Don’t Forget They’re Dead
“I see dead people.”
It’s just a quote from a famous movie; it’s not a common phenomenon, and not, I trust, something any of us would like to experience—hallucinations of the walking dead. Creepy!
And yet, in a way, I ought to see more dead people. At least, I ought to see more people as dead. If you’re a born-again believer, you should too.
I base this on an inference from Ephesians 2: “We were dead in our trespasses and sins.” I infer that this means people who don’t yet know Jesus are dead right now in their trespasses and sins—and Christians should remember that!
When we forget it, I think, we’ll be less likely to talk to people about Jesus, and less likely to talk to Jesus about those people.
Why do we so often forget?
Christians believe that we have new life in Christ. We believe that before Christ saved us, we were walking corpses, spiritually. But when it comes to interacting with unbelievers, we can find it so natural to experience them as being…just like us. In many cases unbelievers can seem happier, friendlier, “livelier” than us weary saints. Simply put, they don’t seem dead! And that makes it harder, for me at least, to long for them to have life in Christ.
As I’ve thought about this, two analogies have helped me sort out my difficulties.
Analogy #1: Roadkill.
Driving across NJ’s Route 80 on Memorial Day led my family past more than 15 dead deer. I’m no expert, but I know what a living deer looks like, and these were definitely dead deer, no question about it. We all know pretty intuitively the difference between a living creature and roadkill. The fact of the matter is roadkill can’t do a thing except decompose. Dead animals cannot do what living animals are designed to do: they can’t hunt or hibernate, they can’t grow or reproduce, they can’t forage, frolic, sing or howl. They do nothing but rot.
Spiritually dead humans have bodies that are headed that direction too. We’re not biologically dead yet, but we’re on our way. We’re as good as dead: physically our fate is sealed. But here’s the key, and the thing that’s easy to forget: unlike animals, human life is not merely biological. We have souls. Souls that are designed for relationship with God, souls that make us capable of reverent worship and loving obedience.
That’s what’s dead. Our souls. We know a dead body when we see one: it’s not doing what living bodies are supposed to do! Do we know a dead soul when we see one?
If one definition of a dead animal is an organism that has ceased to perform any of the activities associated with biological life, then perhaps a good explanation of how unregenerated sinners are dead is that we are conceived and born, suckled and schooled, married and buried without ever performing any of the activities comprising spiritual life: We do not, and we cannot, glorify and enjoy God. At all. We’re dead.
Ah, you might say, but we’re still worshippers, we still can desire good things, and love people. Surely we’re not totally dead spiritually, just sick!
Consider, in response, a second analogy:
Analogy #2: A Dead Car.
Imagine a wiry boy straight out of Jungle Book, raised by wolves, venturing from the trees into the outskirts of an Indian village. Across the dirt road he sees a creature he’s never seen before: a rusty, dusty pickup truck. After making sure it won’t bite him (it looks safely dead, but maybe it’s just sleeping!), he climbs inside. He fiddles with the buttons and the levers. There’s a key, and he discovers that it turns in its socket. click-click-click-click…. “THE INDIAN PRIME MINISTER ANNOUNCED TODAY A NEW INITIATIVE AIMED”—at the loud voice blaring from the speakers, Mowgli flings himself out of the truck, somersaults across the road and bounds up a tree. The beast is alive after all! The car is working!
Only…we know it’s not. There’s still some juice in the battery, for now. Enough to keep the radio going for a few days more, maybe. But if we could open up the hood, we’d see the engine troubles responsible for its recent abandonment. It’s dead.
See, cars are made for driving. A car that can’t drive may have some elements that still work. But if it is unable to perform its most essential function, we would be right to consider it dead, even though it’s not completely “broken” in every respect.
Can you see what I’m getting at? Human beings’ essential function—our “chief end” as the old catechisms have it—is to live in the awareness and service and worship of God, the Creator and Lord of the universe. It is this essential function that is dead in every human being—dead as a gutted car in a junkyard—apart from the saving work of Christ.
I hope that this is a challenge to you; it is to me. I can very easily be impressed by the fact that my neighbors have functioning radios and headlights and windshield wipers, if you will. They seem to be quite fine, some of them! It is only as I remember and reflect on the truth that they were created to know and love and worship and listen to and serve and sing to and live for God that the alarming state of their souls becomes apparent, that the sad absence of admiration for God or interest in the Bible or routines of worship or desire for wisdom or love of Christians begins click-click-clicking, and I get a whiff of the reality: they are dead and rotting, spiritually.
Recalling what people were created for helps me want to keep in mind that they are dead spiritually. This should serve as a motivation to see the gospel as something everyone around me needs. Sometimes I find it much more natural and comfortable to share the gospel with people who are obviously broken, obviously a mess, obviously in need of major spiritual renovation. But wait long enough and roadkill of the noblest variety is going to stink. Whether it’s a Lexus or a lemon, a car that won’t drive is dead, period.
I’m no mechanic, no veterinarian, no physician; but I do know a gospel-message and a God-man that give life to the dead. My prayer is that he will open our eyes to see the spiritual deadness of people more clearly, so we’ll cry out on their behalf to the God who gives life to the dead, and so that we’ll be emboldened to tell them about Christ—that “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”