In this second article, I will address the first of the five points of Reformed theology. As this is a blog article, and not an exhaustive multi-volume work, I’ll have to keep it a bit brief, of course.
And so, briefly, the doctrine of total depravity is this: Due to the fact that sin has corrupted and enslaved the entire nature of man, no one is able to do anything pleasing to God, including obedience and belief.
This is, just like the rest of the Doctrines of Grace, something that is believed because it is revealed in Scripture. As such, I believe it can only be rejected by rejecting or reinterpreting the Scriptures which so plainly teach it. As I said in the last post, Calvinists are Calvinists because of Scripture, not other philosophical argument. While there are indeed questions to address, they must be addressed in light of Scripture.
What Total Depravity Is Not
Right away, before we explore the Scriptures on this issue, it should be pointed out, as we will do each time, what this doctrine is not.
1. It is not that man’s nature is corrupted such that he is as bad as he could be. The term “total” in this expression is properly understood to refer to the extent or scope of the corruption, not the severity. In other words, it is not that man is evil to the greatest possible degree, but that all of him is evil. An analogy (and I usually shy away from these) would be adding sugar to water. Add a spoonful to a glass of water, and all of the water is sweet. It is not as sweet as it could be, though, if you were to add more sugar. In a similar way, sin has corrupted and enslaved man’s total nature, but the degree to which a person’s actions exemplify evil varies from person to person.
2. Similarly, it is not that everything man does is evil in the sense that it falls under a category of sinful acts, such as murder or theft. Rather, it is that everything man does in his natural state is evil because his heart is evil in the act. Even altruism is sinful when done by natural man because of his own sinful motives for it, such as, possibly, elevation of himself as opposed to God in the action. Of course, different situations of different people have diverse ways in which the sinful heart of man is expressed. Keep in mind that because of this, the action itself may be good, such as helping someone in need, but there is always corruption of the heart on some level in it.
3. It is not that the image of God has been displaced. Scripture is clear that man’s dignity as an image-bearer of God remains for all men, regardless of how sinful that man is.
4. Also, and perhaps because of the previous point, it is not that man does not have within him the desire to be good or even to seek the truth and find God. That is in his created nature. The doctrine here simply says that, in his natural state, the corrupted sinful nature has enslaved man’s mind and heart and will, so that nothing he does is without a sinful element, and thus everything he does displeases God. When it is pointed out that many unbelievers do many good things, perhaps even better things than a lot of Christians, the definition of “good” must be correctly understood. The concepts of good and evil being employed in Scripture on this issue are those that apply to man from a perfect, holy God. As we will see in the Scriptures, what we think of as a “good person” often falls pitifully short of the goodness of God and of what He is willing to call good in us.
5. God did not create man with this sinful nature. In the Garden of Eden, everything God created was good, and man especially so. Total depravity is a teaching about our nature now, not as God created us. Ours is a nature that was perfectly morally good in God’s sight, but has been corrupted by sin.
Having said these things, let’s look at what Total Depravity is, and then answer some of the objections to it, perhaps better explaining why it isn’t those things listed above.
So what does the Scripture say about man’s state today?
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. Romans 5:12-14
The wicked are estranged from the womb;
they go astray from birth, speaking lies. Psalm 58:3
We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls upon your name,
who rouses himself to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. Isaiah 64:6-7
So far, we can see that, because of Adam’s sin, we are all sinful, and that from the womb. This much is agreed to by most Christians. I do know of some that take a later verse in Romans 5, about “all men” receiving condemnation and “all men” receiving the “justification of life” (Romans 5:18) to mean that the sinful nature has been removed from the same group as received the condemnation. While the language of the verse, taken by itself, does seem to allow this interpretation of the phrase “all men”, the traditional interpretation, not just by Calvinists, but by many non-Calvinists, is that each occurrence of “all men” refers to either all men “in Adam” or “in Christ”.
I think that this is correct for two reasons. First, it follows the entire passage’s contrast between Adam and Christ better. In this sense, it goes with the next sentence better as well: “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19) I’ve never heard that “the many” here must refer to the same group. If it did, then everyone “will be made righteous”. Now, unless you’re a universalist, believing everyone will be saved and no one will be condemned, this can’t be true.
This leads to my second reason, which is that “justification of life” is not a phrase or term that the Apostle Paul uses loosely. When he refers to someone as having been justified, he’s talking, as the following verse illustrates, about being made righteous. It’s about being saved, not just having the sin of Adam temporarily removed in infancy.
