TOTAL DEPRAVITY


We are going to study the Gospel doctrine of TOTAL DEPRAVITY, sometimes referred to as the first point in the five main doctrines of "Calvinism." It is sometimes identified by the "T" in the acrostic "TULIP." We may not particularly like some of these labels because so many people have serious misconceptions about them. A lot of these misconceptions are promoted by the ignorance and confusion of some who claim to be Calvinists and claim to believe "TULIP." We do not claim to believe and follow everything John Calvin, the French reformer believed, and we certainly are not Calvinist according to some people's misconceived definitions of Calvinism. Most people think of Calvinism as fatalism that promotes God as a monstrous tyrant and man as an unthinking robot who has no freedom to choose what he wants and no responsibility for his choices and his actions. But this is not what John Calvin believed, and it is not what we believe. We do believe the Bible doctrines, Gospel doctrines, of God's sovereign grace that were condensed and summarized in the 17th century in five doctrines which Calvin and the reformers believed because they were taught in the Bible and by the apostles. Whether you call them "Calvinism" or "TULIP" or simply, as I prefer, Gospel doctrines, does not matter. The Scriptural truth of these doctrines is the issue.

It should also be noted that the purpose of this message is not to set forth high doctrine or high theology appropriate only for the most learned intellectuals, the most educated theologians, or the most mature Christians. The purpose is to set forth the GOSPEL and Gospel doctrines that constitute salvation knowledge.

Romans 6:17 (KJV) But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. {18} Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.

The "form of doctrine" of which the Apostle Paul wrote is the Gospel, with its particulars and implications, as defined in Romans 1 - 6. It is the Gospel concerning the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ and His mediatorial work as the only ground of salvation. This knowledge is necessary, not as a condition or qualification for salvation, but as the means God has sovereignly chosen to bring His elect to saving faith. Gospel truth itself cancels out any conditions, pre-requisites, or qualifications as forming any part of the ground of a sinner's salvation. The knowledge required is the fact that Christ by Himself has already met and fulfilled all the conditions of salvation.

This Gospel and its doctrines of sovereign grace are the first principles of grace without the knowledge of which sinners can only be relegated to salvation by works which dishonors God and denies Christ. These are the doctrines of grace that identify the true and living God as opposed to idols, the reality of our sin and our need of salvation as opposed to the salvation man has devised for himself (Prov. 14:12), and the reality of the salvation God has provided by His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the true Savior, as opposed to counterfeits. Apart from a saving knowledge of the truth of these doctrines as preached in the Gospel and its particulars, there can be no salvation. These doctrines must be preached and defined in light of the Gospel as the Gospel reveals God's purpose in salvation.

The Gospel is God's promise of eternal salvation and final glory based on the righteousness of Christ freely imputed and received by faith.

It is here we see God's purpose in salvation to glorify Himself as both a just God and a Savior, and that the heart of this purpose is the fact that God sent Christ to establish a righteousness based upon which He could justify the ungodly (2 Cor. 4:6). Salvation based on the righteousness of Christ alone glorifies God in every attribute of His redemptive character, exalts Christ as His righteousness alone demands the salvation and final glory of all whom He represented, and excludes boasting in ourselves as it excludes anything and everything done by us or in us as to the ground of salvation. This knowledge is also the motivating principle for all growth in grace, worship, obedience, and godliness. It is the means of edifying God's people as it establishes our hearts with grace (Heb. 13:9).

I have heard men say, "You can have doctrine and not have Christ, or you can arrive at doctrine through Christ, but you cannot arrive at Christ through doctrine." I have heard men say, "You may have the doctrines of grace, but do you have the grace of the doctrines?" What they mean by such statements is usually something very mystical and subjective, without any real substantial definition. It is true a person can have an intellectual understanding of right doctrine without a saving understanding of them. This is why we must seek God's definitions of these and show their importance and necessity in preaching Christ, the Gospel of salvation conditioned on Him alone. The first thing we need to see is our need of salvation by God's free and sovereign grace. This is where the doctrine of TOTAL DEPRAVITY/INABILITY is vital.

