Calvinism lives and dies based upon one doctrine: total depravity. To make a long story short, it is my contention that no one can have faith in Christ apart from divine help.
We can be assured of this, because the only way in which the Bible is internally consistent is if the preceding contention is true. Adding weight to this soteriological interpretation is that the early church understood salvation the same way for 600 years. This means, the belief in anything other than total depravity is a later innovation, and arguably heretical.
The argument from Scripture.
Does the Scripture give numerous moral instructions to man and beg him to repent and believe? Yes. Does man have free will? Certainly. God instructs us, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, rather that they turn from his wicked way and live” (Ezek 33:11)!
God expects us to repent by our own will and asks us to trust Him by that same will.
But, does the Bible say a man can will to be faithful to God? No. In fact, it specifically says the opposite.
[W]e have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God….But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised (1 Cor 2:12, 14).
Yet, we know that “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3). Obviously, while a man with the Spirit knows the things given by God, a natural man cannot confess Christ as his savior, ever!
Some contend that God gives grace to all to accept Him. Now, that would mean that by default the nature of man is not the “natural” one, but rather all have the grace to confess Christ as Lord, which 1 Cor 12:3 states requires the Spirit.
We know this is false for two reasons: First, it would mean people have the Spirit before they are saved. Second, how do we make sense of verses that state specifically that “there is none that understands, there is none that seeks God, all have turned aside” (Rom 3:11, 12)? Either the word “none” and “all” do not mean “none” or “all,” or the default state of man is “natural.”
The “natural” man neither understands nor seeks God. He cannot accept things of the Spirit.
So, presuming that God desires and knows man can will himself to be faithful, but at the same time man left in his natural state won’t, how can both be true?
You must concede that the Bible is either contradicting itself or that God must give man a new will to believe. This preserves both man’s free will and makes all of the moral injunctions in the Bible make sense.
Not coincidentally, the Bible also says this.
“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil 1:29). Here, it is explicit that God granted both suffering and belief. How else is “Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Heb 12:2)?
All of this is why the Bible says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God“ (Eph 2:8). If it is “granted” to us “to believe in Him,” faith must be “that not of yourselves.”
The argument from history.
Not coincidentally, total depravity was understood by the early church for hundreds of years, almost without debate.
Clement, just a generation removed from Paul, made clear that men cannot be saved by their own understanding or will, but rather God’s will:
[W]e … being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought … but by that faith through which … Almighty God has justified all men (Letter to the Corinthians, Ch. 32).
A generation after Clement, Ignatius interpreted 1 Cor 2:12-14 to mean that natural men cannot be spiritual and in the same sentence, equated that with faith:
They that are carnal cannot do those things which are spiritual, nor they that are spiritual the things which are carnal; even as faith cannot do the works of unbelief, nor unbelief the works of faith (Epistle to the Ephesians, Ch. 8).
This idea continued without debate until a fourth century heresy called Pelagianism emerged, which argued that man can choose faith in God apart from grace. Augustine opposed this heresy, stating specifically that:
Augustine took part in the Council of Carthage in 418 AD which condemned this Pelegian heresy (Canon 113) and then the whole Church condemned it again in the Third Ecunemical Council in Ephesus in 431 (Canon 1).
One hundred years later, the issue was settled again in another notable meeting, the Second Council of Orange where it was stated:
[O]ur will to be cleansed comes to us through … the Holy Spirit, … the Holy Spirit himself … says through Solomon, “The will is prepared by the Lord” (Prov. 8:35, LXX), and the salutary word of the Apostle, “For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). (Canon 4)
If anyone says that … the very desire for faith … belongs to us by nature and not … by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit amending our will and turning it from unbelief to faith … it is proof that he is opposed to the teaching of the Apostles, for blessed Paul says, “And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). (Canon 5)
Scripture and history is consistent: the natural man cannot choose God.