Author Archives: Steven

About Steven

I study theology and philosophy without ceasing. I have a B.A. in Philosophy from Arizona State University (2013), and an M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary (2016). I am currently an adjunct professor of philosophy at Grand Canyon University and a Ph.D. student at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Eph. 3:16-17

“I pray that, according to the riches of His glory, [God the Father] may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through His Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” (Eph. 3:16-17)

There are a few things I would like to note about this marvelous passage in one of Paul’s most impressive epistles.

First, I think it is wonderful that a prayer of the Apostle Paul’s is included in the biblical canon, and this for a number of reasons. It gives us an example of the prayer of a holy person; it gives us a model for how to pray like the Apostle to the Gentiles; it teaches us what kinds of things a person prays for who has done so much in the service of Christ’s Gospel. Beyond that, however, it is also a comfort to us, who are also Paul’s readers, even if we are removed from his original audience by two thousand years. I recall feeling this way while reading this passage not long ago: I felt as if Paul had prayed for me, too; I had a kind of assurance of his concern for me, as well, and that God heeded his prayer with respect to me, too, and not only with respect to his original readers. Perhaps in some way, by God’s providence and inspiration, this prayer of Paul’s had a further scope and significance than he might have ever imagined.

Second, I think it is interesting to note the operations of the Trinity in this passage. Paul’s prayer is addressed to the Father, by whose providence all things are guided and who exercises control over absolutely everything, even — so it would seem — the facts of a person’s inner life. The Holy Spirit is the one who strengthens us in our inner being, as I have argued in one of my papers on the phenomenology of the Trinity. Christ dwells in our hearts through faith as we are grounded and rooted in love.

What exactly does it mean for Christ to dwell in our hearts through faith? And how does He does this as we are grounded and rooted in love? I will venture the following guess. I think Christ dwells in our hearts through faith when we are preoccupied with Him, when we look at Him, think about Him, listen to Him, seek to obey Him, and so on. Our “heart” is our inner life, our consciousness and thoughts and feelings and the rest of them. Christ dwells in our hearts when all our thoughts and concerns and feelings are ordered toward Him, i.e. when we have a fundamental and abiding preoccupation and fascination with and orientation towards the person of Christ.

Importantly, Paul says that Christ dwells in our hearts through faith as we are grounded and rooted in love. Faith and love are inseparable from one another, because our faith in Christ is also a love for Him, and indeed our faith in Him increases simultaneously with our love for Him. We may have a kind of preoccupation with Christ, but if it is not one of faith and love — if, for example, our preoccupation with Christ is born of hatred for Him — then it is not saving. This is not of dwelling in our hearts through faith for which Paul prays. Rather, I understand Paul to be praying that God the Father, through the Holy Spirit, make us to be more and more preoccupied with Christ in faith and love — that is, more concerned to know Him, to love Him, to obey Him, to follow Him, to seek after Him. That is what it means for Christ to dwell in our hearts.

When Paul prays that this should happen to us “as we are being rooted and grounded in love,” I think the words “rooted” and “grounded” refer to a kind of permanence and stability. Paul wants that our love for Christ not only increase, but become a permanent part of us, so that it comes to define us essentially.

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The Gospel teaches us on which truths to focus

It is important to know the truth. Jesus taught that “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). Yet there are dangers involved in knowing the truth, especially when the truth in question is a profound one. More specifically, it is possible so to emphasize a particular truth that one loses sight of other, more important truths. The disproportionate attention paid to the one can actually make us to validity and reality of the other.

I will give an example. St. Paul wrote that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). There are two truths here, conjoined by the word “but” which highlights the contrast between the two of them. Now, suppose a person comes to be obsessed with the truth that the wages of sin is death. If this is all a person hears, if this lone truth, in insolation from the other, comes to overwhelm a person’s attention and preoccupy her thoughts, she will likely despair and perhaps even go crazy. It is a hard truth and does not offer any hope. If a person only ever focuses on this truth, she will despair. But even more than that, an exaggerated preoccupation with this truth could even move a person to reject the second truth about the free gift of eternal life. “Why should there be a free gift, if the wages of sin is death?” someone might say. So the overemphasis of the one leads a person to disbelieve in the other.

