In his book How Good Is Good Enough? Pastor Andy Stanley tells the story of a children’s Sunday school teacher who wanted the kids in his class to know what someone had to do in order to go to heaven. So he asked a few questions to discover what kids already believed about the subject.
“If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale, and gave all my money to the church,” he asked, “would that get me to heaven?”
“No!” the children answered.
“If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would that get me to heaven?”
Again the answer was, “No!”
“Well then,” he said, “If I was kind to animals and gave candy to all the children and loved my wife, would that get me into heaven?”
Again they all shouted, “No!”
“Well then,” the teacher asked, looking out over his class, “how can I get to heaven?”
A boy in the back row stood up and shouted, “You gotta be dead!”
Ah, the wisdom of children! But whereas the precocious young man in Pastor Stanley’s story was probably talking about “physical death” as a key requirement for entry into heaven, today’s New Testament lesson (Ephesians 2:1-10) reminds us that acknowledging our “spiritual death” is a prerequisite, too. The Apostle Paul tells his readers: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:1, 4-5).
Of course, most of us have no problem confessing that we’re “spiritually sick.” We know that we’re sinful and that we’re saved only by the grace of God. And yet, we’re also tempted to cling to the notion that we’re still in better shape than “those other sinners.” The folks whose politics we disagree with and whose lifestyles we don’t like. The people whose religion is different from ours and whose brokenness can’t be hidden as effectively as ours can. We might be in the ICU and failing fast, but it’s those other sinners who are stone cold dead.
But I wonder. Could it be that our reluctance to acknowledge our need prevents us from receiving the fullness of grace that God has provided to meet it? Because of His great love for us, God has made us alive in Christ. He has offered us resurrection life! But resurrection is what the Lord does for dead people — not for those who think they’re alive and needing only a spiritual vitamin shot.
“I am crucified with Christ,” Paul said. May we embrace the death of our sin-sick selves so that we can receive the grace gives new life.