The state of the unbeliever according to Paul in Ephesians 2:1 is dead because of their trespasses and sins. We were all born dead spiritually, and the unbeliever is continuously dead in his trespasses and sins because of the sin we inherited from Adam. 1 Corinthians 15: 21-22 (NASB) says, “For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”
The word used is νεκροὺς (nekros). νεκροὺς means dead, lifeless and useless. It also refers to a dead person or a corpse. Ephesians 2:1 refers to a spiritiual death. This can be seen by looking at the use of νεκροὺς which was used three more times in the book. Eph. 1:20 talks about how God raised Christ from the dead, which is both a physical and spiritual manifestation (Jn 4:24: “God is spirit…”); Eph. 2:5 which is Paul’s further explanation of 2:1 talks about being dead in transgression and sins; Eph. 5:14 says “Awake sleeper, And arise from the dead…” which talks about being the urge for the sleeper to be awake through Christ.
Being spiritually dead is being separated from the presence of God. This is the state of the unbeliever. He is eternally separated from God and cannot enjoy his presence forever. Since the unbeliever is dead, he is a spiritual corpse. Therefore, he cannot and is totally unable to do anything to save himself from being eternally dead and separated from God. How can a dead body save himself? How can a corpse live again? How can an unbeliever, who is dead, save himself? How can an unbeliever, who is a dead corpse, be alive again? It is impossible, because he is DEAD! This is where God’s grace comes in.
Rom. 6:23 NASB:
23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.