Why I Am a Five-Point Calvinist: Total Depravity

Dead Tulips.jpg

One of the worst “theological solutions” of all time was the idea to warp the Doctrines of Grace into the acronym TULIP.  The “U”, “I”, and “P” fit nicely, but the “T” and “L” are extremely misleading.  This has led to the development of several ideas known as “four-point Calvinism”, “Amyraldism”, or “Hypothetical Universalism”.  Even so, these five points are what I will be explaining this week.

Total Depravity (Complete Defilement and Total Inability)

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

-Isaiah 64:6

The “T” in TULIP stands for “Total Depravity”.  This phrase is extremely misleading, because it makes it sound as though we believe that all people are as bad as they possibly could be.  That is simply not true, because even the unsaved accomplish stuff that is good.  A better way to word this concept would be “Total Inability” or “Complete Defilement”.  Total Inability means that we are so sinful that we cannot come to God on our own, and we would not come to God on our own even if we could.  Complete Defilement means that every part of our being is tainted with sin.

Complete Defilement

First, let us focus on the idea of Complete Defilement.  Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”  Crossway’s ESV Study Bible equates the phrase “desperately sick” with the idea of the natural man’s heart being “medically incurable”.  Nothing in this natural world can cure our defilement, our disease, our sin.

Titus 1:15 & 16 say, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.  They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works.  They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.”

The human heart is full of evil (Ecclesiastes 9:3), hardened (Ephesians 4:18), the source of all types of impurities (Matthew 15:19-20; Mark 7:21-23), of little value (Proverbs 10:20), fleshly (Ezekiel 11:19-20), made of stone (Ezekiel 36:26-27), and fully set to do evil (Ecclesiastes 8:11).  The human mind is debased (Romans 1:28), futile, darkened, ignorant (Ephesians 4:17-18), stupid (Jeremiah 10:14), and hostile to God (Romans 8:7).  It is no surprise then, that Solomon writes in Proverbs 28:26, “Whoever trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.”

Complete defilement also includes slavery to sin.  In John 8:24 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”  In Titus 3:3, Paul says that they (Christians) were once “slaves to various passions and pleasures” among other things.  A similar, but straightforward passage is Galatians 4:8-9, “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?”  For the most thorough and direct passage on slavery to sin, see Romans 6.

Complete defilement also corrupts our desires.  We are told in Scripture to rejoice in the Lord (Philippians 4:4) and that there are pleasures in God’s presence (Psalm 16:11).  The desire for pleasure is not wrong in and of itself, but our complete defilement leads us to pursue non-godly pleasures and even ungodly pleasures.  Natural men love darkness rather than light because their works are evil (John 3:19), their will is to do the desires of the devil (John 8:44), and their souls desire evil (Proverbs 21:10).  If we consider the account of the fall in Genesis 3, we will notice that the very first sin committed by our race was a perversion of desire.  It was desiring the fruit of the tree over the approval of God.  Our complete defilement not only produces a perversion of desires, but it is rooted in a perversion of desires.

No one is excepted from complete defilement except Jesus Himself.  Paul cites Psalm 14:1-3 when he says in Romans 3:10-18, “As it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’  ‘Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.’  ‘The venom of asps is under their lips.’  ‘Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.’  ‘Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.’  ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’”  In fact, Romans 1-3 is dedicated to showing the complete defilement of all people, both Jews and Gentiles.

Total Inability

As a result of our complete defilement, we cannot go to God on our own.  In fact, we would not go to God on our own even if we could!  We are both totally unable by nature and totally unable by will.

First, let us consider our total inability by will.  Romans 8:7 states that the fleshly mind is hostile to God.  John 3:20 says, “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”  The natural man hates the light, because the natural man is completely defiled and loves its defilement.  It is interesting to note that Jesus claimed to be the Light in John’s gospel multiple times (John 8:12; 9:5; 12:46).  The natural man is totally unable to come to Him, because the natural man hates the Light.  Another passage that covers our total inability by will is Romans 1:28-32.

Now, let us consider our total inability by nature.  Romans 8:7-8 says, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”  1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”  John the Baptist said in John 3:27, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.”  From these references and many others, we can conclude that the natural man cannot go to God for salvation without Divine intervention.

Several analogies are used for salvation throughout the Scriptures.  Ephesians 2:1 compares our natural condition to death.  When was the last time you heard about a dead man choosing to come back to life?  Did he get a new boost of confidence and decide one day to get his heart beating again?  Did he regret the decision to stop the life support and hook it back up himself?  Did he decide he did not like being buried as much as he thought he would and dig himself out?  This may sound absolutely ridiculous, but millions of people believe the same thing happens spiritually!  Consider these questions as well:

  • Did the lost coin decide to roll its way back to its owner? (Luke 15:8-10)
  • Do blind people unblind themselves? (2 Corinthians 4:4)
  • Can a child decide to be born? (John 3:3-8)

We have seen that the natural man is both completely defiled by sin and totally unable to go to God without Divine assistance.  What hope do we have then?  1 Corinthians 12:3 says, “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”  John 6:44 says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.  And I will raise him up on the last day.”  Thank God for the “unless”!

Over the course of this week, I will be releasing articles on the Doctrines of Grace (aka the Five Points of Calvinism).  This is not meant to cause division, but rather to give a clearer understanding on these doctrines.  If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, either leave them below or email us at simpledifficulttruths@gmail.com.  Follow to get our articles in your inbox!

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6 thoughts on “Why I Am a Five-Point Calvinist: Total Depravity

  1. It really is amazing that Christianity has been sliced and diced into literally thousands and thousands of denominations in the past 500 hundred years. Are your essays on this going to help any?

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    1. “This is not meant to cause division, but rather to give a clearer understanding of these doctrines.”

      In all honesty, these are not Calvin’s doctrines. These beliefs have been clearly held since Saint Augustine. Yes, we are to strive for the unity Jesus prayed for in John 17, but pure doctrine should never be sacrificed to that end.

      Also, notice that prescription is never mandated in these essays. Take them or leave them. They are here to provide for better understanding of these doctrines.

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