Totally Depraved . . . until . . . what?

October 31, 2006

It’s dark.  It’s really dark.  In fact, you don’t even know what light is.  So, this darkness is ok.   It’s familiar.  It’s comfortable.  It’s exactly what you think the world is like.   The room you are in has no windows, no doors, no vent, not even a nail-hole in the wall.  But the floor, now that is a little different.  The floor is full of holes that you keep falling in.  Some are deep, some wide, some hot, some cold, some filled with stuff that sucks you in and some that make you wonder if you are actually in a hole or not.  There is no way to avoid the holes.  They change all the time.  Not that it matters because you can’t see anyway.   It doesn’t help to just stay in one place.   The holes open up right under you with a sigh that reminds you of a giant’s sigh of satisfaction after eating a full dinner.   Yet, hungry for more.    Then, just as you find a hole that seems pleasant, (like so many before that ended up in pain) something happens.

What happens next is what has become the CYOA version of the Bible or the Choose Your Own Adventure version.  I’m sure there are many different roads that have been taken from this point when it comes to the deciphering of God’s word, but the two that I am going to focus on are the Reformed view, and the Javarmenian view.  I make no claims to represent the Armenian view because I honestly don’t know enough about it to know if I am representing it correctly.  I am giving my view which seems to coincide with the Armenian view more than any other.    As a second disclaimer, I would like to say that the above paragraph was not intended to directly represent our sinful nature other than to try to paint a picture of total depravity.  Anything else that someone may try to read into it is not intended.   

The Calvinist finds himself in that hole that he thinks he might stay in for a while and then  —  —   —– LIGHT —–  — —  brilliant, radiant,  overwhelming light that burns your eyes and makes you want to cry, but is filled with hope and love and kindness.   Then, there is God.  He pulls you out of the hole and lifts you to himself and as you look down, you see so many other people in that cold dark room staring as if blind.  Looking around as if there was no light.  How can they not see?  You yell.  They do not hear.  You wave your hands.  They do not see.  You turn and ask God why he doesn’t save them and he says, “I did not choose them.  I chose you.”

The Javarmenian finds himself in that hole that he thinks he might stay in for a while and then – a voice – “follow the light.”  But you don’t know what light is.  For that matter, you don’t even know how to follow.  The Voice – “Follow the light.”  Then you see it.  Something so different than anything you have known.  It is a light.   As it gets brighter, you can see the hole that just a minute ago felt comfortable.  Now you see that it is full of filth and mud and things not mentionable.  You climb out of the hole and start walking toward the light.   As you walk, you notice that no holes appear in the ground along the path of the light.  As long as you stay in the light, you won’t fall in any holes.  You start to see other people walking on the path as well.  Then you notice someone start to get out of his hole to join you on the path but then look back to his hole and climb back in to his muck with a look of contentment on his face.  You wonder. . . was it really that bad in my hole?  It was comfortable enough.  It was all you knew before the light.   The voice – “follow the light.”  You look back to your hole again.  “Follow the light,”  and you turn back around to the light and there is God, holding out his hand with tears in his eyes because he knows a child has come home.  You take his hand as he leads you through a door that you never knew existed before the light.   God puts his arm around you and turns you back around to face the door you just came through and says, “I need you to shine the light for others.  Be careful that you do not succumb to the lure of your hole.  Remember, I am here with you and there is nothing on the other side of that door that can pull you through if you keep your eyes on me.”

We are utterly helpless, utterly sinfull, hopelessly lost,  totally depraved . . . until . . . the light.  Calvinists tend to say we don’t take our sin as seriously as we should.  We don’t fully acknowledge our total depravity.  I am here to say that we do.  Without the light in both scenarios, the picture is exactly the same.  Without the Light, there is absolutely nothing we can do to get out of the dark room filled with holes.  NOTHING.  You can’t get any more depraved than that.  The difference is not where we start, it is our accountablility in reaching the light.  The Calvinist paints a pretty picture, but is that what the Bible teaches? 



  1. Armenian=a nationality of a person descending from Eastern Europe
    Arminian=a follower of the theology of Jacobus Arminius who opposes the theology of Augustine on several points
    Just a little clarification! 🙂

  2. Jim,
    oops! Thanks.

  3. javaguy,

    I wanted to make a couple of comments.

    First, a true calvinist would never respond to the question “why he doesn’t save them” with, ”God did not choose them.” But rather “why will sinners not embrase salvation,” and then answer “because they want nothing to do with God.”

    Second, let me clarify for you the arminian view of depravity. Arminism teaches that their is a form of grace which flows to all men and thus makes them capable of choosing between the acceptance of faith and the rejection of faith.

