“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 2:1-2 NIV).
You probably don’t hear the word “transgression” used very much today, if it is used at all. In fact, if you asked a random person to define the word “transgression” today, there’s a good chance that they’ll have an idea that it refers to something bad but probably not much more information than that. So what do the “transgressions” mentioned in these verses mean and how does that affect people today?
Well, a “transgression” involves a deliberate act of doing something wrong. When someone commits a transgression, it means that they didn’t accidentally do something bad- it means that they knowingly and intentionally did something wrong. So the idea behind this word is that someone deliberately crossed over the line and purposely violated the rules.
Transgressions are similar to, but different from the “sins” that are also mentioned above. As we’ve talked about earlier, the word sin literally means, “to miss the mark.” Remember that God’s standard for His creation (that’s us) is 100% perfection. God has every right to expect people to meet this standard because that’s how He originally created us (see Genesis 1:27, 31). Unfortunately, every human being has followed the bad example of the first human couple in doing those things that God says are wrong.
Since everyone has done something wrong at some time in their life, this means that everyone also falls short of what God intends for humanity and all have “missed the mark” so to speak. So while people may not always knowingly and willfully do wrong (or “transgress”), they’re still not everything that they should be either.
This is an important spiritual concept to understand. You see, people are often taught to believe that human beings are basically good and that bad behavior is only a result of some social or environmental reason. Of course, most people probably are “good people” in the sense that they aren’t intentionally cruel, sadistic, or merciless. And it’s also true that social and environmental factors can often have a big effect on someone’s behavior for better or worse. But as much as we might like to think of ourselves as “good people,” the truth is that the Scriptures tell us that people are not basically good. Romans 3:10-12 explains it this way…
“As the Scriptures say, ‘No one is good-no one in all the world is innocent. No one has ever really followed God’s paths or even truly wanted to. Every one has turned away; all have gone wrong. No one anywhere has kept on doing what is right; not one.'”
A few verses later we’re also told that, “…all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23 NLT). This means that everyone, everywhere has messed up and fallen short of what they could be and should be before God. So the truth is that all human beings (even the “good” ones) have done wrong- sometimes without realizing it and sometimes on purpose. This is also why people who believe that they are “basically good” are still facing God’s death penalty- they are still dead in (their) transgressions and sins as we read before (see also Ezekiel 18:4).
Of course, people who prefer to live as if God did not exist will naturally tend to go along with the flow of this world, a world that is strongly influenced by God’s enemy. This also explains the reference to the ruler of the kingdom of the air that we see in these verses.
You see, people who lived during Biblical times rightly believed that evil spiritual beings were greatly inferior to God. In fact, people believed that these demonic beings were so unworthy of God’s presence that they could only occupy the area within the Earth’s atmosphere, a place that was far below God’s throne in heaven. Therefore, Satan is referred to as the ruler of the kingdom of the air (you can also see some other verses such as Job 1:7 and Matthew 12:43 which may give additional Biblical support for this belief).
“All of us used to be just as they are, our lives expressing the evil within us, doing every wicked thing that our passions or our evil thoughts might lead us into. We started out bad, being born with evil natures, and were under God’s anger just like everyone else” (Ephesians 2:3).
As you may have guessed, that “evil within us” (or that “sinful nature” as it says in another translation) refers to that internal tendency that human beings have to do those things that that God says are wrong or forbidden. This is such an important spiritual topic that The Doctor gave it a message of it’s own and you can check it out over here.
“But God is so rich in mercy; he loved us so much that even though we were spiritually dead and doomed by our sins, he gave us back our lives again when he raised Christ from the dead-only by his undeserved favor have we ever been saved- and lifted us up from the grave into glory along with Christ, where we sit with him in the heavenly realms-all because of what Christ Jesus did. And now God can always point to us as examples of how very, very rich his kindness is, as shown in all he has done for us through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-7).
One of the amazing things about God’s love for people is that it isn’t based on who they are or what they can do for Him. In fact, the Scripture quoted above tells us that God loved us while we had nothing to offer Him at all. You see, God’s love for human beings flows from who He is and unlike human “love” which is often based on things like money or success or physical attractiveness alone, God loves us because it is His nature to love. Even though we did nothing to deserve it, God showed His love for humanity through what Jesus did on the cross- or as Romans 5:8 puts it…
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (NAS).