Sunday, August 23, 2009

Total Depravity

As we think about the subject of Calvinism, let me caution you about labels. I personally do not like to say I am a Calvinist only because of the baggage that comes with that label. To use that label causes me to become everything that Calvin believed. The same is true about Martin Luther or anyone else. As for John Calvin and Martin Luther, both of these godly men believed in infant baptism. I don’t believe in that teaching, so for me to label myself, also causes me to take to myself other doctrines that these men taught. I have been a pastor for 20 years and during that time I have had only one goal—preach the Word! So as I do that, I try to stray from labels and just teach what is the meaning of Scripture. So when we’re studying through a book in the Bible and we come across total depravity or election or any other theological teaching, I will teach what that passage says. If I come to a passage that teaches about the limited atonement, irresistible grace or the perseverance of the saints, I will teach what that passage says about that doctrine.

Now let me further state about the five points of Calvinism that Calvin taught very little on this subject. This should be called the five points of Augustine or Luther because they taught more on this than Calvin. Having said all that, let’s begin with the first point: total depravity.

First, let me give you a definition of total depravity. Total depravity is defined in this way: “Sin controls every part of man. He is spiritually dead and blind, and unable to obey, believe, or repent. He continually sins, for his nature is completely evil.” Now the first question we need to ask is, “What does this mean?” It means that sin has affected every part of man. The heart, emotions, will, mind, and body are all affected by sin. We are completely sinful. We are not as sinful as we could be, but we are completely affected by sin. 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. It has affected all of man’s facultities—his mind, his will, etc. The doctrine of total depravity is derived from Scriptures that reveal human character. For example, Mark 7:21-23 shows us that man’s heart is evil. Jesus says, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. 23 "All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” Jeremiah 17:9 says “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” Romans 6:14-20 says that man is a slave of sin when it says, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! 16 Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.” Even Romans 3:11 says he does not seek for God: “There is none  who understands , There is none  who seeks  for God.” 1 Corinthians 2:14 says he cannot understand spiritual things: “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” Ephesians 2:14-15 says he is at enmity with God: “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace.” And last, Ephesians 2:3 says he is by nature a child of wrath: “And were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”

Those who adhere to what these Scriptures teach ask this question, “In light of the Scriptures that declare man’s true nature as being utterly lost and incapable, how is it possible for anyone to choose or desire God?” What’s the answer? That’s what we’re going to explore in this study of the Doctrines of Grace. Calvinism or Augustinism also maintains that because of our fallen nature we are born again not by our own will but God’s will. John 1:12-13 says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. They also believe that God is the one who grants who will  believe. Philippians 1:29 says, “For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” Further they believe that faith is the work of God as Ephesians 2:8-9 says. They also believe God appoints people to believe. Acts 13:48 says, “When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” And they believe God predestines as Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined.”

Let say another thing about total depravity—it is not the same as absolute depravity. Absolute depravity means that a person expresses his depravity to the nth degree at all times. Not only are all of his thoughts, words, and deeds sinful, but they are as vicious as possible” (Edwin H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, 9). There are restraints in our lives to prevent this. When Calvinism speaks of total depravity, 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. The natural man is enslaved to sin; he is a child of Satan, rebellious toward God, blind to truth, corrupt, and unable to save himself or to prepare himself for salvation. In short, the unregenerate man is dead in sin, and his will is enslaved to his evil nature” (David Steele, The Five Points of Calvinism, 19). I think one of the most revealing passages on this subject is found in Ephesians 2:1-3. In these three verses, Paul shows the Ephesians what they were before coming to Christ and reveals their total depravity or to use Paul’s terminology, their being dead in trespasses and sins. Listen to what it says. "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience; Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest."

Paul has just completed his discussion in chapter 1 of the blessings believers have received as well as his prayer for them to realize what they have. Here he continues his thoughts that began in verse 19 of the resurrection of the believer. He not only prayed that their “understanding” be “enlightened” and that they “may know what is the hope of His calling...the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints”, but he also prayed that they would know “what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe” (NKJV). This same power that “raised” Jesus “from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” (vv.18-20, NKJV) is the same power that raises the believer from spiritual death to spiritual life. John 5:21 says, “the Father raises the dead and gives life to them” (NKJV). In other words, the dead do not raise themselves. When we read Ephesians 1:20 that is what we’re seeing. God “raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. ” (vv.20-23). Then chapter two says, “And you....” Chapter breaks many times interrupt a passage as is the case here. Verse 1 is still part of the content of Paul’s prayer. Only now in verse 1 does he turn his attention to the resurrection of the believer. He says that the same power which raised Jesus from the dead raised you from spiritual death.

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