The Extent of Spiritual Death

“Very, Very Dead”

Calvinist Position:

Ephesians 2:1-2
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…”

The spirit of man is dead because of sin. A lot of people were crying and making all kinds of racket around Lazarus’ tomb during the four days he was laying their dead, but it didn’t wake him up or disturb his sleep. Lazarus didn’t help prepare his body for burial, didn’t give his opinion on who should be invited to the funeral or help decide on the menu for the guests; he was dead! We all know that dead men cannot do anything good or bad.

Lazarus was not able to respond to the people at his funeral. In the same way we couldn’t respond to God when we were dead spiritually. Everyone knows that a dead man cannot feel conviction for their sins or place their faith in Jesus Christ. Only living people can be convicted of their guilt or place their trust in something. A dead man can’t do anything. And a dead spirit cannot repent or believe! The only way that Lazarus could greet the guests who attended his funeral was by being raised from the dead. Only after he was alive could he be grateful that they had come to show their respects. And only after someone is born again by the grace and power of God can someone repent of their sins and place their trust in Christ. God decides who he will give life to, not because they repent and believe, but because of his predestined choice. He FIRST gives them new life, and THEN they are convicted of their sins, repent and believe. Faith and repentance are part of salvation, not the means by which we receive it.

The Biblical Response:

From my perspective Calvinists misunderstand the biblical concept of spiritual death. It is true that the Bible uses the term “dead” in regards to the spirits of unsaved people. But the question is in what sense is the spirit of man “dead”? As far as I understand them it seems they imagine that it means that the spirit of man is unconscious, inactive or in some way unable to positively respond to God even as Lazarus was when in his tomb.

First, it must be noted that the incident with Lazarus was given as illustration of the physical resurrection that will take place at the end of the world. In John chapter 5 Jesus taught that on judgment day he will command all men to be resurrected from the dead to face judgment. They will “hear his voice and come out.” In John chapter 11 Jesus is illustrating that he is the resurrection and the life. He proved that he has the authority to resurrect the dead both now and in the future. He is not illustrating spiritual resurrection, but physical resurrection. This is not to say we cannot illustrate spiritual death with the story of Lazarus, I just believe we need to understand that this not the primary purpose of the narrative and the analogy when used should not be pushed too far.

But in Luke chapter 15 Jesus does illustrate spiritual death and spiritual resurrection in the parable of the prodigal son. The younger son, in selfish rebellion, left his father after asking for his inheritance in advance. The son isolated himself from the father. Soon the son faced serious difficulties. He was starving, oppressed and alone. Then he “came to his senses” and remembered that his father had everything he needed. He decided to return home and ask for mercy. On his return the father welcomed him home with joy. He threw a party and proclaimed that his son “was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”

The son was “lost” in his sin. He was “dead” in sin and rebellion. He wasn’t “dead” in the sense that he could not respond to thoughts about the goodness, generosity and mercy of his father. He was “dead” because he was relationally separated from the father. By returning home he was once again alive in his relationship to his father. This illustrates in what sense the Bible says that lost souls are dead in their sins. They have willfully chosen to isolate themselves from God by their sins. But when God by His enabling grace convicts them they are able to respond to conviction, repent of their rebellion and trust in his mercy.

In the parable the son “came to his senses” all by himself. But in the first parable given in Luke chapter 15 (the parable of the lost sheep) we learn another important aspect of how sinners come home to God. We learn that God does not expect men who are dead in their sins to find their own way home. It is true that man cannot turn to God without God’s gracious help, but God does not leave men in darkness. But as a good shepherd he goes out to seek and save the lost.

God, like the father of the prodigal, does not want people to be lost. He wants all men to come to repentance. For this reason he sends both his Spirit and his Church to testify to the world of the salvation that is in Christ Jesus (John 15:26-27). The Spirit’s work is to “convict the world” about its sin (John 16:8-11). Note that the scripture says that the Spirit convicts “the world,” not people who have already been born again, but those who are dead in their sins. And by the power of the Spirit we are ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). Through us God cries out to the world, “Be reconciled to me.” God reaches out to the world and convicts them of their sins, pleading with them to come home. Those that receive His Son through Spirit inspired faith will be given the right to become children of God (John 1:12-13).

Ephesians 2:4-5 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when WE WERE DEAD IN TRESPASSES, MADE US ALIVE together with Christ- BY GRACE YOU HAVE BEEN SAVED.”

Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved, THROUGH FAITH.”

And the parallel passage:

Colossians 2:12-13 …buried with Him in baptism, in which also you were raised with Him THROUGH THE FAITH of the power of God, who has raised Him from the dead.
And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has resurrected together with Him, having forgiven you all sins.

The lost are spiritually dead in the sense that they are relationally separated from God. Those dead in sin have no power to “come to their senses” if they are left alone in their sin. But God does not leave them alone. God desires to be reconciled to them so he sent Jesus to die for them. And now he sends the Church to preach the good news of God’s desire for reconciliation; and he sends the Spirit to convict them of their sins. Those that respond to this gracious work of conviction with Spirit inspired faith and repentance will be reconciled to God and adopted as his children (i.e. spiritually resurrected).

3 thoughts on “The Extent of Spiritual Death

  1. Hi Chris. I was lying awake and couldn’t get to sleep. For some reason I started to think about this subject and my mind turned to Revelation. Nothing illustrates spiritual death more than the Lake Of Fire -The Second Death. You can’t get any more dead than that. It’s Double Dead. But yet it is described as a place of conscious torment. If the doubly dead can experience torment and anguish then it’s obvious that spiritual death is not anything like the Calvinist definition, and nothing illustrates the definition of spiritual death being alienation than does the lake of fire. This also brings to mind the parable of Lazarus and Dives. That is if it really is a parable. But that also illustrates that spiritual death is a great gulf of separation and NOT a state of complete unconscious insensitivity or inability to see, hear or believe.

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