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Searching for a
by Pastor Lars Larson, PhD
(A sermon delivered on November 16, 2008, at the First Baptist Church, Leominster, Massachusetts, USA)
Last Lord’s Day we introduced the doctrines of grace, or the five points of Calvinism. These are five teachings of the Scriptures that describe how God brings salvation to sinners. These five doctrines exalt God’s glory. They declare that God is the author and the dispenser of His grace, that God is sovereign in these matters. When we say that we are reformed, we are affirming these five doctrines which the Bible teaches regarding God bringing salvation to us. Again, what are they? They are (1) the total depravity of man, (2) God’s unconditional election of the lost to be saved, (3) the definite atonement of Jesus’ death for His people, (4) the irresistible grace of God in His calling to salvation, and (5) the final perseverance of the true believers unto their full and final salvation. Today I would like us to begin to work through each of these in some detail. And so, let us consider this matter of the total depravity of man.
If the disease can be diagnosed to be a terminal matter, then the number of possible treatments becomes very few. Get this first matter right, and the other four points will come along easily.
Now, does the Bible support the Arminian position that man is not totally fallen into sin, but that he has only been damaged somewhat with respect to his nature? Or does the Bible present a sad and serious picture of the condition of man, that he is hopelessly lost and undone, unable to raise himself from his condition unless Christ sets him free? I think the answer is obvious to anyone who has a lick of sense about the teaching of Scripture.
I. God declares Man’s Sinfulness.
Let us begin by considering a passage of God’s Holy Word in which God set forth the sinfulness of man. In Romans 3:9-20, the apostle states a truth and then substantiates that truth through the quotation of Old Testament Scripture. Paul had previously laid out a case to prove the universal sinfulness of man. Gentiles were guilty before God. But Jews also were equally guilty. He stated the conclusion of the matter in Romans 3:9.
Are Jews better than Gentiles? “Not at all.” “All are under sin.”
A. First, we read of man’s general depravity. Six charges of guilt are leveled against mankind. They are taken from Psalm 41.
1. Verse 10, “As it is written: There is none righteous, no, not one.” This is a declaration that no one is right with God and before God apart from God’s own provision in Jesus Christ.
2. Verse 11a, “There is none who understands.” Man’s thinking has been adversely affected by sin. His mind is darkened to the true knowledge of God. He is ignorant of many truths. He is in error respecting many others. Man’s mind is under sin.
3. Verse 11b, “There is none who seeks after God.” Man’s desires are corrupted by sin. He may seek a god of his own invention, one that he has carved out for himself, but he will not seek the one true God. None seeks after God. Man’s desires are under sin.
4. Verse 12, “They have all gone out of the way,” We see that their intentions have been corrupted by sin. Man has chosen not to walk in the way of God’s law. He has gone out of the way. Man’s will is under sin.
5. Verse 12b, “They have together become unprofitable.” They have nothing which commends them to God. They bring no benefit to God for Him having made them. Their value has been rendered a liability. Man has rendered his life worthless under sin.
6. Verse 12c, “There is none who does good, no, not one.” Nothing that fallen man can do pleases God. He neither does all that God has commanded him, nor has he denied himself of all that God has forbidden him. Man is guilty, under sin.
B. Second, we read of specific manifestations of man’s depravity. It is as though the Great Physician were giving a diagnosis of man’s condition. Eight ailments are identified. They are cited from Psalm 5:9, Psalm 140:3, and Psalm 10:7. The first four describe sins of the tongue, of speech. The second set of four are sins of violence. These 8 descriptions are taken from Isaiah 59:7 and Psalm 36:1.
1. Verse 13a, “Their throat is an open tomb.”
God’s law had exposed mankind to its sinfulness. It renders man guilty and without excuse, as verses 19ff declare: Verse 19, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” Man is left condemned and helpless to raise himself from his condition. “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (3:20).
II. A statement and explanation of the doctrine of man’s total depravity
Man was created originally in the image of God, perfect in holiness in His nature, being free from sin. But he transgressed the command of God and fell, resulting in him and his posterity becoming sinful in nature, subjects to satan and servants of sin, incurring the wrath of God whereby they suffer misery and death forever, incapable of recovery unless the Lord Jesus sets them free.
First, let us clarify what the doctrine does not mean.
1. Total depravity does not mean that every man is at the worst state he can be, that every man expresses the full extent of his evil nature as much as possible at all times. And so, the doctrine is not utter depravity, or absolute depravity. Christians know that it is only due to the grace of God that we are not worse than we are. If it were not for the common grace of God each of us and all in society would manifest evil in our lives to the fullest measure. God has given us society, laws, a legal system, fear of man’s opinion of us, and fear of temporal consequences. These things prevent us from manifesting our sinful natures more than what we do. It is not because of a love of God and righteousness that fallen man does not live more wickedly, it is because God restrains him from going further in his sin. We read in Romans 1 what occurs when God lets go of a person or a society. When man has rejected God’s restraints that He has placed upon him, we read of the result.
