As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.
Have you ever been talking to someone who is saying good things about you, but whose tone makes you nervous? Perhaps it's a conversation with your boss, which begins, "You have served this company faithfully for several years. Your work has been excellent. We have appreciated all you have done for us…" Though you're hearing good news, you feel your stomach begin to churn. You sense that bad news is right around the corner, perhaps a rebuke, or maybe even a layoff. As your boss rambles on, you want to scream: "Just get to the bad news!"
There's no need to scream at the Apostle Paul as he begins Ephesians 2. He does not waste a moment getting to the bad news, and his news is really quite bad: "As for you, you were dead . . . ." Now that's not exactly news you want to hear from someone. It's also news that stirs up lots of questions: Dead? What do you mean? Dead in what way? How do you know I was dead? If I was once dead, am I still dead?
We'll get to these questions soon. For now, I want to note that bad news is an essential piece of the Christian Gospel, the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. If we don't grasp the bad news, we won't understand the good news. And if we don't feel the horror of the bad news, we'll miss the joy of the good news. Too often these days, Christians downplay the bad news because we don't want to put anyone off. But, by ignoring the bad news, we diminish the amazing goodness of the good news.
To put it positively, the more we grasp the bad news of our condition outside of Jesus Christ, the more we will embrace the good news of what God has done for us through him.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Why do you think Paul begins Ephesians 2 with bad news? Why is he so blunt? In what sense could it be true that we were once dead?
PRAYER: Gracious God, how thankful I am that you don't hide the bad news, or even beat around the bush trying to blunt its impact. Through your Word, you lay out clearly the bad news of our lives. By your Spirit, you bring clarity and conviction. You help us to know what it means to be dead apart from you.
Help me, dear Lord, to hear the bad news so that I might receive the good news with open-hearted joy. Amen.