Total Depravity: One Evangelical’s Perspective

In my last post I gave my perspective on the nature of God’s absolute sovereignty over genuinely free human beings. It might not be a satisfactory answer to Calvinists, Arminians or both, but it satisfies my conscience and understanding. I believe it is faithful to Scripture and avoids both Fatalism and Humanism.

In this post I want to address what I believe about the nature of human sinfulness. In the introductory post on human nature I noted that Calvinists and classical Arminians agree that humans are thoroughly sinful and will never come to saving faith apart from the drawing grace of God. I pointed out that their real disagreement is over the nature of God’s enabling grace.

But there is still a controversy over the nature of human sinfulness raging between those in our day who hold to Calvinism and Arminianism. I believe there are two errors that give rise to this war of words. The first is that the Arminians of our day have unwittingly fallen from a genuine evangelical view of human nature. The second error is the excessive philosophic zeal of Calvinists (both past and present) for the Calvinistic version of human depravity.

The Modern Arminian Error about Human Sinfulness

From my experience, I have become convinced that a large percentage of those who consider themselves Arminian in our day believe that it is morally possible for an unsaved person to “make a decision” to accept Christ at any time. Some would acknowledge this unevangelical doctrine unapologetically. Others would deny it in word but confess it in practice. For evidence of the pervasiveness of this unevangelical doctrine I need only to point you to the evangelistic practices in most Evangelical churches. Pastors spend thousands of dollars on the right lighting and sound equipment in order to set the mood for “decisions.” Add to this the emotional appeals of the so-called evangelist and the manipulative altar call practices, and you can be assured that such churches believe that it only takes the right emotional, intellectual and sensual stimuli to bring a soul from death to life, even if their statement of faith claims otherwise.

The large percentage of modern Arminians do not actually believe that mankind is sinful through and through. They acknowledge that everyone sins in thought, word and deed daily, and so needs God’s forgiveness. But they also believe that unsaved people do a lot of good things to help others around the world and in their communities. So, though they would say that “no one is perfect,” they would never classify the average unbeliever as downright evil.

The key factor in their turn from evangelical orthodoxy is that they have accepted the humanistic lie that sin is evil because it hurts other people. They are not convinced that the kindest, most honest and humble unbeliever on the planet deserves the eternal wrath of God. They are not convinced of this because they have not yet understood that the sinfulness of sin is that people live in willful rebellion against a good, holy and glorious Creator. They have accepted the humanistic definition of evil and have ignored the Christian definition.

Calvinism’s Error about the Nature of Human Sinfulness

Another factor in the modern controversy about the nature of human sinfulness is the Calvinist’s philosophical explanation of human sinfulness. Calvinism does not simply say that mankind is born in sin, lives in rebellion and dies hostile to God. They present a philosophical, and somewhat mechanical, view of human depravity. Calvinism claims that there is a part of man’s nature that is “dead.” They take the Scriptural analogy of being “dead in sin,” and try to make it into a metaphysical reality.

Instead of acknowledging that man is “dead in sin” because he is under the condemnation of God due to his utter rebellion against God, they say that the spirit of man is “dead” and cannot respond to God unless it is first made alive. This exaggeration of the Bible’s analogy leads them to imagine that a person must be born again before he can repent and believe, even though Scripture is abundantly clear that faith and repentance come before the renewing of the Holy Spirit. Granted, this zeal is awakened in the Calvinist because he desires to defend the primary role of God’s Spirit in the conversion of sinners, nevertheless, it leads to unbiblical teachings that become a stumbling block for the modern Arminian.

For my Calvinist brethren who take issue with my above critique, please take time to compare Ephesians 2:4-6 with Colossians 2:10-13. You will notice that they are parallel passages. But Colossians will give a little more context to how someone who is “dead in sin” is “raised with Christ.” The Ephesians passage does not note the pivotal role faith plays in leading one to new life, but Colossians does. It even points out the importance of baptism in the conversion process (note: I am not here suggesting “baptismal regeneration,” I’m just pointing out what the verse says) Of course, there are many more verses used to support the Calvinist view of total inability and regeneration before faith, and God willing, we can discuss those more fully in another post. For now, I just wanted to point out one aspect of Reformed Theology that I believe confuses the topic under discussion. I share the above references just to give you something to consider about the classical Calvinist view which I believe is unscriptural, unhelpful and unnecessary.

If you are a Calvinist, and feel I have misrepresented the classical view of being “dead in sin,” please clarify in the comments section. I have a tendency to misunderstand, but do not wish to misrepresent.

