By Thomas Taylor
“Total Depravity is probably the most misunderstood tenet of Calvinism. When Calvinists speak of humans as “totally depraved,” they are making an extensive, rather than an intensive statement. The effect of the fall upon man is that sin has extended to every part of his personality — his thinking, his emotions, and his will. Not necessarily that he is intensely sinful, but that sin has extended to his entire being.
The unregenerate (unsaved) man is dead in his sins (Romans 5:12). Without the power of the Holy Spirit, the natural man is blind and deaf to the message of the gospel (Mark 4:11f). This is why Total Depravity has also been called “Total Inability.” The man without a knowledge of God will never come to this knowledge without God’s making him alive through Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5). “*
*These statements were taken from the following source: http://www.reformed.org/calvinism/. It is understood that not all Calvinists would agree completely with each of their statements.
Calvinism starts with this concept called Total Depravity. The other four points of Calvinism (Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints) are rooted in this one called Total Depravity or Total Inability. If Total Depravity were true, then the other four points of Calvinism would inevitably follow and also be true. The reformed Theologians should be commended for their scholarly work because they would be absolutely right with the other four points of the TULIP based on Total Depravity. But Total Depravity is not true. Because it is not true, the ability to draw any more conclusions based on Total Depravity is eliminated. The other four points are moot. If a ship or plane were off-course by one degree in the beginning, the vessel would be extremely off-course after several hours of travel. This is what we have with Calvin’s TULIP. Therefore, this study concerning Total Depravity is the most important.
Man Has a Free-Will
Calvinism says man does not have a free-will. Man’s will is bound by sin and Satan so that it does not have the ability to choose God. Calvinism believes man cannot perceive the Truth to be saved; God does it all for us. But if we could not perceive the Truth, then why did Jesus preach It to us? Calvinism also believes that man cannot choose God to be saved; again, God does it all, “He chooses us but we do not choose Him.”q But if sinners cannot choose God, then why did God tell them to choose Him?
Jos 24:15 And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve ; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.
1Ki 18:21 And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions ? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him . And the people answered him not a word.
Deu 30:19 I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life , that both thou and thy seed may live:
The above verses prove conclusively that a depraved man can choose God. To deny man’s free-will is to deny the Bible. Israel chose God:
Jos 24:22 And Joshua said unto the people, Ye are witnesses against yourselves that ye have chosen you the LORD, to serve him. And they said, We are witnesses.
Mankind can choose if presented with the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Why else would Jesus go around telling people to repent? The word “repent” would have absolutely no meaning if we do not have a free-will to do so. Can you imagine Jesus preaching “Repent!” Then a man comes up afterward and corrects Jesus saying, “I’m sorry but my will is controlled by Satan so it is impossible for me to repent and, well, I’m predestined by your God for Hell so it is impossible for me to follow You anyway.” Other commands that God gave us like obey Me, seek Me, and follow Me would have no meaning if man was totally depraved lacking a free-will.
Calvinism believes that the will of man is controlled by Satan so that we cannot make a choice for God. However, the will of man must remain under our complete control for if it is controlled by Satan then we would only do what Satan wants. But we do not find people that are sinners only doing what Satan wants. Most of them try and want to do good but they stumble and fall. That spirit-man on the inside is impelling them to do good but they do not know how. Our wills are not under Satan’s control or else all men would ONLY act just like devils, full of hatred, murder, and destruction. There would be no love and no good on the earth whatsoever.
To say we do not have a functional will is to say that we are just sacks of bone and flesh either controlled by Satan or by God. Therefore, there is no justification for God to reward or judge man. All reward is just God rewarding Himself and all punishment is God only punishing Satan, not us. If it is just God versus Satan, you must ask yourself, what do we have to do with it? Are we nothing but automatons doing as we are forced to do with no power to choose?
What of Abraham? Did he not choose God being depraved? And what of Moses and David and so many others in the Old Testament that chose God? Man’s will does function to choose God and that is the way God set it up. There is no one born-again on the earth today that did not use his or her free-will to become that way.
Without free-will, man cannot love God. And we know that God says for us to love Him with all our heart (Matt 22:37). For a man to love God, he must have the freedom to choose or reject Him. Love involves an acceptance of the person being loved, in this case God.
