Why T?

In response to the post “Death by Degrees?” a commenter named Brad posed the following objections:

Does this really matter?

Can’t we all agree that so much of the world needs help, and the only way to help anyone is with the love of Jesus?

Does it really matter how depraved we think the world is, as long as we agree that without Jesus they need our love?

This debate — what a fantastic way to waste 5 hours of some probably intelligent people’s time, as well as the time of however many people might listen.

Think of the value of that time. Think of the things that God could do through us during that time to bring his reality to others rather than deciding who’s more right about this or that.

I guess I don’t understand how this is vital to anything, or even important — meaningless talk and debate.

-Brad

Initially, my thought when reading the above comment was to wonder why, given his low view of this conversation, Brad would want to waste precious moments of his life even addressing such a useless issue. But then I realized that the points he raised are serious and are probably common.

So, what does it matter if people living after Genesis 3 are Totally depraved by nature? Why should we be willing to debate this issue?

First, if I am correct in my assertion that the Bible clearly teaches this Total depravity, then this is a doctrine that God has chosen to reveal to Man; if it is an important enough issue for God that He would firmly and repeatedly teach it in the pages of Scripture, then we should be willing to learn it and defend it.

Second, as presented in Scripture, Total depravity is foundational to a right understanding of the gospel. In passages such as Romans 3, Ephesians 2, and Colossians 1, specific aspects of Total depravity are mentioned as part of summaries of the gospel message. In Romans 3, the idea that no one seeks God or performs righteous deeds is basic to the Good News of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. In Ephesians 2, the realization that we are naturally dead in trespasses and sins is fundamental to the Good News of salvation by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. In Colossians 1, the teaching that we are naturally alienated from God and hostile in mind to Him is crucial to the Good News of reconciliation to God through the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.

If we believe that there are seekers, or that people can perform righteous deeds, we leave room for a false gospel of works righteousness, or, at best, focus our gospel presentation on trying to attract seekers rather than proclaiming the Savior who justifies the ungodly. If we believe that people are only “mostly dead,” then we may try to apply medicine- preaching messages influenced by self-help philosophy or therapeutic psychology- instead of proclaiming the resurrecting power of God’s grace in Christ. If we believe that people only have a barrier of misunderstanding between themselves and God, rather than realizing that they are actively divorcing themselves from His love and are making war against Him by thinking thoughts that dishonor Him, then we will fail to warn of God’s impending judgment and fail to give a clear presentation of the reconciliation available through the Cross.

It is my sincere hope that Brad or anyone else who may wonder why Total depravity is important would reflect upon the passages I have mentioned- passages that are key to understanding this doctrine. I pray that Christians would reflect on how the New Testament writings present the Good News of who Jesus is and what He has done and would consider how Christ is glorified when His character is contrasted with the sinful character of other men and when His work is demonstrated to be the exact righteousness, resurrection, and reconciliation that totally depraved sinners need.

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20 Comments on “Why T?”

  1. AllanFJ Says:

    If a doctor misdiagnoses his patient’s problem, he prescribes the incorrect medicine.
    Thus the church has been filled with tares by preachers who ‘loved’ the lost but never wiped out their self-trust by telling them God said they were hopeless sinners.

    As Newton said: “I am a great sinner. But GOD is a great SAVIOUR!”

  2. Arthur Sido Says:

    Great post. If one fails to see the depth of the depravity of man, little else in the Bible makes sense. If we aren’t all that bad, why did Jesus have to die in our place, why did God have to elect some, why doesn’t everyone who hears preaching come to Christ. The depravity of man is one of THE central themes of the Bible, and if you don’t get that, then you probably don’t get the Bible at all.

  3. Lisa Nunley Says:

    Excellent post. Well worth the time.

  4. Howard Says:

    What I find interesting is this common refrain, even from people in my own church.

    “Can’t we all agree that so much of the world needs help, and the only way to help anyone is with the love of Jesus?

    Does it really matter how depraved we think the world is, as long as we agree that without Jesus they need our love?”

    This is not the Gospel. “Loving on people” or “living for Christ makes life worth living”, or “showing the love of Christ” is not the Gospel.