I. THE DEFINITION OF TOTAL DEPRAVITY (Romans 3:10-20).

There are a lot of different ways men define total depravity without getting to the heart of the matter. They say, "All men by nature are guilty and helpless sinners because of Adam's sin. When Adam sinned, we sinned in him." They say, "All men are born spiritually dead and can do nothing but evil, and that we cannot do anything but evil. Even our wills are in bondage to sin so that we cannot choose God and cannot receive the Gospel on our own without the work of the Holy Spirit." "Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether avers from good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto" (Westminster Confession).

All this is true, but if this is all we know, we have missed the heart of total depravity that would show sinners their need of salvation by sovereign grace. This is why so many in religion today quote Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God," without ever knowing the reality and the depths of sin and depravity. They quote Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord," without ever knowing what sin really consists of, what it really deserves, who Christ really is, and why we need Him and salvation based on His righteousness alone. This is why we must seek to know God's definition of totally depravity, and God's definition of total depravity is found in His Word. Depravity must be seen in two facets: (1) Legal depravity; (2) Moral depravity.

A. Legal depravity (Rom. 3:9-10,19) has to do with our state before God, how we are born, and how we exist in Adam, the representative of the whole human race. This is how God views the whole fallen human race in Adam as guilty, defiled, cursed, spiritually dead and bankrupt, under sin, condemned. This is the condition of all men and women by nature. Legal depravity is objective, i.e, outside us, having to do not with our character and conduct, not with anything done by us or in us. It is totally based on Adam's sin and guilt imputed (legally charged, accounted) to us, all whom he represented (Rom. 5:12,17a,18a,19a). If we are going to define total depravity by God's Word, here is where we must start Total depravity means that all men and women by nature in Adam are void of a righteousness that answers the demands of God's law and justice; all by nature owe a debt to God's law and justice that none of us can pay.

B. Moral depravity (Rom. 3:11-18) is the result of legal depravity. It is subjective having to do with our minds, affections, and wills (i.e., our hearts), our thoughts, motives, character and conduct. As the result of Adam's guilt legally imputed to us, we receive Adam's fallen human nature. The fruit and effect of Adam's sin is total ruin, objectively and subjectively. The Bible says that all of us by nature are wicked and evil, sinful, ruined. The Bible says that all by nature "walk after and mind the things of the flesh," "at enmity with God," "not subject to the law of God," "carnal," "ungodly." All of these terms describe all natural men and women, all born in Adam, even believers before God saves them. They describe all who are legally and morally depraved. But what are the main evidences of this depravity? Before we show this scripturally, let's correct a common but deadly misconception.

Moral depravity does not mean that all by nature are immoral, irreligious and unconcerned. It does not mean that all are equally bad, or perverts, or that any are as bad as they could be. It does not mean that fallen man totally destitute of moral virtues. It does not mean that fallen man cannot and is not responsible to make moral choices. Many who claim to believe in total depravity always describe the depravity of man by using examples of sexual lust. Now sexual lust outside of marriage is sinful, and many times it can be one of the evidences of a person who is in a totally depraved state. But sexual lust by itself is no evidence of total depravity. David lusted for Bathsheba, yet, at that time, he was not totally depraved. The Bible says David at that time was a justified sinner, righteous and holy in God's sight. Now David's lust for Bathsheba was sinful, and he ought not to have done it. David was a sinner, but he was a sinner saved by grace. David carried out his sinful thoughts in sinful actions, and his sin led to other great sins. David's sin was the product of self-love. David, just like all sinners, needed a righteousness he could not produce. He needed forgiveness by God's grace. And David had this in the Person and work of His Substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ. David believed God's Gospel.

Now consider a man who becomes religious and decides to reform his life. He joins a monastery trying to get away from the world outside and keep himself pure from lustful thoughts. When he has such lustful thoughts, he does penance by beating himself with a whip. Yet with all his efforts to keep himself pure, he is totally depraved, ungodly, unrighteous, guilty and defiled, because he is without a righteousness that equals the demands of God's law and justice. Another thing to consider in light of this is the fact that a person cannot be totally depraved, guilty, and condemned and totally saved, justified, and pardoned at the same time. There is no middle state between lost and saved. Considering then that many who are lost, totally depraved, do indeed appear righteous unto men, we must look to God's Word to see the reality of total depravity.

