Can a dead man repent and believe? This is a question posed often by Calvinists. They reason that if a man is (spiritually) dead in sins and trespasses then he is completely unable to do that which God commands. He is unable to turn to God in repentance, to believe, or even to desire anything which God commands. According to the Calvinist, God must 1st quicken man (who is spiritually dead in trespasses and sins), bringing him to new life before he can believe or desire to be right with God.
If we are going to apply this interpretation to this verse, we must also apply it to others (in the proper context). The same Apostle who penned Ephesians 2:1 also penned the following verses. Speaking of born again believers, Paul writes:
Romans 8:10 “And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” Applying this same interpretation, it would have to be suggested that if our bodies are now dead, that we could no longer walk or talk or breathe. Can a born again believer yet walk, talk and breathe?
Romans 6:11 “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Can and do we yet sin? The obvious and logical answer to all these questions is a resounding Yes.
We should never base our theology only on our human reasoning or philosophies, but on the word of God itself. So, what does the word of God tell us? Can a spiritually dead man do as God commands -turn to him in repentance and believe? Can an unsaved man desire to worship God?
Acts 16:14 “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.”
The example of Lydia is often used to prove that man cannot. But notice here that Lydia is a described as a worshipper of God prior to God’s opening her heart. Of course, we cannot hang our beliefs on this one verse.
Acts 10:1 “There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, 2 A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.”
Cornelius also worshipped God prior to regeneration. We are told that he feared God, gave alms and prayed to God. It sure sounds like he desired to be right to God and turned to him.
We are also told of many Old Testament saints who repented and believed God. It would be difficult, I believe, to find anyone who would suggest that they were regenerated.
John 7:39 “ (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)”
Old Testament saints had faith that was counted for righteousness and were saved, but they were not regenerated as we are. They were looking forward to the coming of the Savior who would in the future complete the way of Salvation. But we are told that these died, IN FAITH not having yet received the promise. The Holy Spirit was not an indwelling presence, tabernacling with men while the Old covenant was still in effect. We are told that these things were a shadow of things to come, but not the very things themselves.
The Holy Spirit was known to come upon individuals for a time, empowering them for service as God’s purposes demanded, but also departed from them at times. We know that a regenerated person with the indwelling Holy Spirit can quench that a Spirit, but never lose it. The Old Testament saints were forgiven, but not born again. They were justified by faith (saved) but they were not regenerated; and yet we are told that :
Romans 4:3 “…Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.”
Romans 4:6-9 “Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.”
As a solution to this obvious problem posed by scripture itself, some would suggest that regeneration and faith happen at the exact same time. (To me, this seems like faulty reasoning at best. Logic itself would demand that one must come before the other. Just as if we were entering a house, we might describe it as one singular act, but that act is made up of more than one element. Clearly we must open the door before we can go through it, and not the other way around.)
Again we have to look to word for the answer. Do we repent and believe to be saved? Or are we saved so that we CAN repent and believe? Are we saved through faith? or through regeneration? Does faith come by hearing or by regeneration?
John 20:31 “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”
Mark 16:16 “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
John 3:18 “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
John 3:36 “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”
Notice the idea here: The believing are saved to everlasting life, while the unbelieving are condemned. Can a man be regenerated prior to belief? Not according to the scriptures, for then would a regenerate man yet be condemned, and still have the wrath of God abiding on him. He would still be damned.
Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”
According to the bible, we are either in the flesh or in the spirit. We cannot be both.
Romans 8:9 “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.
Can we actually say that someone is regenerated who has not yet repented or believed? Are they washed, and renewed prior to repentance and belief? The bible tells us that God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. And that He “saveth such as be of a contrite spirit” Psalms 34:18. Will God go against His own word and regenerate an unrepentant, proud sinner?
Psalms 119:155 “Salvation is far from the wicked: for they seek not thy statutes.”
If that is not clear enough, there is more:
Ephesians 1:13 “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also AFTER THAT YE BELIEVED, YE WERE SEALED with that holy Spirit of promise,”
The bible is exceedingly clear here when it tells us that after they heard the word, they trusted (believed). After they believed, they were sealed with the Holy Spirit.
So then, if man is capable of repenting and believing before he is regenerated, who gets the glory? Of course God does. Man cannot anymore regenerate himself than he can sprout wings. It is only by the great and merciful grace of God, that salvation is possible. If God had not planned from the foundation of the world, to provide his son as a sacrifice for sin, no one could ever be saved.
John 6:44 “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” How does God draw sinners to Christ? Christ said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” John 12:32 God draws us through the preaching of the word. Romans 10:17 “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” Faith cometh by hearing, not by regeneration.How many does God desire to draw? All.
2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
Repent & Believe!