The following article is an excerpt from "A Book of Bible Study"
by Joseph F. Harwood.
To download the entire book in PDF format, visit our home page at https://www.abookofbiblestudy.net/
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul described the totality of man’s depravity by saying that he is “dead” in trespasses and sin. In chapter 2 we read:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, 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 ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as 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 so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)
In verse 1, Paul did not say that man is sick with sin, or terminally ill with sin with some small spark of life left in him, but he said that man is dead in trespasses and sin. He described man’s total depravity and condition of deadness and inability to respond to the things of God in order to emphasize the magnitude of God’s grace toward us whom He has saved.
Paul taught that all of us as believers were also once dead in our transgressions, until God, because of His love and mercy which He chose to show toward us, made us alive with Christ, even when we were still dead in our sins (verses 4-5). Paul then taught that it is solely by God’s grace that we have been saved, through faith in Christ. And he also taught that our faith does not come from within ourselves, but it is a gift given to us by God. (Consider Philippians 1:29.) Paul made it clear that our salvation does not come about through any work or effort of our own whatsoever, so that no one may boast that he had anything at all to do with his salvation (verses 8-9).
If our faith were somehow based on even one good work of our own, even making a “right decision”, then we would be able to boast that we made the right decision when others refused to do so, when they too supposedly could have. However, Paul taught that for those of us who have come to faith in Christ, we should understand that our faith is the gift of God and has nothing to do with any works of our own.
Paul again emphasized the inability of unregenerate man to receive and respond to the things of God in 1 Corinthians where he wrote: “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” (1 Corinthians 2:14, emphasis added). The natural man, or man in his lost, unregenerate state, does not accept the things of the Spirit of God because he cannot understand them. The things of the Spirit of God cannot be discerned with the intellect alone. Rather, as Paul said, “they are spiritually appraised”, which is to say they are discerned and understood only through the Spirit of God. For this reason, when the lost, unregenerate man hears the Gospel message given to us through the word of God, it sounds like foolishness to him. He is simply unable to understand or accept it because he is without the Spirit of God, which means that he is still spiritually dead in his trespasses and sins.
A dead body is unable to respond to any outside stimulus other than the call of God raising it to life, as was the case when Jesus called Lazarus to life though he had been dead for four days (John 11:38-44). In the same way, the unregenerate man, who is dead in his transgressions, is unable to respond to the Gospel message unless and until he has been called to life by God, and his regeneration occurs. At this point he is made alive with Christ, and he is then able to respond to Jesus Christ as his Lord who has saved him, just as Saul, who would later become the Apostle Paul, was able to do for the first time when the time for his conversion came on the Damascus road.