Problems with Total Depravity or Inability examines the flaws and errors of Total Depravity (really total inability). Problems with Total Depravity or Inability
Introduction to Problems with Total Depravity or Inability
Let’s make this as simple as we can so that people can understand us. Calvinism wishes to totally remove all concepts of moral activity for Christians. Say what they may say about holiness, sanctification, and leaving off sinning, the truth of the matter is that their teachings (if believed and followed lead their followers) push people strongly down the road of moral inactivity to a state of spiritual bankruptcy. There is no other alternative if you follow Calvinism. You may not be as advanced as “a 5 pointer”, but you are on the same road, no matter what you say or think. Problems with Total Depravity or Inability
Calvinism teaches that man has no ability to do anything morally acceptable before God. This is the doctrine of total inability. The biblical doctrine of moral depravity (which is in the Bible, and which Calvinism uses to twist it into a monster) has to be limited to and refers to the concept of doing morally good works with which we become acceptable before God or the concept of “buying our salvation” by doing good works. The Bible teaches that there is nothing morally acceptable before God that a man can do in order to purchase, obtain, or procure his salvation as an exchange for these good works done for salvation. The Bible does teach this, but this is a far step from the Calvinist’s doctrine of total inability.
What we need to carefully sort out is the Calvinist’s “bait-n-switch” tactics. First, he says that his pillar doctrine is “Total Depravity”, but what he really means is the total inability, and Calvinist writings abound with the references linking the two to be the same thing. While old Calvinists have carefully not taken all this so far, modern Calvinism fears nothing, and blatantly states that there is nothing good in God’s eyes that man can do. Ever.
If you follow carefully the Calvinistic doctrine here, neither before salvation, neither in salvation, neither after salvation, does man have anything that pleases God. According to the Calvinist, he is totally incapable (unable) to please God in any way. This is not biblical. What the Calvinist teaches is that man has nothing within him (ever, even after salvation) that is in any way pleasing to God. To admit this would be to admit that man has some value, or that man can do something that is valuable to God. The Calvinist pushes its followers to refuse to accept anything anybody does as acceptable by God.
Biblical Examples of Men who 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.
So exactly what does this verse mean? Somehow, Enoch, in his life, managed to live in such a way as to please God. This is the first salvo against the Calvinist doctrine. The Calvinist teaches that anything good that a man may do or be is because God has overwhelmed his own will and person, filling him with the Holy Spirit (against his own will), and therefore that person has no credit in any holy living he may do. Read the verse carefully. Enoch… he pleased God. It does not say that God’s Holy Spirit working in Enoch pleased God, and this would be ridiculous to think that this is what God is teaching here. The pleasing thing is attributed to Enoch’s doing, not God’s Spirit in him. True, God’s Holy Spirit guided and help, motivated, and provided for Enoch’s labor of love, but in the end, the force of the Word of God is that “Enoch pleased God”, not God’s working in Enoch. The credit (in this verse, because elsewhere the Bible does speak of the Spirit’s work in us) is given to Enoch.
Heb 11:4 By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.
When we examine whether it is biblical to say a man is totally unable to do or be anything that pleases God, we find people and biblical examples exactly to the opposite of this proposition. What was the “more excellent sacrifice” here? It is because Abel offered his sacrifice with faith, whereas Cain failed in some aspects. The point is, the activity, attitude, spirit, and beliefs (probably using blood instead of a bloodless sacrifice) which again pleased God. Whether God had given them specific instructions or not, the point is that obedience to God in faith does please God, and this is what the Calvinist attacks in his twisted doctrinal schemes.
Note that the Calvinist wishes to put regeneration before salvation so that anything that a person may do “to please God” is a product of the Holy Spirit in that person. The Holy Spirit does “educate us” as far as what pleases God, but the searching and obeying is attributed to the person as much as to the Holy Spirit. A holy life is a product of both God working in us, and our own obedience to God.
Pro 15:8 The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD: but the prayer of the upright is his delight.
What we simply point out is that there are activities and attitudes that do please God. We “do them”. We are responsible for them. Of course, God works in us, but in the end analysis, the “good” is credited not to God, but to the man who spiritually strives to obey and please God. Far from discouraging any person from doing anything “good” (because he is totally unable to do so), Scripture points out examples of normal people who spiritually strive to please God, and they do so. This commendation of those who strive to obey and please God is what encourages us to work harder in this area of our life. If you meditate on the doctrine of total inability, the conclusion of the matter is why to try because you cannot ever please God in any way. This is Calvinism’s demonic objective, spiritual inactivity.
