A Commentary by John Stott
*And you he made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked* (verses 1-2a). The death to which Paul refers is not a figure of speech, as in the parable of the Prodigal Son,, ‘This my son was dead’; it is a factual statement of everybody’s spiritual condition outside Christ. And it is traced to their *trespasses and sins*. These two words seem to have been carefully chosen to give a comprehensive account of human evil. A ‘trespass’ (*paraptoma*) is a false step, involving either the crossing of a known boundary or a deviation from the right path. A ‘sin’ (*hamartia*), however, means rather a missing of the mark, a falling short of a standard. Together the two words cover the positive and negative, or active and passive, aspects of human wrongdoing, that is to say, our sins of commission and of omission. Before God we are both rebels and failures. As a result, we are ‘dead’ or ‘alienated from the life of God’ (4:18). For true life, ‘eternal life’, is fellowship with the living God, and spiritual death is the separation from him which sin inevitably brings: ‘Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you so that he does not hear.’ (Is.59:2).
This biblical statement about the ‘deadness’ of non-Christian people raises problems for many because it does not seem to square with the facts of everyday experience. Lots of people who make no Christian profession whatever, who even openly repudiate Jesus Christ, appear to be very much alive. One has the vigorous body of an athlete, another the lively mind of a scholar, a third the vivacious personality of a filmstar. Are we to say that such people, if Christ has not saved them, are dead? Yes, indeed, we must and do say this very thing. For in the sphere which matters supremely (which is neither the body, nor the mind, nor the personality, but the soul) they have no life. And you can tell it. They are blind to the glory of Jesus Christ, and deaf to the voice of the Holy Spirit. They have no love for God, no sensitive awareness of his personal reality, no leaping of their spirit towards him in the cry, ‘Abba, Father’, no longing for fellowship with his people. They are as unresponsive to him as a corpse. So we should not hesitate to affirm that a life without God (however physically fit and mentally alert the person may be) is a living death, and those who live it are dead even while they are living (cf. 1 Tim.5:6). To affirm this paradox is to become aware of the basic tragedy of fallen human existence. It is that people who were created by God and for God should now be living without God. Indeed, that was our condition until the Good Shepherd found us.