“You once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh” (Eph. 2:2–3)
The Christian life is war.
Contrary to popular belief, being a Christian is difficult. When a sinner gets saved—when God regenerates a soul—life doesn’t suddenly get peachy. Marginalization springs up, temptations arise, and spiritual warfare is around every corner. The war begins. In reality, it becomes much harder for (at least) three reasons: the world, the flesh, and the devil.
When the Apostle Paul mentions “the course of this world,” he’s referring to society as a whole, the culture system we live in. This system is saturated by numerous ungodly patterns, with selfishness being at the forefront. The believer—now in Christ—once lived this way. But now, since becoming a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), this is not the way the Christian desires to live, but the temptation is there.
RC Sproul put it this way:
No longer our ruler, the world still appeals to our remaining sin, so we must maintain our guard lest we fall back into bondage.
Appealing to our old nature, the world vociferously offers believers to fall back into their old, sinful ways. Not only does the world promote ungodly behaviors, but it is wholeheartedly against God. The world hates Christ, so they will hate you (Jn. 15:18). Make no mistake: the world isn’t neutral with Christianity. It’s radically opposed, as we continue to see.
The moment his/her feet hit the floor, the Christian has a tough swim upstream against the God-dishonoring habits of this world.
Dr. Sproul alluded to the fight with our flesh in his above comments when he says “the world still appeals to our remaining sin.” This is what is meant by “the passions of our flesh” in the above verse.
When somebody gets saved, they don’t automatically become fully sanctified and perfect. We remain in our current body, where indwelling sin still undoubtedly resides. Therefore, sin will (sometimes) appeal to us.
This is the second fight we wake up to each day—the battle with our flesh. O, how I wish we didn’t have this fight. How I wish I didn’t still wake up to the lingering thoughts that dishonor God. I wish we still didn’t act like unbelievers sometimes.
Paul knows full well how we feel, thank God! We should be able to take heart that arguably the godliest man other than Christ also struggled with sin. We see his struggle in Romans 7.
John Macarthur, Pastor of Grace Community Church, comments on this chapter by saying
That [Romans 7] is a poignant description of someone in conflict with himself, someone who loves God’s moral law, someone who deep down in his innermost self wants to obey God’s moral law, but is pulled and pushed away from its fulfillment by sin, sin that is in him. It is the personal experience of a soul in conflict. It is a battle. It is a warfare that rages in the heart. The conflict is very real. It is very intense. It is very strong. Of that there is no mistake. (Source)
This is the fight of every Christian. We are “pulled and pushed away” from fulfilling God’s precious law by sin. This is the everyday battle with our flesh.
(Some Christian scholars don’t believe Paul is speaking about his Christian life in Romans 7, but I disagree with them.)
In the above verse, “the prince of the power of this air” is certainly the Devil. It’s not something too many Christians like to think about, but the reality is the devil “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pt. 5:8). Satan is real and seeks to attack the church, the body of Christ.
As Christians, we have to be aware of this. Satan is not behind every act, so we shouldn’t blame him for everything, especially when we are the ones who sinned (Js. 1:14). However, he certainly has a major influence in this world and has a lot of power. But, believer, take heart: the only power Satan has is the power that God gives him. God has Satan on a leash; he can only do what God allows him to do (Job 1:6-22).
Christian, I understand that the walk of faith can be a strenuous walk. From temptations, marginalization, and daily dealing with the craftiness of Satan, the Christian walk will often feel like an uphill battle that’ll never end.
But it will. One day we will finally be with Jesus, and see God as He is (1 Jn. 3:2), and worship Him forever. How beautiful that will be!
Soli Deo Gloria