Christians who are taught in their Bible and have some sense of their own depravity understand that they are capable of the most despicable of sins. Therefore they watch themselves. Moreover, they have pity on those fallen into the depths of sin, for the sentiment is known by them to be true, “There but for the grace of God, am I.”
2. Total depravity does not mean that man is incapable of human good. Sinners are capable of doing good and living moral lives. Arthur Pink said it well:
3. Total depravity does not mean that unsaved man is incapable of discerning the distinction between good and evil. That he can and does is one cause of his aggravated condemnation. He has been given a conscience by which right and wrong can be distinguished. However, because of sin, even his conscience is corrupted so that he cannot discern the presence of all of his sin or the exceeding sinfulness of his sin.
What then does this doctrine mean?
1. Total depravity does mean that a man is incapable of doing anything so as to merit God’s favor with respect to salvation. All his good deeds are performed without a view of glorifying God.
2. By total depravity we mean that man is as bad off as he can be, that there is no part of him which has been unaffected by the fall--his mind with its understanding, his heart with its affections, his will with its purposes and intentions. His loyalty is supremely to himself and satan.
3. Total depravity means in his natural state man is incapable of doing anything or desiring anything pleasing to God. It means that his loves and loyalties lie in things other than God and His will. He loves darkness rather than light. He chooses to serve self rather than God.
4. Total depravity means that apart from a work of God’s grace in regeneration, a man will continue in this state, for he is both unwilling to change and incapable of remedying his condition. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
5. Total depravity means that although free offers of pardon and salvation may be presented, because his will is so bent on ordering his own existence and he is unwilling to be subject to the law of God, if left to himself, a man will reject offers of mercy and persist in his self-directed existence to his own destruction.
6. Total depravity means that man does not have a “free will” if what is intended by that term that he is free and able in and of himself to choose to respond to God’s commands apart from being born again.
It follows that if he is to be saved, God must choose him, for if left to himself, he cannot and will not choose God.
IV. Total depravity describes man’s sinful nature
Total depravity does not merely describe what man does, but who he is in his very nature. This can be seen by considering…
A. The Biblical teaching on original sin
1. Man’s original state was one of a state of innocence and righteousness. God did not create man a sinner. He made himself into that kind of monster. The wise man wrote, “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions” (Ecc. 7:29).
2. Genesis 3 reveals that sin entered the World through one man--Adam
The result was:
1) The loss of original righteousness, they became sinners by nature
3. Some have sought to show how Adam transgressed each of the 10 commandments in his one act: Dr. Lightfoot expresses it in this way, “Adam, at one clap, breaks both the tables, and all the commandments.
l) He chose him another God, when he followed the devil.
4. Men sinned in Adam and incurred sin’s penalty due to Adam’s sin. Paul set this forth in Romans 5:
B. How sin is described
1. It is called a transgression -- of the law of God
C. The effects of the Fall -- The Bible teaches that the results of the fall was his total depravity--his whole being was affected -- his mind, affections, and his will
1. Man is described as spiritually blind. He is ignorant as to his condition. “Hey, God’s got no beef with me. He leaves me alone, and I leave Him alone.” He is absolutely blind to his terrible condition. If he were but to get a glimpse of what he would one day face when he stands before an angry God, he would go mad, faint from the fear.
2. Man is spiritually ignorant. He is spiritually stupid. He is a spiritual ignoramus. He is ignorant of who God is and of what God expects of him. He is ignorant of the ways in which God governs His world. He is ignorant of God's presence beholding every deed, considering every thought, and recording every infraction against His holy law.
3. Man is sinfully proud. If through the means of common grace, he is given a measure of understanding, he is too proud to acknowledge his shortcomings. And even if he were somewhat aware of his failings, he is too stubborn to seek counsel as to how his condition might be remedied.
4. He is rebellious/self-willed. He wants to be the master of his own life, not submitting to any man or God Himself. Yes, he may attempt to change this or that, but it is only because he wants to do so, not because God may have commanded Him to do so.
5. He is enslaved. He is bound by his wicked thoughts, controlled by his passions, led about by his wicked thoughts; unknowingly, he is enslaved to the devil. Paul wrote of the Christians in Ephesus,
6. Man is helpless to bring remedy to himself. He has no strength to lift himself from his condition.
7. Man is lost. Unable to find His way to God; he is lost, alienated, and unable to find his way to God. God must find him, for he is lost and he cannot and will not find his way to the true God.