    So yes, this debate is worth having. The poor soul has been misled as to what he was saved from and what he is saved to and the means by which that salvation took place. What message does he offer lost souls? Does he just love? If loving were the Gospel, I must confess, that if we use a Biblical definition of love (and not this mushy American loving on people nonsense), then everyone I attempt to “influence” is doomed to hell. My love is not the Gospel. Instead, I hold up Christ.

    I recently blogged about a sign in front of a church near where I live on a very similar issue. http://how2fish.blogspot.com/

  5. Pat McGee Says:

    This is such a fundamental issue that it cannot be ignored. A misunderstanding of total depravity is to misunderstand salvation itself. If we are not totally depraved the possibility exists that we may be able to earn salvation, which the Bible clearly says is not possible.

  6. Barry Says:

    Not true.

    What the bible is clear on is the continual lamentation toward people for not choosing to follow what is the correct path: belief in God and doing good. That is what is repeated over and over and over again.

    The bible does not offer up “total” anything. The proclivity that some people today have for making making weaknesses in man an “absolute” or infinite or unchanging “bad” or “depraved” is wishful thinking on their part.

    Clearly man is capable of doing good.

    All of us have seen other people, and often people who profess no religious belief, who do a great deal of good for their fellow man. And, each and every one of us can give examples of this.

    We are capable of bad and we are capable of good.

    If the condition of being in God’s grace is based solely on belief and conduct then “total” anything doesn’t even enter the picture.

    If men and women were either entirely good or entirely bad then the bible wouldn’t have appeared.

    It’s design wasn’t salvation. It’s design was to keep us in line.


  7. Barry,

    Total depravity does not teach that people are as bad as they can be or that they do not do good things. It teaches that every faculty of a person (the totality of a person) is corrupted by sin. It also teaches that no one apart from God’s grace performs acts that are ultimately good- no one loves neighbor as much as self and no one loves God with heart, mind, soul, and strength- as Jesus said to the rich young ruler, “There is none good but One, that is, God.”

    The Bible’s design certainly is for our salvation. It is given that we may be sanctified unto God (John 17:17).

    -Andrew

  8. Barry Says:

    Andrew,

    Thanks for the insight.

    I would ask what you are basing your view of “every faculty of man being corrupted by sin” upon?

    I think this is a topic which could use further explaination as I have run into many Calvinists who don’t exactly take the viewpoint you have just described and, instead, they take the stance that people don’t have the natural tendency to do good. That it is our natural tendency to be bad and do bad. Furthermore, if some people do much good, as we know they do, then who are we to say this good that they do can not be recognized as being, as you say, of “ultimate good”?

    I know of plenty of people, and I’m sure you do too, who are not believers and, yet, they have an innate sense of goodness with good hearts and they do a tremendous amount of good for their fellow man. Would anyone say this is not an ultimate good? Would anyone of us have the temerity to point their finger at them and say “because you don’t believe” your good work isn’t really good work?

    And, on the flip side of that I know of many who profess a belief in God and Christ who are among the poorest representatives of people doing good that mankind has ever been exposed to. In fact, one might say with complete justification that Christianity has had, as some of its leading proponents, some of the most “ungood” people this world has ever been witness to.

    This lends itself to a certain amount of confusion on the part of the non-Calvinist listener.

    Perhaps you could clarify.


  9. Re: “I would ask what you are basing your view of ‘every faculty of man being corrupted by sin’ upon?”

    -This is based upon a Biblical Theology of sin, in which the effects of sin upon individuals across the canon of Scripture are examined. [See “Sin” in the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, edited by Alexander, Rosner, Carson, and Goldsworthy, page 785.] Specific texts are Isaiah 59:3-11 and Romans 3:13-18.

    Re: “…who are we to say this good that they do can not be recognized as being, as you say, of ‘ultimate good’?”

    -This is closely related to the previous question. As the fruit must share (to some extent) in the character of the tree, it is obvious that acts performed by persons with totally depraved faculties cannot be entirely good. This is taught in Scripture in passages such as Isaiah 64:6, in which even the “righteous deeds” of sinners are likened unto “a polluted garment” and in Titus 1:15, which declares, “but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and consciences are defiled.”

    You make an argument from experience: “I know of plenty of people… they have an innate sense of goodness with good hearts and they do a tremendous amount of good for their fellow man.”

