“Negatively, it does not imply: (1) that every man is as thoroughly deprave as he can possibly become; (2) that the sinner has no innate knowledge of the will of God, nor a conscience that discriminates between good and evil; (3) that sinful man does not often admire virtuous character and actions in others, or is incapable of disinterested affections and actions on his relations with his fellow-men; nor (4) that every unregenerate man will, in virtue of his inherent sinfulness, indulge in every form of sin; it often happens that one form excludes the other. Positively, it does indicate: (1) that the inherent corruption extends to every part of man’s nature. To all the faculties and powers of both soul and body; and (2) that there is no spiritual good in relation to god, in the sinner at all, but only perversion. This total depravity is denied by Pelagians, Socinians, and seventeenth century Arminians, but is clearly taught in Scripture, John 5:42; Rom. 7:18.23; 8:7; Eph. 4:18; II Tim. 3:2-4; Tit. 1:15; Heb. 3:12.
Total inability…Reformed theologians generally say that he is still able to perform: (1) natural good; (2) civil good or civil righteousness; and (3) external religious good…. When we speak of man’s corruption as total inability, we mean two things: (1) that the un-renewed cannot do any act, however insignificant, which fundamentally meets with God’s approval and answers to the demands of God’s holy law; and (2) that he cannot change his fundamental preference for sin ad self to love for God, nor even make an approach to such a change. In a word, he is unable to do any spiritual good. There is abundant Scriptural support for this doctrine: John 1:13; 3:5; 6:44; 8:34; 15:4,5; Rom. 7:18,24; 8:7,8; 1 Cor. 2:14; II Cor. 3:5; Eph. 2:1,8-10; Heb. 11:6.”
–Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, pg. 246-247. (Emphasis mine)
In the discussions between denominations there has been, and likely will continue to be, the discussion over grace being a gift and man’s ability (or inability) to “receive” that gift. The argument goes something like this; like any gift held out to you, you have the decision to receive it or decline it. One side states that persons, who will receive the gift, do so because God as has regenerated them, and so the acceptance flows from the new life and living heart they have received (my position). The other side states all persons have the ability to receive or reject the gift (typically because of grace) and some do and don’t choose correctly based on their own free choice, partly due to the extent of God’s wooing them towards the right decision. In this fashion it is the choice to receive that enacts the regeneration process.
The usual arguments discuss the nature of Faith within the passage of Ephesians 2:8-9. I’d like suggest a different approach to the problem by taking another look at the word “receive.” In the Americanized sense we see this word primarily in the context of the individual having a right to receive something or not. There is also the viewpoint of whether or not the object being offered is of value to me personally (what’s in it for me, or what will it cost me). But there is another way in which to view this word that benefits the discussion. The word can also be use in the indicative sense of things. In other words, it can be use to simply make a statement of fact, not insinuating choice or action at all on the part of the recipient; except that they now have in their possession something they did not have before (1 Corinthians 4:7).
James 5:7 talks about the earth receiving the early and later rains. The ground has no choice in the matter of rain, God pours it out from the clouds, and the earth simply receives it. Something the earth was lacking was provided and the earth absorbed, received or got it. Like the symbolism in Baptism, God pours out His Spirit upon us as illustrated by the water, and we receive a wet head. It’s not our action (our obedience) being illustrated, but God’s. Think about someone who has been dead and brought back to life by a defibrillator. They performed no action and made no choice, but only “received” an electrical shock that gave them new life. So too my argument here is that when we are said to have “received” Christ, the Holy Spirit, Grace and even our faith, we did not do so with the assumption of having a choice or performing an action first, but these were poured out upon us by a merciful and gracious God. So in saying I received Christ, Yes, I have made the decision to accept the gift of grace, believe and follow Him, but this only because I first “received” Him, as God so poured Christ into my heart and mind, regenerating me thus granting me the willing and ability to believe. In this way both grace and a faith that knows, assents to, and rests in Christ, is the gift poured out upon us (Acts 2:33).