“As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.’”
Romans 3 v 10 – 12
The above verse is the foundation for the doctrine of total depravity. Simply put it means that man has a total inability to anything good or spiritual. Man in his fallen and sinful state neither understands nor seeks God. And in his natural state this will never change. Sin affects every single part of a man’s life including his ability to come to God. The curse of sin was a total curse that meant that man would never willing come to God.
Man in all his free will would never choose to come to God. Never. Man cannot even read the Bible in his fallen state, any spiritual activity, any good deed is impossible for sinful man.
As it says in Romans 8 v 7 -8:
“the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.”
Man’s rebellion against God is so total we just can’t please him because we would never choose to please him. Matthew 15 v 19 talks about fallen man’s nature:
“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”
Man rejects anything that comes from God. And as 1 Corinthians 2 v 14 says:
“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
The Bible describes this fallen state as being spiritually dead:
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”
Ephesians 2 v 1 – 3
Dead people can’t decide to live. Man in his natural state cannot chose to be spiritually alive. And the spiritually dead are objects of God’s wrath.
Does this mean I’m not responsible for my sin?
No! We have free will and just because we would never choose to come to God does not mean we are absolved of responsibility. We are sinners by nature and choice. Our inability to come to God is a sinful inability that we are responsible for. We choose not to go to God. Why else would God warn his people:
“Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!”
Ezekiel 18 v 31
God calls us to him. We chose not to go because we are fallen and sinful and utterly deprived of any spiritual good.
Why then are good deeds still done?
Unbelieving people do good deeds. That is true. But they only do so because of God’s Common Grace extended to all mankind when he gives people the ability to do good. If God did not extend his common grace then we would all never do good and only do evil.
Why do unbelievers pray, read the Bible and do other spiritual acts?
Man is spiritually dead yet at the same time I’m sure if I was to ask my unconverted friends if they had ever prayed they would they had. How can the fact of total depravity and this spiritual action be reconciled?
The answer is simple. Unconverted people pray because God grants them the ability to do so. Any spiritual action in a man is a miracle, a supernatural act because on his own man cannot do anything spiritual. The Holy Spirit is at work in all men.
“The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.” (emphasis added)
1 Corinthians 2 v 10 - 13
Only the Holy Spirit knows the thoughts of God. Only the Holy Spirit can stir up any spiritual action within a man’s life.
Spurgeon (a famous preacher) wrote about his own conversion:
“The thought struck me: how did you come to be a Christian? I sought the Lord. But how did you come to seek the Lord? The truth flashed across my mind in a moment – I should not have sought him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself: how did I come to pray? I was induced to prayer by reading the Scripture. How did I come to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that he was the Author of my faith, and so the doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day and I desire to make my constant confession ‘I ascribe my change wholly to God.”
How then can a man be saved?
Man can only be saved through an act of God. As Jesus says:
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
John 6 v 44 (The latter part of John 6 is wonderful for explaining Calvinism!)
Here Jesus explains the truth of the matter: no one can come to him unless the Father draws them to him! Man in his sinful state cannot come to Jesus for salvation. God comes to man not the other way around.
And when God brings a man to Jesus that man will find salvation. As Jesus says:
“For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
John 6 v 40
What is so encouraging about this truth of Total Depravity?
As Jesus says:
“The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.”
John 6 v 63
The truth of Total Depravity is humbling – I cannot boast of my salvation for it was not me. Nothing I did would ever lead to my salvation. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that he died on the cross for my sins not because I am more intelligent than anyone else, or because I have secret knowledge but because God drew me to Jesus. My salvation was an act of God not an act of me!
So my pride is dashed, my arrogance is forgone, were it not for the grace of God I would still be a sinner by nature and choice. I am therefore called to thankfulness and praise for God’s goodness to me.
Another encouragement is that Christians should not be surprised when people reject the truth of the gospel:
“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
2 Corinthians 4 v 4
Man in his fallen state will, by default, reject the gospel message. Man will never come to God unless God first comes to him. It is not a Christian’s fault when someone rejects the gospel message. (I have dealt with this in another post here)
A further encouragement is that any spiritual activity we see in people around us is an act of God. Let’s say a friend is praying or reading the Bible or showing an interest. This is an act of the Spirit – they would not do so of their volition.
And the greatest encouragement of them all is God’s goodness and mercy to mankind! If God had chosen not to work in us at all then none would ever come to him and all would be damned. But God works, God saves and God in his grace brings people to Jesus and the salvation Jesus brings.
What does Arminianism say?
Arminianism says that at various points in life then a man will be faced with a choice about whether or not to come to Christ. At this time he is capable, in his free will, of saying both yes and no. It is free will rather than election that decides salvation.
What is the problem with this view?
It detracts from the sinfulness of sin, the falleness of man’s fallen nature. It makes out that man is capable in a small way of saving himself. It is not a humbling doctrine. It builds man up rather than tearing him down. It suggests that sin is not as powerful as the Bible says.
And it goes against all the Biblical verses I have quoted as regards to Total Depravity. There is no Biblical evidence for this truth.
If man cannot choose to come to God why then do Christians preach the gospel?
This question veers into the topic of election but I shall answer it in part nevertheless. Christians preach the gospel because that is what we are called to do.
“Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28 v 18 – 20
As Christians we do not know who God has decreed will come to him and who will not. Therefore we preach to everyone so that they might all hear the truth of the good news. Additionally God saves people by working through the Spirit and the Spirit can work through Christian’s efforts at evangelism. I will deal with this question in greater depths in some of the later posts but just now remember the command of Matthew 28! We must spread the good news of the gospel even if no one wants to hear it.
“Salvation comes from the LORD.”
Jonah 2 v 9
Thus said Jonah after God rescued him from the belly of the fish. And this true still stands. Salvation comes from the Lord because it has to come from the Lord. Mankind’s sinful nature would mean that we would never come to salvation unless the Lord first came to us.
We are all by nature Arminian – we do not like to think that we had nothing to do with our own salvation. But that is arrogance and pride and Christians are called to humbly accept the truth that God the Father drew us to God the Son and the salvation he brings. That salvation was a work of God’s grace and not of man’s free will.
Where does this lead us?
This point leads on to the second principle of Calvinism: Unconditional election. This basically reinforces the point that God decides who will and who will not be saved. Because we cannot be saved on our doing, God saves us and therefore he chooses who to save. But we explore this truth next time.
Next post will be on ‘Unconditional Election’ and will be posted on Good Friday