Fletcher on Being “Dead in Sin” Part 2

Fletcher demonstrated that the Scriptures use the word “dead” in more than one way, and to understand the term “dead” with regards to spiritual issues as meaning dead as a physical corpse renders many of these passages, like Rev. 3:1-4, nonsensical. Fletcher also demonstrates the inconsistency in Calvinist thought between what it means to be “dead in sin” and “dead to sin”. He states:

I wonder at the partiality of some persons. If we assert, that “strong believers are dead TO sin,” they tell us very properly that such are not so dead, but they may commit sin if they please, or if they are off their watch. But if we say, that “many who are dead IN sin, are not so dead, but in the strength imparted, together with the Light that enlightens every man, they may leave off some of their sins if they please,” we are exclaimed against as using metaphysical distinctions, and dead must absolutely mean impotent as a corpse.

I believe this to be Fletcher’s most significant argument. Calvinists will often appeal to Eph. 2:1, “you were dead in your trespasses and sins”, and Col. 2:13 which also speaks of being “dead in your transgressions”. From these passages the Calvinist deduces that one can no more respond to God’s grace than a dead corpse can respond to outside stimuli. It is said that there must first be a resurrection [spiritual regeneration] before one can respond to God’s gracious offer of salvation. We are then told that the regenerated person will “freely” choose Christ according to this new nature. There are several problems with this Calvinist argument.

1) When the Scripture speaks of death it is speaking of the separation of the spirit from the body. To be “dead in sin” is to be separated from a holy God who cannot tolerate sin. Our sin has caused separation from God and has effected our spiritual death (Rom. 6:21; James 1:14, 15). The only cure for our pitiful state is to come into vital union with the only source of life: Jesus Christ (Jn. 15).

2) The Scripture speaks of the believer as being “dead to sin” and a “slave to righteousness” while acknowledging that those who are so dead are still capable of sinning. Paul draws a strict parallel between being “slaves to sin” and “slaves to righteousness” and being “dead in sin” and “dead to sin” in Rom. 6:12-23. Since the believer who is “dead to sin” and a “slave to righteousness” can still yield to the influences of the sinful nature, the world, and Satan, there is no reason to believe that one who is “dead in sin” and a “slave to sin” is incapable of responding to the gracious working of the Holy Spirit without first being regenerated. The Spirit of God bridges the gap of deathly separation and enables the sinner to yield to Christ.

3) There is only one way that a sinner can experience the new life, and that is by union with Jesus Christ. Just as surely as separation from God caused spiritual death, union with Christ is the only way that the sinner can experience new life. It is impossible to have life outside of Jesus Christ. This poses a serious problem with Calvinist doctrine. Calvinism has sinners being regenerated before coming to be in union with Christ. We can only experience the benefits of the cross, however, through union with Christ. Through that union His death becomes our death, His life becomes our life, and His blood cleanses us from all unrighteousness. None of this can happen prior to union with Him. The Bible is clear that we come to be in union with Christ through faith. Consider the following passages:

But God being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, 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, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no man may boast. (Eph. 2:4-9)

Many Calvinists like to quote portions of the above text because they believe it supports their conclusions that regeneration precedes faith and that faith is a “gift” that God irresistibly gives to the elect. When one reads these passages together such a conclusion cannot be drawn. All of the gracious spiritual benefits of verses 4-7, including the spiritual resurrection described in verse 6, are “through faith” (verse 8). The grammar of verses 8 and 9 do not allow for the interpretation Calvinists often assign to them. The “gift” of God does not refer to “faith” but to the gracious gift of God’s salvation. To interpret the gift as faith would render verse 9 nonsensical. It would essentially say that “faith” is not “of works” which would be a meaningless statement of the obvious.

All of these spiritual blessings are said to be “with” and “in” Christ [verses 5-7] which is a recurrent theme in Ephesians and in all Pauline writings. It is especially prominent in Ephesians Chapters 1 and 2. Ephesians 1:13 explains how one comes to be in union with Christ and Ephesians 3:17 tells us how Christ comes to dwell in our hearts. In both cases this union is by faith.

