Paul calls all of us “children of wrath” in Ephesians 2:3 because, prior to knowing Christ, everyone was under the judgment of God. Because of Adam’s original sin and the way we continued to sin against one another and against God, we all deserved God’s wrath. God is just, and the just response to our sins is condemnation. Thankfully, God is also merciful, and He did not leave us in our pitiful condition. Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay for our sins, so that anyone who accepts His gift of grace will never have to pay the wages of sin, which is death (Romans 6:23a). We will circle back to that, but first, let’s explore Paul’s intriguing statement that we “were by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3, ESV).
In Ephesians 2:1–3, Paul is recounting the desperate state of his readers prior to their salvation. We were all, regardless of creed, race, nationality, wealth, or status, “dead in [our] offenses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1, NASB). Following this grim diagnosis of the human condition, Paul writes, “Among them we too all previously lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the rest” (Ephesians 2:3, NASB). Some scholars believe that the we in this passage is a reference to Paul’s people, the Jews, in contrast to his Gentile readers. Others believe that he was simply including himself and his coworkers or fellow believers in the picture. Either way, the words all and just as the rest make Paul’s main point clear: every Christian was once a “child of wrath.”
In Paul’s culture, referring to someone as the “child of” something in a metaphorical sense meant that particular something thoroughly characterized that person. The thing a person was the “child of” defined him and his destiny. For example, in the Old Testament, David literally proclaims someone to be a “child of death”; in other words, David proclaimed that person to be destined for death—he deserved to die (2 Samuel 12:5). Another example comes when Paul urges Christians to live as “children of light,” or as people defined by their association with the truth and holiness of Christ (Ephesians 5:8). As unbelievers, we were “children of wrath”; the thing that characterized us was God’s wrath. Our destiny was separation from God, and we deserved it. The phrase by nature in Ephesians 2:3 emphasizes the sorry state we were in from birth.
Thanks be to God, He did not leave us in a hopeless state! He stepped in and saved us, rescuing us from the great trouble we created. Jesus died on the cross, taking our sins upon Himself, and then rose again, defeating death. Anyone who comes to Him will be saved (Romans 10:9–13). Because of God’s gift, we are no longer children of wrath, but children of God, adopted into His family and given eternal life with Him (Galatians 3:26–29; 1 John 3:1–3). In His grace, “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9).
Paul marvels at the magnitude of what God has done for us former children of wrath: “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4–7).
Do you know Jesus Christ? There is no reason for you to stay in the desperate place described in Ephesians 2:1–3, when the blessings of Ephesians 2:4–10 are waiting for you. God invites you to come to Him and accept His free gift of grace through faith in His Son. Come to Him today!