Paul reminds his Ephesians readers about what they were like before they became Christians. All of them had been spiritually dead and they showed this by living sinful lives. They lived in worldly ways and acted according to the devil’s intentions.
How does the devil influence people? Paul describes him as ‘the prince of the power of the air’. This ‘air’ is a reference to an aspect of the invisible world; it does not refer to the atmosphere. Within the invisible world the devil has authority and directs his agents to do his bidding. But how does he do it?
The devil often uses the outlook or influences or ideas of every particular society to cause people within it to sin. The devil uses such things because he is not omnipresent. Although he is able to move about very quickly, he cannot be in two places at the one time. This means that he has to use agents and ideas.
It is important also to stress that the devil is not omnipotent, for he cannot force someone to obey his wishes. Rather he has to use guile and deceit to tempt people, and the most effective way is to get them to do what everyone else is doing.
Paul also refer to the flesh, a term which here covers both the body and the mind (elsewhere it can refer to the human race or to individual persons). By the body Paul means the abuse of natural appetites such as eating and drinking and by the mind he means attitudes of pride, ambition, despising others, desire for novelty etc.
Although we were the subjects of the influences of this terrible trio (the world, the devil, the flesh), it is important to stress that our submission to them was voluntary. But they were not the worst aspect of our state before we were converted. In addition, we were the children of wrath.
When Paul mentions divine wrath, he does not mean that God is prone to outbursts of fury. Rather wrath describes his continued hostility to sin and sinners. This is not a popular truth today. But if we do not mention his wrath we present a false image of God. This is not merely a theoretic discussion but an awful reality.
These verses describe the tragedy of the human situation. The best way to understand this description is through the doctrine of total depravity. None of us is as bad as we can be. What is the case is that each area of our personality has been affected by sin to some extent.
And we are always to remember that Paul’s description here is the backcloth to the bright glory of the gospel. As we know, artists often use a dark background to enhance the brightness of the foreground. It is against a true understanding of our situation that we will appreciate the benefits of the gospel.