Total Depravity: Is it Biblical?
Nothing any man has ever done has ever pleased God?
A theory is something that somebody proposes, but is not yet proved. Theories become axioms (rules) when they are proved. Let’s say that Total Depravity is true, (proposing it as a theory to be proven). But it is just a theory until it can be definitely proven by Scripture, and all contrary positions and objections are fully answered. Let’s see.
Calvinism teaches that nothing any man has ever done or could ever do would ever please God. This is total depravity. Absolutely EVERYTHING man does is displeasing before God. But it this doctrine true? Is it totally impossible for any man to please God in any way? The Bible tells us yes, some men in some cases have pleased God, and they have greatly pleased God. Calvinism’s premise is totally wrong. Before we begin, we must clarify a point though. What the Bible says about men who have pleased God, and there are more than one, is talking about the walk of their life. God in nowise presents any good works as being capable of “purchasing” salvation. Although man does or can please God, this does not address his eternal destiny and charge of being sinful. The only thing that God will accept (that will atone for man’s sinful situation propitiating God’s wrath) is the blood of His own Son, Jesus on the cross.
There are two separate things here. First there is what saves, and second, there is what a man does because of what he is morally. No man can do good works and be saved thereby. Paul makes the point very clear in Romans that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (moral mark necessary for being saved).
Definition of Total Depravity by Calvinism
Total depravity is a misnomer, because the very Calvinists who preach it say it is. What they are talking about is not an analysis of a man’s works and life whether these things are pleasing to God or not. What they are talking about is total inability. We will deal with this issue separately in another post. For a “purist”, total depravity teaches very simply that nothing that any man can do pleases God. We will allow that being a purist, they would also accept that the life of Jesus Christ did please God.
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John 8:29 And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.
My question is this, is not Jesus “our example” in all things? If Christ pleased God IN ALL THINGS, would not our actions in imitation of Christ at least please God in some things? We need to separate this into the issue of does some things we do please God, and of course separate this from not everything we do pleases God. We are sinful. But does some things we do please God? If that is so, to despise and strike against those things we do do to please God is to turn the believer away from trying to increase those pleasant things we do in God’s eyes. Calvinism turns believers into people who claim nothing they do can please God, and they put the appropriate emphasis on pleasing God in their life accordingly, i.e. they do not try to please God.
Matt Elton in his article on “Three arguments against Total Depravity” says “But Calvinism takes this to such an extreme as to say that human beings utterly incapable of believing in, obeying, or pleasing God. By doing so, Calvinists remove free will from the equation. If we are not capable of making a free will decision to follow Christ, salvation cannot be on the basis of free will, and must instead be on the basis of God choosing who is and is not save.” Matt sees Total Depravity as the foundation of all the other points of Calvinism. He continues, “Remove total depravity form the picture and the whole structure of Calvinism collapses. “
Elton also presents the argument that total depravity was not taught by the early disciples but was created 500 years ago. He quotes Justin Martyr, Tatian, Melito, Ireneus, and Tertullian as being that man was created fully capable of deciding and obeying Christ or not.
Elton says “If Paul actually taught total depravity, why did Paul’s own disciples and those who came shortly after him strongly deny the doctrine? There is no question that Paul teaches the depravity of fallen man… There is no question that we have a sinful nature – the issue is whether or not it makes us completelyincapable of loving God or obeying His will. All of the early church fathers agree that man has the ability within himself to obey and love God.”
The only “church father” who believed anything close to total depravity is Augustine, though he did not develop the doctrine as far as Calvin did. Augustine is responsible for introducing the idea of original sin into the church, a doctrine that did not exist in orthodox Christianity before him, though it did exist in Gnoticism.
Augustine’s “original sin” theology is heavily influenced by Gnosticism.
Elton also notes in argument #2 that Christ’s humanity disproves Total Depravity. If we “define mankind” as being depraved as to his nature (not a propensity, but an actuality even before birth), then in some sense we must separate Christ from this. (1) Christ was like all men and sinned and had a sin nature because he was human, (not tenible), (2) Man’s sinful nature is an inborn tendency (which through will and God’s power, he can not sin). (the only option). If man’s purpose in being created was to be like God, then how does this work with man’s nature and purpose is to sin? Do we really want to make what is man? to absolutely include being totally depraved? Was Christ then fully man or not?
