The Doctrines of Grace: Total Depravity

Imagine with me two different religions, but both are called Christianity. One flows from man’s reason, not that Spirit illuminated Bible taught reason but reason driven by man’s sinful self-confident ability to rationalise everything out to the nth degree. The other religion is based upon God’s revelation recognising that our sinful minds need to be taught truth because it is our natural tendency to suppress it. At the centre of the first religion is man, we will call this anthropocentric religion. At the centre of the second religion is God, this we call theocentric religion. In the middle of the first we have man’s free will as the central tenet around which everything is arranged; and in the second God’s free grace. These are two different views of the universe that affect everything.

Imagine radiating from these centres various lines pointing the doctrines that are impacted by this central truth. Both these systems will have all the same doctrines, but they will be different because of the relationship they bear to the central concern. So some of the doctrines are election; salvation; sanctification; prayer; perseverance; good works; rewards. The truth is every doctrine is impacted by every other doctrine, it is the job of systematic theology to show the relationship of doctrines to each other and how changes in certain truths will impact the whole system of truth.

So think about how these will look in their various systems. In the anthropocentric religion we have prayer. Prayer with man at the centre is something with which man gives God power and permission to work in the world, if we don’t pray things can’t happen. Prayer is the thing by which we change the eternal mind of God, even the eternal plan. If we pray hard enough, believe well enough, persist long enough, our prayers will be rewarded with answers. In the God centred view prayer is not a right but a privilege; it is by grace that a sinner gets a hearing by a holy God, we cannot change the eternal plan or mind of God, or twist His arm by our efforts which are all tainted by sin, we have no access but by a mediator, we need the name and righteousness of Christ to enter and be heard, prayer is mysteriously employed by God as a God appointed means to meet His appointed ends, and all part of His unchanging plan. All answers are by grace not effort.

This difference is seen in every teaching. So in God-centred thinking we see that God by His free grace decides who He will elect; and by grace act to regenerate His elect; the parts of conversion, faith and repentance, are grace enabled acts; sanctification is the work of God working and willing in us by His grace; prayer does not change God’s eternal decree but is a privilege of participating in God’s bringing His perfect will to pass; perseverance is not left to us, but depends on God’s enabling grace and power, and our final rewards will be given on the basis of God rewarding our puny efforts in Christ and not for their real worth. It is a system of grace from beginning to end, that starts with God, however man is no robot but is included, however, always as dependent and as a response to God’s initiative.

In the man centred religion we see the unbiblical, idolatrous system that has man at the centre and God is not allowed to act apart from constantly accommodating man’s so called free will. God cannot elect without first consulting the future and arranging his election around what man will one day decide. Since the fall it is claimed has not affected the will of man, regeneration is not necessary before faith, but is give in response to it, faith and repentance are acts that are still natural to fallen man, sanctification is seen as man growing the fruits of the Spirit by the efforts of his own will and spiritual exercises, spiritual growth is depersonalised from the person of God to the use of mechanical means. Prayer actually changes the mind of God. Perseverance depends on your own determination and effort, and rewards are measured according to your efforts. In this system God is the enemy if He does not love all in an equal fashion, even though they are guilty sinners in His sight; if He does not arrange His saving purposes around man’s ‘free’ choice; and any talk of God being the necessary enabler, acting apart from our working and willing, or necessary to any working or willing, destroys the freedom of the will and will cause many to become lazy and have a false assurance of their salvation, or be caught in terrible doubts not knowing whether they are elected.

We believe that the Bible teaches a certain view of God, man and salvation which is summarised by the God-centred approach. This summary has been called many things, Calvinism; Augustinianism; Reformed Theology. We at Covenant Grace Baptist Church hold to these beliefs and are doing a short series to explore them. To varying degrees the man–centred approach has been represented by Pelagianism; Semi-Pelagianism; Arminianism; Amyraldianism, Molinism, etc. Now let us clear because sometimes cage-stage Calvinists have accused their fellow Christians of being heretics and idolaters because of this differing view of things. When someone is on the extreme end we would agree, but large swathes of the Evangelical Church hold differences on some of these beliefs and they are fellow brethren with us. We are saved by grace not by orthodoxy. Not all Christians are equally accommodating towards Reformed Christians, and some Reformed Christians have arrogantly spoken of the ‘Reformed Faith’ as if Christians of different beliefs belong to another faith. This is not helpful. Instead of seeing those of Reformed convictions as on another set of tracks or moving in an opposite direction to the rest of the Church, we prefer to see ourselves as a smaller pool inside the larger pool of Christianity.