f The Wittenberg Door: Total Depravity – Questions and Answers

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Total Depravity – Questions and Answers

One of the most contentious topics in the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism is the pravity of man: Is man spiritually dead, as the Calvinist claim? Or is he simply morally ill or spiritually impoverished, as posited by the Arminians?

In parts four and five of my series Who is Sovereign in Salvation¸ I provide an overview of both positions while making a positive case for Total Depravity. In response, Mark of Moros Theos – The Foolishness of God, and a helment of Comba(t)ing the Doctrines of Grace, posed questions (summarized below) regarding the Calvinist position. In this post I’ll attempt to answer these questions.

Total Depravity: A Definition

In the third chapter of Genesis we read of our first parents’ sin. Because Adam represented us as our federal head, we all sinned in him (Rom. 5:12–19). The resulting corruption is passed on to us all, and its extent is total—every aspect of our being has been affected:

  • Our heart (emotions and affections)—Rom.1:24–27; 1 Tim. 6:10; 2 Tim. 3:4

  • Our mind (thoughts and understanding)—Gen. 6:5; 1 Cor. 1:21; Eph. 4:17

  • Our will (constitution and moral vitality)—John 8:34; Rom 7:14–24; Eph.2:1–3; 2 Pet. 2:19

Furthermore, Scripture teaches that Adam’s sin brought spiritual death to us all (Gen. 2:16–17, 3:1–7; John 11:24-26; Rom. 5:12; Eph. 2:1–3; Col. 2:13). As a result, men are spiritually deaf, blind, and completely corrupted (Ecc. 9:3; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 8:7–8; 1 Cor. 2:14); also, men are slaves of sin (John. 8:34; Rom. 6:20; Tit. 3:3) and children of the devil (Eph. 2:1–2; 2 Tim. 2:25–26; 1 John 3:10).

THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS,
THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD;
ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS;
THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD,
THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE."

(Rom. 3:10–12)

Because of this corrupted state, man is dead in his sins and in complete and utter rebellion against God. His only hope is a sovereign act of God’s Mercy: he must be made a new creation (Gal. 6:15; Eph. 2:10; 1 Cor. 5:17–18), to have his nature renewed (Due. 30:6; Ezk. 36:26–2; 1 Pet. 1:3)—to be brought to life by the Spirit (John 5:21; Eph. 2:1, 5; Col. 2:13) and granted repentance (Acts. 11:18, 16:14; Phil. 1:29; 2 Tim. 2:25–26).

How do you know when you've/someone else has been made alive?

When someone is granted repentance, he goes from being a rebel to being a servant, from being a slave to sin to being a slave to God (Rom. 6:21–22). Furthermore, now that he has new disposition towards God, his life is characterized by thankfulness and service unto the Lord (Rom. 6:1-14; Eph. 2:10; Phil. 2:13).

What's the difference between “dead in sin" (Eph 2:1) and "dead to sin" (Rom 6,2)?

The first refers to our spiritual condition, as described in the Total Depravity definition above. The second refers to the believer being released from sin’s bondage (i.e., sin is no longer our master).

Why does such an equation of "spiritual death" = "physical death" have to be made? Why does the spiritual dead man have to be compared to a physical dead corpse?

Calvinists are quick to point out that "world" does not always mean "world", and that "all" does not always mean "all". But "dead" must always mean "dead"? Why?

What else could it mean? Consider Col. 2:13:

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions

If “death” doesn’t mean death, then “alive” doesn’t mean alive. All throughout Scripture we find life and death contrasted. But if “life” doesn’t mean life and “death” doesn’t mean death, then the scarlet thread of redemption that runs through Scripture becomes unintelligible, and passages such as these become meaningless.

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