Now, I want to move from this example to another. Some persons lack confidence in prayer, and this because of their understanding of God. They believe, for example, that God is not a genie, that He is not there for the fulfillment of all our fancies, that His sovereign will is over all things and that our prayers cannot change His mind about things, etc. These are all truths, of course, and they cannot be disputed. But an overemphasis on these truths will lead the same persons to lose all their faith in God’s fatherly care for them, which Jesus teaches us to seek out in prayer.

Suppose that such a person strongly desires some thing, but she also thinks that her praying for the thing does not mean that she will receive it from God. If that is the whole story, then this incomplete appreciation of the truth could lead her to see God as far away from her, as uninterested in caring for her, as unconcerned for what concerns her. Moreover, she will put the burden of acquiring what she wants entirely on her own shoulders, and then she might even come to think that God is working against her when her efforts fail in the end. This attitude doesn’t do anything except to put her at odds with God and to diminish her faith.

Jesus taught the following about prayer:

Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!

(Matt. 7:7-11)

There is such a radical difference between what Jesus says here and the person who says that asking for something doesn’t mean she will receive it! It is almost as if Jesus directly contradicts her. Now, of course, it is obvious in the New Testament that we do not literally and always receive whatever we ask for. James gives a reason:

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

(Jas. 4:1-3)

On the other hand, John says the following:

This is the boldness that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know we have obtained the requests made of Him.

(1 John 5:14-15)

Jesus and the Apostles recognize that we might not receive what we ask for, but they never propose this truth in such a way as to discourage prayer altogether. On the contrary, Jesus and the Apostles do not even conceive of a prayerless Christian life, and they regularly encourage us to bring all of our requests to God (Phil. 4:6). They provide reasons for which we might not receive the things we ask for, and guide us into a better way to ask.

In other words, the message of the Gospel, the teaching of Christ and His Apostles, is not simply a list of truths. It also teaches us how to think of these truths in connection with one another, where to put the emphasis, on which to focus, etc. The Gospel teaches us the truth that God is sovereign and that He cannot be manipulated by human beings asking for the desires of their heart. That is true. But it also teaches us that God is our Father, and that if we ask for good things from Him, then He is far more willing to give us good things as we would be to our own children. It trains us to adopt a certain attitude towards God in the face of His sovereignty. With respect to the topic of prayer, the Gospel teaches us to pray to God as to our own Father, in the expectation of receiving good things from Him. It does not teach us to adopt an attitude of stoic resignation in the face of the immutability of divine sovereignty.

Eph. 2:10

“For we are what [God] has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Eph. 2:10)

I would like briefly to compare this verse with another from the Psalms:

“Know that the Lord is God. It is He that made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.” (Ps. 100:3)

Many people these days believe that their identity is something they choose for themselves. They are whatever they make of themselves, and they are free to choose between any number of possible identities. Many do not believe in any kind of predetermined notion of human identity, any kind of fundamental “givens” that might place limits on what a person can actually be. Rather, they follow the Sartrean maxim that existence precedes essence: first they simply are, and only later, as a result of their choices, are they something or other.

The biblical notion is somewhat different. There is no denying that a person can choose to be this or that, a husband or not, a carpenter or not, a mother or not, etc. But there is also a fundamental sense in which human identity is given by God, and not chosen for oneself. For example, everyone, in virtue of being human, is made in the image of God and thus inherits the responsibility implicit in this title. No one can avoid the responsibility of being the image of God; this is an aspect of human identity which is entirely received from God and which cannot be escaped.

Going even further, in the act of redemption and salvation, God gives a new identity to people. Abraham, for example, went from being a random person from Ur of the Chaldees to being the father of all the faithful (Rom. 4:11). The Hebrews went from being slaves in Egypt to inheritors of the Promised Land. And we, too, through the salvation that came in Jesus Christ, go from being strangers to God and without hope in the world to being children of God (1 John 3:1). This identity is something given to us: we are supposed to receive it and live in it.

