Note: T.U.L.I.P. is an acronym often used to summarize the five core doctrines of Calvin; Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints.
John Calvin (Institutes 2.1.9, Calvin 1960:253)
"Here I only want to suggest briefly that the whole man is overwhelmed – as by a deluge–from head to foot, so that no part is immune from sin and all that proceeds from him is to be imputed to sin."
Calvin believed and taught that humans inherit the original sin of Adam. In other words, children inherit the sin from their father who inherited the sin from his father, and so on and so on, all the way back to Adam. On top of this flawed foundation, he built the flawed conclusion that humanity is totally corrupt and we are even without the ability to seek God's help.
Ezekiel 18:20-21 (NIV)
“The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die.”
Q: If Total Depravity means that humanity inherits the original sin of Adam, why was Ezekiel inspired to write these words? Why would he say that the son does not “bear the guilt” of his father? Why would the Holy Spirit validate personal responsibility by saying, “…and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself”? Why would He even bring up a wicked man who “turns from all his sins” if we are so totally depraved that we are without even the ability to turn to God?
A: Please don’t misunderstand. The apostle Paul certainly was correct when he said, “…sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12, NIV). But don’t forget that last qualifying phrase, “because all sinned.” It is one thing to be born into a realm governed by Adam's nature (innocence removed), it is quite another to suggest that we inherit his sin. We share in the guilt of Adam only because we perpetuate his sinful choice through our own sinful choices. Read again the words of Ezekiel 18:20-21. We are responsible for sin because of choice, not because of inheritance. Only by submitting to the harmony of these passages can the whole counsel of God be truly discovered.
Acts 17:26-27 (NIV)
“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”
Q: If Total Depravity means that humanity is without even the freewill to choose God, then why was Paul inspired to write these words? Why would he say that God wants man to “seek him”? Why would the Holy Spirit inspire the word “perhaps” if choosing God is not an option? Why does Paul say that God wants us to “reach out for him”?
A: Please don’t misunderstand, the prophet certainly was correct when he said, “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6, NIV). Yet equally true are the words of the Apostle Paul, “reach out for him and find him” (Acts 17:27, NIV). Only by submitting to the harmony of these passages can the whole counsel of God be truly discovered.
John 7:17 (NIV)
“Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”
Q: If Total Depravity means that humanity is without even the freewill to choose God, why did Jesus say these words? Why would He suggest that there is an option for us to choose “to do the will of God” if, in fact, we are so totally depraved that we haven’t even the ability to do what He says we can do? Why would He suggest that discovering whether or not His “teaching comes from God” is contingent upon our choosing “to do the will of God”?
A: Please don’t misunderstand, the apostle Paul certainly was correct when he said, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12, NIV). In like manner, David also wrote in Psalms 51:5, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." (NIV) But are these passages intended to prompt a literal interpretation or are they rhetorical overstatement?
Did Paul intend to indict all of humanity when he said, "there is no one who seeks God"? (Romans 3:12, NIV) Is there is no possibility that anyone ever did seek God or ever would seek Him? Certainly Noah sought after God and, as a result, was spared the results of the Flood. Abraham sought God and obtained at least enough understanding to enter into a covenant with God. In 2 Chronicles 17:4, the Holy Spirit says that Jehoshaphat sought after God and later He even dated the year Josiah “began to seek the God of his father David.” (2 Chronicles 34:3, NIV). And, don’t forget the words of Jesus in John 7:17 (above).
What about Psalms 51:5? Did David intend for us to conclude that babies are conceived in sin and therefore born sinful infants? If that is so, why did he say these words shortly after his own infant son had died, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:22-23, NIV) Was David taking comfort in knowing that he would join his son in Hell?
Is it possible that in both Romans 3 and Psalms 51 the Holy Spirit was using rhetorical overstatement to expose the impact of sin on the entire human sphere and emphasize our lack of excuse? It is one thing to be born into a realm governed by Adam's nature (innocence removed), it is quite another to suggest that babies inherit Adam's guilty sentence. Compare Psalms 51:5 (above) with Luke 18:16-17 (below)? Only by submitting to the harmony of all these passages can the whole counsel of God be truly discovered.
Luke 18:16-17 (NIV)
"Jesus called the children to him and said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.'"
Jeremiah 17:9-10 (NIV)
"The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve."
There can be little unity among Christians as long as human doctrines dominate and selective obedience governs hermeneutics (principles for interpreting Scripture). Only by submitting to the whole counsel of God can we correctly handle the word of truth. We must raise our sights higher than the teachings of men.
2 Timothy 2:15, NIV
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”
I firmly believe that two of the greatest challenges facing the church today are Islam from without and Calvinism from within. In a world so devoid of personal responsibility, Calvin's doctrine of grace without responsibility is truly alluring. Young people are deserting biblical truth in alarming numbers. These false doctrines have permeated nearly every Christian denomination and must be addressed.
This important material can be covered in a seminar, Gospel meeting or revival format. For more information about this presentation, please visit our "Questions for Calvin" seminar page. This material is also available as an ebook through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other formats.
Our children are at risk. It is my greatest prayer that you will find this information helpful in defending them against the false teachings of Calvinism.
Missed the first lesson in this series? Go to:
Questions for Calvin: "Introduction"
Want to continue the series? Go to:
Questions for Calvin: "U is for Unconditional Election"
"L is for Limited Atonement"
"I is for Irresistible Grace"
"P is for Perseverance of the Saints"
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