Is Total Depravity Biblical?

By David Cox

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Is the Calvinist doctrine of Total Depravity really biblical? Basically the doctrine as explained by Calvinists is that this doctrine means that “there is no good within man.” Man has no “spark of divinity within him” whereby he has something good to offer God for salvation.

We cannot “buy” salvation.

The truth of Scripture is that salvation is a product or “thing” that belongs solely to God. God gives “HIS SALVATION” to whom He desires, and on the basis or conditions that God desires to give it. As such, it is totally scriptural to say that man has nothing to offer God in exchange for his salvation. When we look at this from a procurement point of view, if man wishes to “exchange” or “buy” giving one thing (like money) to God in order for God to give him salvation, Scripture simply presents this as impossible. All of what we have is unacceptable to God in any such exchange. God did not make salvation available on the basis of a purchase type arrangement.

Most notably, much of the fume and foment of people who preach heavily on this issue is directed towards an exchange situation as taught in many religions, most notably Catholicism and Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to them, we in a sense “purchase” our salvation with good works. The error in this is that everything we are and have and can potentially due comes from God, so He is our Benefactor and Sustainer in all ways, so we are only returning to God what we have feebly messed up and we are trying to “purchase” something of great value with what the store in the first place has given away. If a store gives away free brooms to everybody who passes through their doors, and you collect 5 brooms, and you go to the store owner and try to exchange a brand new automobile for your 5 brooms, then this is the situation of a person trying to earn heaven with good works.

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What Calvinism teaches and concludes

Unfortunately Calvinists are experts at “Bait-and-switch” tactics, and in so doing they disguise their teachings with other “more valid teachings” to get their conclusions accepted. To not have anything of value before God to purchase salvation is a totally different thing that “Total Inability” which Calvinism teaches.

First of all, God does not present the procurement of salvation as an exchange or purchase. You give God a thing, or a work, or some such item and God gives you a “product” salvation. The error in this thinking comes in thinking that once you “purchase” your salvation, it is yours, and you can do anything you want after that point. In other words, if by good works, we achieve or obtain salvation, and nobody (not even God) can take that from us, then we can live as we please, sinning with impugnity.

What Calvinism concludes and teaches is that all humanity is unable to respond to God in any way, shape, or form. God “turns on a salvation switch” within the person (a.k.a via election done in eternity before creation), and therefore a person is saved. Inability to do anything that pleases God is a far cry from not having inherit moral good within oneself so that he can offer that to God for his salvation. So what’s the difference?

The Bible abundantly teaches that many men and women it presents to us at some point “pleased God” with their actions, attitudes, words, etc. The fact of the matter is that many of God’s servants and children do greatly please God. So the inability to please God is simply not true. There are things which we can do volitionally through our own will that will please God.

The “doing” of these things is not a work in God’s eyes, and all the key points of pleasing God, and being able and willing (man’s will) turns on a single important point. What we “do” to please God has already been predetermined by God, because of God’s character. Therefore, the doing of God’s will is what pleases God, and makes man’s actions acceptable in God’s sight. This is not an predetermined election from eternity past as far as an individual’s destiny is concerned, because that is about man, and after all is said and done, Calvinism trips over its own man centered religion.

God existed way before man was created, and in the profound past counsels of God, the character and essence of God is what is important and central in all things. Therefore God existed, and God’s character was always set, and anything that “harmonizes” itself or makes itself one with God’s character is pleasing to God. Anything or anybody that is in “disharmony” with God’s character and essence is in sin.

Therefore, in a sense, we please God because we act as God is. We become His character on earth (holiness). Becoming God’s moral character here among men is what greatly pleases God. This is not a work that man does independent from God, no this is true. This work of holiness in its form and character is eternal because God and His character and His being are eternal. We are temporal, coming in as “Johnny-come-latelys” but even so, we imitate this character, especially as it is perfectly shown to us by the life and person of Jesus Christ, and we please God. God does not magically program us to do this as we would program a computer, but rather, man’s will is the key component here. Man must of his own will desire this character, action, attitude, etc., and this is what greatly pleases God, man desiring to be holy like God is holy. Therefore, the ability of man to do this lies directly in his will (his “free will”) because this is how God has designed things, and how God has communicated to us the eternal reality of this.

