What Can The Dead In Sin Do?

Calvinists love to point out that we are dead in sin.  That we are dead in sin prior to conversion cannot be denied (Eph. 2:1, 5; Col. 2:13); the question has to do with what it means to be dead in sin.

Calvinist are fond of comparing spiritual death to physical death.  This gives them the framework with which to press their theological conviction that regeneration precedes faith.  If being dead in sin means that we are as helpless as physical corpses then we are told that we certainly can no more “hear” the gospel or “see” our need for Christ than a physical corpse can hear or see.  But is there any justification for such a strict parallel between the spiritual and the physical?

Nowhere in Scripture is such a strict parallel drawn.  To be dead in sins means that we are cut off from the relationship with God that is necessary for spiritual life.  Our sin separates us from a holy God and causes spiritual death.  This is both actual and potential.  The sinner is presently “dead” because, in the absence of faith,  he is not enjoying life giving union with Christ.   The sinner is potentially dead because if he continues in this state he will be forever cut off from the presence of the Lord in Hell (2 Thess. 1:9).

Calvinists will often mock Arminians by saying that it is as useless to expect the dead in sin to respond to the gospel as it is to expect a bunch of corpses in the morgue to respond to the gospel.  The only way that corpses could hear such preaching is for them to first be given life.  In like manner, we are told, the only way that someone who is “dead” in sin could respond to the gospel would be if they are first raised to spiritual life.  This supposedly proves the need for regeneration before faith.

But this leads to absurdities and demonstrates that pressing this parallel between those who are spiritually dead and physically dead is unwise and without Scriptural support.  If the analogy is accurate then spiritually dead people should not be able to do anything more than corpses can do, which is plainly absurd.  A single example will suffice.

The Bible plainly teaches that those who are dead in sin resist the Holy Spirit.  Now have you ever seen a corpse resist something?  Of course not.  So if we adopt the implications of the Calvinistic definition of “dead in sin” then we must deny that anyone who is dead in sin can resist the Holy Spirit or reject the gospel (Acts 7:51; 2 Thess. 2:10; 1 John 4:10; Rom. 10:21).  Corpses can’t resist or reject anything any more than they can see or hear anything.  This, of course, should tell us something about the Cavinistic understanding of dead in sin.  It is not Biblical.

“You’re pushing it too far” says the Calvinist.  Really?  And how is it that you determine how far the analogy should be pressed?  We are either as spiritually useless as a physical corpse or we need to abandon the parallel.  You can’t just draw from the illustration what suits your fancy and ignore the rest.  That is special pleading.

Now it is important to remember that Arminians do not deny the need for God’s gracious enabling before a sinner can believe and embrace the gospel.  Without divine initiative and enabling no one would ever come to God in faith.  We are confident, however, that God is powerful enough to overcome our depravity and there is no need for the priority of regeneration since there is no strict parallel between the inability of a physical corpse and the inability of those dead in sin.  We can therefore accept the Biblical teaching of depravity and God’s prevenient grace without needing to turn the Bible on its ear in an effort to put spiritual life before faith.

For a more detailed defense of the Arminian ordo salutis see the following posts:

Jesus Says the Dead Will Hear Unto Spiritual Life

Does Regeneration Precede Faith?

Does Jesus Teach That Regeneration Precedes Faith in John 3:3, 6?

The Arminian and Calvinist Ordo Salutis: A Brief Comparative Study

Fletcher on Being “Dead in Sin”

Fletcher on Being “Dead in Sin” Part 2

Is the “New Heart” of Ezekiel 36:26-27 a Reference to Regeneration Preceding Faith?

Advertisements

18 Responses

  1. Hello Ben,

    Great post on the nature of “spiritual death”. This is an extremely common error that calvinists make. They take the metaphor to be saying that the nonbeliever is **like a physically dead corpse that is incapable of any response**. I want to supplement some of your points with some additional points.

    “Calvinists love to point out that we are dead in sin. That we are dead in sin prior to conversion cannot be denied (Eph. 2:1, 5; Col. 2:13); the question has to do with what it means to be dead in sin.”

    Right the key is what does the bible mean by people being “spiritually dead”? Does it mean to be like a physically dead corpse, or does it mean to be separated from God?

