A Biblical Definition of Man’s Depravity: Why the Unsaved Man is NOT Dead Like a Rock or Corpse
Brannon Howse: My guest is Dr. Andy Woods.
All right, let’s talk about the T – total depravity of the Calvinist TULIP. But first, remind everyone what each letter stand for:
Dr. Woods: So, T – total depravity. U – unconditional election. L – limited atonement. I – irresistible grace. P basically stands for perseverance of the saints.
Brannon Howse: Now, I believe in the depravity of man – the sinfulness, the depravity of man – but a lot of this again comes back to, “Well, what do you mean by that term?” You know, one of the three deadly questions is, “What do you mean by that?” And so, we always have to be asking, “Well, what do you mean by that?”
Well, what does someone mean when they say they believe in the depravity of man or the total depravity of man? I believe man’s totally sinful. Right? “The heart is desperately wicked above all else; who can know it?” Right?
We can do nothing to save ourselves. I believe in the depravity of man. But there are those – not all, but there are some who teach in the total depravity of man to the point that you’re dead like a rock. And there are some, who even in their notes of their study Bible, actually refer to that–that somebody is like dead like a rock.
In other words, you basically have to have your mind regenerated before you can get saved, which to me sounds an awful lot like the belief that you need to get saved before you can get saved.
Well, I don’t believe we’re dead like a rock. And why don’t I? I believe we’re depraved. I believe we’re totally sinful; we’re totally spiritually bankrupt. We’re like the spiritual beggar; we can’t save ourselves. I absolutely agree with that. But I don’t believe total depravity means “You’re dead like a rock,” meaning no light gets in. You’re dead like a rock; no light permeates. That’s the extreme Calvinists who believe this, but we do not find this definition of depravity in the Word of God.
In Romans 1, what do we see? “They suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God.”
“Knowing the righteous judgments of God,” verse 32, in Romans 1. They know the righteous judgments of God; they don’t follow Him, and they don’t encourage others to follow Him. Notice the Apostle Paul keeps saying, “they know,” “they suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Who’s doing it? They are. How can they suppress the truth in unrighteousness? How can they know God if no light’s getting in? How can it say, “Although they know God, they do not glorify Him as God?” How can they do that if they’re dead like a rock? What would be the purpose of the moral law?
Romans 1, 2, and 3 talk about the moral law, if you will, being placed on their conscience. “Every man is without excuse.” Their mouth is shut. “Con” means with, “science” means knowledge. They sin with the knowledge of offending a holy, just God. This is why we have universal consent. Universally, everyone knows murder’s wrong, adultery’s wrong, cheating’s wrong, lying’s wrong, stealing’s wrong. Why? God’s law has been placed on their heart and their mind, their conscience; it bears witness to this fact. Right? How can that be the case if they’re dead like a rock?
Now, what’s interesting is that some of the same people who say that man is dead like a rock, and therefore they have to be regenerated before they can get saved, (which then again sounds like they have to get saved before they get saved), some of those same people who teach the total depravity of man means they’re dead like a rock–nothing’s getting through–are the same people who say, Hebrews 10 is talking about unbelievers.
Now some believe Hebrews 10 is talking about believers; others believe it talks about unbelievers.
But the point is this; some of those who teach that you’re dead like a rock, that no light is getting through, teach that Hebrews 10 is about unbelievers. Well, if that’s the case, what’s going on in Hebrews 10? It says they were enlightened. How could they be enlightened if no light or truth gets through? Hebrews 10 says they had the truth of the gospel presented to them. They weren’t saved, but they were enlightened? Then it goes on to say they tasted of the good Word–meaning they tasted of the Word of God. They saw miracles being performed either by Christ or by the apostles, and the powers of the age to come.
Now this is what some well-known Calvinists teach in their commentaries, and they teach Hebrews 10 is describing unbelievers.
Now, if those are unbelievers, how were they enlightened? So, the point is this: why would Jesus say, “I’m the light of the world?” The light shines on all men, “I’m the light of the world.” How can one be dead like a rock and no light gets in, yet Jesus said, “I’m the light of the world?” How can one be dead like a rock, no light gets in, no spiritual understanding, yet there’s the general revelation of the moral law or God’s law on their conscience per Romans 1 and then there is the general revelation of creation?
So, I believe in the depravity of man. Sinful, depraved man? Yes! But depravity does not mean that they don’t have any understanding. Now, do we believe they need to have their eyes open to fully understand their sinfulness? Yes. And the Holy Spirit draws them and fully opens their eyes, and they come to a place of faith and repentance? Yes. But even unbelievers have enough knowledge to be without excuse, to know the righteous judgements of God and to know He is God according to Romans chapter 1.
What’s funny is I even found a quote by John Calvin acknowledging man is not so dead that he doesn’t receive some light.
