What is spiritual death? What does it mean to be spiritually dead?

Everyone should want to know what it means to be spiritually dead because we are all born spiritually dead. Due to the fall of Adam, sin and death entered a previously perfect and pristine world (Romans 5:12). This death was not merely physical, but spiritual as well. All mankind born after the fall inherited a sin nature and therefore are spiritually stillborn (Psalms 51:5). To be spiritually dead does not mean to be without the faculties of intellect, affection or will. Our minds, emotions, and wills still function, but they are cut off from the life of God. In fact, they are bent and turned away from God (Isaiah 53:6).

Spiritual death is best understood as alienation or separation of our souls from God. Sin separates us from God, the source and fountain of spiritual life and light (Ephesians 2:12). The spiritually dead sit in darkness and in the shadow of death (Luke 1:79). Because God is holy and sin is offensive to God, our spiritual death is not an amicable separation, but a hostile one (Romans 8:7–8). Scripture describes the spiritually dead as enemies of God (Romans 5:10). The penalty for sin is death (Romans 3:23), and therefore the spiritually dead are cursed and condemned for failing to keep God's law (Galatians 3:10), and await God's wrath (Romans 2:5). They are, in fact, dead men walking.

To be spiritually dead means to be insensible to the things of God and ignorant of spiritual realities (1 Corinthians 2:14). A spiritually dead person does not love God and cannot please God (Romans 8:8). If fact, they want to please themselves, not God (Philippians 2:21). They may appear to perform good deeds from an external perspective in that their deeds conform to the letter of the law. However, these deeds do not conform to the spirit of the law because they are not motivated by a desire to please and glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31). The spiritually dead can look beautiful on the outside and inside be filled with death, like whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23:27–28).

Scripture gives us a picture of what it means to be spiritually dead—separated from God, hostile to God, cursed and condemned by God's law, insensible and ignorant of God's love. This is not a pretty picture.

Thankfully, God has not left us in this state of spiritual death. Because of His great love for us, God sent His only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who is the Resurrection and the Life, into this dark and deadly world to die for us (Romans 5:8; John 11:25). Ephesians 2:1–7 says, "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" (emphasis added).

Jesus reversed the effects of sin and death. He broke down the wall of separation between us and God and killed the hostility that existed by offering Himself as a peace offering (Ephesians 2:13–19). Jesus cured the curse of the law and death by taking the condemnation we deserved on Himself at Calvary's cross (Galatians 3:13). In Him we can be "born again" and made alive (John 3). There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ, those who have received Him by faith (Romans 8:1; John 1:12). He has removed the sting of death through His own death and resurrection, and has promised eternal life to all who believe in Him (1 Corinthians 15:21; 54–57; John 3:16). We who were separated from God can come near to Him. We who were hostile to God can now love Him. We who lived under the condemnation of the law have been freed and empowered to walk in joyful obedience to God. We who were under the curse of death have been given the gift of eternal life to be enjoyed with Christ, who is our life (Colossians 3:4). "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3).

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