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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • Rev. David Thommen (URC)
  • John Hendryx
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  • « The Arraignment of Error by Samuel Bolton | Main | "I Can Only Believe in What I See" »

    Dead Men Walking by Pastor John Samson

    Just how dead is dead? Exactly what can a dead person do?

    And you were dead in your trespasses and sins... - Ephesians 2:1. The Greek word here for "dead" is the word nekros which means "dead like a corpse." As far as his relationship to God is concerned, man is a lifeless corpse, unable to respond or even make a single move toward God, unless God first brings this spiritually dead corpse to life. He is dead in trespasses and sins. It is a very strange kind of death because while dead, he is nevertheless up and about actively practicing sin. He is what horror stories call a zombie - dead but walking around. This is a fair description of what Paul says about human nature in its lost condition. He is biologically alive but spiritually dead.

    The sinner actively practices evil. His will is enslaved (John 8:34) and he is also by nature an object of God's wrath (Eph. 2:3). He has a will, most definitely, but he has no desire to seek after God (Rom 3:11) or submit to Him, in fact he cannot do so (Rom 8:7, 8), without the direct and gracious intervention of God.

    This is why without Sovereign election, evangelism would be the most futile activity imaginable. It would be much like a salesman trying to sell his products in a graveyard. The dead need to be raised to life before a salesman can make a sale! The dead have no interest in skin cream products, double glazed windows, hair loss prevention treatments, air purifiers or the latest and greatest vacuum cleaner. They are not moved by even the greatest of sales pitches! Why? Well that's pretty obvious, isn't it? Its because the dead are, in a word.... dead!

    The same is true regarding a person coming to Christ. We need to be born again, or born from above, before we can even see or enter the kingdom of God (John 3). We need to be brought to life before we can actually do anything spiritually. There's a logical order involved. Theologians refer to this as the ordo salutis, which is Latin for "the order of salvation." Though being born again and exercising faith may be instantaneous in terms of our awareness in time, logically, one thing has to come before the other. It is a logical rather than a temporal distinction. When someone is dead, resurrection needs to take place before a person can even think about moving a muscle, or walking in a certain direction. It is not the walking that takes place before the resurrection. No, it is the other way around. Dead people don't walk, living people do. In the same way, spiritually speaking, regeneration (being made alive, or born again) must precede faith. A person needs to be raised from the dead before they can take any steps towards Him.

    Remember Lazarus, as a lifeless corpse in the tomb? He did not cooperate with Christ with regard to his own resurrection. He did not because he could not. Jesus simply called out "Lazarus come forth!" and this call was an effectual call because it was sufficient in and of itself to bring dead Lazarus back to life. No other help was necessary. The call was powerful enough to do the job all by itself!

    Christ did not interview the dead man Lazarus and ask if he would like to be resurrected - then once having got the "all clear" from Lazarus went ahead with His plan. Christ did not need any kind of assistance from Lazarus to raise him from death. Certainly, Lazarus' will was not a factor in the miracle.

    Nor did Lazarus, once brought back to life, immediately escort Jesus to the local court in an attempt to sue Him for violating his free will - his libertarian rights as a dead man to stay dead! No, for the rest of his earthly life, Lazarus was deeply grateful for the unspeakable mercy he had received from the Master.

    Lazarus' resurrection from physical death provides a beautiful picture of what God does in our regeneration from spiritual death. Once receiving this grace of resurrection, Lazarus was able to walk out of the tomb. Once the elect receive the grace of regeneration, once given a new heart, they repent, they believe and they come to Christ.

    Ephesians 2:1-10 states this in the following way:

    1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,
    2 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.
    3 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.
    4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
    5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
    6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
    7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
    8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
    9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
    10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

    Colossians 2:13 also states, "When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him..."

    In Ephesians 2:5, and in Colossians 2:13, the scripture says that it was when we were dead that God made us alive. Notice that not one mention is made of our role in all this. It does not say, "when you were dead, you decided to cooperate with God's grace, and He then raised you..." I actually don't know how the Apostle Paul could have taught Divine monergism more clearly. It was when we were dead like a corpse (nekros) that God made us alive.

