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Responding to Calvinism: Dead People Can't Make Choices (Ephesians 2:1)

Pastor of Iglesia Conexiones, and author of Biblical Prayer for Today's Believers: Transform Your Prayer Life (available on Amazon).

John Calvin

Calvinists love to tell other Christians that dead people can't make choices—that's what I have experienced in some of the Facebook groups I follow. It's an obnoxious statement because, logically, it appears to make sense. However, in this article, we're going to show that their argument is biblically wrong: dead people actually make a lot of choices.

What does it mean to be dead?

When Calvinists say that dead people can't make choices, they are not talking about corpses—the bodies buried in the cemetery. They are talking about those people who haven't come to faith in Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that these people are dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1).

But what does it mean that they are dead in their sins? Obviously, they are still alive—physically alive. Paul does not mean that before becoming a Chritian, people literally and physicall lying in a tomb, dcaying and competely inactive.Their death, then, is not a physical death.

So what kind of death is it? A spiritual death? Well, that depends on what you mean by spiritual death. If by spiritual death you mean that their spirits are just as dead as their their bodies... that their spiritual hearts aren't beating, that their spiritual flesh has decayed, and that only their spiritual bones remain... that they only exist as spiritual remains... that they are inactive, that they don't think, and that they don't feel anything... well, you're dead wrong

The same passage tells us that, when we were dead in our sins, used to walkaccording to the character of the world and the devil (Ephesians 2:2). According to the same passage, those who are spiritually dead are actually very active: they are fulfilling the lusts of the flesh, the desires of the flesh, and the desires of the mind (Ephesians 2:3).

My point shoud be obvious: spiritual death does not correspond to physical death. When a person is physically dead, that person is physically inacctive; but, when a person is spirituallly dead, that person is still spiritually active—they are doing something! Therefore, how do you (oh, Calvinist) know that dead people can't make choices? They make choices all the time!

The Dead Make Choices

I am glad we agree. Notice, then (before we proceed), that in order to make any sense of the stament that "dead people can't make choices," we must first say that there is a difference between being physically dead and spiritually dead. We must mean that, while the physically dead has ceased to work in any physical way, the spiritually dead is still able to work in some spiritual way. The two are not the same! Why, then, are you saying that "dead people can't make choices?" Obviously, they are still active, so they can.

Now, I know what you're going to say: you're going to say that I haven't understood the argument very well—that, obviously, Calvinists aren't saying that the spiritually dead can't make choices because they cannot perform any actions, but that the spiritually dead can't make any choices that are pleasing to God—right? Alright, but then Calvinists shouldn't say that dead people can't make choices, because they do make choices. Calvinists should clearly say what they mean: spiritually dead people can't make any choices that are pleasing to God. I am glad we got this out of the way.

Of course, that statement is also wrong. Spiritually dead people can make choices that are pleasing to God: in Romans 2:14, we are told that, sometimes, the gentiles that do not know God do by nature that things that are prescribed in God's law.

"For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another." (Romans 2:14-15, KJV)

According to this Scripture, unbelievers (who are spiritually dead) are able (from time to time) to do things that are prescribed in God's Law (which is pleasing to Him) by their own nature (which has been corrupted by sin). Spiritually dead cannot only make choices, but they can also make right choices.

Likewise, those Jews who do not believe in Jesus Christ are able to approve of things that are more excellent since thy are instructed by God's Law:

"Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law." (Romans 2:17-18, KJV)

According to Paul, the problem with Jews who have not converted (from a Christian point of view) is not that they can't know what is right or choose to do something that's pleasing to God, but that they cannot do right consistently and perfectly (Romans 2:21-24).

That One Big Choice

The real quetion, though, is whether those who are spiritually dead can choose to believe in Jesus Christ. They are obviously alive, they obviously make choices, they can also know what is right, and they can at times do what is right. But, can they choose to repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ?

Before we go there, however, we need to take a look once again at Ephesians 2. What does it mean to be dead in trespasses and sins? I think that as we look closely at Ephesians 2, we can conclude that this state of death is a relational death. In other words, those who are dead in sins and trespasses are esteemed by God to be as good as dead because he will pour his wrath on them (Ephesians 2:3). They are children of his wrath!

The focus of this chapter in Ephesians 2 is that Christ has preched peace to both Jews and gentiles—not only peace between Jews and getinles, but peace between both groups and God (Ephesians 2:17). Christ has reconciled humanity with God (Ephesians 2:16).

Consequently, it is clear that those who are dead in their sins and trespasses are still spiritually active, still making choices, still of such relevance to God that He will pour his wrath on them, still able to know what is right and to do things that are right—but legally speaking, in relationship to God through his law, they are as good as dead because of all their sins and trespasses in relationship to God's Law.

Ephesians 2 does not, in any way, imply that those who are spiritually dead cannot choose God or repent. Their state of spiritual death is not related, at least in this passage, on whether they can make choices.

Quite the contrary, when we are told that God has saved them by grace, we are reminded that He has also saved the through faith (Ephesians 2:8). What does this mean? It means that their faith is the medium through which God makes his grace available to them.

The Calvinist Perspective

What do you think?

© 2020 Marcelo Carcach

Comments

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 07, 2020:

Thanks for this explanation on the Calvinist meaning of "dead." Thankfully, they can decide to choose life in Christ.

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