Recently I wrote a couple of articles that addressed t-shirts with images or words on them related to the Scriptures. These articles warned of the danger of taking a single verse, removing it from its immediate context, and using it to send a message that is counter to the Gospel and the teaching of Christ. In keeping with the t-shirt theme, I wanted to share this t-shirt that is not from a Christian website, but rather than presenting false teaching, it gets to the heart of the matter and screams for the need of Christ in this fallen world.
The image is colorful and bright and contains smiling figures that could be a part of a happy, clappy children’s cartoon. At first glance it would look like a happy t-shirt. However, with just a brief look we notice that a large smiley face mask is covering a skull. We also notice the phrase, “Dead Inside.” A happy colorful shirt, revealing the heart of many people as they seek to portray having it together despite deep struggles with some pattern of disappointment, failure, addiction, or emotional lack.
When I saw this shirt, I loved it. It is truth spoken in the secular world and could open a conversation with someone about honesty and struggle. It speaks volumes about the heart of the person who would wear such a shirt. Christian or not, we know what it feels like to believe that we are dead inside. We have failed time and again, we have let people down, and we have reason to apologize over and over again. It leads to despair, but for many in our “individualistic, strive for success, and domination” society it is not good to share these things lest we look weak. So, we put on a mask and pretend to be happy and live like there is nothing wrong. Often the state of worldly man is a tough it out mentality.
However, the answer to this somewhat universal message is talked about without wavering in the Scriptures. Ephesians 2:1–3 says, “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience…liv(ing) in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and…by nature children of wrath…”
The truth of sin and spiritual death is clear here. Christian, “You were dead.” You were not just falling short, but dead. God had to intervene. The non-Christian understands the depths of despair and describes it as deadness inside. He then covers this with the trappings and colors and masks of happiness, success, and anything that will suppress the acknowledgement of this deadness.
But the Ephesians passage goes on to tell us of the remedy, which is resurrection life in Christ. Ephesians 2:4–6 reads, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…” This work is all of God lest we should boast in our intellectual understanding and think we saved ourselves. The answer to the deadness of this life is Christ. Our sins are forgiven. We have a true righteousness imputed (given) to us through Christ. We can walk in newness of life no longer stifled by measurements of this world. But we live with purpose and action even in the face of what would have undone us before. Because we have been forgiven.
We have new hearts. We continue to struggle in a fallen world, but the slavery we knew without Christ becomes fuel for living. The merciful love of Christ removes the mask. It makes our dead self a part of the colorful world around us, it puts flesh on the skull and enlivens us. And although we still see and even participate in the fallenness around us, we endure for the glory of Christ who set us free.