This same thought is paralleled in Col. 2:9-12:

For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (see also Rom. 6:4)

Again the theme of union with Christ is obvious. We can also see that our spiritual resurrection is “through faith” in the working [or power] of God, who raised [Christ] from the dead”.

It is undeniable that the unregenerate need a spiritual resurrection. It is also undeniable that this resurrection comes by the faith that brings us into saving union with Christ, whereby we can experience all the benefits of His death and resurrection.

Conclusion:

There is no Biblical reason to accept the Calvinist understanding that being “dead in sin” means that one must first be regenerated before being capable of exercising saving faith. This does not discount the need for a powerful working of the Holy Spirit on the unregenerate, but demonstrates that this working does not result in regeneration until the sinner first meets the condition of faith. When the sinner responds in faith to the gracious working and enabling of the Holy Spirit, he or she is immediately grafted into Christ and receives all the benefits of His atonement, which includes regeneration.

I would also like to point out a problem with the Calvinist insistence that one who is regenerated will “freely” choose to put faith in Christ. I believe that it would be more honest for the Calvinist to say that God “causes” the regenerate to put faith in Christ. To say that one freely chooses is misleading. Most Calvinists understand such “freedom” in a compatiblist sense in which we “freely” do what God causes us to do [whether directly or indirectly through circumstances, etc.]. If the Calvinist wants to insist that one freely chooses to put faith in Christ in a libertarian sense [without being caused of necessity], then it quickly becomes apparent that one could not guarantee that the newly regenerated individual would choose to put faith in Christ.

The Calvinist wants us to believe that once a person is regenerate he or she will naturally choose according to the new regenerated nature. The problem with this explanation is that Calvinists also affirm that one is never completely free of the sinful nature until after death. If this is the case then the newly regenerated person can now choose to either yield to the new nature or the old sinful nature. This would mean that there would be no way to be sure that a regenerated person would choose to follow Christ if one is free in a libertarian sense. He or she could choose instead to yield to the sinful nature which still dwells within. The only way to be certain that the regenerate person would choose Christ is to admit that God must irresistibly cause him or her to do so. If that is the case then Calvinist should be honest enough to drop the “freely choose” rhetoric.

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12 Responses

  1. You wrote:
    “When the sinner responds in faith to the gracious working and enabling of the Holy Spirit, he or she is immediately grafted into Christ and receives all the benefits of His atonement, which includes regeneration.”

    Why does someone respond? We all get the same amount of prevenient grace and fait is not a work, then why does one respond and the other does not?

    Question: Could someone’s salvation then be based on how and who delivers the message/gospel? I mean, we have seen that some men are better at making a case for people to accept. Some men are better at explaining Scripture than others.

    It seems to me that if someone can respond to the offer that is being presented to all, with the same amount of grace, then there has to be something in those people that leads them to respond in the affirmative. What would that be?

    Are they more able to respond because of their life situations? Maybe their poverty? Maybe they realize their need more? Are they more co-dependent?

    I have read most of your entries and I am struck more with your arrogance than your Christian spirit. If one took you at your word one would have to say that you have exposed the heretical views of the Reformed Church so convicingly that it is absurd to keep holding those views.

    Read men like Spurgeon and Whitefield and tell me that they were preaching a false gospel. While you may not come right out and say it that way I believe by your very tone and arrogance that that is the view that most would have of these men by reading your posts.

    I usually do not post on blogs, but felt the need to remind you that while not everyone may agree with differing theologies than what one holds we must strive in love to one another, for we are all united in Christ our Lord and Saviour.

  2. Thanks for your kind words whoever you are. I am sorry that you feel I am arrogant. I am sure that we all have some pride issues to work through.

    I do not much care what Whitefield and Spurgeon believed if it contradicts Scripture. Calvinist likwise do not care what non- Calvinist writers and theologians write if they feel it contradicts Scripture.

    You mentioned Whitefield, what do you think of Wesley? He stood strong against Calvinism because he felt it was unbiblical. What about Watson, Fletcher, Adam Clarke, and a host of other strong theologians who have rejected Calvinism. Do their opinions matter? What if someone said to Luther that he was full of arrogance because he had the gull to stand up to the Pope and the Catholic theologians of his day? The fact is that Luther did endure just such challenges and decided to cling to what he felt the word of God said, rather than to submit to those who held the strongest theological sway in his day.

