How Can I Be Dead?

By Mark D. Roberts

April 25, 2018

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

Ephesians 2:1-3


Two years ago, I had a rather harrowing experience. While hiking in the High Sierra of California, unbeknownst to me, I was bitten by a tick. A few days later, I began to feel pretty sick. Two weeks later, I was gravely ill. After I was admitted to the hospital, an infectious-disease specialist began to treat me. Soon I was on a dozen antibiotics as she tried to discern exactly what was wrong with me. Eventually the tests came back showing that I had Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, a disease that is often fatal. (In fact, the last person in California who had RMSF, which is rare in this state, died from the disease.)

Dead flowers in a vase.I vividly and gratefully remember the day my doctor came in and announced to me that I had Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. She smiled as she reported my condition. Why was she smiling? Because she had anticipated this result and had been treating me for it. So, by the time the official diagnosis was delivered, I was on the mend and my life was no longer in danger. Only later did my doctor tell me how worried she had been at first, fearing that I might not survive.

I wonder how I would have responded if my doctor, instead of reporting what I had and how I was improving, had said to me, “Mark, you are dead.” I would have been upset, I’m sure, but also confused. Dead? How can I be dead? I’m still here, after all. Surely I’m not dead.

Ephesians 2 begins with a similarly distressing and potentially confusing message: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins” (2:1). It’s easy to read quickly and miss the shock of this verse. Stop for a moment and consider what it says. You were dead. Think about it. You were dead.

Ephesians 2:1 speaks of death, not literally, of course, but metaphorically. Though you were alive physically, you were dead in a way that was quite serious. You might say you were spiritually dead, though this condition affected far more than just your inner life. And why were you dead? Because you were cut off from God, the source of life, the one who is life. And what cut you off from God? Your “transgressions and sins.”

This verse in Ephesians harkens back to Genesis 2-3, where God commanded the man and woman not to eat from a certain tree or they would “certainly die” (2:17). When they disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit, they did not immediately die physically, but they were cut off from God and the blessed life he had intended for them. They began to experience death even while physically alive. In time, their bodies would die as well.

This is not good news. But it’s news we need to hear so we can be ready for the good news that is coming. That good news is implied in the tense of the verb, “You were dead.” Not “You are dead,” but “You were dead.” You were dead but you are not any longer. So stay tuned…

Something to Think About:

Can you think of a time when you received very bad news about yourself from someone—perhaps a doctor, a boss, or a judge? Or someone else? How did you react?

How have you experienced the link between sin and death in your life?

In what ways have you felt dead, even though you have been physically alive?

Something to Do:

As you go about the business of your day today, look for evidence of “death” in the world around you. In what ways does that “death” impact you?


Gracious God, today we’re reminded that our sin has cut us off from you, from the God who is life. We don’t like to think about this. Along with our culture, we want to minimize the implications of sin. Yet, even more we want our thinking and living to be shaped by your truth. So we thank you for the bad news of our death because we know it’s something we need to face head on.

But we also thank you for the good news suggested by the tense, “You were dead.” This means that we are not dead now. We’re eager to get to the good news, Lord. But, in the meanwhile, help us to take seriously the reality and devastation of our sin. Amen.


Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
Dead Man…Walking

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

More on Mark

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Learn Learn Learn Learn

the Life for Leaders newsletter

Learn Learn Learn Learn