“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 humanity. 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…” (Ephesians 2:1-5)
In their very helpful manual that trains disciples to make disciples, the authors of Real Life Discipleship Training Manual, walk their readers through 5 stages of spiritual growth:
- Young Adult
A better understanding of these stages is very helpful, not only as we look at our own lives, and try to understand where we are, and where we need to be; but, they also give us a map for how to walk alongside someone we want to introduce to Jesus Christ.
Today, we are going to look at stage 1: Death. According to that passage from Ephesians 2, the signs that someone is living in “spiritual death” are the following:
- Living in sins.
- Following the ways of the world.
- Following the evil spirit who inspires disobedience.
- Gratifying desires of our sinful nature.
The authors of Real Life say that all of these can be summed up in two words: unbelief and rebellion. And they are shown both in what someone says, and in what someone does. Often you have to be with someone, over time, to see where they are spiritually. Remember Jesus tells us that we will know someone by the fruit that their lives bear – and here is he referring not necessarily quantity, so much as the quality.
While it’s true that spiritual death is usually something we see, in what someone does, over time, it is also true that there are characteristic things that people living in spiritual death, say. Like the following:
“I don’t believe there is a God.”
“The Bible is just a bunch of myths.”
“God is a crutch.”
“I’m not a Christian because religion is responsible for too much evil in the world.”
“There are many ways to get to God.”
“There is no hell, because God is a God of love.”
“If I’m just a good person, I will be okay.”
“There is no absolute right and wrong.”
“God will forgive, that’s what God does.”
Now, here is our challenge: What is your fundamental reaction when you know, love, and walk alongside someone whose life is characterized by unbelief and rebellion? Surprise? Anger? Indifference? Well, if you’re human, and a growing disciple of Jesus Christ, it will probably be all of these. But it doesn’t have to be. In fact, as you grow as a disciple of Jesus, a faithful test of your maturity, is your ability to love and serve someone who is being swallowed up by unbelief and rebellion, without becoming terribly surprised that they are; without being angry, and yelling: “Why can’t you just do the right thing?!”; without falling into indifference that – in effect – says their lives before God don’t matter.
And the clue to this maturity that we should have, is found in one word, in the first verse from the Ephesians passage that I read – did you catch it? Just one word: “You…” Before you knew Jesus, you were just like the person that you love and wish would be transformed. So be patient. Trust in God’s good time to change, and bring that person to himself.
In all of this, it’s important to remember: Christ specializes in raising people from the dead. But it is important to see, clearly, what that death looks like, so we can know where someone is.
So look, at what the person is doing. Listen to what the person is saying. And remember: By grace you were saved. You once lived that way, too. So be patient, be gracious, be forgiving, because when you are, Christ can work through you.