8. Man is dead. This describes the absence of the kind of life there is in the presence of God and describes man’s inability to rise above his condition.
V. Consider these randomly chosen Scripture verses
Titus 1:15. "To the pure all things are pure: but to them that are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but both their mind and their conscience are defiled."
Genesis 6:5. "And Jehovah saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually."
Proverbs 20:9. "Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?"
Jeremiah 17:9. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it?"
John 3:3-6. "Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter a second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God! That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."
Romans 1:28. "And even as they refused to have God in (their) knowledge, God gave them up unto a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not fitting;"
Romans 3:10-12. "As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none that understandeth, There is none that seeketh after God; They have all turned aside, they are together become unprofitable; There is none that doeth good, no, not, so much as one:
Romans 7:14. "For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin."
Romans 7:18. "For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me, but to do that which is good is not."
Romans 7:23. "But I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members."
Romans 8:7. "Because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be."
1 Corinthians 2:14. "Now the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged."
Colossians 1:21. "And you, being in time past alienated and enemies in your mind in your evil works."
Ephesians 2:1-3. "And you (did he make alive,) when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins, wherein ye once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the powers of the air, of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience; among whom we also all once lived in the lust of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest."
1 John 5:19. "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the evil one."
VI. A few general objections to the doctrine
Some would charge,
A. “To deny man a free will seems to contradict the passages which speaks of ‘whosoever will.’ Does this not imply anybody can?”
Answer: The Bible says that anybody may receive life if they will come to God through repentance from sin toward God and faith in Jesus Christ. But it is the testimony of Scripture that no one will unless he is drawn and made alive by God so as to render him desirous of salvation and willing to come and submit to Christ. (John 6:44, 65)
B. “How can God condemn man if he is unable to respond to Him? Does that not make God unjust?”
Answer: Paul answered this for us in Romans 9:19ff.
Besides, the basis of man’s condemnation is not that he is unable, but that he is unwilling to come to Him. God offers all that is necessary, all that is required to save a person from his sin. It is a testimony to depravity that man will not avail himself of this gracious offer.
C. “How can God condemn all for the failure of one (Adam)?”
Answer: We were in Adam when he sinned. We inherited his nature being made in his (Adam’s) image. But if you deny that God can justly impute the guilt of Adam’s sin to us, you cut off the possibility that God can impute Christ’s righteousness to us. This is this same principle which enables God to grant us life based on the righteousness of another (cf. Rom. 5:12ff).
D. “But could not God by his grace so enlighten a fallen man with respect to sin, its consequences, His wrath upon it, and instruct him in the way of salvation in Christ, so as to bring that person to the place where all of the effects of sin are checked so that he of his own free will choose Christ?”
(1) The scenario of this question would result in at least one Biblical absurdity: namely, man would be given a basis of boasting.
(2) However, let us suppose that God does do this, would God also temporarily deliver that man out of satan’s realm so that he is also not subject to him or his deceptions? Would he also change the man’s bent toward sin, and remove his aversion to holiness and God’s rule also, so that he might be “free” to make a decision? And if this is the case, how can one claim anything left may be duly called “free will” after God has done all this for that individual?
(3) But in trying to project every possible way to take credit from God and give glory to man for his decision have you succeeded in doing so? Does God bring every individual to this place of freedom to choose? If not, why not? Does God stop short with some and not bring them to that place where they can “freely” choose him? If so, then you have God doing for some what He does not do for others. By this you are admitting two things: (a) If left alone the man could not freely choose God, i.e. man does not have a free will unless God removes every obstacle; (b) He does for some that He does not for others -- Hence, you are back to God’s election and sovereign grace.
(4) One can remove all the obstacles of ignorance and bring a man to the place where he can “freely” choose but still will not unless he is born again. While in the flesh he cannot please God, he cannot submit to God, he is at enmity with God.
(5) This question presupposes an error: That God forces people against their will to come to Him. Not so. He creates a heart in them to seek Him, turn from sin and trust Him. No one comes to Christ but those who are willing. But their willingness is due to a work of grace in their hearts (Psa. 110:3: “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power”).
Conclusion: The point is this: the Bible makes it amply clear that the teaching of Arminianism is error. The idea that man in and of himself can have the desire and the capability to come to God of his on free will is simply not to be found. God must set man free or he will continue to be bound, under sin. You can no more raise yourself from your sinful condition than you could create a world, or raise the dead. Only God can raise the dead. And He only raises those whom He chooses to raise.
 Charles Spurgeon, The Soul Winner (Eerdmans, 1963), p. 24.
 Arthur Pink, Gleanings from the Scriptures (Moody Press, 1969), p. 124.
 Duane Edward Spencer, TULIP (Baker Books, 1979), pp. 27f.