The true evidences of total depravity are things we do not recognize by nature, totally foreign to our natural reasonings, and things we will not receive by nature. The true evidences of total depravity are things common to all without exception before salvation ("no difference"). All without exception are not equally moral or immoral, but all without exception are equally depraved before salvation. And even totally depraved sinners can recognize and hate immoral, perverse sins, such as the crimes of Hitler, sexual deviates, drunks, thieves etc. But the real evidences of total depravity are things we do not recognize and will not receive by nature. Consider passages such as Matthew 7:21-23 and John 3:3-6; 8:44 and Romans 10:1-4. In these examples we see religious people who appeared righteous outwardly and many who were sincere and dedicated, but they were totally depraved, guilty, because they were void of a righteousness that answers the demands of God's law and justice. Their depravity was revealed by the doctrine they believed and by which they lived. It was doctrine that dishonored every attribute of God's redemptive character, denied the Person and atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and allowed sinners room for boasting in their efforts.

II. THE REAL EVIDENCE OF TOTAL DEPRAVITY (Rom. 3:12-18,20).

The real evidence of total depravity is found in how man views the God who justifies the ungodly, the God of grace! The God of all grace reveals that He requires righteousness as to the ground of salvation. He reveals that He cannot save or bless guilty, defiled sinners based on their best efforts at religion and morality. God reveals that He can only be glorified in the salvation of such sinners based on the righteousness of His beloved Son. Therefore God chose a people out of Adam's fallen race and gave them to Christ. He could not bestow the first blessing on any sinner apart from His law and justice being satisfied. So He made Christ their Representative and Substitute, sent Him into the world to satisfy law and justice on their behalf by establishing for them an everlasting righteousness of infinite value based upon which God could be just to justify the ungodly. So God commands sinners to submit to His standard of righteousness, admit their need of a righteousness they cannot produce, and believe His promise of salvation based on the imputed righteousness of Christ (Rom. 5:17-21). Just as Adam's sin resulted in total ruin, objectively and subjectively, for all whom he represented, Christ's righteousness results in total salvation and blessedness, objectively and subjectively, for all whom He represents.

Sinners who refuse to believe God's Gospel, who insist on setting their own standard, and who insist on seeking to establish a righteousness of their own; sinners who will speak peace to themselves and others while ignorant of or not submitted to the imputed righteousness of Christ, give evidence of being totally depraved, objectively and subjectively, legally and morally. They may appear righteous unto men, but they are still void of a righteousness that answers the demands of God's holiness because they have rejected the only one that does the imputed righteousness of Christ.

So we must define total depravity in this way -- Total depravity means owing a debt to God's law and justice we cannot pay AND trying to satisfy that debt by deeds of the law, by anything other than the imputed righteousness of Christ. This is because by nature we insist on setting our own standard of saved and lost, and we insist on speaking peace to ourselves and to others based on that standard. To really see the issues of depravity and fallen human nature, we must go back to the Garden of Eden and study the fall of man (Gen. 3:1-6).

Here we see Adam, the representative of the whole human race, taking sides with Satan against God. Adam sought to be "as gods" when he sought to make judgments based on Satan's lies rather than God's truth. The moment Adam sought to set his own standard of good and evil, saved and lost, and rejected God's standard, Adam rejected God's sovereign authority. Adam fell and became totally depraved at that very moment. He did this not as a private person but as the representative and federal head of the whole human race (Rom. 5:12). The first evidence that Adam was totally depraved was revealed as he recognized his nakedness, his exposure to God's wrath, and sought relief from this in his own efforts (fig-leaf aprons). It has been the same for all men and women since. Although many descend into some of the most beastly and deplorable depths of immorality, and this is an evidence of depravity (Rom. 1:18-32), the one evidence that covers all without exception, even those who do not fall as far into the depths of immorality as others, even those who are religious and moral, is the fact that we all by nature insist on seeking to establish a righteousness of our own and refuse to bow to Christ's righteousness as the only ground of salvation (Rom. 2:1--3:20). We all by nature insist on making judgments based on Satan's lie rather than God's truth.

