He opened his eyes, but could see nothing. Something covered his face. A musty smell filled his nostrils and a damp chill reached inward to his very bones. He felt disoriented, not knowing where he was. Now he remembered. He had been sick and in bed. A high fever. Weakness. The last thing he remembered was thinking that he was about to lose consciousness. His thoughts had been those of concern for his sisters who stood by crying. But where were his sisters now? “Why can’t I see? What is going on here?”, his thoughts screamed inside his head. “Where am I?”
Then he heard it again. Hearing the sound, he now realized that it was this voice which had awakened him just seconds before. It was a man’s voice, yet it was more than that. The voice was almost tangible. It was compelling. No, it was more than that. His words were life. “Lazarus, come forth!” Suddenly a rush of energy filled his body in a manner that he had never known. He bolted up from his back to a sitting position. A napkin fell off his face. He looked around. It was a tomb. He had been lying in a tomb.
Lazarus looked down at himself and saw that he had been wrapped from head to toe. It was burial clothes. He glanced toward the opening of the tomb and to his relief discovered that no stone barred the opening. He struggled to his feet, and half walked, half hopped through the tomb’s opening into the sunlight outside. A crowd was there. They were all clapping and cheering. There were his sisters! They were crying, with joy. And there was the One who had called him out. It was Jesus. The heart of Lazarus leaped inside him and he hopped forward toward his sisters and Friend. Jesus, seeing him bound in the grave clothes, laughed out loud and said to one standing near, “Loose him!”
Our Home In The Cemetery
When the eyes of Lazarus were opened, he immediately realized that he had been inside a tomb. For four days his home had been the local cemetery. A cemetery wouldn’t be the place a person would choose to stay, but he hadn’t known it until he came to life. He hadn’t minded where he was because he was dead. He was like the man I once spoke to who was not a Christian. I explained to him that he was lost without Jesus Christ and his response was, “So?” Dead men don’t care about their condition unless a miracle happens.
We all begin our journey in the same place as Lazarus – the place of death. The Bible teaches that every person born into this world is dead. While his was a physical death, ours is more serious. It is a spiritual death. It is impossible to appreciate the provision of God’s grace without recognizing the depth of man’s need. For that to happen, it is necessary to start at the beginning. It is important to understand what it means to be spiritually dead and how we got that way.
While we have some things in common with Lazarus, there is another man in the Bible with whom we have had a literal connection. That man is Adam. Since he was the first man on earth, his life was the first drop in the genetic pool from which we came. Adam was a literal man who originally was the physical father of us all. If he had died before he produced children, we wouldn’t be here today. Our genetic make up was in him from the beginning.
The genes and chromosomes that ultimately led to your physical life were passed down from generation to generation until they were deposited into you. You possess many characteristics because you inherited them, not because you chose them. If Adam had died before he perpetuated physical life, we too would have died in him. You might say that our physical life was in Adam even before we were born.
Your life depended on Adam. He didn’t die physically before producing children, so you are here today. If he had died, that would have closed the curtain on your life. It’s good that he didn’t die physically, yet there is some bad news too. The fact is that he did die spiritually.
Adam and Eve were created as triune beings. God, Himself, is a triune being who exists in three Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Man was created as a spirit who has a soul and lives inside a physical body. Our spirit is the essence of our being. Our soul is the unique personality which we possess. Both spirit and soul are housed inside the body.
God cautioned Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which was in the center of the garden of Eden. He warned them saying, “for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). They disobeyed and ate from the tree. Did they die in a day? Adam’s body didn’t die on the same day that he ate from the tree. His soul (personality) didn’t die that day. What did die was his spirit. Whereas his spirit had been alive to God and totally void of sin, now a radical reversal occurred. At the very moment that he rebelled against God by eating the fruit, his spirit died to God and was now filled with sin. To say that Adam had a dead spirit doesn’t mean that it was inoperative. His spirit was simply dead to God. As a result of his disobedience, his lifestyle began to be animated by a sin filled nature (spirit), not by his devotion and love for God.
The physical life of Adam passed through the family tree to us, but the bad news is that his spiritual death became ours too. Although he didn’t die physically, he did die spiritually. Consequently that is exactly what happened to us. Paul described it in Romans 5:12.
” Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” We died spiritually in Adam on the very day that he ate from the tree. He became a sinner and so did we.
As a result of Adam’s sin, every person is born a sinner. It isn’t necessary to teach a child to lie or disobey. He was born knowing how to do those things because he inherited a dead, sin filled spirit from Adam. There is no way to overstate the seriousness of man’s condition as a human being apart from God. Occasionally a person will refer to those who are not Christians as being “sin sick”, but their problem is far greater than that. The Bible clearly teaches that they are dead in sin. (Ephesians 2:1) They don’t just have a problem, they have a big problem.
Every person is either a Christian or he isn’t. “Are you a Christian?” I once asked man. “Sort of,” he answered. Immediately I knew that he didn’t understand salvation through Christ. There is no in between when it comes to being a Christian. No person has ever been partly dead and partly alive. It will always be one or the other. Dead men have no life and living men are not dead.
