The heading above this article may seem a little provocative, but it is a phrase right out of the word of God. It does need some context for a proper understanding of what Paul is teaching Timothy, who had a responsibility in the administration of the house of God, which is the assembly or church of God (I Timothy 3:14-15). On the subject of honoring and assisting widows, the apostle wrote this: “She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day; but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives” (I Timothy 5:5-6 ESV).
What a serious charge against one who may even be accepted in the church as a believer, but who lives in a self-pleasing way! But what is the meaning of “dead” in this context?
After a recent Bible reading and discussion on the meaning of the concepts of “life” and “death” as used in Romans 8:1-13, I came across an article by J.N. Darby¹ with an insight into those terms that I had not very well understood or appreciated before. He writes this: “Life is that [by] which a being enjoys the position in which he is placed. Hence in man it may refer to that in which he enjoys what is down here, or, as he is in relationship with God, to his enjoying that position. Sin brought in the ruin of both . . . Literal death closes the enjoyment of what is down here, rather, more exactly, the capacity to enjoy . . . Death may be used generally for deprivation of capacity of enjoyment . . . When once man had taken his own will and lust [in the garden of Eden] he was dead as to God, and, though he might enjoy for a while what pleased those lusts, was dead to God . . . God was no source of enjoyment at all.”
Permit me to attempt a paraphrase of Darby’s observations: Having life in any meaning of the word gives one the capacity to enjoy or find pleasure in the things that pertain to that realm or position. Conversely, death is that which separates one from (or deprives him of the capacity of enjoying) those things one can only enjoy while alive in that realm, be it physical, spiritual, or moral.
In Romans 8, we have the principle of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus introduced as that which enables believers in Christ to enjoy deliverance from the law, or principle, of sin (v. 2). We find there also the contrasting relationships of the mind of the flesh with spiritual death on the one hand, versus the mind of the Spirit with spiritual life and peace (v.6). Then, in verses 10 and 11, we are assured that, even though physical death might touch the believer’s body, as it touched Christ’s human body, the Spirit will absolutely quicken, or make alive, our bodies at the “redemption of our body”.
But how important it is that “all things that pertain unto life and godliness”² be enjoyed in the Christian’s soul, and not just affirmed academically. That seems to be where the very practical and searching message of Romans 8:13 applies. “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” Living according to the flesh, or in self-indulgence, as in the case of the hypothetical widow mentioned above, brings about a moral deadness and inability to enjoy the things of the divine nature. Mortifying the deeds of the flesh by the power of the Spirit of life allows a Christian to fully enjoy eternal life in the Son. May we each have the grace and the godly exercise to “lay hold of that which is really life”³.
¹ “Life and Eternal Life”, Notes and Comments, Volume 2 (linked here)
² II Peter 1:2-4
³ I Timothy 6:19, Darby translation