If a wicked man turns from his wickedness to follow God, God is pleased with him. There is no puppet manipulation of the man by God, but rather just the opposite, man’s will submitting to God’s will is what pleases God, and how this works.

How do we “get” salvation?

So, how do we “procure” our own salvation? We don’t do it, but God gives it to us as a basis of our submission to the plan of God (admittance of our sins before God, repentance or leaving off our sins, and faith in God’s Saviour, the Christ, who died on the cross to pay the debt caused by our sins).

Search the Scriptures from end to end, and God’s consistent presentation of “how we get salvation” is never to appeal to the divine list of the elected, but ALWAYS, ALWAYS to turn from our sins (a personal willful decision on our part) and to trust or have faith in the Saviour (the term “Christ” is technically the correct and only acceptable term here) which God has set as “THE PLAN OF GOD FOR THE SALVATION OF MEN’S SOULS.”

This acceptance of Christ is not a magical prayer or chant which in pronouncing the sounds over our lips causes us to have salvation, but this is a person to person relationship whereby the sinner relates to the Saviour. This relationship is invoked or begun by a proclamation of Christ as the object of one’s hope, but it is not a “purchase” type situation whereby once you have “got it”, you can sin with impugnity. Just the opposite, IF YOU ARE SAVED, then your declaration of Christ is an ongoing relationship which is constantly proved by your life, and constantly grows stronger, better, closer, more intimate, etc.

The idea that comes across very strongly is that things (particular “spiritual” actions do not cause that sinner-Redeemer relationship, but rather the pure simple formal asking of the sinner (in his own free will) to the Saviour to establish it. It is based on this formal asking, which has to be equally sustained by a faith or belief in the presentation of Christ as being “able” to save. Faith becomes a key figure in the sinner’s side of the equation, in order for him to procure his salvation.

Confession of sin, and repentance of what we have done wrong are essential in the truthfulness and sincerity of our presenting ourselves to God, and without these, it is doubtful or impossible that a person can be saved. But having both of these conditions is useless without faith in Jesus as that Christ, that “specially anointed one to effect humanity’s salvation.” In essence, both confession of sin and repentance fold into this same faith (i.e. passages that would only mention faith without the other two), and a turning from (repentance) other things (our past willful sins) to believe in Jesus Christ (faith) becomes a single spiritual act.

Faith is also confidence or trust, and this speaks of an on-going spiritual relationship which is what the Bible shows us in many cases. Abraham believed God, and the acts of his life (for the most part and in the most important parts) proved this trust that Abraham had in God. The believing or trusting in God rather than man and his own inventions and ability to do things is what faith is all about. But this faith is something that seems to be soundly planted in man’s will in Scriptures, and it is not something that God gives man in his salvation such as adoption, justification, or sanctification. Faith is a “thing” which man is responsible for, within his own being.

Impugnity revisited with Extreme Calvinism

Although works salvation is a blatant error of false relgious systems like Catholicism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and many, many more, the Calvinist arrives at the same conclusion and end by other means. His teaching that Christians are elect “from before the creation of the world”  (specifically excluding any act or character of any man in all history) paints a reality of two groups, the elect and the reprobate. These groups are not taught per se in Scriptures, but the Calvinist uses his elaborations to hint at them, then declare them, then expand on them as though they were at the very core of every doctrine the Bible pretends to teach.

The entire system of Calvinism has a central tendency, and that tendency is satanic. This tendency is always towards spiritual inactivity. Simply put, if you are a Calvinist, you are being acted upon by other forces, and your own will, actions, attitudes, speak, nothing is important, because what is important, what decides your well-being and eternal destiny is election. That is unchangeable by you, and it is unchangeable by God, because what He has already dictated (the decrees of God), even God Himself will not change.

Therefore, the Calvinist develops this spiritual passiveness or spiritual apathy as a major part of his spiritual being. If Paul teaches more about election and predestination than any other NT writer (and probably more than any OT writer either), and Paul’s understanding was direct from God in his vision where he was carried to heaven, then Paul’s understanding would be very important. Whatever Paul taught, and however you want to screw, twist, reinterprete what Paul teaches, Paul gave up his life in evangelizing the lost, and teaching those converts the word of God.

