Seeing a dead body is incredibly bothersome. Even at a funeral, if it is an open casket funeral, there is something that is unnerving about seeing the recently deceased body in the coffin. Bodies were made by God living, and they were never meant to die. And although death seems natural to us, before sin, in God’s original design, there was no death. This was not meant to be, and perhaps the eerie feeling that we get at seeing a dead body is because something in us realizes this was never meant to be. But although seeing a dead body is unnatural, there is one thing that is more disturbing than a lifeless corpse.
When we read Ephesians 2:1-3, Paul tells us of a different type of death. The body is temporary, and when it dies, it returns to dust. But here in verse 1, Paul writes about a much worse type of death – a spiritual death. Just as the death of our physical bodies is unnatural, the death of our spirits is also not the way that God originally designed it. It was only because of Adam’s sin that God punished Adam with spiritual death. Now, every human being is born into a body that is alive with a spirit that is dead and separated from God. And this spiritual death should be as eerie as and more so than seeing a lifeless corpse.
The difference between physical and spiritual death is most clearly seen in the consequences of these deaths. The result of physical death is the corruption of our bodies. No longer do we have skin and bones, instead, our bodies decompose and return to dirt. However, the result of spiritual death is separation from God. This is not a thing that happens in a moment, but rather it is a thing that goes on and on forever. Physical death is something that happens at one point when you die, but spiritual death is something that you must experience throughout all eternity. The consequences of spiritual death are far graver than those of physical death.
Describing the tragedy of those who are spiritually dead, Paul explains that the believers in Ephesus were formerly those who were dead spiritually. Those who are alive physically but dead spiritually exhibit this spiritual death in their lifestyle (v.3, the King James translates it as “conversation”). This spiritual death is seen in those who live in “disobedience” to God so much that they inherit the title “children of disobedience.” This is spiritual death – a heart that cannot obey God, but is bound to doing the dead works of sin. This spiritual death is exhibited in sinful lusts and desires of the mind and heart, both thought of and acted out.
And as I said before, seeing someone who is spiritually dead is even more disturbing than seeing someone who is physically dead. Why? In verse 3, Paul says that those who are spiritually dead are going to face the wrath of God. Just as much as their disobedience to God is so characteristic of their life that they were called the “children of disobedience,” here we see that they are so defined by the destruction that they are going to receive because of their spiritual death that they are called “children of wrath.” While seeing someone who is physically dead may be disturbing, seeing someone who is spiritually dead should be horrifying, because those who are spiritually dead will face the eternally unbearable punishment of God.
Reflect: Why is spiritual death worse than physical death?