Posted in bible, doctrine, reformed, total depravity, total inability, tulip

Depravity is child’s play

As a child I was often silent or a girl of few words. I was an observer. At recess if it was outdoors I’d stand under the tree on the side of the playground and watch. If it was indoors I’d read and covertly watch. I’d do the same in High School, observe, observe, observe- trying to figure out…people.

The overarching conclusion I came to, no matter my age, is that “people are mean.”

Did I grow up in the Chicago Projects or Fort Apache the Bronx where I saw unspeakable things? No. Did I grow up abused or abandoned so that my perspective has now been permanently tainted? No. I grew up in the wealthiest town in my state with two parents for most of my childhood and all the creature comforts one could want, plus wealthy extras like luxury vehicles, boats, a pool, country club, extended vacations, and occasionally, a maid. My perspective should have been the opposite.

So how, at a tender age, did I come to the conclusion that people are mean? By simply watching them, what they do, how they speak, and how they treat each other, over and over and over. The pattern is clear. People are mean.

Now, if you are in the camp that believes “people are mostly good!” or even “people are mostly good, deep down…” you hold the opposite view of the years of my observations and more importantly, the opposite view of what God’s word tells us people are like. No, people aren’t mostly good. People are mean. Here are just a few verses which remind us of our true nature and our true relationship with God.

Jeremiah 17:9, Psalm 51:5, Psalm 58:3, Ephesians 2:1-5, Romans 3:10-11, John 3:19, 1 Corinthians 2:14, Romans 1:18, Proverbs 14:12, 1 Corinthians 1:18, Romans 8:7.

I’m all grown up now but I’m still an observer. I am a teacher’s aide (AKA para-professional). I spend my work day in classrooms and on playgrounds and in cafeterias watching children. Did you ever notice children playing puppets? They start out all nice and good, and the puppets are doing normal things, but the “play” almost instantly descends into one puppet biting the head off another, or the puppets fighting. If boys are playing dinosaurs, it won’t take long before one dinosaur bites the head off something whether it’s another dinosaur or a toy soldier or the other kid’s finger. Though many children are sweet or nice or kind, their sin-nature eventually reveals itself.

The Doctrine of “Total Depravity” is one that people who think we’re mostly good, or even partly good, find odious. Total depravity is a misnomer in that one way people who lack knowledge of it interpret it to mean that all people are completely depraved all the time. That isn’t what total depravity means. It means,

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. (source)

A better term is “Total Inability.” This means that because our sin nature has extended to all part of us in everr nook and cranny, this fact prevents us from being able to respond to the things of God on our own, in any way. Of course, this doctrine is at “total” odds against Arminianism, which its adherents claim we are able to “choose God”. Of course that’s “total” absurdity. Read this short essay by R. C. Sproul to see why. Or see this below from a different source,

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). (source)

Just watch kids, you’ll see. The simplicity of the child’s faith is on display but equally is their wicked heart quickly seen. The miracle and wonder is that while we were still sinners, Jesus loved us.

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8).

That while our hearts were darkened and we followed evil and reveled in it, Jesus died for us.

He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. (Romans 4:25)

He knows we are totally unable to “choose Christ” or “decide for Jesus” so He made a way. He declared us justified, He gave us a new heart, and He sent the Spirit to conform us to Him. We were totally unable. Yet HE IS TOTALLY ABLE. And He is all we need.

Posted in depravity, encouragement, sin, tulip

Total depravity in a baby

Wikimedia Commons

I remember very shortly after being saved I was witnessing to a friend. She was the kind of person who was ‘rational’, ‘logical’ and ‘mathematical.’ Since Paul witnessed to Gentiles by starting with the creation, I did too. Sadly, she dismissed Genesis’ creation account because obviously, the light being created as Genesis 1:3 could not have come before the sun’s creation, as Genesis 1:14. Obviously. Therefore the creation account must be wrong.

So I skipped ahead and told her about Eve’s and Adam’s sin in the garden. I shared that after the sin had occurred, their very biology was now polluted and cursed, and all subsequent children, such as murderous Cain, were totally depraved since birth. Therefore we do not do right and are excluded from God’s heaven- unless we repent and ask Jesus to forgive.

That didn’t get a logical reaction. It got an emotional one. She heatedly rejected the notion that children and babies are totally depraved. She fervently argued against the concept that babies and children naturally do wrong. Even associating the word sin with baby caused a visceral reaction in her.

EPrata photo

That was 11 years ago and I never forgot.

First some definitions. Total depravity does not mean that everyone, including children, are as bad as they can be all the time. There’s your Hitlers and there’s your Mother Teresas. Both are in hell now BTW.

Total depravity is about the original sin and how it affects us today. It speaks to the extent of our sin, our sin nature, and our complete inability to do anything for God that will be pleasing to Him. Some people such as John MacArthur prefer the term “absolute inability” rather than total depravity.  John MacArthur said of the concept,

“…we are so hopelessly and thoroughly wicked that not one of us could ever truly love God unless God Himself enabled us to do so. That is the doctrine of total depravity in a nutshell. It means that we are totally unable to save ourselves.” 