My “beef” with Calvinists of my day is that they think Calvin has more insight than Paul. They recline in their theological positions, sitting and not working and obeying God’s clear commands. This is because they are part of the Jewish elite, or excuse me, that was in Paul’s day, today they are part of the Calvinist elect elite. They will make heaven no matter what they do wrong, nor no matter what they refuse in rebellion to do. Their impugnity is based in that their name is written in heaven before creation, therefore they cannot be held responsible for what they do or don’t do, so they take the spiritual apathy position of “why do anything then?”

In fact, Calvinism has killed modern missions, evangelism, and prayer. Evangelistic preaching has been twisted into teaching the doctrines of Grace. As a missionary for 20 plus years, I can testify to the slow death of all of these in churches and individuals that embrace Calvinism. The fact that some Calvinists understand the error of their beliefs (without rejecting the system, because they are only “partial”, 2 or 3 pointers), and the fact that they will witness, pray, or minimally participate in missions (Calvinistic missionaries only) only relieves them temporarily of the guilt of their lifestyle of rebellion to God. The fact that you perfunctorarily do these things doesn’t mean you please God by doing them. You must do them actively, “with all your heart”, and this is where the Calvinist’s our system trips him up. Yes he witnesses to lost if he has to, but Calvinists are extremely well known for NOT EXERTING THEMSELVES IN REACHING THE LOST. Their gospel has been changed from the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to preach John Calvin’s gospel of the doctrines of Grace. If somebody puts them in a corner, yes they will claim the same Gospel as we see Jesus teaching, but they quickly will revert back to their favorite, the Doctrines of Grace. They “heart is not in the Gospel of the NT”. As Paul says, even if an angel from heaven delivers another Gospel, we are to reject it and get away from it.

Why do Arminianists (and I don’t claim that label for myself) think only about reaching the lost (prayer, evangelism, missions, preaching, etc)? Because it is in their heart. The old time Baptists (before being contaminated with Reformed doctrines) and the Methodists were hot for getting the Gospel out. Where do you see Calvinistic church fellowships having a soul-winning campaign? Where do you see Calvinistic ministers and people bending their knees in prayer for the lost? They have become too good to lower themselves to do these essential commandments of Scripture. “Those who are elect will be saved anyway, so we don’t have to do anything, because God will save them in His time,”  they tell us. Take a poll of 100 Calvinistic churches, where the pastor clearly and strongly asserts that they are hold the doctrines of Calvin (are Presbyterian, Reformed, etc), and ask them if they go out door to door, specifically their people doing this on a weekly basis, and their pastor in the street leading the pack. You will find nary a church that holds to these false doctrines that will be witnessing door-to-door. That kind of evangelism they leave for the Arminianists to do. But once these people get saved, the Calvinist line up to “discipline them in the doctrines of Grace.”

Excuse me, but I see Christ going out to where the unsaved live, and presenting the Gospel to them. I see His apostles and disciples doing likewise. I see Christ commanding us to do likewise. Since when can you dump the direct commands and overwhelming example of the NT to refuse to do it, and then to change it to something else totally different and unbiblical? The issue has to born hard on the Calvinists that they do not witness the Gospel of the NT to the unsaved. They just refuse in ugly rebellion to God. This is the action and character of unsaved people, not the children of God. If you are a Calvinist, you probably “shy away” from witnessing to the lost. This attitude is developed in you by these doctrines. They do not exhort you, challenge you, and motivate you to witness, but to not witness. The system does this to you, dragging you towards this spiritual apathy, and whether you let it take you there or not, it is still a corrupt, dangerous system that no Christian has any business being involved in.

My heart goes out to those few Calvinists who are religious skitzophrenics. These are people who hold to the tenets of Calvinism, knowing fully well that they are flawed. They admit to some of the TULIP, and reject others. To a Catholic that believes in the Virgin Mary as their Saviour, and rejects the Pope, I tell them “THEIR SYSTEM IS WRONG”, and the only way out of it is to reject the system entirely. Ditto that for the Calvinists.

This fatalistic, spiritual apathy that is what Calvinism produces is terrifying. This is exactly what Satan wants, religious, sanctimonious people who know a lot and do nothing, and none of their knowledge causes them to “DO THE WORK OF GOD”. At best, anything they do do is unacceptable to God because they are totally inapt at executing any spiritual commandment. Yes, they are “inapt” spiritually. Yet their haughtiness causes them to impose their inapt system and beliefs on everybody else.

