The above picture of my three granddaughters was taken in January 2005 (the oldest is Briana, the next in age is Maryn, and the youngest Peyton). From a grandfather’s perspective, I think my granddaughters are adorable and innocent-looking. The picture below of our family, taken in 1981 when I was at Grace Theological Seminary, has two of my granddaughters’ parents (Amy is the oldest [Briana’s mother], Bob is the middle child [Maryn’s & Peyton’s dad], and Joshua the youngest). As you look at three generations of our family, you can see that our family has certain physical similarities. While our family members share a few physical features, each one shares a more disadvantageous bond. This bond that our family members share is that each one was born with a humanly incurable and fatal corruption: total depravity.
With my two previous posts about “Total Depravity,” I defined total depravity as teaching that every person since the Fall who is conceived through procreation has an inborn moral and spiritual corruption that permeates his entire being. In my post “Total Depravity,” on 12/16/07, I defined what I mean by total depravity. Genesis 6:5 summarizes my point: “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” To clarify my point about how pervasive this corruption extends in a person’s makeup, let me provide further details about the Bible’s teaching on this subject.Man’s mind is presented in Romans 8:7-8 as being hostile to God: “The mind set on the flesh [sinful nature] is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh [sinful nature] cannot please God.” Paul further describes man’s mind as “being darkened” in “understanding,” “excluded from the life of God,” having a “hardness” of heart and being callous; and this results in man giving himself “over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness” (Eph 4:17-19). Further, Paul describes the man outside of Christ as having a defiled mind and conscience: “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled” (Tit 1:5). Paul personally testified about the extent of his depravity with this: “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh [sinful nature]” (Rom 7:18). In light of these passages, the explicit teaching of Scripture about depravity is that it continuously pervades man’s mind, emotions and desires, will, and conscience. In these passages, the term heart is used to reflect various internal processes, such as thinking, desiring, resolving. In these passages, man’s heart, as well as his other inner faculties are described as being “evil,” “deceitful,” “sick,” “hardened,” “excluded from the life of God,” “callous,” “darkened,” “defiled,” and even as “hostile to God.” The various writers of Scripture describe depravity in the most hideous terms. In the final analysis, the focus of all these passages is that total depravity pervades man’s inner being and that this life-long condition is described as being hostilely antithetical to God. In short, depravity is total because it pervades man, extending to the very core of his being.While the writers of Scripture present man’s total depravity with horrendous expressions, there is one item that Paul includes in Romans 8:8 that is crucially decisive in picturing man in the bleakest condition: “Those who are in the flesh [sinful nature] cannot please God.” To be “in the flesh” is to be controlled by sinful nature, as the NIV renders it: “Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” In other words, there is nothing within man’s internal framework that makes him capable of pleasing God. In light of Paul’s assertion, the biblical picture of total depravity must be further qualified as including the concept of man’s total inability. Total inability means that man is incapable of changing his sinful character or acting in a way that is inconsistent with his pervasive depravity. As Jeremiah said in 13:23: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil” (NIV). Total inability argues that man never desires to please God and that he is incapable of pleasing God. In Ephesians 2:1, Paul described fallen humanity as being “dead in trespasses and sin.” Paul further describes total depravity as a condition of slavery in Titus 3:3: “For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.” Sinful man is so enslaved to sin he has no internal capability to turn his life over to God. In short, total depravity means that man is “dead in trespasses and sin,” “enslaved” to his sinful character, and unable to “please God.”If total depravity means that all people are dead in trespasses and sin and if this death renders them entirely unable and unwilling from the very core of their being to positively respond to God, then fallen man is left with a pervasive internal problem that he cannot correct in any conceivable way. In this theological scenario, the inescapable conclusion is that only through the Spirit’s life-giving work in fallen man is he enabled to come to God. Because man’s total depravity is antagonistically antithetical to God’s nature, the doctrine of total depravity helps define what the Spirit must renew in his life-giving ministry: the core of one’s being, one’s direction and outlook in life.As such, the nature of man’s depravity demands that God must do something to change the depraved sinner’s nature if a person is to have any hope of redemption. Without the Spirit’s work in regeneration, a person is helplessly condemned to an eternal condemnation. The hope that sinners have is in the new birth, regeneration. Jesus describes to Nicodemus in John 3:3 the significance of the new birth: “Unless one is born again [or more preferably, “born from above”] he cannot psee the kingdom of God” (for a discussion of John 3:5, see my article “The Meaning of ‘Born of Water and the Spirit’ in John 3:5“). He further states in John 3:6-8: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” These verses in John 3 describe the Spirit’s monergistic work in regeneration. Theologically speaking, regeneration is the impartation of spiritual life, the new nature, to a totally depraved sinner with the inevitable result that the quickened sinner repents of his sin and trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ (for a solid exegetical and theological defense of this view of regeneration, see Mark Snoeberger’s article “The Logical Priority of Regeneration and to Saving Faith in a Theological Ordo Salutis“; for other helpful sources, see J. I. Packer’s “Regeneration: The Christian Is Born Again, Robert Reymond’s chapter “Regeneration,” and R. C. Sproul’s ““Regeneration Precedes Faith.” For helpful sermonic material on regeneration preceding faith, you should listen to the following sermons by John Piper: “You Must Be Born Again: Why This Series and Where Are We Going?,” “What Happens in the New Birth?” “What Happens in the New Birth? Part 2″,” “Why Do We Need to Be Born Again? Part 1,” “Why Do We Need to Be Born Again? Part 2.” May God give us eyes to see and ears to hear.