Today’s blog begins a short series on the doctrines of grace. The purpose of this blog series is to give a brief primer on reformed theology, though not as brief as in the article “Is Veritas Church Reformed?” Ultimately, we believe that right thinking and right affections lead to right living. In order for us to live faithfully for Christ, we need to think rightly about God, and we need to use our affections for God. We want to view everything (and we do mean everything) through the lens of scripture.
If you are wondering why Veritas Church is reformed, or you want a refresher on the basics of reformed theology, we will explain our reasoning in this and forthcoming blogs. We will look at each doctrine of grace point-by-point, and give biblical explanations for them. We will also try to break down bigger words and explain the meaning and context. We hope this blog series helps to open your eyes to the immense grace, mercy, worthiness, and glory of God!
In Calvinistic thought, it’s often useful to use an acrostic to remember the “five points” of Calvinism: TULIP
T– Total Depravity
U– Unconditional Election
L– Limited Atonement
I– Irresistible Grace
P– Perseverance of the Saints
Today we look at the first point of the acrostic, Total Depravity.
Total Depravity is the doctrine that all of Adam’s descendants (meaning all humanity) fell with (or in) Adam, and inherited a sin nature, which enslaves a man’s will to fleshly desire so that he has no capacity to choose God.
It’s important to distinguish what Total Depravity isn’t, before moving forward.
Total Depravity does not mean or imply:
1. That the natural (unbelieving) man cannot do more terrible things more often, continuously (which would be utter depravity);
2. That the natural man is not restrained by the Holy Spirit from further evil (the agent of common grace, 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7);
3. That the believing person’s spiritual nature is enslaved to sin. (Romans 6:15-23);
4. Conversely, that the spiritual (believing) man is incapable of sin or fleshly depravity following conversion. (Replete in scripture, though notable examples include Noah’s drunkenness [Genesis 9:20-21], David’s adultery with Bathsheba [2 Samuel 11], Solomon’s polygamy [1 Kings 11:1-8], and Peter’s ungodly fear of the circumcision party [Galatians 2:11-14]).
Because the “total” in “total depravity” is confusing, many opt to use a term like “total inability”, which places emphasis on the total inability of men to come to Christ in their natural state. There are also terms like “radical depravity” or “radical corruption”, which place emphasis on how evil the disposition of natural man’s heart is. The “total” in “total depravity” is referring to the sum of man’s inclinations. If you were to add up the good intentions and evil intentions of any particular man, things would balance in such a way that “evil intent” would heavily outweigh the “good intent”. Thus, total is distinct from utter. A person who is totally depraved is capable of moral good, but because of their faithlessness, even their good works are “accidental sins”. Therefore, all that is done without faith is sin (Romans 14:23b)
Total Depravity is the buttress of the doctrines of grace, yet is most likely the least disputed. Every orthodox Christian believes in the depravity of man. The alternative to radical depravity would be the Pelagian heresy, which posits that God’s grace is not necessary because men have libertarian free will (meaning, inherent ability without any help from God) to choose positively for God, or choose negatively for evil. Pelagianism rejects original sin, which requires heterodox (opposite of orthodox) reasoning and is contrary to scripture. Since St. Augustine nailed that coffin in his day, we will dispense with argumentation against it on this post. For the curious, we think this is a good source if you want to read more on that particular controversy.
The question is whether or not man is totally (or ultimately) depraved.
Why does depravity matter?
It is important to settle the grounds on depravity because, for most, if you can establish the inability of man to repent of sin, the rest of the logic behind the soteriology (the study of how people are saved) of Calvinism falls into place. After all, if we have no ability to choose God, then the only other choice that could save is God’s choosing us, and if this were so, he would need to make a path for justification and atonement. If God has to affect all of this in the heart of the sinner, then who is ultimately making the choice? And if God saves Christians, can he lose a Christian?
All of this begins with first answering the question: Is humanity totally depraved? The only way to answer this and be a consistent biblical Christian is to make the case from scripture.
Is humanity totally depraved?
Genesis 6:5-7 – “Every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
Genesis 6:11-13 – “…for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.”
2 Chronicles 6:36 – “there is no one who does not sin”
Psalm 51:5 – David, God’s anointed, writes “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me”
Psalm 58:3 – “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies”
Ecclesiastes 7:29 – “…God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.”
Isaiah 64:6 – “All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” – This is strong language. The Hebrew being translated as “polluted garment” or “filthy rags” is referring to a used menstrual cloth.
Romans 3:10-12 – “No one seeks for God”
Romans 5:12-19 – “by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners”
Romans 3:9-20 – Paul quotes from Psalms, Jeremiah, and Isaiah in summarizing the idea that no one is righteous.