I will quote Elton here, but see original article:
All orthodox Christians must affirm that Jesus Christ was fully human, otherwise he could not die for the sins of humanity (1 John 2:2) and could not be our mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5).
But if human beings are totally depraved by nature and sinful from birth, this means Jesus Christ was necessarily totally depraved and sinful. This is obviously not the case because scripture says Jesus Christ was sinless, or he could not be our sacrifice (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Jesus was “made like his brothers in every respect” (Hebrews 2:17). If Jesus was made like us in every way this would include sharing in our depravity.
The second problem with this view is that Jesus was tempted. This by itself proves that Jesus had the same human nature we do, because scripture says that temptation comes from “our own desires” which originate from our human nature (James 1:14).
Scripture is clear that the temptation of Jesus was not a meaningless charade, but was real, serious temptation. Scripture says he “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV).
If Jesus was tempted in the exact same way we are, this by itself disproves total depravity. If we are totally depraved, the only way for Jesus to be tempted in the same way that we are tempted is if he was also totally depraved. But this is clearly not the case because Jesus never sinned. Therefore, we cannot be totally depraved.
Elton in his third argument says that Total Depravity elevates man by excusing his sin. If man has no willful control over his sinfulness, then God being a just judge cannot condemn for his sinfulness.
…early church fathers like Justin Martyr and Tertullian argued against total depravity because they saw it as excusing man’s sin. In their view, Jesus would soon return to “repay each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:27). By necessity, this requires that human beings have the ability to choose good or choose evil. If we do not have this ability – if we are incapableof choosing good – then it logically follows that we cannot be justly held responsible for our evil.
What is sin? The Calvinist view of sin is the same as that of the Gnostics. According to this view, sin is an invisible disease that is transmitted by birth. Human flesh totally depraved by its very nature, so everyone born in the flesh is already a sinner, even before do any actions… Those views come straight out of Gnosticism.
…we inherit from Adam a sinful nature that desires sinful things. But the sinful nature is not the same as sin itself. Our sinful nature tempts us to sin, but we also have the free will ability to choose to resist that nature.
John Piper (Reformed-Calvinist) explains Total Depravity this way, there are four senses in which man’s depravity is total: (Piper)
(1.) Our rebellion against God is total.
Apart from the grace of God there is no delight in the holiness of God, and there is no glad submission to the sovereign authority of God. Like all Calvinists, Piper argues on one topic and then subtly switches to another in conclusion. A Calvinist will argue the sinfulness of man (which the Bible does teach) but presume that this is the same thing as total inability (the true doctrine Calvinists want you to believe). He quotes John 3:20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. John 3:21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
But isn’t this exactly the point? People who do not come to God are rebellious, and their lives are not pleasing to God, but the act of coming to God, being saved, and living for God is “coming to the light“. If Total Depravity is the real condition of everybody unilaterally, then why would an unsaved person go to an evangelistic meeting, read a tract, or study the Bible? Many do. The “fact” that no unsaved person every manifests any desire towards God is just not reality as we see it. Many do just that. Many who are now saved can recount their desire for remedy of their sins, of their destitute life, and of the emptiness within them which preceded their salvation. God was working, but also their own will was present.
Total Depravity and Calvinism would presume that a Christian’s life is totally devoid of anything pleasing of God because the participation of a person in total rebellion against God cannot produce anything good. But did you see how Piper trips on “total rebellion”. Are we really in total rebellion if we repent of our sins and trust Jesus? No. So they move the unsaved man’s position before God and apply that to the saved man’s position before Christ.
(2) In his total rebellion everything man does is sin.
