dispensationalism

Hello,

I greet you once again in the Name of Jesus!

We are currently in a series on Dispensations. The study of Dispensations is a means of studying and identifying the various ways in which God has dealt with and related to man, and more importantly, how man has been responsible to God down through the ages of time.

As we have stated in previous studies, five of the seven dispensations had already come and gone before any of us were alive. We were all born during the present Dispensation, the Dispensation of Grace. God relates to fallen humanity, and man is responsible to God in this Dispensation, on the basis of Grace. “Grace” is the Greek charis. The basic meaning of this noun is, gift. God’s grace is a gift. It is not earned, it is not merited, that is; it is not deserved by any of us. God freely extends His grace, His favor, to fallen humanity.

As I write this, this past Sunday I taught my Bible class from Ephesians 2. The first three verses reveal our past before grace. Paul writes,

And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.” [Ephesians 2:1 – 3]

There is so much wonderful truth in these three verses, that we need to break this down and unpack it a bit.

First, “And you” connects Paul’s thought with the end of the previous chapter. Remember, the Bible was not written in chapter and verse, it was one continuous narrative, all in upper-case with no punctuation. So when Paul says, “And you”, he is talking about the Body of Christ, he is referring to believers in Messiah Jesus.

Next, notice the words, “He made alive”. If you have an italicized Bible, those three words are in italics in verse 1. Italicized words are always indicative of words that did not appear in the Greek or Hebrew manuscripts, but were added by scribes and translators to clarify the meaning and smooth out the translation a bit. In this case they were borrowed from verse 5, where these words do appear. Paul says prior to grace, our condition was that we were dead. “Dead” or “death” in the Bible always speaks of separation. To be physically dead is for the soul and spirit to be separated from the body. To be eternally dead is to be forever separated from God in the Lake of Fire [See Rev. 20:10, 14, 15], and to be spiritually dead is to be separated from the life of and fellowship with God. This is the state everyone of us were in prior to grace.

Paul gets very specific in describing how we were dead, or separated. He says we were dead in:

  1. Trespasses – This is the Greek word, paraptoma. It is a false step, a blunder, a stepping off of or wandering off the path. It is the thought expressed by the Prophet Isaiah when he wrote, “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” [Isa. 53:6] All of us wandered off the right path, the way of God, and went our own way. Because of this, we were dead or separated from God, in trespasses.
  1. Sins – “Sins” translates the Greek, hamartia, which essentially is to, “miss the mark.” If the target was righteousness, all of us missed the bulls-eye; in fact, we missed the target altogether. It also carries the thought of to stray or wander off the path, but in addition it is to go or do wrong. In our wandering from the right way, which is God’s Law, we broke or violated God’s Law. This is the essence of sin. The Apostle John wrote, “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.” The KJV says that sin is the, “transgression” of the Law. We were dead or separated from God in sins.

In verse 2 Paul continues his vivid description of our past before grace. He says, “in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience…”. “In which”, or “wherein” in the KJV, goes back to “trespasses and sins” of verse 1. “Walked” translates the Greek, peripateo, a compound word that in the first place is pateo, “to walk”. The prefix, peri is “around” or “about”. So, putting these together it is, “to walk about”. This word came to mean, “to make one’s way, to make progress, to make due use of one’s opportunities.” Finally, it is, “to live, to regulate one’s life, to conduct one’s self, to order one’s behavior.” Paul is describing the sphere in which the unsaved live. You and I, before grace, ordered our behavior, and regulated our lives in the sphere of trespasses and sins. He continues in verse 2 by saying we walked (or conducted our lives), “…according to the course of this world.”

We walked, “according to” (Greek kata), or under the domination and control of, “the course of this world.” First, “course” is the Greek, aion. Trench defines this word, “All that floating mass of thoughts, opinions, maxims, speculations, hopes, impulses, aims, aspirations, at any time current in the world, which it may be impossible to seize and accurately define, but which constitutes a most real and effective power, being the moral, or immoral atmosphere which at every moment of our lives we inhale, again inevitably to exhale, – all this is included in the aiōn, which is, as Bengel has expressed it, ’the subtle informing spirit of the kosmos, or world of men who are living alienated and apart from God’.”

In other words, we conducted our lives like pretty much everyone else in the world. We thought like this present world system, we talked like this present world system, and we for the most part formed our opinions based on whichever way the worldly stream was flowing, or the direction the worldly wind was blowing. Basically, the spirit of this age.

World” translates the Greek, kosmos, and here describes this present evil world-system. This is the system over which Satan and his evil emissaries are head, together with the rest of the unsaved as his slaves. This word describes here the purposes, pleasures, and places where God is not wanted. It is a place hostile toward God and His ways. This is where we all lived before grace.

Not only were we controlled and governed by the popular culture around us, under the influence and control of Satan, but we also walked under the direct dominion and control of Satan himself. Paul writes we also conducted our lives, “according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.”

First, “prince” suggests the son of a king. It translates the Greek, archon, which speaks of the head, or first in an order of things. This refers to Satan, who is the first in command, or the head of his evil government. “Power” translates the Greek, exousia, and it speaks of the fallen angels and demon spirits over which Satan rules. Fallen angels and demon spirits are different entities, but that is for another study. The Holy Spirit through Paul also reveals where this evil government operates and conducts its affairs.

He says he is, the prince of the power of the air.” I bolded the word, “air” because I wanted to call your attention to it. “Air” translates the Greek, aer (pronounced ah-air) which speaks of the air, or the lower and denser air as opposed to the higher and rarer air. In other words, it speaks of the atmosphere above the earth. Satan and his evil cohorts operate in the atmosphere over this planet, and we know that Satan and his demons also wander the earth seeking someone to inhabit, and to find anyone they can devour. [See Job 1:7; 2:2; Matt. 12:43; Luke 11:24; 1 Peter 5:8] So we see Satan operating in the atmosphere over this planet, along with his demonic emissaries, holding sway over individuals and nations. All of us were under his direct control and influence prior to grace.

Prior to grace, we were numbered with the, “sons of disobedience”, and the prince of this present age was at work in us. Satan himself held influence over how we lived and conducted ourselves.

Verse 3 says, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.”

Before grace, we were numbered with the “sons of disobedience”, or literally, non-compliant ones. Paul says before grace we ordered our lives, or conducted ourselves, “in the lusts of our flesh…”. “Lusts” translates the Greek, epithumia, and it speaks of a passionate craving or longing. It can be either good or bad, positive or negative, depending on the context. Here it is negative, because it speaks of the longing or craving of our “flesh”. “Flesh” translates the Greek, sarx, and it describes our fallen human nature.

We not only conducted ourselves according to sinful desires and cravings, but also sinful thoughts. Mind here is the Greek, dianoia. It describes the mind as the faculty of understanding, feeling, and desiring. When it is used in the plural, as it is here, it describes thoughts, in this case evil thoughts. Paul is describing our evil nature having full sway over us before grace.

Notice the word, “were” here if you would. In Greek this is in the imperfect tense, and it describes a continuous action or state of being. Our lost, depraved condition before salvation was a continuous condition from birth on, with no time we were not lost and separated from God. “Children” is the Greek, teknon (from tikto), and it means, “to give birth to.” This word describes the birth relationship. We were born with a fallen nature, separated from God. Were born fallen, deserving of God’s wrath. Now, because of the moral and spiritual innocence of children, they are not held accountable for sins until the time they can consciously choose for or against God. However, everyone is born with a sinful nature, inherited from our spiritual father Adam.

This is the description of our past before grace. It is a pretty vivid one, wouldn’t you agree? Thank God our sinful past is not the end of the story! We not only have a past before grace, but we have a future in grace! Lord willing, we’ll take a look at that next time.

Until next time,

Pastor Kevin E. Johnson

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