5 Points, God's Glorious Sovereignty in Salvation: Total Depravity

Debbie Ruhl is currently leading a discussion of John Piper’s book, Five Points: Towards a Deeper Experience of God’s Grace, on Monday evenings through the month of June. We thought it might be helpful for her to blog about the material, helping all of us understand more clearly what is known as Reformed Doctrine or Calvinism. 


Last week we started off our study of John Piper’s Five Points. These five points do not exhaust biblical theology or Reformed teaching, they simply summarize God’s glorious sovereignty in salvation. Let me say that again because (as one woman in my study commented) it is so helpful in understanding why people make such a big deal about these doctrines: the Five Points of Calvinism are about GOD’S GLORIOUS SOVEREIGNTY IN SALVATION.

We spent a good deal of time talking about seeking to know the mind of Christ (albeit "through a glass dimly"), and how it's okay if one is not quite convinced of a certain “point” at end of the study. Great men (and women) of the Lord have had different understandings throughout history, but we are all the Body of Christ! The real “point” of the study is to read the Word and let God's teachings steep in our hearts.

We tackled the “first point” of Calvinism: total depravity. First of all, let’s clear up what total depravity is not: it does not mean that man does as much evil as he can. It simply means that without God’s grace in salvation, we are more sinful than we could ever realize. Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Total depravity is the natural state of man before regeneration. Piper summed up this teaching by commenting on its four aspects.

First, in our unregenerate state we were in total rebellion against God. Let’s face it: before we knew the Lord, we were not on the fence about whose side we were on! We were on our own side….not God’s side. As Paul writes in Romans 3:10-12: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

Second, everything man does (without Christ) is totally sin. This is a hard one to swallow. We do not like to think that everything that mankind does on his own is sin: after all, people all around the world do “good things” every day, right?!?!! What does the Bible say about this? I Corinthians 10:31 states that “whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.” Do most people around the world do “good” things because they want to glorify God? Hmmm….probably not. (I can honestly say that I often do “good” things for the approval of man, not for the glory of God). Romans 14:23 is even clearer: “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Wow, this is getting uncomfortable: whatever I do without faith is counted as SIN by God! Ouch. Well, this does not seem like very good news!!! But, God does not leave us without hope: as Christians we have God’s daily regenerating work in us through the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 4:16). Hallelujah! “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).

Third, man is totally unable to reform himself. Really? What about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps?!? Yeah- that’s not in the Bible. Romans 8:7-8 states that “the mind that is set on the flesh [that is, the natural condition of man] is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” We cannot submit to God without God’s intervention. Ephesians 2:1 says it a different way: we were once “dead in trespasses and sin.” Dead people cannot raise themselves up! We were totally enslaved to sin and trapped, as Romans 6 repeats over and over.

Fourth, we are totally deserving of eternal punishment. This aspect is, perhaps, the most mind-boggling, but I think it is the key to understanding why only Jesus can save us. The seriousness of sin is not really about what we do- it’s about who we do it against. We have rejected an infinite, eternal, holy, and righteous God. Consequently, the separation between us and God is infinite!!! Only God can bridge that gap because He is the only one big enough to do it!!! As Piper puts it: our sin is not about us, it’s about God. Talk about reorienting our self-absorption: even our sin is not about us!!

To close our time on Monday: we talked about how the "terrible truth" of our natural depravity should not be a heavy burden for Christians- it's actually wonderful news because our salvation does not depend on us pulling ourselves up with our boot straps. It's terrifying because we bring nothing to the table but our sin, but so comforting because we don't have to bring anything to the table! As Piper writes, “knowing the seriousness of our disease will make us all the more amazed at the Greatness of our Physician.” I hope that the truth of your total depravity causes you to fall on your knees in worship!!!

Soli Deo gloria!


A little about Debbie:
Debbie is a secretary/receptionist at Redeemer Church. She and her husband, Isaiah, live with their two dogs just a stone's throw away from the church, but somehow they still end up at least 5 minutes late on Sunday mornings. Debbie loves to sing, read, tutor math, encourage people, and listen to her husband tell stories. One day, she and Isaiah want to live on the family farm in North Carolina with a big garden, lots of kids, and the laundry hanging out on the line.