“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Ephesians 2:1-3)
Paul wrote to Christians who had been raised either as Jews or outright pagan idolaters. Either way both groups were dead in their sins before they heard the gospel. Paul reminded them that the religious works they performed before faith brought them no closer to God or the gods. Neither religious rituals of any kind or good deeds merited God’s favor, love, mercy or forgiveness. Only by God’s gracious gift of faith could anyone of them (or us) inherit eternal life. Only by grace through faith could they and we even perform works of righteousness for such works are done by God working through man.
Such a teaching is quite foreign to the ways of today’s world. There are many who outright reject the God Who has revealed Himself in Jesus and the Word. These are either atheists, agnostics or idolaters, there is no other choice. Consequently, no matter how many so-called good deeds they do, no matter how many superstitious rituals they perform or pious and noble words they proclaim, they are all dead in their sins. We Christians proclaim to them the message of faith in the work of Christ on the cross not as the way to achieve forgiveness, joy, and eternal life, but as the way to receive them. Though this message be scorned and rejected, though we be labeled as intolerant and subversive, we cannot neglect our task. If we love sinners as Jesus does we will proclaim the truth so all may look to Him by faith and live.