For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
Mr. Matthew Pannkuk-Chaplain, Middle School Bible Teacher
In honor of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I thought it would be helpful to follow up our survey of the Five Solae with another theological quintet: the Five Points of Calvinism. These Five Points are less general than the Five Solae, and reflect not all Protestant thought but the specific subset called Reformed theology.
Reformed theology is a robust term with several facets, and too often it gets reduced down to only these Five Points. Likewise John Calvin was a brilliant thinker, gifted theologian, prolific pastor, and a wise man. He was called the Theologian of the Holy Spirit, and his person motto was “Cor meum tibi offero, Domine, prompte et sincere;” “My heart I offer to you, O Lord, promptly and sincerely.” There is much more to Calvin, and Calvinism, than these Five Points.
Yet since they are widely discussed and talked about, it seems fitting in this special Reformation year to investigate one of the most well known and divisive pieces of theology to come from this era.
The Five Points of Calvinism are summarized by the acronym TULIP. Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grade, and the Perseverance of the Saints. This week we will look into Total Depravity.
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” – Romans 3:23
Sin effects everything. All have sinned, all have been exposed to the degradation that came from mankind’s fall from grace. The word depraved means corrupt, or perverted. Things are not the way that God intended, as our rebellion has deformed God’s good creation and twisted what was meant for blessing into curse.
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. – Romans 7:18
Total depravity is not so much about the depth of our wickedness, necessarily, but its breadth. We are not all as evil as we possibly could be. Yet every part of us (heart, soul, mind, body, relationships) have been touched by our sin. There is no facet of our lives that our rebellion has not poisoned. And thus we are totally helpless to do anything about our situation.
“For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” – Romans 5:19
Because Adam represented humanity, we are all subject to the depravity of sin. Thankfully, because Jesus is the second Adam and represents all who believe in him, Christians experience the righteousness of Christ. There is no escaping our sinful nature outside of the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” – Romans 6:16
“…you were slaves of sin…” – Romans 6:20a
We are not just bent towards sin as an unfortunate preference, like how we know we should snack on fruit or vegetables but we choose chocolate instead. We are slaves to sin, and cannot choose right anymore than a slave can choose to be free. Over 1100 years before the Reformation, this was a much debated issue in the church. Pelagius, a theologian, contended that man was basically a clean slate, not naturally sinful and thus could indeed choose to do good. Augustine fought against this heresy, and was a champion for the Biblical truth that we are indeed born sinners and are not just partially but totally depraved.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins” – Ephesians 2:1
Just as a slave cannot simply choose to be free, a dead man cannot choose to live. We cannot save ourselves. The Bible makes this abundantly clear, and the doctrine of total depravity merely reflects the harsh but true teaching that humanity is desperately wicked and cannot redeem themselves.
Thankfully, even though we are more wicked than we care to acknowledge, we are also more deeply and wonderfully loved than we could ever dare hope. The love of the LORD never left humanity, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Indeed, it was “because of the great love with which he loved us” (Eph. 2:4) that God sent Jesus to experience all our sin and curse on the cross, so we can no longer be totally depraved but totally freed.
Praise be to our God and Father for his love to sinners in need of a savior!
Twin Oaks Christian School, a ministry of Twin Oaks Presbyterian Church