    But is it not also our experience that no action is performed from a heart that truly loves neighbor as much as self? Do we ever meet people that love God with all of their heart, soul, and mind? These questions expose the fact that we have all failed to live according to the two most basic commandments for which our Sovereign Creator and Sustainer has designed us (see Matthew 22:37-40)- that we all stand in need of a Savior before our Holy Lawgiver and Judge.

    It would be easy to look at my friends with whom I work to UPS, to try and emphasize the good things that they do, and to say, “Well, God’s an understanding guy- he’ll overlook their faults- I don’t need to be concerned about their relationship to Him.” It would be easy to never have to pray for boldness and take the initiative to have conversations about sin, righteousness and the judgment to come. But as a responsible follower of Christ, I must live by His Word.

    If I were a doctor and I met someone who had signs of an illness, and I looked into my medical manual only to discover that the illness was fatal, it would be reprehensible if I were to allow the person to continue thinking that he or she were well.

    I meet people every day that have the signs of breaking the two great commandments mentioned above. I look to Scripture and find that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). I must, therefore, out of love, explain the condition and point people to Christ- the great Physician of our souls, who bore the wrath of God for sin on His Cross and rose again on the third day, defeating sin, death, and Hell, for all who will repent of their sins and trust in Him alone for salvation.

  10. Barry Says:

    Andrew,

    I understand and appreciate your views. Furthermore, I think that many of them are deserving of individual threads.

    I’m not so convinced that Isaiah and Titus were issuing a blanket indictment of all people but were, instead, speaking of the weaknesses some people. With Isaiah I believe his invectives were directed at some Jews and with Titus against some Jews, Christians and Cretans.

    And while I can also appreciate your recurring view of us not loving our neighbor as much as we do ourselves I am not so sure that this is a choice representation of our being totally depraved. An example that I would give that might be closer to describing our condition would be the love and sacrifice that we feel for members of our family. Who among us does not feel as much love for one’s offspring as they do for themselves and would not be willing to lay down their life for their child’s or even someone else’s child?

    There are many people who have few redeeming characteristics when it comes to being and doing good but, there are also many whose lives and conduct have show to others that depravity, at least in the sense of it being total or complete, does not bear wittness to them.

    I think that Scripture clearly demonstrates, from book to book, two over-riding elements: Belief in God and following the correct path of being and doing good. In getting people to address this the authors used many tools not the least of which is to cajole people by telling them of those who did do bad things and had nothing good in them. A method not unlike one that we might hear today from a concerned parent. A design to keep us in line.


  11. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.

    Still denying the other half of Scripture, eh Barry?

    If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

    That evil does good is no contradiciton. It is a contradiction that evil can do anything holy and acceptable to God.

    You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

    You are of your father the devil, Barry. This is where salvation begins, with the knowledge of the Holy, his righteousness and your absolute unrighteousness.

    What is your motivation? Who do you seek to please, and can you?

    Andrew already said, that the good works that we do are nothing more than filthy garments. There is none who does good, no not one. It remains then for you to prove that you can. First, I would like you to tell us by what measure it is good? Where does the balances of the good exist? Do you have them here on earth? Who judges them as good, or as evil, you? Can you ascend into heaven to bring Christ down, that is by your good works, do you sacrifice Christ? When Scripture speaks of dependence upon good works, even the dependence on the good works of good works, it says it as if to crucify Christ again and to put him to an open shame, because it is rejecting the full satisfaction and perfection of his blood. IOW, to claim that we can do anything meritorious, that is good, is to steal Christ’s glory.

    We do not deny the commandment, Barry, just your ability to obey. Tell me, are you perfect? Well then, you have never done a good work because the Commandment is be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect, or be Holy as God is Holy. Done either Barry? Didn’t think so. Then the fact remains, as Paul said, there is nothing good in you. What God requires of you Barry is perfection, something which you are perfectly imcabable of producing.


  12. Barry,

    I do believe that it is necessary for you to undergo a paradigm shift in your reading of Scripture. You say, “There are many people who have few redeeming characteristics,” but I believe you will be hard-pressed to find the action of “redeeming” ascribed to anyone in Scripture save God alone. In other words, no aspect of one’s character nor action that one takes can provide redemption from a single sin. The Bible does not point us to look inside ourselves for redemption, but ever to look for redemption extrinsically- to look to Jesus as our only Redeemer and to look to His work of redemption on the Cross- not trusting in our own works at all.

