An Arminian Response to John Hendryx on the Meaning and Implications of Spiritual Death Part 1: What Does it Mean to be “Dead in Sin?”

Calvinist John Hendryx takes a “synergist” to task in an article entitled Can We Make an Exact Analogy Between Unbelievers’ who are “Dead in Sin” and Believers who are “Dead to Sin”?(Excerpts From Debate in Which Synergist Attempts to Overthrow Doctrine of Total Depravity).  We will use this exchange as a basis for interacting with Hendryx’s main arguments concerning the unique Calvinist understanding of what it means to be “dead in sin” and the theological implications thereof.  The portions of John’s article will be marked by block quotes.  My interactions will follow.

Synergists often claim that since believers are “dead to sin” but can still commit sin that we can draw a direct corresponding analogy which says unbelievers who are “dead in sin” are thus morally able to believe the gospel, apart from the grace of God alone. The following are excerpts from a debate when we “rabbit trailed” on to this issue. The synergist I was debating brought this up as an attempt to prove that when the Bible speaks of a [sic.] those who are “dead in sin” it does not mean “dead” to the same extent that the Reformed view believes it to. In other words it is an attempt to debunk the doctrine of total depravity (That is, to disprove the doctrine that by his fall, man has made himself incapable of obedience unto life since he cannot convert Himself without the transforming work of the Holy Spirit):

John is off to a bad start here.  First, it is not primarily an issue of “dead” being to the “same extent” as Calvinists believe, but what “dead in sin” is actually supposed to mean in the Biblical record.  So it is not so much the extent, but the proper meaning of the phrase “dead in sin” that is at issue here.  John Hendryx assumes the standard Calvinist line that “dead in sin” has specific reference to the inability of a physical corpse.  Unfortunately for Hendryx, the Bible nowhere draws such a correlation.  The Bible never speaks of deadness in sin in the context of inability.  So from the start, Hendryx is question begging in an unbiblical manner, relying on Calvinist definitions rather than Biblical ones.

Secondly, challenging the Calvinist meaning of “dead in sin” does not necessarily equate to “an attempt to debunk the doctrine of total depravity.”  Nor does it amount to the claim that “unbelievers who are “dead in sin” are thus morally able to believe the gospel, apart from the grace of God alone.”  Arminians (like myself) fully affirm the doctrine of total depravity and the need for God’s preceding (prevenient) grace while rejecting the Calvinist insistence that regeneration precedes faith.  That is the issue at stake here.  The Calvinist understanding of “dead in sin” is the fundamental basis for their claim that regeneration must precede faith.  This is based on the belief that to be dead in sin means that one is as incapable of performing any action as a physical corpse.  Just as a corpse cannot see, hear or respond to anything, those who are dead in sin supposedly cannot hear the gospel, see Christ or respond to the gospel in faith until they are first resurrected to new life (regenerated).  Only after this spiritual resurrection can the person respond to the gospel in faith (and in Calvinism this response of faith is guaranteed and caused by regeneration).

While Arminians affirm inability to respond to the gospel outside of God’s enabling power and grace, we do not see that enabling power as regeneration for two important reasons.  First, the Bible clearly places faith before regeneration in the order of salvation (the ordo salutis).  Second, Calvinists have inaccurately portrayed the implications and meanings of the Biblical phrase and concept of deadness in sin (or spiritual death).  It is this second issue that is being addressed by the visitor.

The call for Biblical accuracy with regards to the meaning of the phrase does not mean that one is challenging total depravity or inability, nor does it mean that one denies the necessity of God’s grace in enabling sinners to believe the gospel.  Rather, it is only challenging the Calvinist understanding of “dead in sin” and the implication that total depravity can therefore only be overcome through regeneration (raising the “dead” to life).  Hendryx seems to fail to grasp this distinction throughout his response, wrongly conflating any challenge to the Calvinist understanding of deadness in sin with a denial of total depravity and the corresponding necessity for God’s enabling grace.

(John)
OK now I wanted to make just a few comments on your missive on the analogy between unbelievers who are “dead in sin” and believers who are “dead to sin”

First the visitors comments are within the dotted lines and my answer follows:

—————————————————
(Visitor)

{The] unbeliever’s death in sin is somehow more complete than the believer’s death to sin (which, I think, you’d be hard-pressed to prove).
Dead is dead, right? “How do men “dead to sin” choose pornography, marital infidelity, etc.? In other words, I think monergists take the “dead in sin” phrase too far. The unregenerate man is helpless, hopeless, and hostile, to be sure.

The main point here is that “dead” can be understood in ways other than the inability of a corpse to see, hear or respond to anything.  The fact that those who are dead to sin are still able to sin illustrates this.

