I see dead people

Ryan NealEvangelism, Ryan Neal

In much of Christianese (the language spoken by Christians but unintelligible to the uninitiated) the term for an unbeliever is “lost.” So, if a Christian says: “I have a lost neighbor” we understand immediately what’s conveyed, and the meaning is not that they have ended up on the wrong street and don’t know how to get home.

But I’m afraid that while the terms “lost” and “unbeliever” are adequate descriptors and have their place, both sanitize the issue by speaking a theological truth while unfortunately burying it under euphemistic niceties. To be sure part of the popularity of these terms is biblical. For “lost” we get three fantastic images in Luke 15 (a lost sheep, coin, and son). And “unbeliever” is the clear antonym to “believer.”

The Christian testimony about salvation, however, is not merely that the lost have been found, and unbelievers now believe. These are certainly important aspects to the panorama of salvation, but I think the meaning they convey can downplay the drastic plight of “lost” people. The more dramatic and jarring image is not of people being found, but rather of them being made alive.

The dramatic testimony of the Bible is that humanity is divided into those who have been made alive and those who are dead.

Note the harsh words found in Ephesians 2:

Eph 2.1-7:

Eph 2.1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 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. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

While there is much to contemplate here, stop and digest the specific depiction of the two groups. Christians have been made alive, while all others are dead in their sins (Eph 2.5). These comments are mind-bending and language altering. Of course we should always hope that the lost may be found and pray that the unbelieving might believe. But, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that – arguably – first and foremost my “lost” neighbors are most accurately described as “dead.” Sure they go to work, spend time with their family, enjoy nice meals. In fact, they give every indication of being alive. Not so, says Paul.

To put a sharper point on it think of it this way: what if we substituted “lost” and “unbeliever” with “dead” to the point that our language changed: “I have a dead neighbor.” “I am praying for my dead co-worker.” The effect is striking, right?

Like Cole Seer in the 1999 film “The Sixth Sense,” I see dead people. I have dead students, dead neighbors, and even dead friends. Likely you have them in your neighborhood and in your family.

The dramatic testimony of the Bible is that humanity is divided into those who have been made alive and those who are dead.

So, my basic piece of advice is to incorporate the term dead into your vocabulary when thinking and speaking about your “lost” friends. I think using stark term “dead” can help strip away the veneer that shields us from the cold reality of truth.