Total Depravity

Text: Romans 3:9-26


I.         John Calvin proposed a five part system to explain salvation

            A.        It is generally remembered as TULIP, an acrostic from the first five letters of each point.

            B.        Many denominations accept some or part of Calvinism without questioning whether those points are true.

            C.        We are going to focus in this lesson on the first point: Total Depravity

                        1.         “The Calvinist doctrine that everyone is born in a state of corruption as a result of original sin” [WordNet]

                        2.         “Total depravity is a concept that everyone including the elect and non-elect incapable of choosing God because he is sinful. In my opinion, Arminians, who reject this point, do not understand Romans it is written, THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS GOD; Romans 3:10-11" [Joseph Y. Lee]

            D.        The emphasis on “there is none righteous” is because they claim that people are incapable or unable to act righteously without God’s aid.

                        1.         “As a result of this inborn corruption, the natural man is totally unable to do anything spiritually good; thus Calvinists speak of man's "total inability." The inability intended by this terminology is spiritual inability; it means that the sinner is so spiritually bankrupt that he can do nothing pertaining to his salvation.” [Total Depravity or Total Inability, Bill Hornbeck]

                        2.         “Unless regeneration occurs, the gospel, like all spiritual things, remains gibberish to the natural man” [Total Depravity, Douglas Wilson]

II.        Consequences of Total Depravity

            A.        The concept states we are completely unable to choose God and righteousness from birth.

            B.        It means at no time we were ever alive spiritually or safe from condemnation , which contradicts Paul - Romans 7:9

            C.        It removes all responsibility of our choices from man.

                        1.         If we are totally disabled at birth, then it cannot be a baby’s fault that he is unable, nor as he grows to adulthood can an incapacitated person be held responsible.

                        2.         Imagine telling a hammer to build a house and give it dire warnings that you will through it away if it doesn’t.

                                    a.         It can’t hear, so it can’t obey. It becomes the owner’s responsibility if a house is built or not, not the hammer’s responsibility.

                                    b.         The same is true if man is incapable of hearing God and responding. We cannot be guilty if we cannot respond.

            D.        Look at Romans 3 again. Does it speak of our inability or our guilt?

                        1.         Paul sets out to prove that we are all guilty of sin - Romans 3:9

                        2.         Notice also Romans 3:12. We all turned aside. But that means we left righteousness

                        3.         Total Depravity claims we were never there, that we were always “aside” so there is no ability to turn.

            E.        The problem of Ecclesiastes 7:29

                        1.         “Sought” implies that men chose. They had responsibility for their choice.

                        2.         Men started upright and then left seeking schemes.

            F.        The problem of Matthew 18:1-3

                        1.         If people are born totally depraved, then what good feature in a depraved child does Jesus want his followers to mimic?

                        2.         Yet, unless we become like children we cannot enter the kingdom.

            G.        The problem of Deuteronomy 6:4

                        1.         If man is total unable to respond to the call of God until regenerated, then how can the unregenerated be commanded to hear?

                        2.         If God gets angry at Israel for not listening, then that would be as silly as a man getting mad at a hammer for not listening.

            H.        The problem of intrinsic good and degradation

                        1.         Cornelius was a righteous man - Acts 10:1-4, 22

                                    a.         “Q. 25. Wherein consisteth the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell? A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consisteth in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of that righteousness wherein he was created, and the corruption of his nature, whereby he is utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually; which is commonly called original sin, and from which do proceed all actual transgressions.” [Larger Catechism, John Calvin]

                                    b.         If every person is “utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil” how did Cornelius manage it in an unregenerated state?

                        2.         For that matter, how do we account for the good things that people do?

                        3.         Or how can a person “wholly inclined to all evil” get worse? - I Timothy 3:13

                        4.         Calvinist recognize this problem. They try to redefine what is said to mean something else.

                                    a.         “When Calvinists speak of man as being totally depraved, they mean that man’s nature is corrupt, perverse, and sinful throughout. The adjective “total” does not mean that each sinner is as totally or completely corrupt in his actions and thoughts as it is possible for him to be. Instead, the word “total” is used to indicate that the whole of man’s being has been affected by sin. The corruption extends to every part of man, his body and soul; sin has affect all (the totality) of man’s faculties – his mind, his will, etc. As a result of this inborn corruption, the natural man is totally unable to do anything spiritually good; thus Calvinists speak of man’s “total inability.” The inability intended by this terminology is spiritual inability; it means that the sinner is so spiritually bankrupt that he can do nothing pertaining to his salvation. It is quite evident that many unsaved people, when judged by man’s standards, do possess admirable qualities and do perform virtuous acts. But in the spiritual realm, when judged by God’s standards, the unsaved sinner is incapable of good.” [Five Points of Calvinism, by David Steele and Curtis Thomas]

                                    b.         Besides the double speak throughout, notice that they claim that men might see someone as good, but not God. Yet, Cornelius stands counter because it was the Holy Spirit and an angel of God who praised Cornelius’ good!

