The Living Dead
In Ephesians 2 Paul insults his readers.
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 (Eph. 2:1-3).
The first word Paul uses to describe us is “dead” (2:1). Perhaps you have heard our condition before God saved us described as someone drowning in the ocean. You’re struggling, and you’re about to die. Maybe your head has even begun to sink beneath the water. But God throws you a life preserver. And all you have to do is grab it. But does that illustration fit with what Paul actually says? No. Paul says we were dead. A better illustration would be someone lying on the ocean floor. You’re even past the point of CPR; your body is ocean temperature. But God reaches down, lifts you out, and breathes life into you. Now that fits with what Paul says happened to us. “Even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (2:5). Your decision didn’t have anything to do with it, because dead people don’t make decisions.
But if you think being described as dead is offensive, it gets worse, because Paul doesn’t just describe us as passively dead. It’s not the normal dead-body-with-no-pulse sort of dead. Paul goes on to describe us as being actively dead. We were dead but in an active way, kind of like zombies. Being passively dead—just lying there without a pulse—that would imply that we were neutral toward God. But we were not neutral. We were actually hostile to God. We were walking in sin (2:2). We were “following the course of this world”—even “the prince of the power of the air” (aka, “the devil;” 2:2). We “lived in the passions of our flesh” (2:3). We “were by nature children of wrath” (2:3). Being dead in trespasses and sins does not mean we were inactive. It means we were actively hostile to God. We were dead, and we were also choosing death with every thought, word, and deed.
So God’s work to save us was not merely a matter of breathing life into a lifeless corpse. It was more like taking a walking, dead zombie, who is actively fighting against God, and creating a new nature, alongside this zombie nature, that actually believes, loves, and serves God.
God does not convert people who are favorable toward him. He doesn’t even convert people who are neutral toward him, because such people don’t exist. God converts people who are hostile toward him, because that’s the only kind of person there is. Your salvation cannot depend on your choice when you didn’t even want to make the choice.
It might be kind of offensive to hear that we didn’t even have a choice in receiving salvation. But this should really be a gracious and comforting truth to us, because if we didn’t have any involvement in it, then there wasn’t any room for us to screw it up. If the perfect God, who doesn’t make mistakes, is responsible for 100% of our salvation, then what do we have to worry about? I never have to wonder if I was sincere enough. I never have to wonder if I actually felt sorry enough for my sins. If everything is in God’s hands, then nothing is left in mine, and that’s grace alone.
So where do we find our assurance of salvation? We find it in Jesus, right where it belongs. Did Jesus die for your sins? Did Jesus rise from the dead? Are you baptized into that death and resurrection? Then he has saved you. God has made you alive. And God has called you to live in that new life.