III. THE RESULTS OF TOTAL DEPRAVITY (John 6:44; 3:18-20).

Here I want to say a few words about total inability, spiritual death, and the bondage of the will. The Bible teaches that in this totally depraved state man cannot, and does not have the ability to, save himself, to earn or merit salvation, nor to prepare or qualify himself for salvation. The Bible teaches that while in this totally depraved state man cannot and will not even believe the Gospel and repent. It teaches that if fallen man is left to himself, to his own will, he will perish, and that God must intervene to save him by making the fallen sinner willing to believe and repent.

John 6:44 (KJV) No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

1 Corinthians 2:14 (KJV) But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

Ephesians 2:1-3 (KJV) {1} And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins: {2} Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: {3}Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.

All of these scriptures show the reality of spiritual death. Spiritual death consists in the powers of darkness (self-love, self-righteousness, and religious pride) that keep totally depraved sinners from bowing and submitting to God's way of salvation, to Christ and His righteousness as the only ground of salvation.

A. First of all, the reason fallen man cannot earn his salvation is that all he can produce in a state of guilt and condemnation is fruit unto death, dead works, evil deeds (Rom. 3:10-11,20; 7:5; Matt. 7:17-18). Our works, before or after salvation, are not good enough to earn or merit God's favor or blessing. Before salvation they are the fruit and effect of self-righteousness, dishonoring to God and Christ. After salvation, our works are the fruit and effect of Christ's having earned our entire salvation by the merits of His works, His obedience and death.

B. Total inability does not mean that fallen man does not have the ability to make moral choices, and it does not mean that fallen man does not have the natural ability (i.e., the faculties of mind, intellect, and reason) to choose God. Even as fallen men and women, we have a mind to reason with and discern, affections by which we desire or detest things, and wills by which we choose. Even as fallen men and women, we have all the faculties that God gave to Adam before the fall.

All men and women by nature have the responsibility and ability to choose or refuse all acts of immorality in every area of life. This does not mean we can control our sinful thoughts, but we can and do have the responsibility and ability not to put our sinful thoughts into action. When the Bible says that we can do nothing good (Jer. 13:23; Rom. 3:12), it is speaking of goodness in God's sight. It is not saying that we cannot choose acts of morality over acts of immorality. Even lost people can be moral, kind, generous, compassionate, and religious.

What, then, is the problem? The problem is that because of the fall, we are all by nature spiritually dead. This does not mean, as some say, that we are "grave-yard" dead, or as dead as a lifeless piece of wood or stone. It does not mean that we cannot hear, understand, and even receive the Gospel intellectually and mentally (cf. Matt. 13:20-22, 24-30; John 12:42-43; 2 Cor. 11:15; 2 Thess. 2:10; 2 Tim. 3:5; Heb. 6:4-8; James 2:14-26; 2 Pet. 2:20-22; 1 John 2:19; 2 John 9; Rev. 3:1,15). All of these are examples of those who understood the Gospel intellectually and gave at least mental agreement to it, but they did not understand and agree with it savingly. Even those who openly and adamantly reject the Gospel hear and understand what we are saying. They simply hate it, or they are indifferent to it.

Spiritual death consists in the powerful, sinful principles of self-righteousness, self-love, and religious pride, that control our hearts (i.e., our minds, affections, and wills). Total inability does not remove man's responsibility because we must ask, "Why is it that fallen men and women cannot come to Christ?" It is because they do not desire to come to Him, to submit to His righteousness as the only ground of salvation. They want to set their own standard and speak peace to themselves apart from the only ground of peace because of self-righteousness, self-love, and pride. Therefore, the preaching of the Gospel is "foolishness" to them. They cannot receive it savingly because they cannot see or discern its eternal value in light of the glory of God in Christ. The natural ability to hear, understand, and agree with the Gospel was not destroyed in the fall, but the desire to honor and glorify God was destroyed.

