I was listening to a podcast of Dr. John MacArthur speaking at a Bible conference on the subject of total depravity (though he later admitted that total inability is perhaps a better term). As an Arminian, I was able to listen to this Calvinist brother preach on this subject and agree with him 100%. The sinner is incapable of salvation apart from the grace of God. Sinners, by nature, do not seek God (Romans 3:10-11). Sinners are dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-3). I agreed with MacArthur that God alone is the one who must act to bring the sinner to salvation. I believe this first act was done by God Himself in the garden after the fall (Genesis 3:21) and in His prophesy about the coming Seed who would crush the serpent (Genesis 3:15). From Genesis to the Gospels, we have the story of God reaching out to lost sinners and ultimately in His Son He showed both His justice and His love for lost sinners (Luke 19:10; John 3:14-18; 1 John 4:14).
MacArthur and I would agree on all this (though he would disagree that Christ came to save all sinners but only the elect). Arminians agree that Christ is the only hope for lost humanity. Christ is the only way we can find forgiveness of our sins (Matthew 26:28) and we must preach that salvation comes only through faith in Him and Him alone (Galatians 2:15-16). We must preach that all sinners are under the wrath of God apart from salvation in Christ Jesus (Romans 1:18) and that the only way for sinners to turn away God’s just wrath is through the sacrifice of Christ (Romans 3:22-27; 5:8-9).
Further, because of the nature of depravity, sinners cannot just choose to be saved when they want. Sinners must have the Holy Spirit working upon their hearts to be saved. Jesus promised this work toward sinners in John 16:8-11. Notice in John 16:8-11 that this would be toward the entire world. The Spirit is working even now in the world to draw sinners to the Savior (John 6:44). As we preach the gospel, sinners hear the gospel and the Spirit of God draws sinners to repent of their sins (Acts 2:37-38). Those sinners who appropriate the work of Christ are the elect of God (1 Timothy 4:10) and are truly saved by His grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). I have no problem saying that salvation is the work of God (John 1:12-13) and that apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, none could be saved. In our depraved state, sinners simply will not look to Christ for salvation. We hate the true God and we would rather do it our own way if left to ourselves. We need the divine aid of the Spirit of God.
- “Total Depravity (the T in FACTS) [Cf. Article 3 of the 5 Articles of the Remonstrance]” in The FACTS of Salvation: A Summary of Arminian Theology/the Biblical Doctrines of Grace;
- Arminian Perspectives, “Some Excellent and Concise Comments on Free Will, the Bondage of Sin, and Prevenient Grace”;
- Arminian Today, “Why Total Inability Must Be Studied Before Evangelism”.