    “If being dead in sin means that we are as helpless as physical corpses then we are told that we certainly can no more ”hear” the gospel or “see” our need for Christ than a physical corpse can hear or see. But is there any justification for such a strict parallel between the spiritual and the physical?”

    In the bible death often refers to separation. When we die our spirit separates from its body. A person who experiences the second death is separated eternally from God. Now a good question to ask if someone wants to take “spiritual death” to refer to some sort of ontological reality concerning us is this: OK, if the nonbeliever is dead, what part of him is dead? Cannot be his physical body, because he continues to use it and commits sins via his body. How about his spirit, the immaterial part of man? The spirit refers to the inner man, the conscious part of us, the mind, the immaterial aspect where our thoughts occur. Is the spirit of the nonbeliever dead? NO, they think and plan and are conscious just as believers have a functioning spirit. In fact there is no place in scripture where the spirit is ever described as or referred to as dead. Well if neither the body or spirit of the nonbeliever is dead, then what is left? There is nothing left, the nonbeliever is not dead **ontologically** in any sense.

    So if the nonbeliever is not dead ontologically, then in what way is he “dead”? If we take the common biblical meaning of **separation** we see that the nonbeliever is dead in that he is **separated from God by his sin**. He has a functioning body and spirit, but in the nonbelieving state he is separated from God, and thus spiritually dead. From God’s perspective he is “spiritually dead”. This can also be seen scripturally in three key places.

    First, in the prodigal son parable, the Father, who represents God in the story, says of his son who had left him and was now being restored to relationship: “This son of mine WAS DEAD and has COME TO LIFE AGAIN, he was LOST, and HAS BEEN FOUND” (LK. 15:24). This clearly speaks of death in the relational sense. The prodigal son’s body and spirit work working, neither was dead, and yet from the perspective of his father, he was DEAD.

    This meaning of spiritual death is also seen in Ephesians 2. It should be noted that calvinists attempt to proof text from this chapter citing the early verses to “prove” their conception of spiritual death. But they do not go far enough in the chapter showing they are prooftexting not exegeting the chapter. Paul says in verse one “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins” (2:1). Paul then says in verse 5 “even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ”. What the calvinist leaves out is what Paul says further into the chapter. Speaking of the Gentiles when they were nonbelievers he writes: “that you were at that time SEPARATE FROM CHRIST, EXCLUDED from the commonwealth of Israel, and STRANGERS TO THE COVENANTS OF PROMISE, HAVING NO HOPE and WITHOUT GOD in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you WHO FORMERLY WERE FAR OFF have been BROUGHT NEAR by the blood of Christ.” (2:12-13). Note the language emphasizing separation and distance and then being brought into relationship, being brought closer. In Eph. 2:1 then Paul uses the metaphor of being dead in sins. Later in the chapter he describes what this means: it means they were separated from God, separated from God’s people, but now that they are saved they are in relationship with God and now part of God’s people.

    The third key biblical passage that establishes that spiritual death refers to separation from God (and so has a **relational** sense rather than the mistaken calvinistic **ontological** sense) is the description of the fall of Adam in Genesis. Adam is told that in the day that he eats of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he will die. He did sin and eat of the fruit, and died **physically** hundreds of years later. Was God telling the truth that he would die the moment/the day, he ate of the fruit? Not if the death was physical death. Yes if the death was spiritual death or being separated from God by his sin.

    When we look at scripture and look around us there is no evidence for the mistaken calvinistic notion that spiritual death means to be like a physically dead corpse and so nonresponsive. On the other hand the evidence around us and in scripture clearly teaches and shows that sin separates us from God. And from God’s perspective, as he is the source of life and all good things, to be separated from him **is** to be spiritually dead (just like the Father in the prodigal son story says).

    “To be dead in sins means that we are cut off from the relationship with God that is necessary for spiritual life. Our sin separates us from a holy God and causes spiritual death.”

    Exactly.

    “Calvinists will often mock Arminians by saying that it is as useless to expect the dead in sin to respond to the gospel as it is to expect a bunch of corpses in the morgue to respond to the gospel. The only way that corpses could hear such preaching is for them to first be given life. In like manner, we are told, the only way that someone who is “dead” in sin could respond to the gospel would be if they are first raised to spiritual life. This supposedly proves the need for regeneration before faith.”