Charles Spurgeon said of total depravity,

By original sin we mean the evil quality which characterizes man’s natural disposition and will. We call this sin of nature original, because each fallen man is born with it, and because it is the source or origin in each man of his actual transgressions. By calling it total, we do not mean that men are from their youth as bad as they can be. Evil men and seducers wax worse and worse, “deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13). Nor do we mean that they have no social virtues toward their fellowmen in which they are sincere. … What our Confession says is, “That they have wholly lost ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation.”

In 1985 John Piper said of total depravity,

Total Depravity Our sinful corruption is so deep and so strong as to make us slaves of sin and morally unable to overcome our own rebellion and blindness. This inability to save ourselves from ourselves is total. We are utterly dependent on God’s grace to overcome our rebellion, give us eyes to see, and effectively draw us to the Savior

Now, surely babies aren’t totally depraved? They’re so cute and such a blank slate and not even able to comprehend what sin is. Right?


There is a cottage industry of Americas Funniest Videos (AFV) that show the “cute” things babies, toddlers, and kids do. The audience laughs and titters and applauds, and goes “awww.” But it’s not funny. These clips from AFV have been wow-ing and charming and entertaining audiences for 25 years. Yes, AFV is 25 years old. But when I see clips like this, it only makes me sad, because they are a 25 year chronicle of our sin nature.

This clip won. It is in the top pantheon of best loved clips.

Why waste a good tantrum when no one is around to see it?

This toddler is absolutely totally aware of what he is doing. He knows how to present screams and anguish to maximum effect, and knows when it’s useless to continue. He is manipulating the adults. He is lying.

Not so innocent, eh?

But some may protest, how about babies. Little, little babies, they surely don’t know right from wrong. They don’t lie, manipulate, or do things in secret?! How could you think they are totally depraved and have a heart full of sin.

Here, 18-month-old twins play, scream, and jump with each other during nap time. The mom heard the noise and turned on the baby monitor so she could talk to them.

The second the twins hear the mom’s voice, they drop. They know they are supposed to be sleeping and weren’t. They knew they were disobeying the higher authority.

Total depravity is in us, it is our very nature. It goes from corner to corner in all areas of our mind, heart, strength,and soul. There is no “flawed thinking.” There is no untainted corner of our mind whereupon one day we will suddenly become spiritual and be able to retreat to that pure corner and “choose Jesus.” We are fallen creatures completely unable to do right in God’s eyes. We need Him.

Thank God He knows this. God sent His Son to live the life we cannot, due to our complete inability to be righteous. Born of woman and from the Father in heaven, He lived the sinless life we could not. He was hated, spit on, mocked, stripped, beaten and hung from a tree. He endured God’s wrath for sin. He took it- our punishment. Then He died.

Pleased with His Son’s life, and His death, and God’s wrath exhausted upon the Son, He raised Jesus to life and ascended Him to heaven. Now, anyone who cannot and never will do right in God’s eyes, but who are at enmity with Him and are His enemy, can come through the Door, who is Jesus. He is the Door to life, and if confessing and repenting to Jesus, He will forgive and they may enter heaven through Him.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

Our sin nature is so total, even babies show it. But if we have the faith of a child and repent, He will grant everlasting life. He sends the Spirit to dwell in us and give us His power to resist sin. He grows us in Christ’s likeness.

At the resurrection of the saints He will blessedly remove us from the presence of sin. Imagine a world where every conversation will be holy. Where every emotion will be perfect. Where there are no hidden agendas, no secret sins, no hypocrisy. Where we worship Jesus perfectly. Where our motives are pure and no one is manipulated, lied to, or pressured. No depravity, and total ability.

What a day that will be. Thank you Jesus, for saving your elect.

Posted in arminianism, calvinism, doctrines of grace, limited atonement, tulip

Doctrines of Grace: Explaining Limited Atonement

I was listening to RC Sproul on RefNet this weekend. He was preaching John 17, the High Priestly prayer where Jesus asks to be glorified.

I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. (John 17:6)

Pastor Sproul went backwards for a moment to relate another verse in John, No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:44)

free photos

Sproul briefly explained that their church (St. Andrews Chapel) was Reformed, noting the citation on the back of their church bulletin. He said that for those who were visiting or who had not gone to the new members class yet, he outlined the Reformation in a few sentences and quickly stated the five doctrines of grace that the Reformers (beginning with Martin Luther) had stood upon. It is widely known as an acrostic that spells the name of a familiar flower T – U – L – I – P.

T — total depravity. This doesn’t mean people are as bad as they can be. It means that sin is in every part of one’s being, including the mind and will, so that a man cannot save himself.