For example, there is a man that beats his girlfriend all the time for no reason. She is afraid to leave him for fear of him tracking her down and hurting her. Sometimes he has even chained her to the bed post and threatened to kill her if she tries to leave but eventually he lets her go again. She always went back to him out of fear. He even said that she must marry him or else he would kill her. One day she got up the nerve and left him; she just disappeared and started her life over again in another state with a new job. She got herself back on her feet again. She meets another man. She is reluctant to get into a relationship again but she immediately detects that this man is different. This man is kind to her and warm and very loving not only to her but to everyone around him. He does not force her to do anything but leaves the choice up to her if she would like to marry him. In fact this man is the most wonderful man she has ever met and chooses to love him. (Love is a choice, not something you “fall in” like the world thinks.) She agrees to marry him and they go on to have a wonderful life together.
The question is: Would it have been possible for the woman to love the first man without her being allowed to choose? Clearly, no. His idea of love was to take away her options so that she could not get away but that is not love. Love never forces someone to choose them. Love is kind. Love allows the person the freedom to walk away at any time before the covenant (of marriage) is made. We have to have the freedom to walk away from God for us to truly say that we love Him. Otherwise, we would be saying God is like the first man who just took away her options so she had to do whatever he said. That is not love. Our God is love (1 John 4:8, 16).
Just because man has a free-will does not mean God is not sovereign. Sovereign just means He is the highest in authority. It does not mean He controls everyone. God can change the circumstances surrounding a man to guide him a certain way but God would never violate man’s free-will to force him to believe. That would be spiritual rape. There is a difference between driving the car and putting guard rails on the side of the road. Man can still drive wherever and however he wants but as he does, God still influences his life with guard rails. Remember, God gave the Ten Commandments to Israel ; these were guard rails. However, Israel had to make the choice to obey or rebel. Israel had a free-will and used it to disobey Him. When God commands us to do something, we do not have the legal right to disobey but we still retain the ability to do so. I only use this illustration to point out how God influences and interacts with His creation but anyone can readily see that man has the choice to obey or disobey God. Thus, man has a free-will.
Total Depravity start with a statement that everyone would agree upon which that man is sinful. There is no sane person on earth that would disagree with such a conclusion. So Calvinism takes this universal truth and uses it as a springboard into something that is not true which makes it more palatable. Cults do this as well and it is called the Biblical Hook. They put a little meat on the hook to catch you; a little Truth to cover up the deception. Of course, Calvinists do not deceive intentionally. This author is not trying to vilify Calvinists because Calvinists are wonderful people of God. Calvinism is not a cult because Calvinists believe the same basic tenets of the Christian faith as any other Christian Protestant church. However, their view of God is distorted. Calvinists are born-again believers but they have taken a path contrary to God’s Word concerning Total Depravity. We need to pray for them that God would give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of the Word. We need to love them and to help them get on the right path. We also need to pray the same over ourselves – that we would walk in the Truth of God’s revelation and not be deceived due to Satan, or the flesh, or pride.
What does “depraved” mean?
DEPRAVE , v.t. [L. Crooked, perverse, wicked.]
To make bad or worse; to impair good qualities; to make bad qualities worse; to vitiate; to corrupt; as, to deprave manners, morals, government, laws; to deprave the heart, mind, will, understanding, taste, principles.(1)
This author certainly agrees that man is depraved. The Bible explicitly states that fact over and over. All adults are sinners and are spiritually separated from God. All of mankind has sinned and come short of God’s glory. However, the will of man never becomes unable to choose.
Gen 8:21 And the LORD smelled a sweet savor; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth ; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.
Psa 51:5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Rom 5:12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
Rom 5:19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners
Eph 2:1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins
Rom 3:12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable ; there is none that doeth good, no, not one .
Rom 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God ;
However, this author disagrees with Total Depravity. By Total Depravity Calvinism concludes that man’s will becomes corrupted and thus non-functional. It believes that man’s will exists but it does not work so that we can choose God. Such a conclusion is found nowhere in Scriptures. It is right to say that man is depraved but to jump to the assumption that the will of man does not work is wrong. There is all the difference in the world between depraved and inability.
Man’s will does still function and we can use our will to choose God if the Holy Spirit enlightens us with the Gospel. However, Calvinism does not believe that even the divine Holy Spirit is strong enough to breech man’s depravity of mind. This author strongly disagrees with such a stance. Man’s depravity is not bigger than God. The Holy Spirit can and does reveal the Truth of the Gospel to our mind via our spirit so that we can make the choice to accept or reject God.
The following are the Scriptures Calvinism uses to prove man is so depraved that his will cannot choose God.
