Stark though it may sound, confrontational though it may be, the Bible compares the unredeemed to the walking dead. Outside of Jesus Christ, men and women are “dead” in their trespasses and sins.
The Bible’s picture of mankind ought to temper our expectations for what life can look like outside of God’s kingdom. Education is vitally important. Legislation is clearly necessary. But neither one, nor both of them together, is able to deal with the basic issues of the human heart. Worldly remedies only take us so far because they cannot address the greatest problem: that our natural condition is that of being “dead in the trespasses and sins in which [we] once walked … by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1, 3).
The alienation that marks humanity outside of Christ is primarily vertical: an alienation from God. Yet the effects spill over in other directions. Paul goes on in his letter to the Ephesians to describe how this vertical alienation had affected horizontal relations between Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:11-12). The deep-seated hostility between Jew and Gentile in the ancient world was caused by nothing less profound than human sin. Both were separated from God, as represented by the curtain that hung in the temple, and both were separated from one another by the metaphorical wall that existed between them (v 14).
The truth is that such hostilities are bound to continue apart from Christ. Though it is good to invest in our communities and to labor for real change in our society and for the good of our neighbors (and indeed, God directs His people to do so—see, for example, Jeremiah 29:7), this is not where a Christian ultimately focuses their primary energy in ministry or places their hope for renewal. In Jesus, and only in Jesus, God has created and is still creating a new society where divisive barriers are broken down by grace. God has provided in the authentic local church “the genetic blueprint” for “a broken world remade.” When people encounter churches where that blueprint is seen, they will experience a taste of what God is planning to do when sin and tears and sorrow are no more, when in a new heaven and in a new earth all He has purposed will be completed.
Alienation—both vertical and horizontal—is inevitable apart from Christ. But in Christ, and in the society He is building and of which He is the head, such alienation has been crucified. Taking the reality of sin seriously means that you and I will invest in whatever way we can in our local church in order to ensure that it is a place where grace has torn down barriers and the blueprint of God’s future kingdom is plain to see. Until we get there, we have the opportunity to work for, and enjoy, the foretaste now.
1The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, 2because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever:
3Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father's Son, in truth and love.
Walking in Truth and Love
4I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father. 5And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. 6And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. 7For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we1 have worked for, but may win a full reward. 9Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.
12Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.
13The children of your elect sister greet you.
Get the Program, Devotional, and Bible Reading Plan delivered daily right to your inbox.