Piper uses Rom 14:23 And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin. What is Paul arguing in the context? Eating meats offered to idols. He is not make a unilateral proclamation about everything a person does in his life. Paul is giving advice on how to handle “doubtful things”, like where does separation from a person’s old idol worship end. Is making any sacrifice, even unto God still tainted because a person sacrificed to an idol? There are limits, and in some cases, people were never in those idol worshipping religions and their limits are different from those heavily involved. The point is that if you are fully convinced that eating meat offered an idol in a place away from the temple, don’t do it. You should be completely convinced.
Piper says, “So what Paul is saying in Romans 7:18 is that apart from the work of God’s Spirit all we think and feel and do is not good.”
Why does Piper want to extrapolate this principle from the local context and apply it universally to everything? It is because only by twisting Scripture will you ever come up with this Calvinistic doctrine. If I take a bath, but don’t have faith, is it sin? Non-sense! Paul’s instructions and comments do not apply to everything!
(3) Man’s inability to submit to God and do good is total.
This is the heart of the doctrine. Man’s inability to do anything of any spiritual value before God. Piper’s comments on Romans 7-8 presume that Paul is speaking of when he is saved, but Paul could be speaking of before his salvation.
Would God command all mankind to do something that He would not have given in man’s nature the ability to do? We are made in the image of God as a free moral agent.
(4) Our rebellion is totally deserving of eternal punishment.
This is true, but saved by grace, are we still deserving of eternal punishment? Can you say unilaterally that saved people still do not rebell sometimes against God? Can a saved person that rebels against God for a season be said to lose his salvation? No, the Calvinist is for eternal security. So the statement is blatantly false. Our rebellion is not “TOTALLY DESERVING” of eternal punishment, because God’s grace works slowly in us. It hasn’t finished its work in us.
What is at issue?
Really, what does it matter? First of all, it is a pillar of Calvinism, and Calvinists teach that they are the only ones which have these truths of God. So being an essential pillar of the Christian faith (according to Calvinists) we must examine it to see if it is biblical. If the Calvinist is biblical in this point, then he has reason to claim that Calvinism has captured or recaptured an essential concept that most other groups do not have.
The issue with this doctrine is one of how it affects man’s attitude. If you believe in Total Depravity, then it will “ill-affect” you spiritually. There is a logical consequence in believing this doctrine, and it is from Satan.
If nothing I can do will ever please God, then why do I even try to please God?
There is a fatalism that creeps into one’s thinking when he is a Calvinist. It is completely logical. The main problem with Calvinism is that in all its points, it is against or counter intuitive of the Christian faith. It is ridiculous that Calvinists can pride themselves on being expert students of Scripture and yet they never “connect the dots” of where their theology really takes them. If everything I do is sin in the eyes of God, and there is no chance ever in any wise to please God, then why do I expend my life trying? Calvinists are people who have their Christian motive (to please God) gutted.
Fortunately most Calvinists (if they really are saved, and many are not) will moderate their “Calvinism” by Christian common sense, and simply say they believe Calvinists and identify themselves as Calvinists, but moderate it by saying they are 2, 3, or 4 point Calvnists. What that does is gives them an excuse to not accept these obvious conclusions of Calvinism. If you talk to a Roman Catholic, and they tell you that they are not a complete Roman Catholic, because they don’t accept the Pope and Rome as their intercessors before Christ, but they do accept Mary, is that okay? Does that pacify your rejection of their doctrine? No. Roman Catholicism is a system built on pillars, and you can no go along with some of them, but all of them are tainted and lead you into the same error. So is it the same with Calvinism.
Rom 8:7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. Rom 8:8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. Rom 8:9 But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. Rom 8:10 And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
Paul’s words should clarify this issue completely for everybody, but they don’t. A person can never please God if he lives in the flesh. Truly, the Calvinist’s position of Total Depravity is very true and biblical for all Calvinists, because they do not live in the spirit. The Calvinist searches for righteousness within himself, and it is alien and foreign to him. He works and thinks as an unsaved man.
