Total Depravity – Do people have any goodness in their nature?

Romans 3:19  Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world held accountable to God.

How is every mouth silenced, and the whole world under accountability, if some there is some inherent goodness in people?

Matthew 12:33-35  Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.”

If this verse does not apply to all unbelievers, then I think we have the conclusion that unbelievers can be good trees, and bear good fruit.

If it does apply to every unbeliever, then I think we have the conclusion that they cannot do good, with any resource they have within themselves, it is impossible.

And it should also be said that God has to bring about this transformation, for no tree can transform itself one way or another. This also is a dichotomy, everyone fits into one or the other of these categories:

Matthew 3:10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

Luke 13:7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, “For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?”

And this last verse was about unrepentant people, and includes all unrepentant people, all unbelievers:

Luke 13:4-5 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them– do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.

John 3:20 For everyone who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.

They do not come! And the only way to change this is to stop doing evil, then the unwillingness would be removed. That would place coming to the light, after God changes the heart, and after conversion.

John 15:5 … apart from me you can do nothing.

If this is true of believers, how much more is it true of unbelievers! And this is “apart from me,” not “without my help,” union with Christ is required, for us to do anything good at all.

Ephesians 2:8-9  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.

Now if faith is a work (not a work of the law, yet something we do, a work in that sense), then we could boast, so faith must be part of the gift, and must be given to us.

And it seems this point can be carried even if faith is not a work, for we read “not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” in parallel with “not of works,” so then both these phrases must apply to salvation. Now if any aspect of salvation is of ourselves, such as faith, then salvation cannot be really and strictly “not of ourselves.”

So then faith is “not of yourselves,” and is a gift of God, and so then we do not even bring faith to the table in conversion.

Can unbelievers understand the gospel on their own?

1 Corinthians 1:18  For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

2 Corinthians 4:3  And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.

Here in these verses, “those who are perishing” would clearly include all unbelievers, they are blind, they cannot see the gospel:

2 Corinthians 4:4  The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

They cannot see it, it is not that they see it and refuse, instead they cannot possibly see.

1 Corinthians 2:10-12  The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.

Now “all things” in verse 10 would include the gospel, and God gave his Spirit so the Corinthians could understand all things, implying that God’s Spirit is required to understand everything (re 1 Cor. 3:18), implying that God’s Spirit, given in the heart, is necessary for understanding the gospel. For the gospel must be included in “God’s thoughts,” and unbelievers cannot understand God’s thoughts without God’s Spirit:

1 Corinthians 2:14  The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.

So this verse also must include the gospel, which indeed comes from the Spirit of God.

And “what God has freely given us” must also clearly include the gospel:

Ephesians 2:8  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…

We even see a reference to being given salvation in this passage:

1 Corinthians 1:30-31  It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

“It is because of him that you are in Christ,” this is one of the things God has given us.

2 Corinthians 4:3  And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.

And all unbelievers are perishing, we can’s say this just means those who have heard and refused the gospel, for then those who have not yet heard the gospel message could not be said to be perishing, and there would be no reason to preach to them.

2 Corinthians 4:4  The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

This also would imply that anyone who is not blind, anyone who sees the light of the gospel, is not an unbeliever, this would then make them a believer.

So as long as the gospel is one of the thoughts of God, as long as the gospel is included in all things, as long as salvation is a gift of God, we must then need the Spirit of God in order to understand it.

So then we really would really only understand the gospel after conversion, instead of before! As in a newborn infant, growing and developing, and understanding their birth. As in Paul saying God revealed his Son “in me” (Gal. 1:16), not just “to me,” it seems Paul found Jesus within his heart, in his conversion, it was all done by God.

The presence of God, and the word of God, changes our hearts, he gives a new heart that loves the truth, and that loves the light, and we cannot have this love before we have a new heart, for “love comes from God” (1 Jn. 4:7), indeed we love the darkness, and no unbeliever loves the light, or the truth, and we need not only light to shine on us, but also eyes to see it.