    Good observation Ben, the calvinists are sometimes quite prideful to mock others who hold the biblical understanding of spiritual death.

    “But this leads to absurdities and demonstrates that pressing this parallel between those who are spiritually dead and physically dead is unwise and without Scriptural support. If the analogy is accurate then spiritually dead people should not be able to do anything more than corpses can do, which is plainly absurd. A single example will suffice.”

    Yes it does get absurd. We have some calvinists who act like jerks while some nonbelievers seem to have greater character and are nicer people than the calvinists who profess to be Christians (this seems especially true with Mormons who are off doctrinally and yet are some of the nicest folks you may ever meet). And the people who are prideful and act like jerks will speak condescendingly of the nonbelievers as “god-haters” when in fact, and in daily life practice, the so-called “god-haters” are much better persons of character than those who mock them.

    Or take the example of the calvinists so intent on keeping their mistaken view of spiritual death that they will claim that the nonbelievers can never ever do a kind or good act. Again, I know some nonbelievers who are fireman and policeman, who exhibit real good character. These guys do much more good than these calvinists who sneer at them and claim they never do any good actions.

    Or take the claim that the nonbelievers are like physically dead corpses and compare it with all the activities and things the nonbelievers are doing in the world. The calvinistic conception that claims they are like physically dead corpses and so completely nonresponsive and inactive is denied by daily reality.

    “The Bible plainly teaches that those who are dead in sin resist the Holy Spirit. Now have you ever seen a corpse resist something? Of course not. So if we adopt the implications of the Calvinistic definition of “dead in sin” then we must deny that anyone who is dead in sin can resist the Holy Spirit or reject the gospel (Acts 7:51; 2 Thess. 2:10; 1 John 4:10; Rom. 10:21). Corpses can’t resist or reject anything any more than they can see or hear anything. This, of course, should tell us something about the Cavinistic understanding of dead in sin. It is not Biblical.”

    Great example. Dead bodies do not move, do not talk, do not respond, don’t do anything (and yet nonbelievers do all sorts of things in the world).

    ““You’re pushing it too far” says the Calvinist. Really? And how is it that you determine how far the analogy should be pressed? We are either as spiritually useless as a physical corpse or we need to abandon the parallel. You can’t just draw from the illustration what suits your fancy and ignore the rest. That is plainly begging the question.”

    Another good observation. The calvinist will claim that the nonbeliever is dead like a physically dead corpse that is completely unresponsive, but then they quite arbitrarily and without any biblical warrant whatsoever, draw a line of what the “dead corpse” can and cannot do. Well he/she can’t understand spiritual things whatsoever, or respond to the gospel or the work of the Spirit in any way. But he/she can do sins and hate God and start cults and false religions. This is schizophrenic thinking and special pleading.

    And again, if you are going to claim that the nonbeliever is ontologically dead, then what part is dead? His body? His Spirit? Or what part is made alive when the nonbeliever is converted? Was his body dead and now it is alive? Was his spirit dead and now it is alive? How does a spiritually dead person sin if he is completely unresponsive and cannot do anything. Or does this spiritually dead person just end up not being capable of doing what the calvinists want him to not be capable of doing? It is completely arbitrary and self serving. And it completely ignores what the bible actually says about death being separation and nonbelievers being separated from God by their sins.

    “Now it is important to remember that Arminians do not deny the need for God’s gracious enabling before a sinner can believe and embrace the gospel.”

    While the bible does not teach the calvinistic conception of spiritual death. It does teach that unless we are drawn by God we cannot come to Jesus. It does teach that we cannot rescue ourselves from our condition of being separated from God by our sins (we cannot forgive ourselves of our sins, we cannot justify ourselves before God by anything we do, etc.).

    “Without divine initiative and enabling no one would ever come to God in faith.”

    Right, God initiated things as the scripture says while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. As soon as Adam sinned God revealed that he had a plan of salvation. God did not wait for Adam to come up with something, God already had a plan in mind and made reference to it with Adam and continued to reveal more and more through the Old Testament. And regarding **enabling** if the Holy Spirit does not convict you of sin, show you that Jesus is the way of salvation, bring understanding of what scripture says so that you can know and understand the way of salvation, etc. etc. you cannot be saved.

