By Spencer D Gear PhD
According to John 8:34 (NLT): Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin”. Does that make all people are sinners who have no other option but to sin?
Can that mean all are totally depraved if we understand total depravity as the spiritual condition of all fallen human beings?
While often misunderstood, the doctrine of total depravity is an acknowledgement that the Bible teaches that as a result of the fall of man (Genesis 3:6) every part of man—his mind, will, emotions and flesh—have been corrupted by sin. In other words, sin affects all areas of our being including who we are and what we do. It penetrates to the very core of our being so that everything is tainted by sin and “…all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” before a holy God (Isaiah 64:6). It acknowledges that the Bible teaches that we sin because we are sinners by nature. Or, as Jesus says, “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.” (Matthew 7:17-18).?
The total depravity of man is seen throughout the Bible. Man’s heart is “deceitful and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9) [Got Questions?]?
Is it sound biblical teaching to state that all human beings are contaminated by sin and because of the inner being (heart) of a person, wicked things are said and done – sins are committed?
If this is true, how would you communicate it to a non-Christian who asks: ‘What can be done about the crime and violence in my country?’
You can check this online at aJmartiva.
I have no idea why the Greek hamartia has been transliterated as aJmartina on this Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich lexicon (BAG) website.
Hamartia (sin) cannot be defined simply as this lexicon demonstrates. It means:
1. Actions and results that depart from the way of justice towards God and human beings (Gen 50:17; 1 Jn 5:17, ‘Every wrong thing we do is sin. But there are sins that do not lead to death’, NIRV).
There are many sub-headings under this category that include, fill up the measure of sins; let go = forgive sins; confess your sins to each other, etc.
2. In John’s usage, it means ‘a condition or characteristic quality and is opposed to truth’ (Jn 9:41; 15:24; 1 Jn 1:8).
3. ‘Paul thinks of sin almost in personal terms … as a ruling power’ (Rom 5:12). Everything is subject to sin (Gal 3:22); people serve it (Rom 6:6); are sold into its service (Rom 7:14); and Jesus is a sin-offering for sin (2 Cor 5:21).
4. In Hebrews (as in OT), ‘sin appears as the power that deceives [human beings] and leads them to destruction, whose influence and activity can be ended only by sacrifices (Heb 2:17; 3:13; 9:23ff; 10:18).
5. Special sins: that lead to death (1 Jn 5:16); a great sin (Gen 20:9);
So, my simple definition of total depravity, total inability is:
All human beings do wrong things against God’s standards and harm other people. This condition affects every person and it is opposed to truth. It is the ruling power in every aspect of all people: body, soul, spirit, mind, heart, and conscience.
To cure this condition, it required Jesus’ paying for the sins of all people by dying for them.
Both Calvinists AND Arminians believe in Total Depravity of all human beings. This is what Arminius wrote:
VII. In this state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace. For Christ has said, “Without me ye can do nothing.” St. Augustine, after having diligently meditated upon each word in this passage, speaks thus: “Christ does not say, without me ye can do but Little; neither does He say, without me ye can do any Arduous Thing, nor without me ye can do it with difficulty. But he says, without me ye can do Nothing! Nor does he say, without me ye cannot complete any thing; but without me ye can do Nothing.” That this may be made more manifestly to appear, we will separately consider the mind, the affections or will, and the capability, as contra-distinguished from them, as well as the life itself of an unregenerate man (Arminius 1977:525-526).
This quote is taken from my article: Do Arminians believe in election and total depravity?
Calvinism on total depravity
The late R C Sproul was teaching TULIP to a college level class of about 30. He explained the doctrine of total depravity (T)
showing them that sin is not simply tangential to our existence. Sin is not the blemish on our exterior; sin penetrates to the very core of our humanity, despoiling us in body, mind, and will and rendering us in a state of moral inability. So much so are we captivated by this bondage to sin that we no longer have within us the moral capacity to incline ourselves to the things of God. I labored over all that for the college students, and at the end of the discussion on total depravity, I asked for a show of hands as to how many were persuaded of this doctrine.
There was no hesitation; every hand went up. On the top left corner of the blackboard I wrote the number 30, and then wrote a message to the janitor: “Please do not erase.”
Class resumed the following Monday, at which time I started on the U of TULIP, unconditional election. When I got through and asked how many agreed with it, there was quite a bit of attrition. Once you get to L, limited atonement, there was wholesale abandonment of their convictions. I said to them, “It’s QED (quod erat demonstrandum); it is automatic. If you understand the doctrine of total depravity, you would have to believe in unconditional election or limited atonement even if the Bible didn’t teach it. If you do not believe in irresistible grace, you would have to assume it once you understand the nature of the fallen condition” (Sproul, Imputation: Romans 5:12-17)
Nice trick to play on College students Dr Sproul
I hope adults are wiser and have more biblical knowledge to know that TULIP critique is found in the Bible. Sproul has failed to mount a convincing case for total depravity for these reasons:
Flaws in Total Depravity
The Bible teaches the depravity of the human heart (Jer 17:9 NIV). However, nowhere does it teach total inability. How do I know? The Bible tells me so. John 5:40 states, “
This issue is not a matter of whether a person can come to Christ. It concerns the will. Will you come?
Jesus wept over Jerusalem, saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matt 23:37 NIV)
Take note of the last verse of the Bible, Rev 22:17, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” We all can accept the “free gift of the water of life.”
It is not a matter of you are in and you are out but all have the offer to “come.”
D. L. Moody addressed a large group of skeptics. He said, “I want to talk about the word BELIEVE, the word RECEIVE, and the word TAKE.” When Mr. Moody had finished his sermon, he asked, “Now who will come and take Christ as Saviour?” One man stood and said, “I can’t.”
Mr. Moody wept and said, “Don’t say, ‘I can’t.’ Say, ‘I won’t’!”
And, the man said, “Then, I won’t!” But, another man said, “I will!” Then, another said, “I will!” And, another said, “I will!” Until scores came to trust Christ as Saviour (Hutson n.d.)
Some Calvinists object, using John 6:44 as the stumbling block: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
They need to read further to John 12:32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” That happened at the cross and his ascension. So, all people are drawn to Christ. Why don’t they accept and come? For the reasons stated above: “You were not willing.” Free will is critical to life’s response to Jesus.
See my article: What is the nature of human free will?
Calvinists, free will and a better alternative
Creation calls every sinner. See Rom 1:19-20, “Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
Conscience calls all people. See Rom 2:11-16 (NIV),
11 For God does not show favouritism.
12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
Defects in Unconditional Election
John Calvin wrote:
Not all men are created with similar destiny but eternal life is foreordained for some, and eternal damnation for others. Every man, therefore, being created for one or the other of these ends, we say, he is predestined either to life or to death (Calvin Bk III, ch 23)
Calvin left no doubt. Some people are predestined to heaven while others are foreordained to eternal damnation.
I find this to be a damnable doctrine that discriminates against certain people – with eternal consequences.
I have often said, “Did it ever occur to you that nothing ever occurred to God?” God in His foreknowledge knows who will trust Jesus Christ as Saviour, and He has predestined to see that they are justified and glorified. He will keep all those who trust Him and see that they are glorified. But, the doctrine that God elected some men to Hell, that they were born to be damned by God’s own choice, is a radical heresy not taught anywhere in the Bible.
We know this is the case because of the statement in 1 Peter 1:1-2,
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To God’s elect, exiles, scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
Christians are chosen, according to God’s foreknowledge “to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood.” Notice it does not say this election is to eternal life or eternal damnation but “to be obedient to Jesus Christ.
Another verse that promotes election, based on foreknowledge is Rom 8:28-30:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
This is predestination, based on foreknowledge, but it is predestination “to be conformed to the image of his Son.
Calvinists love to cherry-pick portions of some verses:
Mr Hutson introduced me to Vic Lockman, a Calvinist, who wrote a book, TULIP, in which he promoted that theology by quoting these verses:
He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world…” (Eph 1:4) but he did not quote the entire verse which reads: “”According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.”
The verse has nothing to do with eternal salvation or damnation but election to “be holy and without blame before Him in love.” It is an abomination to see what this Calvinist has done with this verse. He does it again with this verse:
Lockman quoted John 15:6, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you…” He has played the shortcut trick by cutting the verse in two. The whole verse reads, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.”
Again, this verse has nothing to do with eternal salvation or eternal damnation but chosen to “bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.”
This is God’s will:
Second Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
Surely this is one of the toughest verses for Calvinists to avoid! See my article, How a Calvinist can distort the meaning of 2 Peter 3:9.
John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.”
It’s important to note that “believes” and “has” are both present tense verbs. “Whoever continues to reject” and “God’s wrath continues to remain.” The meaning is that of continuous action. The interpretation is: “Whoever continues to believe in the Son continues to have eternal life.” If you continue to reject the Son, God’s wrath continues to remain on you.
The most balanced view of the Calvinist vs Arminian debate I have read is by the late Norman Geisler: Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election, 2nd ed.
See also my articles:
Sproul damns Arminianism by association with semi-Pelagianism
Is any flavor of Arminianism promoting error?
Salvation is a work of God and human beings: More misinformation about Arminianism
Do Arminians believe in election and total depravity?
Sent to hell by God: Calvinism in action?
This was a false charge against Arminians: ‘God does not hate’
Controversies over John 10:28 and once saved always saved (OSAS)
Blatant misrepresentation of Arminians by Calvinists
This was a false charge against Arminians: ‘God does not hate’
Stutters on the stairway: Arminianism vs Calvinism (eternal security)
Some Calvinistic antagonism towards Arminians
An Arminian view of faith in Christ
Arminius, J. 1977. The writings of James Arminius, vol. 1, Public disputations of Arminius, Disputation 11 (On the free will of man and its powers), 523-531. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House. Available at: Works of James Arminius, Vol. 1 – Christian Classics Ethereal Library (Accessed 8 October 2018).
Calvin, John Institutes of the Christian Religion, Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
Geisler, Norman 2001. Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election, 2nd ed. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.
Hutson, Curtis n.d. “Why I Disagree with All Five Points of Calvinism.”
 The rebuttal is based on points made by Hutson (n.d.).
 Or, exalted.
 Insights from Hutson (n.d.)
Copyright © 2021 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 07 October 2021.