In looking at the Isaiah passage, we see that God considers even our “righteous deeds” to be like a “polluted garment”. That last phrase is actually a bit sanitized in our reading of it. What Isaiah is referring to there is what we would call used toilet paper. Another translation renders it “filthy rags”. Rags were used the way we use toilet paper today, and what Isaiah is pointing out is that even the “good” things we do are like used toilet paper.
Now, it’s one thing to say that if I offer my good deeds to God it is useless. Isaiah is saying that my good deeds are worse than that. They are offensive. Sin has polluted everything, so that nothing we do is anything less than an offense to God.
Worse than this, sin has also corrupted our abilities in other ways.
And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” John 6:65
“…but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:26-27
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:7-8
So, from Jesus and Paul we know that, because of our sin, we cannot come to Jesus in faith, which is something that anyone would agree is pleasing to God. One particular reason Scripture gives for this inability is that we cannot, in our fallen state, even understand the truth.
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 1 Corinthians 2:14-15
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools… Romans 1:21-22
So, without the Spirit of God, we cannot understand the truth of God in order to turn to Him and be saved. We are futile in our thinking. Other ways that Scripture expresses this inability are in calling us “slaves to sin” (John 8:34) and “dead in sin” (Ephesians 2:1, Colossians 2:13)
Because of all of this, at the climax of Paul’s treatment of the sinful state of man in Romans 3, he says the following:
as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.” Romans 3:10-12
No one seeks for God, and no one does good. No one can come to Jesus unless drawn by His Father. No one understands unless he has the Spirit. John Wesley was not a Calvinist, but he understood what these passages meant. He knew that without the work of God in our hearts, they would remain “deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). In fact, as I pointed out in part 1, even the first Arminians believed in Total Depravity. Because Wesley did not believe in the rest of the Doctrines of Grace, however, he argued for a concept he called “prevenient grace”. This was something that God gives to every man to counteract the moral crippling effects of sin, so that everyone would have free will and be able to accept or reject the Gospel from a morally neutral heart. It is a kind of grace that does not save, but that makes man able to believe and be saved.
The problem with this concept is that it is nowhere found in Scripture. Reformed folks often refer to “common grace”, which is universal, but only refers to the common blessings in this life that are given to all men, regardless of their standing before God. Jesus referred to it when he said that the rain falls on the righteous as well as the wicked. (Matthew 5:45) This is not the same belief, however, since these blessings do not undo the damage done by sin.
Aside from the absence of supporting Scripture for Wesley’s view, there are other good reasons to reject prevenient grace. First, all of the “sinful man” passages above would not really refer to anyone, since everyone would be rescued from sin’s effects on the heart and mind. Jesus statements about inability in John 6 were meant to explain why the people didn’t believe in him. If they had prevenient grace, His statements don’t make much sense.
Also, every time, so far as I can see, that the rescue from sin’s effects does occur, it happens alongside the actual salvation of a person. The contrast above in 1 Corinthians between the natural and spiritual person alludes to it when it says that the spiritual person is “judged by no one”. A spiritual person is one who has the Holy Spirit within him. He is given mercy, not judgment. No third “in-between” category is ever mentioned.
From all of this, it can be seen that the will of man is not actually “free”, with regard to being morally pleasing to God. That which is enslaved is not free. Some Calvinists, however, would still refer to a kind of freedom that everyone has. We are all free to act within our own nature. I am no bird, so I cannot fly. It’s not in my nature. God is morally perfect, so He cannot sin. It’s not in His nature. The unsaved person is corrupted by sin, so he cannot believe. It’s not in his nature.
So, let’s look at some objections to this doctrine. First, it has been said that children are held up in Scripture as morally pure. We are commanded to become like a child and have “childlike faith”. Even Romans 9, a very clear chapter on other areas of Reformed doctrine, speaks of Jacob and Esau in the womb, “before they had done anything good or bad”.
So, are we sinful from the womb or not? Psalm 58:3 says we are. Romans 5 points out that people still died when there was no law, proving that they were guilty of something. I think these passages do teach that we are sinful from the beginning of life. So what does Jesus mean when he talks so highly of children?
I think that Jesus is not talking about sin or sin nature in those passages. He’s drawing a comparison between the faith of most adults and the faith of children. This isn’t faith in God per se, just the way in which children believe things. There is possibly a connection between that concept and the corruption of sin, but faith is a different subject.
