Sick or Dead?





I appreciate the humor of this MEME enriched generation, I really do. I have even chuckled at several that were aimed directly at me. I guess I can thank my two older brothers for my relatively thick skin.

(They still to this day call me “LP” which is short for “Little Pig.” Apparently, my first name is similar to the word “piglet” in Portuguese, which my Great Aunt Roberta kindly shared with us when she was back in the States on furlough from her missionary work in Brazil. Thanks Aunt Roberta!)

The MEMEs above are a common theme we see from our Calvinistic friends, but this is nothing new. Long before MEMEs I recall illustrations and jokes being employed to belittle anyone who suggested man was merely metaphorically sick when it came to their inherited nature from the Fall of Adam.

Back when I was a Calvinist I often used the old illustration about the Lifeguard. I recall preaching, “He doesn’t merely throw you a life preserver and allow you to grab on, but he dives in and drags your lifeless body off the bottom to breathe new life in you.” I’d conclude with something like, “We weren’t just drowning, we were dead! We were born corpses, not merely sick!” That’ll preach, won’t it!? I certainly thought so.

But is this what the Bible actually says? Or is this just a popularized catch phrase use to propagate a systematic dogma?

Hear me when I say this… When I mocked the metaphor of sinners being sick, I was mocking the inspired word of God and so are all Calvinists today who continue to propagate this misnomer.

The fact is that the scriptures metaphorically address our condition as a sickness far more than as deadness. (Jer 17:9, 23; Mk 2:17; Lk 5:31; Mt 9:12; Ps 38:3; Is 64:6; etc) And when speaking metaphorically of deadness it’s never described as a morally incapacitated condition from birth due to the Fall, but instead as a condition of being separated from God by our own rebellion. For instance, the Prodigal was “DEAD/lost” then “alive/found” demonstrating that the term “DEAD” is idiomatic for “separated by rebellion” not “innate moral inability” (Luke 15:24). Just as our soul is separated from our body when we die so too sinful humanity is separated from God by his rebellion. 

Look what James taught,

“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”‭‭ – James‬ ‭1:13-15‬ ‭

Are we born “DEAD” according to James? Or is DEATH birthed in those who sin after its “full grown?” What did Paul say?

“What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.”‭‭ – Romans‬ ‭7:7-11‬ ‭

Are we born “DEAD” according to Paul? Or was it through the commandment, after “sin sprang to life” that DEATH came?

In contrast, the metaphor of illness is quite prevalent throughout the scriptures:

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” -Rom 5:6 

“The heart is more deceitful than all else. And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” -Jer 17:9

“And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” -Mark 2:17

“There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your indignation; There is no health in my bones because of my sin.” -Ps 38:3

“For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” -Is 64:6

We are sick and in need of a Physician.

We are cursed and in need of His cure.

His life-giving truth is sufficient to accomplish the purpose for which He sent it — “…so that you may believe…and by believing may have life in His name.” (Jn 20:31)

So, I will unashamedly declare to my unsaved friends that I hope they come to know the Great Physician who can heal their illness. Great well soon, indeed!

For more on the metaphorical use of the word dead in scripture please CLICK HERE.

13 thoughts on “Sick or Dead?

  1. This is such a foundational topic, Leighton. Thanks. It is a major twisting of a Bible word – “dead” – away from its biblical roots and giving in a meaning borrowed from modern medicine – “inability” or “no function”. The heart ceases to function and the brain isn’t working and the person is pronounced dead! But biblically we know that a person continues to function… just without a body and in a different place! He is just “separated” from his body, which is the basic meaning of physical death in Scripture, and the spirit is separated from the indwelling presence of Christ, which is spiritual death.

    The Calvinist needs to factor in what Paul meant in Rom 5:6 “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”

    Being “weak” doesn’t sound like “dead” or inability to me. This same Greek word is consistently translated “sick” in the Gospels.

    Before salvation we have a terminal illness even though often before conviction we might not feel too bad. But the Doctor tells us we’re dying and we need to trust Him and take this miracle cure that He spent all He had to make and offer to us. We also need to repent and stop trusting the other “cures” others have offered.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Leighton .. here’s the real problem: Calvinist cannot discern between SOUL (heart + conscience) and SPIRIT (mind, emotions, and will) OR understand them backwards. It is the SOUL the needs saving and so it is the SOUL that determines our NATURE — 1) Human/innate/innocent nature, 2) sin nature, or divine nature when we are saved. However, our SPIRIT processes what we hear and see in our flesh first .. and it is completely neutral on everything it hears or sees until it understands what it is hearing or seeing. Therefore, God is able to communicate with our minds regardless of what our nature is.

      Now once we have heard, we are inclined to consider what is in our HEARTS about the gospel (do we want eternal life? Do we want to have a major change in our lives for the good? Is God good or evil? Can we really have eternal life and life now more abundantly, Jn 10:10?) We also consider what is in our CONSCIENCE (Are we sinners? Is our sin hindering our progress in life in the areas of honor, wealth, or health?)

      This is all what God meant when He said, “Come let us reason together; though your sins be as scarlet…” (Isa 1:16) Psychologically speaking, there is no inability to do this except a mental challenge such as youth or mental incapacity.


  2. Thanks for this good post.

    Far too much mileage has been made out of the “dead mean don’t make choices” catchphrase.

    Apparently they do!! I am dead to sin and buried with Christ yet I still sin (alas!).

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Leighton,

    Have you noticed that our Reformed friends are quick to use the Biblical account of Jesus commanding the physically dead Lazarus to come forth from the tomb (and he did) …

    But …

    They do not like to use the same or similar analogy when God in the garden called out to the now spiritually dead but physically alive Adam, “Where are you?”

    Adam hears God’s voice and responds just like a sinner by pointing the blame toward Eve.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ron:
      Very good. And what about the spiritually dead Abel who…

      “…brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering.”

      Matthew even calls him “righteous Abel.” He is certainly not a “hater of God”!!

      Hebrews even says …

      “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.”

      What does he speak? What does his lesson tell us?

      For Calvinism this is just another of the thousands of passages that makes no sense.

      1. He was “righteous” not a God-hater.
      2. It never implies or appears to say that his faith was somehow “forced” (irresistibly) on him.
      3. If it was “forced on him” the example teaches us nothing since we either have the forced faith or we don’t.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Ron:
      Another thing about your Adam example.

      Doesn’t he make clothes of fig leaves? Isn’t he convicted of something?

      How can he be convicted of ANYTHING if he is so dead?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “And, further, we must believe that ‘he is a rewarder of them that seek Him’—for that is the meaning of the Greek word. We must believe that God will reward the man who seeks Him and that, therefore, God is worth seeking! We must believe that although it may be costly to follow after God, and do His bidding, yet it will pay you—that there is a great reward in keeping His Commandments—that He does hear prayer, that He does grant great blessings to those who truly seek Him….

    And, dear Friends, the person who has no faith is unaccepted with God. All through Scripture faith is spoken of as the great method of justification.”

    C. H Spurgeon, 18 April, 1897

    Preach it Spurgeon! Faith precedes justification! God rewards those who seek Him!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. FromOverThere …

    Geisler has some good things to share in his Systematic (Vol. 3):

    He shares other Biblical figures of speech describing total depravity beyond the word “death” or “spiritual death”, for instance:

    POLLUTED – in need of purification or cleansing
    SICK – in need of healing
    IN THE DARK – in need of light

    Clearly a sick person is able to receive a cure, just as a dirty person can embrace cleansing and a person in the dark can accept light.
    In every case, the sinner is incapable of doing these things by himself (p. 126).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes….and Luke 15 tells us that a “dead” man (Christ says it twice) is able to “come to his senses” while in a “far off country”.

      The Father in this case does no dragging whatsoever…..just waits.


  6. In addition to “spiritual death,” I think there’s another way we should understand the sinner’s death. The “death” that came to Adam (1 Cor 15:21) and was passed on to the human race (we were all “in Adam,” as it were) is a death that can only be cured by a resurrection (vv 22-23, 26, 42ff). More than a healing of the soul or spirit is in view here. God warned Adam that he would die the day he took the forbidden fruit. He did…in a PROLEPTIC sense. We find prolepsis throughout Scripture. Abraham, for instance, was the possessor of the promised land and father of a great nation before Isaac was born. God told Sarah that kings had come from her, though she had not yet given birth. God calls things that are not as though they are (Rom 4:17). That’s prolepsis! So when God told Adam he would die in the day he took the forbidden fruit, He did not mean Adam would literally drop dead that day. God was not speaking of the TIME of Adam’s death, but of its CERTAINTY. He meant that his death—his literal, bodily death—would, at that point, be made certain. And it was! Adam was, at that point, a “dead man walking.” By being driven out of the garden, Adam (and all his descendants) lost access to the tree of life, thus making death certain. We were all “in Adam,” as it were, when Adam sinned. Thus, all of us sinned, AS IT WERE. Romans 5:12 is an “as if,” or “as it were,” statement. Adam sinned, and we all became sinners at that point, AS IT WERE, for we’ve been dying ever since. In other words, when Adam sinned, it’s AS THOUGH we were sinning right along with him, seeing as how we’re still under the curse (we still die). This passage has nothing whatsoever to do with “federal headship” and the nonsensical doctrine that little babies are born guilty in the sight of God. And it certainly does not mean that we’re “dead” in the sense that we’re utterly incapable of responding to the gospel in faith.

    Liked by 1 person

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