Are Unbelievers Spiritually Disabled or Spiritually Dead?

by Mike Ratliff

1 Καὶ ὑμᾶς ὄντας νεκροὺς τοῖς παραπτώμασιν καὶ ταῖς ἁμαρτίαις ὑμῶν, 2 ἐν αἷς ποτε περιεπατήσατε κατὰ τὸν αἰῶνα τοῦ κόσμου τούτου, κατὰ τὸν ἄρχοντα τῆς ἐξουσίας τοῦ ἀέρος, τοῦ πνεύματος τοῦ νῦν ἐνεργοῦντος ἐν τοῖς υἱοῖς τῆς ἀπειθείας· 3 ἐν οἷς καὶ ἡμεῖς πάντες ἀνεστράφημέν ποτε ἐν ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις τῆς σαρκὸς ἡμῶν ποιοῦντες τὰ θελήματα τῆς σαρκὸς καὶ τῶν διανοιῶν, καὶ ἤμεθα τέκνα φύσει ὀργῆς ὡς καὶ οἱ λοιποί· (Ephesians 2:1-3 NA27)

1 And you being dead in your trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked according to the age of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit now working in the sons of disobedience 3 among whom also we all conducted ourselves once in the lusts of our flesh, performing the desires and thoughts of the flesh, and we were by nature children of wrath as also the rest. (Ephesians 2:1-3 Possessing the Treasure New Testament V1) 

During his sermon today, James MacDonald made a comment that we need to be careful how we “label” unbelievers. He used the analogy that just as you wouldn’t call someone a “cripple” or “retarded” you should be careful in how you refer them as well. He came up the term “spiritually disabled.” While that would probably get a nod and a smile from those all about Political Correctness, it is not Biblical. The Word of God did not “beat and around the bush” attempting to not offend “unbelievers.” In fact, our Lord himself used such hard preaching in John 6 to purge his followers of the marginal that in John 6:66 the Word of God says, “Ἐκ τούτου πολλοὶ [ἐκ] τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ ἀπῆλθον εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω καὶ οὐκέτι μετ᾽ αὐτοῦ περιεπάτουν.” Or, “From this time many of his disciples went back and no longer were walking with him.” Why did they walk away as in 1 John 2:19? There is more to being a Christian than just making a profession. 

In Ephesians 2:1, the word “dead” translates the adjective νεκροὺς (nekrous) the Accusative, Plural of νεκρός (nekros), “dead.” An unsaved person, an unbeliever, is a spiritual corpse. This temporal life is actually a living death. He or she may be walking and breathing, but they are dead spiritually while they live physically.

As many of you know I grew up a Southern Baptist and attended many evangelistic crusades during that time. One analogy I heard many times with a few variations went something like this:

“Picture a drowning man. He is struggling to stay afloat. He has already gone down twice and is now down for the third time with only his desperately seeking hand still above the surface. His only hope is for someone to throw him a life preserver. This is exactly what God does, but even if the preserver hits the man’s hand, that’s not enough. The man must close his hand around it and capture his salvation.”

Sounds like a dramatic sales pitch and it always seemed to play very well in those evangelists’ emotional appeal, but it is based upon a false presupposition. Lost people are not drowning. They are dead. They are as entombed at the bottom of the sea as the over 1,100 men still entombed in the USS Arizona at the bottom of Pearl Harbor. The only hope of the lost is for God to reach down, pull their corpses to the surface, and breathe life into them. That is what God did for our dead Saviour at his resurrection, who “rose from the dead” (Matthew 17:9; 27:64; Romans 6:4), and for all that are in Christ, that is exactly what He already has done for them by his grace.

Soli Deo Gloria!

30 thoughts on “Are Unbelievers Spiritually Disabled or Spiritually Dead?

  1. Good article. Right on. Just a slight correction from my 1st hand observation:
    MacDonald actually said this DURING his sermon, not “In a response to a question today after his sermon”.

  2. Thank you for posting this!!! I am sure you know how deeply embedded the free will theology is, which makes grace null and void and robs God of glory. I have been reading a couple of books by Dr. James Boice, one is entitled ‘Whatever happened to the gospel of grace, recovering the doctrines that shook the world’; the other is entitled ‘the doctrines of grace, rediscovering the evangelical gospel’. I recommend both these to all.
    I recently had a discussion with a gentleman who had read David Platt’s book ‘radical’, which I read as well. When I pointed out this statement from Platt’s church website, “Our eternal destiny is dependent on our response to Jesus” and said this is teaching salvation by works, the man became very irate. This stuff runs deep throughout America and is rooted down; this is why I recommend these books by Dr. Boice. We must get back to the doctrines of grace or we will continue to see superficial Christianity devour, as it already has. People who believe this do not understand or realize that they rob God of glory by taking credit for having part in their salvation. Even when verses like the ones you present in this excellent post are simply ignored. How can dead people respond? They can’t, no more than dead people can raise up out of a coffin.

