All philosophies and religions stand or fall by their view of sin. If the disease is not properly diagnosed, there will never be a cure. Our view of sin as Christians and the extent of its devastating effects upon man will subsequently affect our view of man’s salvation. So what does the Bible proclaim about man’s sin and his ability to come to God? Should man really feel good about himself in light of who God is? Is man even in need of rescuing from sin? Let’s delve into a few misconceptions about total depravity and then end with a few important implications.
Incorrect Views of Total Depravity
First, let’s go over what total depravity does not mean. It does not mean that sinners are as bad as they can be. II Tim. 3:13 says, “Evil men and seducers will wax worse and worse.” To get worse with time of course means that you used to be better. Better is not good, but better is better than worse. Scripture is littered with examples of men who did good things early on in their ministry, only to flame out and fall headlong after sin (King Saul). Consequently sinners are not as bad as they can be. So it is true that your neighbors can be real nice, but in reality, they are much greater sinners than they would ever realize or admit. Their sin is so embedded in them, that their nature is one of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3).
Secondly, total depravity does not mean that sinners have no good qualities. King Jeroboam set up the golden calves to worship them, and we are told that many of the kings who came after him were wicked like him. But Jeroboam was not only a bad man. I Kings 14:13 states: “In him was found something good.” Sinners actually often have pretty nice qualities, including wisdom, courage, temperance and justice. We all know unsaved people who are hard working, generous, friendly, giving, and even “spiritual.” Frankly, some unsaved people have more natural good qualities that are better than our own. So total depravity does not mean sinners are as bad as they can be, or that they have no good qualities.
If total depravity does not mean such things, then what does it mean? First, total depravity teaches us that men are sinful through and through. Every part of man is affected by sin, including all his faculties. Man’s heart/mind is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9; Titus 1:15-16; Ecclesiastes 9:3; Ephesians 4:17-18; Matthew 15:19), his will/choices are enslaved to sin (John 8:34; 2 Peter 2:19; Titus 3:3; Galatians 4:8-9; Romans 6:6), and his affections/desires are perverted (Romans 1:24-27; Ephesians 2:3; Proverbs 21:10; John 3:19; 8:44). Sin affects man, then, not only in who man is, but what he does. Isaiah 64:6 says that “all our righteousness is as filthy rags,” in light of a holy God. In fact, man can do nothing but sin. He has no choice (Romans 8:7-8). Even the “good” man does is for the wrong motives and for his own glory, for a bad tree can only produce bad fruit (Matthew 7:17-18).
Paul clearly portrays the whole man as sinful (Romans 3:10-18). Notice what Paul declares is affected by sin–man’s body, tongue, lips, mouth, teeth, eyes, and his mind. Man’s mind (“does not understand”), tongue (“use their tongues to deceive”), attitude (“no fear of God before His eyes”) and his actions (“He is swift to shed blood”) are corrupted by sin. Isaiah 1:5-6 gives a right perspective of man.
“The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it.”
Man naturally rejects truth and rejects God’s offered mercies (Romans 1:18). If salvation were available to everyone who wants it, not one person on earth would receive it because no one wants truth. This does not mean that all men like to rape, kill and skin cats. What it does mean is that man doesn’t want anything to do with God in His natural state.
The doctrine of total depravity is at the very heart of the gospel. With man having no ability to save himself from sin and its eternal consequences, that might leave us asking what the disciples asked: “How then can anyone be saved?” The reply from Jesus that day remains the same this day: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:25-26)
The doctrine of total depravity should cause me to despair completely of myself, my ability, my merit and my will to please God and have a relationship with Him. I should be the first to cast myself completely upon Christ ALONE for salvation (John 14:6). The good news is that God did not leave man in his sinfulness to be condemned for all eternity in hell. Instead, God initiated His love for man by sending His Son Jesus to be the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world (John 3:16).
Only Christ can save man. Thankfully Jesus has promised to save all those who trust in Him. If you say, “But I cannot even trust in Him,” then you would be correct! Jesus does not tell you though to focus on your inability, but His saving power. Call out to Him for mercy and faith, with the man who said to Jesus, “I do believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Or again, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (Luke 18:13).
Paul says in II Corinthians 5:17:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
There can be a total change in your nature if you repent and turn from your sin as Scripture states. Have you experienced this complete change? Paul knew that only God could take away man’s old desires/thinking/affections, regenerate us and enable us to do good works for His glory. Come to Christ and be reconciled to Him today if you are bearing the guilt of your sin. Christ promises that He will not reject any humble, repentant sinner who comes to Him alone for salvation (John 6:37).