I would submit that Jesus’ command to have faith like a child’s comes from the fact that children are the closest example we have to a morally pure person. They are not aware of all the laws that God has given, and so are not nearly as sinful (see Romans 5:13, Romans 7:7-12). As they grow, their sin nature is given the opportunity to break more and more of God’s law.
So, doesn’t this mean that infants go to hell? It is a common statement by non-Calvinists that we believe that because infants are sinful and cannot believe, they are sent to hell when they die. Scripture is silent on this question. The fact that they die at all should prove that they are not morally perfect, since “death came through sin”, but the question of their eternal destiny is still unanswered.
The Westminster Confession of Faith gives what I think is the best we can do with regard to what the Scripture actually says. It states that “all elect infants” will go to heaven. It implies nothing at all about how many there are. It does not say that all infants who die are either saved or unsaved. Perhaps God has elected to save each and every one. Perhaps not. I prefer to believe that He does save them, but unfortunately, Scripture just doesn’t say one way or the other. So, if any or all of the infants and children who die are elect, then just that many will be saved.
Another objection is that, if we really are unable to come to Jesus, and able only to sin, how can God judge us, since we are only doing what we can do? This question raises some issues that we will look at more deeply as we look at other areas of the Doctrines of Grace. For now, however, I will say two things.
First, remember what I said earlier about philosophical concerns being subservient to Scripture. Unless some other interpretation can be offered that’s better than the rather simple one I’ve offered above, the doctrine stands on the plain meaning of the Scriptures. If a person rejects the doctrine of Total Depravity because of this philosophical concern, then that person must also reject those Scriptures.
Secondly, this is still a real concern, so here’s a bit of how I believe it to be resolved. As Romans 5 teaches, Adam’s sin brought death to all. Adam really was in a neutral state with regard to his nature. He didn’t have the corruption and death of sin until after he sinned. I believe, that, just as Jesus stands, with His righteousness, as our representative, taking our sin and giving us His righteousness, so Adam was our representative, taking our neutrality and giving all of his descendants his sin. If Jesus work is allowable by God, then so is Adam’s.
If the objector still thinks God’s judgment of us for our sin is unjust, then I have little more to say. The Scripture teaches that God is a just Judge and that we are rightfully found guilty. It also teaches Total Depravity. So, either I’m wrong in my interpretation of Scripture, or the Scriptures are wrong. A non-Christian could argue against the Scriptures, and our debate would shift to a different topic. A Christian, however, or anyone at all who thinks the doctrine unbiblical, must address the passages above and many more in order to reject this Doctrine.
So, I hope this has been educational and not too difficult to understand. Let me know if you have any questions.
10 thoughts on “The Doctrines of Grace Part 2: Total Depravity (Inability)”
Drew,>I posted my response to Part 2 under my blog “The Harmony of Grace and Free Will” on my website, http://www.sophiesladder.com. I use the prison metaphor to describe my understanding. You can read it there, and then we can discuss it here.>>Regards,>Jeff
Thanks for the response, Jeff.>>Let me see if I can clarify some things, though.>>Jeff said:><>When Jesus opens the door, the man has a choice. He can walk through the open door or he can choose to stay imprisoned within his cell. It is not my belief that Jesus comes into the cell and forces or compels the man to leave. This would be a destruction of the dignity of man and no glory to God. <>>>This statement, properly speaking, is more about irresistible grace, or spiritual resurrection than man’s inability so I won’t go into it here. It does give me the opportunity to point out again one aspect of Reformed Theology. I’ll do it by analogy to the Trinity.>>The Bible doesn’t say anywhere that, “There is one God who exists in three Divine Persons, and that each of these Persons is personally distinct, and yet each is a equally God.” Does that mean that the Bible doesn’t teach the Trinity? No.>>The Trinity is actually a collection of three separate teachings of the Bible. First, the Bible teaches that there is only one God. It never wavers from this. Second, it teaches that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all equally God. Finally, it teaches that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each distinct, individual Divine Persons. They relate to one another personally. They are not just different names for the same person.>>Each of these simple doctrines is Scriptural, and so, since the Trinity is really nothing more than the affirmation of all three doctrines, the Trinity is Scriptural. Reformed Theology is similar, in that each of the five points is Scriptural, but usually separate from the others.>>Jeff wrote:><>The idea of a “prevenient grace” as Wesley put it IS found in Scripture and Lewis notes it: it is found in the image of God that we are bear. The liberty to believe is found within the image of God. >>To be clear, this liberty cannot save man. It cannot unlock or open the door to the prison. But it can allow him to leave the prison once Jesus opens the door for him. This is not contradictory to any Scripture that Lewis quoted.<>>>I do have a few questions about this. First, where does Scripture teach that the image of God makes us free to choose God or not? That’s what prevenient grace is said to do, so does the Bible ever describe the image of God this way?>>Also, I’m a bit confused here about your prison metaphor. You offer two different things as the ground of our freedom: the image of God and the opening of the door by Jesus. It’s confusing because I don’t know from what you wrote when it is that a person goes from death in sin to life, or freedom. If it is the image, then we always have it. If it is the door, then, well, I don’t know.>>Prevenient grace, according to Wesley, is given to all men. To bring this to your metaphor, everyone is in an open prison cell and always has been. If this is true, then why does Jesus speak of inability to come to Him when He explains why His listeners do not believe?>><>But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out…Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. <> John 6:36-37,43>>As I pointed out in my post, the problem with prevenient grace, aside from not being found in Scripture, is that it nullifies what it seeks to harmonize. Wesley believed all the passages about man’s inability, and so attempted to harmonize them with his rejection of the other Doctrines of Grace. >>His way of doing so, however, made it so that all of the statements about man’s inability to believe, his deadness and enslavement to sin, don’t actually apply to anyone. It is obvious if you go back and read those passages that Jesus and Paul meant their words to apply to actual people. There are actual people who cannot come to faith, who are dead in their sins and unable to do anything pleasing to God. Prevenient grace denies that there actually are any such people.>>But perhaps I misunderstand. If you mean to say that the image of God/prevenient grace is just the freedom to believe <>if<> Jesus opens the door, then it may not be prevenient grace as Wesley understood it. What it is then is unclear, and depends on whether you believe that Jesus opens every door, or just some. >>If it is every door, then the above objections apply. If not, then the question becomes, “Which doors get opened?” If it is just the doors of the elect, then it is no different from Calvinism, since the elect are all saved. If it is some larger group, only some of which are saved, then it’s maybe a pleasant thought, but where does Scripture teach about this other group that is freed from the bondage of sin, but not actually saved?>>All this is what I was referring to when I said that philosophical considerations must be subordinated to Scripture. We can use any metaphor we wish, but if that metaphor turns out to deny the Scriptures, we must reject the metaphor, not the Scriptures.
Jeff,>>Enjoyed your article but have a quick question.>><>When Jesus opens the door, the man has a choice. He can walk through the open door or he can choose to stay imprisoned within his cell. It is not my belief that Jesus comes into the cell and forces or compels the man to leave. This would be a destruction of the dignity of man and no glory to God. <>>>Which scenario do you think gives me more glory:>>A house is on fire, and a small child is inside sleeping.>>a) Rouse the sleeping child and ask them to follow me, yet allow them to stay behind if the wish. They are drowsy from being asleep and thus are more inclined to not listen and simply fall back asleep. Perhaps 50/50 chance they’ll listen.>>b) Pick up the sleeping child and carry them out of the burning house. When you find them not breathing, then you supply breath in their lungs to give them life. >>Now this analogy isn’t perfect, but honestly which child is more thankful and which hero would get more glory for his act?
