Dead or Alive?
What is life? What does it mean to be alive? Surprisingly enough, scientists are somewhat divided in trying to provide a definition for this term. Some things clearly are alive and others clearly are not. But there are some things, like viruses, that could fall on either side of the line, depending on how you define life. For us as humans though it is pretty clear whether we have life or are dead. Or is it?
The New Testament writers, Paul especially, use the terms dead and live in two different ways. One way is our common usage referring to physical life, functioning, or not functioning, in the physical world around us. But he also uses the term to refer to our relationship with God, or spiritual life. In this sense, if we are connected to the life of God, we have life; we have been made alive. If we are separated from the life of God, we are dead.
Disconnected from the Power Source
In my kitchen are a number of appliances; an oven, a refrigerator, and a microwave. Each of these appliances have a power cord that attaches them to the house’s power source. If it is plugged in, then the appliance is alive, being useful and able to fulfill its purpose. If it is not plugged in then it has the appearance of usefulness, but it is actually dead and of no value.
For the first 18 years of my life I was like a disconnected kitchen appliance. I had grown and developed physically, mentally, and emotionally. I gave every appearance of being alive; a fully functioning human being, ready to take on the world. And in the physical sense I was. But I was dead spiritually; not plugged into the life of God.
In the first few verses of the second chapter of Ephesians Paul uses dead and alive in both ways, referring to physical life as well as connection with God.
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 and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. – Ephesians 2:1-3 NIV
Gratifying the Cravings of the Sinful Nature
I used to live in this world, functioning just like everyone else. I conformed to all of the social standards and fit in as best I could. During that time I was in charge of my life, following the pull of my own desires and thoughts. Most of the time those thoughts and desires led me in a good path, sometimes even into generous and laudable actions. And yes, sometimes my thoughts and desires led me into actions that I regret and am ashamed of. But all of that, whether good or bad, is described here as sin. Sin, or missing the mark, describes anything I do, or even think, that is not directed by God. And so, as one who was not connected to God, everything I did was sin, whether good or bad.
Objects of Wrath
Paul has several things to say about people in this condition. First, they are dead, separated from the life of God. Even while I was alive physically, I was dead spiritually. Secondly, at the same time I was disconnected from God, I was actually under the rule of another, of Satan. I did not recognize that at the time, did not pledge allegiance to him, or often times even acknowledge his existence. But I am either in God’s kingdom or I am in the kingdom of Satan. There is no other choice. And finally, I was by nature an object of wrath. I was facing destruction. There was no future for me apart from being connected to the life of God.
Made Alive In Christ
Paul has painted a pretty bleak picture here of man in his natural state, disconnected from the life of God. Fortunately he does not leave it there.
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 transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. – Ephesians 2:4-5 NIV
In this passage Paul is not referring to everyone in the world. This letter is written to those who have already experienced what he is writing about. The us in this passage are those who currently are believers as well as those who become believers. Even when I was dead, separated from the life of God, he reached out to me and plugged me into his life, transforming me from one who was dead into one who had life.
So what does it take to get plugged into the life of God, to be made alive? Paul says that it is an act of grace. God does so because he wants to. His offer of grace to me is not based on some action(s) that I must first take. Rather God chooses that all who would respond to him in faith would experience this act of grace. Those who do, will experience the riches of life with Christ, not only now but in the ages to come. And those who do not, will continue to live this life completely unaware of what they are missing out on, but in the end will face destruction.
In the Ages to Come!
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 2:6-7 NIV
Spiritual life, being connected with God, is not just for the brief years of my life on this earth. Paul says here that when God made me alive in him, he also took me and put me where Christ is, in the heavenly realms. I am actually in two different realms now; the physical one that this body functions in, as well has the heavenly realm where I am able to function because of the new life God has given to me. Heaven is not something I have to wait for; it is something I already have. In this passage Paul states that I am already seated with Christ in heaven. While I do not fully experience heaven so long as I am in this body, my spirit is secure with Christ in heaven, looking forward to what is to come.
It was an act of grace on God’s part that lifted me from death into life. But God’s grace does not end there. In the coming ages, through eternity, I will be experiencing the riches of God’s grace that he will continue to express to me. How will you respond to God’s offer of grace and life?
All Posts In This Series
- A Brief Introduction to Ephesians: Who and Why - This brief introduction to Ephesians will share some of the ideas of authorship, audience and purpose that many scholars see, as well as my views.
- Spiritual Blessings – Ephesians 1:3-14 - God has given his spiritual blessings to us in the heavenly realm. And we have these blessing because we are in Christ. Praise God for all he has done.
- Prayer – Ephesians 1:15-23 - In Ephesians 1:15-23, Paul's prayer for the recipients of this letter is for a spirit of wisdom and revelation so that they could know God better.
- From Death Into Life: An Act of Grace – Ephesians 2:1-7 - In my natural state I was spiritually dead, separated from the life of God. But by his grace, I have been made alive, with a life that will never end.
- Amazing Grace – Ephesians 2:8-10 - Grace. More specifically God's grace. As believers we talk about it a lot, frequently defining it as God's unmerited favor towards us. And indeed it is. It is by God's grace that we are saved, and not by anything we can do (Ephesians 2:8). God's grace has dealt with our sin and we now have a future with him. It is unfortunate however that we often leave it there.
- Tearing Down Walls – Ephesians 2:11-22 - In Christ it makes no difference whether we are Jew or Gentile. We are all one body in him because of grace. It is by faith in what Jesus did that we come into relationship with God now; not by adherence to the commands and regulations of the law. Because observance of the law as a means to righteousness has been replaced by God's grace, we are all equally able to stand before God, not because of what I have done, but because of what he did.
- The Mystery of Christ – Ephesians 3:1-13 - And the mystery is not only that the barrier that separated Jews from Gentiles has been eliminated. But also that the need for a priestly intermediary has been removed. All believers now also serve as priests and each have direct access to the throne of God.
- Rooted and Established In Love – Ephesians 3:14-21 - Paul prays that the Ephesians would be rooted and established in love, a suitable dwelling place for the Holy Spirit.
- Walking Worthy – Ephesians 4:1-6 - What does walking worthy of our calling mean? In the context of Ephesians 4:1-6, it refers to our role in the body of Christ. Be the best member you can be.
- Growing a Mature Church – Ephesians 4:11-16 - Christ provides his church with the necessary equippers to that we can be a mature church, fully equipped to do the work he has called us to.
- Out With the Old, In With the New – Ephesians 4:17-32 - How do I live as an effective member of the body of Christ? It involves personal transformation, putting off the old self, and taking on the new self.
- Imitators of God – Ephesians 5:1-20 - Don't be like the world around you. Instead, be imitators of God by living a life of love, living as a child of the light, and living with wisdom.
- Married to Jesus – Ephesians 5:22-33 - One of the images for the church in the New Testament is the Bride of Christ. This image pictures the intimate relationship between Christ and his church.
- All In the Family – Ephesians 5:21-6:9 - Paul's instructions to first century families contains useful information for families today. It also contains advice for workplace relationships.
- Spiritual Warfare – Ephesians 6:10-20 - A spiritual battle is raging all around us. So take up the armor God provides so you can stand your ground and be engaged in that spiritual warfare.
- March 5 2012: Original post
- July 27, 2018: Updated for content and SEO