Some would say that at the heart of Calvinism or the doctrines of Sovereign Grace, is the Unconditional Election of God’s people. Although I would agree that that is the doctrine by which begins the controversy of this Reformed way of understanding what happens when people are saved, it doesn’t lie at the heart of the matter. In my opinion, it is the doctrine of depravity or original sin that makes the rest of Calvinism necessary.
There seem to be a couple of stumbling blocks for people who cant put the puzzle of the TULIP together. (TULIP is the acronym for Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints; which describes the summary of Calvin’s understanding of grace by the Synod of Dort, set against the Remonstrance of 1610)
First, there seems to be a willingness to be content with no knowledge when faced with the many Scriptures that teach these doctrines. These people just don’t want to know the truth. Usually they are willing to discuss grace until they are faced with either Scripture or logic that cant be explained away. It’s then when you hear them use escape phrases like “Who can know the mind of God?” or “Lot’s of good Christians disagree on this”. Most of the time a person like this has no desire to look any further at the truth, no matter how obvious you believe it to be.
Secondly, and this is where I would like to focus, is the person who merely has a misunderstanding of depravity. Unlike the first person, this person may actually be interested in understanding grace, but has misunderstood this foundational issue. It is difficult to bring this person along to an understanding of Unconditional Election simply because they misunderstand the need for it. Most of the time, a Christian has some understanding of sin. They may even consider it serious to the extent that it renders us needy of God’s grace in some way. Yet, they do not understand it. They do not have a robust understanding of the human condition of spiritual death.
If any man could see his own heart as it is by nature, he would be driven mad: the sight of our disease is not to be borne unless we also see the remedy. –Charles Spurgeon
That is where the problem lies for many people. It is from this doctrine, total depravity that flows the necessity of the other doctrines of Sovereign Grace or the ULIP. When a person finally grasps their former condition and the condition of all of humanity, it becomes apparent that election must be unconditional, redemption must be particular, grace must be effectual, and the redeemed must be kept. It becomes apparent that without these doctrines, heaven would be vacant, God would be powerless, and the foot of the cross would be empty!
It is not the most difficult of doctrines to understand though, and it is Biblically one of the most prevalent. That being said, lets look at one verse in the New Covenant that may help us glean a more robust understanding of the depravity of man.
John 6:44 (NET)
6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.
Of course in this verse it is easy to notice what Jesus is trying to say. No man can. Jesus did not say that no man may. He said that no man can. That’s important. Can qualifies the word come. No man can come. In other words, when it comes to coming to Christ, no man can. No man is able. It is impossible for a man to come. This is specifically speaking about a person’s ability or inability to come. No man can come.
In the past, when I would hear this verse preached, I would be offended at the first half of this verse because it indicated that I really had nothing to do with my trusting Jesus. If one takes this part of this verse to mean that NO MAN CAN, then it must be true that before I did anything, God did something to me. I was always waiting for the second part of this verse so that I could have some relief from what would otherwise be completely offensive to me. It was so good to hear, “unless the Father draw”. I knew that this second half qualified the first half in a way that would at least give me some of the credit back. The Father wooed me, so I must have listened and decided to trust Christ because of some intrinsic goodness in me. How good it was to be wooed by the Father, I thought.
The problem with that is that we have a modern understanding of the word draw. The author did not mean what we usually take it to mean today. We understand the word draw to mean woo, or plead. We understand it as if God was slowly pleading with us, wooing us with his loving call, all the while leaving the whole thing up to us, keeping our autonomy in tact. What it actually means looks like this:
Draw-σύρωa; ἕλκωa; σπάομαι: to pull or drag, requiring force because of the inertia of the object being dragged.
Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains. New York: United Bible Societies.
The word draw, as used in John 6:44, is not to plead, but it is more like drawing water from a well. It is God pulling us out of our unbelief. God draws us out, forcefully, because we are bent against him. He must, if we are to be able to come to Christ. Otherwise, we can not. No man can unless God does. He must change us in a way that violates us. His grace must invade us. He must go across the line that we hold so dearly, the line of our freedom. It is the only way. No man can, unless God draws. We aren’t able, unless he enables us. No man can…unless the Father draws…
We can talk about the will of man and freedom until we are blue in the face, but deal with this verse! Tell me, what do you make of these words of Christ? Forget your autonomy and its importance to your ego for a moment and let the words of Christ resonate in your mind. Is it the Bible that is your authority, or is it some other thing? If it is God’s Word, what do you say about this? No man can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him?
If it is as I have said, then mankind, each one of us, is in a spot. All of a sudden, we need God’s grace so much more. If we have trusted Christ, we have been so blessed to be drawn. He could have left us in that dead condition, the condition of “no man can”. Our election of him becomes so secondary to his election of us. Our choice becomes so dependent upon his choice. Election, Atonement, Effectual Grace, become so much more necessary. We see God’s grace so much more clearly when we see our helpless condition more rightly. All of this because we see our depravity.
I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.-John Newton