“And you, having been dead in your the trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the fashion of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit which now works in the sons of disobedience.”
Shall we simply begin with the notion of being dead in our trespasses? One might think that this is but a simple phrase or idea, yet the consequences of this idea are far ranging in the life of the church today. So Paul speaks to these Christians and tells them that they were once “dead in their trespasses and sins.” Clearly they were alive on a physical level, and so, it is of spiritual life and death that Paul speaks.
Jesus says that lest you be “born again” you cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). John speaks of the believer as one who has passed from death to life and that the love of the brethren is the outward sign of this inward change (1 John 3:14). Similarly, Paul writes that those who indulge themselves in their pet sins are dead even though they are spiritually alive (1 Timothy 5:6) and that those who have been raised with Christ (a reference to the resurrection) will seek things where Christ is (Colossians 3:1-4). It should be said that even earlier in Colossians, Paul wrote of those who were dead in their sins (Colossians 2:13) and that those who are born again are rising from the dead in a spiritual sense (Ephesians 5:14…note that the language of being dead in our trespasses also shows up again in verse 5 of this same chapter). In many ways, it is a reminder of Psalm 80:18 which prays to God that he should give life to his people so that his people will praise his name — a reminder that another litmus test of genuine faith is genuine and sincere worship. There is no spiritual life apart from God and thus, prior to the regeneration worked upon us by the Holy Spirit, we are dead before Him.
The notion is a fairly simple one and one that can be traced through the Scriptures. So, why would people contest it? Sometimes they contest it even without knowing it. Think of it this way: can a dead man do anything on his own? One of the responsibilities that goes along with being a pastor has to do with caring for those who have lost loved ones to death. I do not wish to sound disrespectful or discourteous, but the dead can do nothing on their own. So, if we are going to extend the analogy, it should be vigorously asserted that those who are dead in their sins can do nothing to serve themselves or benefit their spiritual life; there must be a supernatural work of God that is wholly done by God and God alone.
Even so, many in the church follow more of a Wesleyan or Arminian line of thinking about those who are spiritually dead. Instead of dead, they view the person who is not yet regenerated as being spiritually very sick. They still insist that God must do a supernatural work, but they also insist that God only works on those who first choose him. But if a person is able to make a choice — if a person is able to do anything — they cannot be spoken of as being dead, can they? And thus, many Christians, hoping to preserve the illusion that they have a free will to choose or reject the mercies of God, will deny this very clear language that the Apostle uses, suggesting that “dead” doesn’t really mean “dead.”
No, beloved, dead means dead and a dead man can do nothing to either aide or harm himself. And those who are spiritually dead are just that; they are spiritually dead, unable to either aide or harm themselves spiritually. A supernatural work of God must take place. And that means that God does not work because man asked him to work; God works because in his eternal decree, he chose to work in the life of said person, whomever that person may be. It is about God’s doing, not ours. He chose to save us, we did not choose him. If you feel as it you did choose Him at one point, it is only ever because you were responding to the work he was already doing in you. God is sovereign over your salvation if you are saved; you are not. To argue otherwise is to do a disservice to the text.