Isaiah 42:7  … to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

2 Corinthians 4:3  And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.

2 Corinthians 3:16  But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

So then the veil is taken away after a person turns to the Lord, and thus before they turn to the Lord, they cannot see the gospel. Which must mean that the Lord must change the heart, and then after they turn to the Lord (at this point, a miracle! For they still cannot see) the veil is taken away, and then they can see the gospel, and understand, and then they may turn yet more, so that God will heal them (Jn. 12:40).

John 9:25 “I was blind, and now I can see!”

Can unbelievers turn to the Lord on their own?

John 3:19-21  This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.

Now if a person were to repent on their own, and if repentance is coming into the light, then what have they done, before repentance, before their faith, that they would want to be on display? And then those who do evil could come into the light, and some of them will. Yet this verse says that with men, this is impossible, that indeed, they cannot, and they won’t.

Acts 2:21  And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved…

Yet we read further down:

Acts 2:39  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off– for all whom the Lord our God will call.

So God’s call is primary, even here.

“You would not have called to me unless I had been calling you” (Aslan, in “The Silver Chair,” by C.S. Lewis)

But what about Cornelius, was he not “devout” before conversion?

It would seem that Cornelius actually belonged to God before Peter came and preached to him:

Acts 10:2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing…

The salvation that came to him and his household would then be ongoing salvation, as in the change that came to the disciples in Ephesus who had believed John’s message, but had not received the Holy Spirit:

Acts 19:6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.

We see a similar result here:

Acts 11:17 So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?

The comparison Peter makes is when the Holy Spirit came on the gathered believers at Pentecost, thus I think Cornelius was already “clean” (Acts 10:15), and “saved” refers to the transition to believing in Christ for salvation, and not to regeneration.

Otherwise you have God saying that unbelievers are clean, and not common, to Peter in his vision. But I don’t think that is the case:

John 13:10 Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.”

GE 19:24 Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah–from the Lord out of the heavens.

They all perished, they were all unrighteous, from the youngest, to the oldest.

And unbelievers don’t have faith, and “whatever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). Unbelievers don’t have God’s love (Jn. 5:42), so all they do must be valueless (1 Cor. 13), and worse than valueless:

PR 21:27 The sacrifice of the wicked is detestable– how much more so when brought with evil intent!

PR 15:8 The Lord detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him.

“Even the faithful and believers were short of that perfection which is required; he therefore showeth what men are by nature, all under sin and in the same state of damnation, without grace and faith in Christ: if any perform any good work, either it is of grace, and so not of themselves, or if they did it by the light of nature, they did it not as they ought, and so it was far from a good work indeed.” (Andrew Willet)

“To fleshly wisdom it appears the height of folly to preach the Gospel to those that are dead, and therefore beyond the reach of doing anything themselves. Yes, but God’s ways are different from ours. It pleases God ‘by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe’ 1 Cor. 1:21. Man may deem it folly to prophesy to ‘dead bones’ and to say unto them, ‘O, ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord’ Ezek. 37:4. Ah! but then it is the word of the Lord, and the words he speaks ‘they are spirit, and they are life’ John 6:63. Wise men standing by the grave of Lazarus night pronounce it an evidence of insanity when the Lord addressed a dead man with the words, ‘Lazarus, Come forth.’ Ah! but he who thus spake was and is himself the Resurrection and the Life, and at his word even the dead live! We go forth to preach the Gospel, then, not because we believe that sinners have within themselves the power to receive the Saviour it proclaims, but because the Gospel itself is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth, and because we know that ‘as many as were ordained to eternal life’ Acts 13:48, shall believe John 6:37 10:16 — note the shall’s!) in God’s appointed time.” (A.W. Pink)

“We hold that man must be entirely lost and ruined, because if there be some good thing in him, then it cannot be said that ‘of God, and through God, and to God, are all things,’ for at least some things must be of man. If there be some relics of virtue and some remnants of power left in the race of man, then some things are of man, and to man will some things be. But if of God are all things, then in man there must be nothing — man must be set down as ruined–hopelessly ruined– ‘Bruised and mangled by the fall,’ and his salvation must be described as being from the first to the last, in every jot and every tittle of that almighty grace of God, which at first chose him, at length redeemed him, ultimately called him, constantly preserved him, and perfectly shall present him before the Father’s throne.” (C.H. Spurgeon)

“What then can a learned knowledge of literature and language and oratorical abilities perform in this kingdom? Just as much as they can do towards the resurrection of the dead; for all that is to be done in this heavenly kingdom is nothing less than resurrection into divine life from the death of sin.”