    “We are confident, however, that God is powerful enough to overcome our depravity and there is no need for the priority of regeneration since there is no strict parallel between the inability of a physical corpse and the inability of those dead in sin.”

    What I never cease to be amazed by, when listening to calvinists present their erroneous views is that they are quick to speak of and proof text from scripture attempting to show how we are sinners (which is true) how we have all sinned (which is true) how we cannot save ourselves (which is true) but they simultaneously completely leave out the powerful work of the Holy Spirit in leading people to Christ. If we were left in our sinful condition it would indeed be hopeless as Paul tells the Ephesians. But God did not leave us in that condition, He sent His Son and He sent His Spirit. People make much of the work of the Son but they seem to leave out the Spirit, as if the Spirit is not God, as if the Spirit cannot enable a person to have faith by working in their hearts through the Word. When I preach a message and people get saved it wasn’t me that changed hearts and enabled them to have a faith response to the gospel, it was the Holy Spirit. So God gets the credit for people being saved.

    “We can therefore accept the Biblical teaching of depravity and God’s prevenient grace without needing to turn the Bible on its ear in an effort to put spiritual life before faith.”

    Exactly. We need only be faithful in getting the gospel message out there and when we do so, the Holy Spirit will work powerfully in the hearts and minds of men. And when people come to faith in Christ they will have the same experience we had, the powerful experience of having the Spirit lead you to Christ, reveal your sinfulness to you, reveal the identity of Christ to you, reveal God’s wonderful plan of salvation to you, etc. etc..

    Robert

  2. Robert,

    I like the reference to Eph. 2:12-13 for understanding that dead in sin has separation from God primarily in view.

    Yes it does get absurd. We have some calvinists who act like jerks while some nonbelievers seem to have greater character and are nicer people than the calvinists who profess to be Christians (this seems especially true with Mormons who are off doctrinally and yet are some of the nicest folks you may ever meet). And the people who are prideful and act like jerks will speak condescendingly of the nonbelievers as “god-haters” when in fact, and in daily life practice, the so-called “god-haters” are much better persons of character than those who mock them.

    It is true that some Calvinists come across as condescending jerks but I think we need to be careful to recognize that they by no means have a corner on the market. I have been a jerk many times myself and I am sure that I am not the only Arminian that can honestly say that. However, contrary to their claims, I think Calvinism may tend to breed smugness more than Arminianism.

    This is schizophrenic thinking and special pleading.

    Good point. I like “special pleading” better than “begging the question”. It is more appropriate here so I think I will revise the post in that area.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  3. Hello Ben,

    “I like the reference to Eph. 2:12-13 for understanding that dead in sin has separation from God primarily in view.”

    Glad to hear you appreciate that point. Calvinists will sometimes claim that noncalvinists do not base their views on exegesis of scripture. That is not true, I and others were taught that when interpreting we have to take seriously the immediate context of a verse. You can often tell when someone is “proof texting” because they take one verse out of some place that **alone** may seem to make their point but then when seen in the actual context is often contradicted by something close by in the immediate context. Calvinists run to Ephesians 2:1 in order to proof text their conception of spiritual death as like a physically dead corpse, but I don’t hear them **exegeting** Ephesians 2:12-13 which actually explicates Paul’s metaphor used in verse 1, when they are discussing verse 1. He uses the metaphor of having been dead and then being raised in the early verses of Ephesians 2. But then in vv.12-13 he is actually talking to the real people involved and talking about how they were **separated** from God, and **separated** from God’s people, and without hope in the world prior to their conversion to Christ.

    “It is true that some Calvinists come across as condescending jerks but I think we need to be careful to recognize that they by no means have a corner on the market. I have been a jerk many times myself and I am sure that I am not the only Arminian that can honestly say that. However, contrary to their claims, I think Calvinism may tend to breed smugness more than Arminianism.”

    You are correct that we can find jerks everywhere and in fact have been jerks ourselves on occasion. But that was not my point that all calvinists are jerks (which is not true) or that only calvinists are jerks (which is also not true). My point was that I have often seen calvinists talking negatively about how bad the nonbelievers are, how they are all “God-haters”, how they do nothing but sin, etc. when the person saying these things was a jerk while I know nonbelievers who display greater character and are nicer people then the people putting them down. You see that point contradicts their mistaken conception of spiritual death.