First,>Let me apologize for taking so long to answer. I had to take my wife to a cancer treatment center in OK, so I was out of touch for about six days. By the way, I request your prayers for her.>><>First, where does Scripture teach that the image of God makes us free to choose God or not? <>>>Well, this may take an encyclopedia to answer, but I’ll do the best I can and be as brief as I can. Just as you have correctly pointed out that the Bible does not explicitly teach the Trinity, nevertheless, that truth is in the Scriptures implicitly, so is the truth of our freedom implicit. > >Freedom is bound up in the idea of moral responsibility. By imprinting on man the image of God, it means those qualities that make God God are imprinted on man in a limited fashion. God’s free will is of his highest qualities. We expect it to be found in the image of God. >>Free will is what Gethsemane is all about – the glory of Christ is found in his free, willing submission to the Father. To get more to the point of glory, is it more glorious that Christ willingly submit to the cross or that the Father compels Christ – against the will of Christ – to be crucified? There is no glorious cross without the free will displayed at Gethsemane. So, in the supreme act in all reality, free will is central.>><>It’s confusing because I don’t know from what you wrote when it is that a person goes from death in sin to life, or freedom. If it is the image, then we always have it. If it is the door, then, well, I don’t know.<>>>Although bearing the image of God grants us the potential to manifest certain godly qualities, it is not the equivalent of eternal life, which is fellowship and communion with the Godhead. Eternal life is a gift offered freely to man but earned through the work of Christ through the cross, a gift not possessed until it is received through faith.>><>Prevenient grace, according to Wesley, is given to all men. To bring this to your metaphor, everyone is in an open prison cell and always has been. If this is true, then why does Jesus speak of inability to come to Him when He explains why His listeners do not believe? <>>>My definition of prevenient grace is obviously not Wesley’s. I am not arguing Wesley’s position, I am arguing what I understand. For me, everyone is born imprisoned, with the door shut and locked. But through the efficacy of the cross and the preaching of the gospel, Christ and the Holy Spirit come to every man at some time during their life, unlocks the door and beckons them to accept their freedom. Until the Holy Spirit works with a man – until the Father draws him – the man is unable to come to Christ.>><>But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out…Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:36-37,43 <>>>OK, this is a good scripture to look at. First, Jesus pointed out these men DO NOT believe. He did not say they CAN’T believe. Allow me to interpret Jesus’s sayings here in light of my metaphor: “You have seen that the prison door is open, yet you will not walk out and be free. Everyone that the Father gives me will walk out the door, and whoever walks out the door I will not turn away. But no one can open the prison door for themselves – the door must be unlocked and opened by my work on the cross and then the Holy Spirit must beckon the man.”>><>His way of doing so, however, made it so that all of the statements about man’s inability to believe, his deadness and enslavement to sin, don’t actually apply to anyone. <>>>I agree that men – that is, real people – are dead (to God) and enslaved to sin, but the Scriptures you have pointed out so far speak to man’s inability to open the prison door, not his inability to believe.>><>But perhaps I misunderstand. If you mean to say that the image of God/prevenient grace is just the freedom to believe if Jesus opens the door, then it may not be prevenient grace as Wesley understood it. What it is then is unclear, and depends on whether you believe that Jesus opens every door, or just some. <>>>Yes, I believe that prevenient grace is freedom to believe IF Jesus opens the door. I don’t agree with Wesley. I do believe that Christ comes to every man personally and opens his prison cell. What awful damnation for the man who chooses to remain within his cell. >><>If it is every door, then the above objections apply. <>>Can you clarify this, based on what you now know about my beliefs? Or, if you wish, 1 Timothy 2:6, John 3:16 and 2 Pet 3:9. I think if you follow the route that Christ only opens the prison cells of some, you have to answer 1) Why is the Love of God limited? 2) Is it true that God wants some to perish or be cast into the lake of fire? 3) Which love is greater – the one who opens all prison cells or just some? This is a way of asking, which is the greater God?>><>All this is what I was referring to when I said that philosophical considerations must be subordinated to Scripture. We can use any metaphor we wish, but if that metaphor turns out to deny the Scriptures, we must reject the metaphor, not the Scriptures.<>>>As I said, I’ll save the debate about whether all considerations must be subordinated to Scripture for later, but so far, I don’t see how anything I have said is contradictory to Scripture.>>David – ><>Which scenario do you think gives me more glory…?<>>>Very interesting scenario, gave me lots to think about. Naturally, it is more glorious to lead the child out and yes, part of the glory is that the child is incapable of leading himself out. And this all works well up to a point, if indeed, we are spiritual children. But if that is the case, then how can Christ leave a single child to burn? He may be justified to leave a man to burn if that man of his own volition chooses to remain, but to leave a child, regardless of whether he wants to stay or go, seems reprehensible. So, we are discussing whether we should be viewed as spiritual children or spiritual men and whether we have any capabilities at all. >>My assertion is that man MUST be of a moral culpability – that is, he is not a child, he is mature – or he can never be judged guilty. If he is a child, even if he is in prison, he is undeserving of the prison. But my theology states that we have earned our imprisonment. The wages of sin is death.>>See my point above about Gethsemane, glory and free will. Which situation is more glorious?