I propose that “dead in sin” means something less than living “as a walking cadaver in a spiritual graveyard” whose “ear is deaf to any word from heaven” (Sproul). I’ve read monergistic articles that say things like man is no more capable of responding to God’s offer of salvation than a corpse is of responding to an offer of a fine meal. I am saying that this is “extreme.” Yes, “Paul provides a graphic description of our spiritual impotence prior to regeneration” (Sproul) in Ephesians 2. But what does “dead in sin” really mean?

The visitor starts out discussing the extent of this death but ends up where the discussion really needs to take place, the actual meaning of the Biblical phrase and concept.  Even his comments on the extent seem to have the intent of properly defining the meaning of the Biblical phrase (in pointing out that the inability of a corpse doesn’t really fit with the similar phrase of being “dead to sin”, pointing us towards a different way of understanding “dead” in both phrases).

In the context of a series of verses that sounds much like Ephesians 2:1-3, Paul says that the Gentiles are “excluded from the life of God” (Ephesians 4:18). “Excluded” could also be translated “alienated.” I propose that “dead to sin” means that man is alienated, hostile, separated from God, powerless to save himself, and void of eternal life. As the apostle John wrote, “He who has the Son has the life; he who has not the Son has not the life” (I John 5:12). To be dead in sin means to be separated from God (and, thus, His life).

This is a solid Biblical description of being dead in sin.  The Biblical testimony could be extended to demonstrate that separation is the key feature of being dead in sin, and that being joined to Christ (the source of life) is the only solution.  Consider Colossians 2:11-13,

In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.  When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ [i.e. in union with Christ].” (Emphasis mine)

There are several important things to note in this passage that directly contradict Hendryx’s understanding of deadness in sin and uphold the “visitor’s” definition of a state of separation from God and Christ.

It is “in him” that we are circumcised in the putting off of the sinful nature.  Only in Christ do we have His blood applied which is the basis of our forgiveness and right standing with God (Col. 1:14; Eph. 1:7).  Only “in Christ” do we become a new person, a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:10).  Notice how Paul correlates our uncircumcised sinful nature with being dead in sin.  The solution is the same for both, to be joined to Christ (“in him”) and “raised” with Him (cf. Eph. 2:5).

How does this resurrection to new life that remedies our deadness in sin take place?  It takes place “through faith in the power of God.”  Here we have a very plain scripture describing both the deadness of sin and the solution to that deadness being the result of the faith that joins us to Christ (cf. Eph. 1:13, where the Spirit seals us in Christ through faith).  This is “death” to John Hendryx’s interpretation.  Hendryx wants to maintain that regeneration precedes faith and is necessary for faith to take place in accordance with his correlating deadness in sin with the inability of a corpse to do anything.  However, the text before us plainly teaches that our spiritual resurrection is the result of being joined to Christ and His resurrection, and this all results from our “faith in the power of God.”  Look at Eph. 2:4-10,

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions- it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast .  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared beforehand for us to do (emphasis mine).

Even in the Ephesians passage, the only other text that uses “dead in sin” terminology, it is clear that we are raised up with Christ in new life through being joined to Him (“alive with”, “raised up with”), and all of this is “by grace…through faith”.  This parallels what we already saw in Colossians where we were said to transition from being dead in sins to attaining the new life in Christ by being raised with Christ “through faith in the power of God.”  Likewise, in Ephesians, we see that we are made alive and raised up “with Christ.”  We are also “created in Christ Jesus” just as we are new creations “in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17), and all of this is the result of being joined to Christ, which is, again, by faith (Eph. 1:13).

We will leave this for now, but Hendryx’s interpretation is continually contradicted by Scripture while the Arminian interpretation is upheld.  Hendryx’s understanding of “dead in sin” is simply not in harmony with the Biblical record.  That is big trouble for the Calvinist ordo salutis.

(The visitor continues) Death is separation. Not simply a termination or cessation of life. Physical death is the separation of spirit from body. The body ceases to live and decay begins, but the spirit continues to exist.

When Paul says, “The wages of sin is death,” he is not simply referring to the cessation of corporeal existence, is he? Therefore, spiritual death is better understood as separation from God and not in terms like, “spiritual cadaver” or “spiritual corpse.” If you use terms like that, then you have to refer to a “walking cadaver.” In other words, you’ve got to have a cadaver who still functions somehow. It’s better to just go with “separation from God.”

Separation from God and the resulting spiritual state.  Since God is the source of spiritual life, our alienation from Him both results in spiritual death and describes spiritual death.  Being dead in sin would seem to have reference to both the absence of relationship (like Paul being dead to the world and the world being dead to him, and the severed relationship between the prodigal and his father who considered his son to be “dead” during that time of separation), and the resulting state of spiritual death that naturally results from that relational separation and alienation (since our spirits can only truly live “in Him”).  As noted above, the solution to spiritual death is to be joined to the source of spiritual life (Christ), which comes by faith.

(Visitor) If unregenerate man is cadaver-like and incapable of hearing from God and believing in Him, then why aren’t regenerate men cadaver-like with
respect to sin, Satan, and this world?

Here the parallel is drawn.  The point of the parallel is primarily to show that there is something fishy about the Calvinist understanding of the word “dead” in “dead in sin.”  But John Hendryx seems to think that there is a fatal flaw in the visitor’s reasoning with regards to the illustrative comparison between “dead in sin” and “dead to sin.”  That will be the focus of our next post.

Brian Abasciano’s Article on 1 John 5:1 is Now Available!

Dr. Brian Abscaiano’s article critiquing the Calvinist claims on the use of 1 John 5:1 to support regeneration preceding faith is now available online.  While it was initially posted online, it was later  removed because the Journal it was published in did not grant permission for public posting.  However, after a year those rights revert back to the author.  Sadly this was not known initially, or it could have been posted publicly many years ago.  Well, better late than never!  This is a must read article on this important passage that Calvinists have wrongly used as a prooftext for their ordo salutis for many years.  The article is now available at the SEA site: “Brian J Abasciano, “Does Regeneration Precede Faith?  The Use of 1 John 5:1 as a Proof Text”

 

Great Quotes: Merrill C. Tenney on John 1:12-13 And Faith Preceding Regeneration

This provides the initial definition of ‘believe’ by equating it with ‘receive.’ When we accept a gift, whether tangible or intangible, we thereby demonstrate our confidence in its reality and trustworthiness. We make it part of our own possessions. By being so received, Jesus gives to those who receive him a right to membership in the family of God.

‘Become’ indicates clearly that people are not the spiritual children of God by natural birth, for we cannot become what we already are. This verb implies a change of nature. The word children (tekna) is parallel to the Scottish bairns– “born ones.” It emphasizes the vital origin and is used as a term of endearment (cf. Luke 15:31). Believers are God’s ‘little ones,’ related to him by birth.” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, pg. 32)

The implications are obvious.  The new birth is received by faith and we become God’s children through faith.  John 1:12 simply cannot be made to comport with the Calvinist claim that regeneration precedes faith.  Indeed, it proves that contention false.

Related:

Dr. Brian Abasciano on the Conditionality  Implied in Romans 9:16 and its Connection to John 1:12-13

The Arminian and Calvinist Ordo Salutis: A Brief Comparative Study

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

Dr. Brian Abasciano’s Second Response to James White on 1 John 5:1

Brian Abasciano, “A Reply to James White on 1 John 5:1 And The Order of Faith and Regeneration”

You can find the beginning of his interaction with James White here

Excerpt:

Ironically, it is White who argues regarding 1 John 5:1 as the JW’s do regarding 2 Peter 1:1. For they point to minor syntactical differences in 2 Peter 1:1 from the other uses of the Granville Sharp construction in 2 Peter to argue that 1:1 does not refer to Jesus as God. Compare White arguing that the minor syntactical differences in 1 John 2:29, 4:7, and 5:1 from other instances in John involving an articular present participle combined with a perfect indicative make 2:29, 4:7, and 5:1 a special Johannine usage that differs from normal Greek grammar. Take this example of JW apologist Greg Strafford arguing the JW position on 2 Peter 1:1.

_____________

“We can see that four out of the five articulated nouns are the same; one is significantly different. In 2 Peter 1:1 we have θεός and in the other four Peter uses κύριος. The question we ask is, Why would Peter call Christ “God” in verse 1, but in 1:11, 2:20, 3:2, and 3:18 use “Lord”? . . . he uses “Lord” for Jesus in a number of instances. . . However, when referring to the Father, Peter uses θεός 45 times, excluding 2 Peter 1:1” (Greg Stafford,Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended: An Answer to Scholars and Critics (2nd edn.; Huntington Beach: Elihu Books, 2000, 404).

_____________

Notice how similarly the JW apologist argues to White. He argues that a minor difference in Peter’s use of the construction in 2 Peter 1:1 means it does not carry the same import as the construction normally does in 2 Peter—and though he does not mention it specifically, generally in Greek grammar. And his numbers are much more impressive than White’s. Rather than 2 instances White can cite in 1 John, Stafford points to 4 in 2 Peter (admittedly there are only 4 instances of the present participle/perfect indicative construction in John outside of 1 John 5:1, two that White can point to and two that go against him). And then he points out that Peter uses θεός of the Father a whopping 45 times excluding 2 Peter 1:1. Talk about a consistent pattern! Of course, we know that Stafford is wrong here in his conclusions, and so is White in regard to 1 John 5:1. In the former case, normal Greek grammar identifies Jesus with God and minor syntactical difference does not change that. In the latter case, normal Greek grammar portrays the action of the present participle and perfect indicative as roughly simultaneous (or the present participle preceding the perfect indicative) allowing for logical order but not indicating it, and minor syntactical differences do not change that.