“Therefore the power which gave eyes to the blind, cleansed the lepers, cast out devils, and raised the dead can and must alone do all that is to be done in this gospel Kingdom of God. Every smallest work of grace must be as solely done by God as the greatest miracle, because in every work of grace is the same overcoming of nature and sin as when the dead are raised to life.” (William Law)

“But they suppose that, though dead in sin, man can resist, and successfully resist, almighty grace. Resistance is, however, itself an activity: and the successful resistance of an almighty recreative power, is a pretty considerable activity–for a dead man.” (B.B. Warfield)

Here is an excerpt from David Brainard’s diary…

“I stayed with them a considerable time, exhorting and directing them; and came away, lifting my heart up to God in prayer and praise, and encouraged and exhorted my Interpreter to ‘strive to enter in at the strait gate.’ “

“At this season divine truth took hold of him, and made deep impressions upon his mind. He was brought under great concern for his soul; and his exercises were not now transient and unsteady, but constant and abiding, so that his mind was burdened from day to day; and it was now his great inquiry, ‘What he should do to be saved?’ This spiritual trouble prevailed, until his sleep in a great measure departed from him, and he had little rest day or night; but walked about under great pressure of mind, for he was still able to walk, and appeared like another man to his neighbors, who could not but observe his behavior with wonder.”

“After he had been some time under this exercise, while he was striving to obtain mercy, he says there seemed to be an impassable mountain before him. He was pressing toward heaven, as he thought but ‘his way was hedged up with thorns, so that he could not stir an inch further.’ He looked this way, and that way, but could find no way at all. He thought if he could but make his way through these thorns and briers, and climb up the first steep pitch of the mountain, that then there might be hope for him; but no way or means could he find to accomplish this. Here he labored for a time, but all in vain. He saw it was impossible, he says, for him ever to help himself through this insupportable difficulty – ‘It signified just nothing at all for him to struggle and strive any more.’ Here, he says, he gave over striving, and felt that it was a gone case with him as to his own power, and that all his attempts were, and forever would be, vain and fruitless. “

“After he had been for some time in this condition, sensible of the impossibility of helping himself by any thing he could do, or of being delivered by any created arm; so that they had ‘given up all for lost,’ as to his own attempts, and was become more calm and composed; then, he says, it was borne in upon my mind, as if it had been audibly spoken to him, ‘There is hope, there is hope.’ Whereupon his soul seemed to rest, and be in some measure satisfied, though he had no considerable joy. He cannot here remember distinctly any views he had of Christ, or give any clear account of his soul’s acceptance of him, which makes his experience appear the more doubtful, and renders it less satisfactory to himself and others than it might be if he could remember distinctly the apprehensions and actings of his mind at this season. But these exercises of soul were attended and followed with a very great change in the man; so that it might justly be said he was become another man, if not a new man. His conversation and deportment were much altered; and even the careless world could not but wonder what had befallen him, to make so great a change in his temper, discourse, and behavior.”

– David Brainerd

GE 8:21 … for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth.

DT 24:16 Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.

PS 14:2-3 The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.

PS 16:2 I said to the Lord, “You art my Lord; I have no good besides you.”

PS 53:1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good.

ISA 48:8 You have neither heard nor understood; from of old your ear has not been open. Well do I know how treacherous you are; you were called a rebel from birth.

JER 13:23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?  Then you also can do good who are accustomed to doing evil.

JER 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

MT 19:25-26 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

LK 6:43 No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.

LK 6:45 The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.

RO 5:6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

Rom 5:12 Therefore as sin came into the world through one man [Adam] and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.

RO 5:18-19 Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

RO 7:18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.

RO 8:7-8 The mind of the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

1CO 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

GAL 3:22 But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin…

EPH 2:1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…

EPH 2:4-5 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions…

EPH 4:18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.

COL 2:13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.

TIT 1:16 They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed

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