    Concerning this passage in Ephesians 2, Dr. R. C. Sproul writes "Paul provides a graphic description of our spiritual impotence prior to regeneration. He is addressing the Ephesian believers and describing a prior condition in which they all once shared. He adds the phrase “just as the others” (2:3), presumably referring to the whole of mankind. He declares that this prior condition was a state of death: “You were dead in trespasses and sins.” Again, this death is obviously not a biological death, as he enumerates activities that these dead, persons were involved in. The characteristic behavioral mode of people dead in trespasses and sins is described in terms of walking a particular course. He calls it the “course of this world” (2:1-2). Here the course of this world obviously refers to a course or pattern that is opposed to the course of heaven. The words "this world" refer not so much to a location as to a style or a point of reference. It involves a this-worldly orientation. Christians and non-Christians alike share the same sphere of operations. We all live out our lives in this world. The regenerate person’s course, however, is guided from above. He has his eye on heaven and his ear attuned to the King of heaven. The unregenerate person is earthbound. His ear is deaf to any word from heaven; his eye is blinded to the glory from on high. He lives as a walking cadaver in a spiritual graveyard."

    The spiritually dead person may or may not have an interest in some kind of religion, but one thing is certain; he has absolutely no interest in a relationship with the real God of the Bible. He walks according to the course mapped out for him in this world. He does what he does, because he wants to do it. He makes choices everyday about what he will eat, what he will wear, where he will spend his vacation... but one choice he will never make while still in the flesh is to respond to the Gospel of Christ. Why? Because he really doesn't want Christ. He might want some of the benefits of a walk with Christ (like peace, joy, and having purpose to life) but he doesn't want the Christ of Scripture. It is only the direct intervention of God while in this state of death, that changes the disposition of a man's heart to desire God and to be right with Him. Hearts are changed from God haters into God lovers by His all conquering grace alone.

    In John 5:21, Jesus declared, "For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes." Sovereign Grace removes all ground for boasting, demolishes all human pride and exalts His grace as the sole efficient cause of a sinner's salvation. As Jonah 2:9 says, "Salvation is of the Lord." Therefore the glory for it goes to God, and to God alone.

    Jesus said that "no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father." (John 6:65) There is one thing, and one thing only that differentiates the redeemed in heaven and those who will suffer the eternal punishment of hell. It is not intelligence, nor spiritual aptitude, nor the efforts or will of man. It is not something found within the creature at all, but within the Sovereign heart and purpose of God himself. What causes us to differ is simply a five letter word called GRACE.

    Posted by John Samson on January 19, 2006 02:11 AM

    Comments

    This is a profitable post - thank you for it. I do believe that Paul's graphic picture in Ephesians 2 is one that escapes the modern man's comprehension because he is no longer required to deal with death as previous generations were required to. Paul's language couldn't be much clearer, and yet how often is this truth denied. Popular theology views man as being nearly dead or sickly, but still having that "spark of life" in him; but the Apostle seals the issue for us by saying that men are dead nekros - he doesn't even use thanatos which lexically favors the idea of the event of death rather than the resultant condition of death and the decay that accompanies it [nekros]. It is as if he tells us that men are dead, being in a state of fleshly decay as they walk about in their sinful death march. Clearly, men need more than a resuscitation - Man requires a monergistic miracle, and nothing less.

    John, this is John H...

    Thanks for the fine post. Related to this, yesterday I came across this argument against the doctrine of original sin. I put it here to see if you can spot the inconsistencies. How would you respond to this?


    This loss of ability to receive spiritual truth is one of the consequences of Original Sin, we are told. If this is true, we would surely expect to find some mention of it in the Genesis account. Yet there is no record there of God imposing this curse of Total Inability on man's nature. There are other curses listed. God pronounced the death sentence, which He defined as a return to the dust (Gen. 3:19). Such language obviously denotes a physical death, not a loss of spiritual ability or a death to God.

    God decreed the presence of "thorns and thistles" to make toil more difficult (v.18). He told the woman that she must endure great pain in childbearing (v.16). Both of these curses are trivial compared to what would be the most debilitating curse of all: the removal of all ability to respond to God. Of this we haven't the slightest mention. George Burnap comments:

    "If this doctrine is true, God did not tell man the true penalty, neither the truth, nor the whole truth, nor a hundredth part of the truth. To have told the whole truth, according to this hypothesis, He should have said, 'Because ye have done this, cursed be that moral nature which I have given you. Henceforth such is the change I make in your natures: that ye shall be, and your offspring, infinitely odious and hateful in my sight. The moment their souls shall go forth from my hand...if they are suffered to live, such shall be the diseased constitution of their moral natures: that they shall have no freedom to do one single good action, but everything they do shall be sin....What an awful blot would such a curse be on the first pages of Scripture!"6

    It is true that death passed upon all men through the First Adam. His expulsion from the Garden with its Tree of Life removed him from the source of immortality and made death certain. This is also true of his posterity. But the transmission of Total Inability toward God is nowhere conveyed in the text.

