Where are you from? How did you grow up? Tell me about your family. Where does Jesus play into all of this?
These are the probing questions and seeking statements that fill up most of my time as of late. I recently moved to Georgia, where I have become the lead pastor for a great local church. My calendar is full with meeting people, and I have asked dozens of them about their stories. Many have responded with tales of years upon years of faithful history in the church, and some of them have been walking with Christ longer than I have been alive. There have been faithful stories of seeing Jesus move as people have given of their time and talents to trust him with an experience or relationship.
They have all been encouraging conversations, but what is interesting is how few of them included any dark or despairing moments, what life was like before God saved their souls. I think it’s true that most humans don’t want to talk about dirty laundry with a new pastor. I think it is also true that we face the Pharisaical struggle of talking about appearances without examining what’s turning the wheels on the inside.
Not all the conversations went this way. A couple of them got really hairy, really fast. Men sharing intimate details of life before Christ. The pain, the drugs, the hurt relationships, the broken marriages. I’ve seen the color total depravity paints on the canvas of our lives.
Dead to God and Enslaved in Sin
The best place to start with evaluating our story is to go back to the beginning. Looking through the lens of Ephesians 2:1-3, we see clearly where we began:
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.
This is not a feel-good passage. It isn’t a mirror that shows us what we want to see, but what we need to see. And the smell of this. How ghastly. How gross. The stench of spiritually-dead people reeks to the Lord. Even Paul remembers the odor of his sin as he was persecuting Christians.
Looking back as a now-follower of Christ, Paul is writing from prison to these Ephesian Christians. I’m sure he was cold, tired, hungry, and uncomfortable. The Holy Spirit still moved in such a way as to pen powerful words that would bring real perspective to the Ephesians. He starts chapter 2 by declaring “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.” As if that didn’t sting enough, God kept speaking through Paul, declaring the people as once under Satan’s reign. OUCH! ZING! BAM! Not really the strategy most of us use when we are asked about our life story.
It may not be the beginning we like to tell, but it is the beginning of the gospel.
Paul says we were dead. There is no way around this reality. Apart from Christ, all people are spiritually dead—as dead as dead bones get (see Ezekiel 37.) We aren’t swimming around in the ocean of life waiting for God to throw out the life preserver. We are stone-cold dead at the bottom of the ocean, with no hope of rescuing ourselves.
Within that spiritual deadness, our physical life is under the authority, influence, and power of man’s greatest Enemy. The “prince of the power of the air,” the Scriptures call him. Under the strength of that morbid, prideful power, we carry out the desires of a dead soul in both our mind and deeds. All of our thoughts are corrupt apart from Christ, and all we do is tarnished by sin and harmful.
You may be sitting there thinking, “But Jerrod, I make good decisions, and I have done good things.” I would say, to God be the glory! To reflect the goodness and kindness of God is a grace he has given you. But in the end, when we weigh ourselves against God’s commands and his holiness, we hopelessly fall short (Romans 3:23). What we rightly deserve is the judgment of God that is waiting for all mankind who are not under Christ’s saving reign.
Alive to God in Jesus Christ
If we ended there, the only conclusion would be that we are hopeless. But God. Oh, how grateful I am that God kept writing through Paul in verses 4-10!
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
God is the one who initiated. Jesus was the path to making us alive, and the Holy Spirit is the power to make it all happen. Our sins and trespasses separated us from God. But God pursued us, recreated us, and gave us a new family. We didn’t do a lick of it. The gospel of Jesus Christ, as proclaimed through the Word and the mouths of those who are his, is how God chooses to bring life to the spiritually dead. As he opens our blind eyes to respond by faith, only then can God’s authorship of our story be understood in all of its context.
Have you considered the new life that God freely gives, in Jesus and through the Holy Spirit? Remember your past, and share it with a world that needs to hear it. We were dead in our sin, but God made us alive in Christ.
Are these gospel-realities what you would use to tell your story?