    “The sinner has the power either to cooperate with God’s Spirit and be regenerated or to resist God’s grace and perish. The lost sinner needs the Spirit’s assistance, but he does not have to be regenerated by the Spirit before he can believe, for faith is man’s act and precedes the new birth. Faith is the sinner’s gift to God; it is man’s contribution to salvation.” (taken from description of Arminianism in The Five Points of Calvinism by Steele, page6)

    Calvinism on the other hand teaches that man is so entrenched in his sin that until God awakens his spirit to the truth of the gospel, he will continue to reject it. But once the Spirit of God has shown the light of the gospel into his heart, he will not reject it.

    As the Apostle Paul wrote, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Cor. 4:3-6)

    Thus the difference in envangelism perspectives is this:

    The Arminian: Since all men have the ability to choose between accepting faith and rejecting faith, all that remains is for us to persuade men that they should choose to believe. Yet what happens when all your efforts toward persuading them to believe have failed, there is no hope remaining, because there is nothing more that God can do, he cannot make them believe, it is their choice.

    The Calvinist: Since all men are natural depraved and blinded to the truth of the gospel, it remains the responsiblity of the believer to preach the gospel. So that through the preaching of the gospel (10:14-17), they may be awakened from the dead to a new life (Eph. 2:1-10). So that through the word of God, God might shine into their hearts “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ,” calling them out of darkeness into His marvelous light. And in this there is great hope, because no matter how hardened the sinner, God through the power of His gospel (Rom. 1:16) is always capable of saving them.

    In the end the real question is who is sovereign in salvation: Man or God? I guess in the end I am probably a little biased on all this, I should like God to be sovereign, because I see in myself a nature that wages war against the things of the Spirit and I know that if God does not keep me until the end that I will fall away.

    In words of the hymn, “Come thou fount of every blessing”:

    “O to grace how great a debtor
    Daily I’m constrained to be!
    Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
    Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
    Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
    Prone to leave the God I love;
    Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
    Seal it for Thy courts above.”

    I hope this is helpful,

    Justin Potts

  4. Justin,
    Thank you for your comments. Just a quick note on a couple of points, then maybe more later when I have more time. You said, “First, a true calvinist would never respond to the question “why he doesn’t save them” with, ”God did not choose them.” But rather “why will sinners not embrase salvation,” and then answer “because they want nothing to do with God.”
    I understan the difference, however, the logical question to follow would be, “why don’t they want anything to do with God?” The answer could be two-fold by the Reformed view, but the end product is the same. 1 – because they are depraved and are consumed in their sin and are unable to have anything to do with Him. 2 – because they are not chosen. The end result that ties them together is the fact that everyone is in such a state UNLESS they are chosen by God for salvation. The Calvinist may not answer the question directly like this, but when it comes down to it, that is absolutely the only difference between the sinner and the saved if you hold the Reformed view. There is no other reason that one person is saved and another is not. You have to look at what we are comparing here. We are comparing the sinner against the saved. The only difference between the two is God’s choice. If we were comparing the sinner to God or Christ, then the answer would be different, but that is not the case. I hope you realize that I enjoy this discussion and I am not trying to slander anyone. I hope you continue to give me your thoughts.

    The only other thing I would like to mention is that I THINK you were quoting a Reformed book to explain an Arminian view. I think to be fair to Arminianism, any quote used to describe their view and presented as fact should be made from an Arminian author. I have observed authors on both sides slant words just barely enough to give a slightly negative cast on the other view without really changing the meaning of the statement, just the attitude of it. But attitude is enough to make a difference. I wish I had some reference to quote to give the Armninian view from their mouths, but I don’t.

    Thank you again Justin. I may address more later.


  5. Justin,
    Short response #2
    You quoted 2Corinthians 4:3-6 above. If you keep reading that passage, it goes on to say in vs. 17,

    “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

    It seems to say that what we are doing here on earth is actually “achieving” eternal glory. How can anything we do on earth “achieve” anything eternal in the Reformed view? Maybe I am misunderstanding the Reformed view, but I thought eternity had nothing to do with what we do here on earth.

  6. Javaguy,

    Lest we should be mixing words and wasting time, let me lay out the reformed (Calvinistic) understanding of Scripture as I understand it.

