“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” – Ephesians 2:1-2
The Living Dead
When looking at a graveyard this last week, a thought came to my mind regarding the state of the world in which we live. Often times, thoughts like this arise when one is in the face of death, whether for themselves or that of another, but in either case it brings us a sense of sobriety regarding our lives, and our world as a whole. We become so stuck in our daily routine that we lose track of where it is we are living, and when someone dies, it is a sort of slap in the face to those of us who remain. A sort of brutal reminder that we too are mortal and will die, and that while we remain life has a way of become far less enjoyable, as people and opportunities and relationships die around us. Death, in other words, has a way of hurting us more than anything else can. And yet death is actually more in line with our true nature than anything else, as we are all born into this world dying physically, all the while being completely deceased in regards to our spiritual condition. It is truly amazing, how often we are shocked to see who we really are, and when it comes, how disappointed we are! It is as though we think we will live forever, while at the same time telling everyone else how confident we are that death is inevitable. But when it comes, we are shocked, and cannot understand how we did not anticipate such a sudden event.
What the apostle Paul writes to the Ephesians are words which do the very same thing to the sinner, causing him both shock and confusion. When the sinner hears that they are already dead before God, and that because of their sin, this surprises them, because they do not feel dead, nor do they plan on dying anytime soon. Furthermore, they are confused, because they find themselves to be fairly decent people, either by their own standard of morality, or by that of society. “I am not Hitler!” they boldly assert to themselves, “I may not be perfect, but I am not that bad!” Sometimes their defense goes by the way of directing the attention back to God. “How unfair is that standard! It isn’t my fault I am not perfect” they loudly proclaim, adding to this the oh-so-typical “You can’t blame me for something someone else [Adam and Eve] did!” But alas, such an argument doesn’t quite work out in reality. For example, one might catch a contagious decease from another person. Say what they want about how fair such a condition may be, it nevertheless changes nothing. One can rave and rant against anybody and everybody, detailing all the reasons why it isn’t their fault. And as is often the case, they will quickly point to minister of the Word or God Himself, and blame them for such a state, or simply write off the idea of condemnation simply because it appears absurd to them.
Sin is very much like a cancer. It is a deep tumor inside of us, infecting our soul so as to cause death. Not only is it constantly infecting what remains, but it has already killed us, making any cure seemingly impossible! And when we feel the painful side-effects, or see another perish because of it, we go to the doctor concerned because our condition. He then tells us that we have cancer, to which we respond with anger and confusion. Because we don’t understand how we could have cancer, or even what it is, we quickly write it off, as we have self-diagnosed ourselves as perfectly fine. Or rather, “good enough.” Despite the fact that we are perfectly dead, we walk out yelling at anyone associated with the doctor’s office, blaming them for our doom. “You think you’re free from this cancer!” they yell, as they at the same time denounce its existence.
This is what we do with sin. If you notice in the text above, Paul describes the sinners who are “dead” as being those who “walk.” We are originally corpses who do not even know we are dead, thinking we can save ourselves. Regardless of our intentions, we are very dead, beyond any hope of cure that we might muster up through any amount of research of good moral intention. And the sad irony of the matter furthers the pain, that being this: That we are dead because of our sin, and to counter this realization we sin more! We think that adding more deceases and tumors to our bodies will cancel out the ones already there, only speeding up the travel to the grave. Why would anyone do something so foolish? Because everyone else is doing it, of course. They walk “according to the course of the world” and followed the “sons of disobedience” willingly. And this is caused and empowered by none other than the “prince of the power of the air,” also known as the Adversary, also known as Satan. He pours fuel onto those “lusts of our flesh,” and the “desires of the flesh and of the mind,” making us all the more “children of wrath, even as the rest.”
And thus we are in this world. Walking tombstones, loudly declaring to all who will listen how alive we are. There we are, dying, ready to collapse from the pain of the world, and yet because everyone else looks just as bad as we do, we assume that this really must be the picture of health! We are enlightened, not because what we know or profess to believe is actually true, but because it has become more universally accepted. And it is by the standard of the world that the world lives, quickly running through that broad path that leads to their own destruction. This is, by its very nature, hopelessness. And indeed, there is none among the dead who can revive themselves. Thus comes the need for One who is not among the dead.
