Alienated from God?

Question
What does it mean to be alienated from God? Eph. 4:18
Answer

Ephesians 4:18: They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart (cf. Eph. 2:12; Col. 1:21).

The word "alienation" comes from the Greek word apallotrioo. It means to be estranged or to be shut out from one's fellowship and intimacy. In context, it means to be shut out of fellowship and intimacy with God; to be estranged from life in him.

We observe alienation from God first demonstrated in Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve hid from God because of their total rebellion towards him (sin)(Gen. 3:8). Later in the same chapter we see the polar opposite of alienation, which is reconciliation: "The LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them" (Gen. 3:21). An animal was sacrificed for them to provide this.

Jesus Christ is the Lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world (1 Pet. 1:20-21; Rev. 5:6, 9; 13:8; cf. Isa. 53:7; John 1:29; Acts 8:32). Note that God demonstrates that he alone is the God of reconciliation/salvation for his people, as he alone clothed Adam and Eve — they did not clothe themselves (Gen. 3:21; cf. Rom. 5:1, 11). Self-man-made fig leaf clothing of any type won't save (Gen. 3:7). Only the blood of the Lamb saves (Gen. 3:21).

God created mankind to live in close fellowship with him (Gen. 1:27), however man's willful sin severed this intimate relationship. Since the Fall of man in the garden, every human has been born with a sin nature (Rom. 5:12). According to Romans 8:7-8 fallen man is:

  • hostile to God
  • does not submit to God's law
  • cannot submit to God's law
  • cannot please God

Fallen mankind is dead in trespasses and sin (Eph. 2:1, 3). He is more than merely sick, he is dead to the things of God. Besides being dead, he is spiritually blind (Matt. 15:14; 2 Pet. 1:9) not truly seeing God's will. Fallen man is deaf (Matt. 13:15; 2 Tim. 4:4) and cannot hear his Word or Spirit. Like mere idols he is mute (Psa. 115:4-6; 1 Cor. 12:2) and can't confess Christ, and even if he could he wouldn't and couldn't do it from a true pure heart (Rom. 8:7-8). Fallen man has withered hands (Mark 3:1) and cannot accept the gifts of God, including the gifts of faith and repentance (Eph. 2:8; 2 Tim. 2:24-25). He is lame (Acts 3:2) and cannot walk in the ways of the Lord. Like a leper (Luke 17:12) he is a total outcast. So, mankind lives in a state of total alienation from God.

We are sinners by nature (Rom. 3:10, 23; 6:23; Eph. 2:3). We're not sinners because we sin, but we sin because we're sinners. While cleaning up one's behavior is a good thing to do, it doesn't clean up the inside of us (Matt. 23:27). If the inside is still evil, doesn't this still corrupt one's whole being? If one cleans up the arsenic poison on the outside of the cup, but not the inside, isn't it still a deadly cup? (Prov. 30:12; Tit. 1:15-16).

In this horrible condition, we cannot choose to make ourselves righteous (Jer. 13:23; 17:9; cf. Prov. 27:22; Isa. 1:5; Jer. 2:22; 4:22). We don't even desire too (Rom. 8:7-8). We might try to do some good things from time to time, but that is not the same as being truly righteousness, as without Christ all our works are tainted with the arsenic of deadly sin (Isa. 64:6). We may attempt to cover our sins like Adam and Eve did in the garden, but mere fig-leaves (Gen. 3:7) will not undo what each of us has done (Rom. 3:23). God will only accept a blood sacrifice; and it isn't yours, but His alone (Gen. 3:21; John 1:29; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; Isa. 53:1-12; cf. John 15:3; 17:17, 19; Eph. 5:25-27).

However, our depraved alienation does not mitigate our total accountability. We are still responsible for all our sins, whether they be sins of omission or commission. We are still commanded to choose life that we may live (Deut. 30:19). As sinners we are commanded repeatedly to repent and believe (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; Acts 3:19; 1 John 3:23). And every call to repent and believe is a call to choose, and yet our depraved alienated nature remains resistant to the things of God (John 1:11; 3:19; 5:40; Acts 7:51). Dead men have some serious limitations — they don't/can't obey God (Rom. 8:7-8; Eph. 2:1-3).

If we can't do it ourselves, then how can one be cleaned up on the inside and outside? How can the whole person be cleaned up? How can one become completely reconciled to God? There is only one way (John 14:6). We must be born again (John 3:7). This is the work of God alone, and biblicallly, it's called "regeneration" (John 3:1-8; Tit. 3:3-5). God must make the changes because we can't change ourselves (Jer. 2:22; 13:23; cf. Eccl. 12:14; Jer. 16:17).

Jesus Christ came into the world as his people's redeemer, to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10; John 3:7; 1 Tim. 1:15; cf. Ezek. 34:12; Heb. 7:25), to reverse their sinful alienation from God. He came to reconcile his people to God (Rom. 5:10, 12; 2 Cor. 5:18-19; Col. 1:20-21). While the world is faced with perpetual alienation from God in an eternal hell (Matt. 25:46), Christ came to pay a debt his people could not pay, to make a sacrifice that they could not make, to suffer a punishment that they deserved to suffer, and to die a death that they deserved to die. But as he said, "It is finished" (John 19:30) and he rose from the dead (1 Cor. 15:1-4)! God's people, his sheep (Mat. 25:31-46) his wheat (Matt. 13:24-30) will all be reconciled to him. Christ gave himself up for his church (Eph. 5:25) and in due time will reconcile each and every member of it to God the Father.

Jesus said, "Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again'" (John 3:7). If you have been born again, you are not alienated from God.

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Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).