What is meant when Paul said we are by nature children of wrath?


In Ephesians 2:3 it talks about by nature we are children of wrath, My own opinion is that it's referring not to children, which is plain and clear, but to people who have already sinned. I'm trying to get this point across to my friend, but he believes in a sin nature and says that this verse shows the existence of a sin nature. Any help would be great. I showed him other verses such as God made man upright and verses dealing with children. I told him you can't say children do not know good from evil, but then say they have a sin nature. In the context of what is being said, could you explain the children of wrath is about?


"You were made alive when you were dead in transgressions and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the powers of the air, the spirit who now works in the children of disobedience; among whom we also all once lived in the lust of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest" (Ephesians 2:1-3).

The Greek word for "nature" is phusis. Like our English word, it has a range of meaning which must be determined from the context. It can mean:

  1. An object's natural condition, that is what it is without external intervention, such as "We who are Jews by nature" (Galatians 2:15) refers to naturally born Jews.
  2. An object's disposition or natural characteristics, such as "that through these you may become partakers of the divine nature" (II Peter 1:4) refers to sharing some of the characteristics of God.
  3. The natural order of things, such as "For their women changed the natural function into that which is against nature" (Romans 1:26) refers to going against the way people were made.
  4. A species, such as "For every kind of animal, bird, creeping thing, and thing in the sea, is tamed, and has been tamed by mankind" (James 3:7) where "kind" is the word phusis.

Thus from the context, we must determine what shade of meaning is being implied.

First off, how did Paul state we came to this condition?

  • It was because of our transgressions and sins
  • Because we walked according to the course of the world
  • Because we were disobedient
  • Because we lived in the lust of our flesh
  • Because we did the desires of our flesh

Every one of the things listed by Paul is an accusation against the activities we engaged in. Not one refers to a passive acquisition of a tainted nature. Being born into sin is not mentioned. To make such a claim would require assuming an additional condition that Paul never said.

If by "children of wrath" Paul was saying we were innately born sinful, then he would be contradicting Jesus' statement, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3). You cannot be in the kingdom and under the wrath of God at the same time.

Rather we see that Paul is talking about what we once did by our natural habit build up through years of unrighteous living without an external interference by God. The word "nature" is being used in the same sense as in Romans 2:14, "for when Gentiles who don't have the law do by nature the things of the law, these, not having the law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience testifying with them, and their thoughts among themselves accusing or else excusing them." Here Paul talks about the Gentiles naturally following or breaking the law without having to be taught (outside intervention) what the law required. I don't know of anyone who would claim that the Gentiles followed the law because it was in them at birth. It is how they behaved when left alone.

In other words, Paul is arguing as he did in Romans that we all end up sinning when we are left in our natural state. "for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). It is not stating that we start out sinners, but that we all tend toward sin because of the influence of the world in our life. Thus, it takes an external influence to change the natural course that leads us to become children of wrath. "But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:4-6).

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