Based on a comic book series, the TV program “The Walking Dead” portrays life in the aftermath of “a zombie apocalypse”. A sheriff’s deputy falls into a coma after being shot, then awakens to a dangerous new world overrun by “the undead”. Pressure to survive drives the deputy and others to the depths of human cruelty.
From Paul in the Holy Scriptures . . .
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-4).
The words hit like a sudden slap in the face. Paul’s just finished bursting out praise for God’s goodness in Christ, thanking God for the faith and love of his readers, and interceding for their enlightenment. Suddenly, he turns: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins . . . “ A condition not unlike The Walking Dead.
For a year, I owned a carpet-cleaning franchise (!). We were encouraged to always sell the customer an “add-on”. If she hired us to clean three rooms of carpets, we might offer a fourth at a reduced price “since we’re here”. She didn’t need that fourth room cleaned; but she’d probably feel a little better about her house if it was. Unless we let Ephesians 2:1-4 “slap us in the face”, we may think of Jesus as little more than an “add-on” to us basically good people.
With “you”, Paul’s addressing Gentile Christians in the church. With “All of us” and “we”, he includes believing Jews. “Like the rest” includes us all. The description is dark—walking dead dark.
- “Transgressions” means we overstepped God-set moral boundaries. (Pick any of the Ten Commandments!). That we were “dead” implies walking “off limits” was our way of life.
- “Sins” means we fell short or missed the mark the holy God, our Creator, demanded.
- In what way were we “dead”? Not physically, mentally or emotionally. Dead to God. Unresponsive to him. George Whitefield (“Christianity Today” calls him “probably the most famous religious figure of the eighteenth century”)– https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/evangelistsandapologists/george-whitefield.html) said:
“Come, ye dead, Christless, unconverted sinners, come and see the place where they laid the body of the deceased Lazarus; behold him laid out, bound hand and foot with grave-cloaths, locked up and stinking in a dark cave, with a great stone placed on the top of it. View him again and again; go nearer to him; be not afraid; smell him. Ah! How he stinketh. Stop there now, pause a while; and whilst thou art gazing upon the corpse of Lazarus, give me leave to tell thee with great plainness, but greater love, that this dead, bound entombed, stinking carcase, is but a faint representation of thy poor soul in its natural state: for, whether thou believest or not, thy spirit which thou bearest about with thee, sepulchred in flesh and blood, is as literally dead to God, and as truly dead in trespasses and sins, as the body of Lazarus was in the cave. Was he bound hand and foot with grave-cloaths? So art thou bound hand and foot with thy corruptions: and as a stone was laid on the sepulchre, so is there a stone of unbelief upon thy stupid heart. Perhaps thou hast lain in this state, not only four days, but many years, stinking in God’s nostrils. And, what is still more effecting thou art as unable to raise thyself out of this loathsome, dead state, to a life of righteousness and true holiness, as ever Lazarus was to raise himself from the cave in which he lay so long. Thou mayest try the power of thy own boasted free-will, and the force and energy of moral persuasion and rational arguments (which, without all doubt, have their proper place in religion); but all thy efforts, exerted with never so much vigour, will prove quite fruitless and abortive, till that same Jesus, who said ‘Take away the stone’, and cried, ‘Lazarus, come forth’ also quicken you (quoted in John Gerstner, A Predestination Primer).
- Once we followed the world’s ways. Our behavior was determined by society’s attitudes and habits, which are alien to God.
- Once we followed “the ruler of the kingdom of the air”. Paul is referring to “the rulers . . . the authorities . . . the cosmic powers of this present darkness . . . the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
- ” . . . the spirit . . . now at work in those who are disobedient”. Not only did we follow this spirit; but this spirit was actually working in us.
- We lived to gratify the cravings of our sinful nature, however “good” we might have appeared outwardly.
- ” . . . by nature children of wrath”. God’s wrath is his righteous hostility toward every thing unholy. God loves purity and so reacts in anger toward anything or anyone who defiles it. By nature (not merely by acts or thoughts, but by nature) we were “children of [God’s] wrath”. J.I. Packer (Christian theologian) explains: “Would a God who took as much pleasure in evil as He did in good be a good God? Would a God who did not react adversely to evil in His world be morally perfect? Surely not. But it is precisely this adverse reaction to evil, which is a necessary part of moral perfection, that the Bible has in view when it speaks of God’s wrath” (Knowing God, 136-37).
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Honestly, this is hard to swallow. Sure, school shootings, terrorism, gang violence and Middle East wars make the world a brutal place. And some people are jerks. But most seem “normal”, ordinary folks doing their jobs and raising their families–not to mention the “heroes” like good cops, medical researches seeking cures, and all the doctors sincerely trying to improve or save human lives.
Then there’s me. I was 10 when I trusted my life to Christ. Up to that moment, I was an ordinary “good” kid–riding my bike, playing with friends, fighting imaginary fights with my little rubber cowboys.
Was I–are these “good guys” noted above–really “dead in trespasses and sins”?
Hard to believe. But believe we must, because this is Paul’s Spirit-inspired diagnosis. And it’s what makes the next words “But God . . . ” all the more breathtaking: “The Walking Dead” become the risen and ascended in Christ!