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Insight #350 – Calvinism Examined #2 – We Were Dead?

“You were dead,” Paul told his beloved brothers and sisters in Ephesus (Eph. 2:1). He referred, of course, to their lives before conversion. What did Paul mean by “dead”?

Lazarus vs. the Prodigal Son

Calvinism says that just as dead Lazarus could not obey Jesus’ command to come out of the tomb until Jesus gave him life, so we totally depraved humans are not able to obey God’s commands to believe and repent unless He first supernaturally gives us life.

The example of a physically dead Lazarus is not a proper analogy to use here. The parable of the prodigal son is. When the son returned home, his father twice said that he “was dead, and is alive again” (Luke 15:24, 32). While he was “dead,” “he came to himself” (verse 17). Living a wicked life (being “dead”) did not prevent him from changing his mind. He repented and returned home. Spiritual death in no way rules out the ability to change one’s mind, to repent.

What Is Death?

James tells us: “As the body apart from the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead” (2:26). “Apart from.” Death is separation! When the spirit leaves the body, the body is dead. When faith has no works, the faith is dead, useless.

The NT uses the word “death” in various spiritual-figurative ways:
“Dead in transgressions and sins” (Eph. 2:1).
“Dead to sin” (Rom. 6:11).
“Dead to the law” (Rom. 7:4).
Put to death… sexual immorality… [etc.] (Col. 3:5).

We were dead in sins because “your iniquities have separated you and your God” (Isa. 59:2). We “died to sin” in baptism and “he who has died has been freed from sin” (Rom. 6:2-3, 7). Spiritual-figurative death is all about separation, whether from good or from evil. It has nothing to do with inability or supposed total depravity.

Change Your Mind

Calvinism sees death as inability in Rom. 8:7: “The mind of the flesh is hostile toward God; for it is not subject to God’s law, neither indeed can it be.” This text is about a person’s mindset. Just two verses earlier, Paul wrote, “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.” It’s not an inability issue; it’s a lifestyle and mindset issue.

Carnal people can and should change their minds, just like the “dead” prodigal son who “came to himself.” It’s called repentance. God “commands that all people everywhere should repent” (Acts 17:30). We must periodically evaluate our fleshly mindset and change and renew it as necessary. Christians are told: “Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth. For you died… Put to death therefore…” (Col. 3:2-5). And again, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).


Death in a spiritual-figurative sense is not about inability; it is about separation, whether separation from God or separation from sin. The inability of the fleshly mind to repent is not about people’s total inability; it is about their inability as long as they maintain a fleshly mindset. God calls us to change our mindset, to repent. “The Lord… is patient with us, not wishing that anyone should perish. but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
NOTE: The purpose of this series is to biblically examine various aspects of the Calvinistic acrostic TULIP: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints.