Reformed Theology – Total Depravity (Part 2 of 6)

30 04 2008

What I’m going to do with all the five points is simply state what they are and then see what the bible says in regard to that particular doctrine. In effect what we are looking to do is find a picture that best fits the evidence. Calvin himself said (and I’m paraphrasing here) “We go where scripture leads, and where God choses to keep silent there we shut our mouths too”. Just about every biblical dotrine can be considered controversial, and this one is no different. However if we were to ignore any controversial doctrine we would be left with an empty bible, for what of “The Trinity” and “The Holy Spirit” and “Grace” and “Forgiveness” and so on.

So lets have a look at the doctrine of Total Depravity. It is sometimes called the Doctrine of Total Inability. Sometimes I prefer that term because depravity conjures up some horrible images, but both are correct and both are needed. This doctrine stems from Augustinian Doctrine of Original Sin.
To sum up the doctrine:

Since the fall, sin has worked its way to affect every sphere of humanity. Everyone is born into sin, and enslaved by it. As a result no one is able to chose to follow God, or to chose to have faith in Christ in order to be saved. The only way is by the Grace of God.There is very little disagreement about this doctrine. In terms of the Arminian and Calvinist debate both sides actually affirm this doctrine. Arminius and Wesley both argued for this doctrine rather than against it. The objections come mainly from the Roman Catholic Church. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church it is argued that “By our first parents’ sin, the devil has acquired a certain domination over man, even though man remains free” and the Council of Trent the Roman Catholic Church  condemned “any one [who] saith, that, since Adam’s sin, the free will of man is lost and extinguished; or, that it is a thing with only a name”. The Catholic view of Man is that he is partially depraved but can still follow God without divine assistance.

There are also some of what I would call emotional objections. Some claim that this doctrine makes God unloving because he allowed man to become completely and totally depraved. If He was loving he would have immediately humanity to its original state. I think those who object in this fashion have a very limited knowledge of the Bible. In fact they have probably never read it or at least never read what Jesus did. It stands to reason that there are no known Protestant Churches who object to the doctrine with this reasoning, with the possible exception of the Churches of the Liberal theology movement. Such views express God’s love at the expense of His justice.

Before we leap into the biblical support for the doctrine, lets make it clear what the doctrine does not say. Firstly it does not mean that all humans are as bad as they could be. It does not mean that people cannot do “good”, but rather that the good that people do is “faulty in its premise, false in its motive, and weak in its implementation.”  Man in his fallen state does not posses the ability to chose to follow God. It is completely against his nature, it is un-natural. What is needed is something super-natural.Let us make no mistake, Sin is not natural. It is something profoundly unnatural. But since the fall sin has become so entrenched in the human heart that it now appears to be normal. When we look to Jesus we see a new picture of what it means to be human. Our hope is that we will one day be like HIM!

So does the bible support or deny this doctrine?

Genesis 6:5 “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.”
This chapter is the begining of the story of Noah. When God looked at humanity he saw that mans depravity was total. Anything the heart imagined was evil. Why? Because every thought was purely self directed. This early after the fall, man had been trying to live life apart from God, separated from Him. Man wanted the role of creator and controller.
The text does have limitations, but what is clear here is the depravity of man is total. Every thought from the heart of man is evil, and not just some of the times, but ALL the time.

Jeremiah 13:23 “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots?Then may you also do good who are accustomed to do evil?”
This is what I was talking about before. For us as human beings we view sin as a natural state. When someone makes a mistake the first thing they usually say to defend themselves is “I’m only human.” But in reality sin is something profoundly unnatural and we don’t see it that way because of the extent to which it has worked its way out into our lives and everything around us. We know first hand how hard it is to change a habit. Not impossible but hard. However in the amplified bible we see the word accustomed branches out to  “Accustomed, and taught even trained to do evil”. Sin is the master and the unbeliever its slave apprentice. Sin works by to teaching, training and gradually desensitising the slave to itself. This happens from birth as we will see a little bit later.

Jeremiah 17:9 ““ The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?”
This is chapter is filled with talk about sin and how the sin nature is inscribed on the heart of man.
The chapter opens by talking about the Sin of Judah, and how it is written on their hearts by an iron pen with a diamond point. Thats a great image. It really conveys the hardness of the heart and how hard sin works to make its mark on the human heart. Moving along to verse 9, we see the crux of this chapter. The heart is deceitful, it lies to us. It tells us we are doing good when in fact we are doing evil. It is more deceitful than anything else the human being possesses. It is desperately wicked, utterly and totally depraved, the amplified translation says “Peverse, and corrupt, and severely mortally sick”. To be mortally sick is as good as dead. Who can know his own heart?

Ecclesiastes 7:20 “For there is not a just man on earth who does good And does not sin.”
What I think this text is hinting at is that there is no one just in and of themselves. They need something else to be considered just. Perhaps we could even say that this means that even those whom the Lord has justified are still incapable of doing Good and not sinning, in and of themselves?

Psalm 51:5 “Behold I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin my mother did conceive me…”
This Psalm was written by David after he was confronted by Nathan about his affair with Bathsheba. It starts out with David pleading with God to forgive him for his sin and to blot out his transgressions. Its worth noting that David doesn’t say that he has sinned against Bathsheba, but against God and God alone. David also affirms that God is the one who is always just and always blameless in matters pertaining sin. This brings us to verse 5. This is not David’s way of excusing his sin but rather a way of recognising his sin nature. This is Davids way of reminding himself that it is God and God alone who can forgive sins and deal with the sinners nature. Everyone born in this world is born into sin, and cannot escape it apart from the Grace of God. Paul uses this scripture in Romans 3 to say the same message.