Any man that is truly saved and has the Spirit of God has this life because of the righteousness dwelling in him. But Calvinism has put Satan’s advocate in his mind, “there is no righteousness in me” nor “is there anything good that I can do before God.” That is Satan speaking to the Calvinist. Read the words of this passage (above) over and over again, and you will see that Paul is not saying that no man can ever please God (Total Depravity), but that you must live in the Spirit of God, in the spirit of righteousness in order to please God. The two things are totally different.
The more I grow in the Lord over the years, the more I hate Calvinism. Calvinism is the refuge of haughty, unspiritual, reprobates. They are conceeded, and seek to protect their own doctrinal castle. They never read Scripture to let God speak to them, but they impose upon Scripture what is convenient to them.
Undoubtedly some Calvinist will write me about these posts saying that total depravity and pleasing God are two entirely different things. Yes they are. But one is opposed to the other, they cannot co-exist. Either you are totally depraved (nothing you do is pleasing to God) or you are not. It is hard to consider that every person is at the extreme of sin that he could commit. No so. But the Calvinist simply wishes to entangle people in endless, senseless arguments refusing to accept concrete biblical examples.
Hebrews 11:5 Enoch pleased God
Heb 11:5 By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.
The simple question is did Enoch please God or not? If he did (and obviously he did because the Bible simply states it as fact), does that disprove the doctrine of Total Depravity. Somebody in Scripture pleased God by their life. If that is the case, cannot we, by following the same path, please God with our life? Here we go! Yes! The focus of Scripture is not on the absolute sinfulness of man, but on the correct path of life that man needs to follow to please God. Pleasing God by following righteousness is not what saves you, the blood of Jesus is what saves you, but the desire to obey God is involved in your salvation as an essential part, and this active participation in following God is what is at issue in Total Depravity.
You have no idea what really is salvation if you do not sacrifice and expend yourself towards that “pleasing God.”
Luke 9:23 And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.
There is a pursuit involved in salvation, which is a denying of one’s own self, one’s own desires, and a taking up the way of Christ. Total Depravity teaches that there is no need to deny yourself because in the end, nothing you can do or be would please God in any way. What a fatalism! Yes, there is a way that is pleasing to God, and if you read until the of these 6-7 posts, you will see these verses too.
Eph 5:8 For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: Eph 5:9 (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) Eph 5:10 Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord.
How can we prove what is acceptable unto the Lord? Paul speaks of this in conjunction with other verses where he speaks of us walking a walk that pleases God (1Thess 4:1; 2Thess. 2:13; 2Tim. 2:4; etc). Paul’s reference is that as a product of us being the children of God, having the indwelling Holy Spirit working “goodness” (good works) and righteousness and truth (no duplicity) in us, that this will prove God’s pleasure by the example of our lives.
The “option” (Calvinists treat the 5 pillars of Calvinism as optional, some adhering to 2, others 3, others all) to believe in Total Depravity is no option at all. To believe in the Total Depravity of man is deny the doctrine of spiritual fruit pleasing to God being a necessity and reality in the case of every true believer. How can we say that living the Christian life as Christ showed us will absolutely in no way produce anything pleasing to God? If you say it will, but only because God does it, then that removes my will, and my participation. Why does God command us and exhort us to do it then? If God’s will has no envolvement with my participation or will, then what isn’t every Christian perfect, holy, and righteousness? It is because a person’s righteousness is not left up to what God wants to make it, but what that person’s will obeys from God’s commands. This is dynamically opposed to the doctrine Total Depravity.
2Cor 5:9 Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.
1Tim 5:4 compare that when a person acts correctly towards his family relationships, “for that is good and acceptable before the Lord”
Ps 19:14 Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.
Calvinism belabors the point endlessly that we can never be accepted by God in any means or any way. Paul’s understanding was again dynamically the opposite. That was exactly what Paul strived for, to present his life and ministry to God in a way that would please God, and he would be accepted. In the next chapter of this thread on the Total Depravity, we will see Noah, and we will understand that the rest of the world was not accepted by God in the way they lived, but Noah and family was.
continue with 2. The Counter Example of Noah.
Sermon against Total Depravity, the Problems of Total Depravity
Sermon by Marc Monte