Just as the Lord made the children of Israel to be His people and a royal priesthood when He saved them from slavery in Egypt (Exod. 19:4-6), so also God adopted us and saved us in Christ Jesus. And more than that, He made us to be new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17). God recreated us and gave us a new identity, a new way of being, that is centered around Christ. We look towards Christ as the example for our new way of being.

As Paul emphasizes here, our new way of life is one of good works. No longer do we live in the selfishness of sin, but rather we do good: we live in righteous obedience to God’s Law, we love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and we are concerned to live in harmony with God and with His world. This is the new identity we receive in Christ, though we must also take this identity up voluntarily, through an act of the will. There are always these two aspects: first God gives, and then the human being receives and appropriates. As Paul says elsewhere, we have to consider or understand ourselves to be dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:11).

Eph. 2:18

“… For through [Christ] both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.” (Eph 2:18)

The “both of us” here refers to Jews and Gentiles alike. In this section of the chapter, Paul reminds the Gentiles of their previous position vis-à-vis God’s salvific economy: they were “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (v. 12). It is Christ who by abolishing the Law (v. 15) has created a new a humanity centered around Him, in which the distinction between Jew and Gentile no longer holds, and in whose body both groups are reconciled to God (v. 16). As I have noted before, it is very impressive to note that, in spite of the privileged position of the Jews with respect to the promises and the covenants, they too nevertheless had to be reconciled with God through Christ because of sin.

In the verse I quoted above, Paul very succinctly emphasizes the operation of the Trinity in our salvation. As St. Irenaeus said, God the Father works by means of His “two hands,” the Son and the Spirit. And this is exactly what Paul says, as well: the Father brings us to Him, granting us access to Him: through Christ, through what Christ has done in abolishing the Law and winning forgiveness of sins; in the Holy Spirit, in that transformation of the heart and mind which the Holy Spirit brings about in regeneration.

Perhaps we might think of it this way. Our sin presents a two-fold barrier to our fellowship with God. In the first place, there is the fact of our guilt before God, in virtue of which we deserve punishment and exclusion from God’s presence. In the second place, there is the fact of our sinful disposition, as a result of which we do not love God and do not wish to obey His commandments and do not want to seek fellowship with Him. Christ’s work of atonement sets aside that first barrier and the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration sets aside that second barrier. In this way, God Himself saves us and gives us access to Him.

A question arises for me in the consideration of this passage. If we have access to the Father through Christ in the Spirit, is this access unmediated or is it necessarily mediated? For example, suppose that I commit a sin and I want to be forgiven of it. Can I seek forgiveness directly from God, or must my forgiveness be mediated through another person with the appropriate standing? Note: the question is not whether God’s forgiveness can be mediated by another person with the appropriate standing, but whether it must be.

It might appear that the requirement that forgiveness be mediated by another person of the appropriate standing actually undermines Paul’s point in this verse about the access which we have to the Father through Christ in the Spirit. Especially important, I should think, is the prepositional phrase “in the Spirit.” If our access to God is in the Spirit, then we must already have God in order to have access to Him. If I have access to God in the Spirit, then I can seek forgiveness of my sins in the Spirit, as well. In that case, it would seem superfluous for the grace of forgiveness to be mediated by means of another.

However, there is a counterargument. One might argue that committing mortal sins causes the grace of God to be lost (cf. 1 John 5:16-17). In such a case, one cannot presume upon the possession of the Holy Spirit for unmediated access to the Father.

In response to this counterargument, we might consider a few possible objections.

