T – Total Inability

The title of this post may be a little bit of a surprise to some of you, because the T in TULIP is not traditionally known as “Total Inability” but rather as “Total Depravity”. In recent years there have been a number of reformed theologians who have opted for this “inability” instead of “depravity” because it seems to be a much clearer explanation of what the Bible teaches about the condition of man’s heart and his inability to respond to God.

The doctrine of “Total Inability” teaches that man is completely and totally unable to respond to God, due to the fact that man is spiritually dead. It is not as if all men are as evil as they could possibly be, but all men are equally dead. It may be best to think of this concept as a battlefield. After a major battle scores of dead bodies are to be found upon the field. Some of these bodies were simply struck by a stray bullet that hit the right place, resulting in death but no major dismemberment; others were struck by large caliber weapons resulting in major disfiguration. In the same way, not all men have been as damaged by the effects of sin, but all are equally dead.

Man’s spiritual death is to be found throughout the pages of Scripture, the following is merely a smattering of passages that teach the fact that man is spiritually dead.
Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned-
Colossians 2:13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh…
Psalm 58:3 The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.
Jeremiah 13:23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.
Romans 3:10-12 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

Genesis 6:5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

To be dead is to be unable to respond to anything. I’ve been in crematoriums, where the remains of human beings are being burned and stored. One thing is for sure in a house of the dead, they are completely unable to respond to anything. In the same way, man is totally unable to respond to God b/c man is spiritually dead.

Total Inability is the foundational doctrine upon which all of the Doctrines of Grace rest. It is because of man’s total inability to respond to God that God must be the one initiating salvation through election.

John MacArthur uses the following illustration to show the relationship between Total Inability and Unconditional Election. To deny the doctrine of election, after understanding the doctrine of Total Inability, would be like looking at a man caught in a series of rapids and totally unable to free himself and then calling out “Listen, I’ve got good news for you.” “If you can get out of there, we can help dry you off.” What the man needs is a power far greater than himself to reach in, lift him out of his desperate situation and save him.

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October 22 2007 06:41 pm | Doctrines of Grace

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