Question: "What does it mean to be dead in trespasses and sins?"
Answer: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1–2). In his letter to the Ephesian church, Paul writes of the great gift God has given them through His Son (2 Corinthians 9:15). Because of Jesus, they are not merely bad people made good, but dead people made alive.
When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), they brought both physical and spiritual death into God’s perfect world (Romans 5:12; 6:23). The moment they transgressed God’s law, “their eyes were opened and they realized they were naked” (Genesis 3:7). For the first time, mankind tasted rebellion and was awakened to the difference between good and evil. They had experienced no evil, no shame, and no guilt until that moment. But, with one forbidden bite, their souls and bodies began to die. God Himself made the sacrifice required to atone for that sin (Genesis 3:21) and established the principle that only through the death of a perfect substitute could the sinner live. This began the unfolding of God’s ultimate redemption plan by which He would make the ultimate sacrifice to atone for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2; John 3:16–18).
Before we surrender to the Holy Spirit’s urging, our spirits are dead to the things of God (Romans 8:8). We have no good within ourselves and no desire to submit to our Creator. We are dead spiritually and have no way to make ourselves alive. Just as a corpse cannot do anything to help himself, so we cannot save ourselves or make a move to cleanse our sins. We cannot even produce the desire to obey God. We were dead because of our sin. Dead people need a life-giver. John 1:4 says of Jesus, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”
The life Jesus gives is not merely eternal life in heaven (John 3:36; 14:2; Titus 3:7) but spiritual life on earth that empowers us to live out the purpose for which He created us. Our dead spirits can be compared to a deflated balloon inside our souls. We are scarcely aware of its presence as we live for ourselves, under the command of sin (2 Peter 2:19; Romans 6:16). When we respond to the Holy Spirit’s calling (John 6:44), we repent of our sin and exercise faith in the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 12:3). God forgives our sin, crediting us with the righteousness of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21), and sends the Holy Spirit to live inside us. The Greek word for “spirit” is pneuma, which means “breath” or “wind.” At the moment of conversion, the breath of God fills that deflated balloon, and our dead spirits come alive. This new spiritual life goes to work, transforming us from lifeless, sin-filled corpses to vibrant, living children of God (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:5; John 1:12).
Every human being in the world exists in one of two categories: spiritually dead or spiritually alive. Religion cannot make a dead man live. Good works, effort, and tradition may look like life to other dead people, but they have no spiritual power to transform from the inside out. Jesus Christ paid the highest price to redeem us from the clutches of Satan. Sin destroys; surrender brings life. We were all dead in our trespasses and sins, but we can be made alive through the blood of Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Peter 1:2; Ephesians 2:13).