First, we should ask whether and under which conditions a person might lose the Holy Spirit. David commits adultery and murder, and he prays that God not take the Holy Spirit from him (Ps. 51:11). This presupposes that he already has the Holy Spirit, even after having committed such heinous sins. On this basis, we might think that God is presumably quite generous with respect to His remaining in a person even after she has committed sin. But on the other hand, a person might complain that David cannot be talking about the possession of the Holy Spirit which belongs to Christians in the New Testament; rather, he is perhaps asking that God not take away his spirit, i.e. his life. For this reason, this first argument seems to be less than perfectly convincing.

Second, I think it is worth noting that this argument appears to beg the question. For even if the grace of the Holy Spirit can be lost as a result of sin, it still has to be established whether the only way to regain that grace is by means of the mediation of an appropriately authorized person. It is one thing to say that the sacrament of penance, for example, is a possible means by which the grace of the Holy Spirit is regained, and it is quite another to say that it is the only means. What is to stop God from awakening the conscience of the person who has sinned and restoring her by His own direct act, just as took place in conversion? God is free, of course, to make use of secondary causes in His work, but He is also free to bring about effects directly.

I have to spend more time thinking about these things, so I cannot draw any conclusions here.

Eph. 2:7

“… so that in the ages to come He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7).

What impresses me about Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians is its depiction of God as eternally, absolutely, immutably, unstoppably loving. The first chapter speaks generally about the wealth of “every spiritual blessing” which we have in Christ: election, redemption, forgiveness of sins, adoption, inheritance, etc. In the second chapter, Paul turns his attention to the moral state of the Ephesians (and of the Jews, as well) and affirms that the fact that all were “dead through the trespasses and sins in which they once lived” did not stop God from saving them by grace, totally apart from their own works (vv. 8-9). If He is confronted with a sinful and undeserving humanity, God “responds” by acting out of grace, letting nothing stop Him from blessing and doing good and showing love towards His creatures.

In the Theologia Germanica, we see that this unmixed goodness of God was taken as a model for how the spiritual man must act:

Hence it followeth, that in a truly Godlike man, his love is pure and unmixed, and full of kindness, insomuch that he cannot but love in sincerity all men and things, and wish well, and do good to them, and rejoice in their welfare. Yea, let them do what they will to such a man, do him wrong or kindness, bear him love or hatred or the like, yea, if one could kill such a man a hundred times over, and he always came to life again, he could not but love the very man who had so often slain him, although he had been treated so unjustly, and wickedly, and cruelly by him, and could not but wish well, and do well to him, and show him the very greatest kindness in his power, if the other would but only receive and take it at his hands. The proof and witness whereof may be seen in Christ; for He said to Judas, when he betrayed Him: “Friend, wherefore art thou come?” Just as if He had said: “Thou hatest Me, and art Mine enemy, yet I love thee and am thy friend. Thou desirest and rejoicest in My affliction, and dost the worst thou canst unto Me; yet I desire and wish thee all good, and would fain give it thee, and do it for thee, if thou wouldst but take and receive it.” As though God in human nature were saying: “I am pure, simple Goodness, and therefore I cannot will, or desire, or rejoice in, or do or give anything but goodness. If I am to reward thee for thy evil and wickedness, I must do it with goodness, for I am and have nothing else.” Hence therefore God, in a man who is “made partaker of His nature,” desireth and taketh no revenge for all the wrong that is or can be done unto Him. This we see in Christ, when He said: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Theologia Germanica 33

I especially love the line: “I am pure, simple Goodness, and therefore I cannot will, or desire, or rejoice in, or do or give anything but goodness.” This is exactly the impression one gets about God when reading Paul’s theology, especially in the Epistle to the Ephesians.

Why should anyone fear God? What is there to be fearful about in God? These questions sound radical, especially in light of the Old Testament injunction to fear of the Lord. But perhaps there is a point to be made here. God is good and He loves His creatures and wishes to do them good and to bless them. If anything, we deprive ourselves of God’s goodness because we sin and we turn away from Him. God Himself tempts no one to sin (Jas 1:13) and no one can blame God for the sin she has committed. All of this is all the more clear in Jesus Christ, who is “God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart” and “has made [the Father] known” (John 1:18), and in whom is every spiritual blessing. From God, we can expect goodness and blessing and love. But if we sin and persist in our sinning, we turn away from that and reap the consequences of our actions.

