Tulip: Total Depravity
Yesterday, I found myself in the enviable position of explaining the difference between reformed theology and “not” reformed theology. I was asked by my small audience for an example of the difference, and the first example that came to mind was God’s sovereignty in salvation. As I spoke about this doctrine, I could see the gears cranking in her mind. Her eyebrows furrowed, her head tilted, and then came the inevitable question: “how is that fair?”
The Sweet Aroma of Tulips
The question of fairness in salvation should first be understood within the proper context. It makes sense for someone to reason something like: “if everyone is born a sinner, and God only saves some and condemns others, but has the ability to save all, then isn’t that unfair?” Now, once deeply immersed in the sweet aroma of tulips, it may offend our sensibilities to think this way. But, we must remember that a scant few were saved as Calvinists, but rather we were eventually shown this by the Spirit’s kind mercy. What the person who thinks this way must fully grasp is the deep and abiding wretchedness of sin, and its repugnance to God.
The very existence of sin requires salvation. Few Christians will refute that Christ came to save us from sin, but a great many may argue over the effect that sin has on our nature. They may argue that while sin has seriously affected man's nature it has not left us spiritually helpless. They’ll say that God graciously enables every sinner to repent and believe, but he does so in a manner as not to interfere with man's free will, and his eternal destiny depends on how he uses it. However, the bible paints a drastically different picture.
A Red Flag
On the sixth day of creation, God made the first man: Adam. Adam was placed in a garden, given dominion, and freedom, but with one restriction - a prohibition from the fruit of one particular tree. Well, the story ends poorly. Adam is disobedient, he eats the fruit, and God makes good on his promise: he dies (Genesis 2:17). But a red flag is raised by some, “but he did NOT die! He was only banished from the garden!” This is true. However, God was not speaking only of literal death, but also spiritual death. He did eventually die, but because of Adam’s sin, all of his progeny would also be dead in their sin and completely unable to come back to a right relationship with God, which would be proven true by the fact of their eventual literal death. (Romans 5:12; Ephesians 2:1-3; Colossians 2:13)
This seems grim and depressing to some. “No” they may protest, “the sinner has the power to cooperate with God’s Spirit and be regenerate or resist God’s grace and perish.” This belief can be for two reasons. Either 1) the sinner does not want God to be responsible for condemning people to hell, or 2) the sinner desires to feel as though they have power to control their own life, thinking they have free will. However, both of these reasons contradict what we find in scripture (Isaiah 45:7, Luke 12:5, Romans 8:7-8).
Lubricate the Heart
Total depravity is like staring off into a dark room with your eyes fixed upon one spot. As they try to focus, the darkness begins to fill all that you see and spreads to all that surrounds you. Your periphery slowly begins to dim, and then you quickly realize your eyes are dry and you blink so you can see again. However, with sin, there is no way for us to lubricate the heart or mind. Rather, our minds are terminally darkened, and our hearts are incurably corrupted.
A complaint will arise, “but I believe, while the lost sinner needs the assistance of the Holy Spirit, he does not need to be regenerated by the Spirit in order to believe.” This, however, assumes that man has the capacity to mentally assent to an understanding of biblical truth. But, in spite of this sentiment, the scripture speaks to the contrary - of the deceitfulness and sickness of our hearts (Jeremiah 17:9); and the evil thoughts, sexual immorality, thefts, murders, and adulteries, that are birthed from within us (Mark 7:21-23). We are told that we love darkness rather than light because we love our evil deeds (John 3:19). Ultimately an unsaved person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, because they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they can be understood only by those who have already been regenerated (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Bound and Gagged
The sin that we inherit from Adam, permeates throughout our entire being, in every part. We are, in other words, slaves to sin (John 8:34). Sin is the master of our lives before the Spirit changes our hearts, which means we are in bondage that we cannot will ourselves out of (Isaiah 53:6, Romans 3:9-12), partly because we cannot, but also because we love it. In essence, before the Spirit decides to blow in our hearts (John 3:8), we are bound and gagged by sin. We can neither move toward God, nor can we speak an intelligible spiritual word from our hearts. We are completely and utterly in bondage.
Taking this bondage one step further, it keeps us from changing. We cannot become better, or good, or upright - not in God's eyes at least. We are stuck in our sin and hatred of God, until or unless he sovereignly chooses to change us (Job 14:4; Jeremiah 13:23; Matthew 12:33; John 6:44,65)
A Common Beggar
Having a right view of our sinfulness is the lynch pin to having a proper grasp of how the Lord saves his people. The entirety of the bible's teaching on God’s way of salvation hinges on this single point. If it is understood rightly, then God will be magnified and praised for his kind mercy, and our unearned salvation merited because of Christ’s perfect obedience and sacrifice for our sins. If it is neglected and worldly prospects like free will creep in to our theology then God will ultimately be dwindled down to a common beggar, pleading with us to make the right decision - his Son’s death will have only become another option among many, and his atonement impotent at best. God has shown us in his word how to magnify him, let us take heed and love him all the more because of it!
We were dead, but God has made us alive in Christ!!
Nick Muyres is a USN veteran and now lives in Pittsburgh PA with his wife and 3 children. He owns and operates a handyman business and is a graduate of Liberty University with a Bachelors Degree in Christian Counseling. He is currently pursuing a certification in biblical counseling through RPTS with the ACBC.