    In regards to our own works- our attempts at “following the correct path of being and doing good”- these are condemned by Scripture as woefully inadequate and even insulting to God in light of the perfect work accomplished by Christ. It is not only our wicked acts that are condemned, but “our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (notice that the prophet Isaiah includes even himself in this indictment). In Galatians, the Apostle does not only condemn law-breaking, but declares the idea of law-keeping, when viewed as a part of that which justifies us before God, as anathema.

    Jesus teaches that it is only as one realizes his helpless, sinful state and calls out to God for mercy- not trusting in works at all, but trusting in God’s grace alone- that one is declared right in God’s sight (see Luke 18:9-14).

    And this is my concern for you, Barry. If you are trusting in any way in your ability to do good in order to make you right before God, then I fear that you will fall short of His holy standard and find yourself under His condemnation. If the Spirit through the Word brings you to humiliation and you cry out to God for mercy, trusting in Christ alone for salvation, then you, like that tax collector, will be justified in that moment- not fearful that you may someday stray from the correct path, not wondering whether or not your works will be good enough, unselfish enough to be accepted by God.

  13. Cap Pooser Says:

    Failure to define good in Biblical terms leads sometimes to confusion. Only acts done for God’s glory are good. For instance, two people may see a little lady who needs help to cross the street. One looks around and sees his boss coming down the street, so he steps up and helps her across with a motive to impress his boss. The other could help her across because he wants to do all for the glory of God. The second one does a good work. The first doesn’t. But outwardly, they both did the same act. For one to say that they know some lost people who do good works is to miss the important issue of motive. So the question becomes, can an unregenerate man ever have a motive presented to his will to act for God’s glory. Rom 8:7,8 seems to say no. They that are in the flesh CANNOT please God. This has been a helpful thing to help me understand total depravity.


  14. That is right cap, and as I said above, the tool for measuring this is in heaven, not on earth. Here we have hearts that are desperately wicked and no man can know his motivation, truly. As the 2LBC says:

    Yet notwithstanding the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him; not as though they were in this life wholly unblameable and unreprovable in God’s sight, but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.

    We live this by faith, we know the commands and that we are expected to obey, but no man knows the extent to which he is obedient and God demands perfection. It is in the perfect work of Christ, what he did, and not in us, that our works are accepted. The sincerity spoken of then is the sincerity of faith, and not of the action or intent. We should never think that any of our works merit any favor, for that would overthrough the perfect work of Christ.


  15. I’m not so convinced that Isaiah and Titus were issuing a blanket indictment of all people but were, instead, speaking of the weaknesses some people. With Isaiah I believe his invectives were directed at some Jews and with Titus against some Jews, Christians and Cretans.

    Compare: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed [1] thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

    The fact is Barry, your modern parable of “good people” that you know puts you in very unjustified company. To the contrary God makes us all the same in Adam: There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

    Jesus follows this up with a parable about a fig that does not bear fruit, and I would lay this fruit with John the baptist: Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.

    It was the Pharisees who thought that they could do good works. It was John’s contention that that showed that they were unrepentant and undeserving of the kingdom of God because they thought that they could earn it.

  16. Barry Says:

    I guess that is where the separation exists for people.

    Ultimately, it looks as though it is what we recognize or want to recognize in Scripture which defines us.

    Some see in Scripture those items which would make all of mankind depraved. Some do not.

    Andrew,

    With your comment relative to a person trusting in their own ability to do good in order to be right with God, I think you’re overlooking a couple of valuable points. For one, Scripture repeats continually that God is looking for and expecting all of us to do good and be good. That is an inviolate criteria of his–how we conduct ourselves. Secondly, there are plenty of people in this world who do good and are good naturally and their motive is not to show or prove their goodness to me or to you. If it is their relationship with God which is the modifying feature for their goodness then that has nothing to do with us.

    We can not know it.

