Let’s be honest, the American culture is crazy about anything related to the apocalyptic or zombie genre for entertainment. But in all actuality, this is one instance where fantasy and truth are not all that far apart. Of course, we are not overrun by the undead hordes who are in every state of physical decay imaginable. But the Bible paints a picture of humanity that is no less horrifying. In the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul spends the first three chapters telling us what the definitive nature of Christianity and salvation truly is. This is what theologians call an “indicative” style of writing; the author (Paul) is indicating “what” Christianity is. He is defining it with clarity and in an objective way which cannot be changed. Here is what he says in Ephesians 2:1-3:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 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 – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Did you catch that? Paul says that these believers were (past tense) “dead” in their trespasses and sins when they did not have a saving relationship with God. Though they were walking around and going about their business in the world, they walked around as spiritually dead people. That is the true state of man who is separated from God. Though they go through the motions, they have no vitality where it matters, they are dead. This is consistent with what Paul taught in the letter to the Romans:
Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”
Romans 6:23a “For the wages of sin is death”
This translates to the entire human race being in a state of death. That is what God teaches us in His Word. That is the universal predicament that is common to us all. So true Christianity begins with the truth that all of humanity is in a state of death. But the passage in Ephesians 2 goes further to tell us what this death looks like; Paul says that these spiritually dead individuals “follow the course of the world.” This gives us a pattern of living that is evident in spiritually dead people. They live according to the principles of the culture they exist in. They live with the same values as their culture, they love what the culture loves. Both the Apostles James & John support this pattern that is evident in the lost:
James 4:4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
1st John 2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
The “walking dead” that Paul is talking about live the same pattern as the world does. Unfortunately, this largely can be stated of many American churches today in which they look just like other venues of entertainment and seek to achieve the same goal by satisfying the pleasures of those who attend rather than glorifying God. That should give us an idea of what happens when we try to change what Scripture says about the difference between the spiritually alive and those who are spiritually dead; do they look like Christ or the world? What is the pattern of their lives? What kind of proof is really in the pudding?
Paul builds on his illustration of these walking dead individuals. Not only is spiritual death a universal problem that all of humanity must deal with and not only is there a noticeable pattern that is evident in their lives which points to the reality of their spiritual state. But also notice that Paul says that they “dead in sins…followed the prince of the power of the air…lived in passions of our flesh.” These walking dead are prisoners of their own sin, of Satan, and of their own selfish desires. They are bought and sold as slaves on the market of sin, Satan, and self. They serve these things, either willingly or not, they cannot free themselves from this cycle of destruction. Many people will object and say that they are “free” to do as they please. That fulfilling their desires is the greatest expression of true “freedom.” To them I would challenge this believe by saying that if they truly are free to “not” do these things, they try to stop with some semblance of permanence. If you truly are free to not sin, then try to stop. You will quickly learn that you cannot. We are hamsters on a wheel, and we love the wheel! You and I, and all individuals who were/are dead in our sins are completely helpless servants. We cannot free ourselves. This is why Jesus Christ says:
John 8:36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
If we are free apart from Christ, then why would God in the flesh make this statement? No, we are slaves who are in need of redemption.
Lastly, Paul shows humanity their biggest problem that they will have to face. It is not death, nor is it even sin. Paul says in this passage that the spiritually dead are “by nature children of wrath.” The problem posed here is not that of death or of sin. It is the wrath of God. That is mankind’s biggest problem, we must ALL face a God whose law we have transgressed. This God, we have rebelled against, slandered, maligned, and mocked. The One who has given us life we have despised, but we must face Him. The writer of Hebrews tells us:
Hebrews 9:27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment
We don’t have to concern ourselves with death, that will be taken care of, we will all physically die. It has been appointed, literally a time has been set aside for us to die. But the writer says after that is the judgment. Jesus warned us of proper fear of God in this regard:
Jesus does not say that our biggest problem is death or sin. He says that humanity’s biggest problem is facing God. That is why Paul says that we have an unavoidable problem at the end of verse 3 in Ephesians 2. We are by our very nature the inheritors of wrath from this God. That is the result of breaking His law. No one can escape this because as Paul said in Romans 3 “all have sinned.”
The only question left to resolve is “what can I do?” There is nothing we can do. We cannot appease this God, we cannot work off our debts, and we cannot make it up to Him. But in His grace, God has made a sacrifice on humanity’s behalf. That was the reason for the life and death of Jesus Christ. Even though Christ did not break the Law of God, He suffered as a lawbreaker. He takes the punishment intended for sinful man upon Himself and absorbs the wrath intended for them. The only hope anyone has is that they put their faith solely in what Christ alone has done and what Christ alone can do. Believe that God’s wrath is fully satisfied in Christ and trust in Him to set you free from your sin. When a person does that, then they become alive. They are given true life in Christ. No longer are they slaves to their sin and no longer are they dead in their sins. The judgment for sin is finished in the work of Christ. But for those who do not trust in what Christ has done, they will have to pay the penalty themselves, and it is not sufficient. Our only hope is in Christ.