Tag Archives: total depravity

Why I Believe in Total Depravity!

18 Mar

Why I Believe in Total Depravity!

When we lived in Germany, we had several German friends honest enough to say, “Of course, all Germans alive at the time of World War II knew what was going on with the Jews. They were disappearing from day to day. We just knew … But we also knew we could not ask questions and expect to be there to raise our own families!”

The Germans were no different from any other race. Hitler was not an anomaly among humans. We all have sin lodged deep in our hearts and need a desperate remedy.

What, short of our total depravity, would have put the Son of God on a cross to be tortured to death? Think about it.

He brings us very good news. There is a way out of our darkness. His name is Jesus Christ.

Addendum to Controversial Tuesday: I’m Okay, You’re Okay . . .

5 Dec

Back in the 1970’s there was a popular self-help book out that used very simple language to get us all to say that we were okay and so was everybody else.  “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” was everyone’s mantra for a while.

When dealing with the topic of total depravity, this little book from the ’70’s can help me write a useful outline.  There are four responses we can make about total depravity or “not okay-ness.”

As the book writer, Thomas A. Harris, MD, put it back then, we can say:

1) I’m okay, you’re okay (for us, that would be “neither one of us is totally depraved”)

2) I’m okay, you’re not okay (that would be “I’m not totally depraved, but you are.”  That would also be the height of  arrogance!)

3) I’m not okay, you’re okay (that would be “I am totally depraved, but you are not.”  While that initially looks like a truly humble statement, it is actually a statement of inverted pride.  Humble people don’t call attention to themselves, even negative attention.  The people who are constantly telling us how they are losers compared to everyone else are still disobeying God’s command to not compare themselves with others.  And, frankly, their statements are prideful, just in a different way).

4) I’m not okay, you’re not okay (that would be “both of us are totally depraved.”  And, while the writer of the 1970’s book would be sad to hear me say it, this is where I think our default position lies.  Even after we are saved, we must be aware that all of our righteousness is imputed to us in Christ.  So there is no reason to be proud of ourselves.  We can be justifiably proud of Him!!!).

Just wanted to clarify that.  I was reading today how sometimes people will misunderstand the term “total depravity” when applied to Christians and think that it means there is no difference in behavior, values, goals, etc. between a Christian and a non-Christian.

There is a huge difference.  Even the fact that we can see ourselves as totally depraved sinners is a realization that comes from the Holy Spirit.  I can guarantee you that non-Christians don’t see that part of themselves accurately.  It is a fallen world.  So much easier to blame everything bad that happens on someone else.

And, as I said in my post on total depravity, the best news of all is that Jesus came to save sinners and that, when we realize our total need of Him, we can reach out in prayer and invite Him into our needful places!  That is far beyond being okay!  That is glory!

Controversial Tuesday: Yes, I Believe in Total Depravity

4 Dec

Isaiah 9:2, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”

I am a great believer in the power of light.  I also believe in the contrast of light.  Not only does light break forth and bring joy to the heart, but it brings the most joy to the heart that has dwelt in the most darkness.

Jesus said it about the sinful woman who washed His feet with her tears and her hair:  “The one who has been forgiven much, loves much.”  I believe this, too.

And I resoundingly believe in total depravity, the doctrine that says not one of us was anywhere near righteous in our own strength prior to Christ’s light coming into our lives.

I saw a blogger today who said Augustine made up the doctrine of total depravity which was unknown in the early years of the church.  Well, the early years of the church were probably more concerned with evangelism than with writing down doctrinal theses, but I can assure you that someone who wants to deny the doctrine of total depravity will have to take issue with Isaiah and Jeremiah in the Old Testament.  Maybe someone wants to argue that human nature changed between the Old and New Testaments and man became a better sort of being?  <smile>

What total depravity does not mean is that each of us has committed every possible sin.

It is possible that each of us could commit every possible sin given the right circumstances.

For example, I have often heard people say that no one can say they would not have been twice as bad as Hitler if they had been brought up as Hitler was.  Sin is a choice, but our besetting sins can be a combination of our early environment and our own bad choices.

Total depravity mostly means that there is not one part of our being that is not fallen and affected by sin.  Our bodies, our souls, our wills, our instincts, all of it is affected by the sin in this world.

Even after salvation, we will still wrestle with sin for the rest of our lives, till we are glorified in heaven.

I was thinking about how we love to flatter ourselves at times when we disagree with others by shaping their position as sinful and ours as righteous.

That, in itself,  is just another mark of our own total depravity.  We can’t even see in ourselves how self-righteous we are, nor how prone to blame others for everything that happens.  This tendency has existed since the Garden of Eden and it is usually invisible to us.

In fact, I am learning to automatically recast those moments of disagreement as altercations between two totally depraved people.

That does not mean that there are no issues of right and wrong.  In fact, the clearcut issues of right and wrong correspond pretty completely to what the Bible calls the law (in the eternal sense, not in the Old Testament ritual sense).