When Lazarus was lying in the tomb, he had only one problem – he was dead. That is the problem of men today. Just as there was a particular moment in history when Lazarus was raised from death to life, so is there a time when every Christian was resurrected from our old life in order that we might share in the life of Jesus. There are many symptoms of the problem, but the foundational need of every human being is to be delivered from the death we experienced in Adam and to receive resurrection life.
Perfume Won’t Cover The Smell
When Jesus came to the tomb of Lazarus, he ordered the stone to be removed from the mouth of the cave. Martha protested, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days” (John 11:39). It is interesting how our contemporary culture deals with those who are dead. After one has died, his body is not viewed by others until it has been prepared to appear as presentable as possible. We want to avoid the stark reality of death, disguising it with a new suit of clothes, makeup and flowers. A corpse in the casket may look like he is sleeping, but the fact remains that in reality, he is dead.
This same desire to conceal the glaring emptiness of a corpse motivated those who buried the body of Lazarus. His body was bathed and he was carefully wrapped in linen while making sure that the corpse was perfumed. On the day he was buried, he was clean and smelled sweet to those who attended his grave. Then four days later, Martha plainly said, “By now he stinks.”
The truth that all men are born spiritually dead isn’t comfortable to mankind. Some suggest that we are all children of God. Yet the Bible teaches that only those who have been born again are God’s children. Jesus said, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again'” (John 3:7). Until one is born again, despite all his efforts to cover his depravity, the stench of death stubbornly clings to him.
People try to cover sin using many fragrances. Perhaps the most popular scent among many who are not Christians is religion. I was once standing in line behind a dirty person who obviously hadn’t bathed in a long time. His body odor was quite offensive, yet the problem was exacerbated by the fact that he drenched himself in cheap cologne. Apparently he thought it would compensate for the fact that he hadn’t bathed, but it didn’t work. The odor was absolutely nauseating.
That is exactly how religion fits an unbeliever. He is only deceiving himself if he believes that he is acceptable to God. He might be the most religious man in town, even having the admiration of many people. Yet God smells the foul odor of death which religion attempts to mask. Religion tries to compensate for the fact that man is spiritually dead while Jesus wants to take that death away and replace it with His life. The truth sometimes hurts, but the truth is that man stinks spiritually. That thought offends those whose consuming goal in life is simply to have a positive self image. It contradicts the false theology which suggests that we are all okay with God just like we are. We aren’t all okay with God. Otherwise there would have been no need for Jesus to leave heaven and come to earth to die on the cross.
Dead Men Don’t Know Their Problem
While Lazarus laid in the tomb, he wasn’t worried about the problem that he was dead. He didn’t even know that he had a problem. It never occurred to him that he needed life. For that matter, nothing occurred to him! He was dead to everything. The only way that he would ever come to life would be if an outside Force acted upon him.
Do you understand how his predicament parallels our own? We never will have a desire for God unless He acts upon us. If a man finds his thoughts and desires being drawn toward God, he can rest assured that the Holy Spirit is drawing him toward the Lord. Paul described this lost world by saying, “There is none who understands, There is none that seeks for God” (Romans 3:11). Jesus said that no man comes to Him unless the Father draws him. (John 6:44) Consider two subtle misunderstandings about salvation.
. Man needs to find God. A man once asked a young boy, “Have you found God?” The boy answered with a puzzled expression, “I didn’t know He was lost.” Maybe that boy understood something the man missed. Salvation is not us finding God. Man has no natural desire to seek God. It is mankind who is lost. The gospel of grace declares that God came to find us. Jesus said that his purpose in coming to earth was to seek and save those who are lost. To be lost simply means that one has never trusted in Jesus Christ to forgive his sins and give him His very life. We are dead men walking aimlessly in a cemetery filled with other dead men. Man is lost and doesn’t even know it.
. A person must give his life to Jesus . The inclination of human beings toward self centeredness is astounding. Man likes to believe that he is the center and focal point of every situation. Yet man is not the center of reality. All that exists finds itself sustained by Jesus Christ. Paul said that “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). An understanding which suggests that salvation is a person giving his life to Christ falls short of biblical truth. Experiencing God’s grace in salvation doesn’t mean that we give anything. Salvation involves God giving, not us. It is a moment in which we receive His divine life and our old life forever dies. Salvation is not you giving your life to Jesus. It’s Him giving His life to you.
A Living Call
Even if Lazarus had known his dead condition, there would have been nothing he could do to generate life within himself. Only God can cause life to spring forth out of death. Dead men are totally helpless. It was Jesus who initiated this resurrection. He came into the cemetery, walked straight to the tomb of the man whom He knew God wanted to raise on that day and called him into life. This is the exact scenario of every person who is born again. Jesus says about those who are His, “I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly” (John 10:10). We don’t independently decide to come to Him, instead He has decided to come to us in love and offer us the gift of His life. We experience saving grace when we believe his promise, experiencing forgiveness and receiving new life through Christ.
