Are unbelievers spiritually 'dead' so they cannot believe or make any moves towards God?

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Question / Comment - Are unbelievers spiritually 'dead' so they cannot believe or make any moves towards God?

I'm always amazed in how many denominations can say you have to believe on Christ and then you have to receive Christ, or accept Christ. Now it is true that Christ said believe on me and come to me but how can ANYONE do these things when they are spiritual dead as quoted in Eph 2 and other parts of the Bible? Dead as dead can be like "Lazarus" who was physically dead but in essence is a picture of us all before Christ has come to save us. Another ex. in the book of Ezk. where we have the valley of dry bones another example of us all before Christ has saved us, we could go on and on these are just some examples not all. Now please explain to me how can anybody do any of these thing if we are Dead in our trespass and Sins?

JPN Reply:

Hi, thanks for the question.

I won't write a lot but here are a few thoughts.

It is true that non-believers are 'dead in sin' (Eph 2:1). It is also true that no one can come to Jesus unless the Father enables them to do so. (John 6:37, 44)... But this is God's business, not ours. We do not need to concern ourselves with that which is His domain. We need to concern ourselves with that which the Bible tells us to do. And that is to the preach the gospel to all. Over and over it declares that salvation is available to all who believe. It says nothing whatsoever about the fact that they cannot believe because they are 'dead'. I think we need to be careful to not hold onto beliefs that would deny the simplicity of verses such as John 3:16
'For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.'

When the jailer asked the Apostle Paul 'What shall I do to be saved?' he didn't reply 'Believe on the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved. But of course, you can't do that because you are spiritually dead.' No, it was a simple 'Believe!' (Acts 16:29-31)

Dave Hunt, in his book 'What Love is this?', quotes A.W Pink (a hyper - Calvinist, the doctrine of which Dave's book is written against) who wrote
"There are some who say the unregenerated are dead, and that ends the matter - they cannot have responsibility... A corpse in the cemetery is no suitable analogy of the natural man. A corpse is incapable of performing evil. A corpse cannot "despise and reject" Christ (Isa 53:3), cannot "resist the Holy Spirit" (Acts 7:51), cannot disobey the gospel (2 Thess 1:8); but the natural man can and does these things."

So even though men are 'dead in sin', 'faith comes by hearing, and hearing the word of God.' (Rom 10:17). That is our job. It is to preach the gospel, declaring that they need to believe on the Lord Jesus (John 5:24). Let God do what God does best and we should stick to what we are instructed to do. Jesus told us to 'compel' them to come in (Luk 14:23). Paul said that we are to 'persuade' unbelievers, and to 'reason' with them, and this was his practice. (2 Cor 5:11, Acts 18:4, Acts 28:23). Why would Paul write and practice this if people are as dead as Lazarus and incapable of believing or hearing the truth? No, the word of God is a powerful two-edged sword, and coupled with the drawing and conviction of the Holy Spirit, men do believe on the Lord Jesus, receive Him (John 1:12), and gain eternal life.

Hope this helps. All the best.

Their Reply:

Thanks again for responding, one more thought and then will lay it to rest I chose Lazarus because he is an example of everyone before they are saved "DEAD" not physically but spiritually "DEAD." Remember we have to find the gospel and when Christ spoke he spoke in parables. Mrk 4:33,34. In this passage we can clearly see that Lazarus was DEAD no doubt about it because it was stated four times that he was "dead" and to make it more clearly the bible also says he "stinketh" because he had been in the tomb for four days. Now when Christ came to the tomb where Lazarus was and said Lazarus come forth and he came forth. Now how could Lazarus come forth he couldn't hear the voice of Christ because he was dead. How could Lazarus have faith or how could he believe, he couldn't and what did he contribute to his resurrection or coming forth When the Lord Jesus Christ Called? Nothing because Christ had to do it "ALL, EVERYTHING" Christ had to enter into this tomb to give Lazarus ears to hear, eyes to see and a new resurrected soul to respond and come forth, in other words Christ GAVE Lazarus a new life without any contribution on the part of Lazarus. Besides the Bible states that faith and to believe are works. (1Thess. 1:3, 2Thess. 1:11, John 6:29) thank you for your time and patience.

JPN Reply:

Hi and thanks for your response.

I understand what you are saying, and the point you're making (I have also used this passage to illustrate the Biblical truth that in salvation, only Jesus can give life to the dead) but I have some problems with what you have written. I'll just add a few points concerning this below.

  • The first point is a very important aspect of Bible interpretation that cannot be ignored. And that is, stories or types should be used to illustrate Biblical doctrine, but not to establish other doctrine or points that aren't found in scripture. This is something that I need to remember all the time because a lot of the studies on my site are taken from Old Testament stories. It is great to use these to illustrate truth, but it is wrong to use them to establish truth that is not found in the normal teaching of Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament. Many have used types in this way before to make the Bible say whatever they want it to say without doctrine to back it up. So from the story of Lazarus being raised, it is fair to point out things which are commonly found in scripture such as that it is only Jesus that can give life to the spiritually dead. Also it would be fair to point out that after someone has been given spiritual life, the Lord commands His disciples to take off the grave clothes which bound Lazarus (ie disciple the new believer so that they can put off that which bound them in the old life and free them so that they can embrace their new life.) But it is wrong to say that there is nothing required of a non-believer, or that there is nothing that they can or have to do, to obtain salvation. The Bible constantly repeats the gospel truth that the unsaved should 'believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and they will be saved' (Acts 16:29-31). It is true that Lazarus didn't have to believe on the Lord Jesus to be raised physically... He didn't even have to see, hear or think anything. The command from the Lord Jesus was enough to impart physical life back into Lazarus. But to say this illustrates salvation in that there is nothing that an unsaved person can do to be saved makes a mockery of the free gift of salvation that God offers humanity. As it is written at the end of the Bible: "Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life." Rev 22:17

  • The second point is related to the first, and I just want to ask you whether you would still hold to the belief expressed above in personal evangelism. For example, let's say that an unbeliever at your work came up to you (knowing that you were a Christian) and said 'I've been thinking quite a bit lately about my life, and have even started reading parts of the Bible and was wondering what I need to do to receive salvation?' Would you say to that person that there is nothing what so ever that they can do because like Lazarus they are dead in their sins, and can't even believe or respond to Jesus... and that unless Jesus comes and does EVERYTHING, they will just remain dead? I hope not. And I don't think you actually would do this. I'm sure you would tell them what the Bible says concerning salvation and that they should repent of the sins and believe in the person and work of the Lord Jesus on their behalf.

  • I think a better illustration of salvation in the gospel of John is the one that Jesus Himself used. It is in John 3:14-15. 'Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.' It is taken of course from Numbers 21:7-9 where Israel had sinned and had been as a judgment from God, they had been bitten by snakes. He then commanded them to look to a bronze snake raised up on a pole and everyone who looked at the snake was healed! The illustration is very apt. All of humanity are sinners and have been bitten by that venomous snake. But God has provided a way of escape and it is by looking, in faith, to the one who was made sin for us (the bronze snake raised up on the pole) so that, in the words of Jesus, 'everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life!' That's the promise of Jesus and that is what we should be telling the unsaved.

  • I don't agree that the Bible teaches that 'faith', 'trust' or 'believe' are considered 'works'. These are clearly seen to be the total opposite of works in such well known passages as Eph 2:8-9, Rom 4:4-5. The 1Thess 1:3, and 2Thess 1:11 passages that you mentioned above are talking about the 'works of faith' or, as the NIV says for 1 Thes 1:3 'We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love...' It is just saying that there was an practical outworking of their faith, and that they labored hard prompted by their love...' In John 6:29 the disciples thought they had to all sorts of outward works to please God (the normal use of the word 'work'). Jesus said the 'work' that was required was to believe in Him. He used the word 'work' in this passage in a different sense to which it is normally used to correct and ram home a point in the disciples minds I believe.

Anyway, this is how I see it. I hope you haven't been offended by what I have written because that is certainly not my intent. I just believe that on this issue you were going too far in one direction to the detriment of many other scriptures that would teach something different from what you have mentioned above.

All the best.

Separate but related comments on the spiritually dead can't respond and 'Belief' can't get a person to Heaven

Hi, if I were to die tonight, how would I avoid hell and get to heaven? Well, for one thing, I can't get to heaven on my good works, as you said they are (my righteousness) as filthy rags. So I will go to heaven on the finished work of Jesus Christ, the only way there is. Do I believe Christ is the Saviour and the Son of God. He is and I do..Do I believe He was sent here to die for His people. Of course I do. Do I believe this is what will get me to heaven? Of course I don't. There is no belief that will get you to heaven. I believe because it has been revealed to me, and I know that is who He is. Where is my trust? It is God, my Heavenly Father...

There bible speaks of salvation and in different ways. His Word also tells me in Ephesians 2:8-9, For by grace are ye saved through faith and that NOT OF YOURSELVES, it is the gift of God. Do you hunger for God? I think you do, what is putting that hunger within you? Is this hunger coming from you before the rebirth? I don't think so, can a dead man ask for life. His word says we are dead in trespasses and sin...

To me the bible is like a puzzle, if all the pieces doesn't fit, something is wrong... I don't believe a dead person can believe because of some of the scripture and this is one of them.

1st Corinthians 2;14, but the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to them, nor can he know them for they are spiritually discerned. I once read a church billboard that had only part of God's truth, It said, "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out", this is bible, but if you leave the first part out it changes the whole meaning.

It says in John 6:37 All that the Father giveth me shall come to me, and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out

You avoid going to hell by the grace of God, it is a gift of God.I don't believe there will be one person that is not already a child of God be concerned about going to heaven or hell, because with the natural man there is no fear and no love. Do you think Saul of Taurus was concerned about his destination before the Lord saved him on the road to Damascus? He sure didn't seemed to be concerned, but after the Lord saved him, then he wanted to do what he could do...

Eternal Salvation is free to us, but certainly wasn't for our Saviour. He paid a high price for His people, that is the reason that I know that the ones He died for will be there. What He sets out to do He does it. I don't believe in you do your work and the Lord will do His. I don't believe in straddling the fence. We are given works to do, and we miss out on many blessing because we are not faithful. But I won't take on ounce of credit away for our Saviour. You have a blessed day.

JPN Reply:


thanks for your email. I agree with and like both of those scriptures. I totally, totally agree that no one can come to the Father unless they are drawn. The Bible says it and I saw that big time in my own salvation. But neither scripture changes the fact that if a non Christian comes up to you and asks you how they can be saved and you don't answer like Paul did - 'Believe in the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved' then you are not being Biblical and not doing them any service whatsoever! It is our duty to show them both their need of salvation and also the way to obtain that salvation. And the Bible is not silent on either! Leave it to God to work in their heart and bring it about but we need to at least tell them what the Bible says about how to obtain salvation! Remember that the word says 'Faith comes by hearing, and hearing the word of God'. It may be impossible for the natural man to receive the things of the spirit but that is what God does! He is in the miracle business of working faith, conviction and eventual new life into the heart of an unbeliever as they hear the gospel. You do your bit and He will do His! Anything less is "one sided theology"... Don't fall into this trap.

When you look at how people evangelized in the New Testament you never read of them saying things like non-Christians are spiritually dead and cannot respond to the gospel. You always see them telling the people what they should do for salvation. I guess that is the problem I have had from the start with what you have written which seems to be one-sided. It's not that it isn't truth... it's just not the full truth. A few examples of what the Apostles told those not yet saved:

  • Peter preaching on the day of Pentecost

Acts 2:36-39 "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

These people hadn't received the Holy Spirit but God was obviously convicting them and Peter told them to repent and be baptized.

  • Paul with the Jailor

Acts 16:29-31 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"  31  They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household."

  • Paul in Athens

Acts 17:29-31 "Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead."

If God has now commanded all people everywhere to repent, then they obviously have that ability. He is not commanding them to do something they have no ability to do. Both Paul and Peter told their hearers to repent and believe. They certainly didn't assume that they couldn't do that. The reason they could was (and is) because:

Rom 10:13-15 "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." 14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15  And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!... faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ."

You wrote: "I don't believe there will be one person that is not already a child of God be concerned about going to heaven or hell, because with the natural man there is no fear and no love. Do you think Saul of Taurus was concerned about his destination before the Lord saved him on the road to Damascus? He sure didn't seemed to be concerned, but after the Lord saved him, then he wanted to do what he could do."

I believe you are wrong on both accounts there. The Bible says that God "has set eternity in the hearts of men." (Ecc 3:11) People in all walks of life are concerned about Heaven/Hell and life after death. This includes "good people" that assume that their good works will be enough to get them into Heaven. It includes those in false religions and cults who think that they will be in Heaven based on the allegiance to the cult's teaching or leader. Saul of Tarsus definitely would have been concerned about such things. He was a Pharisee. Pharisees believed in life after death (as opposed to Sadducees who did not). They believed in the future resurrection and judgment and lived their life with such things in mind.

Acts 23:6-8 Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, "My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead." When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.)

The fact is that it was actually zeal for God and His truth (as Saul then understood it) that drove him to persecute the church.

Phil 3:6 If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

Jesus has told us to go and make disciples of all nations teaching and baptizing them (Matt 28:18-20). This is something we do. Paul said, as quoted above, that how can people believe if they have not heard. This is something we do. We are His ambassadors. He is the one who convicts, draws and gives life to the dead. Paul constantly went to unbelievers and tried to persuade them concerning Christ. And he is the one that wrote about the natural man and being dead in sins - so obviously he didn't take it like you have that there is nothing we can do or there is no way for an unbeliever to respond. He told them God is commanding them to repent! If God is commanding all to look to His Son and believe in Him, how is that taking an ounce of credit away from Jesus? How could obedience to God's command take anything away from the Lord?

Anyway, that's more than enough on the subject! Please don't take any offense as none is meant. I just hope you will think a little on these things.

All the best and have a good day!