Jeff,>>My prayers do go out for your wife. May God grant healing.>>Now, let’s see if we can get somewhere with all of this. When I began, I set out to put together a series that is primarily educational, not confrontational. As I said, I don’t want to get into any shouting matches or attacks on people.>>This may sound strange, since none of that has happened. I do really appreciate that we’ve been able to discuss things civilly, and I say the things above because I hope that we don’t forget that this is a discussion between believers on how God saves.>>That being said, I think that our exchange thus far has revealed some important differences in how we approach this issue. I said up front that Calvinism is thoroughly Scriptural. This has played out in contextual expositions of some of the key Scriptures on the issue of Depravity.>>You’ve said a couple of times that your position does not contradict Scripture. Only with a brief look at John 6, though, have you even begun to interact with Scripture. I’ll look at that in a bit, but I just want to point out that, when I argue for my position, I do so by offering in-context exposition of the relevant texts. You appeal to your own “prison metaphor”. And it’s only justification is that it “doesn’t contradict” Scripture.>>Unfortunately, I’m still confused by just what your position is. Here’s why. I pointed out that the important difference between Wesley and Calvin with respect to being freed from the bondage of sin is that, for Wesley, it applies to every man but guarantees nothing with respect to salvation. You said:>><>My definition of prevenient grace is obviously not Wesley’s.<>>>But then you said this:>><>But through the efficacy of the cross and the preaching of the gospel, Christ and the Holy Spirit come to <>every man<> at some time during their life, unlocks the door and beckons them to accept their freedom.<>>>And also this:>><>Yes, I believe that prevenient grace is freedom to believe IF Jesus opens the door. <>I don’t agree with Wesley.<> I do believe that Christ comes to <>every man<> personally and opens his prison cell.<>>>To cut to the chase, Wesley is irrelevant. My objection to the idea that prevenient grace applies to everyone is that, (a) Scripture never says that God sets everyone free from the enslavement of sin, and (b) that the statements about our inability that Scripture makes.>>Let’s look at you’re definition. You’ve said that the “opening of the door” happens through the “efficacy of the cross and the preaching of the gospel”. So, does this mean that those who never hear the gospel never have the opportunity to escape from sin? Obviously you don’t believe that, since you say it applies to “every man”. If it applies to every man, then who are the people who are enslaved by sin? Who was Paul talking about when He talked about those “controlled by the flesh” who “cannot please God”. Who is the “natural man” who “cannot understand the things of the Spirit”? >>In John 6, Jesus points out that His listeners do not believe. His very next statement is, “All that the Father gives me will come to me.” Unless you believe that “coming to” Jesus and “believing in” Jesus are somehow different–which would be Scripturally indefensible–then the only interpretation that makes sense is that Jesus is revealing the <>reason<> that His listeners refuse to believe. They have not been given to Him by the Father. This only makes sense, since, if everyone had been given to Jesus, then everyone would believe.>>Jesus finishes this sermon like this:>><>“But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”<> John 6:64-65>>Notice that Jesus speaks of their willful unbelief, but then gives the reason, that no one <>can<> come to him unless it has been granted by the Father. It <>does<> say that they can’t believe, and that’s why they do not believe.>>I think this is a good place to go back to the beginning of your comment and look at the issue of the image of God. I notice that, when I asked for Scripture on the subject, your response was to make a philosophical argument. We will look at the argument, but it points out again the differences between how we approach these issues.>>Jeff wrote:>><>Freedom is bound up in the idea of moral responsibility.<>>>And also:>><>Free will is what Gethsemane is all about – the glory of Christ is found in his free, willing submission to the Father. To get more to the point of glory, is it more glorious that Christ willingly submit to the cross or that the Father compels Christ – against the will of Christ – to be crucified? There is no glorious cross without the free will displayed at Gethsemane. So, in the supreme act in all reality, free will is central.