One example would be if we are attending a school concert and someone is carrying on a loud conversation on her cell phone in the row behind us so that two or three rows of people can’t hear the children singing.  That would eternally be regarded as selfish, in every place and time.  Although we have advanced enough technologically these last fifty years to develop smartphones, we still have not been able to eradicate in the human heart the tendency to think that the convenience of taking a phone call without leaving one’s seat is more important than the 20 or 30 people around who now can’t hear the concert.

Problem is that when we approach the person who is selfish enough to be taking the call, we approach with the right actions but usually with the wrong motivations.  We get our self-righteous on and try to inconvenience that person back, by talking loudly and angrily, or by interrupting the call.

Yes, the person should take the phone call outside and do it now.  But we are rarely able to merely represent the fact that this is one of those unwritten societal laws.  We usually make it personal to that other person and heap on the scorn, anger, and perhaps revenge.

You see, we are totally depraved, too.

A place I can almost guarantee we have all seen ourselves (and others) engaging in total depravity is when someone dies and there is a will to be settled.  We say this brings out the worst in people.  But I would say that worst part has been there all along and just comes out more easily due to the emotions of grief and anxiety centered around losing a loved one.

Have you ever seen a situation where one of the children was appointed executor of the parent’s estate that ended well?  So far, I haven’t.  There is something about giving one child power over what everyone else gets from the inheritance that just makes these things turn out badly for all concerned.

Here is a check about the self-interest that is in our own hearts.

There are several ways to divide an estate, as we all know.  And there can be reasons for each way of doing it.  One way is to divide it evenly by the number of children.  For example, I have two siblings, so my parents could choose to divide their estate three ways.  Or you can divide it evenly by the number of grandchildren.  My parents have six grandchildren:  my sister’s three, my brother’s two, and my one.  Under this system, my sister’s family would get one half of my parents’ estate, my brothers’ family would get one-third, and my family would get one-sixth.

Now I can authoritatively say that, if you give people a choice, those who have the most children will always opt to have the estate divided between the grandchildren, while those who have the least number of children (like me) will always opt to have the estate divided between the original children.  You see, as parents, we are programmed to advocate for our children.  It would be unthinkable, if given a choice, to choose a system where our own children would receive less.

We are self-interested to the point that we would rather hurt someone else than give up something we think belongs to our children.

And that self-interest, while natural, is also indicative of our total depravity because it causes  rancorous  disputes between siblings.

Disclaimer:  my parents are still in excellent health and I have only used our family as an example in order to avoid inserting actual situations where I have seen siblings fight bitterly about these issues of inheritance.

One more and I’m done.  Have you ever heard (or said), “I would never purposely hurt you, but I apologize because what I did unintentionally caused you to be hurt” ?

Do we really believe that about ourselves?  That we would never purposely hurt another person?

Honestly, I give a person credit for even apologizing at all nowadays, as that seems to be a lost art entirely, but it is totally theologically incorrect to say we would never purposely hurt another person.  We do it all the time.  And we deceive ourselves when we think we don’t.  Especially those of us who are married.  How many times do we plough on  into each other and only stop when we see that deer in the headlights look that reveals we have cut that person not just a little bit, but to the very heart???

If you have never done that, congratulations, but I am willing to say about 90% of us are cringing about now at the memory of having done just that.  The other 10% may just have short memories.

This is our guilty little secret, you see.  We can be very good at playing church with each other sometimes.  So good that we can convince others that they are the only ones who have a wicked heart that can only be helped by the gospel.

Truth is, when we come out from hiding and get real with each other and pray for each other as we should, we find out that we all have wicked hearts that can only be helped by the gospel.

That is bad news but it is also good news, the best news.

Because the gospel is there for us.  Jesus is there for us, meeting us in our need and helping us become something better in Him.

Admitting our need for Him is ultimately freeing.  Glory!

Strawman Monday: If Not Total Depravity, then What?

5 Nov

Strawman Monday: If Not Total Depravity, then What?

Romans 7:19, “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.”

Last week I wrote about my belief in total depravity, as put forth as the “T” in the Calvinist “TULIP” acronym.

This week, I thought to see what the contrasting part of Arminianism is.  Interestingly, the five points of Arminianism (down below and in the link) don’t deny total depravity head on. As their argument against total depravity, they insert the doctrine of “free will” which says that man is not so fallen that he cannot choose God of his own volition.

In future weeks (when I get back from a two week business trip), I plan to look at Ephesians 2 in both ways, the Calvinist one and the Arminian one.  Calvinists believe that the Holy Spirit not only makes a person aware of his need for salvation (through common grace) but actually provides the special grace needed to get him across the finish line to salvation before the person plays a role in the process at all, while Arminians believe common grace, available to all, draws the person to choose Christ, at which time the Holy Spirit begins working in his life via special grace.

Since I am still studying up on the contrasts here, I am going to leave the topic for now.

