A Need for a New Identity:
Conversionism, Transformed Theology, and a New Tulip
Part 1: Total Lostness
This article is the first in a series that offer an alternative to the classical Reformed T.U.L.I.P. The entire series is available at www.transformedtheology.com. This article addresses “Total Lostness.”
Calvinism and Arminianism have been a major part of the theological landscape for centuries and the debate today is no closer to being resolved than it was in the days of Calvin and Arminius, themselves. A number of attempts have been made to strike a balance between the two. Conversionism and Transformed Theology is an attempt to begin that process. There are a number of ways that one might establish a new identity associated with a change in terminology from Calvinism to Conversionism and from Reformed Theology to Transformed Theology. One way involves modifying the framework that Reformed Theology has built itself around, namely the TULIP which is an acronym representing the five points of Calvinism. By using the same five letters, this section will focus on a new identity that will find its significance in a New Tulip. Consider the following acrostic:
- An Argument for Total Lostness
- An Argument for Unconditional Love
- An Argument for Limiting Atonement
- An Argument for Irrefutable Gospel
- An Argument for Perseverance of the Savior
In evaluating this new proposed position, it is important to remember that each plank must rest on its own merit based on what the Bible has to say as opposed to interpreting each through the lens of some preconceived premise. For example it can be argued that each of the points of Calvinism have been so developed to support the underlying premise that Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross could not have been for all men because it is obvious that not all men are saved and headed for heaven. While the latter part of this statement is absolutely true, that does not validate the former part of the statement. To be fair, there is always a tendency no matter how well intended, to frame one’s theology around certain preconceived theological foundations and frameworks. Just as every man is a product of his own environment, so is his theology a product of his overall evaluation of the Scripture itself. However, when questions concerning theology are presented, it behooves those on both sides of the issue to consider certain arguments on their own merit in light of a standard, which must be the Word of God. Please consider the following points with an open Bible and an objective mind.
An Argument for Total Lostness
The first step in establishing a new identity based on this new terminology being proposed is an argument for Total Lostness as opposed to the Calvinist plank of Total Depravity. This tenet says that man by willful transgression fell from a state of righteousness and holiness in which he was first created. Man, since the fall of Adam, has inherited this fallen nature and exists in a state of total spiritual depravity or lostness. This is a state of death in trespasses and sins in which he is held as a slave of sin and an enemy of God. If left in this sinful state, he will face the eternal consequences of his sin in eternal punishment, which is the second death. Sinful man is lost in that he is unable to attain divine righteousness by his own efforts and he must be redeemed and delivered by the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ as it is revealed to him by the convicting work of the Holy Spirit (Romans 3:23-25, 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
Make no mistake about it; man is no doubt depraved in his humanity. The Bible is absolutely clear on this point. All men, both Jews and Greeks are under sin.
10 As it is written:
“There is none righteous, no, not one;
11 There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
12 They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.”
13 “Their throat is an open tomb;
With their tongues they have practiced deceit”;
“The poison of asps is under their lips”;
14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 Destruction and misery are in their ways;
17 And the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18; see also Leviticus 23:40-45).
The purpose of the Law was to establish man’s guilt before God and “by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8; see also 1 John 2:4). “All our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). As the children of Israel made their way through the wilderness on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land, they repeatedly acknowledged their sin before the Lord.
Because all men have sinned against God, they are hopelessly and helplessly lost (Jeremiah 50:4-6). In Psalm 119, David acknowledged his sin and says, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep” (Psalm 119:176). In Matthew 18, Jesus Himself speaks to this issue of being lost. He says, “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost” (Matthew 18:11). In verses 12 through 14, Jesus asked the question:
12 “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? 13 And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. 14 Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish (Matthew 18: 12–14).
Luke expands on Jesus’ parable and adds the following statement, “I will say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). Luke goes on to record two more parables dealing with lostness that Jesus gave. The second is of the lost coin. In this parable (Luke 15:8–10) Jesus speaks of a woman who had 10 coins and realizes that one has been lost and she searches her house until she finds that one lost coin. Jesus makes the following concluding statement, “Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (verse 10).
The third parable that Jesus used as He spoke on the subject of lostness is of the lost son, which is often referred to as the parable of the prodigal son. In this parable a father has two sons. The younger son comes to his father and asks him for his inheritance, which the father gives to him. The son leaves home and squanders away everything his father gave him. Jesus makes an interesting statement in Luke 15:17-19:
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’
The young man makes his way back home. He is greeted by his father, and he asks for his father’s forgiveness. Listen to his father’s response:
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. 23 And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry” (Luke 15:22-24).
The son fully understood his situation. He knew he was down and depraved. He knew he needed help. He knew his father could take care of his needs. He knew all the details with the exception of one: he had no idea what his father’s response would be. This lost son had a choice to make. He could keep on doing what he was doing, and he would have kept on getting what he had always gotten. Or, he could get up and make the journey home where he would be able to live. This son had a choice to come home or to continue on in the hog pen.
