Are Believers Totally Depraved?

I received an email this morning from my good friend Dan Cartwright over at http://www.born4battle.wordpress.com asking me to comment on an article written by Tullian Tchividjian entitled, “Are Christians Totally Depraved?” He asked this in relation to another blogger’s comments [the Guru I mentioned in an earlier post] who has been railing against these “heretics” who believe in the total depravity of the saints.

For what they are worth, the following are my thoughts:

My view re: the “total depravity” of believers is that Tchividjian has used the term unadvisedly. I think it better simply to talk about the pervasive nature of remaining sin. Though he is correct in stating that sin still affects every aspect of our being, i.e., it is “total,” I think the term “depravity” is too strong to use of those who are being put straight or righteous. The use of the term “total depravity” blurs the distinction between the regenerate and the unregenerate. It also blurs the distinction between the true believer under the Law and his struggle to please God, and the true New Covenant believer under grace. In Romans seven Paul wrote, “that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter [Law].” It is this contrast he unpacks in the remainder of chapter seven and into chapter eight. As New Covenant believers, we are no longer characterized by the helplessness that characterized Old Covenant believers. The Law has now been replaced by God’s indwelling and enabling Spirit. He enables us as holy priests “to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (See. 1 Peter 2:5). The grace of God is not only unmerited favor that forgives our sins; it is also enabling in that it causes us to forsake our sins. As believers, we need both aspects of grace.

I believe Tchividjian is right in stating that we never outgrow our need for pardoning grace. What I think he misses is that we are not only growing in our understanding that we need God’s grace more and more to forgive us, but we are also growing in our understanding that the power of sin’s reign over us has been broken so that we are no longer bound to serve sin.

There can be no doubt that even as believers we continue to be affected by the ravages of sin in every sector of our personalities, i.e., intellect, emotions, will, conscience. That the effects of remaining sin are so pervasive that our best works can never rise to the level necessary to merit God’s judicial approbation is clearly taught in Scripture. Even our spiritual sacrifices are only acceptable to God “through Jesus Christ.”

The “Guru” I mentioned in a previous post has not only rejected “New Calvinism,” he has now rejected Calvinism altogether. He has declared himself a “zero point Calvinist.” He bases this on his belief that Calvin taught “the total depravity of the saints.” His arguments, as usual, are horribly incoherent and convoluted. And even if what Calvin taught on this point was in error, his error would not render the remainder of what he wrote on this point erroneous.

Now, we need to understand that the correctness of the doctrines that have come to be known as “Calvinism,” has little, if anything, to do with what Calvin wrote or what the Divines of Dordt stated. Though I happen to believe they did a splendid job of articulating these doctrines that are taught in the Scriptures, we do not depend on them as our authorities. We believe these truths because we have discovered them through Spirit illuminated exegesis of biblical texts.

I think the point he [the Guru] is missing in Calvin’s statements is that Calvin is writing about works of merit. Do our post-conversion works, though acceptable to God through Jesus Christ, ever rise to the level of meritorious works? No, Calvin was absolutely right in stating that our best works can never merit God’s judicial approval. That God, as our Father, is pleased with our obedience as it is bathed in the redemptive work of Christ, does not mean those works in themselves could merit a declaration of righteousness before him.

I was watching a T.V. program the other night in which one of the characters was watching a brief video of his son taking his first steps. Those steps were clearly wobbly and halting, yet the father clearly took delight in them. I couldn’t help thinking how similar that is to God’s delight in us, his spiritual children. Our steps toward obedience continue to be wobbly and halting, and never approach the perfection necessary to satisfy the rigid demands of his holy law. Still, our Father is pleased with our Spirit prompted obedience because he delights in us as his children, through Christ “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Cor. 1: 30-31).


1 Response to “Are Believers Totally Depraved?”

  1. April 19, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    Excellent post! I love the picture described in the last paragraph (along with the rest)!!

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