by Bruce Mills
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). In those nine words, there is perhaps no clearer statement in Scripture on the sinfulness of man apart from Christ. In the original Greek text, it literally says “And you, being dead in your trespasses and sins.” In other words, man does not become spiritually dead because he sins; he is spiritually dead because by nature he is sinful. Except for Jesus Christ, that is the condition of every human being since the Fall, including every believer before he is saved. It is the past condition of believers and the present condition of everyone else.
Now contrary to most modern thinking, including such esteemed theologians as Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Phil, man’s basic trouble is not being out of harmony with his heritage or his environment, but being out of harmony with his Creator. His principal problem is not that he cannot make meaningful relationships with other human beings, but that he has no right relationship to God, from whom he is alienated by sin.
His condition has nothing to do with the way he lives; it has to do with the fact that he is dead even while he is alive. He is spiritually dead while being physically alive. Because he is dead to God, he is dead to spiritual life, truth, righteousness, inner peace and happiness, and ultimately to every other good thing.
One of the first indications of physical death is the body’s inability to respond to stimulus, no matter what it might be. The simple fact is that a dead person cannot react. He no longer responds to light, sound, smell, taste, pain, or anything else. He is totally insensitive because there is no life in him.
That is the way of spiritual death as well. A person who is spiritually dead has no life by which he can respond to spiritual things, much less live a spiritual life. No amount of love, care, and words of affection from God can draw a response. A spiritually dead person is alienated from God and therefore alienated from life. He has no capacity to respond. Apart from God, men as spiritual zombies, the walking dead who do not know they are dead. They go through the motions of life, but they do not possess it.
This is the primary reason why I am convinced that Calvinism is correct and Arminianism is wrong. According to what this passage says, men and women are “dead in…trespasses and sins”—they cannot possibly respond on their own to the Gospel apart from the work of God to raise them to spiritual life.
Arminians believe that election is based on the foreknowledge of God as to who would believe. Man’s “act of faith” is seen as the “condition” or his being elected to eternal life, since God foresaw him exercising his “free will” in response to Jesus Christ.
The founder of Arminianism, Joseph Arminius, held that redemption was based on the fact that God loves everybody, that Christ died for everyone, and that the Father is not willing that any should perish. The death of Christ provided the grounds for God to save all men, but each must exercise his own “free will” in order to be saved.
He also believed that since God wanted all men to be saved, He sent the Holy Spirit to “woo” all men to Christ, but since man has absolute “free will,” he is able to resist God’s will for his life. He believed that God’s will to save all men can be frustrated by the finite will of man. He also taught that man exercises his own will first, and then is born again.
He even said that a man cannot be saved by God unless it is man’s will to be saved, and a man cannot continue in salvation unless he continues to will to be saved. In other words, he can lose his salvation.
In other words, man’s salvation depends on his own ability and will to stay saved. I find such teachings to be absolutely incompatible with this passage. Before we were saved, we were like every other person who is apart from God—“dead in…trespasses and sins.”
The Greek case indicates the sphere or realm in which something or someone exists. It tells us where we were before our salvation. We were in the sphere of being dead in trespasses and sins. We were not dead because we committed sins, but because we were in sin.
A person does not become a liar when he tells a lie; he tells a lie because he already is a liar. He does not become a thief when he steals; he steals because he already is a thief. And so also with murder, adultery, covetousness, and every other sin.
Committing sinful acts does not make us sinners; we commit sinful acts because we are sinners. Jesus confirmed this when He said, “The things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders” (Matt. 15:18-19).
Now, someone might ask, "Do you mean that because all men are equally dead in sin that they are all equally corrupt and wicked?" No; twenty corpses on a battlefield might be in many different stages of decay, but they are uniformly dead. The manifestation of death occurs in many different forms and degrees, but death itself has no degrees. Sin manifests itself in many different forms and degrees, but the state of sin itself has no degrees. Not all men are as evil as they could be, but all fail to measure up to God’s perfect standard.
As a state of being, a sphere of existence, sin has more to do with what is not done than with what is done. God’s standard is for men to be perfect just as He Himself is perfect (Matt. 5:48). God has never given any standard for man but perfect holiness.
It is because of that perfect standard of holiness that men apart from God cannot be anything but sinful. Because he is separated from God, he cannot do anything but fall short of God’s standard. No matter how much good he does or attempts to do, the standard of never doing or never having done evil at all is unattainable.
Because I live on the Gulf of Mexico, let me give you an illustration I have used many times. Let’s suppose that all of us decided we would go down to the beach, and we all lined up and took turns trying to jump across the Gulf of Mexico. Some of us might jump only a couple of feet, but others might jump 8 or 10 feet out before we landed in the water. Even if we brought in a professional broad jumper, he might be able to jump 25 or 26 feet. But no one would be able to jump to the other side of the Gulf. Our degrees of success would vary only in relation to one another, but in relation to achieving the goal, we would all be equal failures.
That is the same way it is with attempting to achieve God’s holiness. Every unbeliever is an equal failure. That’s why the morally good, helpful, kind, considerate, self-giving, generous person needs salvation as much as the serial killer on death row.
The person who is a good parent, a loving spouse, an honest worker, and a civic humanitarian needs Jesus Christ to save him or her from the eternal condemnation of hell just as much as the drug-addicted prostitute or the heartless terrorist. They do not lead equally sinful lives, but they are equally in the state of sin, equally separated from God, and equally estranged from spiritual life.
Jesus once said, “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same” (Luke 6:33). On another occasion He said, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” (Luke 11:13). What He was saying is that a person apart from God can do humanly good things.
But as the Lord points out in both of those statements, the person is still a sinner, still evil by nature, and still operating on a motive less than that of glorifying God. A sinner’s doing good is good, but it cannot change his nature or his basic sphere of existence, and it cannot reconcile him to God.
There is one more passage which states this principle, which I personally think is the most frightening passage of Scripture in the Bible. It’s found in Matt. 7:22-23. Jesus is concluding the Sermon on the Mount, and he tells the listening crowd what it will be like at the Great White Throne Judgment, and He says, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”
In other words, there will be many people who will stand before the Lord and try to justify themselves on the basis of their wonderful works of power, and their wonderful teaching done in His name, and He will send them to hell because they never had a personal relationship to Him.
Being good and kind to other people pleases God. You might even say it is a step in the right direction. The only problem is that 100,000 such steps cannot bring a person any closer to God because it is a sinner’s condition of sinfulness and not his particular sins that separate him from God, his particular acts of goodness cannot reconcile him to God.
So, man is in an impossible situation. He is spiritually dead and entirely unable to extricate himself from that situation. How then, is he supposed to have a relationship with God? How will he ever be able to avoid God's wrath and just condemnation to an eternal hell? We'll examine the answer in our next post.