    Two primary texts adduced to prove the doctrine of Original Sin (Rom. 5; 1 Cor. 15) say nothing about Total Inability. Nowhere are we told that an invincible tendency to resist God was imparted to the race through the offense of one. If there were a place we would expect to find the doctrine, it would be in one of those passages dealing with the relationship between Adam and his descendants. But there is not a trace of such teaching there.

    Hi John,

    I would respond to such argumentation by going back to the text of scripture there in Genesis.

    One of the things hermenuetics teaches us is that we can ascertain the correct interpretation of scripture, sometimes by looking back in scripture and sometimes by looking forward. For instance, it might be difficult to understand what is being portrayed when Moses lifted up a bronze serpent on a pole in the wilderness, so that those who looked to it would be healed from the poison inflicted from snake bites.. We might understand the incident itself but not make the connection between this and the work of Christ. That is the case until Christ Himself explains the typology of the incident in John 3:14-15 - "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life."

    We now understand the brazen serpent incident by looking forward to Christ, and we understand the work of Christ better by looking back to the type of the serpent in the wilderness in the life of Moses. That is just one principle of hermeneutics in a nutshell.

    So, back to Genesis 2:16-17 - the scripture says, "The LORD God commanded the man, saying, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die."

    The literal Hebrew reads, "dieing you shall die."

    What exactly does this mean? Well what we see here could simply be the normal Hebrew method of emphasis when there is a repeating or a restating of something - i.e. you shall die... and you'll really be dead! Or it could mean that you shall die in one way and it will also result in another type of death. Which is it?

    I believe we get a big clue regarding the answer by the opening part of the verse which states that the death would occur, "in the day" that the forbidden fruit is eaten. On that day, dieing you shall die.

    Question: Was capital punishment carried out "on the day" Adam and Eve sinned?

    The answer is "No, not if we are talking about physical death." That's because Adam lived hundreds of years after this incident.

    So, was the sentence of death carried out?

    Yes, Adam died in some sense the moment he sinned. If the nature of the death was not physical, then what was it?

    Emotional death? No, I don't believe so.

    Intellectual death? No.

    Spiritual death? Well what do we see as we look at the text?

    It reads, "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" He said, "I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself." Genesis 3:7-10

    A dramatic change had definitely taken place. No longer was the presence of the Lord and the sound of His voice something Adam and Eve enjoyed. Now understanding their nakedness (something they had been unaware of before) they hid themselves from God.

    Isn't this what spiritual death is? A running and a hiding from God? Isn't this what Romans 3:11 describes as our condition, when it says, literally, "There is no God seeker"?

    When we take what Scripture says after Genesis 3... all of it... and then look back at Genesis 3 we can see the massive impact of the Fall. Man left to himself while in the flesh cannot submit to God (Romans 3), cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3), cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God (1 Cor 2:14), etc., etc.

    Just as Genesis 3 states the work of the Redeemer with the crushing of the serpent's head (3:15) but doesn't give us all the full details of the atonement of Christ, I believe Genesis 3 also shows us, in seed like form, the full consequences of the Fall.

    The day Adam and Eve ate of the fruit they died (spiritually), and as a result, they eventually died physically. Physical death is a result of spiritual death. Though a full and comprehensive description of spiritual death may not be found in Genesis 3, certainly it is found throughout the rest of scripture.

    I am sure more can be said, but I will stop here as this comment is already getting long. Perhaps John you can take it from here...


    John H.... re: the argument you encountered against original sin....

    Where to begin! The fellow (I assume it is a "he") interprets Genesis in light of his own philosophical assumption that physical death does not necessarily come from spiritual death. If a man dies physically, is it not because there was spiritual death at some point? Of course, Christians have been "made alive" spiritually in Christ, and we still experience physical death, but we have been "made alive" spiritually, which means we were once "dead in our trespasses"!!!