    1) Total Depravity: The scriptures teach that all men are dead in their sins (Eph 2:1-3), that their is no one who does good and no one who seeks for God (Rom. 3:9-18), that they are blinded to the truth of the gospel (2 Cor. 4:3-6), and that they are enslaved in their sin (Rom. 6)

    2) Unconditional Election: The scriptures teach that God has predestined some to salvation (Eph. 1:3-14, Rom. 8:28-30). That the basis for God’s predestination and choosing lies in His own cousel (Eph 1:11) and His own choice (Rom. 9:9-16). God’s choice “does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16)

    3)Limited Atonement or Particular Redeption: The scriptures teach that Christ died “that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). That Christ died “so that he would be the just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:16). Thus while Christ’s death is sufficient for the redemption of all humanity it only applied to those who believe. That those who are united with Christ in the likeness of His death are also raised with Him into newness of life (Rom. 6, Eph. 2:4-10)

    4) Irresistible Grace (or efficacious grace): The scripture teaches that while their is a general call that preachers may issue to all men (Rom. 10:14-15). There is an effectual call that God issues through His word through those whom he has choosen that will result in their justification(Rom. 8:28-30). And since justification is grace through faith the call will be accompanied by the gift of faith (Eph 2:8-9). Thus when God opens a person’s eyes to the truth (2 Cor. 4:3-6) and causes them to be born again by the Spirit (John 3), they cannot help but believe in their heart that God rasied Christ from the dead and profess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Rom. 10:8-10)

    5) Perseverence of the Saints: The scripture teaches that “having also believed, you were sealed in him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritence, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the prais of His glory” (Eph. 1:13-14). That “the Lord knows how to keep the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous for the day of nder punishment for the day of judgment” (2 Pe. 2:9). That God is “able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory with great joy” (Jude 24). But what of those who profess faith and then “suffer shipwreck in regard to faith” (1 Tim. 1:19)? John tells us that “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (1 Jn 2:19).

    I hope that helps you to understand where I am coming from, and hopefully will serve as a spring board for further conversation.

  7. Javaguy,

    Also in reguard to 2 Cor. 4:17. That verse is pretty much useless if you don’t believe in the perseverance of the saints. There is no assurance that anything is being achieved in the midst of affliction, if Christ will not perserve His people until the end. An Arminan would have to admit that while you may endure a trial or affliction now, later you may “give” up your faith and therefore recieve only judgment in the end.

    It is interesting to take note that the building of character by perseverence in trials is seen by the new testiment authors as evidence of a genuine work of grace (Rom. 5:1-5; James 1:2-4,12; 1 Pe. 1:6-9; 2 Pe. 1:2-11).

  8. Justin,

    Thank you for the five points of Calvinism. It will be helpful to have them available. As to your comment on the Corinthians verse, it actually does apply even without believeing in the preservation of saints. The passage says, “achieving” not achieved. This indicates an on-going, unfinished work, not something that has already been decided. Had it said “achieved” I would have to agree with you. This demonstrates yet another instance where the scripture leaves salvation open for an “if.” As I have discussed this topic with various people on the Irish Calvinists’ site,(www.irishcalvinist.com) I have come to understand how the Bible can be understood from the Reformed view. It all makes sense and can be backed up by scripture. It isn’t the reasoning or even the theology that I disagree with, it is the fundamental view that casts a different slant on the Bible that I disagree with. It would be like viewing the world through sunglasses. Everything has it’s own distinct color and makes sense to the person wearing the glasses, but when viewed without the glasses, a different image and color-scheme becomes clear. I believe that this is why this debate has been so big and unresolveable and why so many people change from one view to another, both ways. Reason really plays little part in this debate. It is only when a person can objectively look at both sides of the debate without bias that a true understanding can happen. Unfortunately for us, that is humanly very hard to do. This is also why I honestly believe that God won’t judge a person’s soul based on whether they are Reformed or not. I think God can see beyond this issue and look to the heart of the matter in each person’s soul and judge them accordingly. This is also why I go to great length to make it clear that I am not here to condemn anyone for their beliefs. My objective is to understand better what the Bible says and to have fruitful discussion rather than become obsessed with proving that I am right. I think there are too many people out there looking for a fight that they think they can win and let that obsession overpower the real objective that we as Christians, regardless of how they are Formed, should be focusing on. I have been extreemly fortunate to find Pastor Eriks’ blog and all the people who are willing to discuss this issue with me without condemning me. Thank you for your willingness to continue to discuss this with me.

    In reference to “evidence of a genuine work of grace,” that is exactly what I believe it is as well, a WORK of grace. Ongoing, continuing, growing. I think I know what your response to this will be, but I don’t want to make assumptions or put words in your mouth, so I will let you say it before responding.

  9. My main concern is that you view God’s grace as insufficient to complete the work that it begins. So I would pose a couple of questions for you:

    1)Can a person be unregenrated and still be saved?

    2)Can someone born of the Spirit, be unborn?

