Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dead Man Walking

“Paul first plumbs the depths of pessimism about mankind, and then rises to the heights of optimism about God. It is this combination of pessimism and optimism, of despair and faith, which constitutes the refreshing realism of the Bible. For what Paul does in this passage is to paint a vivid contrast between what man is by nature and what he can become by grace.”
~John Stott~

Prior to the 1960s, when a man on death row would walk down the halls of the prison, the warden would shout out, “Dead man walking! Dead man walking here!” To all of the other prisoners within earshot, the phrase signified the convict’s very imminent death. It was a grim reminder that, while the man had life and breath in the moment, his execution was on the horizon.

The sober reality is that our world is full of dead men and women walking—not in the physical sense, but in the spiritual sense. But unlike the prisoner on death row, the frightening truth is that most people are not even aware that they will be condemned before the God of the universe. In the book of Ephesians, Paul expresses the truth to awaken us from our spiritual slumber and warn us of the things to come. He uses the strong language appropriate for such an occasion. “…You were dead in your transgressions and sins,” he stresses, “…gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath” (Eph. 2:1b, 3b). This is our condition from birth because of the hereditary stain of sin we have as descendents of Adam and Eve. And it is irreversible. Working hard to perform good deeds doesn’t impress the holy God of this universe. His standard is His perfect Son Jesus Christ, and whether or not we like to admit it, you and I fall hopelessly short. We are dead people walking.

It is a bleak picture. But into the bleakness, God speaks. “Because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5). The gavel has fallen and we have been declared guilty. But God intervenes. He grants a pardon to all who, in faith, place their trust in His sinless Son, Jesus Christ, as Savior and Lord. All of those who are in Christ will never face the wrath of God; Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath for us and He left not one drop for us. The death penalty has been dropped. The guilty party has been acquitted!

Take a deep breath and let that sink in a moment. It is not until we realize the depths of our own depravity that we can appreciate the depths of God’s grace! God could have stopped there, and we would have been eternally singing His praises with hearts that never grow tired of delighting in His amazing grace! But God goes further and calls us His workmanship! We are God’s masterpieces on display so that the world might see His glory and goodness shining through us.

If you are in Christ, when God the Father looks at you He no longer sees a dead man or woman walking. He sees His Son, Jesus Christ, the perfect and spotless Lamb. He looks at you with eyes of unconditional love and He has canceled the debt of your sin. The chains have fallen off, the prison doors have been opened, and you have been set free! Masterpiece of God, use your freedom to declare this truth to other dead men and women walking in order that they too might be free.

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