“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature, following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But, because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:1-5 NIV)
Our culture has an obsession with death in a lot of ways. One way it is seen is with our fascination with old movies that blur the boundaries between death and life. Perhaps it might be The Sixth Sense, the movie featuring Bruce Willis, a seeming child counselor, and Haley Joel Osment,
the child who awkwardly confessed, “I see dead people.” Or it might be the slew of Zombie movies like The Night of the Living Dead.
The reality is, we don’t have to be a movie character to say, “I see dead people.” According to the passage above, we discover that we are surrounded by the living dead every day without realizing it. Notice that it says that “you were dead in your transgressions and sin.”
I remember the first time I heard that as a young atheist. I laughed so hard that I kind of snorted at the thought. “Not me! I said, pounding my chest, “I’m pretty alive. You can check my pulse if you’d like!” I didn’t really get how I could be dead, even while I was alive.
What does it mean to be dead? Simply put, it means to be separated from life. Once a person is cut off from life, they become dead. Jesus told us, “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6 NIV) He told a dear friend, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, will live even though he dies; and whoever believes in Me will never die.”
Jesus is LIFE itself. To be separated from Him is to be separated from life. One is dead in a very real deep sense without Jesus. And one is alive in a way that is permanent with Jesus that is unchanged if that believer was to die.
Take a moment and think of a dead man laying in a coffin. What can that person do to help himself? What can that person respond to that might go on around his casket during the visitation or funeral? Even if his widow is crying profusely, the dead person does not sit up and sympathize or try to comfort her. If some friends are gathering and sharing a funny story of his life, he does not sit up and laugh and say, “That’s a perfect example of my life, isn’t it?”
No, a dead person is helpless and unresponsive. In the same way, all of us are helpless to know God and respond to spiritual things before we become believers in Jesus. We are dead spiritually and cut off from the true life of Jesus. We will need a miracle for this to change.
Not only are we dead without Jesus, this passage makes it clear that we are Doomed. Look again at this sentence – “Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” This is a harsh diagnosis. By nature, means that we are born this way. We are born as objects for God’s wrath! I picture that all of us are born with a target on our back; a big bull’s eye that begs for God to strike us down in His righteous anger. But the Bible tells us that God is storing up His wrath (Romans 2:5). This means that God is holding this back; He is blocking His judgment at the present time. God is patient. He is not willing that any should perish, but desires all to come to repentance and faith in Jesus. (Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9)
After giving us this bad news that we are all dead and doomed, the Apostle Paul suddenly said, “But…” Everything turns on this word. “But, because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ!” What great news! Though we were dead in our transgressions, though we were doomed as objects of wrath, God chooses mercy and grace rather than justice. And we are set free from a desperate future!
I imagine a vivid picture of this transformation inspired by the old Charles Wesley hymn, “And Can It Be.” Imagine awakening to find yourself buried alive in an old tomb, cold and damp, dark as dark can be except for a little light coming from the crack below the tomb door. You struggle to move and realize that you are bound with chains wrapped around your body from your shoulders down to your feet.
Your heart rate quickens as you contemplate your fate, breathing in the musty air and feeling things crawl over your imprisoned body. You strain to turn your head this way and that, craning your neck to see some signs of hope. Way off in the distance, seemingly out beyond the tomb itself, you see a small pinpoint of light. You imagine it is the eye of God seeing you in your prison.
Suddenly, this pinpoint of light blazes in brightness like the sun. You hear a loud crack of thunder, the dark tomb is enflamed with light and your chains are shattered. You wait for the bolt of justice to destroy you, but realize that it has only set you free. Your chains lay in rubbles around you, the tomb door is shattered and you stand with a new lease on life!
This is what God has done for every human being. Though we deserve His just punishment for our rejection of His rule over our life, God chose mercy and grace. Jesus stepped in the way of the wrath of God and took it upon Himself. “He was pierced for our transgression, He was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him.” (Isaiah 53:5 NIV)
How do we respond to this great love? Wesley concluded this verse, “My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth and followed Thee.”
We have gone from death to life. We are no longer Zombies. And we have the message of life for all those around us who are the Living Dead.