As debates about the nature of salvation have gone through church history, we have tended to land on the sides of Augustine (the greatest of the early church fathers), Luther (the catalyst for the Protestant Reformation), and John Calvin (its greatest theologian). So that makes us in many ways reformed in our soteriology. The first great debate affecting the church’s understanding of salvation came in the 4th century between Augustine and Pelagius (the father of Christian liberals). Pelagius and his followers taught that Adam’s sin only injured Adam. Therefore, they hold that post-fall people have intact the natural endowments of conscience, reason, and free will (the ability to choose between good and evil). They believe what people need is reformation and not complete transformation in order to be saved. All humans, they believe, are able to live sinlessly and obtain salvation by their own powers apart from any special grace from God. Semi-pelagians believe God gives grace to those who worthily strive after what is good. Augustine’s biblical refutation of Pelagian’s view of the goodness of man is thorough. He argued from Scripture that all people are born in sin as a result of Adam’s sin. Luther affirmed our will is in bondage to sin. Calvin added that God sovereignly elects those who become Christians, draws them with an irresistible grace, and preserves them to the end. The greatly debated position within what is considered Calvinism is the doctrine of limited atonement. The next two studies will provide an overview of the main tenets of Calvin’s soteriology called the TULIP: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and the Perseverance of the saints.
The Bible teaches that sin has ruined everyone and that no one is exempt. Read the following verses and summarize the affects that sin has on everyone: (Gen 6:5; 2 Chron 6:36; John 8:34; Rom 3:10-12, 23; 5:12, 13, 17; 8:7-8; 1 Cor 2:14; Eph 2:1-3).
The doctrine of total depravity comes from original sin. Original sin defines the consequences (not act of the first/original sin of Adam) to the human race of Adam’s sin. In Adam’s sin the entire human race fell and became corrupted.
Read Romans 5:13-19 and answer “How and when did everyone sin?” according to verse 12.
Paul explains the theological ramifications of the Fall in these verses. The sin that all committed (5:12) was in Adam’s sin. Either because God views Adam as the representative of the entire human race or because the entire human race was in Adam (genetically) when he sinned, God imputed the consequences of Adam’s sin to everyone. This means two things: (1) Everyone inherited Adam’s sin nature and (2) the consequences of Adam’s sin—death both spiritual and physical.
What is the effect of original sin?
- No one will seek after God (Rom 3:10b).
- Everyone’s nature since the Fall has come under the power of evil from birth (Ps 51:5). Like King David every person is born in sin. This speaks of our condition of fallenness. We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are by nature sinners. “No one is perfect, and no one is even close to being perfect. We are all sinners.”
- There is nothing in us that will cooperate with God (Rom 8:8).
Total depravity does not mean utter depravity that everyone will always be as bad as they can possibly be. People can be religious and charitable, and giving (i.e., Mother Teresa). The totally depraved can pray, give, and fast, according to Jesus (Matthew 6:1-18). Paul however explains in 1 Cor 13:1-3 that without genuine love for the God of the Bible the greatest philanthropist’s work is nothing before God.
Read and explain Isa 64:6. Even the so-called good things we do are not good because we do them with self-centered rather than God pleasing motives. Genesis 6:5 further explains how this is true. Without Christ, the very intents behind all of everyone’s thoughts are only evil and evil continuously.
Totally depravity instead means that the Fall affects our whole person in radical ways. It affects our bodies in that we get sick and die. It affects our minds. It is darkened and deprived of truth. It affects our will. We live in bondage to evil impulses. It affects our desires. We lust after sin, which wages war even against a believer’s soul.
The debate among Christians isn’t whether corruption is true, but to what degree. The word “radical” captures the idea of total depravity best. It means that sin has permeated to the core of our being. This rebuts the idea that people are basically (at their core) good. Sin comes from our hearts—the very center of our existence. Therefore, what must happen for sinners to become conformed to Christ is complete transformation, regeneration, and a spiritual renewal of the heart. Luther, who was an Augustinian monk, agreed with Augustine that the human will is in bondage to sin. Hence, sinners do not have a free-will. Man is dead in sin and cannot convert himself or prepare himself for salvation. In the Fall, man has not lost his power to make decisions but his moral power to desire knowing/loving God.
Semi-pelagians argue that it is not grace alone that saves. They believe it is grace plus a person’s cooperation with it. But Augustine argued we are saved by grace alone! Augustine argued that man, being dead in sin, has to be saved unilaterally by God in His grace (Eph 2:1-10). Until we are born of the Spirit, we are all flesh living in resistance to God. We do what we naturally desire (sin) and chose to do those things. Without a clear understanding and conviction in agreement with the doctrine of totally depravity, a person will have an eschewed understanding of the other doctrines related to soteriology.
1. Can you think of churches and pastors today who have a Pelagian and Semi-pelagian views? Answer: All liberal churches, black liberation theology churches/religions (teach that only white people are evil, e.g., Louis Farrakhan). Also a growing number of positive motivational churches like Robert Schuller, Joel Olsteen types.
2. How does a right understanding of the doctrine of totally depravity help the evangelist realize they have to rely upon God when sharing the Gospel?
3. And what are clear signs that a person is relying upon God in their work of evangelism?