Conversion and Human Depravity

The theories and speculations with respect to the work of the Holy Spirit in conversion are numerous and varied.  Denominational preachers have taught that salvation is the direct result of the Holy Spirit entering the life of an individual and “burning out the Adamic nature.”  The purpose of the “prayer alter,” or the “mourner's bench” is to provide a means for the sinner to beseech God to send down His Spirit and save them.

What Are We Talking About?

First, we are talking about the Spirit’s part in the conversion of a sinner.  The word conversion means “a turning from,” and it refers to the change that occurs in the heart and life of a person.  It is the transformation from being under the control of sin and Satan to submission to Christ and righteousness (Rom. 6:17-18; John 8:32).  Jesus spoke to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus.  He said, “But arise, and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; delivering you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:16-18).  Of the Thessalonians Paul said, “For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from Idols to serve a living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9).  Conversion is the point of turning from sin to God.

The absolute necessity of conversion is clearly set forth in the New Testament -- no man can be saved until he turns from sin.  Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3).  Conversion is a fundamental condition upon which a man is at peace with God.  It is a moral process that is begun, carried on, and completed by a moral power, the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

There are three basic changes that take place in conversion.

First there is the purification of the heart.  The heart is changed by faith (Acts 15:9; Romans 10:17). 

Second the life is changed by repentance (Acts 11:18).  Third, the state or relationship are changed by baptism (Gal. 3:27).  With a purified heart, a changed life, one is ready to be translated into the kingdom of the son of God's love, the church.  Paul wrote, “For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13).  As a member of the kingdom of Christ an individual is a "new creature" (2 Cor. 5:17).  Conversion produces new attitudes, new emotions, and new actions.

The Denominational View

Due to the influence of John Calvin, a theologian who lived in the early 1500’s, conversion means something entirely different than what we have found in the Bible.  Calvin has influenced the major protestant denominations with His view of the work of the Holy Spirit in conversion.  Through his doctrinal espousals the religious world has come to view conversion as some strange and mysterious experience that is effected through the direct operation of the Holy Spirit on the sinner's heart.

The doctrine of the direct operation of the Spirit is the outgrowth of the doctrine of inherited total depravity.  This doctrine holds that all humans are born sinners, so depraved they cannot think a good thought, do a good deed, and all that involves their essential nature is totally corrupt.  Some miraculous or supernatural power is required to recover such a depraved soul. Thus, to Calvinists, the power of God, separate and apart from the word of God, is required.  Calvinists have looked at the Bible as a “dead letter” which is incapable of being understood by one so depraved from birth.

This is the underlying cause of those “better felt than told” experiences, the dreams, visions, and other heart wrenching experiences people mistake for evidence of salvation. To such folks the influence of God through His Spirit on the sinner is a strange and inexplicable power.  They conclude that no human being is able to achieve salvation without deep strivings of the soul, and only then if, and when, the Spirit decides to operate will the sinner be saved. 

N.L. Rice, in debate with Alexander Campbell, argued: “We believe and teach, that in conversion and sanctification there is an influence of the Spirit in addition to that of the Word, and distinct from it — an influence, without which the arguments and motives of the gospel would never convert and sanctify one of Adam's ruined race.  We further believe, that although the Word of God is employed as the instrument of conversion and sanctification, where it can be used; God has never confined himself to means and instrumentalities, where they cannot be employed.Campbell Rice Debate, page 628.

J.B. Moody, a Missionary Baptist, in debate with James A. Harding argued, “Man is so depraved that he cannot render acceptable obedience to the Gospel unless aided by this divine power in addition to the Word.  I believe this divine power through the Word, and in addition to the Word, is exerted in circumcising a man's ears so he can hear, in circumcising his heart so he can feel and love, in opening his blind eyes so he can see, in creating him in Christ Jesus, in quickening him into life, in giving him the new birth, in convicting him of sin, in giving him repentance and the spirit of prayer and supplication, in working confiding faith in his heart, in shedding abroad the love of God in his heart, in opening his understanding, in bestowing upon him wisdom, by working in him both to will and to do, by helping him in every effort in obedience to the Lord.The Nashville Debate, page 415.

Next, Moody added, “I purpose to argue my proposition from the necessity of such additional power as seen in the helpless condition of man, growing out of his complete depravity.Ibid., page 416.

The doctrine of total inherited depravity is a creation of man’s wisdom; it is denied in the Bible.  Man at birth is pure, holy, and innocent.  Jesus recognized this inherent nature of man before “actual transgression.”**  Jesus said, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Luke 18:16).  Adam was not created with a “depraved nature.”  He was pronounced “good” by Jehovah at creation (Gen. 1:31).  Men corrupt their natures through choice, not birth.  Solomon wrote, “Behold I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought our many devices” (Eccl. 7:29).  Please look up and study the following verses.  Ezekiel 18:20; Isaiah 53:6; 2 Timothy 3:13.  We come into a world sinless and pure. The world is corrupt and contaminated by sin.  All men do sin, but not through merely being born. Questions about this article are welcome. Email: Valley Church

<Back to More Religious Issues>