    Many Calvinists stand strong against Arminianism because they feel it is unbiblical. They are not above calling Arminianism heretical and Arminians heretics. Would you consider these people prideful? Arrogant?

    As far as your two men responding differently to God’s grace argument, I have addressed that in the comments section of “Does Regeneration Precede Faith” with a Calvinist who posed the same question.

    I would remind you that no one has forced you to read my posts. If you don’t like them then don’t bother with them. If you feel that you can refute them from Scripture without the emotional rhetoric, then I welcome the challenge.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  3. You have reminded me of something that i read about Whitefield.

    One of his congregation members approached Mr. Whitefield on the street and asked “Mr. Whitefield, do you believe that we will see John Wesley in heaven?” To which Whitefield replied “No, I do not think that we will see Mr. Wesley in heaven.” Of course hearing this the man began to smile, but just then Mr. Whitefield continued ” Do you know why me and you will not see Mr. John Wesely in heaven? It is because when we get there we will be so far in the back and Mr. Wesley so close to the throne of God that Mr. Wesley will be engulfed by the radiance of God. That is why sir we will not see Mr. Wesley in heaven.”

    What an amzingly humble man and powerful answer. Yes Whitefield and Wesley differed on some of thse views, but you can not help but see the love, humility and respect that he had and showed.

    My comment to you was addressing that very issue. May you find that humbleness and humility to love all the brothers in Christ.

    As for your response to the Calvinist on that particular entry I was not swayed in the slightest. With that I pray God to continue to bless you and keep you.

  4. anonymous,

    You wrote,

    What an amzingly humble man and powerful answer. Yes Whitefield and Wesley differed on some of thse views, but you can not help but see the love, humility and respect that he had and showed.

    I agree completely but would remind you that Whitefield also argued forcefully against Wesley’s Arminianism. Spurgeon also had nice things to say about Wesley proclaimed that aspects of his Arminianism were worse than any false god could come up with.

    I fail to see how my posts differ from the approach of Whitefield and Spurgeon. I have attacked Calvinism and not Calvinists. I have not personally attacked any Calvinists or questioned the salvation of any Reformed writer or believer [though I have had my salvation questioned by the same]. I also made it clear in my first post that I would never call a Calvinist a heretic. I do not understand, then, what our disagreement is over. Why am I to be considered arrogant while Whitefield and Spurgeon are to be considered humble men of God?

    As for your response to the Calvinist on that particular entry I was not swayed in the slightest.

    Sorry to dissapoint. I would be interested to know what you see to be the difference in the way that two believers respond to God’s grace as it correlates to the question you posed.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  5. Many Calvinists like to quote portions of the above text because they believe it supports their conclusions that regeneration precedes faith and that faith is a “gift” that God irresistibly gives to the elect. When one reads these passages together such a conclusion cannot be drawn. All of the gracious spiritual benefits of verses 4-7, including the spiritual resurrection described in verse 6, are “through faith” (verse 8). The grammar of verses 8 and 9 do not allow for the interpretation Calvinists often assign to them. The “gift” of God does not refer to “faith” but to the gracious gift of God’s salvation. To interpret the gift as faith would render verse 9 nonsensical. It would essentially say that “faith” is not “of works” which would be a meaningless statement of the obvious.

    Still chewing on this article, but I would like to speak to the statement above.

    Yes, some Calvinistic Christians isolate “and that not of yourselves” to just “faith.” The “and that,” they say, is referring to faith.

    I did that for a while, the english translation does obscure things, and I can understand why people still believe that. The word “faith” does come right before the words “and that not of yourselves…” I can see why they’d think it says “Faith comes not of yourselves.”

    But just like you, I now think that “and that” refers to “salvation,” not “faith.”

    What changed my mind? The greek grammar.

    I’m no greek scholar, but I’ve been told the “grace” is gender-feminine, “saved” is gender-masculine and “faith” is gender-feminine again. But “and that” is gender-neutral. So it can’t match just any one of those, what does it match?

