“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience–among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, 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 coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2.1-7, ESV)
Question: Which of these flowers are dead?
Answer: All of them.
It’s not a trick question. Once flowers are cut, they are dead. They are no longer connected to the source of their life and, if left unattended, will soon fade, shrivel and rot. Clearly, the illustration breaks down, as all do. Some cut flowers can be coaxed back to life by using various means–but generally speaking, they’re dead as dead can be. My wife, ever practical and frugal, usually prefers potted plants for this very reason. Her reasoning is, “Why spend all that money on something that’s already dead?” She has a point, but she usually gets cut flowers when we visit Ecuador, where one can buy three dozen exquisite roses for a couple of bucks.
The point is this: Though all the flowers in the pictures are dead, some have clearly been dead longer than others and some have been tampered with to disguise the fact that they are dead and to preserve some semblance of their beauty. (So, are dried mums…mummies?)
The same is true of the human race. As Paul explains, people in their natural state are “dead in…trespasses and sins.” They are separated by sin–Adam’s as their Federal Head and their own–from God, the Life Giver. But that is not to say they are unrecognizable. In fact, some of the flowers above look very much alive. They are still beautiful, colourful, fragrant–and some may still reach full bloom in the vase. But though they may have the appearance of life, they are doomed to decay. The other important quality that distinguishes a living plant from a dead one is the ability to produce fruit.
In the same way, some people may appear at first glance to be spiritually alive when they are not. They may possess noble qualities; be law-abiding; have an admirable sense of ethics; commit acts of self-sacrifice and heroism and be–well, be very nice people. Like Cornelius in Acts 10. But if they are separated from the Life Giver, He Who is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14.6) they are doomed to spend eternity in hell, forever separated from Him. (He said that, not I.) And they can never bear fruit–Spirit-prompted acts of righteous obedience with eternal implications.
Those are the domain of the living.