U — unconditional election. God chooses to save people unconditionally; that is, they are not chosen on the basis of their own merit.

L — limited atonement. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross was for the purpose of saving the elect.

I — irresistible grace. When God has chosen to save someone, He will.

P — perseverance of the saints. Those people God chooses cannot lose their salvation; they will continue to believe. If they fall away, it will be only for a time. (source)

A fuller explanation of unconditional election from the same source is as follows:

The second point inescapably follows from the first: since one is born totally depraved and enslaved to sin, one’s ELECTION cannot be dependent or CONTINGENT on any spiritually worthy actions one commits. According to this point, God predestines or chooses to soften the hard, sin-enslaved hearts of certain fallen individuals and liberate them from their death not because of any merit they have but despite their demerits–i.e., He ELECTS to change their hearts (and thereby join them to Christ and His saving work) DESPITE the fact that they hate God and oppose Him and have hard hearts, not soft hearts, and have sin-enslaved wills, not free wills. Thus, believers have no reason to boast about themselves or their own actions: the only thing that differentiates them from Judas, Esau, or others who never respond in faith is that God gave them grace that He withheld from such reprobates (Calvinists cite, e.g., Ezek. 11:19-20; 36:26-27; Rom. 9:11-18; 1 Cor. 4:7; Eph. 2:8-10; cf. Jn. 1:13; 15:16; Acts 13:48; 16:14; 18:27; Phil. 2:13).

In a Q&A on RefNet after the sermon, Pastor Sproul was asked if it was “fair” that God chooses to elect some to salvation and not all.

What is “fair” is that we all deserve hell for our sins against God. Fair (justice) would be that all sinners would go to hell.

Alternately, taking the “fairness” issue to the extreme other end of the spectrum, what if God chose to elect all human beings to heaven, and none to hell? Is it fair that all humans who sinned receive a pardon? Where is the display of His justice? His wrath? His hatred of sin?

The middle road is that He elects some to heaven and some He leaves in their state of sin. Sproul posed the following question back, and I’ll paraphrase:

If God decided to save all people, pardoning all sins for all people for all time, and leaving the person himself to decide whether to ‘accept Jesus’ or not, would that include the sin of unbelief? Yes, it would. So if the sin of unbelief has been paid for by Jesus, and a person dies without having believed, is it fair to punish them in hell for their sin that Jesus paid for?

Robin Schumacher wrote an essay titled, “Unlimited or Limited Atonement?” Schumacher said, “John Owen wrote what is perhaps the most definitive work on Christ’s atonement in “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ”,

“God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for, either all the sins of all men, or all the sins of some men, or some sins of all men. If the last, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved.

… If the second, that is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world. If the first, why then are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, ‘Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.’ But this unbelief, is it a sin, or not? If not, why should they be punished for it?

If it be, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it, or not. If so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then did he not die for all their sins. Let them choose which part they will.” (page 61).

So once again, if God leaves salvation up to the individual’s choice, and they do not choose Jesus, then Jesus paid for their sins for naught, and they are paid for twice. Yet…nothing God does is imprecise. Not a drop of blood that Jesus spilled is wasted. Not a moment of punishment in hell for the unbeliever is unwarranted. God is precise, fair, and just.

Not only is God fair, because God does it, it is fair. He is the very definition of fairness, the epitome of justice.

Schumacher concludes his essay this way,

>Dr. James White speaks to the simplicity and beauty of limited atonement when he says, “In its simplest terms the Reformed belief is this: Christ’s death saves sinners. It does not make the salvation of sinners a mere possibility. It does not provide a theoretical atonement…Christ’s death saves every single person that it was intended to save.”

Calvin’s doctrines of grace are in fact an answer to Jacobus Arminius, for whom the opposing viewpoint is named, Arminianism. In Arminianism, one can lose their salvation it is not secure.

Some Arminians, however, believe that mankind has so much influence in their own salvation that their actions can cause God to revoke it. They believe we must continually reject sin and live a godly life in order to maintain our position with God. (source)

Hence RC Sproul’s wit regarding the daisy. He said,

“If you went to the new member class, you’ll know the Reformed view. But if you don’t, the acrostic flower stands for, Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the saints”. This flower differs from the Arminian flower, the DAISY. Which is, ‘He loves me, He loves me not…”

free photos

Dear friends, if you are saved, it was not your choice, but Father God through Jesus. He saved you through no merit of your own, but to glorify Jesus. No one can snatch you from His hand, and your salvation is securely sealed within you, the Spirit being the deposit of this guarantee, until the Day. Our sovereign and merciful God is the author and finisher of our faith, and He keeps us in it until the time when all men are glorified in heaven. Then as Jesus prayed in His high priestly prayer,

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:24)

O, Jesus, we long to be with You, our High Priest, too!

Further reading:

FMI: Calvinist Corner

Why I am a Calvinist, Part 1 (of 5)

What is Calvinism? Is Calvinism biblical?