An Arminian Response to John Hendryx on the Meaning and Implications of Spiritual Death Part 2: Dead Reckoning

, posted by Ben Henshaw

Continuing from Part 1

Hendryx begins his response to the visitor:

 (John)

Dear Brother

…You say, “monergists take the ‘dead in sin’ phrase too far” but, I would turn that around to say that you have relied entirely too much on what you believe to be the force of this ONE argument…. Here’s why:

… We are all in the process of redemption. None of us will be sinless until we are sealed with Christ in glory. The passages which speak of us being “dead to sin” and alive to God through Christ are all obviously speaking of the already/not yet nature of the kingdom. Numerous passages around these concepts command us to “reckon ourselves dead to sin” or “count yourselves dead to sin” (Romans 6:9-11)

But even if Hendryx is correct in his assertion of what these passages supposedly “obviously” teach, he cannot discount and ignore the “already” for the sake of the “not yet”.

Your analogy fails here: There are no corresponding passages which say to unbelievers, “reckon yourselves “DEAD IN SIN”. Fallen man are not described as being “counted” dead in sin … Instead they ARE dead in sin … in the fullest sense of its manifestation. Do you see how ridiculous it would be to consider fallen man “reckoned dead”? and not actually spiritually dead? This really just means that he can contribute no redemptive good toward his salvation. He cannot save himself. Rather that is what Christ does for us on the cross that gives us this spiritual ability.

The point Paul is making is that we are to consider ourselves “dead” as to our relationship with sin.  Likewise, those who are dead in sin are “dead” with regards to their relationship with Christ.  Because of our sin we are severed/alienated from Christ (Col 1:21; Eph. 2:12-13) .  If anything, Hendryx has just vindicated the visitor’s interpretation and argument.  It is not the “reckoning” that draws the parallel, but what “dead” means in both phrases.

Hendryx’s “reckoning” of what “dead” means is not in harmony with the way the Bible is using it in both places (even if one is just a reckoning and the other a reality).  So all of this amounts to a red herring and does not really address the crux of the argument.

Judicially every believer has died to sin. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 6:11, “Even so consider yourself to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

This passage actually works against Hendryx’s contention.  If we are to follow his logic through, we would have to conclude that not only is our deadness to sin not actual, but our being “alive to God in Christ Jesus” is not actual either.  Is that really what Hendryx wants to say here?  If it is “already, not yet”, then there is an element of being dead to sin and “alive to God in Christ Jesus” that is “already,” which blows up his entire argument.

In Galatians 2:20 he wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.”

Paul is not referring to a constant experience in these passages. He is referring to our position into which we have been brought through our union with Christ in His death.

Here again, Hendryx doesn’t seem to realize the major problem he is creating for his own position.  If our death to sin is the result of our union with Christ, then our new life is also the result of being raised to life in Christ (see discussion of relevant passages above).  This concedes the point that only through union with Christ can we experience new spiritual life.  Through faith union with Christ we experience both His death and life.  His death becomes our death and His life becomes our life (just as Paul is declaring concerning being crucified with Christ).

Clearly, Paul is speaking of important spiritual realities in this passage.  He is not saying that he will only “reckon” that Christ dwells in Him and gives him life.  He is saying that Christ actually does dwell in Him and is giving him spiritual life as a result, and in Eph. 3:17 he tells us that Christ dwells in our hearts “through  faith”.

Furthermore, Christ dwells in our hearts and gives us life by His Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of life” (Rom. 8:2), who is also received by faith (Gal. 3:2, 5, 14).  So again and again we see that the Scriptures contradict the bizarre Calvinist contention that spiritual life precedes and causes faith.  Rather, it is by faith that we receive new spiritual life.

The “flesh with its affections and lusts” has positionally been crucified with Christ.

Is this “positional” crucifixion actual or only a reckoning?  Does Hendryx really believe that Paul is saying to reckon that we are something that we clearly are not?  Is he saying we should deceive ourselves into believing a lie?

It is a judicial fact in the past and as we appropriate it to ourselves as we abide in Christ and not a moment by moment spiritual experience.

If it is a judicial fact, then it is not just a reckoning.  It is real.  And if we appropriate it through being joined to Christ and abiding in Him (which is simply remaining in Him), then it is indeed a “moment by moment spiritual experience”, unless Hendryx wants to say that remaining in Christ and receiving the benefits of that union have nothing to do with a “spiritual experience”.  Perhaps we just “reckon” ourselves joined to Christ, without actually being joined to Him.