And why is it dangerous that people teach this idea that someone is dead like a rock? Why is that a dangerous idea that’s not found in the Bible? First, the very fact that it’s not found in the Bible and yet is being taught is dangerous enough, but why are we opposed to this so vehemently?
Some of these folks twist scripture like Ephesians 2:1 to prop up their presupposition of “dead like a rock” or “dead like a corpse.” Ephesians 2:1 states, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins.”
Man, before salvation, is spiritually condemned or dead, unable to save themselves, spiritually bankrupt, depraved, headed for the eternal punishment of sin. The unsaved man is like a dead man walking to the gallows.
The unbeliever does not have eternal life, but is headed for eternal death and judgement. The unbeliever is not in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit, and has a limited ability to understand spiritual things. The unbeliever is lacking the work of the Holy Spirit to illuminate the Word of God unto them.
However, Ephesians 2:1 does not say they do not know there is a God. It does not say that they do not know the guilt of sin through God’s law and thus are unable to suppress the truth in unrighteousness. It does not say they do not know the righteous judgments of God as revealed through general revelation and their conscience bearing witness. Ephesians 2:1 is not saying they are dead like a rock or corpse with no ability to understand on a limited basis that which is revealed to all men through general revelation per Romans 1. John 1:9 states, “That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.”
So we have to be careful when we see people taking scripture and twisting it to conform to their presupposition of depravity as defined by Calvinism. We believe in the depravity of man but not to the point that it contradicts the Scriptures.
Dr. Woods: Yeah. A lot of people use the word “cadaver.” One popular Bible teacher uses the word “cadaver,” which is a corpse.
We oppose this ‘dead like a rock’ definition of depravity because it relates to how you share the gospel. This same particular Bible teacher says, “Here’s how you get saved: you pray for the gift of faith. You’re dead like a rock, so you need to pray for the gift of faith. So, God gives you the gift of faith so you can be regenerated first, so that you can believe.”
Now, let’s just sort of examine this biblically. There’s Paul with the Philippian jailer. The Philippian jailer says, “What must I do to be saved?” He’s obviously unsaved at that point.
What does Paul say – “Pray for the gift of faith?” No! He says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” And so, if you believe that we’re dead like a rock, therefore, God has to give us the gift of faith and regenerate us so that we can believe–it’s going to alter the way you share the gospel.
Brannon Howse: Because why would you waste your time talking to a brick wall or a rock?
Dr. Woods: Exactly.
Brannon Howse: Would you agree with everything I was laying out about Romans 1, 2, and 3 in regards to why we’re not dead like a rock?
Dr. Woods: Exactly, I do agree. Remember Adam and Eve–what they were doing after the fall?
Brannon Howse: They were hiding.
Dr. Woods: They were hiding. What were they hiding from if they’re dead like a rock? They would have no conscience of God at all. So, they are taking what God had disclosed in their sinfulness and they were suppressing it. So, yeah, I do very much agree.
But very fast, John 16:8-9 says this – Jesus is speaking of the Holy Spirit, and He’s saying, “It’s to your advantage if I go away,” in the upper room, “because when I go, the Spirit will come.” And what’s He going to do? “When He comes, He will convict the world” – now, how big is the world? We talked about that earlier, didn’t we?
Brannon Howse: Yes.
Dr. Woods: The whole world. “He will convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment.” That’s John 16:8. Then it goes on and defines each of those terms. And, just for the sake of brevity, we’ll just read one, “– concerning sin” – notice that sin is singular; it’s the Greek word hamartia; it’s a singular noun – “concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me.”
So, what is the Holy Spirit doing today in the unsaved person? He is convicting them over and over again of the only sin they can commit that sends them into hell. There’s only one unpardonable sin–it’s dying, having never exercised faith in Christ. So, whatever we believe about total depravity–and we both believe in total depravity–the Spirit compensates for that and draws us to himself through conviction by convicting us over and over again of the need to believe in Christ.
Now, the Holy Spirit would not be doing this if the ‘dead like a rock’ cadaver theology was accurate. What the Holy Spirit would be doing is believing for us or regenerating us so that we can believe. But this text doesn’t say that. It says, “He convicts us so that we, through volition–God is not going to override volition. Why is that? Because we’re made in His image. Did you know that even in our fallen state we still bear God’s image?
Brannon Howse: Yes
Dr. Woods: James 3:9 says that.
Brannon Howse: Which is why murder’s wrong. That’s why, as believers, we are disgusted when we see unbelievers treating other unbelievers in horrible ways, because that person still is created in the image of God.
Dr. Woods: Exactly, and because I have that image-bearing status, God is not going to believe for me. This is where we differ from the cadaver theology. He convicts me so that I can believe.