    Thanks Mike for your never-ending battle for truth, you are a blessing brother…to God be the glory.

  3. You can view MacDonald’s sermon (at least until next weekend usually) at http://www.jamesmacdonald.com/teaching/video

    At about the 7:45 minute mark, he starts the portion about being “spiritually disabled”.

    However, in light of recent events (ER2), you may also want to hear what he says about spiritual opposition to himself earlier in the sermon.

  4. Great article.

    I recon people like James MacDonald just don’t believe what God said in — Gen 2:17 “but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not [fn]eat, for {{{in the day}}} that you eat from it you will surely {be spiritually disabled} NO!!,,,”you will SURELY DIE”–that day they died spiritually. What do they think? God lied because they lived another what 900 years?? We’re supposed to believe they were just “spiritually disabled” when God said the day you eat of it you will surely die..

    I shake my head in sadness and frustration as they water down and subrogate the word of God for euphemistic man made twaddle by making it of no effect-null and void.

    Rom 5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—

  5. I wonder why Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be ‘born again’? Why, if Nicodemus is merely disabled? In that case doesn’t he just need to be made well, healed and restored? Why didn’t Jesus say you must be restored? Because Nicodemus was dead in his sins, just like all of us were before the Holy Spirit brought us new spiritual life in Christ. Just like our physical life was a gift so is our spiritual life. It is a gift from God, the Author of Life. Why do we even call it spiritual life? Why don’t we just call it spiritual restoration? It sure is unnerving when a once solid teacher starts messing with actual words and concepts that are clearly spelled out in the scriptures.

  6. Hi Mike, excellent post. This highlights the enormous need for reading from the original text (Koine Greek and Hebrew). I know Dr. White preaches from the Greek text and I have read where Wesley actually quoted from it verbatim. In an era when doubt is cast on those who should be proclaiming God’s truth (pastors), unfaithful paraphrases and translations abound and change with the times, and publishing houses spawn anything for a $$$ it is more crucial than ever that we have individuals such as yourself to bring more individuals back to the true reading of Holy Scripture.

    It would be proper and fitting for a pastor to utilize another portion of Holy Scripture to provide an example of the text under examination rather than utilize an analogy that does not work and is anti-Holy Scripture. It would also be beneficial for them to remember to let “Scripture interpret Scripture”; however, in many cases, that would just mean ‘their twisted interpretation of Scripture’ interpreting ‘their twisted interpretation of Scripture.’ There is no possible way one arrives at ‘disabled’ for nekrous especially when you look at in context and its uses throughout Holy Scripture. At best it is laziness and at worst it is diabolical. Of course, it is possible for someone to distort the meaning in order to proclaim a less offensive, more appealing message to the masses which increases the base for his product (ala. the TD Jakes twist which allows him to sell more since ‘jesus’ is the product). Again, it gets back to what you said Mike regarding faithfulness and those who are preaching a false gospel. Soli Deo Gloria is missing, they can’t possible believe in Total Depravity/Inability by their own admission, so it really begs the question as to how ‘reformed’ these individuals really are.

    Thanks for your labor Mike! Thanks to the others who comment on this blog too.

  7. Julie, rumor has it that James MacDonald is writing a book on “How to do Church.” I think money has more to do with what he has been up to than anything else.

  8. You’re probably right Mike about that money motivating James. WE don’t know those heart issues-God does. However we can certainly see outwardly that the fruit he’s pursuing and bearing is not godly when James is following people like Prosperity hereticTD Jakes and not “seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness” -Mat.6:33.

    God weighs our motives-Proverbs 16:2

    We can only pray that God will grant James repentance because this is egregious. All the damage all the compromising and his reputation is gone.

    “The memory of the righteous will be a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot”-Proverbs 10:7

  9. Linda, when money gets involved, God uses it to reveal what is really underneath. That is why so many start out looking so good and when they become popular, they make shipwrecks of everything because then the money and fame kicks in and that desire overrides everything else. On the other hand, a genuine faith and a believer who is bound to God’s will in everything, even if it means always being obscure and despised by the popular and never having the wealth and power that others have, causes the genuine believer to be content where God has him or her. This is what I call the having an eternal perspective.

  10. It’s dumbed down preaching and as a result of political correctness and worldly compromse we get these pamperings to the lowest common denominator.

  11. I remember when the terms “churched” and “unchurched” started being used instead of saved/lost, which is ludicrous on many levels. And now, spiritually disabled?

    Whatever happened to clear terms like saved vs lost, believers vs unbelievers?

    Or, shepherds vs wolves/hirelings…?

  12. Carolyn, isn’t it obvious how our enemy is sowing the seeds of confusion? Hence the need for us to stick to being Biblical even when that clearly is contrary to someone’s “traditions”?

