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Total Depravity: Is it biblical?

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#91
Wormwood

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Wormwood,

In the above quote you say all "believers are sinful...", I assume a typo in this since my question was about unbelievers?

Where I am at an impass in understanding your argument is where I see explicit language in Scripture describing the total unwillingness of man to seek God coupled with the total darkening of the understanding and futility of the mind. How do individuals overcome this on their own? Please re

Then if it is the Holy Spirit helps some to overcome this condition by working on people's hearts are you stating God is unable or ineffective in the cases of those who remain in unbelief? Truly we know not all hear the message, is God desiring yet unable in these also? I wonder if you comprehend the god of free-will you are arguing for that is sovereign over and more powerful than the biblical God in your theology.

In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. - 2 Corinthians 4:4

Your argument is God works on the heart of every unbeliever that hears the gospel so they accept it as truth and place God at the heart of their desires, and enlightens the mind so they are not blinded and so they fully understand the gospel with their future demise without Him and the greater reality of God's eternal love through faith. But some reject this quickening and awakening thus overcoming God's work in their hearts and minds. Here God wants all to come to Him but in the case of most He is doing everything He can but He is unable to overcome the sinful desire of man's heart. This is irrational and unbelievable and describes a weak god.

Here we must concede man views the treasure of God he receives through faith and understands the foulness of sin and then chooses dung over treasure. Man understands the eternal torment awaiting him and weighs that more valuable than the eternal love God has in store. What enlightened man would choose such an outcome? What man that has his heart set on God would seek to desire something else? No it must be conceded that God was unsuccessful in bringing this type of man to rationality because no rational man would decide in such a way. This type of man is still irrational and futile in their thinking. God must have been unsuccessful in clearing this man's heart of sin and instilling the fear of Him in it not able to fulfill the promise given through His prophet Jeremiah. (Jeremiah 32:40) This type of man never was fully clear from the veil Satan has over their eyes and God is unable to bring true clarity. Here God has failed in fulfilling His desire and purpose, His word has gone out in vain, and Satan is the victor.

Then I do not see how Jesus' forgiveness of others applies to total depravity. By forgiving others we release ourselves from the spiritual bondage of unforgiveness and pride. Certainly this is true in the case of Jesus also.

 

Hey Justaname,

 

Thanks for responding.  I appreciate the discussion and the effort on your part to understand better my position prior to sharing the ways in which you disagree.  I think sometimes people disagree without really taking the time to really understand the other person's views.  So, I know my comments may not change your mind, but I thank you for trying to understand my position a little better.

 

1.  Yes, I apologize.  That was a typo.

 

2.  Yes, man is totally unwilling to seek God on their own.  I agree with you here.  I think Paul makes this point very clear as well in the book of Romans.  The difference is, I believe, that in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, God is seeking man.  Jesus came to "seek and save."  The "Good News" of the Gospel is that God came for us and that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  So, I dont think responding to the Gospel can be compared to man's pursuit of God.  I believe the preaching of the Gospel is God's pursuit of man and our response to the Gospel is simply that....a response.  When we believe the Gospel, we are simply reacting to the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf.  The initiative is all God's in the incarnation, revelation, death & resurrection, and the Spirit-inspired message that brings conviction and a knowledge of the truth. 

 

Just to clarify the point even more (because I believe it is a significant one), allow me to use an illustration.  A boy gets lost in a shopping mall.  The parents are frantic and are crying out in the mall, searching store to store, but cannot find the boy.  The boy, on the other hand, is happily sitting in a toy store, playing with toys for hours.  He is completely oblivious to his parents search and he is in no way seeking his parents.  The parents, in their search, call security and give out pictures of the boy.  The mall security officers split up with pictures and call on the intercoms for the boy.  Finally, one of the officers walks into the toy store and finds the boy happily playing with a toy in the back of the store.  He calls to the boy an tells the boy to follow him because his parents are worried to death and have been looking for him for hours.  The boy believes the officer and follows him to be reunited with the parents.  

 

Now, dont take this illustration to say anything about Total Depravity...it is just to make a point about how I understand the concept of initiative in God's search for man.  No one would say the boy initiated the search.  The boy, in no way, was looking for the parents or even aware that he was lost.  However, when he was confronted with the news about his parents and their concern, the boy was made aware of the situation and was able to respond.  I hope that helps.