    It is crucial to interpret Scripture in light of other Scripture. If we were left to read Genesis as it stands, without the further revelation of the New Testament, then we might (though I seriously doubt it) come to the conclusion that people are only affected by physical death and not the spiritual death that comes in Adam. But then, we'd be left without much hope for redemption in Christ, just from reading Genesis, apart from further revelation. We need the rest of Scripture to tell us what's happening in Genesis, and the rest of Scripture clearly points to spiritual death... total spiritual inability.

    The two texts he claims don't speak of total inability/depravity (Rom. 5; 1 Cor. 15), necessarily assume the spiritual death so clearly set forth in Eph. 2. If we're "dead" in Adam, and "made alive" in Christ (as Rom. 5 says), then even if it's speaking only of physical death, it necessarily assumes spiritual death, otherwise there would be no physical death! And 1 Cor. 15 speaks of the resurrection of the body—how is it that we attain to this, except by being "born again," "made [spiritually] alive," and so on? If we who die physically need to be made alive physically, how does it happen but by being made alive spiritually? And if we need to be made alive spiritually, then obviously we were previously dead.

    "Whatever is not from faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23). If we need faith in order to be saved, and if we're not born saved, then we need faith from the moment we're born. Otherwise, we're in sin, and can do no other.

    John S, Eric:

    WOW! You both make some excellent points, ones that are quite helpful. Hard to improve upon. Thanks for explaining some useful ideas.

    There are a couple other points closely related to what you say that I think should be communicated to someone with this view in order to lay the ax at the root of this erroneous view:

    1) Take note of a statement made in the first paragraph of his thesis. He says, "(Gen. 3:19). Such language obviously denotes a physical death, not a loss of spiritual ability or a death to God."

    He is asserting, in the above, that unsaved persons have "spiritual ability". I would be very interested to know how he defines the word "spiritual". Does he define it like moderns do to mean any emotional high we get from a supposed personal communion with a god or higher being, or does he take "spiritual" in the Christian sense, i.e. related to the Holy Spirit? If so, he is then claiming that unbelievers possess the Holy Spirit and can think spiritual thoughts via the agency of the Spirit while unregenerate. But the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, if it makes anything clear it is that persons are not born with the Holy Spirit and are thus, unspiritual BY NATURE (1 Cor 2; john 6:"63-65). Unspiritual again meaning, the absense of the Holy Spirit for it exalts man's natural powers apart from the grace of Christ.

    This means nothing if it does not mean one cannot believe the gospel apart from the Holy Spirit. Do you believe the person denying original sin would be able to affirm that we can come to Christ apart from the Spirit? If he did then I believe he went away without the Holy Spirit as well. To deny the necessity of the Holy Spirit in salvation is simply rank Pelagianism, an anti-Scriptural heresy and thus quite unChristian.

    After the fall the Scripure enunciates that mankind is unspiritual (without the Spirit) and does not merely need to be persuaded with words to believe the gospel, but needs the grace of Jesus Christ as applied by the Spirit (1 Thess 1:4, 5). Anyone who claims that one can come to Christ without the grace of Christ in the Holy Spirit has abandoned all belief in grace.

    The state of the natural man is that he does not have the Spirit of God and thus cannot think spiritual thoughts, unless God enables him.

    I would recommend challenging anyone who denies original sin to answer plainly if the unbeliever has the Holy Spirit at any time from birth onward. If not, then he should lay aside his unbiblical argument about the not being any original sin.

    2) Jesus suffered the wrath of God, not for his faults, but for ours. It often amazes me that persons denying original sin are willing to accept Jesus' federal headship with regards to the forgiveness of sin, but unwilling to accept Adam's federal headship in imputing sin to us. They will glad let Jesus impute his righteousness to us, but not have Adam impute guilt. This is clearly how God acts toward us, and though we might not like it, this is clearly the revelation of Holy Writ. Romans 5, though he denies it, at least teaches us this much.

    Solus Christus
    John Hendryx

    I like the way the Apostle Paul explains our condition (who don't know Christ) "For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God;for it is not subject to the Law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God." Roman's 8:6-8 This clearly explains our "dead" condition outside of Christ. It is our glorious,Lord Christ who truly gives life to a corpse.

    Sola Deo gloria.

    John Hendryx,

    My spirit agree with your explanation about total depravity of a man. I was amazed the way you explain it. Praise God for the wisdom from above.

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