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Tuesday
Nov102009

Theological Term of the Week

inability
The teaching that fallen humans cannot “discern and choose God’s way because we have no natural inclination Godward; our hearts are in bondage to sin, and only the grace of regeneration can free us from that slavery”1; one aspect of total depravity.

  • From scripture:
    For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:7-8 ESV)
    No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 

    But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (John 6:44, 64-65 ESV)
  • From The London Baptist Confession of Faith, 1689, Chapter 9:

    Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able by his own strength to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto. 

  • From The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination by Loraine Boettner:

    Fallen man sees nothing desirable in “the One who is altogether lovely, the fairest among ten thousand.” He may admire Jesus as a man, but he wants nothing to do with Him as God, and he resists the outward holy influences of the Spirit with all his power. Sin, and not righteousness, has become his natural element so that he has no desire for salvation.

    Man’s fallen nature gives rise to a most obdurate blindness, stupidity, and opposition concerning the things of God. His will is under the control of a darkened understanding, which puts sweet for bitter, and bitter for sweet, good for evil, and evil for good. So far as his relations with God are concerned, he wills only that which is evil, although he wills it freely. Spontaneity and enslavement actually exist together.

    In other words, fallen man is so morally blind that he uniformly prefers and chooses evil instead of good, as do the fallen angels or demons. When the Christian is completely sanctified he reaches a state in which he uniformly prefers and chooses good, as do the holy angels. Both of these states are consistent with freedom and responsibility of moral agents. Yet while fallen man acts thus uniformly he is never compelled to sin, but does it freely and delights in it. His dispositions and desires are so inclined, and he acts knowingly and willingly from the spontaneous motion of the heart. This natural bias or appetite for that which is evil is characteristic of man’s fallen and corrupt nature, so that, as Job says, he “drinketh iniquity like water.” 

  • From Human Inability by Charles Spurgeon:
    Permit me to show you wherein this inability of man really does lie. It lies deep in his nature. Through the fall, and through our own sin, the nature of man has become so debased, and depraved, and corrupt, that it is impossible for him to come to Christ without the assistance of God the Holy Spirit. Now, in trying to exhibit how the nature of man thus renders him unable to come to Christ, you must allow me just to take this figure. You see a sheep; how willingly it feeds upon the herbage! You never knew a sheep sigh after carrion; it could not live on lion’s food. Now bring me a wolf; and you ask me whether a wolf cannot eat grass, whether it cannot be just as docile and as domesticated as the sheep. I answer, no; because its nature is contrary thereunto. You say, “Well, it has ears and legs; can it not hear the shepherd’s voice, and follow him whithersoever he leadeth it?” I answer, certainly; there is no physical cause why it cannot do so, but its nature forbids, and therefore I say it cannot do so. Can it not be tamed? Cannot its ferocity be removed? Probably it may so far be subdued that it may become apparently tame; but there will always be a marked distinction between it and the sheep, because there is a distinction in nature. Now, the reason why man cannot come to Christ, is not because he cannot come, so far as his body or his mere power of mind is concerned, but because his nature is so corrupt that he has neither the will nor the power to come to Christ unless drawn by the Spirit.  

Learn more:

  1. J. I. Packer: Inability
  2. Kim Riddlebarger: The Canons of Dort, Third/Fourth Head of Doctrine, Article Three
  3. Brian Schwertley: Total Depravity and Man’s Inability
  4. Covenant of Grace Church: Man’s Moral Inability
  5. Thomas Boston: Man’s Utter Inability to Rescue Himself
  6. S. Lewis Johnson: Effects of the Fall, Part III (mp3 and transcript)

Related terms:

1J. I. Packer, Concise Theology

Do you have a a theological term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it.

I’m also interested in any suggestions you have for tweaking my definitions or for additional (or better) articles or sermons/lectures for linking. I’ll give you credit and a link back to your blog if I use your suggestion.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms organized in alphabetical order or by topic.

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Reader Comments (1)

Great post and good quotes. I see you are familiar with S. Lewis Johnson too -- I've been enjoying listening to his sermons recently.
I like the point he often makes about total depravity, that it doesn't mean we are as bad as we can be. "So we’re not as bad as we can be. When we say that man is totally depraved, we mean that all of their faculties are touched by sin: their mind, their wills, their emotions. Those features that make up their faculties, they’re all twisted and warped by sin. They’re even capable of certain thoughts that even the world approves of as benevolent thoughts, very good thoughts. But all parts of them are touched by sin; that’s what total depravity means."
from http://www.sljinstitute.net/sermons/new%20testament/pauls/pages/ephesians13.html

November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLynda O

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