On the other hand, John says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love” (1 John 4:18). If we see that God only ever wants our good in what He gives us and tells us, then we begin to love Him and obey Him (cf. John 14:15) and then we do not fear Him any longer, because we are no longer under any threat of punishment. The goal of the spiritual life is to transcend fear of God through love, and we can only love God when we are convinced of the fact that He only wishes us good.

For this reason, I think it is good for us to be reminded regularly of Paul’s Gospel, which is of course nothing other than the Gospel itself (Gal. 1:6-7). We should be reminded of the appearance of “the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior” (Titus 3:4).

Eph. 2:4-7

“But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-7).

This passage is very rich and theologically dense, in a classically Pauline way, and of course it centers around the person of Christ and what God has accomplished in Christ for human beings. It is not easy to understand, at least not at first glance, and for this reason it would be helpful to dig a bit deeper into some of what Paul says here.

For example, what could it possibly mean to say that God “made us alive together with Christ,” and that He “raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus”? Is Paul describing something that happened to us, or to Christ? Or could He be describing something that happened both to Christ and to us? But if so, how is that possible, given that what happened to Christ took place long before we were even born?

Here we have to do with Paul’s all-important doctrine of union with Christ. In some way, in virtue of some mysterious union between believers and Christ, the things that happened to Christ also happened to them or for them, and it is precisely in this way that salvation is accomplished. There is a connection of some kind between Christ and the believer so that what happens to the former, also happens to the latter, in some way.

In this particular passage, Paul highlights the way in which God worked a redemption or salvation of Christ’s own humanity. He raised Christ from the dead, He ascended Him up into heaven, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places. These things all happened to Christ’s humanity. When Paul goes further and says that they have also happened to us in some way, he is asserting a union between Christ’s humanity and us as human persons. When Christ’s own humanity was resurrected from the dead, we also were made alive together with Him; and when He was ascended into heaven and seated at the right hand of the Father, we too were lifted up with Him.

Here I am clearly proposing a version of the doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ. What Christ accomplishes in salvation first has to do with His own human nature, but He also acts on behalf of others, representing them in a way. What Christ accomplishes as a human being, He also accomplishes on behalf of all human beings, for whom He stands as a mediator.

Now here is an important question: Is all of this true for me even before I believe it? For example, am I united to Christ, and do His actions count for me, even before I believe anything about it? Or do I have to believe (and subsequently be baptized) in order for it to be true of me that I was made alive together with Christ and raised up and seated with Him in the heavenly places, etc.?

Here is one interpretive possibility, which I propose but to which I do not commit myself. Paul says that God did all these things “even when we were dead through our trespasses” (v. 5). Assuming that the “being made alive together with Christ” refers to the event of Christ’s resurrection, just as the being raised up with Him and the seating in the heavenly places presumably refer to (the resurrection and) the ascension of Christ, it would seem clear that these things occurred before Paul or his audience ever believed. If Paul, dead in his sins and trespasses, was raised up with Christ, then this is arguably before he believes and thus his union with Christ precedes his faith. If anything, Paul’s faith is an assent to an already existent reality and a corresponding reorientation of his thought and life on that basis.

Sticking with this interpretive possibility, perhaps there are two ways of thinking about this matter. From God’s side, the union is there insofar as Christ acts as the representative of all people. God’s salvific intent in Christ is universal in scope and thus, as far as God is concerned, the union is in place with all people. But from our side, we have to come to learn of this union and accept it and personally appropriate it through the relevant means — e.g., faith, baptism, regular communion, etc.

