I was reminded yesterday of the importance of the doctrine of total depravity and specifically the Bible’s teaching about natural man’s moral inability. There are various metaphors that the Bible uses to describe man’s sinfully depraved condition. For instance, in his natural state, man is spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1, 5). This condition of spiritual death means that unregenerate man is unable to respond positively to God. He lacks the ability to repent of sin and believe in Jesus. Saving faith is a gift from God because sinful man cannot create it in himself (Eph. 2:9). This is because his heart is only free to follow the desires of his nature (Eph. 2:2-3). It is only because of God’s free mercy, great love an immeasureable grace toward us in Christ Jesus that we are made alive (Eph. 2:5) and recreated in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:10) being given the gift of saving faith (Eph. 2:8). This is important to understand that salvation is entirely a work of God’s grace, because if we had a part in it we would have reason to boast (Eph. 2:9).
Often times today this doctrine is neglected, downplayed, misunderstood or outright compromised. The common belief is that man is not totally dead but that there is a little spark of life or goodness or some other thing in him that is able to respond to God. This is a serious misunderstanding of man’s condition and seriously undermines the gospel of grace.
Consider a representative survey of biblical teaching on man’s inability to come to Christ for salvation on his own.
“To whom shall I speak and give warning, that they may hear? Behold, their ears are closed [uncircumcised – ESV] and they cannot listen. Behold, the word of the Lord has become a reproach to them; they have no delight in it.” (Jer. 6:10)
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13; cf. Matt. 11:27)
“No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44)
“For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” (John 6:65)
“Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:43-44)
“There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God.” (Rom. 3:11)
“But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient to that form of teaching to which you were committed.” (Rom. 6:17)
“because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so.” (Rom. 8:7)
“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. 2:14)
“For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” (Rom. 9:15-16)
I mentioned to someone yesterday that I have heard many protests against this doctrine but I have yet to hear a strong biblical argument against this doctrine. The protests inevitably amount to a belief that something good in man is what gains God’s favor. In this flawed view, unsaved man is not totally dead in sin, just mostly dead, which actually is slightly alive, which…you get the picture. But, if not, maybe this will help (sorry, I couldn’t resist!):
HT: Andy Naselli