Furthermore, if reckoning essentially means appropriating a reality (a “fact”), then John’s argument again suffers shipwreck on his own reckoning of what these various passages mean.

To believers Paul says, but “if by the Spirit you are putting to death (present continuous action) the deeds of the body, you will live.” This means believers still experience sin and must mortify it. [But remember] “without faith it is impossible to please God”, so the unregenerate man sins in all he does since it is not done for God’s glory. He is unable to do any redemptive good for himself. Only Christ can do that. But thanks be to God, what we are unable to do for ourselves Christ does FOR US.

It is hard to see what Hendryx’s point is here.  No Arminian would say that we can redeem ourselves, nor would any Arminian say that Christ does not make redemption “for us”.  However, Hendryx is wrong if he means that Christ also irresistibly causes faith in us (or worse yet, believes “for us”).  Rather, faith is simple trust in God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  That is the point of trust. Because we are powerless to save ourselves we must trust in Christ to save us.  If we were able to redeem ourselves, we wouldn’t need to trust in Christ to redeem us, now would we?

For this reason, according to Paul, boasting is excluded.  Rather than try to save ourselves or merit God’s favor, we trust in Christ to save us and rely on His merit alone (Rom. 4).  That is the nature of faith, reliance on Christ.  That is also why it is “by grace” (God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, and does it even though we do not deserve it) “through faith”.  Helpless and undeserving sinners receive the free and unmerited gift of salvation through trusting in (relying on) Christ .

In faith we proclaim that it is only in and through Christ that we can be saved.  Calvinists believe that we have reason to boast if faith isn’t unconditionally and irresistibly created in us by God, but this is nowhere to be found in Scripture.  Nowhere does the Bible declare that grace is no grace unless received irresistibly.  Nor does it teach that a free gift is no gift at all unless received unconditionally and irresistibly.  These are contrived concepts that Calvinists have read into the text for the sake of upholding the necessities of their peculiar theological systematic based on exhaustive determinism and unconditional election.

Your scheme unbiblically separates the work of Christ completed on the cross and your faith. You argue that you can believe without the power of the cross to enable you.

I doubt this visitor would argue that we can believe in Christ outside of divine enabling.  If he does, then he is no Arminian.  But enabling is not the same as irresistible causation.  That is an unwarranted and bizarre conflation that Hendryx seems to be imposing on Scripture.

Arminians fully affirm the need for divine enabling as the word “enabling” is normally and rightly understood.  Arminians believe that the word of God (Hebrews 4:12), the Spirit of conviction (John 16:8-11) and the power of the cross (John 12:32) enable us to believe in Christ so that without these things no one could ever believe (John 6:44, 45).  However, we do not take the additional and unbiblical step of asserting that through this enabling God irresistibly causes some to believe, while leaving the rest of humanity without any hope or power to trust in God; nor do we wrongly correlate this enabling grace with regeneration.

So let me ask you point blank — are you are [sic.] claiming the ability to do some spiritual good apart from the work of Christ? apart from the work of the Holy Spirit?

Not if he is an Arminian (see above).

Furthermore, there is never any description of an unbeliever being only positionally “dead in sin”.

Nor does the Bible speak of being “dead to sin” only in the sense of reckoning that we are something that we “actually” are not (which would really only be self-deception).  This also proves too much as described above, for if we are not actually dead to sin, then we are not actually alive to God in Christ either.  Not only that, but the Bible does speak of being dead to sin as a present reality,

“What shall we say then?  Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means. We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1, 2, emphasis mine)

This is the beginning of the passage that Hendryx appeals to in order to say that we are not actually dead to sin, but only reckoned so.  But this passage plainly speaks of a reality, an actuality – “we died to sin.”  Likewise, it explains that our death to sin is based on our union and identification with Christ and His death.  Did Christ actually die to sin, or was it just a reckoning?  Maybe the cross wasn’t “actual” either, but only a reckoning.  Rather,

“Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.  The death he dies, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives he lives to God.  In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 6:8-11, emphasis mine)

It is on the basis of the reality of the cross and our present union and identification with Christ that we can count ourselves dead to sin and alive to God “in Christ Jesus”.  Again, are we truly in Christ and alive to God, or should we just reckon ourselves so, without actually being joined to Him and the realities of His death and life?

Based on this reality, we behave accordingly.  We behave as those who have no relationship with sin (vv. 12-14).  That is because we are “dead to sin”.  Again, this establishes the important parallel.  Even if Hendryx wants to say that there is an important difference between reckoned death and actual death, there can be no denying that in both instances, being “dead” means that we are separate in the sense of having no relationship either to God (when we are dead “in” sin) or to sin (when we are dead “to” sin).

Dr. Robert Picirilli describes the matter well,

The believer did die with Christ and is alive with Him.  The assumption of verse 2, that “we are dead to sin” is a fact.  Consequently, Paul says, count on this truth every day and live that way…The question at issue is whether one justified by faith (as Paul preaches) can go on living in sin.  No, says Paul.  Because the believer has identified himself with Christ’s death and resurrection.  He has come to be in union with Christ in those redemptive acts.  By virtue of Christ’s death, the believer died.  The sinful person he used to be died and was buried.  The hold of sin was broken.  The penalty of sin was paid.  By virtue of Christ’s resurrection, the believer arose.  A new person lived, freed from the old mastery and alive unto God, walking in newness of life.  “That is a fact,” says Paul: Count on it!  And in so doing you will see that you cannot continue in sin. (The Book of Romans pp. 113, 114, emphasis his)

But what else does Paul tell us about being dead to sin?  Paul correlates it with being “slaves to righteousness” in the verses immediately following our relationship to sin as being one of death “in Christ Jesus”.  Does he speak of reckoning or of actualities?

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey- whether you are slaves to sin which leads to death [spiritual death and separation], or obedience, which leads to righteousness.  But thanks be to God that though you used to be slaves to sin [reality], you wholeheartedly obeyed the teaching to which you were entrusted.  You have been set free from sin [reality] and have become slaves to righteousness [reality]…But now that you have been set free from sin [reality] and become slaves to God [reality], the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life [reality]. (Rom. 6:16-18, 22, brackets mine).

Paul draws a strict parallel between being dead in sin with slavery to sin and being dead to sin with slavery to righteousness.  More often than not, Paul speaks of plain realities.  If our prior state of slavery to sin was real, we have no reason to assume that our present state of slavery to righteousness is not just as real. Even so, the main point remains that the focus of spiritual death is on separation and the absence of relationship and is not on the inability of a physical corpse to do anything at all (and notice how being set free from sin leads to “holiness”, the definition of which is essentially to be set apart from sin and to God).  Therefore, all of the Calvinist reasoning that follows (that one dead in sin cannot hear or believe until first resurrected) does not “actually” follow at all.  It is a contention that is read into these passages, rather than drawn from them.

Rather than allowing the Bible to dictate how “dead in sin” should be understood, the Calvinist defines the term unbiblically and then reads that unbiblical meaning into the texts that speak of being dead in sin.  Indeed, we have seen that the passages that speak of spiritual death (being “dead in sin”) make it clear that only through faith union with Christ does one transition from spiritual death to spiritual life (cf. John 5:24). This is in stark contrast to the Calvinist teaching that one must first be given spiritual life before he or she can believe. Outside of Christ, and because of the sins that separate us from Him, we experience spiritual death, but “in Him” we are forgiven and made right with God (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14, 21-23), and only then do we experience new spiritual life (Col. 2:13; 3:1-4).

Rather, this is their actualized state.

And again, not only does the issue of “reckoning” miss the point, the only way Hendryx can press this “actualized vs. reckoned” argument is by admitting that we are not actually “alive to God in Christ Jesus” either.

That is why his only hope of deliverance is if God does something FOR HIM.

Right, that is why faith (simple trust) is the non-meritorious condition for receiving God’s salvation (Rom. 4).

Why is it that you pray for others’salvation [sic] if God cannot do something for them?

See here for more on prayer in both systems.  Does Hendryx pray for the salvation of others?  If so, how does he know he is praying for God to save the right people, since God has decreed from eternity to reprobate most?  If he does pray for the elect to be saved alone, he cannot pray for anyone specifically, since he might be praying for a reprobate to be saved, contrary to the will of God.  And if he prays for the elect to be saved, does he really think his prayer has anything to do with the salvation of those who God decreed to save from eternity?  Indeed, why does Hendryx bother to pray at all?  What can it possibly accomplish?

Why do you think Paul gives thanks to God for the faith of the people? (I Thess. 2:13)

That is not actually what that passage says, though one could draw that conclusion.  The answer is that Paul is thanking God for his working in bringing them to receive the message in the manner that they did (as the context makes clear).  Paul is grateful to God, knowing that without His working (through the word), their faith and salvation would not have been possible.

This is in perfect harmony with the Arminian understanding that faith is impossible outside of divine enabling (see above).  It is not unlike how Christians thank God for the food that they eat and for providing it for them.  It does not mean that God did it all for them, but that without God’s provision and enabling, there would be no food.  It certainly doesn’t mean that we believe that the food we have was irresistibly given (or fed) to us by God.

Among other texts, to drive home the real condition of man prior to the new birth, Jesus Himself uses a resurrection analogy. Not only does he
raise us from spiritual death but He emphasizes that this is His sovereign choice since only he gives life to “who he wishes”, not just any man who
convert themselves (an impossible supposition) … the verse makes such a thought impossible:

“For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes.” John 5:21

This is a great reference to illustrate how wrong Hendryx is in his understanding of what “dead in sin” means.  Let’s take a close look at the context and language of this passage to see if it is really useful for John in supporting his correlation between deadness in sin and total inability (outside of a spiritual resurrection).

First, notice how Hendryx just assumes that when Jesus says He gives life to whom He wishes, this precludes any conditions.  But why can’t Jesus sovereignly decide to give life to believers?  Indeed, the context makes it plain that faith is certainly the condition for receiving new life in Christ,

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)

This answers the question: “Who does Jesus wish to give life to?”  The answer is “whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me.”  This illustrates a major problem in Calvinist exegesis in that they will often jump to conclusions, reading their theology into isolated verses, before allowing the text to explain itself.  All John had to do was keep reading and he would have had the answer to his question and avoided mistakenly drawing the conclusion that Jesus gives life unconditionally.  Calvinists like Hendryx make the same mistake with John 3:3, 6.

And of course, no Arminian believes that we convert ourselves.  Only God can convert the sinner, but He does so in response to faith.

You said: “Death is separation. Not simply a termination or cessation of life. Physical death is the separation of spirit from body. The body ceases to live and decay begins, but the spirit continues to exist.”

(John)
Indeed I would fully agree that the spirit continues to exist. There is no argument from me there, but this is a failure to understand what is meant by “dead” … the purpose for using such a word is to recognize that the spirit, which is seperate [sic.] from the body, no longer animates it, and thus, the body is incapable of any response.

Notice how Hendryx gives no Biblical support for this claim.  It is baseless theological assertion.  Hendryx arbitrarily puts the entire focus on the dead physical body, which is not the focus of “death” in Scripture. When we actually do look at what the Bible says about spiritual death and how spiritual death is remedied, we find the Scriptures contradicting Hendryx’s claims at every turn.  Let’s look in the very chapter that John has referred us to,

“I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” (John 5:25)

This passage flatly contradicts Hendryx’s contention that those who are dead are incapable of “any response.”  Notice the deliberate language that Jesus uses here: the dead will “hear” the voice of the Son of God and those who “hear” will “live” as a result of that hearing.

Jesus says that the hour is coming and has now come when this will happen.  Jesus is speaking both of His authority in judgment at the end of the age to raise all people to life (both the good and the bad, vv. 28-30) and His present authority (“has now come”) to grant spiritual life to those who are spiritually dead upon their hearing His voice in faith (John 5:24; cf. Gal. 3:2, 5, 14; Romans 10:17).

This is big trouble for Hendryx’s view of “dead” equating specifically to inability to respond in any way, just as a corpse is unresponsive (which creates other theological absurdities as well).

John Hendryx claims that the dead must first be given life so they can hear and believe.  Unfortunately for Hendryx, Jesus does not agree.  Instead, Jesus says that the dead will “hear” unto spiritual life, the exact opposite of what Hendryx is claiming.

The point is simple.  The dead do not have life until they hear in faith.  It is by hearing and believing that they receive life.  You simply cannot say that the dead must first be given life in order to hear.  In that case, Jesus would be mistaken in saying that the dead hear.  Rather, He should have said that the living will hear.  But clearly, Jesus is not mistaken.  Instead, it is Hendryx and his Calvinism that are mistaken.

So we have Jesus saying that the dead will hear and believe and that this marks the transition from death to life (John 5:24-27).  This is clearly a reference not only to eternal life, but the very inception of spiritual life (regeneration).  Indeed, eternal life begins at regeneration (the beginning of spiritual life – the life of Christ, which is eternal life).

Even Hendryx seems to recognize that regeneration is the beginning of eternal life below when he gets into even more trouble with John 5:40.  We will address the rest of Hendryx’s interaction with his “synergist” visitor in Part 3.

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