Ephesians 2:1-7 (see also Luke 15:22-24; Romans 6:11; Romans 7:9-13; 1st Timothy 5:6)
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with 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 toward us in Christ Jesus.
J. Vernon McGee comments: “Spiritual death is a separation from God. After man sinned, he could go on living physically and mentally, but he was spiritually dead, separated from God.” (Thru the Bible commentary series: Ephesians, p.69, emphasis mine)
That’s precisely what is meant by being dead in sin. It is separation from God.
Calvinist, James White, explains: “On the level of spiritual capacity the unregenerate man is just like Lazarus: dead, bound, incapable of ‘self-resurrection.’ It would be patently absurd to demand that Jesus first ask Lazarus for ‘permission’ to raise him to spiritual life. Corpses are not known for engaging in a great deal of conversations. No, before Lazarus can respond to Christ’s command to come forth, something must happen. Corpses do not obey commands, corpses do not move. Jesus changed Lazarus’ condition first: Lazarus’ heart was made new; his mind revitalized. Blood began once again to course through his veins. What was once dead is now alive, and can heart the voice of his beloved Lord, ‘Come forth!’ The term ‘irresistible’ then must be understood as speaking to the inability of dead sinners to resist resurrection to new life.” (The Potter’s Freedom, pp.284-285, emphasis mine)
Calvinist, R.C. Sproul, states: “Arminians do not appreciate this analogy and protest that we are here comparing apples to oranges. Obviously in the case of physical death, a corpse cannot respond or cooperate.” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.186, emphasis mine)
Sproul states: “We respond in a manner similar to that of Lazarus when, after being loosed, he stepped out of the tomb. In like manner we step out of our tombs of spiritual death.” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.186, emphasis mine)
Like manner, according to who?
Sproul adds: “Lazarus was dead, not critically ill or at the point of dying.” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.186, emphasis mine)
Yes, physically dead.
Sproul continues: “He was already a corpse and was decomposing. The stench from his rotting body was repugnant to his sister Martha.” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.186, emphasis mine)
So when you became a Christian, was your body a decomposing, rotting, repugnant stench? Of course, every Calvinist will immediately answer yes, from a spiritual standpoint. The Calvinist appears totally committed to blurring the distinction between physical and spiritual death.
One person comments: “There is no credible basis to assert that Lazarus’ physical condition is comparable to the natural man’s spiritual condition. Using this as an example to prove total deadness and the need for new life is a serious case of eisegesis, since nowhere is the idea hinted at in Scripture, that Lazarus, being raised from the dead, is like the believer being quickened by the Spirit.”
Consider what Jesus said when Zaccheus pledged: “‘Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.’” (Luke 19:8-10)
When Jesus said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost,” He could just as easily have said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was dead,” and none of the meaning would have been lost because spiritual death, being separation, is apparent.
To further complicate the Calvinist argument, John Calvin demonstrates the following contradiction:
John Calvin admits: “Some kind of life, I acknowledge, does remain in us, while we are still strangers to Christ; for unbelief does not extinguish every sense, or the will, or the other faculties of the soul. But what has this to do with the Kingdom of God? What has it to do with the blessed life, when everything we think and wish is death? Let this, then, stand fast, that the union of our soul with God is the true and only life; and that outside Christ we are altogether dead, because sin, the cause of death, reigns in us.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, p.139, emphasis mine)
As soon as Calvin says, “some kind of life,” any analogy to Lazarus is forfeited.
Paul speaks of spiritual death where the penalty of sin results in condemnation and judgment. Jesus states: “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18) So this is not necessarily a picture of a man being a corpse, but of a man being condemned under the weight of the Law, and it was for these who were under the Law, that Jesus bled and died to save. Galatians 4:4-5 states: “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” That means everyone. Even those who are saved, were at some point, “children of wrath.”
John Calvin comments: “A more severe condemnation of mankind could not have been pronounced. What does he leave to us, whom he declares to be the slaves of Satan, and subject to his will, so long as we live outside the Kingdom of Christ? Our condition, therefore, though many are pleased with it (or, at least, little displeased), ought certainly to horrify us. Where is now the free-will, the guidance of reason, the moral virtue, about which Papists babble so much? What will they find that is pure or holy under the tyranny of the devil? But they are shrewdly taking care of themselves when they abominate this doctrine of Paul’s as the worst heresy. But I say, that there is no obscurity in these words, and that all men who live according to the world, that is, to the inclinations of their flesh, fight under the command of Satan.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, p.140, emphasis mine)
The task for Calvinists is to take a passage concerning the condemnation of mankind under the Law, and turn it into the inability of mankind to respond to Christ’s appeal through the Gospel. Calvin is convinced that the Gospel is preached in “vain” apart from an alleged, Irresistible Grace:
John Calvin explains: “For as in His creation of the world God has poured forth upon us the brightness of the sun and has also given us eyes with which to receive it, so in our redemption He shines forth upon us in the person of His Son by His Gospel, but that would be in vain, since we are blind, unless He were also to illuminate our minds by His Spirit. Thus his meaning is that God has opened the eyes of our understanding by His Spirit to make us able to receive the light of His Gospel.” (Calvin’s Commentaries: II Corinthians, Timothy, Titus, Philemon, p.57, emphasis mine)
The Arminian charge against Calvinism is that it absolutely denies the “power” of the Gospel (Romans 1:16) and that Calvinists merely pay lip-service to the power of the Gospel. When the Calvinists insist that man is dead, remind them that the Gospel is not “in vain,” but is alive, being “living an active” (Hebrews 4:12) and that the only reason why anyone rejects the Gospel is because of a hardened heart. Hence, God warned: “Do not harden your hearts.” (Psalm 95:8)
Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer, writes: “Thus the doctrine of total depravity leads directly to that of unconditional election--a dead man cannot respond to the gospel’s appeal.” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.181, emphasis mine)
What happened to the dynamite power of the Gospel? Again, Arminians charge that Calvinist’s merely pay lip-service to the “power” of the Gospel (Romans 1:16), and instead to proclaim the dynamite power of Total depravity. Calvinism teaches that man is helpless, and yes, Arminians couldn’t agree more. The contrast in the debate of Calvinism vs. Arminianism is exactly how God intervenes. The Bible teaches that Christ seeks the lost (Luke 19:10), draws the lost (John 12:32) and knocks upon the heart’s door of the lost (Revelation 3:20) while the Holy Spirit convicts the heart of the lost (John 16:8), pricks the heart of the lost (Acts 26:14) and opens the heart of the lost in order to respond to the Gospel. (Acts 16:14)
Lutzer explains: “The corruption of sin extends to his mind as well as his will; consequently, no one seeks God. Because man is dead in trespasses and sins, God must regenerate him and even grant him the faith to believe.” (The Doctrines That Divide, pp.179-180, emphasis mine)
Lutzer adds: “Arminianism said man was sick; Calvinism said man was dead. If he is only sick, common grace might help him to recover by enabling him to make a right choice. But if he is spiritually dead, he needs the Give of Life to make the choice for him….” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.180, emphasis mine)
To the Calvinist, the choice is between two graces. Either the lost need Common Grace to enable them to believe, or the lost need Regenerative Grace in order to irresistibly believe. To the Calvinist, the answer to which grace is truly necessary, depends upon how “dead in sin” that you feel that the lost truly is. To the Arminian, the alternative is not between Common Grace and Irresistible Grace, but of Prevenient Grace and Irresistible Grace. Perhaps the Calvinist will feel that this distinction is merely splitting hairs, but the undeniable fact is that the Holy Spirit does in fact convict the world of its sin, as per John 16:8, and the power of the Gospel is living and active, as per Hebrews 4:12. So on the one hand, there really is a preceding grace, via the Holy Spirit and the power of the faith-producing Gospel, while on the other hand, you have Calvinistic Irresistible Grace which apparently, from Isaiah 5:1-5, is completely foreign to the scope of God’s involvement with the lost. So while the Calvinist wants to frame the debate as “Arminianism denying the deadness of man,” it is the Calvinist who underestimates John 16:8 and Hebrews 4:12. So when the Calvinist insists that man is dead, remind them that the Gospel is alive and produces faith. (Hebrews 4:12 and Romans 10:17)
Lutzer concludes: “Men are rescued from this slavery by God, who elects some to eternal life and others to reprobation. (The Doctrines That Divide, p.177, emphasis mine)
Calvinists are welcome to believe this, but in doing so, must bulldoze such Scripture as Matthew 23:37, 1st Timothy 2:3-4 and 2nd Peter 3:9.
John Calvin comments: “By grace ye have been saved. I do not know whether this has been inserted by another hand, but, as it is perfectly agreeable to the context, I am willing to receive it as written by Paul. We see that he is never satisfied with proclaiming the richness of grace, and accordingly emphasizes the same thing with many words, that everything in our salvation must be ascribed to God. And certainly he who duly weighs the ingratitude of men will not complain that this parenthesis is superfluous.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, pp.142-143, emphasis mine)
When Calvinists speak of grace, they refer to Regenerative Grace, determined by Elective Grace. In contrast, when non-Calvinists speak of grace, they speak of Atoning Grace, that is, The Cross, which is God’s gift of His Son, whose blood was shed for “the whole world” (1st John 2:2) such that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16) The graces of Calvinism stem from the premise of having an eternal standing with the Father apart from being in Christ, such that the eternal elect in the Father are given to the Son:
Calvinist, James White, writes: “I just also believe the undisputed and unrefuted fact that I come to Christ daily because the Father, on the sole basis of His mercy and grace, gave me to the Son in eternity past.” (Debating Calvinism, p.118, emphasis mine)
Calvinists are free to believe that, but they have no biblical basis for such an assertion which, incidentally, robs Christ of what God the Father alone reserved in His Son. Apart from being in Christ, you have no adoption in the Father, period. 1st John 2:24 states: “If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.” This is because no one comes to the Father, but through the Son. (John 14:6)
However, consider what Mephibosheth declared to King David, “What is your servant, that you should regard a dead dog like me?” (2nd Samuel 9:8) Dead you say? Ephesians 2:1 states: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins.” I think that Paul meant the same thing that Mephibosheth had in mind, and I don’t think that Paul meant what Calvinists make it out to be.