Romans 8 and Ephesians 1 have become famous “tourist attractions” for Calvinists traveling along the pilgrim trail to wherever they were predestined to vacation. They see it as a great place to pull over, take off their shoes, and frolic among the TULIPs. This is due to the fact that those two chapters contain some of Calvinism’s favorite words – that is, if you are wearing the special “Bible-decoder goggles” that come along with a membership to Club Calvin.
The Calvinist (as does every heretic, to some degree) sees his theology in virtually every verse of scripture he reads. He sees it not because it’s there, but because he has latched onto a preconception, wedded his preconception to scripture, and from that union birthed several misconceptions. For example, when a Calvinist reads words like “predestination,” “foreknowledge,” “called,” and “elect,” he reads them ONLY through the filter of his Calvinistic Bible-decoder goggles which conveniently filter out for him any scriptures or concepts that go against the TULIP system. These special glasses also benefit the wearer by blocking out the harmful light rays of common sense and reason. For the purposes of this study, our approach will be to look at these verses through the eyes of the Calvinist first, and then we will “take off the goggles” and let the scriptures speak for themselves.
The TULIP System, Briefly
Before we get into the exposition of Ephesians 1 and Romans 8, an understanding of the Calvinists’ doctrinal system is necessary. Calvinism is a broad reference to what some call “the Doctrines of Predestination.” It is a preconceived notion concerning predestination that leads to the misconceptions of Calvinism. Predestination is a great Bible concept (“predestinate,” and “predestinated” are both found in scripture), and we will later examine the Biblical definition of this word, but it is a word on which the Calvinists (having erroneously defined it) base their belief system.
The Calvinistic theology of predestination has God, in his “sovereign grace,” (a term found nowhere in the Bible) both predetermining and prearranging, “before the foundation of the world,” (taken from Eph. 1:4) EVERYTHING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED OR EVER WILL HAPPEN. In simple terms, this means God has set everything up to happen according to His own Will and by eternal decree (a term found nowhere in the Bible); and nothing happens, ever, under any condition, that He did not intend to happen, actively choose to happen, and by His power MAKE to happen. This is an unscriptural and irreverent (to put it mildly) view of God, as any thinking person can deduce. If you follow the logic, it places the ultimate responsibility for all of man’s sins on God. Nevertheless, it is of utmost importance in this study to note that this concept of God is the source from which the doctrines of Calvinism spring. These doctrines are condensed to five points, and an acronym, “TULIP,” is made by putting the points in order: T – Total Depravity; U – Unconditional Election; L – Limited Atonement; I – Irresistible Grace; P – Perseverance of the Saints. For now, we are only going to discuss the first two points. After dispensing with them, the remainder of the TULIP withers accordingly.
“Total Depravity” (a term found nowhere in the Bible) is supposed to reference the darkened and sinful condition of man’s nature due to Adam’s sin in Genesis 3. The word “depraved” means “morally corrupt,” and it can hardly be argued that mankind is otherwise...but that’s the point. Total Depravity is a smoke-screen designed to take the focus off of what the Calvinist truly believes—that man is so totally depraved and sinful that he cannot freely choose to believe the gospel, and trust Jesus Christ as his Saviour. Man has no free will, in other words. In Calvinism, depravity extends to the will; and mankind has an inability to make ANY right choices.
The doctrine of Total Depravity is, in truth, the doctrine of Total Inability; and it should be noted that the Calvinists support this point using verses that deal with inability and not depravity. For example, the Calvinist will point to a passage like Romans 7:15-20: (15) For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. (16) If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. (17) Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. (18) For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. (19) For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. (20) Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. This passage, when read with our special goggles, shows us that Paul had an INABILITY to do good. It says exactly that in verse 19. He admits he cannot find “how to perform that which is good.” Galatians 5:17 is another example: “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” The verse states plainly that you “cannot” (total inability) do what you want to do because of your sinful depravity. Yet another example is Matthew 7:17-18: (17) Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. (18) A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Again, we see through the filter of Calvinism a total inability in man to do good things.