 

3.  I dont want to make this too long.  I will comment on 2 Cor. 4:4 a little later in a different post.  

 

4.  I also want to spend a little time on the idea of thwarting God's desires by rejecting a message that God wants them to accept.  Does such an idea suggest that man is sovereign over God?  Absolutely not.  You see, I agree that God is completely sovereign.  However, God, in his sovereignty, has chosen to make free will creatures.  God desires and has determined to make creatures with the capacity to choose.  Thus, while God may desire people to accept the Gospel, he also desires people to make their own choices by virtue of his sovereign choice to make free-will beings.  So, if God supersedes our free will to cause us to accept the Gospel (which he desires) he is also negating his sovereign decision (and desire) to make human beings free-will creatures who can choose love him and live by faith.  

 

Perhaps another crude example would be training a dog to sit.  Now, you are the dog's master.  You want the dog to sit, so you give the dog treats and try to train the dog to sit when you ask.  You could, if you wanted, jam the dog's hind-end to the ground with your hand and make the dog sit.  This would fulfill your will to make the dog sit in that moment, but would not accomplish your overarching desire for the dog to trust you and happily obey you.  The joy of having a good dog is that they happily respond to your commands without having to force them to do what you want...even though you could.  In the same way, God desires his people to accept the Gospel, but he also desires for them to make their own choices.  Thus, our freedom is a sovereign act of God and does not undermine his sovereignty...but fulfills it.  Consider the following verses from Isaiah 5:

 

  “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.” The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.” (Isaiah 5:4–7, NIV)  

 

To me, these verses (and read all of chap 5 if you like for the fuller context) clearly show that God truly desired Israel to do what was right.  He wanted them to live righteously.  He wanted them to be just in their dealings with one another.  In fact, the passage suggests that God had done everything to set the stage for them to do the right thing and produce good fruit.  However, in spite of all God's desires and efforts, the people were stubborn and wicked and filled the land with blood and distress.  God permitted his people to express their free will even though he desired, and set the stage for them to behave differently than they did.  In the same way, we see a number of texts in the NT where people resist the Holy Spirit and spurn the Spirit of grace (cf. Acts 5:3; 7:51; Eph. 4:30; Heb. 10:29)

 

In sum, I dont think it suggests that God is weak.  I think it shows that God is sovereign and he has made a sovereign choice to make human beings free-will creatures and honors that choice he made, even when human beings do the things which grieve him and are opposed to his desires and nature.  Of course, mankind's rebellion is only temporary and God will extinguish all wickedness and endures it for our sake so that we have time to repent and escape the judgment to come.

 

5.  "Then I do not see how Jesus' forgiveness of others applies to total depravity. By forgiving others we release ourselves from the spiritual bondage of unforgiveness and pride. Certainly this is true in the case of Jesus also."

 

I am not sure what you are trying to say here.  Can you clarify this comment for me?

 

Have a blessed evening, brother.


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#92
justaname

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Wormwood,

Here I see a great discussion being had amongst brothers attempting to discern a great mystery of God held within the Church for quite some time. This is not a contest to change minds, rather a sharing of personal understandings and convictions. If at times my words seem harsh, please excuse my lack of eleqonce because I mean no disrespect. Truly I am seeking your understanding of the Scripture as I disclose my critique, not in spite of but because of a desire to sharpen each other. If I misrepresent your position it is only out of my error and ignorance so please correct me.

1. Do men on their own understand the gospel or does God give them understanding? Do men break their rebellion and hatred for God on their own or through God's softening of their hearts? Are these acts synergistic?

2. Once man does recognize the truth of the gospel do you see it is irrational for a man to reject the gospel he recognizes as truth? Why would a man choose anything irrational or against the truth knowing it ends in his own demise from his own free-will? The answer must include sin, thereby the will is truly still in bondage to sin and is not free by any means.

3. I understand God's dilemma with Israel and His continual calling out to them. My argument concerning the weakening of the view of God rests more in His action concerning the hearts and minds of men and His inability to give them a true free-will choice with your view. Who can freely choose anything when their minds and hearts are darkened with sin? Yet if it is somehow a "clean slate" so to speak from which the choice is made, you have the problem of irrationality in rejection.
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#93
Wormwood

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Wormwood,

Here I see a great discussion being had amongst brothers attempting to discern a great mystery of God held within the Church for quite some time. This is not a contest to change minds, rather a sharing of personal understandings and convictions. If at times my words seem harsh, please excuse my lack of eleqonce because I mean no disrespect. Truly I am seeking your understanding of the Scripture as I disclose my critique, not in spite of but because of a desire to sharpen each other. If I misrepresent your position it is only out of my error and ignorance so please correct me.

