In the Garden of Eden, when God shaped the first man from the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7), the Almighty was simply playing the part of a sculptor. He shaped Adam from the dust of the ground, but until the second half of the verse, this Adam was simply dust rearranged. After the semblance of a man had been fashioned out of dust, God breathed into his nostrils the “breath of life,” and it was then that man became a living soul. The dust was still there, but something else was now present. The image of God was now present.
But that image was soon to be marred. Despite the warning of God that if he ate the forbidden fruit he would “surely die,” our first father disobeyed, and in the fulfillment of the curse was dragged back down to the dust of the ground. “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Gen. 3:19).
“For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:16–17).
Summary of the Text
God brought Adam out of a state of “death” when He first created him. Adam was not, and then he was. He walked with God in the Garden, and was free to eat from all the trees but one, and so had free access to the tree of life. He and his bride were at that time really and truly alive. When they sinned, they plunged themselves and all their posterity down into the dust of death. In our text this death is equated with being in our sins.
That is what spiritual death is—separation from fellowship with the holy God. And that is what sin is—separation from fellowship with the holy God.
Notice Paul’s logic. If the dead are not raised, then Christ was not raised. And if Christ was not raised, your faith is vain, and you are still in your sins. Now if you put all this together, you should see that when Christ was raised from the dead, and we were raised from the dead with and in Him, we were also at that moment raised from our sins. Our sins are our death; our death was our sinfulness. Sin is our death; sin is our dust.
The Death That Is Sin
This is how Paul describes our previous condition in Ephesians:
“And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.”
Eph. 2:1-3 (NKJV)
Notice here that death does not mean being “stone cold out of it” because when we were in this condition of death, we were walking around in the course of this world. When we were dead, we were living in a certain way. That way, that path, was the way of death, which meant that we were walking in a condition that consisted of separation from God.
So death is not simple cessation; death is separation. Physical death is the separation of soul and body. Spiritual death is the separation of man and God. When we die to the ways of the world, we separate from her unholy ways. “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you” (2 Cor. 6:17).
So that is what death is. Death is distance, death is separation.
We used to live in a separated way from God, aliens to Him, enemies to Him. Christ came down to us in that condition, and in His passion and death, He experienced that death. “My strength is dried up like a potsherd; And my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; And thou hast brought me into the dust of death” (Ps. 22:15).
So Flip This Around, the Way Easter Did
Look again to the words of our text, and work the logic the other direction.
“For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.”
1 Cor. 15:16–17 (KJV)
But if the dead are raised, then it is not remarkable that Christ was the first to be raised. And if Christ was raised, then your faith in Him is not in vain, and more than this, you are no longer in your sins.
Apart from Christ, what is the condition of man? Apart from Christ, where are we? Separated from God, what good is anything? We are the ones who reached for the forbidden fruit in our vain question to “be as God,” and what did we actually accomplish? Where did we actually arrive?
Now we live in the dry and choking places. Dust over everything. Broken bottles. The air is sour. The smoke of selfishness has left an acrid taste on your tongue. The walls lean in. There is scarcely any light. Ghostly shadows flicker faintly on the curtains, but they don’t mean anything. Nothing else moves. The only sound we can ever hear is our own muttering, the bootless sound of endless complaint.
And in the middle of all of this dusty death, Christ suddenly appears. He speaks to the wall opposite you, and it vanishes. It had once seemed immoveable and untouchable, and yet it just vanished. Christ turns to you, and speaks one simple word, and that word is come.
This is the day of resurrection. So what will you do?
This is Easter Sunday. Will you follow Him?
Today is the day of all reckoning. Christ embraced death. Christ came into that room with you. Christ descended to the grave. And Christ has now risen triumphant. That is the good word. That is the gospel. What do you intend to do? There is only one word you have to reckon with, and that word is come. Christians are those who do.