 

Dr. Brian Abasciano Answers James White on 1 John 5:1

You can find the link to the podcast and some brief supplemental comments from Dr. Abasciano at SEA:

Brian Abasciano Interviewed on the Claims of James White Concerning the Greek of 1 John 5:1 and the Order of Faith and Regeneration

Addressing the Calvinist Claim That God Can Irresisitibly Cause (Make) People to “Freely” Love Him

Below is a recent response to a Calvinist in a discussion forum which addresses the oft repeated Calvinist claim that while God works in the elect irresistibly, the elect still freely come to Christ in such a way that their free will is not violated. In other words, Calvinists often say that it is a misrepresentation of Calvinism to suggest that God saves people “against their will”, while it seems that their theological claims cannot actually avoid that logical conclusion.  This is a part of a conversation I recently had with a Calvinist that made this claim:

Calvinist: “My wife made me willing to love her the first time I saw her. She was so appealing to me I knew that I had to have her. That is what the Lord does to His people. He makes us willing by showing us our desperate need of Him and then the beauty of His salvation. He makes us willing by giving us a new heart to know our need and to see the wonder of the truth of the Gospel as it is in Christ.”

Me: “But prior to that we were God haters who wanted nothing to do with God, so the analogy fails. And we didn’t want a “new heart” prior to God giving us one (in Calvinism, since in my view the new heart is clearly and Biblically the result of faith, and not the cause). It would be like someone using a mind control device in someone who hated broccoli and controlling the mind in such a way that it suddenly found broccoli irresistibly attractive. Would we say that the person then freely chose to love broccoli? Of course not.”

Calvinist: “That is why Christ said that you must be born again in order to even see the kingdom of God. The new nature must come before faith. God making us willing is not mind control in the sense that you describe it but giving us a new nature and a new mind. Of course the analogy isn’t perfect but it does illustrate the fact that we can be made to love without it being against our will.”

Me: “No it doesn’t. If we were God haters that wanted nothing to do with Christ prior to His irresistible act of “giving us a new heart” that “makes us willing”, then it was certainly “against our will” because our will was to hate and reject God prior to His irresistible working in us. It would be like a man meeting a girl at a bar and the girl doesn’t like him and wants nothing to do with him. In fact, she finds him repulsive. So the man slips a pill in her drink that removes her inhibitions and causes her to begin to find him attractive, even to the point of “making her willing” to sleep with him. Now if this incident was brought before the court, would the court say that the man is not liable for violating the woman against her will, since the pill he put in her drink “made her willing”? Of course not. Nobody would say that she freely chose to be with the man under such circumstances, and no one would say that her will was not violated.”

“As distasteful as this illustration might be, it illustrates the exact same principle behind your claims that while God “makes us willing” this making us willing by “giving us a new heart” is not a violation of the person’s will. Instead of dropping a pill into our drink, God drops a “new heart” into our God hating chest. The only difference would be that in your view of how God works, the “effects” of the “drug” would never wear off. But that doesn’t change the fact that a person’s will has been obviously violated in the process.”

“It really is pretty simple. If God’s working faith into us is not resistible, but irresistible, then it certainly violates freedom and the will. That is so obvious, it shouldn’t even need to be pointed out. If you want to say that God irresistibly brings sinners to faith and love and devotion to Him (by irresistibly removing their “hate God heart” and putting in a “love God heart”) because you think the Bible teaches that, then fine. But trying to then claim that God does this in such a way that we freely come to him in such a way that our wills are not violated is clearly incoherent. You can’t have it both ways. Sorry.”

Related posts:

Resistible Grace or Sinless Perfection? A Call For Theological Precision in the Calvinist Accounting of Monergistic Conversion

The Reality of Choice and the Testimony of Scripture

No Real Choice in Calvinism

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

A.W. Tozer on “Dead in Sin” Meaning Regeneration Must Precede Faith

Because the Bible teaches about sinners being dead, some therefore claim that a person is dead. He is unable to think, to help himself, to reason or to want to do right. He cannot make up his mind to do right or repent. He is unable to do anything until he has been regenerated by a sovereign arbitrary act of God. Then he repents, believes and turns to God only after he has been regenerated. That is taking the passage of Scripture “dead in sin” and making it simply ridiculous. (Tozer, Experiencing the Presence of God)

Related:

What Can an the Dead in Sin Do?

Jesus Says The Dead Will Hear Unto Spiritual Life

The Arminian and Calvinist Ordo Salutis: A Brief Comparative Study