Heb 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
So God does put some restrictions or guidance on “what pleases Him” and faith is obviously a key element to include in any activity that pleases God.
At this point, it would be helpful to see if there are any activities or attitudes which specifically “please God”.
Jas 2:23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
I think in an overview of the entire Bible’s teaching and mention of Abraham, we can safely say that Abraham pleased God. This is exactly the opposite of what Calvinism teaches, nobody pleases God. What pleased God about Abraham was his belief in God.
Acts 13:22 And when he had removed him, he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will.
I am not sure what this verse means exactly, but it is very clear that God was pleased with David, and that is God who sees eternity at a glance. God could make this statement about His divine pleasure in David’s life, years after David’s various grievous sins. God still took a complete view of his entire life, and God was pleased with David. What pleased God about David was that David fulfilled all the will of God. Somehow that is so profound that it is difficult to grasp completely, but what is very obvious is that the Calvinist’s key pillar, Total Inability, is just wrong and not biblical.
A Study on “Pleasing God.”
Before we look at more verses, let’s spell things out again. We have either of two options:
1) Total Depravity-Inability – Nothing, absolutely nothing that we can or desire to do is acceptable to God, and therefore the logical conclusion is that it is fruitless to even occupy ourselves with thoughts of trying to do something acceptable before God. — or —
2) Spiritual striving towards pleasing God can render God’s pleasure towards us – This means that although our sinful character interferes at every turn with “our pleasing God”, and we must fight vigorously against our sinfulness, it is possible to do things or to form a lifestyle (attitudes and activities) that is pleasing to God, like Enoch.
So our examination of these verses is directly towards seeing if the Bible does credit man with doing things pleasing to God, whether the Holy Spirit is the sole agent in this activity, or whether God attributes the man as the agent, and we want to see what exactly are the keys or secrets to pleasing God.
1Kgs 3:10 And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing.
Solomon’s attitude and the desires of his heart “pleased the Lord“. Again, another nail in the coffin of Total Inability. Solomon apparently “was able”. Calvinism wants to attribute anything anybody does as a direct overpowering of that person by the Holy Spirit. The Bible NEVER presents reality like this. Instead, God speaks His will (pleasure), and man responds by obeying what pleases God in man’s own will and efforts, and God is pleased. Clearly, salvation is not by what we do to please God, but we are not talking about procuring salvation, but all the rest of life. In a sense, God has stated “his pleasure” in salvation, that we should look to Christ and believe (confidence) in Him, and that pleases God rendering salvation to us. Obedience to God’s will is what pleases Him, and this is at the heart of salvation.
Calvinism tries to steal this activity of the will of man from the salvation picture, saying that it is all, 100% God’s work, and man is completely and utterly passive in salvation, and the election is the proof.
Ps 51:19 Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.
Exactly how can a Calvinist interpret this verse? God is pleased with our sacrifices (efforts) of righteousness? This goes against all Calvinism is about.
Ps 69:30 I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving. 31 This also shall please the LORD better than an ox [or] bullock that hath horns and hoofs.
32 The humble shall see this, and be glad: and your heart shall live that seek God.
I do not know how Calvinists can teach total depravity when the Bible clearly teaches that there are things which man in his own efforts do, and these things “please God”.
Prov 16:7 When a man’s ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.
Another non-sensical verse if the Calvinist’s claims are correct. A simple observation of a consequence of a man ordering his life such that “his ways” please God. Take out man’s will here and insert “the Holy Spirit’s power”, and it makes no sense. When the Holy Spirit’s working in man pleases the Lord, God makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. Does this make sense? No. It is not the Holy Spirit’s working in man that causes God’s pleasure here, it is man’s personal, individual, wilful efforts to please God that pleases God. Problems with Total Depravity or Inability
Eccl 7:26 And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her.
Let’s think about this for a minute. If a man is simply a pre-programmed computer by God, and he is incapable of doing anything “good” or “pleasing” to God, then what is the basis of God keeping such a man in this verse from the clutches of the wicked, harlotous woman? Why would God spare one man, and allow another man to fall into her evil web? Remember, nothing a man does is pleasing to God (according to the Calvinist doctrine) so if this is so, then we have a terrible problem. The verse makes no sense at all.
