Totally What?

Total depravity sounds awful.  If you were to tell someone they are totally depraved, they would probably take that as an insult.  But the reformed church is consistent in its belief that every single person on earth is totally depraved (After all, it is the T in the TULIP acronym).  So what does it mean to be totally depraved?

First, it does not mean that we are all as bad as we possibly could be.  The fact that the world is still in existence today is proof of that, and I would chak that up to the common grace of God on all man.  What it does mean is that through the fall, every part of man has been corrupted by the effects of the fall.  Think of it like this: there is a glass full of water, and someone puts a drop of poison in the water.  The water is still water, but it has been corrupted.  

The main problem that man then is faced with is that he has no way of restoring relationship with God to what is was before the fall.  The Westminster Confession of Faith actually says:

“By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body.”  Note the term that is used to describe the consequence of the fall; we are dead in our sin.  We are not very sick, but dead.  This means it must take a miracle to revive our soul and be made alive.  Consider this: If you are a Christian, it is a miracle.  Why? Because you were dead, and have been made alive.

So what are the implications for you and me?

1. We are not all “good.”  I hear people describing one another sometimes as not a Christian, but a “really good person.”  What does that mean?  In most people’s minds, it means that they do nice things for other people, they live under certain moral guidelines, or they have a general upbeat personality that makes people smile.  A study (I believe it was a Barna poll) found that over 70% of Christians (Christians, mind you) in America believed that humans were essentially good people.  This flies in the face of this doctrine.

2. We are not sinners because we sin; rather, we sin because we are sinners. Sometimes we think that we are sinful because we committed a sinful act, and if we just didn’t do that, we wouldn’t be so sinful.  That’s not the reality this doctrine teaches.  It actually says the opposite: you sin beacuse you are a sinner.  We are all born sinful, in bondage to sin, and are drawn towards acting on sin.  You don’t teach sinfulness to your child, they are born with that sin nature.  You could say, we are all born dead in sin.  

3. We need divine grace. Christianity is not a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” religion.  It is admitting that you are indeed a dirty, gross sinner in need of a savior. It is admitting that your very best are considered to be filthy rags when compared to the perfection demanded by God for salvation.  It is believing that God has to take the initiative in salvation, otherwise no one would ever be saved (remember, we are dead in our trespasses and sins).  The beauty of the gospel is that even though no one is righteous (Rom 3 tells us this), and even when we were still sinners, Jesus Christ died for us.  

Do you believe you are totally depraved?  Do you believe that you are dead in your trespasses and sins?  If so, the only way to be made alive again is in receiving the gracious gift of eternal life, found through the work of Jesus.  There is nothing that you can do to merit this, it is solely an unconditional gift from God.

Key Scripture on Total Depravity:

“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5) 

“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)

“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:9–10)

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sinsin which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—”  (Ephesians 2:1–6)

A helpful list:

Genesis 6:5; Isaiah 64:6; Ezekiel 36:26; John 3:1-8, 19-21; John 6:44, 64-65; Romans 3:9-18 (note the OT references); Romans 5:12; Romans 6:16-19; Romans 8:7-8; Romans 14:23; 1 Corinthians 2:14-16; Ephesians 2:1-10 

How does man restore relationship with God?  That becomes clear as the rest of the TULIP acronym is discussed, but suffice it to say that God must restore relationship if man is ever to enter into fellowship with God again.  

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