Question: "What does it mean to be spiritually lost?"
Answer: One line in the familiar hymn “Amazing Grace” says, “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” We may have sung it a thousand times without realizing what lost means. The term lost is used in the Bible and in Christian circles to refer to persons who have not yet found eternal life in Christ. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Those who are spiritually lost are separated from God and unable to find their way back to Him.
To be lost is to have wandered away and to be helpless to find the way back. A hiker may be lost when he takes a wrong path and does not know how to return to the right one. A child may be lost when he wanders too far from his parents and does not know where they are. Human beings are spiritually lost because we have wandered away from God and we do not know how to find Him again.
Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” The Bible compares human beings to sheep (Psalm 23; John 10:11–14) because sheep are, by nature, defenseless. They are not overly bright and tend to follow a leader, regardless of where that leader is taking them. Sheep need a shepherd to survive. A shepherd protects them from attacks, guides them to good grazing, and keeps watch so that none are lost. Sheep tend to wander from the herd and can become easy targets for predators. In a spiritual sense, people are prone to wander and become easy targets for our enemy, Satan. Without Jesus, our Good Shepherd, we are spiritually lost and unable to find God on our own.
Jesus told a parable about a lost lamb to explain the Father’s heart for lost people (Luke 15:3–7). The Good Shepherd was willing to leave the ninety-nine sheep in the fold to go in search of the one lost lamb. The lamb would never have found the Shepherd on its own. This parable demonstrates God’s tender concern for every individual. He stops at nothing to find those who need Him and bring them safely into His presence. Just as lost sheep cannot find the Shepherd on their own, lost people cannot find God on their own (Psalm 53:2–3; Romans 3:11).
Religion is man’s attempt to find God on his own. Religion creates a goal, which may be a deity or a higher plane of existence, and then declares certain steps necessary to reach that goal. Because of religion, lost people consider themselves not lost. Imagine a hiker who has lost his way. After hours of fruitless searching for the right path, he decides to set up camp in an unknown forest and declare that he is now home. He will no longer try to be rescued. Although he still does not know where he is, familiarity with his immediate surroundings gives him the illusion of being found.
Christianity does not follow that pattern. Christianity teaches that it is futile for the lost to attempt to find God, and that’s why God sent Jesus to find the lost. God did for us what we could not do for ourselves (Romans 5:8). Even when we do not even realize we are lost, He knows our condition. So the Son of God left heaven to find us and bring us home (Philippians 2:5–8; Matthew 18:11; John 3:16–18).
We are born lost because we have a sin nature inherited from our first parents (Genesis 3) that drives us to rebel against our Shepherd (Romans 3:23). We were created to be at home with Him, walking in harmony and obedience. But because of our sin, we are lost (Isaiah 59:2). The gulf between us and God is impossible for us to bridge, and we cannot find our way back into His presence. Spiritually lost people are bound by their sin and condemned to hell (Luke 12:5; Romans 6:23). But when the lost place their trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a bridge opens up before them. Because of God’s mercy and love, the lost can come home (1 Peter 2:25).
Every human being is either lost or found. We all belong to one of those two categories. The first step in becoming found is to admit that we are lost. We agree with God that our sin deserves punishment, and we acknowledge that the punishment Jesus suffered was sufficient to pay for it. We humbly receive that gift through faith (Ephesians 2:8–9). In a divine exchange, God transfers our sin to the cross and transfers Christ’s righteousness to our account (Colossians 2:14). We then enter into a new relationship with God as His own beloved children. We are no longer lost. We have been found, forgiven, and given a fresh start (2 Corinthians 5:17). That’s why Christians can joyfully sing, “I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”