To paraphrase the serpent, “Did the Bible truly say that you are dead?”
I recently addressed a challenge issued by a Calvinist brother who wanted to establish his core arguments around the notion of humanity being unable to respond to God due to their deceased condition. Zombies, I thought, we’re all zombies walking around (though not feasting) until the moment we are brought back to life by the grace of God. Are we truly bodies without souls hungrily seeking to satisfy the emptiness but finding no relief? Is this the portrait of humanity that the Bible portrays?
The proof text was, as you probably already guessed, Ephesians 2:1:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,
We might as well put up the parallel verse in Colossians (2:13) as well:
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.
Well, as long as we’re at it, we should include a verse from Romans (5:12) that provides a similar thought:
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned–
Death in these verses is often, either by casual reading or theological filter, interpreted to mean that the soul has died as the body has died. By extension then, the unsaved are bodies walking around with dead souls. Souls that are unable to hear, recognize, or respond to God’s call to repentance and belief. Dead, dark souls. What we need to ask is whether or not spiritual death is the same as physical death in the language of the Bible.
Our answer, found in the pages of the Bible, is that there are three forms of death mentioned. In the scope of all of scripture, death includes a spiritual, physical, and eternal death. The Bible informs us that the common thread among all of them is separation:
- Physical death is separation of the soul from the body.
- Eternal death is permanent separation from God. (Rev 19:20, 20:10)
- Spiritual death is holy separation from God (Isa 59:1-2)
Separation does not mean spiritual annihilation, contrary to a popular theological position. If it did then that destroyed, actually non-existent, soul would not be able to hear and respond to God. Yet,
- The “dead” can still perceive the truth of God (Rom 1:20)
- Adam and Eve were “dead” but still heard and responded to the voice of God (Gen 3:10)
- The “dead” are able to believe (Col 2:12-13 n.b. We should always read verses in context)
Without the demonstration of annihilation and the destruction of the soul, the spiritual death must be seen as portrayed in the scriptures: a soul that is separated spiritually from God but that retains the ability to hear and respond. As demonstrated from the scriptures above, we must agree that the unregenerate soul is able to hear and respond positively to God. The image of God embedded in humankind was not erased by the Fall (Gen 9:6, James 3:9), rather, it has been marred and defaced, separating us from the Father. If it were otherwise (ie: the soul was destroyed/annihilated) then God would not be able to call on His people to believe (John 3:16-18, Acts 16:31;20:21).