Sent: Saturday, March 20, 2004 10:41 AM
Subject: A REPLY TO A READER [03/20/04]

n a message dated 3/19/2004 2:55:26 PM Central Standard Time, a brother asks:

Since prior to being born-again a sinner was dead in their trespasses and sins, how is it that they come to have faith in Christ?

Paul used "death" as a metaphor more than once, and it has unfortunately been misused by some to teach something more or less than Scripture justifies.

For example, in Romans 6 where Paul says believers are "dead to sin," some sinless perfectionists claim that the true Christian cannot sin because he is "dead to sin." "How can a dead person sin?" they reason. They are using the metaphor beyond its intended message. We are plainly taught elsewhere that Christians do sin and are to confess their sins (1 John 1:8, 9; Matthew 6:12).

Some likewise misuse the metaphor of "death" in relation to the lost sinner and construct a doctrine of depravity on the basis of an exact comparison to physical death. This was never the design of the use of this metaphor. The basic idea of "death" is "separation" -- sinners are separated from God. They are very active in sin and sensitive to the things of God in a negative way. The Word of God "bothers" sinners; how could they be bothered by the Word of God if they were "dead" like a corpse?

Spurgeon said we are not to try to make a parable "stand on all fours."  We are to interpret and apply the metaphor of "death" by the overall teaching of Scripture, not form a doctrine based on an exact comparison to the metaphor.

In Ezekiel 37, some are compared to dry "bones" in that metaphorical illustration. Yet Ezekiel was told the preach to them and bid them "hear the word of the Lord." Obviously, the Lord did not intend for this to mean that "bones" have literal ears. You can only use the metaphor so far as it is illustrative of a particular point.

The metaphors simply illustrate, but they are not designed to "define." We get the definition of doctrine in more explicit, literal language.

Our Confessions say that the sinner is brought to life when he is united to Jesus Christ by faith, through the instrumentality of the Gospel and its empowerment by the Holy Spirit. God has given us MEANS -- the Word or Gospel, and His Spirit blesses those means to the creation of repentance and faith. This is regeneration, or the new birth. The Hardshell idea of some mystical regeneration apart from means, without means, before means, etc. was hatched up in the 1830's as a basis for opposing missions and evangelism.

As Spurgeon once said, "If I am to preach faith in Christ to a man who is regenerated, then the man, being regenerated, is saved already, and it is an unnecessary and ridiculous thing for me to preach Christ to him, and bid him to believe in order to be saved when he is saved already, being regenerate" (Warrant of Faith, #531, page 532).

-- Bob

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