Calvinism-Total Hereditary Depravity (Nine)

It is written:

“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6)


“For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7  Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8  So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:6-8)

These are some more passages which the Westminster Confession of Faith (a Calvinist creed) insist teaches the ideas of human depravity and original sin.

Do they?

Not in the slightest.

Let’s start with the passage in Romans 5.

Here, Paul is simply teaching us the fact that sinners do not have strength or ability to save themselves from sin. This is, of course, a central teaching of the Word of God. Sinners can never merit God’s forgiveness.

Isaiah 64;6-But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away.

Ephesians 2:8-9-For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9  not of works, lest anyone should boast.

In Romans 5:6, Paul is simply reiterating the fact that despite our wickedness, God sent His Son to die for us. The Lord died for sinners in order to pay their debt. This is another indication of God’s lovingkindness towards man (Romans 5:8), and of the God who kindly forgives and pardons the ungodly (cf. Romans 4:5). No sinner deserves the grace of Jesus dying in his place. This passage speaks nothing of total depravity or original sin; it merely demonstrates the inability of sinners to save themselves.

The passage in Romans 8 is a favorite one of Calvinists. It is argued that all in “the flesh” are opposed to God, and have a mind that is hateful towards Him.

Let’s break it down.

First, the words “the flesh” need to be properly defined. We may be tempted to consider these words as simply being synonymous with “the body” of matter. This is, in essence, how Calvinists consider the wording (which is unsurprisingly very similar in form to the Gnostics that Augustine and Calvin emulated). Yet this is not a satisfactory definition of the phrase “the flesh” since Paul said that the Romans were no longer “in the flesh!” Clearly, Paul is not writing to a bunch of disincarnate ghosts!

So then, what is “the flesh?”

Paul (in Romans 8:7-9) is describing the imagery he had just elaborated upon:

Romans 8:5-7-For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6  For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7  Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.”

The word “flesh” had reference to a mindset that a sinner focused and fixated upon. It is a mindset that seeks to honor the physical and carnal pursuits of life as opposed to the spiritual pleasures of the Lord Himself, and the life that He grants to His followers (the Spirit).

Barclay has this excellent study of “the flesh” as used especially by Paul:

“Two words keep recurring again and again in this chapter–flesh (sarx) and spirit (pneuma). We will not understand the passage at all unless we understand the way in which Paul is using these words. (1) Sarx literally means flesh. The most cursory reading of Paul’s letters will show how often he uses the word, and how he uses it in a sense that is all his own. Broadly speaking, he uses it in three different ways. (a) He uses it quite literally. He speaks of physical circumcision, literally ‘in the flesh’ (Romans 2: 28). (b) Over and over again, he uses the phrase kata sarka, literally according to the flesh, which most often means looking at things from the human point of view. For instance, he says that Abraham is our ancestor kata sarka, from the human point of view (Romans 4: 1). He says that Jesus is the son of David kata sarka (Romans 1: 3), that is to say, on the human side of his descent. He speaks of the Jews being his kindred kata sarka (Romans 9: 3), that is to say, speaking of human relationships. When Paul uses the phrase kata sarka, it always implies that he is looking at things from the human point of view. (c) But he has his own way of using this word sarx. When he is talking of the Christians, he talks of the days when we were in the flesh (en sarki) (Romans 7: 5). He speaks of those who walk according to the flesh as distinct from those who live the Christian life (Romans 8: 4–5). He says that those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8: 8). He says that the mind of the flesh is death, and that it is hostile to God (Romans 8: 6, 8). He talks about living according to the flesh (Romans 8: 12). He says to his Christian friends: ‘You are not in the flesh’ (Romans 8: 9). It is quite clear, especially from the last instance, that Paul is not using flesh simply in the sense of the body, as we say flesh and blood. How, then, is he using it? He really means human nature in all its weakness, and he means human nature in its vulnerability to sin. He means that part of human beings which offers sin a way in. He means sinful human nature, apart from Christ, everything that attaches people to the world instead of to God. To live according to the flesh is to live a life dominated by the dictates and desires of sinful human nature instead of a life dominated by the dictates and the love of God. The flesh is the lower side of human nature.” (William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans (The New Daily Study Bible), 118-120 (Kindle Edition); Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press)

Thus, “the flesh” is the mindset which a person lives according to when he is opposed to God.

Second, this shows us again that infants and small children are excluded from these things and are not under consideration in the text. The persons that Paul is discussing have the maturity to choose living a life opposed to God (cf. Romans 8:5-6). Simply consider some of the ways that people demonstrate living according to the flesh:

Galatians 5:19-21-Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20  idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21  envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Obviously, infants and small children are not under discussion with these things! Indeed, as we will learn in a future study, Paul argues that infants and small children are spiritually alive when they are born into this world since they are sinless (Romans 7:9).

We thus find more passages which Calvinists claim teach total depravity and which actually do nothing of the sort.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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