If I came up to you and told you that I just took out a $5,000 loan in your name to obtain the cure for your sickness, and you didn’t think you had a sickness, you’re probably not going to be very happy with me. You’re probably going to press charges.

But if I showed you evidence that you were sick, and not just a little sick but desperately sick and could expect to die within the next 24 hours, you’re attitude would go from being angry with me to being thrilled with me. I’ve saved your life. You might ask me to check with your health insurance next time, but overall you’re grateful that you get to live another day.

In order to appreciate the cure, you first have to understand the sickness.

And in the same way, in order to appreciate God’s grace, we first have to understand how desperately we needed that grace. Ephesians 2:1-3 goes into detail about our desperate need, the condition we were in before salvation.

Notice especially that phrase in verse 1: “dead in trespasses and sins.” That was our condition before we met Jesus. We were entirely dead in our sin—spiritual corpses with no spiritual life whatsoever. It was that bad.

A lot of people think that grace just addresses an average need. They think people aren’t really that bad before salvation—that most people are pretty good overall and just need God to help them realize their full potential.

I mean, isn’t that our problem in America, that people just don’t have enough self-esteem? We’re told that need to learn to think better about ourselves. Enough with these negative thoughts that are dragging us down. The main thing we all need to do is just think positive thoughts. If we could just do that, we’d have higher self-esteem and all of our problems would be solved.

That’s the gospel according to Joel Osteen—that basic philosophy with a little bit of Jesus thrown in for good measure. The gospel according to the Bible and according to Ephesians 2 is a lot different than that. In fact, it’s the opposite.

Now, understand that I’m not categorically rejecting the ideas of self-esteem and self-worth. The Bible does say that human beings were created in God’s image, which gives us inherent value, dignity, and worth. Not only that, but we’re loved by God, which also gives us worth.

But that’s not the whole picture.

It’s only part of the picture. Ephesians 2 tells us the rest of what we need to know. Verse 1 says, “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.”

Not exactly the positive thinking that our society tells us we have to have. Before salvation, people are walking in various trespasses and sins. We’re committing trespasses against God in the sense that we’re stepping over the boundaries he’s set for us. We’re violating his laws and rebelling against his will. And that’s practically synonymous with the word “sin” that’s also used. And not only that, but we’re “dead” in these things it says, meaning that we’re powerless to change ourselves or fix ourselves or rescue ourselves.

Then in verse 2, it says that we were “following the course of this world”—that is, the overall direction of this world system as it continues its course of rebellion against God. And we were also “following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” That’s talking about Satan. He’s the one directing things down here to a limited extent.

And under his influence, verse 3 explains how we “once lived in the passions of our flesh” or you could say the cravings of our unredeemed selves. And then it says that we “were by nature children of wrath.

That’s pretty strong. “Children of wrath.” That is, people who stand in the shadow of God’s wrath as it’s in the process of falling down on top of them. People whose necks are in the guillotine of divine judgment with everything prepared for that blade to come down. It’s right here in the Bible.

And you wonder, why would Paul go into so much detail about sin? I mean, didn’t we say this passage was about grace? Where’s the grace here?

But remember: in order to appreciate the cure we first have to understand the sickness. And in order to understand grace, we first have to understand sin and judgment and wrath.

Only then will it become grace that’s truly amazing. You’re probably familiar with the hymn “Amazing Grace.” It says, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

Those words were written by a man who understood the depth of his former sin and, because of that, was able to speak of amazing grace. But if we view things the way most people in our society view them, we can’t sing about amazing grace. We can only sing about ordinary grace, if we can even sing about that.

“Ordinary grace, how relatively enjoyable the sound that saved and okay person like me. I once was on a minor detour but now I’m doing better, was a bit nearsighted but now I see.” It just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

But if we realize that we’re not okay people but are in fat wretched and sinful people, “children of wrath” even, that will make God’s grace shine with a radiance and a beauty that we never could have noticed before.