The Living One
When Jesus said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” He was not speaking generally. If we were to simply go based on what the modern church tells us, we would think that this passage means something more like “I am another way, a subjective truth and additional life to your already decent life!” Many present the Gospel with the mentality of “Don’t you want Jesus in your life?” or “Don’t you want to be with God forever?” or even “Don’t you want to have a relationship with Jesus Christ?” To many, that is more like asking the following: “Don’t you want my uncle Fredrick in your life?” or “Don’t you want to live with my grandpa forever?” or “Don’t you want to have a relationship with my cousin?” It means little to nothing to the one who has little to no idea who God is, or Jesus for that matter (as few in the church itself even know this), and is essentially asking them if they want something significant with someone they do not know. “Why?” one might ask. “Why would I want such a thing?” To which the modern Christian says the following: “Because you are sick with sin, and sin keeps you from being happy, so be with God and you’ll be happy!” Don’t have that new car? Get Jesus. Don’t have that new position at work? Get Jesus. Want a more successful life? Get Jesus. He’ll make everything better. The sinner may go along with this, seeing as they have little to lose. Or they might become further confused. “What is sin?” they might wonder. They might think of it as generic evil (i.e. lying, stealing, murdering, etc.) but they can’t really see how it directly affects their health. In fact, in many cases it makes them happy. So why give it up? Who cares if I am making someone sad who I do not even know? And why would I give up my life to follow someone who lived 2000+ years ago? The modern Christian has little to say in regards to this, as sin is something foreign to them as well. Sin, to them, is that evil thing in your life that always keeps you from doing what you want to do. Sin is, essentially, anything and everything that makes me a generally worse person that I am.
But if you are dead, what could make it worse? The sinner does not see themselves as dead, nor does the modern (professing) Christian. They see themselves as inconvenienced by sin and death perhaps, but it is not a significant hindrance in their life, especially when they can use it to please themselves.
If, however, sin is death, and in sin we are all dead, then there is much more a reason to be concerned about it. More than this, there is an absolutely essential reason to know God and to have that relationship with Him. But it is not a general relationship, nor is it a passing knowledge about Him. It is a relationship that requires me to die to myself, acknowledging that I am already dead in sin and have no hope in myself. And it is a knowledge of Him as God (the Creator) and Jesus Christ (the Savior). He is the freedom from death, both physically and spiritually. He is the freedom from sin, that wicked thing which indwells the deepest part of my soul, tearing everything apart and making me all the more the enemy of my Creator. God will judge the unrighteous, regardless of whether or not they knew about Him, seeing as they are sinful regardless of their knowledge of sin. God does not come to us and ask us whether or not we want to be sinful and wretched, as we have already been born into that state. Say what you will about how fair it is, that does not change what it is. We are dead. We are sinful and wretched before God, and our reaction to this news only proves it, as we attempt to hide our nakedness with more cancer and point the finger and God calling Him the unrighteous cause! We are hypocrites of the highest degree, and deserve no favor from God, especially since we do not even ask for it, but are offended at it and want nothing to do with Him.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up [from the dead] 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 surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” – 2:4-10
There is no better answer for such a deliema than this, as he answers it better than I ever could. He does not speak of the so-called “fairness” of the matter, as fairness would dictate we die! Rather, he focuses on God and His work, in spite of our sinfulness and rejection of Him. Why do we want to know God? Because He gave Himself for us while we were His enemies, and provided the ultimate sacrifice for the very ones who crucified Him. That, more than anything, is a reason enough to want to know such a gracious and merciful God, beyond the fact that He is also our Creator and knows us better than we ever could. Why do we want a relationship with Jesus Christ? Because He is our Savior, the One who did all the righteousness we never could, and died for us despite our hatred of Him. He is also the Judge, and the One to whom we will give an account. He is the very meaning of rightness and truth, and in Him there is no deceit. That is certainly something no one else can claim! And finally, why spend forever with Him? Because it is in Him that we find the truest of fulfillment, having been freed from death. He Himself embodies life, and with Him there is no death. And He told John, who fell as a dead man when he saw Him, “Do not be afraid!” Oh, what words! How could we, such wretched and miserable things, not be terrified of the One who we killed, and who is the Judge? To which He answers, “I am the first and the last, and the Living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” (Rev. 1:17-18) He has conquered death itself, having gone to the grave and beating death, facing it for us, and rising out the grave as a final blow to it, gaining the right over death and the judgment of sinners (Hades). And this Judge, who has the right to judge those who reject Him and those who hate Him, tells the saint “Do not be afraid.” If He has saved us, and considers us freed from sin and judgment, what do we have to be afraid of? And what a great salvation it is. And it is with such a One that I would want to be with forever, being freed from all doubt and, above all else, sin and death.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.” – Ephesians 1:3-14