The concept of spiritual death entered the Biblical scene in the second act, and in addressing spiritual death, we need to carefully distinguish between it and physical death, particularly in passages within the Old Testament – confusion of those passages in the past has led to false teachings. In the Scriptures, spiritual life and death are of a different nature than that of physical life and death, because the natures of the flesh and spirit are as different as night and day. Physical life is…physical life, so, too, with physical death – the life that animates the body is gone, and that animating force is the human spirit within it…
For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
Adam didn’t die physically when he partook of the fruit of the tree, he died spiritually, which is why his body didn’t just “drop dead” within moments after taking the first bite. The definition of “spiritual death,” also called by Paul as being dead in sin and transgressions, is what this article is all about. Taking the totality of the Scriptures into consideration on this subject, we learn that spiritual life and death are firmly grounded in the concept of personal relationship with God. Union with God is spiritual life, separation from God is spiritual death:
loving the LORD your God, obeying His voice and holding fast to Him, for He is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”
but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.
Besides Deut. 30:20, which tells us that God “is your life,” we also have other passages in the Scriptures teaching the same, only couched in Messianic terms, telling us that spiritual (or eternal) life is “in Christ” . . .
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.
II Tim. 1:1
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus,
We also read where Jesus, like God, is said to actually be life…
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
I John 5:20
And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
And then we have Colossians 3:4 which tells us specifically, that Christ is our life…
When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
We also find more passages in the OT which support the idea that God (Jesus) is our life, and that union with Him in one fashion or another, gives us life…
For with You is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.
14 Because he holds fast to Me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows My name.
15 When he calls to Me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him My salvation.”
In the passage above, we find the insinuation that “he” who holds fast to God, is in personal relationship with God…he loves God, he calls upon God, and in the context of the entire Psalm, he lives “in God.” He makes God his home – where he spends a certain portion of his time in or with…he places his trust in God and walks with God, meaning that he walks in loving obedience to Him. Because of this relationship, God responds by telling us that He will deliver such a person and be with him in his trials, that He will answer him when he calls upon Him.
God says that He will rescue him, honor him, protect him, and finally He will give him physical life (abundant life) and then, salvation (intending spiritual life in eternity with God). All because this person chooses to love God and spend time with Him in order to come to know God’s name…meaning that he comes to know God’s covenant name to His covenant people through personal experience. A person does not come to know God’s blessings or protection, unless they are walking with Him in covenant relationship, and saying that one “knows My name” is to insinuate that such a person is walking in covenant relationship with God, and so experiences God first-hand…not just His promises and blessings, but comes to experience and know God personally.
In the OT God was our life, according to the Scriptures…in the NT, as we have already witnessed, Jesus Christ is said to be our life. As the following passages indicate, the only way that one has eternal life today, is if one possesses Christ, and the only way one can possess Christ is by walking in covenant relationship with God…
I John 5:11-12
11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.
12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
I John 3:23-24
23 And this is God’s commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as He has commanded us.
24 Whoever keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He will abide in him; and by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.
The only way to have the Son, is to abide in Him, because as he abides in God/Christ, He/They remain abiding in him. If Christ is in you, then you have Him…because you walk in obedience to God’s commandments of the New Covenant – the Law of Christ…
Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home within him.”
Spiritual life is union with God, where our lives become so intertwined and interwoven within each other, that we essentially become one unit in many ways…which is what Paul means here when he says that we begin to conform to the image of Christ:
For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.
This does not mean that God causes those in Christ to be conformed into His image, it means that God desires and has foreordained that those who are in Christ are to engage Him in relationship so that they will become more and more like Him…just like two good friends, and spouses, over the years take on certain of each other’s characteristics. This is what growing the Fruit of the Spirit is all about.
Bringing this even closer to home, God has said that He will give the promise of life to those who engage Him in an intimate, personal relationship and come to know Him personally, and who come to love Him not just in obedience, but because they fall in love with Him…
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him.
