Proverbs 21:16: “The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead.”
Christians Who Are Alive But Dead, or The Dying Christian (Pilgrim’s Progress According to the Bible #46)
One of the most popular television shows of our day is The Walking Dead — about a man who wakes up from a months-long coma to find the world overrun by zombies — walking, living creatures from the grave. The creation known as the zombie has found a place in popular culture, becoming the subject of numerous books, movies, and television shows. Some people even fear a zombie apocalypse. The depiction of the zombie as creature that is living, yet dead, is a reminder of the natural-born state of every human. When Adam and Eve sinned, they cut themselves and their descendants off from God. To be cut off from God is to be spiritually dead — a walking corpse — living, breathing, but not really alive.
When Jesus Christ came on the scene, he described himself as the “life.” He came to awaken a world which was “dead in trespasses and sins.” For this reason, Paul declared in Ephesians 5, “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” As Christians, because we are united with God, we are spiritually alive.
Unfortunately, however, despite our status of being alive in Christ, some Christians live as though they are still dead. Some who were experiencing and living out their new status have since lost their fire. In the classic allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan, the two main characters, Christian and Hopeful, witness such believers during their stay at the Delectable Mountains after they escape from Giant Despair and Doubting Castle. Listen as Bunyan describes it:
Then I saw that the Shepherds took them to the top of another Mountain named Caution, and directed them to look some distance away. Having done this, the pilgrims thought that they could discern several men walking up and down among a number of tombs. And they noticed that the men were blind because they sometimes stumbled over these tombs, and were unable to find their way out from among them.
Then said Christian, “What does this mean?” So the Shepherds answered, “Did you not notice, a little below these mountains, a stile that led into a Meadow on the left-hand side of this way?” They answered, “Yes.” Then said the Shepherds, “From that stile there goes a path that leads directly to Doubting Castle which is owned by Giant Despair. And these men (pointing to those wandering among the tombs) were once on pilgrimage even as you now are, that is until they came to that same stile. And because the right way was rough on their feet in that place, they chose to leave the way and cross over to the Meadow, and there they were taken captive by Giant Despair and cast into Doubting Castle.
Now after they had been kept in a dungeon for a while, the Giant eventually put out their eyes and led them to the tombs; there he has left them to wander to this very day, that the saying of the wise man might be fulfilled, “He who wanders out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead.”
Then Christian and Hopeful looked at one another while tears streamed down their faces; yet they said nothing to the Shepherds!
It is sad, indeed, when Christians are drawn away from the straight and narrow path. Proverbs 21:16 warns us of this tendency, stating, “The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead.”
We are all at risk of straying from the straight and narrow. The warning of the writer of Proverbs is directed at “men.” And, of course, this means all men, women, and children. We all are susceptible to the devil’s temptations, and there is nothing he wants more than to get God’s people distracted from doing God’s will for their lives. When we see others falling by the wayside, we ought to humbly say to ourselves, “but for the grace of God, there go I.”
But what is it that causes a living Christian to become a dead Christian? Our text refers to such a person as “the man that wandereth out of the way of understanding.” For the Old Testament writer, the “way of understanding” was the books of the Law given by God to Moses. These books told the Jews how to live their lives in nearly every aspect — including family, finances, business, worship, and national affairs. When the Jews obeyed the laws of God, they were blessed. When they strayed from the laws, they were cut off from God and cursed.
Today, as New Testament believers, along with the Law, we also have the revelation of God given through His Son Jesus Christ. The way of Christ is further expounded by the Holy Spirit-inspired epistles written by Paul and other apostles. When we take heed to the Scripture, we are blessed and we remain in fellowship with God. However, when we sin and turn away from the Scripture, our relationship with God will be negatively altered, and if we persist in our sins, God will punish us accordingly.
David experienced this after he committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed. You will recall that he prayed in Psalms, “Restore unto me the joy of thine salvation.” He had not lost his relationship with God, he just couldn’t feel it like he used to. The openness, freedom, and joy of it was gone. His predecessor, Saul, also experienced this feeling of broken fellowship when he repeatedly rebelled against God. The Bible records that, as a result, “the Spirit of the Lord left him.” Now, did God still love David? Did God still love Saul? Of course. But their sins had broken their fellowship with him. David eventually confessed his sin and repented, and his relationship with God was restored. Saul, on the other hand, continued in his rebellion, and he died with his relationship with God broken.
Edward Phillips stated, “We have the book of revelation [the Bible], but there are those who never read the Scriptures, and there are many who wander from their precepts, preferring their own flattering conceits to the truth of God. The Bible may properly be called ‘the way of understanding,’ because it contains all we need to know of God our maker, of Jesus Christ our Saviour, and of the Holy Ghost our teacher, sanctifier, guide, and comforter. Where pure and public worship is performed, there is the way of understanding.”
So what happens to those who abandon the way of understanding? What happens to the man who does not read and obey the Bible, who does not listen to the preacher, who abandons the encouragement and exhortation that he receives from being in a body of believers? Proverbs goes on to say that this person “shall remain in the congregation of the dead.” The term “remain” literally means “to end up” or “will come to rest.” Those who persist in turning away from the straight and narrow path will cut off the flow of the life of God within them. They will not lose their salvation. But they will lose their good fellowship with God. They will be cut off from the life-giving flow of the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit is quenched by a person who refuses to confess and repent of his sins. One commentator described the state of a man who has gone astray from God as the “sensation of all the misery of hell.” You won’t be in hell, but it might feel like it.
Romans 6:11 says, “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Ladies and gentlemen, God wants dead Christians. He wants Christians who are dead to the world, dead to the flesh, dead to the influence of Satan, and dead to self — but not dead to Him. We need more Christians who are not dead men walking, but alive and filled with the Holy Spirit to do God’s will. Are you alive today or have you strayed from the straight and narrow way?
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If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, allow me to share with you briefly how you can be saved from your sins and be guaranteed a home in Heaven with God today.
First, please understand that you are a sinner, just as I am, and that you have broken God’s laws. The Bible says in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Please understand that because of your sins, you deserve eternal punishment in hell. Romans 6:23 says “the wages of sin is death…This is both physical death and spiritual death in hell. That is the bad news.
But here is the good news. John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
If you believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead, and you want to trust Him for your salvation today, please pray with me this simple prayer: Holy Father God, I realize that I am a sinner and that I have done some bad things in my life. I am sorry for my sins, and today I choose to turn from my sins. For Jesus Christ sake, please forgive me of my sins. I believe with all of my heart that Jesus Christ died for me, was buried, and rose again. I trust Jesus Christ as my Savior and I choose to follow Him as Lord from this day forward. Lord Jesus, please come into my heart and save my soul and change my life today. Amen.
If you just trusted Jesus Christ as your Saviour, and you prayed that prayer and meant it from your heart, I declare to you that based upon the Word of God, you are now saved from Hell and you are on your way to Heaven. Welcome to the family of God! Congratulations on doing the most important thing in life and that is receiving Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. For more information to help you grow in your newfound faith in Christ, go to Gospel Light Society.com and read “What To Do After You Enter Through the Door.” Jesus Christ said in John 10:9, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.”
God loves you. We love you. And may God bless you.