1. Do men on their own understand the gospel or does God give them understanding? Do men break their rebellion and hatred for God on their own or through God's softening of their hearts? Are these acts synergistic?

2. Once man does recognize the truth of the gospel do you see it is irrational for a man to reject the gospel he recognizes as truth? Why would a man choose anything irrational or against the truth knowing it ends in his own demise from his own free-will? The answer must include sin, thereby the will is truly still in bondage to sin and is not free by any means.

3. I understand God's dilemma with Israel and His continual calling out to them. My argument concerning the weakening of the view of God rests more in His action concerning the hearts and minds of men and His inability to give them a true free-will choice with your view. Who can freely choose anything when their minds and hearts are darkened with sin? Yet if it is somehow a "clean slate" so to speak from which the choice is made, you have the problem of irrationality in rejection.

 

Thanks brother.  I have not been offended at all.  I would offer the same disclosure to you that my critiques of Calvinism may not always line up with your exact views, so I apologize if any of my critiques do not fit your personal views.

 

1.  I think this is a key point that I want to take a second to flush out.  First, I think it is important to emphasize that the Gospel is the inspired, Spirit-empowered Word of God.  As Paul says in Romans 1 that the Gospel is "the power of God for the salvation of all who believe..."  So, in my mind, it makes no sense for the Spirit to have to empower us to understand the powerful saving message of the Gospel.  I believe that if the Gospel is the truth of God given by the Spirit, then the words themselves contain the power to bring about an understanding of the truth.  If this is not the case, inspiration is meaningless.  Why would the Spirit inspire a text if the message was still rendered meaningless and incomprehensible to its audience apart from a secondary work of illumination?  Therefore, I believe that we see in Scripture that Paul teaches that the power of his ministry came from the message of the cross.  It didn't come from some preceding Spiritual illumination that was needed to decode his message.  Rather, the message itself was the "wisdom of God and the power of God."  That is why it is important that we proclaim the message of Christ because that message is powerful.  Jesus said that his words were "spirit and life."  God's power and salvation is not strained out from the Gospel.  Rather, the word of Christ IS the seed that is planted in people which then has the potential to spout and turn into a great yield.  God's command, "Let there be light" WAS the power to create light from darkness.  The power to create and the Word are not separate entities.  

 

Second, I would say that there certainly is synergism involved in accepting the Gospel message.  I like a term the John Wesley used:  Responsible Grace.  God's grace is free and is a gift to us, yet we have a responsibility to respond to it.  The more we respond to grace, the more grace we receive.  The more we reject grace the more calloused and hardened we become...until at some point we become completely blind and deaf to the truth (as we see happening throughout the OT as well as in the NT amongst some of the Pharisees..  In fact, I think that is why Jesus spoke in parables because God no longer would allow them to see or hear because they has rejected the grace God had already given them.  Therefore, God blinded their eyes and closed their ears.  In my mind, hearing the Gospel is a great responsibility.  A person either draws closer to God or is pushed farther away.  There is no such thing as being unaffected by the message of Christ or the grace of God.  As Paul put it, it is either the aroma of life or the smell of death to those who hear (of course the difference is in what we do with it).

 

Third, no, men do not break out of rebellion on their own. In my mind, accepting the Gospel is merely an acceptance of truth and a cry to God for grace.  Our response to the message of Jesus does not constitute our own breaking out of anything.  That's like saying that someone bursts into a prison, knocks out all the guards and hands you a key...Who would dare suggest that your decision to use to key to unlock your cell constitutes you breaking out of jail "on your own?"  No, God is the one who provided the means (the blood of Jesus), the call (the messenger and message), and the power (the resurrection and the indwelling Spirit) that brings about the redemption and subsequent sanctification process.  I dont believe that being a disciple is simply a momentary decision that is either something God does or something we do.  I believe discipleship begins and continues as an act of trust in God.  Becoming a Christian is a significant event, dont get me wrong, but its just the first step in the race.  I think the American church has become infatuated with a microwave-style form of Christianity that focuses on momentary decisions that bring about once-saved-always-saved results.  Our response to God's love and grace and willingness to cleanse us and give us new lives empower by the Spirit isn't us doing anything on our own.  If a person sitting in their own filth is given the aroma of soap and is told they can be washed clean....if they say, "Yes, I want to be washed" which results in their being hosed and soaped down and given a haircut and fine clothes to wear...did they cleanse themselves on their own by virtue of their cooperating and saying, "Yes, I want to be washed?"  Responding is merely responding.  God makes all the provision, provides the power and transforms the life.  Our job is simply to be clay that is responsive and workable in the potter's hand.  

