Precisely nine years ago I embraced the doctrines of Grace (also called 5-point Calvinism). It was a chaotic time, where both the tearing down of my old theology and the construction of this new theology were taking place simultaneously in my mind and spirit. To complicate matters, an old friend, who had faithfully attended my weekly bible study for college students, came to my office one day and begged me to start up a new study group. She had come to a difficult point in her life and had a deep hunger for someone to bring her the Word. I had sympathy for her, but didn’t feel I was in any position to teach.
First, I could no longer teach much of what I had in the past. Many of those doctrines, like a house built on shifting sand, laid in a collapsed heap. I was in the process of bulldozing those aberrant beliefs right off my intellectual property. Second, I still did not know enough about Calvinism to be confident enough to teach it. Third, I still had not resolved all the points of Calvinism in my heart and mind yet. I readily accepted the T, the U, and the I but I wasn’t so sure about the L and the P. Odd, I know, if the U then the P should follow, right? I’ve never said I was the sharpest knife in the drawer!
Anyway, against my better judgment, I plunged ahead with the study and presented my understanding of sovereign salvation to that small audience. It all worked out for the good, though. The class constantly presented challenges that helped to sharpen me. In the end though, only one person from the group came to believe in the doctrines of Grace. She came to visit me in my office one afternoon last year and I asked her pointedly, “have you become convinced that Calvinism is true?” My friend gave me an unforgettable reply. In a humble and almost broken-hearted tone, she said, “Yes it has to be true, because I know my own heart.”
What did my friend mean by this? She is talking about the biblical doctrine of Total Depravity. The prophet Jeremiah sums it up succinctly with his observation that, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9) Moses recorded that “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen 6:5) Paul wrote, “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.” Rom 8:7) Jesus taught, “No one comes to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (Jn 6:44)
In other words, the T in the TULIP is readily apparent, derived not only from the scriptures but by observation and experience. I witness its fruit everyday with the perplexing thought processes of my mind and the inner workings of my heart. Darkened thoughts rise up and vain imaginings spring into existence and if not cast down, evil deeds will follow. And this from a man who has been given a new heart! I am being transformed by the renewing of my mind daily, but this process of becoming holy is a slow one, progressing only by the Grace of God that strengthens me in my weakness. If my heart contains iniquity even now, in a state of grace and renewal, how wicked a heart did I have before conversion?
Allow me to demonstrate just how corrupt a heart I had.
I had a knowledge of God, but never gave him the glory and honor he is due. I could list all 10 commandments, but never cared to obey any of them. I understood the way of salvation, but only offered him lip service in exchange for a fire-free future. I did not seek Him, yet claimed to possess him. I understood his character and nature in an intellectual sense, yet I molded him into my image. I had heard of his great love, but spurned it. I was warned of His coming wrath, but convinced myself it wasn’t aimed at me. I understood that he loved righteousness, yet I despised it. I knew he hated the wicked, but I was basically a good person. God demanded that I turn from sin, but I kept my course steady. God said that I have become worthless, yet I esteemed myself highly. The Lord proclaimed that without him I can do nothing, yet I set my heart to do all things without his help. He declared that without faith it is impossible to please him, but I thought my good deeds would make Him smile. God created me to sing his praises, but I uttered curses instead. I believed Jesus to be the Prince of Peace, yet I did not know the way of peace. The Scriptures demand that I fear God, but for 23 years I had no fear of him before my eyes. God commands for all to repent and believe the Gospel, but I was not willing to do the former nor able to obey the latter.
I followed the lusts of my own heart without any sense of guilt for my first 17 years. One day during m Jr. year in high school, as I browsed through the merchandise at my local Wal-Mart I came across a Chick tract. This one, in fact. It literally scared the hell right out of me. I sought refuge in the nearest church I could find. I started going to Sunday school and service for the first time in my life. I soon made a profession of faith in front of the congregation and got baptized. After securing my fire-insurance card, I proceeded to antagonize my Sunday school teacher and talk with my buddy about our weekend exploits on the back pew instead of listening to any of the messages.
Nothing had changed. My heart was still stone hard and unyielding to the call of God to true repentance and a living faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. I was a baptized pig who had gone back to his wallowing in the mud. My initial reaction to the gospel message in that tract was one of pure abject fear. Not a fear of God in the sense of reverence and awe, but only a dread of eternally burning in the unquenchable flames of hell. I couldn’t bear the thought of such a horrible fate and carried out all the necessary outward rituals to avoid it. Unfortunately, though I performed the outward circumcision, so-to-speak, God had not performed the inner circumcision of heart required for true conversion.