    3)Does a profession of faith = salvation?

    4)And here is an interesting one: Does being born of the Spirit cause me to believe? Or does my believing cause me to be born of the Spirit?

  10. Justin,
    I, in no way, view God’s grace as insuficient to complete the work that begins. It is not God who is insufficient, it is us. We can “drift away,” “lose faith,” etc. Romans 10-” 22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.

    23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.” It says “continue in his kindness.” We couldn’t continue in something we are not in to begin with. And none of this dimishes the power of God’s grace. It just exemplifies our weakness.

    So, question 1 – where do you find “regenerate” in the Bible? That is a term used by Calvinists that adds an element to salvation that is not in the Bible.

    question 2 – I wouldn’t say “unborn” but maybe die. I would reference that passage from Romans here.

    question 3 – No. Anyone can “profess” faith. Only God and an individual can know for certain if that individual is saved.

    question 4 – I can’t think of where there is any Biblical reference talking about being born of the Spirit causing us to believe. They are both a part of salvation, but not necessarily caused by eachother.

  11. In response to your responses:

    question 1 – “Regeneration” is in deed a term not used in scripture, much like “Trinity.” When a Calvinist uses the term “regeneration” they are refering to that work of the Spirit by which men are born again, by which they become a new creature in Christ. (John 3, 2 Cor. 5:17, 1 Pe. 1:23)

    question 2 – How do you reconcile that in light of Romans 8:29-30? Is it really possible for someone to recieve grace (be justified) and then later lose it?

    question 3 – I can concur with this statement as long as we keep in mind that our own hearts are decietful (Jer. 17:9).

    question 4 – This ultimately is the difference between Arminianism and Calvism (in my opnion).

    “But there is an undeniable difference between the Calvinists and Arminians, with regard to the three other questions. Here they divide; the former believe absolute, the latter only conditional, predestination. The Calvinists hold, (1.) God has absolutely decreed, from all eternity, to save such and such persons, and no others; and that Christ died for these, and none else. The Arminians hold, God has decreed, from all eternity, touching all that have the written word, “He that believeth shall be saved: He that believeth not, shall be condemned:” And in order to this, “Christ died for all, all that were dead in trespasses and sins;” that is, for every child of Adam, since “in Adam all died.” (John Wesley, posted on http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umhistory/wesley/arminian/)

    The implication in the order of salvation seems pretty obvious. God has granted faith as a gift to those whom he has predestined (Eph. 1:5, 2:8) as a means of their salvation, and that predestination is conditioned upon the truth that “He has mercy upon whom He has mercy and compassion upon whom He has compassion” (Rom. 9:15-24). In short, God shines the light of the gospel into the heart and the man responds in faith (2 Cor 4:3-6), which I would see as being born again causing faith. Faith is conditioned upon the work of the Spirit.

    Or God’s choice (predestination) is conditioned upon the man who believes. And is dependent upon man’s choice, his believing (Rom. 9:16). Or the man believes and then the Spirit produces the new birth. The work of the Spirit is conditioned upon faith.

  12. I won’t jump into this discussion substantively, because I’m not sure what point there is when two people are thoroughly convinced of their own positions — I say let’s all just praise God for fellow believers…and also that God has not placed conditions on our salvation like “thou shalt have thy theology perfected in order to be saved”.

    I just wanted to mention, since you (javaguy) asked about books on Arminianism, the excellent book by Robert Picirilli: Grace, Faith, Free Will. I think it’s a highly commendable book. I won’t say any more here about it, but if you look it up on Amazon I wrote a review there (as have others).

    Looking forward to true Christian unity in heaven…and to having it explained to us how our minds were just too puny to see just how little we really understood on earth.

  13. Jennifer,
    Thank you so much for your wise words. I have actually been very occupied with another site and haven’t had much time to update my own lately. Let me just say that through discussion elsewhere, I have taken a little different stance than the one I have laid out here. No, I haven’t become Calvinist, I just have a much broader understanding of what being a Christian means. I fully intend to write something here to explain more, but at the moment, I don’t have time. Thank you for the book reference and I sincerely hope you check back once in a while to give your thoughts on what I write.

  14. What’s the other site? I’d love to look at it. Cruel of you to mention it and not provide a link!


  15. Sorry! I’m still a little web-illiterate and don’t know for sure if I know how to create a link. I will give it a try. http://www.irishcalvinist.com/?p=549#comment-1495
    We’ll see if that worked. Anyway, This is the blog entry that I have most recently had discussion on. There is much more on some of his other entries, but this one demonstrates my latest thought process and discussion with people. Enjoy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: