The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Soteriology Simplified.
Notice Paul’s declaration in Romans 1:16-23:
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man — and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.”
Paul says the gospel of Christ is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes. Clearly revelation is at least one component of the gospel that is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes. It can also be argued that human reasoning as seen in the phrase, “to everyone who believes” is affected by the revelation brought about by and contained in revelation through the proclamation of this gospel of Christ. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes. This is a powerful statement. The gospel is that which is revealed in the Word of God that declares the Work of God where salvation is concerned. This revelation demands a response of belief on the part of the hearer. That is why Paul says he was commissioned to preach in the first place.
Paul continues, “For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’” What does the statement “from faith to faith” mean here? “From faith” is a direct reference to God’s righteousness and His faithfulness to do what He has promised He would do. “To faith” is a reference to man’s response to God’s faithfulness, which always precedes man’s response in faith. God’s righteousness is revealed in His faithfulness to keep His promises even when men do not keep up their end of the covenant God has established. So it is clear that faith is a response from men to God’s faithfulness that has been demonstrated to them over and over again. The point here is simple. While man is unquestionably depraved, the extent of his depravity is what is at question and the answer the Calvinists posit does not seem as solidly etched in Scripture as they suggest.
There is another issue that questions the validity of total depravity and inability. It is not an issue of man’s sinful disposition and his lost state apart from Christ. The issue is not even man’s ability to respond to God’s initiative of salvation. A real issue of contention can be seen in God’s ability, or a lack thereof, to reveal Himself to sinful man in this sinful state posited by Calvinism itself. Calvinists contend that sinful men are dead in their trespasses and sin and therefore are incapable of responding to God in any form or fashion apart from God’s sole initiative in regeneration and efficacious calling. In order for God to reveal Himself to man, He must first change this sinful state. Sinful man must be “born again” or “born from above” before he can even respond to God’s provision of forgiveness, which was brought about by Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. To the Calvinist regeneration by necessity must precede conversion. This tenet is central to the doctrine of Reformed Theology: “regeneration precedes faith… We do not believe in order to be born again; we are born again in order to believe.” The doctrine of total depravity and man’s utterly lost state and his inability to come to Christ form the chief cornerstone upon which the Doctrines of Grace stand. The discussion of the relevance and the relationship between revelation and reason is crucial to the validity of the tenets that the Doctrines of Grace put forward.
Here is a critical problem with this perspective. While the Calvinist position certainly highlights the inability of the human side to respond to God, it inadvertently says more about God’s sovereignty, or a lack thereof, than it does man’s inability. The total depravity/inability position maintains that man is incapable of responding to God’s initiative in revelation and reconciliation unless and until God first regenerates the lost individual so that in receiving new life and a new nature he is then capable of responding positively to God. In this scenario, God is powerless to reveal Himself to the lost individual and He is powerless to reconcile this person apart from His initiative in regeneration. Now granted, God is able to regenerate but notice Paul’s statement in Romans 1:16, “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.” The gospel has no power over the unregenerate because he is completely powerless to respond to God’s revelation of Himself without first being regenerated. This places regeneration as a priority over revelation and consequently the proclamation of the gospel itself that is problematic. Total depravity actually severely limits the sovereignty of God, which Calvinism trumps as a pillar in its systematic development.
Now, the Calvinist will claim the proclamation of the gospel is the means God uses to regenerate the lost person. At first glance, this seems perfectly plausible. However, if one considers the full implications of the regeneration prior to repentance position, the gospel cannot be the means God uses to accomplish regeneration because prior to regeneration the gospel has no power to do anything for the unregenerate. The tenet of total depravity/inability posits man as dead in his trespass and sin. He has deaf ears and a dead heart. He is totally and completely incapable of responding positively to God. He is enslaved to his sin nature and can only sin. If one seeks to reconcile this depravity/inability position with Paul’s declaration in Romans 1:16, it must go something like this: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to those who have been regenerated by God first so that they may then believe.” In the Calvinist theological system, the gospel cannot be the means God uses to regenerate an individual because until God gives him ears to hear and a new heart to respond, that gospel message is “foolishness to him” and one that he is totally incapable of responding positively to. In fact in taking this a step further, the Holy Spirit has no power to convict the unregenerate of his sin until he is first regenerated. This is seriously problematic. This issue will be discussed in more detail in later sections dealing with regeneration, revelation and reconciliation and the roles they play in the salvific process.
Romans 1:18 speaks of the revelation of God’s wrath that is “revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” Paul clearly states that God has shown this revelation to those ungodly and unrighteousness men. If the Calvinist is correct, this revelation could only be received by those who had been regenerated by God’s Spirit. This is obviously not the case in this passage because this revelation was shown to those who are ungodly and unrighteous. Paul goes on to say in verse 20, that these ungodly and unrighteous men are without excuse for the choices they made because in addition to what God has shown them personally through revelation, His invisible attributes are clearly seen by all men in creation itself. These men even though they knew God, refused to glorify Him as God and they refused to be thankful to God and they became futile in their thoughts and their foolish hearts were darkened. They changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man.
To the Calvinist, the ungodly are totally depraved and incapable of responding to God apart from the process of regeneration. They may receive revelation but their only response to it is rejection. The inference however, in this passage is that the same revelation that saved Paul is the same revelation that the ungodly refused to accept. The gospel message is the “power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes” not everyone who is regenerated enabling them to believe. Here is another problem. Regeneration leads to repentance and believing faith. The gospel really has no role in that event whatsoever. God effectually calls the dead lifeless person to new life and then he repents and believes not because of the gospel at all but because God has called the individual to new life. In the Calvinist system, effectual call and not the gospel must be the power of God unto salvation.