No Degrees of Deadness

by John Samson

The company is not doing well this quarter. Sales are down. Potential customers are not buying. The sales team manager needs to get things moving. Someone has to make a sale and quickly. What is the sales team leader to do? Well one thing he could do is to send his team down to the morgue and have his sales team get some sales amongst the dead, selling their nasal sprays, their foot massager machines and their electronic toothbrushes. But sadly, things don’t go too well. The dead seem to have no interest in anything the sales team has to say, in spite of the positive smiles and highly developed and well rehearsed sales pitch. Even at the morgue, no sales are made; for one simple reason, the dead are, how shall we say it? … errr.. dead!

A silly scenario? Yes, of course! But lets think about this as it relates to man’s condition outside of Christ. He is not vibrant and healthy; nor merely under the weather a little, and not just extremely sick about to breathe his last breath. God says that man is actually dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). The Greek word for dead here is necros, meaning dead like a corpse. There are no signs of spiritual life. It is a hopeless case.

DEAD MAN WALKING – Born D.O.A. (dead on arrival) unless a man is born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Outside of Christ, he has a zombie like existence. He is dead but walks around. He goes to tennis games or movie theaters or even to church – just never to Christ. Its not in him to do so because he is dead spiritually. He cannot come to Christ not because of some physical handicap but because of a morally depraved heart that seeks only independence from Christ. He may at times wish for the benefits of belonging to the kingdom of God – but never does he want the King of the kingdom.

The dead do not do much. All of this is fairly obvious. Watch the dead for any length of time and you’ll notice something – well, more precisely, you will notice a whole lot of nothing. There are no degrees of deadness. There are no semi-dead people, mostly dead people, or really dead people. A person is either dead or alive.

Jesus knew this and that’s why he didn’t bother to interview the dead Lazarus and ask for his cooperation so that He might raise him to life? No, Jesus did not expect any movement from Lazarus until He first acted with miraculous divine power, calling the man to life with a call that was far more than an invite, far more than a serious summons, but there was enough power in the call to create life when there was death.

Was there a special time Jesus waited for? – a time when Lazarus’s body would be more conducive to resurrection? A special time of the day perhaps? – or a time when the east wind would permeate the grave? Would any of this help? No, Jesus was looking to nothing in the environment or in the dead and putrefying Lazarus as a source; either in his body or soul or will.

I am told that there was a Jewish superstition in Jesus’ day that said that the soul/spirit of a man hangs around the body of the dead for 3 days. Though I have not been able to verify that for sure, this would explain Jesus showing up at the tomb of Lazarus on the fourth day. For all of the watching crowd, this fourth day after death was the day of no hope. Jesus wanted everyone to see the miracle for what it truly was – a spectacular confirmation of Jesus’ words “I am the Resurrection and the life.”

I guess, that’s why I am writing this short article too. I want every Christian to realize the amazing resurrection that took place in your life when at some point (though you may not be able to pin point the time on a calendar or watch) God raised you from spiritual death and brought you up from the grave. It was when you were dead that He made you alive!

I believe this is exactly what Paul is teaching in Ephesians 2:1-5 – And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…

Concerning this passage, 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.”

Dead men left to themselves do not become more and more open to life, and get closer and closer to it. They tend to stay dead and well… just do what all dead things do… stink. John 11:39 says, “Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.”

It was when Lazarus was physically dead that Jesus made him alive by thunderous divine power, and so is the case with you in your spiritual resurrection. Dead to the things of God, He raised you to life in regeneration, you then walked, you came, you trusted in Christ. Until your resurrection you were always dead to the claims of Christ and the gospel of Christ had no interest in them. Though you may well have understood the claims of Christ and the gospel, your heart could find no pleasure or joy in them, you could not receive them (1 Cor 2:14).

And if all this is true – if the “T” in the acrostic TULIP of Total depravity is true, and ever part of man has been affected by the Fall, being is dead in trespasses and sins, then Divine election would need to be sovereign and unconditional – the “U” in the TULIP – because dead people can fulfill no conditions. Christ would have to die an atoning death for them to cancel their sins and transfer righteousness to them – the “L” in Limited Atonement – and God the Holy Spirit would need to move with the kind of powerful grace that effectively awakens the sinner to life (so that he can respond in faith) – the “I” of Irresistible Grace. Then, God would need to preserve all those He awakened in this way so that none of these elect people are lost along the way – the “P” in Perseverance of the Saints. And in this, God gets all the glory. Those who understand what their spiritual state was outside of Christ recognize this, humbled as they are by the immensity of their sin and the wonder of His grace.

As Dr. John Piper has stated, “If all of us are so depraved that we cannot come to God without being born again by the irresistible grace of God, then it is clear that the salvation of any of us is owing to God’s election. Election refers to God’s choosing whom to save. It is unconditional in that there is no condition man must meet before God chooses to save him. Man is dead in trespasses and sins. So there is no condition he can meet before God chooses to save him from his deadness. We are not saying that final salvation is unconditional. It is not. We must meet the condition of faith in Christ in order to inherit eternal life. But faith is not a condition for election. Just the reverse. Election is a condition for faith. It is because God chose us before the foundation of the world that he purchases our redemption at the cross and quickens us with irresistible grace and brings us to faith.” – in “What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism”

If the “T” in TULIP is true, then it would follow that all the other doctrines of grace would need to be true or else no man would ever be saved. But because it is true we rejoice in the God of our salvation. To Him be all the glory.

HT: Reformation Theology

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