Eph 4:18 Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:
2Co 4:3, 4 But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.
We all did not believe at some point. So, how did the Gospel get to us? It gives the answer a few verses down, 2Co 4:6: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ .” The same way that God made light to shine out of darkness, in the beginning, is the same way the Truth enlightens our minds. He spoke it and by the Holy Spirit it became a reality (Gen 1:2,3). The same is true for us; the Gospel is presented to a man and the Holy Spirit enlightens the man to perceive that it is Truth. Therefore, man is not so depraved that God, by the Holy Spirit, cannot get the knowledge of the Gospel to his mind.
Depraved But to What Extent?
First let us learn that man is more than just a soul and body, which some do not acknowledge.
1Th 5:23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Man is a spirit-being that possesses a soul and body. The spirit of man contacts the spirit-realm. The body contacts the physical realm. So what is the soul? The soul contains the mind, will, and emotions of man. It includes his intellect and place of imagination. One of the best verses that give us insight into the soul is as follows:
Heb 4:12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit , and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
So we see here that the soul and spirit are different. The heart here is referring to the soul and it has thoughts and intents
Man’s spirit is certainly separated from God but God still allows us to know right from wrong via our spirit. Otherwise, the men of the Old Testament would have never desired to follow God’s precepts at any time. But what we find is that many men of the Old Testament did want to do right but did not always have the power to do so because their spirit was too weak. This is so man can see that without God, we are without hope and cannot save ourselves. Thus, by God’s help, we can find Him and receive the Truth and He gets all of the glory for it and we receive none.
Psa 32:2 Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile .
Joh 1:47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed , in whom is no guile !
Here are verses showing that the spirit-man of a sinner can be without guile.
Pro 17:27 He that hath knowledge spareth his words: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit .
Dan 6:3 Then this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in him ; and the king thought to set him over the whole realm.
Man’s spirit can be excellent before they are born-again.
Pro 29:23 A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honor shall uphold the humble in spirit .
Man’s spirit can be humble before they are born-again.
Isa 66:2 For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.
The unregenerate spirit of a man can be contrite and tremble at God’s Word.
Zec 12:1 The burden of the word of the LORD for Israel, saith the LORD, which stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundation of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him.
Ecc 12:7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
I use these verses to point out that man’s spirit does not become completely depraved even though they may be classified as sinners. God is the creator of man’s spirit directly. Man’s spirit is originally good because it comes from God. Every man’s spirit is born righteous and spiritually alive.
Our spirits do not come from our parents. There is no Bible verse even implying such a possibility. This is where Augustinianism and Calvinism miss it. They assume man’s spirit is also depraved because it comes from the parents whom are depraved but that is not found anywhere in the Bible. That is why Calvinism says babies are going to Hell if they die. However, if they would simply believe what the Bible says, there would be no virtually no one debating against their theology.
You see, it is God Himself that makes a man’s spirit. He only makes that which is good (Ps 5:4; Hab 1:13; Jam 1:17). The spirit of man is good for it is made after God. It is only when the spirit connects with the flesh and this world that things go wrong. Man’s spirit eventually becomes separated from God because of our conscious sin and could be diagnosed as extremely sick or weak. We die spiritually when we pass the age of accountability and knowingly sin. Next the spirit-man starts to become depraved meaning it takes on a sin-nature.
When the Gospel is presented, the Holy Spirit enlightens the spirit of a man to see. This revelation is transmitted to the mind by the man’s spirit so that man can make a decision to accept or reject the Truth of the Gospel. The mind cannot receive the Gospel directly for it is foolishness to him (1Cor 1:18; 2:14). Only by the power of the Holy Spirit through the spirit of man can the Gospel be accepted.
Satan has blinded the mind of the world so that they cannot hear the Truth of the Gospel directly . The mind of man is too corrupt to receive the Word of God all by itself but that is all that the verses in Ephesians 4:18 and 2 Corinthians 4:3,4 say. By no means is God so powerless that He cannot enlighten the spirit of man to perceive the Truth and our spirit communicates that information to our mind. The spirit-man certainly can perceive Truth with the help of the Holy Spirit:
Pro 20:27 The spirit of man is the candle of the LORD , searching all the inward parts of the belly.
Job 32:8 But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.
Job 38:36 Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts? or who hath given understanding to the heart?
Joh 14:26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things , and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
Joh 16:13 Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth : for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come.
- Webster, Noah.American Dictionary of the English Language. 1828