And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins… (Ephesians 2:1).
J.C. Ryle writes about this in his article Alive or Dead, from his book Old Paths:
“Dead” is an awful idea, and one that man is most unwilling to receive. He does not like to allow the whole extent of his soul’s disease: he shuts his eyes to the real amount of his danger. Many and one will allow us to say, that naturally most people “are not quite what they ought to be: they are thoughtless,– they are unsteady,”they are gay,–they are wild,–they are not serious enough.” But dead? Oh, no! We must not mention it. It is going too far to say that. The idea is a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”
But what we like in religion is of very little consequence. The only question is, What is written? What saith the Lord? God’s thoughts are not man’s thoughts, and God’s words are not man’s words. God says of every living person who is not a real, thorough, genuine, decided Christian,– be high or low, rich or poor, old or young,–He is spiritually dead.
This truth is one that no one likes to hear, especially those who are dead in their trespasses and sins. They will tell us that they are not dead, but spiritually speaking, they are. They still have enmity between them and the LORD, for they have not been born again.
This truth also shows us how much we must depend upon the LORD to be saved. The verse from Ephesians, says to those who are true Christians, And you He made alive… This quickening comes by the power of the Spirit in conjunction with the gospel. It is not an epiphany. It is not a decision based upon our own intellectual understanding of the gospel. It is not something we can manufacture within ourselves. It is a miracle in the truest sense, since only the LORD can bring it about. He is the One who chooses, then moves. He is the One who gives true life. He is the One who brings us back from the dead in order to be saved for His purposes.
This is one of the reasons true Christianity is set apart from so many other religions. In other religions, the focus is on what we do in order to achieve a right standing with God, or spiritual forces. In true Christianity, it is about what God has done for us, and what He must do in us for us to be saved. It is outside of our own wills and we are completely at His mercy for salvation.
I stress theses realities for “true Christianity” because there is also a false Christianity. It is one in which men and women are told to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, decide to follow Jesus and not turn back. False Christianity is really close to true Christianity in that it uses the same language as true Christianity. It looks very similar. But the difference is that man’s will is the focal point instead of God’s will, mercy, and grace. In false Christianity, it really is just about us, with some “Jesus” tacked on for good measure. But until God moves in the life of the false Christian, they are still “dead” in their trespasses and sins.
This is why Jesus says so passionately, “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The false Christian cannot see it because he is spiritually dead to the things of God. He may think he sees such things in big churches, and lots of activity. But the true fruits of the Spirit are never found in the dead Christian. The dead Christian is nothing more than a moral person, resting in his own moral goodness and not the righteousness found in Christ. It is all he has to hope for, because he is spiritually dead.