 

2.  Well, yes I see it as irrational.  But since when is humanity rational?  I mean, even in my own life, I do things all the time I know I shouldn't do.  I should spend hours in prayer every day, but rarely do I commit this kind of time to something so important.  I know I shouldn't eat donuts and should eat a salad instead.  Can I get an "Amen?"  Lol.  I think Romans 7-8 is very instructive in this regard.  Sometimes we know what the right thing to do is, but we are slaves to our fleshly desires.  Some people ultimately decide that they do not want to be set free from their fleshly desires, even though they know their behaviors are wrong.  As a result, they "suppress" the truth and they surround themselves with others who make them feel better about doing things they know they ought not do.  Haven't you ever been to a party with friends in your younger years and underage kids are getting drunk and having premarital sex and so on and so forth?  If you were to have a "rational" discussion with them and say, "You know underage drinking is wrong....correct?"  "Yes."  "You know its dangerous to drink so much alcohol you black out, correct?"  "Yes."  "You know its dangerous to have unprotected sex with people you hardly know, correct?"  "Yes."  "So why did you go to the party."  "Um, because its fun."  I believe the power of the Christian life is not simply to be saved from the consequences of our sin by accepting the Gospel, but to have the power of the Spirit unleashed in our lives...who, through faith, can begin to empower us to overcome the misdeeds of the flesh.  As Christians, we have the power to put our fleshly desires in check, but many Christians still live carnally and in sin.  Why? Because they do not empower the Spirit of God in their lives by walking in and growing in faith.  The same power that brought Jesus out of the tomb lives in Christians so they can live new, resurrected lives.  But the problem is not our rationality...its our faith and hunger and thirst for righteousness above our hunger and thirst to feed the misdeeds of the flesh.  At least that is how I see it.

 

3.  Well, I agree that none of us have a "clean slate."  I am not a Pelagian.  I believe we are partially depraved so certainly there is no tabula rasa.  Yet one does not have to have a completely unbiased and all encompassing perspective on things to make a valid choice.  As I said, I think the Spirit-inspired Gospel is powerful enough to shine the light such that a person can recognize it for what it is.  No doubt their decision making may be hampered by sin, but then again, that sin was their choice as well.  Again, I dont want to make this too long, but I think this goes back tot he 2 Cor. 4 text that shows that the god of this age blinds the minds of unbelievers.  The evil one is at work too and he is trying to create a culture and world that thrives off of the lusts of the flesh and spurns and is ignorant of the things of God.  He wants to squelch the spread of the Gospel and he wants to conditions cultures (via false religions and cultural biases) to despise or misunderstand the truth...and certainly human beings cooperate in this deception through their own suppression of the truth.  I think this is why Paul refers to this as a battle that requires armor and the sword of the Spirit....and prayers.  I believe this is why it is so important that Christians pray, pray, pray and pray...and boldly share the message of Christ which is the power of God to save sinners.  Greater is he that is in us than he that is in the world.  Thus, the reason many are deceived and live in darkness...and perhaps never hear the truth of Jesus....is not because God is unwilling to shine a light on them, but because we are not praying for more workers in the harvest fields or seeking the power, wisdom, conviction and opportunities provided by the Holy Spirit to make disciples through the preaching of the Gospel.  The Spirit is willing...but our faith is often lacking.  As EM Bounds put it, "Men are looking for better machinery.  God is looking for better men.  Men of prayer."

 

The exciting and alarming truth, from my perspective on "responsible grace" is that God has given us an incredible role and responsibility in the redemption of human beings around us.  God desires his kingdom to come and his will to be done, but do we?  Our faith...our prayers...our choices make a real difference.  So we have to decide to live by faith and grow in the grace and knowledge of God so we can impact others, or not. God has made his will known, it is for us to respond to it and walk in it.


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