Dead in Sin (Part 1): Old Posts Revisited

With this post I will begin to interact with my old posts dealing with the Calvinist/Arminian debate. These posts were originally part of a book I was writing entitled, “Calvinist Verses? Responding to the Errors of Calvinism.” At the beginning of 2012, I was a firm proponent of Open Theism. Some time during that year I began to lean more towards the Classical Arminian position. I originally posted this on January 18, 2012. My critique of the original post will be in bold.

Calvinist Position:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…

Ephesians 2:1-2

The spirit of man is dead because of sin. A lot of people were crying and making all kinds of racket around Lazarus’ tomb during the four days he was laying their dead, but it didn’t wake him up or disturb his sleep. Lazarus didn’t help prepare his body for burial, didn’t give his opinion on who should be invited to the funeral or help decide on the menu for the guests; he was dead! We all know that dead men cannot do anything good or bad.

Lazarus was not able to respond to the people at his funeral. In the same way we couldn’t respond to God when we were dead spiritually. Everyone knows that a dead man cannot feel conviction for their sins or place their faith in Jesus Christ. Only living people can be convicted of their guilt or place their trust in something. A dead man can’t do anything. And a dead spirit cannot repent or believe! The only way that Lazarus could greet the guests who attended his funeral was by being raised from the dead. Only after he was alive could he be grateful that they had come to show their respects. And only after someone is born again by the grace and power of God can someone repent of their sins and place their trust in Christ. God decides who he will give life to, not because they repent and believe, but because of his predestined choice. He FIRST gives them new life, and THEN they are convicted of their sins, repent and believe. Faith and repentance are part of salvation, not the means by which we receive it.

The Biblical Response:

From my perspective Calvinists misunderstand the biblical concept of spiritual death. It is true that the Bible uses the term “dead” in regards to the spirits of unsaved people. But the question is in what sense is the spirit of man “dead”? As far as I understand them it seems that Calvinists imagine that it means that the spirit of man is unconscious, inactive or in some way unable to respond even as Lazarus was when in his tomb.

First, it must be noted that the incident with Lazarus was given as illustration of the physical resurrection that will take place at the end of the world. In John chapter 5 Jesus taught that on judgment day he will command all men to be resurrected from the dead to face judgment. They will “hear his voice and come out.” In John chapter 11 Jesus is illustrating that he is the resurrection and the life. He proved that he has the authority to resurrect the dead both now and in the future. He is not illustrating spiritual resurrection, but physical resurrection. This is not to say we cannot illustrate spiritual death with the story of Lazarus, I just believe we need to understand that this not the primary purpose of the narrative and the analogy when used should not be pushed too far.

But in Luke chapter 15 Jesus does illustrate spiritual death and spiritual resurrection in the parable of the prodigal son. The younger son, in selfish rebellion, left his father after asking for his inheritance in advance. The son isolated himself from the father. Soon the son faced serious difficulties. He was starving, oppressed and alone. Then he “came to his senses” and remembered that his father had everything he needed. He decided to return home and ask for mercy. On his return the father welcomed him home with joy. He threw a party and proclaimed that his son “was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”

The son was “lost” in his sin. He was “dead” in sin and rebellion. He wasn’t “dead” in the sense that he could not respond to thoughts about the goodness, generosity and mercy of his father. He was “dead” because he was relationally separated from the father. By returning home he was once again alive in his relationship to his father. This illustrates in what sense the Bible says that lost souls are dead in their sins. They have willfully chosen to isolate themselves from God by their sins. But when God by His enabling grace convicts them they are able to respond to conviction, repent of their rebellion and trust in his mercy.

In the parable the son “came to his senses” all by himself. But in the first parable given in Luke chapter 15 (the parable of the lost sheep) we learn another important aspect of how sinners come home to God. We learn that God does not expect men who are dead in their sins to find their own way home. It is true that man cannot turn to God without God’s gracious help, but God does not leave men in darkness. But as a good shepherd he goes out to seek and save the lost.

Up to this point, I am in hearty agreement with my former perspective. I believe that Calvinists, desiring God to have all the glory in salvation, have gone too far with their doctrine of “total inability.” They teach, as best as I understand, that men are not only morally unwilling to come to Christ because of their wicked rebellion against God, but that they also are unable spiritually to respond to God’s divine influence towards saving faith until after they have been regenerated (i.e. born again).

When discussing these issues with non-Calvinists they will declare that men are “dead in sin,” and then think that their point is proven. If they want to drive it home further, they will quote Ephesians 2:4-6:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and He raised us up and seated us together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…

They will note that while someone is dead in sin, unresponsive to God, God will monergistically (without human participation) regenerate the person by grace alone. Then, and only then, the Calvinist argues will one be able to respond to the Gospel with genuine repentance and saving faith.

I believe they are reading their theology into the text. When we look at a parallel passage in Colossians 2:11-13 we would get a fuller understanding of how one goes from “dead in sin” to “alive with Christ.”

In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which also you were raised with Him through the faith of the power of God, who has raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has resurrected together with Him, having forgiven you all sins.

In this passage, which I believe the honest student of Scripture will see is sharing the same truth with many of the same words as Ephesians 2, we see that being raised up with Christ is something that happens “through faith.” I agree with my Calvinist brethren that being “made alive with Christ” is referring to regeneration, but I cannot agree that this happens before faith since the Scripture says it happens “through faith.”

Of course, Ephesians chapter 2 is not the only passage cited in defense of the Calvinistic doctrines of monergism and total inability. Nor is the analogy of being “dead in sin” the only theological argument that is used to support these doctrines. But even my Calvinistic brethren must admit that this is generally the first go to passage and biblical analogy. I believe the other passages and arguments fail in the same way this one does. So, I agree with my old post that the Calvinistic argument for the doctrine of total inability fails on biblical grounds. I believe Calvinists push the scriptural analogy of “dead in sin” too far.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ- by grace have you been saved.

Ephesians 2:4-5

 For by grace you have been saved, through faith.

Ephesians 2:8

To Be Continued…

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