Sam Storms states the following in his post entitled, “Ten Things You Should Know About Total Depravity:”

The Apostle Paul defines total depravity in Ephesians 2:1 as being “dead in trespasses and sins.” The unregenerate are “dead” in at least two senses. On the one hand, there is an insensibility to the things of God. “The beauties of holiness do not attract man in his spiritual insensibility, nor do the miseries of hell deter him. God’s love, Christ’s sufferings, earnest conjurations by all that is tender and by all that is terrible, do not affect him” (John Eadie, Ephesians, 121). There is also, secondly, an incapability. “The corpse cannot raise itself from the tomb and come back to the scenes and society of the living world. The peal of the last trump alone can start it from its dark and dreamless sleep”

My Perspective on Human Sinfulness

The Bible teaches that mankind is sinful. It describes unsaved men as “children of wrath;” that is, they are under the wrath of a holy God (Ephesians 2:3). It states that there is “no one who seeks after God” unless, of course, God first draws them by grace (Romans 3:11). It states that the heart of man is “more deceitful than all things and desperately wicked;” and their heart will therefore trick them into calling evil, good and good, evil. (Jeremiah 17:9). It teaches that unconverted men are “hostile to God” and “enemies in their minds by wicked works” (Romans 8:7, Colossians 1:21).

But this does not seem to match our daily experience of human nature. Though people do wickedly to other human beings, it is not so in every case. We could even say, that in general, the average person does little real harm to others. They might curse the person who slights them in their mind, or even out loud, but for the most part they do not physically assault everyone who upsets them. In general people let other people live in peace. Common civility is the norm in most public places, and it is not uncommon to see genuine human compassion expressed on both a small and a large scale. And what is more, people are very religious. Most of the world believes in God and there are many who devoutly follow one religion or another.

So why does the Bible paint such a dark and one-sided view of mankind? The simple answer is that the Bible was written by God, not by men. God is holy. He hates sin so deeply that He has created a place of eternal torment for rebels, both devils and men. The Bible presents God’s perspective on sin, not ours. Therefore, the more deeply we are influenced by humanism, the less likely we are to accept the biblical doctrine of human sinfulness. And the more we are influenced by biblical truth, the less likely we are to whitewash the truly depraved nature of mankind.

So, what is God’s perspective? Above I pointed out that, from a natural perspective, cursing someone in our mind is better than physically assaulting them. Though this is so, this does not mean that cursing someone in the heart is not deeply sinful. Even if the person is none the wiser, God still sees it as an abomination. One evil being worse than another does not mean that the second evil is good. So, though everyone does not shoot every person with whom they have a conflict, this does not mean that murder is not secretly boiling over in many hearts. And in the eyes of God, all is visible, and all is vile. The sin of the heart offends a holy God.

But even when true human compassion rules the day, this does not make mankind innocent. For even when people control their hostility towards others through a genuine sense of compassion, maybe even compassion birthed out of sincere religious belief, they still have an abiding rebellion and hostility in their hearts towards their Creator. Though they are devoutly religious, they refuse to submit to the one true God and His only Son. Idols of metal and stone, as well as idols of the religious imagination, are a direct rejection of the living God.

When king David repented of adultery, murder and deception he prayed, “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight” (Psalms 51:4). He understood the biblical truth that all sin is a hostile act against the holy Creator. Sin is evil not because it offends people, but because it offends a holy God. And it is this hostile rebellion that is never dormant in the heart humanity, except by the direct influence of God’s Holy Spirit. Only consider this and you will see the nature of human sinfulness: God became a man in order to save His enemies and they brutally murdered Him! Mankind is sinful because they hate God and resent His authority.

So, CAN sinful men come to Christ apart from God’s drawing grace? The answer is a resounding YES! Man has intelligence and can see clearly from creation that there is a Creator, so intellectual faith is not out of his reach. He has natural moral capabilities that can discern right from wrong when instructed by truth; this is why men who steal often stop stealing, and drug addicts often kick the habit. Men have the ability to change from worse to better when they are motivated to do so. And human beings have an active and lively spirit that can reach out for fellowship with God by faith. This is evident in the lives of many religionists around the world that have spiritual fellowship with demons who masquerade as angels of light. Man is naturally capable of turning from sin and trusting in Christ.

The biblical question is not “CAN man come to God without grace,” but “WILL man come to God apart from the influence of His grace?” The answer to that question is a resounding NO! The problem with men is not that they are unable to come to Christ, but that they do not want to come to Christ. They are hostile to Christ and they despise both His authority as Lord and His mercy as Savior. Mankind is not lost because they are naturally broken is some aspect of their physical or spiritual make-up, instead they are lost because they love the darkness and hate the light. Individuals are not helpless victims of Adam’s original sin, but they are full participants in, and willing accomplices to, Adam’s rebellion against a good, holy and loving God.

Human beings are sinful, that is my perspective.

As always, please share your thoughts on any or every part of this post down in the comments section. Gbu!


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