someone you desire to bring to Christ, I am speaking to you.
I speak to you because I know you will be tempted to be impatient, and you will feel exasperated that you can do nothing about it. You may even be tempted to try to speed things up. Do you know the most common way of trying to speed things up? Get him to repeat a sinner’s prayer after you. Or get him to respond to an altar call.
But beloved, I trust that you have understood from what we have spoken about in this message that that is foolish. No one can be saved except the Spirit sovereignly quickens him. Nothing that is done by the unconverted can save him. Even his prayer will be an abomination to God if his heart is not first changed and faith is given him to believe in Christ.
What, then, should we do for our loved ones and friends? May I urge you to pray and to wait patiently? Make sure he gets to hear the gospel preached. Invite him. Talk with him, and be a witness for the Lord, but never, never try to engineer a conversion. It will only make hypocrites.
c. But finally, I speak to you if you are still walking in unbelief. You are still walking in unbelief if you understand what I am saying, and yet it does not touch your heart at all. It does not bother you that Christ is a stranger to you. It does not bother you that you are a child of wrath. It does not bother you that you are dead in sin and trespasses.
Listen, Christ is calling into the tomb. “Lazarus, come forth!” Is there any Lazarus in the tomb? If you know that you are a sinner, dead in trespasses and sin, know that you are bound for hell, and hear Christ calling, you are Lazarus. Christ is calling you: “Lazarus, come forth!”
Come forth to the Lord. Do so in your heart. Tell him, “Lord, I am coming. Thank you for raising me from the dead. Lord, I come!”
Lazarus, repent of your sin, and begin to do the works fit for repentance. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Begin to walk in His ways.
Do you hear the Spirit calling you? Do you hear—in your heart—the voice of Christ calling you? Oh, do not turn back. Follow Him. He will in no wise cast you out. He will lead you to life abundant and free. Amen.