Calvinism attacks those who witness, pray, go to foreign lands, or “do” anything in the work of God, hindering anyway possible the work of God, because we are “totally unable” (Total Inability) to do anything right or pleasing to God, so they come down hard on those who are working. They attack them as “heretics” because they are Arminianists (which is a label they bandy about as if every non-Calvinist believes in works salvation). Calvinism fabricates parallel systems and efforts to divert funds, prayers, energies, and even people away from the true work of God (getting people saved and serving) by presenting dummy systems. Calvinists have their own calvinistic missionaries who teach the doctrines of Grace instead of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So many unknowing Christians and churches (marginally in the Calvinistic movement) support them, not understanding that their donations, prayers, and help goes to help promote Calvinism among true Christian churches through these promoters of the system. Calvinism does a tremendous job at evangelism, but not the lost to Christ, but the saved to the doctrines of Calvin. They don’t have time to win the unsaved, they are too busy winning existing Christians over to their corrupt system.

Ask yourself a simple question. Do we as normal Christians really need to minimize and castrate any efforts at prayer, evangelism, preaching, or missions? This is the net effect of Calvinism. Do we really need to keep telling weak and faltering Christians that they are “unable”? What does the Bible do? Does it constantly present failure with no source of strength, no remedy for weakness and inability, no solution for people NOT DOING THE WORK OF GOD or finding personal holiness? No, even though Scripture presents us with the humanness of David’s fall into sin, it presents us with his efforts to find God, and God’s pleasure with David, a man after God’s own heart. These are goals presents to us, because they are attainable, but not with the negativism of Calvinism’s “Total Inability”. Fine. Maybe you are a “mature” Christian, who can live in Calvinism’s doctrines and still witness to others and pray “when the rare occasion presents itself”. But by your support of Calvinism, how many weaker brethren follow your same path, and they get lost in Calvinism (i.e. become a hyper-calvinist)? Find a millstone and put it around your neck and drown yourself first, because you are tripping up weaker brethern. There is no excuse for the impugnity of Christians not going out to witness, or pray. Worse for preachers of the true Gospel.

For being totally unable, they certainly are very able at corrupting others with their own false system.

The truth of all of this is 1) people who try to win the lost and conscientiously obey God’s commands are not trying to earn their salvation through good works. 2) Calvinists use the doctrine of total inability as a crutch or excuse for their spiritual apathy and lack of trying to do correctly God’s work and commandments.

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2 Responses to Is Total Depravity Biblical?

  1. Stephanie says:

    Thanks. A friend is letting me borrow Desiring God by Piper….and it seems like a clever way to make someone reformed. You make some excellent points. Trying to work through this stuff.

    • admin says:

      Hi Stephanie, The bottom line is what theological viewpoints line up most closely with the evidence of Scripture. If you take a step back from all of this, and just say, what is the “warp and weave” of Scripture? Does God constantly pound us with the futility of any spiritual effort to find God and be saved? Does election and predestination make it impossible for us to “act” or “decide” spiritually? Or does God constantly speak of things as if it all is at our feet, that we must decide to have faith and follow God? Does not God both threaten us with hell, and promise us heaven if we believe in Jesus Christ? That is the central point here. That “action” in our hearts is what Satan (and Calvinists) seem to always attack. Be lazy, be a procrastinator, or just give up (Calvinism) because there is no way you can in anyway help, make, or cause your own eternal destiny to change. But God constantly “offers” salvation to us if (1) we repent and (2) believe in Jesus Christ. The issue really is this, do you believe God “at face value”, or do you take these offers and promises by God as coming from a deceptive, lying person (God)? Calvinism attacks the cults (rightly so) because they twist and turn the natural, obvious sense of Scripture and the words of God into meaning something else. But Calvinism is the worse offender in this. Just look at Calvinistic explanations of limited atonement, and the verses where “all” refers to Christ’s work of atonement, that doesn’t mean all to them, only “some.” If we were to turn this back on them, and say when the Bible says “all have sinned” and “all are sinful”, saying that only some are, they would scream to heaven that we are heretics (rightly so). But yet their rules are only to prove their preconceived conclusions, not to understand correctly the Word of God.
      I would exhort you weigh everything by the scales of Scripture and refuse anything kinky that just doesn’t abide in perfect harmony with God’s Word.
      In Christ,
      David Cox

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