I also want to examine some of the broader themes of the Old Testament.

God said to Adam that if they would eat of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil they would die. Since they did not physically die that day we must assume that the death was spiritual as well as an eventual physical death. That spiritual death they died was what you would call separation from God. Adam and Eve sinned in the best possible circumstances. They walked and talked with God as clearly as you and I do with other people. Yet they still sinned. Sin created the idea in mankinds head that there is something in all the good things God has given He could experience something delicious apart from God. Even if it was just in some small way it would have been the ultimate insult to God and the ultimate rebellion.

How long did it take Israel to resort to Idol worship after they had been lead by God out of Egypt? Yet these Israelites had seen God act in ways we can only dream about. They had seen the plagues in Egypt, God had lead them by a flame in the sky at night, they had seen God descend on Mt Sinai. They had been given the law by Moses, and that law was written with the finger of God. They knew what was required of them but they were unable to fufil their obligations.

How does the book of Judges end? With everyone doing as THEY saw fit in their own eyes.

How many kings in the book of 1 & 2 Kings did EVIL in the sight of the Lord? How many got it right?
There is only a smattering of hope with 2 of the kings.

Why were the prophets always prophesying of the Lords coming Judgement of sin within Israel?

The histories, wisdom books, and prophets all give us a picture of humanity that is unable to reconcile itself with God. Its is clear that only God can reconcile His people to Himself.

Lets look at some New Testament examples.

John 8:34-35 “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever.”
From the words of Jesus himself, whomever commits a sin is a slave to sin. Sins grasp on the unbeliever is total slavery. No escape. A slave is unable to free himself and is at the mercy of his master. There is also an implied distinction here between slaves and sons. Sons are no longer slaves to sin. Sons abide in Gods house FOREVER. This of course raises a few questions such as “How does one become a son (or daughter for that matter)?” More on that later.

John 6:44 ” No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Clearly here from Jesus’s own words, humans are incapable of coming to God even to Jesus unless GOD HIMSELF draws them to himself. This is also part of the doctrine of Unconditional Election and Irrisistable Grace. More on that later. For now we need to see that this scripture implicitly tells us that the only way to God and even to Jesus by the Father drawing us to himself.

Romans 3:10 ” There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one…”Paul is quoting from a few Old Testament sources, so technically this is still an Old Testament Example, but we’ll put it in the New Testament pile because it is written in the light of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. The first 3 chapters of Romans are as complete a dianosis of Sin we could ever have. They cover the Pagan man (Idol Worshipers), the Immoral man (symbolised by Gentiles) and The Moral man (Symbolised by Jews). Everyone fits into those three Categories. 
Chapter 3 is the climax of this arguement. No one is righteous of their own accord, no one even understands how to be righteous of their own accord, and no one even seeks God willingly. If this is the case then anyone who does seek God will only seek God at GOD’s initiative and not his own.
The crux of this verse is that humanity on its own is HELPLESS. In the following verses Paul hammers home the completeness of the depravity. Our speech and actions and thoughts are all sinful.

Romans 8:7-8 “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
This is the famous and truimphant chapter of Romans which opens up with “There is no condenmation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Whats important in this verse so far is the fact that those in the flesh CANNOT please God. Man with his sinful nature cannot do anything to please God, and it is only by God coming down and removing that sin nature. For some this scripture has been interpreted as someone being able to drift between being in the spirit and being in the flesh while saved. This doesnt really hold true, for the mind that is SET on the flesh. It is programmed, pre-programmed, ingrained on the flesh. If this is not the case then what do we make of the first 3 chapters of Romans? In the broader context this cannot mean that anyone can flip between being in the flesh and then in the spirit. Being in the flesh means you are fashioned after Adam. Being in the spirit means you are now fashioned after Jesus.

Ephesians 2:1 “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins…”
Some prominent Arminians have have put an illustration forward of a sailor thrown overboard and drowning in the sea. God who is on the boat throws him a life raft and tells him to hold on tightly. This is how God saves people they say, and man’s responsibility is to hold on tight to that faith, never letting go. They argue that anyone who lets go is not of sound mind and deserves to drown. Sounds logical and plausible doesn’t it? But the problem this illustration that humans are not merely drowning in sin but rather they are DEAD in it. If God is in the boat and throws us a life raft it matters little how much he tells us to hold on to it we cannot do anything because we are DEAD. A corpse cannot get up and walk, talk and make choices can it? Of course not. Man’s inability to chose God is demonstrated here by us being dead in our sin.

 These are some of the New Testament examples of this doctrine. There are many more, but we also need to consider the overall theme of the New Testament. When Paul says he resolves to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified, why on Earth would anyone in their right mind say that?
Lets just allow that to soak in for a while. The wisdom of  Jesus on the cross is foolishness to those perishing. To our world it is seen as the absolute denial of any power. But in that apparent contradiction is all the power and wisdom of God. In fact if we could Chose God why don’t we just slaughter a lamb and give burnt offerings to a Jewish priest once a year. Surely that would be enough to take us out of our depraved state? It is only through the finished work of the Cross that we now have access to God. Jesus is our soul mediator of the new Covenant.




4 responses

30 04 2008

Have you seen this site where people confess their sins online, anonymously?

30 04 2008

Yes, i’ve heard of another one, while I am all for confessing sin, I am also more aware of the fact that God has, through the blood of Jesus removed my sin from me, as far as the east is from the west…..

19 06 2008

Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

cheers, Afforest

19 06 2008

Thanks for the comment 🙂

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