<>>>I’ve noticed you and David arguing along the whole “what gives God more glory?” tack. I hope you understand that, while this is an interesting question, it really does not make the conclusion true. Yes, Jesus’ choice was free. Jesus is not bound by sin. I don’t agree that Arminian-style free-will is more glorifying to God, but I just think that we could both come up with hypothetical scenarios that approximate how we see things. It just doesn’t get us any closer to the truth.>>This is again where I get foggy on what your position is. Does sin make us unable to come to God or not? If it does not remove the image of God, as we’ve both affirmed, then how does it make us unable to come to Jesus? What “prison door” needs to be opened if the image of God is not removed?>>The Reformed position is that we are intelligent, moral, valuable creatures because we are made in the image of God. We were made with the freedom in ourselves to do both good and evil, but when sin entered our lives, we died to God and we became enslaved by that sin. Until we are made alive in Christ and saved, we remain dead in our sins. (Eph. 2:4-6)
Jeff wrote:><>Can you clarify this, based on what you now know about my beliefs? Or, if you wish, 1 Timothy 2:6, John 3:16 and 2 Pet 3:9. I think if you follow the route that Christ only opens the prison cells of some, you have to answer 1) Why is the Love of God limited? 2) Is it true that God wants some to perish or be cast into the lake of fire? 3) Which love is greater – the one who opens all prison cells or just some? This is a way of asking, which is the greater God?<>>>I will be addressing the Scriptures you raise here in a post, but perhaps you could offer an interpretation of them, too. I believe that the Word of God is true. I don’t believe that these passages contradict the Doctrines of Grace, so if you could offer an interpretation that shows they do, we could interact with them. I’ve tried to show why the passages I quote support the Doctrines of Grace, and I’ve tried to do so in context. How do the passages you’ve brought up contradict them?>>Let me try to answer your questions briefly.>>1. I don’t believe that I’m limiting God’s love at all. I believe it is the Arminian who limits God to having only one kind of love for all people, rather than recognizing that He is as free to love differently as we are. Indeed, we are expected to love those closest to us differently than strangers. To limit God to only one kind of sentimental love for every person is to make His love less free than human love.>>2. It is true that God has decreed everyone’s fate, as Romans 9 teaches. Strictly speaking, “predestination” is a term only ever applied to the elect. What this means is that, while the elect are given mercy, all that is necessary for the non-elect to be condemned is that they are left alone. They condemn themselves by their sin. While the result would be the same whether God actively elected to condemn some or just left them alone, I believe the latter because it is what Scripture teaches.>>3. I answered a similar question to this in commenting on yours and David’s discussion of what brings God more glory. I could ask the question, which love is greater, the one that is free to be diverse or the one that must be the same for everyone? I do believe that God loves everyone, but that love does not always result in salvation because He does not intend it to. He is free to choose. He is not forced into the mold we want to make for Him. As I said before, this kind of discussion may be interesting, but it does not get us closer to the truth. If you say that your concept of God’s love is greater than mine and I say mine is greater than yours, how do we know who’s right without just insisting so? Scripture doesn’t really weigh in on that particular question. That’s why we must submit to the Scriptures. If we don’t, we can be caught up in pointless arguments that can never bring us to the truth.
Drew,>I agree wholeheartedly that we must conduct ourselves in a godly manner and with godly conversation while we are discussing this. We must stand firm against those that would goad us into anger, slander, and the irrationality expressed by name-calling that is so pervasive on so many other websites. If you ever think I am not carrying myself in a godly way, feel free to call me on it.>>I have posted my response on my website, http://www.sophiesladder.com under “Man’s Co-operation with God”. As previously, you can read it there and we can discuss here.
Jeff, >I read through you’re article once, but now I can’t get to it. The link is sending me to your first response.>>I will say from memory that some of what you said was addressed already in the article on < HREF="http://beginningwisdom.blogspot.com/2008/11/doctrines-of-grace-part-3-unconditional.html" REL="nofollow">unconditional election<>, but I’d love to comment more here if possible.
Drew,>Sorry about that. Try it now. It should be under “Man’s Cooperation with God”. I just had it linked to the first response as you noted, but I think I’ve got it fixed now.