Justin responded to my invitation to receive Christ by saying, “I want to be a Christian, but I’m not sure I have the faith to be saved and then live the Christian life.” “If you have the desire to be saved, then God has placed that desire inside you,” I assured him. “Nobody wants to become a Christian unless God gives him the desire. So if He wants you to be His so much that He has supernaturally given you a desire for Him, don’t you think that He will empower you to live the life He is calling you to?” In a few moments, Justin saw the truth and was born again.
Even the ability to believe the gospel is a gift from God. It is not something that man works up out of his own will power. Ephesians 2:8-9 says:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. (Emphasis added)
Paul explains that God’s grace is the source of our salvation and that faith is the conduit through which salvation is experienced. Yet he makes sure to point out that even the faith doesn’t originate with man. That too is a gift from God. Otherwise Christians might brag about possessing great faith. Believers have trusted Christ because by God’s grace He has enabled us to believe.
In addition to God given faith for salvation, He also provides us with the ability to turn from our sins. Repentance is not a work which man does in order to cause God to save him. When Peter preached to the Gentiles and many received Christ, there was a stir among the Jews over the fact that Gentiles were professing faith in Christ. They had thought that God was only reaching out in grace to Israel. Peter explained to the early church how God had led him to preach to the Gentiles and how they had been saved. Acts 11:18 says, “When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.'” The persuading factor that caused them to know that it was indeed a work of God was the fact that these Gentiles had been given repentance.
When the young pastor Timothy was dealing with difficult church members, Paul instructed him to humbly correct them saying that perhaps God “will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25). Repentance is not a human work, but a divine gift. Those who argue that our part in salvation is to repent have failed to see the source of repentance. God’s part in salvation is to extend His mercy and grace. Our part is to simply receive it and then spend the rest of eternity celebrating it!
Until Lazarus heard the voice of Jesus, there was nothing he could do to rescue himself from death. When Jesus walked to the opening of that tomb and called him up from the dead, it was more than a request. It was an imperative command energized with divine life so that Lazarus could respond. Jesus told Lazarus to come forth and without hesitation, that is exactly what he did.
Grace Rules In Salvation
There are two views about how one may hope to become a Christian. The method which is immediately recognized as false by every Christian is the viewpoint that a person becomes a Christian based on how he behaves. People who hold this view hope to get to heaven because they see themselves as basically good people, living a moral or even religious lifestyle. Every Christian will renounce this view because it obviously advocates salvation by works. This is what is commonly known as a legalistic view of salvation. Legalism is a system of living whereby we try to make spiritual progress or gain God’s blessings based on what we do. It is called legalism because it is a system grounded in laws (rules). No person will ever be saved by his moral performance. If that were possible, then the death of Jesus on the cross was a waste. If one can go to heaven by living a moral lifestyle, why did Jesus Christ have to die? Regardless of how sincere a person may be, he can never become a Christian by how he lives.
The other method of salvation is the one taught in the New Testament. It is a grace oriented approach to salvation. The essence of the New Testament teaching about salvation is simple. Jesus Christ, being the sinless Son of God, took upon Himself our sins as he hung on the cross. God poured out all of His wrath toward our sins on Jesus. If a person wants to become a Christian, he must repent (an ability which God has granted him) by turning from his sins and placing faith (which God also has given him) in the finished work of Christ on the cross. When he turns in faith and repentance to Jesus Christ, God will forgive him and place the life of Jesus Christ within him. Simultaneous with his salvation, the old life which he possessed before will be placed into Christ and put to death. From that point forward, he will possess a brand new life, which is the very life of Jesus Christ. He will then begin to live his lifestyle, being animated by the presence of Jesus within him. Paul described his own experience in Galatians 2:20:
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.
Lest anyone think that Paul had some part in his own salvation, he emphasized in the next verse:
I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.
The point he makes here is that if our own human efforts to do good deeds could produce a right relationship with God, then there was absolutely no point in the cross. Our salvation is a work of God which is initiated and consummated by Him. Our part is simply to receive His gift!
Being a Christian is an exciting journey! If you want to take the journey, it is necessary to make sure you are on board. It is important to be confident that you have the reality of a spiritual resurrection through faith in Christ. God loves you so very much that He has orchestrated the circumstances in such a way that here you are reading this right now. Chance? How many other things could you be doing at this moment? What are the odds of you reading this at this exact time? Remember, no person has a natural desire to know God. So if something inside you is drawn toward Christ, it isn’t just you involved with a book right now. It is God at work inside you. Just believe it and receive His life! Does the following prayer express your desire? If so, let it be your own.
Dear God, I understand now that I have never been born again. I have mistakenly believed that I was a Christian because I have lived a moral life and because I believed in Your existence. Now I understand that I must personally trust you to forgive my sins and give me Your life. Thank you for drawing me to Yourself. Right now I do turn from my sins. I ask You to forgive me and place Your life inside me. I know that I have been a spiritually dead man. Now I receive Your life. I affirm that from this moment forward I am Your child. Thank you for coming to me and saving me from my sins. Let your grace rule in my life for as long as I live.
If you have received Christ, I would be thrilled to hear from you. Email me and let me know and I’ll respond to you. May God bless you as you enjoy His indwelling Life!