How are you?” It’s a question most of us ask or answer several times a day. A former boss of mine used to reply with a blustery flair, “Perfect and improving!” And a counselor I know usually responds with the phrase “Just bumping along,” which reminds me of an old jeep on a rough road. When someone asks me, I typically answer “Fine, thanks” without thinking. My hair could be on fire, but I wouldn’t change my story as it blazed.
In fact, even though our culture is obsessively self-focused, we are seldom fully self-aware. We’re not really cognizant of how we are. We tend to answer “How are you?” as if we’d been asked “How do you feel?”—imagining that our feelings are a true barometer of our spiritual reality. They are not.
The apostle Paul offers for any believer a marvelous answer to this question, tucked in the second chapter of his letter to the church at Ephesus: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (vv. 4-5).
How am I? I am alive in Christ. I am loved by a God who is rich in mercy. I used to be dead in my sin, but now I am made alive together with Him, raised up and—in an already-but-not-yet kind of way—seated in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). But to fully appreciate this magnificent state of being, I must first embrace the stark fact of what I said a moment ago: Without Him, I was dead. Not just unconscious or unmoving or resistant to His love, but lifeless. Flatlined.
Even though our culture is obsessively self-focused, we are seldom fully self-aware.
Once I was hopelessly beyond self-help, totally unresponsive to the Spirit of God. And until I come to grips with the fact that I was never spiritually “perfect and improving” or “fine,” I cannot possibly understand the great gift of salvation that is mine, or glory in the miracle of grace that has made me “fully alive” in Christ.
It’s hard to think that we were once dead men and dead women walking, isn’t it? Because some of us looked pretty vibrant before we were brought to life in Christ. We may have appeared confident, successful, or favored. But looks can deceive. Dead is dead. And that’s what you and I were before grace quickened our hearts. Ephesians 2:1-2 says we were “dead in [our] trespasses and sins” and walked “according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air.” We believed that we were independent, autonomous agents of self-rule and that what turns out to be bondage was life. But it wasn’t life at all.
A few years ago I experienced a physical challenge that left me anemic, fatigued, and depressed. After six months of medication, I faced major surgery and another four months of recuperation and fatigue. But nearly a year after this physiological storm began, the clouds cleared. I woke up renewed. I wasn’t achy or tired or sad. As wonderful as that morning felt, it would have been totally unremarkable if I hadn’t been sick for so long. It was dissimilarity that made my wellness clear.
A dear friend of mine who is an artist once told me about a phenomenon she called “simultaneous contrast.” She could never be sure a color was the right one in the tube or alone on her palette. She could only appreciate its true hue on the canvas, next to the other colors in a painting. The simultaneous contrast gave the new color she was applying its real tone. In the same way, only when we see our new life in Christ “up against” the old color of our formerly dead state can we begin to embrace our identity and truly live.
German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” And he does. We died with Christ to the old, sin-ruled self, and we are raised with Him to a new God-directed, God-infused, God-empowered life.
So how are we, really? We are quickened—brought from the realm of death to the realm of life. In Christ Jesus, we are made righteous, forgiven, emancipated, and fully loved. We are heirs with Christ, sons and daughters of the Lord God, indwelt by the Holy Spirit for good works that He has prepared for us (v. 10). That’s who, and how, we are. That glorious truth should help us sleep soundly tonight and wake up tomorrow—expectant with hope and full of unshakeable joy.