1 John 1:8-10 – “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us”
We are told in Romans 8:5-8 that the natural man is hostile to things of God and wills not to submit, and cannot submit.
The most damning reports of the depravity of man indicate that men are dead in their trespasses:
Colossians 2:13 “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh…”
Ephesians 2:1-5 “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked… even when we were dead in our trespasses.”
Now, do dead men will themselves to life? Of course not. Scripture is clear that man is inherently sinful (from birth, says David), and that men, of their own accord, freely choose to enslave themselves to sin. Total depravity ultimately speaks to the nature of man. Apart from Christ, the nature of man tends toward the flesh, and not the Spirit, of whom one must be born and baptized in in order to be saved.
What are the implications of Total Depravity?
A man who is totally depraved can never come to Christ of his own volition. We have been told we are dead in our trespasses. How dead? How about, Lazarus-dead? He stinketh, dead. Rotting in the grave, dead (John 11:39). How was Lazarus raised from the grave? Jesus called him out of it (John 11:43).
Total depravity, positively stated, asserts that God must make the efficacious call in order to bring about spiritual life, which produces the fruit of repentance and faith. Since we have established that all men are born wicked and depraved, and therefore dead in their trespasses and sins, it follows that God must do the raising. God must do the saving. God must do the working. God must create faith in the spiritually dead, and he must do this by raising them to spiritual life.
Now that we have received the bad news, is there any good news? Is God inclined to do this?
How does God transform depraved men?
Ezekiel 37 likens the human condition to a valley of dry bones. In the vision, Ezekiel records that the bones are “very dry” (vv 1-2). The significance of the dry bones? How long must a person be dead for their bones to be “very dry?” Yet God commands Ezekiel to preach and prophesy over the bones, that God will “lay sinews” upon them, and “cause flesh to come upon” them, and “put breath” in them so that they shall live (vv 4-6).
After this, God brings Ezekiel to the forefront of the analogy (vv 11-14). The dry bones are the whole house of Israel (that is, those who will be saved) (vv. 11). God then says “Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord” (vv 12-14).
Let’s unpack this just a little bit:
v. 11 Before God’s action, those who will be saved are as dead as dry bones. They are dead in their trespasses and sins.
v. 12 God promises to open their graves and raise them from death. He will bring them into the promises of God.
v. 13 They will know that God is the Lord because they have been raised. New life brings knowledge of the Lord.
v. 14a God will indwell them by the Holy Spirit so that they live, and take them into the promises of God. They know God because His spirit is in them.
v. 14b This is not a hypothetical arrangement. God holds himself to His Word. It will come to pass. God promises all of it.
How can we live? How do we identify with the Lord? Through the Lord identifying with us. Jesus died so that we would die to Adam, and Jesus rose so that we would rise with him. When man separated himself from God, Jesus separated himself from God on behalf of man. In so doing, he reunited man with God. We know him because he raised us. Without being regenerated, we cannot know him. Being regenerated, we know him now. This is the promise of the New Covenant fulfilled.
Having spoken the regeneration, God accomplishes the regeneration, and we see this in the fulfillment of the promise of the New Covenant, wherein Jesus’ heel is first stricken, and then the serpent’s head is crushed by him, the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:14-15). Jesus took on our nature (Hebrews 2:14-18), so that we might partake in His nature (2 Peter 1:3-4). Apart from this partaking of divine nature, there is no godly inheritance. Since dead men cannot participate in any action which would give them life, God must accomplish this. Before we can eat the bread and drink the wine, God must provide the bread and the wine. And how does he do this? In the person and work of Jesus Christ. (John 6:53-58, Luke 22:14-20) And how is it communicated? Through His Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17).
The best part of the good news
The best part of the good news is that God loves to raise men from the dead. God works life into dead bones because dead bones are all he has to work with. God loves to save. God loves to call men out of their graves. He calls so many out of the grave in Ezekiel’s vision that Ezekiel marvels “The breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army” (vv. 10). How great is God’s love? Exceedingly great. How great is the multitude which God raises? Exceedingly great. The depravity of man is great and total; but the mercy and grace of God is exceedingly great and superlative. What God commands to live cannot help but obey and live.
While many in the reformed camp tend to focus on the “no’s” of total depravity, deep within the doctrine is the “yes and amen” of God, who lovingly raises men from the dead to spiritual life, knowing that they are helpless without him. Since we are loved by a God who so loves to create life from dead bones, we have no reason to shrink from the truths of scripture, and all the more to lean into them.
With Total Depravity explained, we will next look into the U of Tulip, Unconditional Election. We’ve already touched on it a little bit here, but I’m looking forward to digging in a little deeper on that subject. Catch you next time.
Want a lot of verses on total depravity? Check out this link: http://www.traviscarden.com/total-depravity-verse-list