In the parable of the lost or prodigal son, Jesus adds a very important twist to this issue of being lost. This is Jesus’ final story in this trilogy of parables. In verse 17 Jesus intentionally mentions the young man’s “coming to himself.” Now it is clear that in coming to himself, he is still hopelessly and helplessly lost. The importance of this intentional phrase is seen in what the young man does as he turns from his present condition and goes back to his father. While this young man was no doubt depraved, he had not forgotten how his father had provided for him for most of his life. The young son understood that his father represented the only hope he really had. He made a choice to walk away from his immediate past and walked toward a future that only his father could provide. Here is one of the clearest passages in the Bible that deal with the lost condition suffered by all who are outside of a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ (Luke 15:17).
Jesus understood the tragedy of man’s lostness. Jesus underscored the significance of the inability of the lost coin and the lost sheep to find themselves and no longer be lost. The shepherd went out to find the lost sheep and the woman searched until she found the lost coin. In Luke 19 Jesus spoke to a tax collector named Zaccheaus; He told Zaccheaus to come down out of the tree, because He wanted to go to Zaccheaus’ house for dinner. Jesus was criticized sorely when people said that he ate with sinners! Jesus’ response was, “9b ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; 10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.’” (Luke 19:9b-10).
Jesus identified what it meant to be lost. In the third chapter of John, Jesus explains to Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, what he must do – as one who is lost – to be found. The Bible is not clear why Nicodemus came to Jesus; it simply says he came. Because Jesus understood Nicodemus’ greatest need, He ignored his flattering tribute and He told Nicodemus,
5b “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:5b-8).
Here Jesus equates being found with being born again or being born from above. This is vitally important because just as was the case with the lost sheep and the lost coin, an individual who is lost cannot find himself. He cannot simply come to himself and realize and recognize that he is lost; he cannot correct that on his own. He must do as the prodigal son did as he turned from his sinful present state to his father. In looking at the prodigal’s “coming to himself” we must understand that he was able to do this because of the promises and provisions he had experienced personally, which was the result of the personal relationship he enjoyed with his father. He came to himself and turned and went to his father. It was his father who forgave him and made him part of his family once again. The son came asking to be a servant; his father restored his sonship. The actions of the young man’s father are what changed his status from “lost” to “found.” Praise the Lord God who can do the same to all who come to Him!
In Nicodemus’s case, he too left the comfort of his environment and he came to Jesus looking for answers. No doubt Nicodemus had a number of questions he wanted to ask Jesus. Jesus addressed the only question that mattered. In order to go to heaven, Nicodemus was lost and needed to be found; he needed to be born from above. Nicodemus needed what only Jesus could provide. Jesus goes on to explain what He meant when He said to Nicodemus, you must be born again. Nicodemus asks a very simple question:
9 Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?”
10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? 11 Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? (John 3:9-12).
Basically what Jesus was saying here was that Nicodemus along with the other Jewish leaders and teachers of the Scriptures should have recognized Jesus for who He was, for the Old Testament was full of passages that spoke of His coming. Instead of Nicodemus coming to Jesus with questions, he should have been coming to Jesus with answers! The gospel is the same way for men today. God has given mankind every reason to come to Christ just as Nicodemus did.
In verses 14 through 21 Jesus goes on to explain to Nicodemus what it means to be born again or born from above:
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:14-16).
Just as the prodigal son came to himself and made his way to his father, so was it Nicodemus’s responsibility to “come to himself,” and by believing in the promises of God that are clearly laid out in the Scriptures, Nicodemus would not perish but have everlasting life. By believing in Christ, Nicodemus would be saved or born again, and in that process he would pass from death to life, from being lost to being found.
In Matthew 19, another wealthy young ruler came to Jesus and asked Him:
16b “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
18 “Which ones?” he inquired.
Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth (Matthew 19:16b-22).
What is the difference in the results of the visits of these two men? Both came asking essentially the same thing. Nicodemus went away with Christ and the other went away sorrowful because he made the mistake of thinking what he had was more important than what Christ had for him. This was a choice the two men made themselves. Jesus did not decide that one would be saved and the other lost.
Make no mistake about it; Jesus understood man’s lost state. He understood the gravity of sin. It was for this reason that Jesus left heaven in the first place. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17) Jesus did not need to leave heaven to condemn the world. Man, in his sin, was already condemned. It was Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross that provided man any hope at all. That’s why Jesus said what He did in verse 18; “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Verse 19 addresses this issue of Total Depravity or Total Lostness. Listen to what Jesus said about the extent of man’s depravity:
19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God (John 3:19-21; see also Jeremiah 50:4-6, 15-21).
Man’s depravity is pictured in Jesus’ statement that “light has come and the world and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (verse 19). Had Jesus stopped there, we could draw a number of conclusions. We even might be able to conclude that men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil; and they were so depraved that they were blind and could not see the light without God first opening their eyes. But the text prohibits that interpretation. First of all Jesus chides Nicodemus for being a teacher of the Law and not understanding these things. Verse 20 explains why men love darkness and hate the light. Men do not hate the light because they’re blind and cannot see it; they hate it because they see it and do not like what it reveals – their evil deeds. Men do not want to be told the truth. They want to do what seems right in their own eyes (Psalm 36:2; Proverbs 3:7; 16:2; 21:2; 26:12, 16; 30:12). But there are those who see the Light for what it is; and not liking what it reveals, they choose to move toward the Light instead of away from it. This is the choice that Jesus offers those who are lost, those who He has come to seek and to save.