    The bible does not teach that the nonbeliever is incapable of ever doing any good, or doing good works, that all they do is sin and do so while manifesting an intense hatred for God. The bible does teach that we cannot save ourselves by our works.

    A great example of this is the Jewish people in the first century (as well as Gentile converts to Judaism, so called “God-fearers” like Cornelius). Paul does not say of the Jewish people that they were incapable of doing any good or that they were all God-haters. Rather, he says the mistake many of them were making was to trust in the good works they were doing rather than in Christ: “but Israel pursuing a law of righteousness did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone” (Rom. 9:31-32) “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:2-3). Paul does not say they were “God-haters” he says “they have a zeal for God” but that they were pursuing righteousness wrongly. Instead of trusting in Christ and the works he did, they were trusting in their own works to save them. Paul does not deny they are doing good works, he does deny that those good works will save them. In fact if they never did any good works then the issue of whether or not your own good works can save you or not would never even arise as an issue. The problem remains today, religious people tend to trust in their own good works to save them. That is why Paul argues at the beginning of Romans that all have sinned and fallen short, whether they be Gentiles or Jews. You have to understand your own sinfulness and that your own good works cannot save you, before you are ready to accept that Jesus is the way of salvation.

    “Good point. I like “special pleading” better than “begging the question”. It is more appropriate here so I think I will revise the post in that area.”

    Yes, their thinking in this area is so arbitrary and selective. If the nonbeliever were really like a physically dead corpse then he could not and would not do ANYTHING. Corpses just sit there, completely inactive, completely nonresponsive. And the bible does not say the nonbeliever is inactive or like a corpse. The opposite is the case, they are doing all sorts of things, apart from God, separated from God due to their sin and so in that sense spiritually dead.

    Ben I will write up another post to talk about some of the calvinist proof texts that they use when talking about depravity as that would be useful in this discussion of the biblical meaning of spiritual death.

    Robert

  4. The key to understanding metaphor is to look at what aspect in the metaphor is being carried over.

    When we talk about the head of a river, we are carrying over the concept of end. The head is at one extremity of the body. (This may be why head can mean either end of a river).

    When talking about head over people or nation, we are carrying over the concept of rulership/ leadership. The head tells the body what to do.

    A head has many other attributes (round, orifices, strong skull, nerves, skin, orientation (front/ back), growth, etc.); not all these carry across in metaphorical language.

    When we use the word dead as a metaphor, what aspect of a dead body carries over to living people who are dead in sin? One can’t carry over every attribute of a dead person.

    I had always thought of dead and sin along the lines of your initial paragraphs.

    To be dead in sins means that we are cut off from the relationship with God that is necessary for spiritual life. Our sin separates us from a holy God and causes spiritual death. This is both actual and potential.

    That is, “dead” refers to the consequent state as a result of our current state. Those in dead in sin (now)—when they physically die will be without God. It may not be describing our ability to respond at all, just our state.

  5. What can the dead in sin do? What does the Bible say they can do?

    Jesus said that the dead in sin can hear His word and believe the Father who sent Him. “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)

    Moreover, Jesus said the dead in sin can hear His voice and live. “I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” (John 5:25)

  6. TrueHope,

    Excellent point. God enables the dead to hear with faith but it is still the “dead” who are hearing unto life. The Calvinist can only assert that God gives the dead life so that they can hear, but if that were the case then Christ could not truly say that the dead hear since it is really those who are made alive that hear, and it would completely reverse the Lord’s words from:

    Dead–>hear–>live

    to:

    Dead–>live–>hear–>[another] live?

    This also demonstrates that Calvinism is a system that is impossible to falsify. Cs claim the dead can’t hear. Jesus declares exactly the opposite. Does this cause the C to reevaluate his system? No. It just causes him to get creative with the passage. So even plain statements from the Lord Himself which flatly contradict C presuppositions are not enough to change the C mind. What then could possibly do the trick?

    God Bless,
    Ben

  7. Hello Ben,

    “Cs claim the dead can’t hear. Jesus declares exactly the opposite. Does this cause the C to reevaluate his system? No. It just causes him to get creative with the passage.”

