And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins. -Ephesians 2:1
Many Calvinists emphasize the lost person is dead in their sins and can’t respond in any way. After all, a dead man, a dead body, is lifeless and can do nothing. So a lost person can’t respond to the Gospel in faith. He can’t do anything. Some even go to the point of saying a person is saved or regenerated before faith, since they think a lost person cannot have faith or accept salvation.
If this view of the spiritually dead is true we could go one step further. A dead man can’t sin. A dead man can’t walk and talk and hear. But the unsaved do these things on a regular basis. The very next verse to the one above (Ephesians 2:2) says those dead in their sins “walked.”
This view is rather extreme and has an improper view of death. Death in Scripture does not mean annihilation or ceasing to exist. Death means separation. James 2:26 tells us, “For as the body without the spirit is dead...”
Spiritual death is when a person is separated from God. Physical death is when the soul, spirit, the real you, is separated from the physical body. So at a funeral, the departed is not lying in the casket. If they knew Jesus as Lord and Savior, they are in Heaven with Him. Only their body, where they used to live, is in the casket.
Dead in your sins simply means your sins have separated you from a holy God. Isaiah put it, “your iniquities have separated you from your God” (Isaiah 59:2).
When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they immediately became spiritually dead. But they could still walk, talk, hear and respond to God (Genesis 3:10).
Even though he is spiritually “dead,” the unsaved man can perceive the truth of God. In Romans, Paul declares emphatically that God’s truth is “clearly seen” by them so that they are “without excuse” (Romans 1:20).
“Dead” is only one of many figures of speech used to describe the fallen state. It is also depicted as “sickness,” which does not imply the person had no ability to hear and respond to God (Matthew 9:12). Depravity involves the corruption of life but not its destruction. The image of God in fallen humans is effaced but not erased. Even unsaved people are said to be in God’s image (Genesis 9:6). The image is marred but not eradicated by sin (cf. James 3:9).
If spiritually “dead” amounts to a kind of spiritual annihilation, rather than separation, then the “second death” (Revelation 20:10) would be eternal annihilation - a doctrine certainly not taught in Scripture. A spiritually dead person, then, is in need of spiritual life from God. But he does exist, and he can know and choose. His faculties that make up the image of God are not absent; they are simply incapable of initiating or attaining their own salvation. Like a drowning person, a fallen person can reach out and accept the lifeline even though he cannot make it to safety on his own.
Men dead in trespasses and sins can respond. That is one reason we are commanded to go into all the world and preach the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Further information on total depravity and being dead in trespasses and sins:
Trouble With the Tulip by Frank S. Page; Riverstone.
Chosen But Free by Norman Geisler; Bethany House.
Whosoever Will by David Allen & Steve Lemke; Broadman & Holman.
Salvation and Sovereignty by Kenneth Keathley; Broadman & Holman.
Calvinistic Paths Retraced by Samuel Fisk; Biblical Evangelism Press.
-David R. Brumbelow, Gulf Coast Pastor, October 11, AD 2010.
Books on Calvinism, Predestination
Dr. Robert Wring on Baptists and Elder Rule
Adrian Rogers on Predestination, Calvinism
Paige Patterson on Calvinism