Total Depravity, Part 1
Does God Like Religious People?
There are certainly “spiritual seekers” who seek after a god they define for themselves. But this is simply another form of idolatry. You can read about people committing such idolatry in Acts 17:16 – 21.
What about Gandhi? What about the Dali Lama? What about religious Jews, Moslems, and Hindus? Are they not saved? Okay, let’s talk about them. Their efforts to alleviate suffering and act as spokesman on behalf of oppressed people are noble works in themselves. But when good works are done to appease a false god or earn one’s way to heaven they become sinful – especially good works cloaked in pseudo-religious garb.
All World Religions (regardless of how pious) represent humanity’s attempt to gain salvation through personal efforts. Religious practices and works apart from Christ reflect man’s desire to save himself – which is a total rejection of the salvation God offers believers in Christ.
Biblical salvation calls for individuals to forsake their own ways. It commands us to abandon our self-reliance. It’s a salvation that comes by God’s grace through faith in Christ. The Reformers emphasized this by repeatedly using phrases like, “sola gracia” (grace alone) and “sola fide” (faith alone). “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Good works can’t save anyone because they don’t deal with the issue of our innate spiritual depravity – our sin nature. As a matter of fact, as you can see from the passage just quoted, if you perform good works to try and gain salvation, those good works actually become obstacles to salvation.
The faith of Christ in the Bible stands in stark opposition to the core doctrines of every major world religion. Instead of bringing salvation they actually encourage people to reject God and His gift of eternal life. Now, do you see the problem with evaluating a person’s so-called “good works?”
When seen in this light any works born out of the wrong motives and relationship to God can help ease suffering and affliction in this world and yet become sinful and offensive to God. It’s like doing something God would approve of while telling Him personally, as far as your need to be saved and His provision for our sins, to go “take a hike.”
From Creature to Child
All people, Christian or not, have the capacity to perform individual acts of kindness because all human beings are creatures of God created in His image. Even a serial killer can be nice to his mommy. God has put His laws within the heart of every person so they have a conscience and recognize a good work when they see it (Romans 1, 2). All individuals are creatures of God. He created them.
There’s a BIG difference though between a creation of God and a child of God. Children become family members through birth and adoption. It’s the same with God’s family. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will” (Ephesians 1:5).
Notice that adoption into God’s family comes by the pleasure of “his will,” not “our will.” Now we’re at the heart of Aminius’ first critical error. Is it possible for anyone (by some kind of innate ability within) to move from being a mere creature of God into becoming a child of God? Not according to the Scriptures. Unless God changes the nature no man could ever be saved. Our natures are at war against God.
“Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil” (Jeremiah 13:23). “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one” (Job 14:4). According to Scripture we can’t change our nature any more than we can change our skin color.
The Bible also says we don’t desire a relationship with God as long as we are in a fallen state of sin. It takes a sovereign act of God by divine grace – – completely apart from ourselves – to awaken the desire within us to move towards Him, that is, a right relationship where you truly seek Him, and love Him for who He truly is.
“No man can come to me (Jesus), except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44). “And he (Jesus) said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father” [the NIV reads “…no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him”](John 6:65).
A person in the state of total depravity is spiritually dead. A spiritually dead person can’t move towards God on their own to receive eternal life any more than a physically dead person can physically raise themselves up from the dead. “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins…by nature the children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-3). Notice who does the quickening (making alive). God quickens us who are dead. We can’t stir ourselves. He has to do it.
Even that great verse quoted above (John 3:3) and terribly misunderstood by the church that speaks of the need for a new birth (born again) must be read very carefully. It is a passive verb. This simply means the new birth is something that happens to you not because of you. This miracle of regeneration must take place to bring back to life what was dead so that it can respond to the call of the Gospel.
So now I ask, “Was Arminius correct in his first point?” Are human beings fallen (but not so fallen) that they have any ability within themselves to believe the Gospel and come to Christ? Let’s summarize:
We are born with a sin nature.
In our natural state of depravity sin holds the mastery over our souls.
Our inner sinful nature is “wicked” and incapable of making the right choices concerning our salvation. The standard by which we measure goodness is the holy character of God, who is our Creator.
Our good works we might think are earning us a trip to heaven are called “filthy rags” in Scripture.
Every good work we perform that is in our own thinking designed to save us is sinful since no one person is “good” enough in God’s eyes to warrant salvation.
No one naturally seeks after God (or does so in a correct way). It takes a supernatural act of God on the soul to begin to see the truth of the Gospel.
Our depraved nature shapes our thinking into what is “hostile” towards God.
Any good works performed to try and “earn” salvation actually denigrate the salvation God offers in Christ. We don’t have any natural ability to change our condition from death to life.
We don’t even “want” to change our condition and come to Christ. This is why the Father must draw us to Christ. He does so by first changing that corrupt nature into a new spiritual nature that is able to respond to the call of the Gospel. Apart from Christ we’re spiritually dead. We cannot help ourselves or give ourselves any spiritual life any more than a physically dead person can give themselves physical life.
Would it appear that the human condition is anything but totally depraved? Would a non-Christian then have any natural ability within them to believe the gospel of Christ? The Reformers saw the Bible clearly answering, “No.”
The Reformed position is the fall of man brought about total depravity, not partial depravity. When we look at the rest of the TULIP in future articles you’ll see even more clearly why this first point is so important. And why you should always be in awe of His grace.
Written by: Dr. Chuck F. Betters