Answering Objections To Calvinism
Not long ago, I posted a video the owner entitled “Dear John, Calvin”, in which he challenged Christians far and wide to answer ten questions regarding calvinistic (read ‘Christian’) doctrine, which, if proved false, would mean that all Calvinists were lost, unregenerate. Well, that’s not good.
Complete with background music the objections began, scrupulously laid out as a challenge to all who would accept. So, I posted the video, asked for comments to answer this guy, and…..I waited, …and waited. Aside from a brief few, sans answers, I got nothing. Nada. Zip. Were his objections too difficult to answer? Were they so obviously based on false premises and erroneous presuppositions that no one wanted to dignify such absurdities? Who knows?
Regardless, I’ve decided to take it upon my self, if for nothing else than the exercising of my brain, to answer all ten objections. Not all at once mind you. I’m hoping that if any of you ever come into a situation where you need to respond to such objections, that this little exercise may prove helpful in some regard.
In this post I’ll give my answer to the first objection, which follows:
“It’s often said by Calvinists that dead men can’t respond to God. As you say according to Ephesians 2:1 “You are dead in your trespasses and sins” but in Rom 6 it says “in the same way count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
If being dead to sin means one can’t respond to God, then likewise being dead to sin means that Christians can’t respond to sin. I know not one of you who calls yourself ‘elect’ not one who is sinless after salvation. Not one…”
First let’s look at what is being both said and presupposed here. You may find that his logic is not quite so logical after all, and early on.
He misquotes Ephesians 2:1. It does not say ‘you are dead’, it says ‘
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world..” (ESV. emphasis mine, ed.)
This is significant because later he is comparing the phrase ‘dead in the trespasses and sins’ of Ephesians 2:1 with a phrase in Romans 6:11 which states:
“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. –Romans 6:11 (ESV, emphasis mine, ed.)
You may have noticed already the difference in the passages. There is quite a stark difference between being ‘dead in trespasses and sin’ and being ‘dead to sin’ !! One is a description of the previous spiritual state of a believer prior to regeneration, the other a positional truth regarding our union in Jesus Christ. The passage of Romans 6 quoted has nothing to do with your experience! It has everything to do with whom you are ‘in Christ’ according to God; again, a positional truth, not experience!
This alone causes his first objection to fall flat.
Ok, so let’s break this down while looking at his objection. I don’t want to make this more complicated than it is. After all, if you get hit with this objection in Starbucks, and the car is running, you’re not going to go into a long diatribe and look all theological are you? Of course not. So here we go…..
“It’s often said by Calvinists that dead men can’t respond to God….”
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” – John 6:44
It’s true, no man spiritually dead can come to Christ for salvation unless God imparts that regenerating life and ability to him. Regeneration! But I guarantee you when God calls a man effectually, that dead man will have life imparted to him and he will respond. But obviously, not until God imparts that life. Regeneration precedes saving faith. It’s all grace brethren, not of works, not of a decision or anything else on the part of man, lest he boast.
“As you say according to Ephesians 2:1 “You are dead in your trespasses and sins” but in Rom 6 it says “in the same way count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Again, he misquoted the verse. It says ‘you were dead’ in sin. This is a statement reminding Christians of their previous spiritual state prior to the moving of the Holy Spirit in regenerating grace. That much is obvious by the words following…”in which you once walked”.
“..but in Rom 6 it says …excuse me? But? As if Scripture, the inspired Word of Almighty God, perfect in holiness and majesty, without error could make such a mistake in His communications to man that He would contradict Himself. Nonsense. This is the result of a low view of God. There is no “but…” in this case. Romans 6 and Ephesians 2 work in beautiful harmony together, no contradiction whatsoever, as we will see.
“in Rom 6 it says “in the same way count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Well let’s quote the actual passage again:
“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” –Romans 6:11 (ESV, emphasis mine, ed.)
Dead to sin. Let’s examine this briefly. Yet, let’s remind ourselves of a few truths before we do.
There are many things that happen at regeneration. Yet, for the sake of brevity, I’ll mention the main. At the regeneration of a soul, the absolute, tyrannical power of sin over a man or woman is broken forever! It’s true.
When born again, a man is moved from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. Ok, so what does it mean to be ‘dead to sin’? Does it mean that a Christian cannot respond to sin? Of course not. This is such an absurd thought that it defies all reality of logic. Every Christian still sins because of indwelling sin, which brings up another point: This young man presumes that there are Calvinists who claim perfectionism! Absolutely absurd.
The phrase ‘dead to sin’ in Romans 6 is not a difficult concept.
In Romans 6, we are being commanded to ‘reckon’, that is, to count or claim as fact what God is saying about us in light of our union in Christ. It has nothing to do with our experience on a daily basis as to the act of sinning. It has everything to do with a great and glorious reality of having died to sin as our Lord has died to sin.
Jesus Christ died to sin once and for all, and no longer is dealing with it, having conquered both sin and death. Because of our union ‘in Him’, we also have died to sin. It does not mean that Christians do not, or will not sin, but rather that we are to remind ourselves that the tyranny of sin over our previously dead selves has been broken forever, and that we have a new Master, are in a new kingdom, and bestowed with a God-given ability to say no to sin when we are tempted. When a Christian sins, it is because they have chosen to do so, not because they could do no other! That is why we are told in Romans 6:14
“For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”
Playing Devil’s Advocate:
I truly think you are missing the implication of the question you are trying to refute. It is basing scriptural interpretation from phrase to phrase.
The position being taken is that if one is dead in sin, they cannot respond to God. If that is so, then being “dead” to sin also implies a lack of ability to respond. The speaker is not implying that any Calvinist is claiming perfection. What is being proposed is the outcome of the interpretation, which implies the same argument on the reverse side. The point of understanding is being placed on the word “dead” and its implications. He is saying that if you believe “x”, the result is “y” according to another passage.
The point you make of “are” and “were” is nothing more than a present position. If one says to a man, “You ARE dead in your trespasses and sins” it is making the Scripture timely relevant. You are going after a point here that is not being intended. Again, it is making the Scripture actively present for the sake of perspective.
So the point that is being made is that, being “dead in sin” does not imply that one is unable to respond to God any more than being “dead to sin” is implying that one cannot respond to sin. Being “alive in Christ Jesus” does not mean that one cannot respond to sin either. The argument you make has its points. However, I think you are missing the point of the argument itself.
My 2 cents…
Thanks for the comment (oh, look, finally! 🙂 )
Perhaps I could have done a more thorough job. But, for the record, here’s how I see his argument, in a nutshell. He’s is treating two different doctrines as saying the same thing, and he is in error. He’s equating an unregenerate being ‘dead in sin’ with a believer’s positional truth of being ‘dead to sin’. There is no equating the two, biblically speaking, since they address two totally different doctrines! The first dealing with regeneration, the second dealing with a believers union in Christ. In other words, his logic is illogical, because either he rejects the truth, or he is ‘lacking in knowledge’. Dead to sin is not equal to dead in sin. There is his error.
Without question, other’s, including yourself, perhaps could have done a better job at refuting his argument than I. I do truly get what he’s saying, but I think my point of the two phrases being completely different is enough to negate his position. In the words of Charles Barkley, “I could be wrong, but I doubt it.” 😉
I am not altogether convinced that this logically refutes the argument being presented. However, I sincerely give you an “A” for effort and this could be a very interesting discussion. Let us wrestle with this a bit together and I will hold the opposing position.
Paul is speaking to believers in both passages and there are staggering parallels between both chapters within Romans and Ephesians. The implication your argument seems to be most focused on, are the words “to” and “in”. While I see where your point of derivation comes from, there are few things to consider in the language that is being used due to grammatical necessity.
If we take the implications of Ephesians 2:1 and look at it closely, I think we might come across another issue of contention favoring the speaker. I think we can assert that being “dead in sin” is equal to the Calvinist understanding of being “dead TO God”. The phrases are synonymous in nature from the Calvinist perspective. If the interpretation thereof is such that it implies “dead to God” (and it does from our presented Calvinist theological stance), then the speaker’s argument holds more weight when scrutinized closely.
If we move from there, there is no longer a firm position to be held regarding “in” and “to”. It brings us back to the initial argument. I think that there is much more to be grasped in the parallels and the simple “grammatics”.
The text in both passages is speaking of a man’s spiritual state – with Christ or not with Christ. I do not see where there are two separate doctrines – it is one point (life or death) and a man’s position within the spectrum. One is “dead in sin” (dead to God per interpretation) and another, after salvation, is “dead to sin”. This isn’t enough in itself to negate a response from either man on either side of the fence.
Looking at other passages with parallels to both Romans and Ephesians, we find the story of the Prodigal Son. Here we see in Luke 15:24
“For this my son was dead [in sin], and is alive again [in Christ Jesus]; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” – ESV – Bracketed text is my own to indicate parallels.
The story of the Prodigal Son demonstrates an awakening. However, this awakening seems to speak of the son coming to the realization on his own that he was “dead in sin” WHILE he was “dead in sin”. The son gave a response and the father, in turn, responded by running to him. In the understanding of the parable, a man turned to God while he was “dead in sin”.
This simply opens a huge can of worms; be it from a standpoint that the son was already saved or that he was not. For, if the son was already saved, then one who is “dead to sin” and “alive in Christ Jesus” can turn away and reject his inheritance. Not only can he reject his inheritance (salvation), then he can also be under salvation and then become “dead in sin”, which as established means, “dead to God”. On the other hand, if it is speaking of an unregenerate man, then we face the issue of the fact that the unregenerate can be “dead in sin” and choose to come on their own. This obviously negates unconditional election and turns it into a supposition.
Like I said, “it opens a huge can of worms”.