Isa 56:4 For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant;
Here, “pleasing God” is a personal volitional choice by individuals going along the lines of God’s character which was apparently revealed to them.
Mic 6:7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? 9 The LORD’S voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy name: hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it.
In this verse, the prophet presents the comparison of what pleases God, animal sacrifices, or walking in justice, loving mercy, and being humble. These are the things that please God if we voluntarily do them. This is not the Holy Spirit overpowering us against our will, but it is simply a presentation of God’s will, and if we WILL TO DO THEM, God will provide the “ability” through His Spirit.
Rom 8:5 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. 8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. 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.
This verse speaks to people who are already saved. The point Paul is making is that we cannot “please God” if we will to follow the fleshly desires. Paul declares that these who allow their carnal mind to rule their life “cannot please God”, but Paul’s observation is immediate that we are not “in the flesh” but “in the Spirit”. In other words, the believer who has the Holy Spirit dwelling in him pleases God, whereas the unbeliever doesn’t. The issue here is more the “mind” of the person because the person who “minds” the flesh (gives in to it) doesn’t manifest the work of the Spirit of God, and the person who “minds” the spirit (seeks spiritual things) manifests the presence of the Holy Spirit, and “pleases God”. This passage does not make the Holy Spirit’s presence the willful agent of doing, but rather, the presence of the Holy Spirit is a result of a correct “minding” by the individual, in other words, how he controls his own thoughts. Again, what we find is God giving the agency which pleases God to man, crediting his choice of correct actions and attitudes as what causes God’s pleasure.
1Cor 7:32 But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord:
The desire and attitude of “desiring to please the Lord” is clearly a biblical concept.
1Cor 10:5 But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. 6 Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.
Where is the example for us in this point if it is not in seeing what these Israelites did that displeased God, and we should not do them so that we will please God?
Gal 1:10 For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.
Paul’s concept of the ministry is clearly focused on “pleasing God” and not men. Why or in what sense can we say that man is totally incapable of pleasing God, doing anything good, etc.? When we seek any good work that would save us, surely there is nothing that will “buy us the right” so that God HAS TO GIVE US salvation. But outside of procuring salvation, this concept is not biblical. Problems with Total Depravity or Inability
1Thess 4:1 Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.
Did Paul instruct this church on how they were to please God? It is ridiculous to say that we cannot ever, as a physical impossibility, please God, which is exactly the doctrine of Total inability. The concept of doing certain things please God and doing other things displease God was a basic teaching of the primitive church, and it was their understanding of the teachings of Christ and the apostles. This doctrine of Calvinism is totally unbiblical.
2Tim 2:4 No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.
Again, Paul sees common elements of Christian life as pleasing or displeasing God. There are things that are acceptable to God, and we should strive to do these things with all our energies. We should understand any doctrine or persuasive teaching which would render null or restrict our efforts to strive for God as coming from Satan. This is one of the five main pillars of Calvinism, so this places Calvinism squarely as coming from the pit of hell, and absolutely is not biblical. They try to use biblical elements to gain acceptance, but they carry these biblical elements to unbiblical conclusions.
Heb 13:16 But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
The entire teaching of Total Inability or Total Depravity is to conclude that there is nothing any person, saved or unsaved, can do to please God. We can do nothing with is acceptable in God’s sight, nothing which God sees as “good”. But this verse clearly teaches that we can “do good” and God will be pleased with that. Problems with Total Depravity or Inability
God judges a person by what he does
Eph 6:5 Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; 6 Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; 7 With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: 8 Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.
Paul’s understanding of our humanity before God is that each individual has a will, and what each person does will be brought into judgment, and his decisions and choices will be condemned or rewarded. This is not God’s fault for making us sin or do good against our will, or outside of any personal agency. Our person is in the center of this. Problems with Total Depravity or Inability
1Pet 1:13 Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: 15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16 Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. 17 And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear:
Peter’s point is that those who are saved, children of God, are to “fashion themselves” into holiness and not allow the former lusts to enter into their lifestyle. Peter’s observation is that God judgeth every man according to his own work (actions, activity, attitudes), and that is the basis of God’s dealing with that individual.