Brannon Howse: Isn’t that what He said to Israel? “But you would not believe.”
Dr. Woods: “You would not believe.” And, you know, I think I can’t believe on my own because of my sinfulness, and no one seeks God. That’s why the Spirit is compensating here, through His work of conviction. But when He convicts, He enables. He’s not believing for us, because He’s respecting volition, because we’re made in His image. And to me, these verses that I just read contradict this idea that God has to believe for us; the belief that God has to regenerate us so that we can believe is a non-biblical doctrine. It contradicts everything Jesus taught in the upper room.
Brannon Howse: And we’re not, again, saying the Holy Spirit doesn’t draw them, the Holy Spirit doesn’t convict them. We are simply saying that general revelation involves the moral law or God’s law and convicting people which means that the light of the Gospel does shine on them through general revelation. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament shows His handiwork.”
Dr. Woods: Yeah.
Brannon Howse: And then, of course, as believers, we have the special revelation.
Dr. Woods: Right.
Brannon Howse: Once someone is saved and is regenerated through faith and repentance–two sides of the same coin–then the Holy Spirit indwelling them illuminates the Word of God so that I might understand it. The Holy Spirit gives them the spiritual eyes to understand what, prior to the unbeliever, was a dead letter.
But again, we go back to the whole premise of studying the Bible in context. The extreme Calvinists will take verses that deal with the believer having the Scripture illuminated to them, and apply that to salvation, won’t they?
Dr. Woods: Right. And they’ll put such an emphasis on depravity that again I want to be careful. We’re strong believers in total depravity.
Brannon Howse: It depends on how you define it.
Dr. Woods: It depends on how you define it. I understand total depravity is the idea that sin has not just affected me from the neck down; it has affected my mind; it has affected my intellect; it has affected my speech. There is no part of me that hasn’t been contaminated by sin.
But what it doesn’t mean is I, even as I come under the Spirit’s conviction, can’t believe. That’s an overemphasis of the doctrine. That’s taking a truth of the Scripture and pushing it beyond biblical parameters. And people say, “Well, it doesn’t matter what you think about this.” It does matter because it affects how you share the gospel. I don’t go around telling people to pray for the gift of faith. What I tell people to do is to believe in Christ, which is what exactly the Holy Spirit is doing in the unsaved as I speak.
You know, the Holy Spirit is not morally reforming unbelievers. He’s not convicting them of tattoos and profanity and spousal abuse and alcoholism…
Brannon Howse: Those are all the fruits of their being lost or depraved and a slave to sin. That’s all the fruit of the rebellion.
Dr. Woods: That’s the fruit of it. What the Spirit is doing is convicting them of the root, which is unbelief. And once that’s taken care of through faith alone in Christ alone, then the Holy Spirit comes into them. And, I guarantee you, He’s going to start working. He’s worked on me; He’s worked on you.
Brannon Howse: Yes.
Dr. Woods: The Holy Spirit starts to kind of fix us, clean us up from the inside out gradually, as we cooperate through progressive sanctification. So, this is why we think some people, the way they use total depravity, while we agree with total depravity, have pushed it beyond biblical parameters.
Brannon Howse: Before we conclude, there was a quote by Spurgeon we were going to give. Which topic would that have come under – do you remember?
Dr. Woods: It fits exactly with what we’re talking about here. The quote is from Spurgeon’s sermon entitled “The Warrant of Faith.” And this is important because people who use this cadaver theology, they claim Spurgeon as one of their own. And you see this a lot in people. They can’t support their case biblically, so, they go to some sage of the past. And yet, what does Spurgeon say here? It’s very interesting. He says, quote:
If I am to preach faith in Christ to a man who is regenerated, then the man, being regenerated, is already saved, and it is unnecessary and a ridiculous thing for me to preach Christ to him and bid him to believe in order to be saved, when he is saved already, being regenerated. Am I to preach faith to those who already have it? Absurd indeed! Is not this waiting till the man is cured and then bringing him the medicine? This is preaching Christ to the righteous and not to sinners.
And, see, a lot of people, because of a wrong definition of depravity, basically teach you’ve got to be regenerated first so that you can believe. That’s the out-flowing of this overemphasis on depravity. And they like to wrap their theology in Spurgeon. And Spurgeon is saying, “That’s a ridiculous thing.” Regeneration doesn’t come before you’re saved; regeneration comes as a consequence of trust in Christ. That’s when the impartation of divine life happens. What the Holy Spirit is doing on the front end before a person is – has trusted in Christ – is convicting them over and over again of their need to do this. And Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of Dallas Seminary – and I’m the president of Chafer’s Theological Seminary.
Brannon Howse: Chafer’s Seminary that he’s named after?
Dr. Woods: – Yes. So I have an affinity for Lewis Sperry Chafer and he called this concept ‘true evangelism.’ In other words, we develop our evangelistic message based on what the Spirit of God is already doing in the heart of the unsaved person.
Brannon Howse: So, in other words, the Holy Spirit’s already working on them.
Dr. Woods: Yes. The Holy Spirit is working on them to believe. And we say to them–believe. And quoting scripture helps, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word.” And what’s happening so many times is we’re babbling about things, because we don’t receive any teaching on this in our churches, usually. So, we’re babbling about all of these things – you know, don’t smoke, don’t chew, don’t go with girls who do – and we’re teaching a garbled gospel, and we’re communicating things that the Holy Spirit is not already doing in the heart of the unsaved person.
Once you develop the ability to articulate what the Holy Spirit is already doing, then you have what Lewis Sperry Chafer called ‘true evangelism.’ And then you’re going to start seeing fruit in your evangelism.
Brannon Howse: Exactly why this is a very important topic. I remember in the quote I sent you, a few weeks ago, from Calvin that I found, where Calvin – I don’t have it right in front of me – but basically Calvin said, “We’re not dead like a rock; we can’t say that some light’s not getting through; we can’t say that man doesn’t have some level of understanding.” So, even Calvin didn’t believe that you were so dead you didn’t have some level of accountability or understanding. And we don’t get our theology from John Calvin. But the point I’m making is even those who follow Calvin aren’t clearly reading Calvin. Because Calvin is saying, “Hey, they have some responsibility; they do get it to a degree.”
Dr. Woods: Yeah.
Brannon Howse: And then we see what Spurgeon has said. But the most important thing is the Bible and what the Bible has said. And Romans 1 and 2 and 3, and other passages, make it clear they suppress the truth; they, knowing the righteous judgments of God, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God. Well, how can a dead rock or corpse know God? So, clearly the Bible teaches there is the ability for the unsaved to understand enough spiritual truth to be accountable.
Dr. Woods: Right.
Brannon Howse: Some spiritual ability. It might be limited, but there’s enough for them to be held accountable to it.
Dr. Woods: Yeah. And I know time is slipping away, but I would just love to slip in John 3:18, which is obviously a couple of verses after the famous John 3:16. But Jesus, in John 3:18, says, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Notice what Jesus puts the onus on here. He puts the onus on the unbelievers. You’re responsible because you haven’t believed. Now, how could He say something like that if man was dead like a rock or a cadaver and couldn’t believe unless he was regenerated first miraculously by God so that He could believe?
Brannon Howse: Well, it goes back to Romans 1. How could he say, “They suppressed the truth in unrighteous?” How could he say to Israel, “You would not believe?”
Dr. Woods: That’s right.
Brannon Howse: And so, again, folks, the reason we’re doing this is so that we have a biblical understanding of the gospel of salvation, so we have a right view of how we are to be involved in evangelism. To be involved in proper Biblical evangelism, we need to first have correct Biblical theology. If someone’s theology is so messed up as to believe the unsaved are dead like a rock or a corpse, then they are going to be discouraged from evangelizing, because we might be talking to a rock or a dead corpse, and why would we want to waste our time? So, these are vital issues.
We have received so many emails thanking us for some of the radio shows we have done on this topic. People tell us it has helped to really clear things up from the Bible.
Dr. Woods: Yeah.
Brannon Howse: And that’s the bottom line, isn’t it?
Dr. Woods: That’s the bottom line. And we don’t want to be out pursuing an agenda that God’s not doing.
Brannon Howse: Absolutely.
Dr. Woods: And if I’m out talking about things to unsaved people that God is not agitating them about – I mean he’s not worried about their gambling.
Brannon Howse: That’s the fruit, again, of their life.
Dr. Woods: Yeah.
Brannon Howse: We’ve got to get to the root cause.
Dr. Woods: Let’s deal with the root. Now, the gambling or whatever the sin may be, God will start dealing with them on the other end of that once the Spirit’s in them.
Brannon Howse: They’re not going to hell because they gambled.
Dr. Woods: Exactly.
Brannon Howse: They’re going to hell because they’ve rejected Christ and suppressed the truth in unrighteousness.
Dr. Woods: The only sin that sends someone into a Christless eternity is going through their whole life having never believed in Christ, having never submitted to that conviction and trusted in Christ for salvation. God forgives every sin; that sin’s unforgivable.
Brannon Howse: That one’s unforgivable. Dr. Andy Woods has been my guest and his website’s andywoodsministries.org. Thank you, Andy.
Dr. Woods: Pleasure to be here.
Brannon Howse: Don’t forget about his radio show at worldviewradio.com, his TV show at wvwtv.com. His website is andywoodsministries.org. Okay, folks, we’ve been doing some great interviews here in Dallas, Texas. I hope you have appreciated them.
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