This interpretation proposes an understanding of the Christian life that puts a heavy emphasis on the acquisition of a Christian consciousness. There is some fact about the world — the fact of God’s accomplishment in Jesus Christ for humanity — to which our minds must be conformed and in light of which we must change the way we think and understand ourselves. On this view, too, there would seem to be little room for a very robust sacramental system, in light of the once-for-all, finished, definitive aspect of God’s accomplishment in Christ. Christ’s humanity has already been brought to the very top, as far up as it can go, so to speak, and this counts for all of us, too, because Christ acts as our representative. The sacraments, if they are to do anything on this scheme, would serve only to reinforce and cement the “transformation by the renewal of our minds,” as Paul talks about (cf. Rom. 12:2).

Eph. 2:2c-3a

“…those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them…” (Eph. 2:2c-3a)

With these words, the Apostle Paul reminds the Ephesians of who they were and how they lived before they came to know Christ. But he is quick to emphasize that Jewish Christians were not any better off. Even though they were a part of the chosen people, even though theirs was “the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, the promises” (Rom. 9:4), they nevertheless lived “in the passions of the flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses” and were “by nature children of wrath, like everyone else” (Eph. 2:3). There is very much that can be said about this!

In the first place, Paul emphasizes the importance of personal conversion and encounter with God. It is not enough to be a Jew of Jews, of the tribe of Benjamin, a zealous member of the people of God, zealous for the traditions of one’s fathers. It is necessary to see Christ, to be blinded by Him and healed by Him, just as Paul was (cf. Acts 9). Even the Jew of Jews, Saul of Tarsus, must be converted to Christ and to love Him above everything. In the same way, we cannot take any pride in the fact of our having been born into Christian families, having attended church our entire lives, having read the Bible however many times over, if we are not converted to Christ and if we cannot say that we love Him above everything. All those things only point us to Christ; if we cling to them for their own sake, rather than going through them to Christ, then we have missed the point.

Put another way, one is not saved merely by being born into the right family or the right religious tradition. This is a blessing to be appreciated, but it is not enough. This is because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), irrespective of whether they are Jew or Gentile — or, to use more contemporary terms, irrespective of whether they are Christians or not. Even children born into Christian families are afflicted by sin and must be converted to the Lord personally, individually, of their own volition. As a professor of mine from seminary once said, God does not have grandchildren, but only sons and daughters.

The same truth ought to prevent any Christian from adopting an attitude of superiority or contempt towards sinners. If all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, then all are equally in need of God’s grace to be saved. And if we have anything to brag about at all, we must recognize that we received it from God by His grace (1 Cor. 4:17). Christians ought to do well to remember that God saved them from sin and death, they did not save themselves, and for this reason they must always approach sinners with an attitude of compassion and humility and mercy. When it comes to the question of sin, we are all on equal footing before God, from whom we need grace and mercy in order to go on for even a day.

It is also worth noting how Paul conceives of the sinful state in which Christians existed before they became Christians. As he clarifies in vv. 1-2 of this chapter, it is a state of death that consists in living in sin and trespass under the influence of dark forces. Here, Paul specifies the peculiarly bodily element of a state of death. Living in sin and trespass means following the desires of flesh and senses. It is a peculiarly bodily way of existing that consists in the satisfaction of bodily desires, presumably without regard for the Law of God.

It is all the rage these days to speak about embodiment in Christian theology. At the same time, Paul’s doctrine of sin seems clearly (to me, anyway) to emphasize that living in sin is a particular way of relating to the desires and impulses of one’s body. I admit that I have platonizing tendencies, but my inclination is understand Paul as maintaining that sinful existence consists in a kind of servile slavery to the random impulses of the body. To be dead in sin and trespass is to exist in a body without imposing a kind of rule and order on the body in accordance with God’s Law.

On the other hand, living in righteousness, as Paul will later describe in ch. 4, consists precisely in imposing a rule on the impulses of the body and not obeying them simply because they present themselves. It means not acting on anger, even if anger has arisen; it means not engaging in sexual immortality, even if desire has showed its face; and so on. While Christian theology does not reject bodily existence altogether, it does insist that a proper bodily existence is not one in which the impulses of the body are given free reign, but rather are brought into order and disciplined, according to the Law of God.