Ephesians 2:1-2 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 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
Dead means dead, literally. Not to be harsh or insensitive, but the dead do not raise themselves. Lazarus didn’t volunteer to walk out of his tomb, and rebel sinners do not volunteer to be crucified with Christ until the saving grace of Christ penetrates their heart of stone and transforms it into a heart of flesh. The Bible in several instances speaks of our spiritual depravity by equating it with death. No doubt this is a difficult illustration, but it is one that most accurately represents the true nature of those whom Romans 8:7 describes as hostile toward God. Can you imagine yourself as an enemy of the one true God? As harsh as it may seem, this is the picture given in scripture to describe the unregenerate heart.
It is quite easy to overlook our state of spiritual depravity. Without scripture as our guide, we like to think of ourselves as pretty good. After all, we are made in the image of God right? We haven’t killed anyone lately, and I sent my crazy boss a Christmas card last year so that must count for something? The natural view that humans have of themselves is a pretty lofty one. We likely think of ourselves this way because we are born into a world of sin and are constantly being shaped by it, and we often forget just how impacted by sin we truly are. It’s almost as if a veil is over our eyes concealing the beauty and majesty of God. Some have said that it’s as if sin were a sickness and everyone is infected, and that only the great physician himself can administer the cure that brings salvation. The point that I will attempt to make, and the case that the Bible makes for our spiritual position pre-conversion, is one that is much more severe.
One of the greatest treasures in the New Testament gospel is the beautiful picture of being raised from death to life in Christ. However, in order for us to understand the glory of the spiritual rebirth, it’s vitally important to understand our deadness in sin. Before our mind can begin to appreciate the grandeur of being raised with Christ in Colossians 3:1 and the adoption as sons in Romans 8:15, we must explore the depths of spiritual depravity that compose our nature before we are so undeservingly adopted. You may ask, “Why is it important to talk about the bad stuff first, can’t we just fast forward to the happy ending?” As nice as that would be to skip over all of the guilt and shame that were rampant in our former unbelieving hearts, it would seemingly negate the real need of a savior. It’s also not the biblical approach.
Before Paul could present the sweetness of our salvation he was always careful explain why it is that we needed to be saved. As we see in Ephesians chapter 2, Paul uses the word nekros, or “dead” to describe our spiritual state before conversion. However, this is not the only place in scripture that equates our condition with death. Paul in Colossians 2:13 states again our deadness in sins when he says it this way, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.”
It is important to note that Paul is not alone in this teaching on depravity. Jesus makes it clear in John 8:34 when He says, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” The implications of this statement are enormous! Knowing that all men are sinners and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23), according to Jesus, all men who have not been born again are indeed slaves of sin. Just as we know that the dead do not raise themselves, we also understand that a slave cannot just decide to be free without some form of emancipation. Jesus goes on to strengthen this statement in John 8:44 when He says “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” These are strong words coming from the second person of the Holy Trinity. Essentially, Jesus has told us that the will of the natural man is to do the bidding of his father the devil.
Our will as human beings is beyond broken. The fall in the Garden of Eden has radically impacted our ability to choose righteousness. The fall has left us enslaved to sin, and in a place of spiritual death. Where is the hope for humanity when we stand in direct opposition to God? How can we be reconciled to a thrice-holy God when the debt is so great, and our hearts are only evil continually (Gen 6:5)? Paul answers this question beautifully in Romans chapter 7. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Jesus, in the same passage mentioned earlier, also explains this great liberation when he says, “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
Without Christ we are enslaved to the passions of our flesh. Our will is broken, and we don’t desire to please God in the least. Rather, we stand guilty before Almighty God, stained with sin that makes us detestable in his sight. In our flesh we are in a state of spiritual death unable to please God, indeed we cannot (Rom 8:7). In order to understand other essential doctrines that the New Testament addresses we must understand the position of the unbeliever as being incapable. This is the very reason why salvation is a miracle! If we were able to save ourselves from our own sin, there would be no miracle involved in salvation. It would be as simple as pray the sinner’s prayer, shake the preacher’s hand, and waltz right into the Kingdom of God. The miracle would then lie in the prayer of the sinner and not in the finished work of the Redeemer. Remember the words of Jesus, “So if the son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” The battle of the heart belongs not to us, but to the Lord.
The Bible pretty much slams the door on the sinner being a “good” person. Instead we are told that we are slaves of sin, and dead in trespasses and sins. But thanks be to God that Christ has come to set us free from our slavery to sin and death. The author of Hebrews in chapter 10 verse 4 says that it is impossible for the blood of lambs and goats to take away sins. But thanks be to God that there is a perfect atonement for sin in the blood of the perfect Lamb slain before the foundations of the world, namely Christ Jesus. What then can deliver man from spiritual depravity? The answer is quite clear, nothing but the blood of Jesus.
RC Sproul was asked once why bad things happen to good people. His reply was, “That only happened once, and he volunteered.”