Jeff, I have to say again that your responses fail to do what I made it a point to say they must do. That is, they must deal thoroughly and honestly with the Scriptures. Isaiah 61:1 uses a prison metaphor, but not yours. Nothing in that passage says that every door is opened. It comports perfectly with Reformed theology in teaching that Jesus came to set the captives free. It is silent on the scope of that act, and therefore cannot be used to support either side’s view on just how many are set free from sin. Your assertions that every door is opened are not supported by what you cite, so your argument is based on nothing but your own opinion.>>As I hope anyone will see in this exchange, one side has relied primarily on the God-breathed word sent from God, while the other has relied on human philosophy, definitions, principles and metaphors, only referencing Scripture to try to support them after the fact. When you do that, you find yourself having to be very imaginative in your interpretation of Scripture, because most of what you say really doesn’t come from there. When you use Scripture, you look for something that could possibly on some interpretations be consistent with what you believe. This is not drawing our theology from what God has revealed. This is making up a theology we like and then looking for something God says that could be made to fit it. It does injustice to the Word of God, and is found out whenever the totality of Scripture is brought to bear on the issue. We’ll see that as I move on with your post.>>You quote Revelation 2:17 “And whoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” You correctly avoid camping on the word “whoever”, since the Greek doesn’t actually have that word. Your distinction between “will” and “can”, however, is completely irrelevant to the text. Total Depravity is the teaching that sin causes us to be always unwilling to do anything that pleases God. This is put on the language of inability by both Jesus and Paul, but we shouldn’t infer that what they mean is something like the “ability” to breath underwater or something. It isn’t that those who reject God could ever be willing but still unable to come to Christ. The natural man is unable because he is unable to make himself willing. It is a caricature of Reformed Theology that you are promoting if you think that we believe that there are people who want to come, but can’t.>>As I’ve said before, Reformed Theology is based on Scripture. What that means is that its tenets take every relevant text–in its own context and with its own meaning–into account when making a pronouncement about God’s truth. The Calvinist is no stranger to this text, and understands that what is said is true. All of the ones who will take the water of life are free to do so. It makes no statement about whether everyone is able to do so.>>Your citation of Hebrews 10:10 doesn’t make any sense in this discourse. You argue that “once for all” is just a stronger “once”. What does this have to do with depravity? If you’re saying that “all” means “all people”, then you would be mistaken. I would continue your current line of reasoning to say that a strengthening of “once” to “once for all” means “once for all time”, i.e., finished/not to be repeated. Indeed, as you read the chapter, that is the whole point.>>Jeff said:><>“But just as reason doesn’t vanish in our enslavement, neither does our free will. What vanishes is our righteousness, our holiness, our perfection. Free will and the ability to believe is no different than reason. It is a attribute of God that is conferred upon every man as part of God’s image. But note that just as reason is given to every man does not mean that all men are rational.”<>>>I’m glad you brought up reason, because it shows nicely how Reformed teaching truly addresses the issue of free will. In Romans 1, Paul explains that the very reason of fallen man has been corrupted: “Professing to be wise, they became fools, when they served and worshipped the creature rather than the creator…Their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”>>This is not to say, of course that unbelievers are incapable of rational thought. It is only to say that sin has corrupted their rationality so that they will make leaps of illogic in order to avoid bowing before God and giving up their lives of sin. In a similar way, man’s will is corrupted. It is not that he doesn’t make all kinds of willing choices, but, until an internal change has occurred in him by the hand of God, a change that takes him from spiritual death to life, he will never be willing to choose what is good and will never be willing to seek God (Rom. 3:11-18).>>Two final things: You argue that God’s election is based on his looking into the future and seeing who will believe. I have one question. What text of Scripture ever says that God chooses based on foreseen faith? You can’t appeal to Romans 8 or 1 Peter 1, because neither one refers to foreseen faith. Context is key. I know that many people latch onto the term “foreknow” and think that it means “foreknows who will believe and elects them”, but there is nothing at all in the text to justify that reading. I addressed this issue at length in my section on Unconditional Election, so you could respond to it there if you like. Just as a final thought on this issue, the “foreseen faith” argument really doesn’t get you free will anyway. You still have a situation where the elect can do nothing to prevent their future acceptance of the Gospel. The one’s God chooses to create who he knows will believe have no way of avoiding that moment. In the same way, the ones God creates that he knows will never believe have no way of believing, for if they did so, it would negate God’s foreknowledge. I don’t see how this situation gets you free will. It is just a side note, however. The real issue is that the whole thing is just made-up philosophy, unsupported and contradicted by Scripture.>>Lastly, you make a distinction between “coming to Jesus” and “believing in Jesus”. My question is, where does Scripture make this distinction? Merely citing that it uses both terms isn’t good enough, because Scripture–indeed, everyone–uses terms synonymously. The verse in John 6 in question would make no sense if we took the terms to mean completely different things, because Jesus is explaining unbelief by referring to election. Your definitions make it so that Jesus explains nothing and doesn’t appear to have a rational train of thought. Again, context is key. The context shows that Jesus is using the terms synonymously, so I don’t see any reason, other than commitment to a prior system of thought, to insist that they are different. So, to answer this question, could you show me where Scripture makes the argument you’re making about this distinction and what it takes to “come to Jesus” versus “believe in Jesus”. If Scripture never explains that distinction, on what grounds do you make it and explain it in such detail?
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