Question: "What is alienation? What does it mean that we are alienated from God?"
Answer: Alienation is the state of being withdrawn or separated from a group, person, or situation to which one was formerly attached. Alienation is another word for estrangement. Ephesians 4:18 describes unbelievers as “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (ESV). The word alienation comes from the root word alien, which means “foreigner or stranger.” So, to be alienated from God means that we have made ourselves strangers to Him because of our sin.
God created human beings to live in close fellowship with Him (Genesis 1:27). We were designed to be more like God than any other created being, yet we have free will to choose whether we want to have the Lord as our God or whether we will be our own gods. That choice determines our standing with Him, whether we live as aliens or as His beloved children (John 1:12). We are born with a sin nature, and that nature makes us enemies of God’s holiness (Romans 5:12). Our sin natures make it impossible to have fellowship with God or to please Him in any way (Romans 8:8). We live in a state of alienation from Him, regardless of how good we try to be because His standard is perfection, and none of us can meet that standard (Romans 3:10, 23; 6:23).
Jesus Christ came into the world to reverse that alienation from God. He came to be our peace (Ephesians 2:14), to reconcile us to God (Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18). Our alienation from God involved a debt we could not pay. The only just payment for high treason against our Creator is an eternity in the lake of fire (John 3:16–18, 36; Romans 6:23; Matthew 25:46). Hell is the place of ultimate alienation with no hope of ever being reconciled to God or to those we love. In the final judgment, Jesus’ verdict against those who are alienated from Him will cement that alienation for all eternity: “I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:23).
To save us from perpetual alienation from God, the Father sent His Son to pay the debt we could not pay and take the punishment we deserve (2 Corinthians 5:21). Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, God can pronounce our sin debt “Paid in Full” when we come to Christ in repentance and faith (Colossians 2:14). “God . . . reconciled us to himself through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:18).
Ephesians 2:18–19 says, “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” Parents do not usually buy shoes and school supplies for every kid in the neighborhood. They might, simply because they are kind and have the resources, but they have no obligation to children who do not belong to them. So it is with God. When we live in a state of alienation from Him, God is under no obligation to hear our prayers, comfort us, or protect us from harm (Proverbs 10:3; 28:9; Psalm 66:18). But when He adopts us through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection, we become His beloved sons and daughters (John 1:12; Romans 8:15). Jesus made it possible that all of us who were once alienated from God, can now be reconciled as His children.