Commentary on Ephesians, 2:1

Ephesians 2:1

“And you, {although you were dead} in your trespasses and sins,”  LEB

On the difference between trespasses and sins, William MacDonald:

Sins are any form of wrongdoing, whether consciously committed or not, and thoughts, words, or deeds which fall short of God’s perfection. Trespasses are sins which are committed in open violation of a known law. In a wider sense they may also include any form of false steps or blunders.”

“dead in your trespasses and sins”

This death is a spiritual death, separation from God. Below is the introduction to my post, “The Plight of Mankind.” It provides a description of what it means to be spiritually dead.
You may click on the link below to read the whole post:

Note:  I accept the Arminian definition of Total Depravity, which is defined below:

Total Depravity (the T in FACTS) [Cf. Article 3 of the 5 Articles of the Remonstrance]

“Humanity was created in the image of God, good and upright, but fell from its original sinless state through willful disobedience, leaving humanity in the state of total depravity, sinful, separated from God, and under the sentence of divine condemnation (Rom 3:23; 6:23; Eph 2:1-3). Total depravity does not mean that human beings are as bad as they could be, but that sin impacts every part of a person’s being and that people now have a sinful nature with a natural inclination toward sin. Human beings are fundamentally corrupt at heart. As Scripture tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer 17:9; cf. Gen 6:5; Matt 19:17; Luke 11:13). Indeed, human beings are spiritually dead in sins (Eph 2:1-3; Col 2:13) and are slaves to sin (Rom 6:17-20). The Apostle Paul even says, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Rom 7:18). Elsewhere he testifies, “as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one’ ” (Rom 3:10-12; cf. Rom 1:18-32; Eph 4:17-22). In their natural state, human beings are hostile toward God and cannot submit to his Law nor please him (Rom 8:7-8). Thus, human beings are not able to think, will, nor do anything good in and of themselves. We are unable do anything that merits favor from God and we cannot do anything to save ourselves from the judgment and condemnation of God that we deserve for our sin. We cannot even believe the gospel on our own (John 6:44). If anyone is to be saved, God must take the initiative.” 

(Taken from the Society of Evangelical Arminians website, under “The Facts of Salvation: A Summary of Arminian Theology/The Biblical Doctrines of Grace)

However, while I agree with the above definition of Total Depravity, I don’t like the term. Personally, as I explain below, I would call the spiritual condition of mankind simply as Depraved. My reasoning is, if man is truly totally depraved, he would not be able to do anything but sin. He would not be able to choose between right and wrong. He would not be able to give to the poor, he would not be able to be kind or gentle or generous. He would not be able to choose between lying or not lying, between being faithful to one’s spouse or not being faithful, between stealing or not stealing, loving or not lolving, etc. However, even the good and right choices man does make, it’s still by the grace of God, according to the glimmer of light that He has provided. Any light that we’re able to respond to in our unregenerate state, is still the grace of God. But according to the Arminian definition of the term, I’m in agreement with it.

The Plight of Mankind: 

When God created Adam and Eve, He created them without sin. Until they chose to disobey, they were in perfect fellowship with God. When they sinned, they died spiritually and thus separated from God. This sin (sinful nature) and separation from God was passed on to the rest of mankind from that point forward. To be a sinner and separated from God means that we need to be brought back into a right relationship with God or we will die in our sins and spend eternity away from the presence of God in a place of torment.

The question must be asked, how dead are we? That is, what does it mean to be spiritually “dead in trespasses and sins?” Well, the opposite of death is life. What we have in Christ is life. We have a new nature. We experience a new birth. So I think primarily it means the absence of this new birth, this new nature. It means to have a sinful, corrupt nature that is separated from God. We are dead in the sense that if we die in our sins we will spend eternity in the lake of fire, “the second death” (Rev 20:14).  However, this spiritual death also means that we are out of harmony with God in regard to spiritual things. That means we are out of harmony with spiritual truth, out of harmony with God‘s will, and out of harmony with God Himself. In our unregenerate state, we do not have a personal relationship with God where we can walk and talk with God in fellowship, nor are we able to understand the deep spiritual truths of God’s Word.

However, spiritual death does not mean that we are totally and completely out of touch with God or with spiritual truth or with God’s will. Total means total and complete means complete. If man were totally depraved, then man would not be able to understand anything about God to any degree at all; he would not be able to understand spiritual truth to any degree at all; he would not be able to respond to the light of creation; he would not be able to respond to God’s moral law within our hearts (Rom 2:14-16); he would not be able to do any acts of good or right in the sight of God (for example: to tell the truth, to love, to give to the poor, to show kindness to others, to show mercy and compassion to others, to avoid drugs, to avoid murder, to avoid stealing, etc.) but only acts of sin; he would not feel any guilt or shame over any sins committed; he would not have any interest in God at all; and this world, as sinful and corrupt as it is, would be a great many times worse than it is now.

In light of these facts, we must conclude that man’s depravity is not total at all. Man’s heart and spiritual condition has been merely tainted or corrupted. Though we are separated from God and will die in this state apart from Christ, God has nevertheless, kept within the heart of man a certain degree light and awareness of Himself, and a certain degree of sensitivity and ability to respond to Him, both in spiritual matters and in regard to right and wrong. That is God’s grace. Thus spiritual death is complete in that we are separated from God and out of fellowship with Him, but not in spiritual awareness and moral ability.

Based on these facts, it’s evident that God is able to work within the heart of man to lead him to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. If man has the ability to choose good over evil – and all good originates from God – then does it not make sense that man is also able to choose God Himself, as the Holy Spirit moves in a person’s heart to draw him?


I want to add to what I’ve stated above, because I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding.
Part of the purpose of the above discussion in the original post, is to demonstrate that man does not need to be regenerated first before they’re able see spiritual truth.  However, I need to make it clear that any light that we’re able to respond to in our unregenerate state, is only by the grace of God. When Jesus said that He would “draw all men to Himself,” (John 12:32), I believe that is a work of the Holy Spirit, and comes through creation, the Word of God, and within our hearts.
Apart from the revealing work of the Holy Spirit within us, it’s not possible to come to faith in Christ in our unregenerate state. The Holy Spirit must free our wills in order to enable us to humble ourselves in faith.

However, I still maintain that total depravity in its literal sense, would mean that we wouldn’t be able to do anything but sin. I believe God has created mankind with a glimmer of light, the moral ability to choose between right and wrong, good and evil. I don’t believe that contradicts the Bible’s teaching that man is in spiritual darkness (Acts 26:18; Eph 5:8; Col 1:13; 1 Pet 2:9). Mankind is indeed in spiritual darkness and separated from God. They do not know the truth, nor can they understand the truth apart from the revealing work of the Holy Spirit. They cannot understand the gospel of Jesus Christ, nor are they able to believe apart from the revealing and freeing work of the Spirit of God. They dwell in the domain of darkness, and will remain there throughout eternity apart from Christ.

Nevertheless, the fact that unregenerate man does choose between right and wrong, good and evil, and does have an interest in God and spiritual matters (as evidenced by all the religions of the world), shows that God has designed man with a glimmer of light, and is using that light to draw them to Himself. It’s all by the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and lives throughout this world.

Thus I regard man not as totally depraved, but merely depraved. I think that better describes the state of mankind. However, if one maintains that total depravity means that unregenerate man by himself, apart from any grace of God within us at all, is not able to even choose between right and wrong, good and evil,  then I would agree with that. In our spiritual state, without the moral awareness that God has placed within us, we would not be able to do anything but sin. But the fact remains, that is not the way God has designed us.