There are scores of other verses used by the Calvinist to prove man has no free will because of his depraved nature. But do these scriptures actually prove Calvinism’s doctrine of Total Depravity? That remains to be seen, for all the Calvinist has done so far is, 1) Declare his theory – “Man is totally depraved, and therefore unable to do/think anything righteous”; 2) Utilize the INDUCTIVE method of reasoning to cherry-pick verses out of the Bible that seem to support his theory. All heresy is born from the same illicit affair: 1. ADD to the scripture. 2. SUBTRACT from the scripture. 3. REMOVE the scripture from its context. 4. CHANGE the scripture to make it fit a preconceived notion. The above samples only “prove” what the Calvinist teaches when you perpetrate one or more of these four crimes against the word of God.
For example, who, after actually reading Romans 7, could miss several items in blatant opposition to the Calvinist’s position? Notice, after confessing “in my flesh dwelleth no good thing,” Paul states, “for to will is present with me” (v. 18). Paul said he had a will to do good. The Calvinist has subtracted that phrase from the passage without dealing with it. Paul admits his depravity, and then states his depravity has no connection with his will to do good. The context of Romans 7 is found in Romans 8:1 (notice the “Therefore”), where to the dismay of the Calvinist you are told that the whole point of Paul’s discussion on being in bondage to the “law of sin” verses serving “the law of God” (vs. 25) was to urge his reader to exercise his free will and CHOOSE to “walk in the Spirit,” and “not after the flesh” (see 8:1-5)! Somebody pulled that entire passage (Rom. 7:15-20) out of its proper context. But that isn’t all. Notice (as is also the case in Galatians 5:17) the “wretched man” in whose flesh “dwelleth no good thing” – the apostle Paul – is SAVED; and so are his readers (those instructed to walk in the Spirit, and not after the flesh – 8:1-5). So as it turns out, a man’s depravity is not affected by his being one of “the elect,” apparently. And that being the case, if a Christian can choose to reject his new nature and walk after the flesh, why can’t a lost man choose to reject his nature to do right? After all, in the same book (Romans 1:26, 27) we have lost men and women who go “against nature” to do wrong; why can’t they go “against nature” to do right?
Romans 7 describes the conflict between the fleshly nature and the spiritual nature of the Christian. The two natures are said to be at war with one another (v.23). But Romans 6, 7, and 8, when taken in context, make the point that the choice is left up to the individual Christian to obey the flesh, or obey the Spirit. To top it all, it is not the condition of “mankind" that is being discussed in the context, but rather the conduct of Christians. Based on the discussions in these chapters, the correct statement to make is, “A Christian is unable to obey the Spirit of God in the instances he chooses to follow after his flesh.” It is obvious to anyone who can read English that this is not the same as saying “It is impossible at ALL times for lost men to decide to reject the impulses of their flesh and respond to the Holy Spirit.” Romans 7 makes no mention of this.
Galatians 5:17 is exactly the same warning as found in Romans 7, for the verse right before it gives the same command to Christians: “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (v.16). Verse 17 is easily clarified as having nothing to do with blanket statements regarding the depravity of mankind or his free agency, but rather the choice of the Christian to do right or wrong. A Christian’s inability (“ye cannot do the things that ye would”) is conditioned upon whether he chooses to be led by the flesh or the Spirit. While you follow the flesh, you cannot do the things the new man/nature wants; and while you follow the Spirit, you cannot do what the old man/nature wants. There is no fence-straddling. But who could miss that who simply read the context? (Read Gal. 5:16-26.)
Finally, the Calvinistic overtones of Matthew 7:17, 18 are easily dispensed with by once again paying attention to the context (it’s called reading). Yes, a corrupt tree is unable to bring forth good fruit; but to say this refers to the depravity of mankind and robs him of his free will is beyond the pale. The corrupt tree is NOT identified as mankind in the passage, but as a FALSE PROPHET (read the passage, v15-20).
The deception of Total Depravity is accomplished by a two-step process. Step one: Establish that “Man has a depraved, fallen nature (scriptural), and therefore has an inability to exercise free will (unscriptural) in making any right choice.” Step two: When anyone disagrees and says man has a free will, then bring up the scriptures that illustrate man’s depravity, and pretend you’ve argued against free will. That is, the mistake of the Calvinist is to assume depravity EQUALS inability. Once you’ve defined depravity as inability, then you can “prove” your heresy from scripture. In reality, all you’ve done is CHANGE the scriptures to fit your brand of theology. You use a King James Bible, but instead of physically changing the words in the text as the new versions do, you simply change them mentally as you read them, and cleverly preserve your image as a “Bible-believer.”