Day two of Together for the Gospel began early. I assume my experience is typical in that I went too bed too late last night and arose blurry-eyed so I could get some breakfast and make my way to the convention center for 8 AM. Today we will be hearing from John MacArthur, Mark Dever, R.C. Sproul and Al Mohler.
We arrived this morning to find on each of our seats copies of The Courage to the Protestant by David F. Wells, The Gospel & Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever, Why We’re Not Emergent by Ted Kluck and Devin DeYoung and The Gospel According to Jesus (the Revised & Expanded Anniversary Edition) by John MacArthur. This brings the total book haul thus far up to 6 volumes. The morning began with two hymns: “Come Thou Fount” and “How Deep the Father’s Love” and after an introduction by Al Mohler, John MacArthur took to the pulpit to preach a sermon on total depravity. But before he did so, Mohler presented to him a medallion struck by Moody to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the first publication of the John MacArthur New Testament Commentary. This seemed to take MacArthur quite by surprise!
MacArthur began by suggesting that this doctrine, the doctrine of total depravity or total inability, may be the most attacked doctrine in the Christian faith. It is the most despised doctrine and consequently it is the most distinctly Christian doctrine. Contrary to all non-Christian views of man, all religions in the world offer some kind of a works righteousness system. People believe they can be good and good enough to contribute to their salvation—to merit favor with deity and a happy afterlife. It is a contrary doctrine because humans are deceived by the gravity of their own condition. Sinners are unwilling to see themselves as they really are. People do not see the evil in their good and the evil in their religion.
So many evangelical spokesmen hate the truth of total depravity as they seem to hate the God of Scripture. They continue to deceive the sinner about his sinfulness and hide the true God behind a domesticated God of their own making. False belief systems all affirm human goodness. But total depravity is the most God-honoring doctrine because it ascribes all of the goodness, all of the work to God. This is not a new doctrine or one that has been invented in recent times or even during the Reformation. It dates back to the church’s earliest days. And here MacArthur provided a brief historic overview of the doctrine.
Churches used to group together over common theology, but today it is over common methodology. So much of current evangelicalism is to find what people desire and to insist that God will give it to them if they have Him as Savior.
MacArthur took us on a survey of several biblical texts which together prove this doctrine. They show that we have inherited a corrupt nature from Adam—we have inherited death. We are sinners by nature, by birth. We are wholly entirely corrupt in every aspect of our being and we rely entirely on God to draw us to Himself. The sinner is unwilling to acknowledge God on His own and unable to accept the gospel on His own.
He then turned to a bit of a definition of “depraved.” It simply means that you can only sin, you can do nothing that pleases God savingly, and that it affects you totally—mind, heart, will, actual, thought, everything. The sinner is utterly unable to raise himself out of his state of death or to do anything to see out of his blindness. The contemporary idea is that there is some residual good left in the sinner. Many believe that sinners have a right to make a free move towards God and this sinner must make the first move to which God responds. But the Bible teaches that the sinner can’t and won’t make this move. He is both unwilling and unable. He has no capacity to make the first move and has no interest in making this move. He may make a false move toward God based upon his own fallen desires.
In regeneration we neither resist nor cooperate. We are acted upon by the Spirit who illuminates our minds so that we can hear and heed the gospel. The gospel call assumes that the sinner can do nothing—it pleads the mercy of God but acknowledges that God must first do His work.
What are the implications of this doctrine?
There are some historical implications to rejecting this view.
Denial of total depravity has been a staple of our religious culture for a while now. It is at the heart of old liberalism which rejected theology in favor of “living like Jesus in the world.” In so doing they destroyed the church. The emerging church is just the same thing and once again denies this doctrine. Inherent in church growth is the idea that the sinner will respond better if the methods change. We can never offer Jesus as if He is the one who will fulfill the sinner’s natural fallen desires. The fallen sinner hates God and loves Himself fatally. He wants a God who gives him what he wants but a biblical approach assaults the sinner’s self-confidence and attacks his confidence in his own religion and spirituality. You have to call the sinner to hate himself and to love God. Never appeal to that which enslaves the sinner to try to get the sinner to respond to God. You are appealing to the very thing that the sinner needs to be freed from. You need to call the sinner to flee from all that enslaves him and have him run to the cross to be saved from all of this. Soft preaching makes hard people. Preach the hard truth and it will break the hard hearts, leaving a soft people.
Another implication of this is that a pastor must be meek; he must be humble. No one should be as meek as those who preach the gospel. This is the only profession where a person can take absolutely no credit for what he does. He can only take credit for the failures.
The bottom line is this: be faithful to understand that the condition of the isnner is not one you can remedy with any kind of human manipulation. All hearts are the same and all hearts need the same message. The message cannot change and the message is what God uses to change sinners.