    This is a major problem with calvinism. There are biblical texts that explicitly and clearly state the opposite of what the calvinist system dictates. TrueHope has provided a good example: the bible says the dead in sin may hear and if they believe they will then live; calvinism says the spiritually dead are nonresponsive and can do nothing in response to the gospel message so they must first be regenerated in order to hear and believe. Another clear example is John 3:16 which says the Father gave the Son to the World. And “world” means more than just those who eventually come to believe (but the **system** says that Jesus died only for the elect, so the bible ought to say that Jesus was given only for the elect, but again the bible says the opposite. Examples could be multiplied but the conclusion is this, the bible contradicts the calvinist system so the system must be false.

    “So even plain statements from the Lord Himself which flatly contradict C presuppositions are not enough to change the C mind. What then could possibly do the trick?”

    I have a friend who sometimes likes to say: “God could tell you otherwise and you would still hold to your false beliefs, and in fact he has done so, in the bible, but you continue to reject the truth.” Well that is in fact what is true with regard to the calvinist system, God has made some really clear and simple to understand statements that completely contradict the calvinist system (which is a major reason why the vast majority of Christians both today and throughout church history were not calvinists, whether the people be Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants or Independents, passages like John 3:16 are just too clear and cannot be successfully explained away), but they will not accept the bible (because the calvinistic system takes priority), they have to redefine and reinterpret and come up with whatever eisegetical gymnastics that they can come up with to escape the truth and maintain the system.

    As you say Ben, they just “get creative with the passage” when the bible goes against the system.

    If you read and listen to the calvinists they often describe their trek to calvinism as **like a conversion experience**. It is similar to the second blessing claims by some Pentecostals (“I was saved first, but now I received the second blessing, . . .”). With calvinists it is similar, “I was saved first, held noncalvinistic beliefs for a time, but then with the proper teaching I was led to see the ‘doctrines of grace’ which I now embrace”. In order to embrace the truth, which is not calvinism, they then have to deconvert away from their calvinism. But the calvinists, in a way that is similar to cultists, first indoctrinate and lead their “converts” to hold the “new faith” and then carefully teach and instruct them as to how to handle objections against the “faith”.

    A prepared JW, will have stock responses to verses you may bring up teaching the trinity. Likewise, a prepared calvinist will have stock responses to verses that you may bring up showing that God wants all to be saved, that Jesus died for the world not just the elect, etc. etc. So based on this it is difficult to deconvert a calvinist. There is also personal pride at stake, if they have been propounding their calvinism for a long time, imagine how humbling it would be to admit that for years you taught that which is unbiblical and false.

    Robert

  8. Hello Ben,

    I want to speak more on this issue of what the condition of spiritual death means. In my previous post I discussed the meaning of spiritual death as being separated from God due to our sins. I also mentioned wanting to discuss some of the proof texts used by Calvinists to attempt to “prove” their mistaken notion of depravity as the nonbeliever being like a physically dead corpse.

    I make a distinction based upon my own experience, observations of the experience of others, as well as scriptural statements that speak of the nonbeliever’s condition. My distinction is this: there is a nonbelieving state in which the Holy Spirit has not worked on the individual and there is a nonbelieving state in which the Holy Spirit has worked upon the individual revealing things to them, illuminating scripture in their minds, showing them their need for salvation, convicting them of their sins, etc. etc. For sake of discussion call the first nonbelieving state the **closed** state, and the second nonbelieving state the **open** state. In my experience and observation people start out in the closed state, they are not seeking after God, spiritually dead, following the ways of the world, with little understanding of Christianity and the gospel message. I know I was in that state before I became a Christian and I had no interest in Christianity though I believed that God existed and that He created the world.

    The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:5-10: “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God, for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ he does not belong to him.”

    Paul is contrasting those without the Spirit, the closed nonbeliever, and those with the Spirit, the people converted to Christ, saved persons. And it is true that the person who does not have the Spirit is going to have their mind set on the flesh not on spiritual things. The calvinist seeking for a proof text to show their conception of spiritual death will cite this passage and absolutize it by saying that it applies to **every** nonbeliever **all the time**. But this leaves out those nonbelievers in whom the Holy Spirit is working to lead them to Christ. In such a person the Spirit will illuminate scripture for such a person, show them their sinfulness and need for Christ, show Jesus as the way of salvation, etc. etc. While such a person does not have the Spirit in the same way that a Christian has the Spirit, they are directly experiencing the work of the Spirit in their life.

    Before I became a Christian I started out in the closed state. But I also then experienced this open state in which the Spirit was definitely working on me, showing me things, and yet I was not yet saved. I was asking questions, confused about some things and better understanding other things, starting to go to church meetings (but not to worship God but out of curiosity and a desire to know more). I started having more and more openness to Christianity and the gospel. I was no longer a closed unbeliever but an open one. What was the difference? I was experiencing the work of the Spirit in a personal way. I evangelize a lot and have seen others go through a similar period in which they will tell you they were not yet Christians and yet the Spirit was definitely working in their lives.

    A biblical example of this is in Acts 10 with the experience of Cornelius who has a supernatural vision to call for Peter and yet does not receive the Spirit and become a Christian until later in the narrative. Cornelius was not yet saved before he heard Peter share the gospel but he was also not a closed believer either.

    Another text that speaks of this condition is John 6:45: “It is written in the prophets, AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD. Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.” “Coming” to Jesus in the context of John 6 refers to having faith in Jesus. According to this text these people were taught by God, and if they heard and learned, and had a faith response to the gospel then they came to Jesus. So this experience of hearing and learning since it occurred before they came to Jesus in faith, had to be occurring when they were not yet believers, while they were nonbelievers. It was during the open state that they were being taught by the Spirit.

    My point is that the calvinist in proof texting from certain verses tries to absolutize the state of the nonbeliever as someone who never understands spiritual things, always hates God, etc. etc. What this does is leaves out something, better yet, SOMEONE who is essential to the process of someone becoming a Christian: THE HOLY SPIRIT. I hear much from the calvinist about their conception of the nonbeliever as always in the state of being closed, being completely incapable of understanding spiritual things, etc. What seems to be completely left out is the powerful work of the Spirit in leading people to Christ for salvation. And Christians who regularly evangelize have seen this work of the Spirit firsthand.

    Left to ourselves, being separated from God by our sin, we are in a hopeless condition. But, and that is just the point, God does not leave us in this condition, when the Spirit comes and works on someone things change in their understanding of scripture, their understanding of the way of salvation, etc. etc. Does this work of the Spirit always culminate in a person being saved? No, some continue to resist the Spirit and remain in their state of unbelief. I know one man who had a Christian mother who prayed for him for years, sent him to Christian schools, he even told me of occasions when He knew the Spirit was working on him and yet when it came to humbling himself and confessing that he was a sinner, he kept refusing to do so. Ask him about Christian doctrine and he has quite a grasp of certain things. And yet when asked if he is saved, he will tell you himself that he has not bowed to Jesus, not confessed that he is a sinner and needs to be saved through Christ.

    In the New Testament the Pharisees knew scripture and personally witnessed miracles by Jesus and heard him teach. Often they understood exactly what Jesus was saying and yet kept choosing to reject it. Jesus called this the unforgiveable sin (i.e. the Spirit was working in the ministry of Jesus doing things that they knew were from God, the Spirit was working with them to lead them to Christ and yet in spite of seeing and hearing lots of things, they kept saying No. If you keep saying No to the work of the Spirit then you cannot be saved, hence it is a sin you cannot be forgiven of, because committing this sin removes you from the possibility of being saved; it is basically continually rejecting and resisting the work of the Spirit in leading you to Christ).

    Robert

  9. Great post. You make excellent points against the standard Calvinist position.

  10. Hey Ben,

    In terms of being spiritually dead, I often like to point out the comment by father of the prodigal son:

    Luke 15:22-24: “‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.”

    I’ve never heard a Calvinist cite this passage when discussing spiritual death. Do you know what their defense is?

  11. If the Calvinist has been drawn by the father then he is spiritually alive, isn’t he?

    According to John 6:45 this includes having “heard and learned from the father”. The drawing must be experienced somehow. There must be something going on, right? What is actually happening when one is drawn by the father? Obviously, you “hear and learn” something special, but WHAT? I do not believe Calvinists know what they are talking about here.

    I have some thoughts on that on my blog “living by knowledge”, part IV,V.

  12. […] What Can The Dead in Sin Do? […]

  13. Your reference of the “resistance” as comparable to spiritual deadness is weak. We don’t accuse something that is tear or fire-resistant of acting against tension or flames. Resistance also describes a state of being, not just an action. Rhetorical argument?

  14. Mark,

    The Calvinistic comparison is to a lifeless corpse, not fire-resistant material (so it is really the Calvinist “rhetorical argument” I am dealing with here, one that is not based on Scripture, since the Bible never compares spiritual death with the inability of a physical corpse).

    A corpse cannot resist any more than it can receive. If you want to say that it is some sort of passive, non-active resistance, I would like for you to demonstrate that from Scripture. When Stephen said the Jews always resist the Holy Spirit, the Greek word for “resist” is in the present active indicative. A corpse can’t “actively” resist anything.

    So, if you want to use the strict parallel of a physical corpse, then it follows that spiritually dead people are as incapable of actively resisting the Spirit or rejecting the gospel as a corpse is incapable of actively resisting or rejecting anything. If you want to shift the issue to one of passivity, then a corpse won’t work, since the Bible presents people as “actively” (in a spiritual sense) resisting the Holy Spirit and rejecting the gospel.

    There are several more problems with what you have said here, but I will leave it at that for now.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  15. A dead in sin can do all the things calvinists say he can’t. There is scriptural evidence of this.

    – can see

    John 3:20 “Everyone who does evil hates the light”

    If you are blind you cannot hate the light.

    – can understand and repent

    Mark 4:12 “they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!”

    – Dead in sin can even reject God’s purpose

    “But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptised by John.”

    There are some other things I don’t understand about calvinistic view of the dead in sin.

    As I know the spirit of man is eternal how can be dead if it’s eternal?

    When and how does man’s spirit become dead? If God is the creator of our spirit how come is dead when we are born?

    R.C. Sproul sais we are spiritually stillborn. All calvinists hold this view?

    If man’s spirit is not dead when he is born then how and when becomes dead? I don’t understand how do calvinists consider these things? Does enybody know?

  16. Rober (first response abovet, on May 15, 2008 at 10:35 pm said:

    1.
    “Or take the example of the calvinists so intent on keeping their mistaken view of spiritual death that they will claim that the nonbelievers can never ever do a kind or good act. Again, I know some nonbelievers who are fireman and policeman, who exhibit real good character. These guys do much more good than these calvinists who sneer at them and claim they never do any good actions.”

    In all my reading and experience, I’ve never come across this view. The calvinist notion of “total depravity” (or “radical corruption”) refers to the inability to love God (of the Bible) – “dead to God” -, and has nothing to do with being/not being good and kind.

    2.
    “Or take the claim that the nonbelievers are like physically dead corpses and compare it with all the activities and things the nonbelievers are doing in the world. The calvinistic conception that claims they are like physically dead corpses and so completely nonresponsive and inactive is denied by daily reality.”

    “Dead” refers to dead to God (of the Bible), that’s all. The “spirit” of man is dead in sin. So all the other criticisms about the Calvinist’s “abuse” of “dead” in Ephesians 2 are beating a (metaphorical) dead horse.

    Collapsing to the ground, I stretched out full length, placed my elbow on my solar plexus, and with my upturned arm, I pointed up to the sky. Rigid. From my mouth issued the sermon of my life. “Dead, dead, see I am dead, and there is a flower growing out of my belly button. My blood is ice cold. Now, look, there is Christ standing over me . ‘Come! get up!’

    So if/when you read the rest of the story, please, don’t think I’m talking about dead physical bodies.

    http://onedaringjew.wordpress.com/2010/10/16/how-to-soup-up-a-sermon-on-monergistic-regeneration/

  17. Bography,

    I know you were responding to Robert, but did you read the opening post? Calvinists typically argue just as it claims. Moreover, the opening post deals with the qualification you try to make. On both scores, it refutes that type of argument that claims being dead in sin means we have to be regenerated before believing because of an alleged strict parallel between physical death and spiritual death. Ben showed the obvious flaw in such reasoning as well as insisting that we allow the Bible to define what being dead is and entails rather than our own opinions of what it should mean. The word of God must rule our doctrine, not our own opinions! (Not saying thatt your attitude is any different than that.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: