Ephesians 2:1 (MEV): And you were dead in your trespasses and sins
This is a favorite proof-text for some. It is brought to bear upon a superstitious condition of men. That would be the alleged Total Depravity of humanity as touted in the Calvinist TULIP short-hand. What that attempts to pass-off is that humans are born not being able to do anything that pleases God, not even exercise faith in what He says… Because they are born dead in sin.
As conversations around TULIP go, there are many well-worn, yet limited Scripture proofs offered. They are intended to be understood to offer proof of an external contention. The terms “election” and “predestination” usually are in play. As such, Romans chapters 8 & 9 are often used to succinctly explain (the TULIP believer’s) version of these terms.
As I was reading, I find this.
Romans 8:5–8 (MEV): For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. To be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace, for the carnal mind is hostile toward God, for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can it be, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Here, Paul is not explaining that a unsaved person cannot do good, nor can a saved person not sin. But it is the mindset of the unsaved. It is hostile toward God. A person with a mind set to sin is actively hostile toward God. It’s plain and simple. Sin brings death. God is opposed to death. (Even for believers.)
But to the point of the discussion, Paul continues.
Romans 8:9 (MEV): You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. Now if any man does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.
This is the difference between a believer and an unbeliever. It’s not what such does or does not do, but Who lives inside.
Romans 8:10–11 (MEV): And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit that lives in you.
This is a promise a believer can hold fast to. As the Spirit lives in us we have the ability to put the deeds of the body to death. But nothing here is saying that a person that is born “dead in sins” cannot cannot please God. In fact, what Paul says here is the antithesis that upends Total Depravity.
If a man born “dead in sins” can do nothing good; then a person whose body is dead “because of sin” ought not be able to do things that displease God.
Dead men don’t sin. Yet saved men do sin. They do displease God.
What Paul is saying in both places, that a person dead in sins is useless to the purposes God has already intended for him. The saved person’s body is reckoned dead because of sin. The word “dead” being used isn’t to mean like a physically dead person, but more like “useless for its intended purpose.” A dead battery cannot start a car.
That understanding is clearly evidenced in these:
James 2:17 (MEV): So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
James 2:20 (MEV): But do you want to be shown, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?
James 2:26 (MEV): As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead.
Faith without works is useless to the purposes God has intended. As is the body without the Spirit.