I want to start this out with a recommendation. I’m sure many have heard of something called the cage stage. This is something many people go through after coming to a new ideological realization. Whether that’s becoming a new believer, recently adopting the doctrines of grace, or changing a political stance that was once long held. Shortly after that new view “clicks” in your head, there’s this desire to very zealously share it with everyone you know so that they can see this new truth, too! I remember when I first became reformed and it felt like this invigorating energy. I excitedly consumed as much theological content as I possibly could because I wanted to know everything. I’m still like that, too, but I am very glad that I was at a church that was very anti Calvinism when I became reformed because by the time I got to my first PCA, I was much much calmer after feeling very restricted in what I could say.
But normally, people embrace the doctrines of grace and then it’s full speed ahead. Everyone around you is now a heretic if they don’t agree with you and there’s this constant barrage of questions, “is this okay? What about that teacher? How do I know if this is a sin because the people I go to church say it is, but I’m not sure I trust them anymore.”
I know most here already hold to the doctrines of grace and I hope this week encourages you. If you come to adopt the doctrines of grace through this group or these posts, I want to say loud and clear that people who don’t believe the doctrines of grace, but do hold to other core doctrines of the faith as outlined in the creeds are saved. We have a great big cloud of witnesses that do not agree with us on everything and that is totally okay. You are not “converting to Calvinism,” you are not “coming to the reformed faith.” Reformed theology is part of Christianity and while it is an important doctrine that touches every aspect of our faith, it is not our faith.
All of this to say, I recently listened to a book on Audible by J. A. Medders called Humble Calvinism. This is a book that should be mandatory reading for all Calvinists, especially new Calvinists. It is a very encouraging overview of the doctrines of grace and shows how, in light of these truths, Calvinists should be the most humble of all Christians. I’ve got it linked below in case you’d like to listen on Audible, it is definitely worth the time.
What is it?
Total depravity is both a difficult and easy pill to swallow. If you’ve ever been for a drive and have had someone cut you off, it’s easy to see the selfishness and corruption of man in that moment. In a way, it’s always easy to see that when you’re looking at someone else. But let’s look at scripture for a moment. In Psalm 51, King David was repenting of the sin of sleeping with Bathsheeba and killing Uriah, lying about it, and basically breaking almost every commandment. In that broken state, he says to the Lord, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” And this was a man who is known to be a man after God’s own heart.
So, to give a more clear definition (rather than an illustration), total depravity is the doctrine that people who are dead in their sins are totally unable to make themselves alive in Christ. In other words, we cannot save ourselves. In the words of RC Sproul, “we are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners.”
Pastor Jeff Godwin of Northside PCA in Melbourne, FL explained it in Northside’s new members class using the illustration of someone falling face down into a pool and drowning. If you’re face down, you can’t see, and you don’t know which way is up, you can’t get out of the water and to safety. But take heart, God himself is able to pull you out of the darkness and bring you to life. He takes our hearts of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh in an act that’s called regeneration.
But what about free will?
The Arminian Counterpoint is the doctrine of human free will. This is the belief that though man is fallen, he is not incapacitated by the sinful nature and can still freely choose God. Since the time of Jacobus Arminius, there has come a variety of beliefs that are accepted within Arminian circles, even further than that, the options are not just Calvinism and Arminianism, but there is a plethora of soteriological beliefs that I may discuss in the group later on, if there is enough interest.
On the other half of Pastor Jeff’s illustration, he explains free will as God reaching out to grab you in the water and you grab his arm back.
Reformed Christians don’t believe this because of the scriptural support, but also beckoning back to Saturday’s piece on Sola Gratia. If our salvation is because we are able to reach out to God while still dead, that means that we’re also able to maintain our salvation by continuing to hold on to God. Whereas, in reformed theology, we emphasize God’s sovereignty over all aspects of existence. This means that God is sufficient to start and complete a good work in us (Philippians 1:6). Does this mean we are without responsibility for our actions in life? No, but it does mean that the sins we do commit can be forgiven upon repentance and that God is still working in us so that we are truly saved by grace.
Scriptural Support for Total Depravity:
- Romans 5:1, 9:7, 12, 16; 6:23; 14:23
- John 6:44, 33
- Ephesians 2:1-6
- 1 Corinthians 15:22
- Jeremiah 17:9
John Calvin Speaks About it in the Institutes:
- Book 2, Ch 1, pg 8-9
- Book 2, Ch 3, pg 6-7
More Resources to Learn
- Canons of Dort Heads 3 and 4 https://bit.ly/2StPAdI
- The Presbyterian Reformed Church outline of Total Depravity https://bit.ly/34qokCz
- Ligonier resources on Total Depravity https://bit.ly/33xrxkz
- Monergism resources https://bit.ly/33yIDhM
- Simply Put podcast https://apple.co/30xDWCO
- Doctrine and Devotion podcast https://apple.co/2StgsdH
- A Puritan’s Mind https://bit.ly/33zPdVr