    And, therefore by our not knowing whether God has graced a particular person who shines their light of goodness out to the world then what kind of thugs would we be to point our fingers at them and say “you can’t be anything but depraved no matter what good you’ve done on earth”?

    If someone does what pleases God relative to their conduct and behavior then someone who sins fify-fold more by proclaiming a particular faith while being indifferent to their conduct is missing some profound statements in Scripture.

    I’m perfectly content to have you “buy” the Total Depravity concept.

    But, there are many more who don’t. When you put Scripture into context and stop putting all your weight on what a final redactor says in a word then you get a clearer picture of the meaning of what is being said.

    I know from experience that their are bad people. I also know their are alot of good people who do alot of good things. I don’t feel a need to push someone up against a wall and tell them that unless they believe a certain way, despite their good works, that they are unworthy in God’s eyes.

    I’ll leave that to someone else.


  17. Ultimately, it looks as though it is what we recognize or want to recognize in Scripture which defines us.

    Some see in Scripture those items which would make all of mankind depraved. Some do not.

    what a final redactor says in a word then you get a clearer picture

    I know you reject the Scripture Barry but just so you will know that you do: And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit…As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Do you honestly think that you are capable of good outside of Christ? It is clear from Scripture that no man has anything except that which God has given him. Isn’t it true then that except that God gives the good, all men are void of it? All Scripture is God expired Barry, and if we do not understand it, it is not the Word of God. It is either absolute truth known absolutely, or it is not known at all. And if it is not known it is not the Word of God but merely words that a man believes. We cannot both be right about two opposing things. What you choose to believe is irrelevant. It is either truth or not, it is either the Word of God as understood by God, or it is not.

    I know from experience that their are bad people.

    So, you can do what only God can do, that is judge the intents and motives of the heart? It is you who determines who is good and who is evil? How can you say that you know the bad ones? Are you judging by outward appearance:

    For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.

    Making yourself God? There are those who do judge by outward appearance. Paul and Christ condemned them as evil, as men of the circumcision, condemned by the Law. They so easily accuse others of not keeping that which is impossible that they themselves can.

    Are you one of the bad ones? See my comment above about the Pharisee. Are you one of the good ones, a Pharisee, Barry? Do you look down upon all those tax collectors and sinners? Apparently, you do:

    I’m perfectly content to have you “buy” the Total Depravity concept.

    Are you a bigot, Barry, a classist, separating people before the time? You are one of the bad ones Barry, by your own confession, as your assertions make all to evident. So depraved are you, that you do not see your own depravity.

  18. Barry Says:

    Thomas,

    If God is giving the good then how can all men be void of it?

    Again, you don’t offer a convincing argument for the concept of complete depravity in men when you throw mud rather than a few counter points out.

    By reducing yourself to name-calling rather than calmly picking points of Scripture and going over them you haven’t helped to strengthen one’s viewpoint that the concept should be believed.

    And, by the way? You should be the last person to tell someone else that they are rejecting Scripture.


  19. If God is giving the good then how can all men be void of it?

    I didn’t say it, Scripture did: as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

    I didn’t say that all men were void of it, but that any good they have is God’s doing and not theirs and except that God does it, they are void of it. Which of course means that before he gives it, they are void of it. The question that you have to answer is why do men do anything good? Then there is this, God gives to some and not to others as you admit, or at least you say you know who is good and who isn’t, so, do you agree that at least some are depraved? And if others are not depraved, by what fiat? Still, the point remains, in and of themselves, men have no righteousness as Jesus said, “There is only one who is good, that is God.” And other Scripture compliments his word, “There is no one who does righteousness, no not one.” But of course you reject any Scripture that rejects your pretensions to righteousness. I didn’t expect you to read it or understand it. Repeatedly you have been given Scripture, you simply dismiss them out of hand. Perhaps you should really read the posts, and the responses before you answer.

  20. Jack Winter Says:

    Certainly one cannot appreciate the gift of his salvation until he glimpses his own depravity in the sign of a Holy God.

    OTOH, Brad’s post may have a point. As Dr. Mohler opined, it is important not to develop a “debating spirit”. We must must never become one who will drive across the state to argue for the Doctrines of Grace, but won’t walk across the street to share the Good News.

    As I recall, Eph. 2:10 said we’re predestined to something, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t doctrinal purity.


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