One of the cliched types of stories is the person who came from little, makes it big, and then forgets about where he or she came from and the people that helped make that journey possible. Another variation of the story is someone who makes it big and then starts acting in very different ways than he or she used to. Typically, these stories happen together: the person doesn’t just forget the past and the people, but forgets himself or herself in the process. Christians can fall prey to the same sort of thinking.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which 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, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. – Ephesians 2:1-3, ESV
Paul’s reminder is striking. “Why bring up the past?” some might say. Others might ask, “What’s your point, Paul?” I think one of Paul’s points is that he didn’t want believers thinking more highly of themselves, especially towards non-believers. It’s easy to fall into this trap. After all, we make the claim that there is a single God. We also make the claim that the Bible is special revelation from Him. And if you take the Bible and interpret it according to way that’s taught in most Bible hermeneutics classes today, we also make the claim that Jesus is the only way to heaven. Because we make these claims, it’s easy to get into a line of thinking of, “I know better than you, so therefore I am better than you.” Maybe that’s not something we consciously do, but it can come out in our words and actions.
So before Paul gets into reminding the believers in Ephesus about God’s mercy and love, he hits them with where they came from. When we think about what we were before Christ, it should humble us. It should cause us to realize that, if not for the grace of God, we’d be dead in our trespasses and sins and we would also be sons of disobedience, that our current state has nothing to do with what we’ve done. It’s entirely in Christ. And therefore, we have nothing to boast in that is of ourselves and we don’t have a legitimate reason to be haughty or arrogant.
Another effect of thinking about where we came from, and Paul’s second point, is that it should elicit in us a sense of gratitude. If we consider repentance, redemption, and a relationship with God as priceless treasures, then we should come to a sense of great gratitude for them. After all, they were beyond our reach. God gave them to us. We could still be without them. We aren’t, because of Him. If he hadn’t had mercy on us, we’d still be controlled by the passion of our flesh and we would still be children of wrath.
Therefore, it behooves us to remember where we came from. We were following the prince of the power of the air. We were in disobedience, facing wrath. That should humble us, especially in our interactions with others. We aren’t any better than anyone else. And that should allow us to be firm in our belief in Jesus Christ without being arrogant about it. Finally, we should be filled with gratitude at his grace. That’s what remembering where we came from should do for us.