  13. MacDonald also has said in the sermon something to the effect that he will NOT be getting any royalties from this “Veritcal Church” book — so I don’t think we can say he is doing it for the money. He has said this same thing about other books he has written also. Of course, it would be nice to see the contract with the book publisher to see the details.

    He has said in the past that much of his wealth has come from “outside harvest” . For example years ago (early in his ministry) he said he and a partner bought delapidated homes in the Chicago area, fixed them up, and then resold them at a nice profit. — Dont know if he still does this – my impression is he doesn’t.

  14. Mike, you aren’t kidding! All the “names” who are involved in sowing confusion are on my “mark and avoid” list.

  15. As I said, it is either money or some other worldly motivation like “fame” or “notoriety.” Well, I don’t know what is motivation is, but if he is doing all this and teaching what is contrary to what is Biblical, but saying otherwise then can it be for the glory of God?

  16. “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and pride in possessions – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” – 1 John 2:15-17

    While one cannot know the motivation of the heart within an individual, given time, it will become manifest in one of the three areas mentioned above as Mike has stated in a few of his comments.

    God takes His Word seriously and He does not like people changing it. There is a vast difference between ‘growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’ [God does not give birth to full blown adults as Dr. White has mentioned numerous times and I agree with him] and knowingly changing the Word of God. These men are old enough, have been around long enough, and have heard enough to know better.

    The large church model coupled with the cultural/seeker-sensitive paradigm is detrimental as the leadership will typically abandon their faithfulness to doctrine and Holy Scripture (deeds not creeds) while becoming more donor/tither sensitive, numbers driven, and focused on maintaining/increasing the activity. While smaller churches can succumb to similar issues (ie: donor/tither [allowing an individual to control the pastor or threaten to withdraw support]) there is a unique aspect in the large church model and it plays a significant part in its departure from the true Gospel. [I like Carl Trueman's approach of small churches growing by making disciples, as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has commanded, while splitting at a certain point in order to plant another church in an area of the city so that there is another church with a faithful pastor focused on Holy Scripture.]

    Strictly speaking about money and compensation: While an individual may not take direct remuneration for a project the royalties typically go to the organization [which can lead to increasing pride within the individual especially if an announcement is made publicly: "see what I have done...I am not taking anything from this"] as well as justification to the base. Nevertheless, the leader generally does receive some form of benefit from the organization. As an example, leaders typically travel a lot and go to multiple places within the US and abroad to conferences, speaking engagements, social-gospel activities, etc. They spend funds on hotels (Motel 6 is not getting the business even though they leave the light on for them), dinners, etc. Ecclesiology is thrown out the window along with what used to be the pastoral role and in its place we find the business organization and CEO maintaining the behemoth. It truly is shocking to see people change and how far they fall from the narrow way. The mega ‘church’ can be a cruel task-master.

  17. Beautiful is the truth and therefore intrinsically and dramatically exposing the ugliness of falsehood. James MacDonald is picking up speed as he slides down the slippery slope of man’s traditions, preferences, ambitions and ego and political agenda dragging with him thousands upon thousands who bought more into the cult of personality than the Gospel itself.

  18. Yep, Mike God will use a variety of things in our lives or allow Satan to sift us like wheat” that will bring that (true) motive up to the surface

    Just one example:

    I’ve had God do that to me with friendships before in the past as I’ve had emotional dependencies that were not healthy -one of those weaknesses-thorns in the flesh I guess. NOW adays, the faithfulness of my Lord Jesus and his patience with me because I’m such an obtuse sheep has taught me through his grace fortitude in trusting and clinging onto the Lord as my ROCK.

    Sometimes though I can start out so close with the Lord and so sincere with my motives (so I think) and then that ugly just creeps to the surface and I am so HURT that I have betrayed my Lord and Savior once again when I thought it was all gone and I was strong. Those underlying motives are the greatest trials in my life. I’m so wistful over my sins but GOD never ceases to amaze me that In his great love, he loves me the same as the moment he said to the crowd while hanging on that cross,, “Father, Forgive them for they know not what they do”-Oh that just (tears)-crying tears – me up so to know that Jesus loved me THEN when he already knew all I’d do even as his Child.. Wow. Now I’m a very strong individual and God is trying to balance me out since I go from one extreme to the other Lol

    So, I fail to see why People don’t REPENT! Isn’t the Lord Jesus more than worthy of our full devotion? Did they not know God’s amazing GRACE that will NOT let you go but for a season if you do go down the wrong path? I’m always drawn back to my most joyful and happiest freest time in my life-the moment Jesus set me free.

    Is this falling down the wrong path revealing a Child of God who has gone astray or a heart that never was his Child? WE can only hope and pray that James comes back to repentance or else the verse in 1 John 2:19 will come into effect.

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