                        5.         If we are totally depraved, then how is Romans 2:14 true?

III.       The Unfairness of Total Depravity

            A.        Romans 9:20 - A Calvinist will use this verse to say that we have no right to question the fairness of God.

                        1.         But the question isn’t a question of the fairness of God, but whether Calvinism is truly fair. Our contention is that the teaching makes God appear unfair by not correctly representing what God actually does.

                        2.         They change a question of their system into a questioning of God.

            B.        But Romans 9 is not about leaving the Jews “programmed” to reject God, but of God’s right to choose between the fleshly descendants of Abraham and the spiritual children of Abraham.

                        1.         The reason many Jews were rejected and many Gentiles accepted is found in Romans 9:32

                        2.         Paul is not proving that God has a arbitrary right in giving out salvation, but that He had the right to reject unbelieving Jews even though He had promised to bless the seed of Abraham.

            C.        He had as much right to select Jacob over Esau and Isaac over Ishmael - Romans 9:11-13

                        1.         It wasn’t an arbitrary decision saying Esau and Ishmael would be sent to hell

                        2.         It was a decision regarding which lineage would be used to bring the Savior into the world

            D.        The decision to bless only believing Jews was not arbitrary. God can choose the conditions of blessing as He desires.

                        1.         It wasn’t unjust for God not to bless some of Abraham’s descendants.

                        2.         The Jews could still seek the blessing through faith

                                    a.         Romans 9:33 - Believers will not be put to shame

                                    b.         Romans 10:1-3 - Need to submit to God’s righteousness

                                    c.         Romans 10:13 - Those who call on the Lord will be saved

                                    d.         Romans 11:20 - Stand by faith

                                    e.         Romans 11:23 - Can be grafted back in by faith

            E.        Some Jews thought that God was being unjust because of His conditions

                        1.         They argued that they were Abraham’s descendants; they had the law and circumcision

                        2.         Now Christians are saying that this doesn’t count

                        3.         It appeared to them that God was being unfair and unjust, but Paul argues that God has the right to extend mercy as He chooses.

                        4.         It is not through arbitrary selection, but on the basis of faith

                        5.         The fault lied with the Jews because their own Scriptures said they would need to believe in an unpopular “rock of offense” - Romans 9:33; 10:11

                        6.         Thus God fairly warned the Jews of what would happen. If they failed to believe, it was fair of God to choose not to bless them.

            F.        If God had programmed the Jews to be unbelievers, that would have been unjust and unfair

                        1.         If people are totally depraved and totally unable due to no choice of their own and sent to hell for what they could not control, then that would be unjust.

                        2.         If God arbitrarily decided to give a few the ability to believe and then acted as if He was rewarding them and blessing them for something they could not control, then that would be unjust.

                        3.         If Jesus was sinless because God did not allow him to inherit a totally depraved nature, then why would God hold others accountable for sin?

IV.      Applying Total Depravity to actual conversions

            A.        Acts 2

                        1.         According to a Calvinist, these people were unable to listen to the Spirit speaking through Peter since they were inherently depraved and had total spiritual inability to hear.

                        2.         Yet they did hear and cried out - Acts 2:37

            B.        Were they regenerated by the Holy Spirit?

                        1.         Then why only 3,000? Would that have been just or fair?

                        2.         If they had the power to hear and see, then the reason the others did not hear and seek must be because God desired that most of them should perish, according to the Calvinist, though it was no fault of their own. That isn’t just.

            C.        But what about God’s desire? - II Peter 3:9

                        1.         If God desires everyone to be saved, then everyone would have the same ability to hear and seek

                        2.         If only 3,000 were given the ability, then God would not have a desire for all to be saved.

            D.        But if the Jews had no choice in crucifying Jesus, then none of them were guilty.

                        1.         They could not have been pricked to the heart over a matter they had no control over

            E.        If those that heard and asked, “What shall we do?” did so because they were already regenerated, then Peter’s answer makes no sense - Acts 2:38

                        1.         How can you repent when you have already been regenerated?

                        2.         Shouldn’t Peter have told them it had already happened instead telling there was more to do?

            F.        Acts 2:41

                        1.         If they were already regenerated, then there was no reason for gladly receiving his word and being baptized.

V.        Calvinism is no different than other false doctrines

            A.        A Calvinist will tell you that you can’t understand the Bible the way they do unless God chooses that you understand.

            B.        But Jehovah’s Witnesses say the same. You can’t understand things their way until you first are enlightened by the Watchtower publications.

            C.        But the Mormons tell us that if only we pray and receive Joseph Smith’s revelations will we understand thing their way.

            D.        A Calvinist tells us that no one can understand Peter’s sermon until the Holy Spirit first enables our ears, heart, and understanding.

                        1.         They call this regeneration

                        2.         But it is arbitrarily given. It is unjust and unfair.

            E.        But God is a just God - Isaiah 45:21-24

                        1.         Which means He is not a Calvinist.

[Based on an article by Terry W. Benton]