The problem lay in the fact that I still hated God just as much as I did before my ‘conversion’. Jesus said the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord God with all your heart, and with all your mind and with all your strength. I did not love him. I, in fact, despised him for his harsh, unfair and (in my mind) irrational judgment on man. I believed man to be basically decent at heart, but because he fell short of perfection, was forced to pay for it by suffering eternally. I remember feeling sorry for all my friends who were not Christians. They would not listen to my pathetic attempts at evangelism. As a result, I knew they were doomed.
Eventually, I rejected the doctrine of judgment and hell. As a natural consequence, I eventually denied the authority of the bible as God’s revealed word. In my wickedness I adopted a much more pleasant-natured God who accepted everyone on the basis of their own uniqueness. This new age God placed no demands upon my life, but encouraged me to live guilt-free according to whatever my heart desired. The process of conviction, to faith, to doubt, and then to complete unbelief occurred all within 6 months. I had faith, but not a faith that could save. I put my faith into my ability to be pleasing to God by doing what I thought he demanded. After that, I could do as I pleased. These aberrant thought processes are all the result of the depravity of my heart. I did whatever I had to do to achieve the most rewarding benefit to my person. I did not seek God because I wanted to love him, I did not claim to cling to Christ because I wanted to ‘know him and the power of his resurrection and in the fellowship of his sufferings’. (Phil 3:10) No, I went through the motions of salvation just so I wouldn’t fry in the furnace of fire.
I am a totally depraved man apart from union with Christ. The holy nature of God given to Adam, which suffered corruption at his disobedience has infiltrated every corner of my entire being because I am his offspring. My heart is full of sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, evil, slander, pride and foolishness. My thoughts are only evil all the time. My carnal mind is at enmity with God. Out of the abundance of my heart my mouth speaks. My body obeys all my lascivious desires. Every single component of my humanity is touched by wickedness. My spirit, my mind, my emotions, my thoughts, my will and my entire heart is in bondage to the power of sin. This does not mean that I am the worst sinner that I can be in my natural state, but the potential for evil greater than history’s most corrupt tyrants dwells within my darkened heart.
The world around me that I read about everyday in the media convinces me that total depravity is alive and well on planet Earth. Terrorists blow themselves up, taking as many victims with them as they can, expecting an eternal reward of beautiful virgins – and you would dare say to me that man is not depraved? A gunmen walks the hallways of a university, public school or shopping mall and opens fire on people he does not know to exact revenge on a society that has supposedly shunned him – and I’m to believe man is basically good at heart? A father takes a gun and murders his two-year-old twin daughters and his three-year-old son and then kills himself – and you want to convince me that we have the ability to love God with all of our hearts? One young boy tells his parents that ‘I will kill you’ every time he is punished for calling them ‘idiots’ and ‘freaks’ – and I should accept that any man would be willing to come to Christ of his own free will? Another older boy, when punished for screaming and throwing things at his parents, then goes into a rage destroying everything in his path – and you want to boast of man’s natural ability to repent and believe the Gospel?
Sorry, I’m not buying it. We have corrupted ourselves in our zest for absolute autonomy and driven ourselves to madness with our lust to indulge every forbidden pleasure. God’s common grace is manifested through our conscience and in the civil governments of law and justice. These forces restrain our madness. Should God remove these restraints, society would dissolve and complete lawlessness would reign until man utterly destroys himself. This is the reality of the doctrine of Total Depravity.
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom 7:24-25A)
God’s grace has saved me from the great trinity of evil – Me, Myself and I. While I was dead in trespasses and sins Christ has made me alive.
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. (1Co 15:10A)
The combination of the doctrines of God’s absolute sovereignty over all creation and the radical corruption of man form the forge on which Calvinism is shaped and sharpened to a razor edge. I stand in absolute awe of the immeasurable magnitude of God’s magnificent grace in light of these biblical truths. Despite man’s intent to do evil all of his days, God has unconditionally and lovingly elected a people to call his very own out of every tribe, tongue and nation. He has purchased them out of the bondage of the devil and sin and purified them by the blood of Jesus Christ. He has drawn them irresistibly to himself by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit and has set them upon a rock that shall never be moved. God protects and preserves his precious elect, causing them to persevere through every trial and tribulation. These doctrines are precious to me because they demonstrate God’s mercy and compassion to a company of people who deserve nothing but His fierce wrath.
In summary, the doctrine of Total Depravity, as taught by God’s word, is easily demonstrated by looking both inwardly to the thoughts and desires of one’s own heart and by observing the outwardly manifestations of those thoughts and desires in the world around us.