“Calvinism” series: (post #2)
And you He made alive who were dead in trespasses and sins… (Ephesians 2:1, N.K.J.V.)
And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together, with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses… (Colossians 2:13, N.K.J.V.)
These two verses plainly teach that Christians were “dead in trespasses and sins” before being made alive in Christ. Calvinism defines this state of death as “total depravity,” and this term is the “T” in the T-U-L-I-P acrostic. Consequently, Calvinists say of a lost person making the decision to place saving belief (faith) in Jesus, “A dead person can’t make a decision.” In this way, Calvinism equates “total depravity” with “total inability.” This leads Calvinists to two conclusions. First, mankind’s freedom of choice has been forfeited since the fall into sin in the garden of Eden. Second, salvation is 100% of God.
Someone says, “But the individual has to play at least some role in salvation because he has to provide the saving belief (faith) that leads to the born-again experience.” Calvinism’s answer to that is, “No, the saving belief (faith) itself is actually a part of God’s gift of salvation.” You see, Calvinists do not dispute the fact that the sinner must make the personal decision to place saving belief (faith) in Jesus in order to get saved. It is their contention, however, that God has to first sovereignly regenerate the dead sinner to the point where the sinner has the spiritual life to make the decision.
Putting it another way, Calvinism teaches that God has to first create the born-again experience within the person before the person can pass from being “dead in trespasses and sins” and therefore have the ability to place the belief (faith) in Jesus. As Arthur Pink, one of the most famous Calvinists who ever lived, wrote in his book, The Sovereignty of God, “Faith is not the cause of the new birth, but the consequence of it.” This is why non-Calvinists often criticize Calvinism by saying, “Calvinists believe that you have to get saved before you can get saved.”
Here are some passages (all from the N.K.J.V.) that Calvinists cite to support their idea that God has to impart the saving belief (faith) to the sinner who is dead in trespasses and sins:
- John 1:13: But as many as received Him (Jesus), to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
- John 5:21: “For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will.”
- John 6:65: And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”
- John 8:43,47: “Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word…He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.”
- John 12:39: Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, Lest they should see with their eyes, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.”
- 1 Corinthians 2:14: But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
- 2 Peter 1:1: Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Now, to be clear, the Bible does teach that each person has the nature of sin coursing through him from the moment of conception (Psalm 51:5). This means that the person doesn’t become a sinner by committing acts of sin, but rather that he instinctively chooses to commit acts of sin because he is a sinner (Romans 3:9-23). Him being conceived a sinner is the inevitable result of him being a byproduct of Adam’s sin-corrupted seed (Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22). And it is because the individual is a sinner by conception that he can rightly be described as being “dead in trespasses and sins.”
What must be understood, however, is that there is a difference between being spiritually dead and physically dead. As Paige Patterson, the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has said in reference to Ephesians 2:1-3, “Look at what dead men do.” And what does Ephesians 2:1-3 say that dead mean do? Those verses say:
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. (N.K.J.V.)
Along the same lines, in John 4:23 Jesus tells the lost Samaritan woman:
“But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth: for the Father is seeking such to worship Him” (N.K.J.V.).
What’s odd about that quote is the fact that it can be taken to mean that God seeks sincere acts of worship from lost people such as that woman. What I mean is, Jesus didn’t say to her, “The Father knows that you are dead in trespasses and sins, and a dead person can’t worship or do anything else spiritually.” I’ll admit that this isn’t a point that we should stretch too far, but let’s at least acknowledge that Jesus didn’t speak to that lost woman as if she couldn’t do anything spiritually.
Getting back to our two text verses for this post, obviously they are not talking about physical death. If they were, it’s certainly true that a physically dead corpse can’t make a decision. But, as Patterson has well pointed out, a spiritually dead person is still very much alive physically and thus very much capable of making a willful decision for either worsening his spiritual standing or bettering it. Consider the following passages (all references from the N.K.J.V.):
- In Matthew 23:37 (and Luke 13:34), Jesus mourns over the fact that the inhabitants of Jerusalem would not let Him gather them to Himself as a hen gathers her chicks. He says, “I wanted to gather your children together…but you were not willing.”
- In John 5:40, Jesus says to a group of lost Jewish religious leaders, “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.”
- In Acts 26:28, Agrippa displays his free will in refusing Jesus or believing in Him when he says to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.”
- In Luke 15:18, the prodigal son exercises his free will when he says, “I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.'”
- In Genesis 4:5-8, God offers forgiveness and salvation to Cain, but Cain exercises his free will, refuses to heed God, and ultimately dies lost. (Jude verses 11-13)
- In Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Moses offers God’s blessing or cursing upon the Israelites. They had a freewill choice which one they wanted.
- In Joshua 24:1-28, Joshua makes the same offer to another generation of Israelites, and they had the same freewill choice to make.
- In Isaiah 1:18-20, Isaiah makes the same offer to the Jews of Judah.
- In Exodus 35:21, we read about the Israelites “whose spirit was willing” to obey the Lord in bringing the articles to be used in the building of the Tabernacle.
- In 1 Chronicles 29:5, David asks the question, “Who then is willing to consecrate himself this day to the Lord?”
Let’s be honest, any offer of salvation that is made to a person who doesn’t have the innate ability to accept it is little more than a taunt. It’s like a horse eternally plodding along, trying to reach a carrot on a stick that remains forevermore just a few feet in front of his nose. As a matter of fact, forget about God’s offer of salvation being a taunt; it’s actually even worse than that. It’s just downright mean for God to command belief (faith) from individuals who can’t give it.
For example, Jesus might as well have said to those inhabitants of Jerusalem, “Oh, if only you weren’t dead in your trespasses and sins, I could gather you together as a hen gathers her chicks.” He might as well have said to those lost Jewish religious leaders, “Boy, spiritual life is great! It’s such a shame that you can’t have it because you are incapable of making the decision to receive it.” Moses, Joshua, and Isaiah might as well have said to their audiences, “You can have God’s blessing or God’s cursing; oh, wait, you’ll have to take the cursing because you are still dead in your trespasses and sins. Sorry about that. Didn’t mean to get your hopes up.”
By the way, anytime a passage speaks of Jews not being willing to come to Jesus so that He could give them life, we should keep in mind that the Jews were God’s chosen, covenant people from Old Testament times. So the question becomes, “Shouldn’t these people have been among “the elect”? Obviously, though, a wide swath of them weren’t. As John 1:11 says: “He came to His own, and His own did not know Him” (N.K.J.V.).
Of course, we shouldn’t overlook the opening part of that verse, either. It says that Jesus came to His own. Why is that important? It’s important because there’s no disputing that it is God who has to take the initiative in coming to those who are “dead in trespasses and sins.” As Romans 3:11 says: “There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God” (N.K.J.V.). (Other passages that prove this point are Matthew 16:13-17, John 3:27, and John 6:44,65.) But once God has started dealing with an individual, the individual’s free will does come into play.
The classic passage on this is the story of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit. In so doing they became “dead in trespasses and sins” (Genesis 3:1-7). This spiritual death caused them to hide from God rather than run to Him (Genesis 3:8) as the desire to avoid Him and remain spiritually dead showcased their depravity.
But God, in His mercy, grace, and love, began the process of reconciling Himself to them by seeking them out and calling to Adam (Genesis 3:9). It was at this point that Adam and Eve’s free will came into play as they could either accept God’s call or remain hidden. After all, even though God knew exactly where they were all the time, He wasn’t going to drag them out of the bushes and make them talk to Him.
Thankfully for all of us, Adam spoke up and began a conversation with God, one in which Eve also participated (Genesis 3:10-13). This proves that even in a fallen, sinful, depraved state — one in which God hasn’t yet altered the individual in any way — the individual can make a decision to accept God’s call or shun it. In other words, “total depravity” isn’t the same as “total inability.” What “total depravity” really means is that the sinner cannot save himself by way of his supposedly “good” works. He can’t do this because, in reality, none of his works are actually “good” (Isaiah 64:6-7; Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:10-18; 1 Corinthians 2:14; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:3-7).
One final objection the Calvinist might offer to all this is Hebrews 12:2, which says: “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…” (N.K.J.V.). Calvinists love to point out that the Greek word translated as “author” can be translated as “originator” or “source,” the implication being that the individual has no faith of his own to place in Jesus; he only has any faith that Jesus originates in him. The fact is, though, that the Greek word in question, archegos, primarily denotes someone who takes the lead in an endeavor. This explains why the same word is also translated as “captain” (Hebrews 2:10, N.K.J.V.) and “Prince” (Acts 3:15, 5:31, N.K.J.V.)
Here again, there’s no question that Jesus has to take the lead in getting the sinner saved, just as God took the lead in seeking out Adam and Eve. But does this mean that the sinner merely becomes a hand puppet in the process, one with no free will of his own? No, it doesn’t. Notice that even the Hebrews 12:2 verse opens with the words “looking unto Jesus.” Those words are very important because that “look” is the sinner’s part, the part that Jesus won’t do. This, then, is how salvation works. You can’t do Jesus’ part, and He won’t do your part.