Spiritual death – what is it?
Death, according to dictionary definitions, is a cessation of vital functions or a lack of life. Spiritual death is our natural state prior to accepting Christ as our savior (Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13). It is a lack of spiritual life, an absence of proper spiritual functioning. God is the eternally existent One, the great “I AM” (Exodus 3:14); He is life. So, really, spiritual death is separation from God, who is life.
Humans are raised from spiritual death by Jesus. Our Lord, being God incarnate, is associated with life numerous times throughout the New Testament. He is life and comes to give us life (John 1:4; 10:10; 11:25; 14:6; Acts 3:15). Paul says that, before we are saved, we are “dead” in our sins (Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13). When we lack Jesus, we lack life. Therefore we are dead.
Dead people cannot help themselves. Life does not come from non- life. This is why salvation is all of grace. We are incapable of doing anything to save ourselves; only Jesus, the Author of Life, can save us (Ephesians 2:8-10). Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Man is sinful—spiritually dead—but God gives life.
“How can an infant be born spiritually dead?” you might ask. Spiritual death became a reality for humanity after the Fall of Adam and Eve. God instructed Adam to refrain from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, warning that eating the fruit would result in death (Genesis 2:16-17). After Eve and Adam ate the fruit, however, they did not immediately experience physical death. Rather, their relationship with God was severed. They became aware of their nakedness, created clothes of leaves, and hid themselves from God in shame (Genesis 3:6-9). They were no longer functioning spiritually, but were spiritually dead. Romans 5:12 explains, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” The sin of Adam and Eve tainted all of humanity. We all have a sinful nature now. We are born separated from God (see Psalm 51:5).
Even though we are born with a sinful nature and come into this world spiritually dead, we are also born with a longing for life. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, in part, “[God] has put eternity into man’s heart.” In The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis writes,
The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.
Humans long for life. We have an innate something that knows there is more to this world than meets the eye. It impels our search for meaning in life.
Those who are spiritually dead are oblivious to their state (2 Corinthians 4:4). They assume they can “eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19 NIV), for physical life is all there is. In so doing, they fail to engage their inmost longings. They fail to recognize their sense of purposelessness, disconnectedness, and the fact that, apart from God, their pursuits do not provide fulfillment. The real danger is that, without the new life that Christ gives, the sinner’s physical death will be followed by the second death (Revelation 20:14-15).
Even believers, who have spiritual life, sometimes fail to fully live it by rebelling through sin. The consequence of sin is spiritual death (Romans 6:23). When believers in Christ toy with sin, they experience the death-like symptoms of sin – a sense of distance from God.
Spiritual death is a state of being alienated from God and therefore lacking His life. Believers have been given eternal life, which includes life “to the full” now (John 10:10 NIV). Jesus brings us from death into life, and believers remain in life. However, “whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).
Spiritual death need not be a permanent state. Life awaits us. God is eager for all come to Him (2 Peter 3:9). To be rescued from spiritual death, we need only recognize our sinful state and call on the One who is capable to save.