Is this verse what Calvinism presents? Calvinism says just the opposite, that God is a respecter of persons, and that God does not pay any attention to anything a man does. Everything is bad, nothing is good, and a man’s actions has no standing or influence in his eternal judgment from God, rather a divine election that controls that man. The Calvinist’s teaching on this matter is exactly what Peter says is not the situation. Calvinism teaches that according to this divine lottery, God decides the fate of each man totally and absolutely independent of that person’s works. Peter teaches the opposite, that God “judgeth according to every man’s work.” How do Bible-believing Christians allow and follow Calvinism? Problems with Total Depravity or Inability
Some Tracts on Calvinism
Helps on understanding Problems with Total Depravity or Inability
- calv01 Calvinism: What’s the Truth?
- calv02 Did Christ Die for the Whole World, or only part of it? Limited Atonement
More Works on Calvinism on this website
- What is your Gospel?
- Verses that refute Limited Atonement
- Verses against Calvinism
- Total Depravity: 7. What does the Bible really present?
- Total Depravity: 6. Can a person please God?
T.R. Simmons A Systematic Study of Bible Doctrine is a Bible Doctrines book of 43 chapters. The author is (according to the Introduction) "systematic, Calvinistic, Baptist, and premillennial". I am offering this work in various formats:
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2 thoughts on “Problems with Total Depravity or Inability”
Christ’s words on man’s ability before salvation: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…” (John 6:44)
Paul’s words: “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Rom. 8:7-8)
Christ’s words on man’s good works in the state of salvation: “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'” (Luke 17:10)
Paul’s words: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh)nothing good dwells…(Rom. 7:18)
Good points, but like a typical Calvinist you confuse the difference between ability and credit or value. One thing is that we have nothing (outside of Christ) which would obligate God to allow us into heaven, and it is a totally different thing to say we are unable to respond or obey God’s will. Rom 8:7-8 and Luke 17:10, and Rom 7:18 all address our lack of moral merit before God to get into heaven. John 6:44 on the other hand speaks of ability, and this is a conditional statement. Nobody can access God and later salvation without God “opening the door.” True, but John also says that if Jesus is lifted up, he will draw all men unto him. Jesus was lifted up, so are all men saved? No. Why not? Because the problem here is that it is not God turning on or off a “salvation” switch within us. God saves us by grace (a free gift coming from the will of God) through faith. This is the most clearest and basic point of salvation. You believe God’s offer (receiving it), and you are saved.
1.) Please show me 1 single verse where a minister of God in the Bible, especially Jesus Christ, stood before unsaved people, and told them that they “could be saved” if they were elected by God, otherwise they were damned to hell. I NEVER find any reference to election, being chosen, or predestination in any Gospel presentation.
2.) What is always the presentation of Salvation? Is it not ALWAYS, believe God and you will be saved? Is not Abraham’s example primal here? Abraham “BELIEVED GOD” and it was counted to him for righteousness. The moral action of believing is what God waits for before saving a person. This is never passive event that the person “waits on God to decide to save him”, rather it is always “thrown in the individual’s lap”, believe and be saved, or if you refuse, you are damned. This is consistently the presentation of the Gospel throughout the Old and New Testaments.
3.) If you change the Gospel (how somebody “GETS” saved), you have another Gospel that Jesus and the Apostles, and the primitive church did not have. According to my reading of Scripture, you are saved by your faith. The Calvinist say you are saved by God’s election of you, without your faith. You have nothing to do with either faith nor your own salvation, but rather you are completely passive in it, i.e. any faith that you could possibly have is because God preprogrammed you to have it. No. Jesus was raised, and that was the act or event to created the possibility that would could have faith and be saved. God’s act of the cross is the great “faith causing” event of all history. When you disenfocus off of Christ and the cross causing faith for our salvation to an hidden agenda of election, you have another Gospel other than that presented in the Bible. The bottom line is, read the entire Bible, and notice how many times God places man’s destiny squarely a responsability on his own shoulders. If we morally act, we will be saved. If we refuse to act according to God’s instructions, we ourselves have condmened ourselves to hell. Our destiny is very much a result of our own moral actions.
4.) If a person is saved, is God left out of it? Absolutely not. Whenever a person is saved, it is because of all that God has done in that person’s life to bringing him to salvation. But that doesn’t remove the responsibility or the “trigger of salvation” being our decision to obey God and believe in Christ as our Saviour.