People argue about free-will when they do not understand the real issues of sin and the will. Fallen man has the ability and the freedom to choose whatever he desires, but he will always choose evil in one specific area -- when it come to a specific area concerning God's glory revealed in God's way of salvation based on the righteousness of Christ. It is in this one specific area that all men and women without exception are deceived (Jer. 17:9). Man's will, just like his mind and affections, his whole heart, is under the bondage of sin. By nature fallen man will not believe that all of salvation, from regeneration to final glory, is the fruit and effect of Christ's righteousness alone. He will not believe that the whole of salvation is "freely given us of God" (1 Cor. 2:12) and based on the imputed righteousness of Christ alone (Rom. 8:32). By nature fallen man will always refuse to submit to Christ's righteousness alone as the ground of salvation because submission to this demands that he be convinced of three things: (1) that Christ's righteousness alone entitles us to all grace here and all glory hereafter according to God's promise; (2) that we must repent of all those things which we before highly valued as making a difference between saved and lost (Phil. 3:7-9); and (3) that any sinner who expects or claims any part of salvation based on anything else is lost and their deeds are evil (Rom. 10:1-3).

The reason fallen man will not believe the Gospel is because by nature he has no fear of God before his eyes, and he hates the light that exposes his sinfulness (John 3:18-20). Because of self-righteousness and self-love, he insists on speaking peace to himself based on things which are an abomination unto God (Luke 16:15). So his inability is due to his insisting on setting his own standard and making his own judgments based on Satan's lie. He refuses to bow to God's truth and God's standard (Rom. 8:6-8), because his heart is deceived in this one specific area. By nature fallen man has a natural aversion to that which glorifies God, honors Christ, and excludes boasting in himself, because by nature he insists on judging saved and lost based on Satan's lie ("ye shalt not surely die"), and therefore he insists on speaking peace where sinners are either ignorant of or not submitted to God's righteousness revealed in the Gospel. This specific inability, then, does not remove his responsibility because it is due to his own insistence on taking sides with Satan against God.

We can all see this and agree on it when it comes to the law of God. We agree that all men and women without exception are responsible under God to keep the law perfectly. The law say, "Love God perfectly, and love you neighbor as yourself." But we all know that we cannot keep this law perfectly, yet we agree that we are still responsible. How and why? The reason we cannot keep the law perfectly is self-love. Remove all self-love from us, and we could and would love God and love my neighbor perfectly.

Now God commands all who hear the Gospel to believe and repent. He promises to save sinners based on the righteousness of Christ alone, and He forbids sinners to come expecting salvation or any part of it based on anything else. His promise is sincere to all who hear it, and they are fully responsible to receive it and believe it. It is true that if left to our own desires, our own will, we will refuse to believe. Why? Because of self-love, self-righteousness, and religious pride. Because we make judgments based on Satan's lie, and Satan's lie almost always comes in the form of compassion and kindness and unity and love directed towards those who will not bow to God's standard. Satan will always inspire sinners to make judgments based on outward appearance, personality, reputation, and all in the name of love, peace, unity, and compassion. Satan will inspire sinners to speak peace to themselves and to others apart from the only ground of peace, and his followers, totally depraved sinners, will judge this as godly. But God says that it is one of the main evidences of total depravity. God says it is ungodly. God tells us not to speak peace where sinners, even preachers, promote salvation or any part of it based on anything other than the imputed righteousness of Christ (Gal. 1:6-8; 5:1-3). This is why before salvation fallen man calls good evil and evil good. This is why the world cannot recognize true Christians and Christian love (1 John 3:1), because true Christian love demands that we tell sinners the truth in hopes that they will seek salvation God's way. But by nature we refuse.

Now if God chooses to save some out of this guilty, hell-deserving, self-righteous race, and leaves the rest to their own desires, who is to blame? Some insists that God is to blame, but God and His people do not see it that way. You have every reason to hear this Gospel and come to God pleading the righteousness of His Son. You have no reason to refuse. God clearly reveals to everyone who hears that He will damn sinners who refuse to repent and believe. He will save all who repent and believe, but who believe what and repent of what? All who believe that God will save them based on the imputed righteousness of Christ, and repent of ever thinking that anything else could have recommended them unto God. Now all who refuse, who insists on their own standard of saved and lost, who insist on speaking peace to themselves and to others apart from belief of this Gospel and repentance of dead works and idolatry, give the greatest evidence there is of being totally depraved.