But what is interesting to me about the total depravity doctrine is that it provides us (at least me) with much less despair about the fact that, as Paul said in Romans 7, “the good I would do, I do not do.”  While fully intending to serve God and man, I fall so miserably short sometimes that, if I believed that all kinds of good was inherent to human nature, I would have a hard time not giving up on myself as a lost cause.

I would also have a hard time explaining why saved people around me can be so callous to other saved people around me.

If we didn’t have a pretty strong sin nature, how would we explain the strength of our self-interest, even after salvation?

You know what I mean, don’ t you?  You have seen this as often as I have.  The way that Christians pick on other blood bought Christians, separating themselves into groups of “us vs. them” over very minor issues that often have nothing to do with the Bible.  And then defend that behavior, from a very self-defensive posture, when they would not be able to defend it from the Word at all.

What is that all about?  Why are so many of us intent on holding ourselves up as paragons of virtue to other people instead of holding up Christ and His glory over us all?

To me, it is becoming natural to think, “If something glorifies Christ, I don’t mind if it diminishes me.”  It has been a long time coming, this attitude, but by God’s grace I am getting there.  I am starting to see things more in terms of me being created to bring Him glory and less in terms of me saving face before other human beings  Praise God for that–I am sure it is entirely His work in me.

I have told you all that I believe God has given us immense freedom and many choices in this world.  This is certainly the case after salvation takes place.  Before that, I had choices, too, but I was more enslaved to sin as well.

I am just not certain at the interplay of my choice with God’s grace in the salvation process.  It is indeed a great mystery.  It is a mystery I will look at more in future days.

Five Points of Arminianism

The five points of Arminianism (from Jacobus Arminius 1559-1609) are in contrast to the five points of Calvinism.  The Arminian five points are

  • Human Free Will – This states that though man is fallen, he is not incapacitated by the sinful nature and can freely choose God.  His will is not restricted and enslaved by his sinful nature.
  • Conditional Election – God chose people for salvation based on his foreknowledge where God looks into the future to see who would respond to the gospel message.
  • Universal Atonement – The position that Jesus bore the sin of everyone who ever lived.
  • Resistable Grace – The teaching that the grace of God can be resisted and finally beaten so as to reject salvation in Christ.
  • Fall from Grace – The Teaching that a person can fall from grace and lose his salvation.

“T is for Total Depravity”

2 Nov

“”For that which I do, I allow not:  for what I would, that I do not; but what I hate, that do I.  If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.  Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.  For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing:  for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.” (Romans 7:15-18)


The above passage is in one of the chapters over which Arminius and Calvin differed the most.


Arminius said it was written by Paul as an unregenerate man, or looking back to when he had been unregenerate.


Calvin said Paul wrote it after he was saved. 


Which way do you believe?


I am leaving town for a two week business trip so I will be reblogging the posts of others for most of that time. 


I am going to drop a bombshell here.


I agree with Calvin.  And that those verses frame the “total depravity” doctrine.


It makes no sense that God would inspire His Scripture, even part of it, through an unregenerate man.  I know of no other book in the Bible where anyone has made that claim. 


And the passage itself shows Paul fighting against the evil inside of himself.  I don’t think we do that before we are saved.  The total weight of Scripture shows us that.


Before we are saved, we just give in to sin, with no qualms about it.


So if the great apostle Paul realized that in his flesh, after salvation, dwelt no good thing, is it unrealistic for us to agree?


You see, I have spent a lifetime studying people.  I love to people watch.


And one thing we all do is self-justify.  We try to convince ourselves and others that our actions are coming from righteous motives while everyone else’s actions are the results of sin. 


What could be a more stunning mark of our total depravity than our own total lack of consciousness that it exists?


If I do something that hurts someone and then defend it with the idea that I am a good person and would never intentionally hurt someone, I am all about me and not at all about God’s glory.  How much better to just ask forgiveness and move on, trying to grow and learn to better glorify a Holy God by my actions.


My concern is that many Christians I know have the idea that they were 98% okay before they met Jesus and just needed Him to die and rise again so they could get that 2% boost into heaven. 


My friends, that cheapens the life and death of our Holy God, who came and dwelt among us and was tortured to death because . . . we have a sin problem. 


That is bad news and good news at the same time, as my reblog today also points out.  It is bad news because we can’t get ourselves to heaven.  It is the most excellent news because God has provided a way to get us there. 


“By grace, through faith.”  (Ephesians 2:8,9).


Yes, I do believe in total depravity.  I am not sure about some of the other Calvin/TULIP doctrines (and you can see that I am studying them out for myself this year), but I can’t think of one good, Biblical reason to fight against the doctrine of total depravity.


And I believe we fight total depravity in our flesh our entire life, not just until we are saved.


Life gets sweeter when we agree with God on this and let Him start showing us His more excellent way–how to work against the evil that is ever present in our own hearts.


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