Separation from God is spiritual death…
Isaiah 59:2 says it quite clearly – sin separates us from God…
but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.
God will not remain walking with a person who engages in willful sin, so when that happens, such a person finds himself no longer in relationship with God. This is spiritual death, and why God told Adam that in the day he ate of the Tree, he would die:
but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.
But spiritual death is not like physical death – once a person dies spiritually, it is not the end…not yet, anyway. A person who is spiritually dead can come back to God and become alive again in the spirit, but if he does not, and he dies physically while still in rebellion (sin) against God – then that is the final end.
If one dies physically while still in sin, then he will go into an eternal state of existence called “the second death” . . .
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.
Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.
But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
The “second death” is life within the eternal confines of the Lake of Fire, that was not originally intended for mankind but for satan and his angels – but all who follow satan in rebellion against God will spend eternity in that place. Spiritual life and death is all about relationship, which is Christ’s point in His parable about the Prodigal Son…
And Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need…But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger?…And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him…But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate…It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
In context to this passage, Jesus was talking about what was lost and found…a lost sheep that was found, a lost coin that was found…and a lost son that was found. The only difference between the three stories in His teaching on this subject, is that in the Prodigal Jesus gives it a more life and death emphasis when it came to people. A lost sheep or coin does not have eternal consequences, but a lost person does – because those who are lost, which Jesus emphasizes in His parable, are those who are separated from the life of God. In other words, those who are lost, are spiritually dead, they are separated from God and the life of God…
They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.
In Jesus’ parable, the boy’s father, an allegory for the Father (God), says of him, “My son was dead” because he left the Father – he separated himself from the Father. Then, when the son returned home again, the Father says, “My son is alive again,” because he returned to the Father and the life that is in and with the Father. Jesus makes the link between the Prodigal Son and the first two stories He told, by adding the phrase, “he was lost, and is found,” intimating that the ‘lost’ are also the spiritually dead, just as the ‘alive’ are also the spiritually alive…
For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.
While the son was in a state of absence from the Father of Life, the Father looked upon him as being dead to him relationally. That is the state of spiritual death, where a person is dead in relation to God. But when the son came back to the Father, no longer living in rebellion and separation from Him, the Father looked upon him as coming alive again. Separation from God is spiritual death, relationship (union) with God is spiritual life. Spiritual death is what Paul refers to in the following passages…
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins
even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,
When a person is living in sin, rebellion, and trespasses upon the rights of his Creator, then he is spiritually dead – relationally speaking, he is dead because he is not walking in personal relationship with God the Father. That is why Paul says in Eph. 4:18 that those who are walking in sinful rebellion against God are “alienated from the life of God.” He doesn’t mean that they are just separated from God, he means that they are separated from the life that being in union with God brings…spiritual, abundant life. Jesus ratifies this notion in the following passages:
And Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”
And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
God says in one place, that He has no pleasure in “the death of anyone” . . .
For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.”
Yet He says in another place that He apparently does have pleasure in the deaths of some people…
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints.
Obviously, when God says that He has no pleasure in people dying, He is referring to them dying in their sins – that is, dying while they are separated from Him, dying while abiding in spiritual death. Yet He takes great pleasure in the deaths of those who are walking in relationship with Him, those who are in union with Him, and walking in spiritual life…because now their trials are over – they have remained faithful to Him in love and obedience, and now they are finally home with Him forever…
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Contrary to the teachings floating around within certain Reformed branches of theology, being spiritually dead does not mean that a person is so totally depraved that he cannot come to God on his own volition…there is no evidence of this anywhere in Scripture. Spiritual death does not mean that a person’s spirit is somehow dead, so that he cannot think of God in any way, shape, or form – and totally given over to sinful inclinations. It only refers to the fact that one is not walking in relationship with God, the origin of spiritual life. There is only a relationship “to” God, or “with” God…and only a relationship with God imputes the life of God to an individual.