    Salvation!

    Here’s what I don’t want you to miss, though. “And that” refers to the whole kit-and-kaboodle: “Grace” is “not of yourself,” “saved” is “not of yourself” and “faith” is “not of yourself.” None of it is of yourself, not by works lest any man should boast.

    So therefore I think “and that” is a “gift basket.” Have a look at this picture:
    http://tinyurl.com/ytqld7

    I think that the most verbose way you could paraphrase Ephesians 2:8 so that it is clear, based upon the greek grammar is this:
    “For by grace (and this grace is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast) you have been saved (and this salvation is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast) through faith (and this faith is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast).

    I’m NOT a guy that likes to rewrite Scripture, I’m just trying to paraphrase based upon the greek grammar.

    I didn’t come up with this, a very smart theologan over at Alpha Omega Ministries helped me see this.

    His interpretation seems even more supportable as you approach verse 10 which tell us the appropriate context and attitude toward works. If I can now paraphrase again, verses 8 through 10 seem to all say: You are saved — not by works but for works.

    Does that make sense or do I need to clarify?

  6. Chris,

    What you said does make sense and I do not necessarily disagree with that interpretation. I do believe that the entire economy of salvation is God’s unmerited gift to mankind. God did not have to offer us salvation conditioned on faith. That was a complete act of grace on His part. However, this gives no support to the Calvinist insistance that faith is an irresistible gift given only to some.

  7. […] Fletcher on Being “Dead in Sin” Part 2 Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Purgatory HelpGreat and Holy SaturdayThe Rev. Charlie Camlin: “Dead to Sin, Alive to Righteousness” […]

  8. Eph. 2:1, “you were dead in your trespasses and sins”,
    A dead man can’t make any decisions… b/c they are dead.
    I was once a slave to sin. So my free will made decisions and choices to my slave: Sin.
    It’s only because God regenerated me that I am now a slave to Christ! God gets all the glory and not me. I didn’t nor could I choose because I wasn’t just sick with sin. I was dead in my sin. In Pelagianism – man gets the glory. Calvinism – God gets all the glory.

  9. Hello Soph,

    It’s only because God regenerated me that I am now a slave to Christ!

    Why then, since you are a slave to Christ, do you still sin? Do you see the problem with pushing the metaphor too far? One who is a slave to Christ can still yield to the influence of the sinful nature, demonic forces, and the pull of this sinful world. Why then should you think that one who is dead in sin and a slave to sin cannot likewise yield to the influence of the Holy Spirit? Did you read the post?

    I didn’t nor could I choose because I wasn’t just sick with sin. I was dead in my sin.

    But here you assume that being dead in sin is analogous to the inability of a corpse; a concept nowhere found in Scripture. See here:

    https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2008/05/15/what-can-the-dead-in-sin-do/

    In Pelagianism – man gets the glory.

    I agree. In Arminianism, however, God gets all the glory. Arminianism is not Pelagianism. In Arminianism God must enable the sinner to believe; as I wrote in the post:

    This does not discount the need for a powerful working of the Holy Spirit on the unregenerate, but demonstrates that this working does not result in regeneration until the sinner first meets the condition of faith. When the sinner responds in faith to the gracious working and enabling of the Holy Spirit, he or she is immediately grafted into Christ and receives all the benefits of His atonement, which includes regeneration.

    Arminians do not see faith as a “work” either, but simple trust in the work and merit of Christ. Therefore, the believer can take no credit for salvation and all the glory goes to the One trusted, the One who alone can save.

    Calvinism – God gets all the glory.

    Unfortunately God gets all the glory for sin as well if Calvinistic determinism is followed through to its logical conclusion.

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  10. Well, these responses have been fairly dissappointing. You have one ad hominem attack, one reasoned criticism, and finally a person who does not engage with the article at all, but merely regurgatates the Calvinist position.

    Personally, I think this post was expressed very well with ample points. The different treatments of the two uses of death was most enlightening. Thank you for you cander and humility.

  11. It’s amazing

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