Do you believe in zombies? Zombies are so hip right now. They pop up in movies and TV shows, even commercials. My ten-year-old daughter recently asked me if zombies are real, and I said, “No, zombies are not real, sweetie.” But I was wrong. Zombies do exist—the Bible says so! When we put Ephesians 2:1 together with verse 2, we see zombies.
Ephesians 2 begins bleakly: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins” (v. 1). Paul’s starting point is death. You were dead in your sins. He doesn’t mean that you were somehow physically dead without knowing it—he means that you were spiritually dead “in” or “through” (“because of”) your transgressions* and sins. A transgression is a type of sin that involves breaking a rule. Sin refers to our rebellion against God, whether through “transgressions” or not. Humanity instinctively rejects God. It’s a natural inclination. This rebellion is expressed though words, deeds, and attitudes.
It’s important to appreciate the significance of being dead, physically or spiritually. If you’re physically dead, you can’t do anything. You’re dead! When you are lying in your coffin, six feet underground, your last chapter has been written; your story is over. It is too late to fix the things you’ve done wrong. You can’t apologize to that person you offended. You can’t mend your broken relationship with that family member. It’s too late to tell your children you love them. It’s too late to undo all your regrets.
The spiritually dead have no relationship with God. To be spiritually dead means you are completely cut off from God. Being dead, you are unable to reach out to him. You cannot fix the things you’ve done that offended God. You can’t apologize to him for rebelling against him, for pretending he doesn’t exist, and for living as though you are, in fact, God.
The first verse of Ephesians 2 raises a serious problem. Dead people can’t make things right. Any solution to our deadness must come from somewhere other than ourselves.
After telling us that we were dead in our sins, Paul goes on:
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 (v. 2).
Paul literally wrote that they were dead in their sins “in which [they] used to walk.” Walking was a common Jewish way of speaking about the conduct of our lives. For example, to “walk in peace” means to conduct ourselves in a peaceful way. So Paul says that, though dead, they used to live in sinful ways. The walking dead. Zombies. Zombies in the Bible!
Verse 2 also says that these zombies (the walking dead) were not just out for a stroll, going wherever they wanted as though they had the freedom to do whatever they wanted. No, they were followers. And they followed two leaders: “the ways of this world,” and “the ruler of the kingdom of the air.”
Following the ways of this world means to live by the world’s values and ideals. Just like mindless zombies, the walking dead are mindless followers of the world around them. They are not rebels against the status quo. They don’t question the values forced on them, and they don’t look for a better way.
The walking dead also follow the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. Paul doesn’t name this “spirit,” but the most obvious candidate is the devil himself. The world often treats Satan as a joke, but he is not a fun-loving, naughty little guy with red horns and a tail. It’s easy to dismiss him as a silly idea when we caricature him in this way. The greatest trick the devil can play is to convince us that he does not exist.
An evil spiritual being known as Satan, or the devil, is real (job 1; matthew 4:1–11), and he is dangerous. He guides and directs the zombies. The walking dead are under his control. He is their puppet master as they mindlessly follow his directions and the ways of the world.
But just in case you get the impression that Paul is speaking in a judgmental way about the zombie-like walking dead, in the next verse he gets a little more specific with exactly who these zombies are. He includes himself as once one of them: “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath” (2:3 emphasis added). All people—you, me, and even Paul the apostle—were at one time one of these walking dead.
Another thing to notice in verse 3 is that the walking dead are characterized as “gratifying the cravings of our flesh* and following its desires and thoughts.” In other words, we used to live according to our appetites. Whatever our bodies wanted—whatever we craved and desired—that is what we would try to get. Self-gratification was our highest pursuit.
Putting these things together, we see that living according to self-gratification is in fact following the world and the devil. We might think that we’re not hurting anyone by chasing after our desires and cravings, but we are just one more cog in the wheel of the world that turns its back on God. And we don’t notice that living this way is just what our leaders—the world and the devil—want us to do.
The world tries to tell us that “freedom” is being able to do whatever we want: chasing after our desires, gratifying our cravings, simply doing whatever makes us feel good. But this is a lie. The world’s freedom is no freedom at all. It is, rather, the slavish following of the world and the evil one.
Finally, Paul adds in verse 3 that we, like the rest of the world, “were by nature deserving of wrath.” Left in our natural state, we deserve nothing less than the
consequences of rebellion against our Creator. Mindless, self-gratifying, Satan-following, world-pleasing, spiritual zombies deserve to face the wrath of God.
Ephesians 2 indeed begins with a bleak picture! Thank God he didn’t leave us there.