Consider the doctrine of complete depravity with me. If sinful man is not completely depraved, even from birth, then Christ’s death was not completely necessary. But we are depraved, and it was necessary for Him to die, and this is grace.
So What’s the Problem?
The mainline problem taken up with this doctrine, I believe, is that it takes power from man, and seems to take away his “free will”. In truth though, upholding the doctrine of man’s depravity is to uphold the Bible’s view of free will; the most free will of all; the will that God gives to man at conversion. It’s the moment when God does the heart transplant as prophesied in Ezekiel 36, and replaces the heart of stone with a new heart of flesh.
Where is the Breakdown
If we hold an understanding that free will is the ability for man to choose for himself whether he will believe in Christ, then so far, we agree with the Scriptures. Passages like, “Come to me, all who are weary…” and “All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” remind us that we do make a choice to call upon Him, and in Him, find salvation. There are many more references to man’s “responsibility” in Scripture. But if someone goes so far as to say that free will is man’s ability to choose Christ apart from God’s working and power, and can do so while still in his or her state of deadness, that’s where we find the breakdown. And the problem is pretty easy to see when we look to the plain Scripture.
“You who were dead in your trespasses and sins, in 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.”” Ephesians 2:1-3
No life. Totally dead before Christ and gladly walking in darkness. We were not seeking God or seeing light. How could we? We were blind and living in the deception of sin – bound by it from birth. But then comes the life and the will of Christ.
“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 2:4-5
Ephesians has described a totally bankrupted human nature – the forfeiting of a birthright and no desire for spiritual life or the things of Christ. We know that until Christ fills a man no portion of man’s being can do good. None. It’s not as if man is all bad except for his will. It is from a corrupt will that man “carries out the desires of the body and the mind…as children of wrath.” Before the new birth by the Spirit, sin permeates throughout every fiber of body, soul and spirit. And unless God wills to make a dead heart alive, that heart remains dead.
We Are Not Hopeless
God did something even when we were dead. In the midst of all that darkness those two little words, “but God”, came bursting forth.
And this is the love of Christ. It is a perfect, effectual, awakening-love that brings new life, raises the dead and gives man a brand new will. It’s not as though man has no will before he is saved, or no ability to make right and wrong decisions. The heart of the matter, though, is that when the unregenerate man makes what seems to be a “good” decision in earthly terms, because he is dead, at the core it is as filthy rags. He possesses a will, but that will is corrupt and produces no spiritual good. Can a corrupt heart will or long after holiness? The Bible says that “None seeks after God.” But God is able to give man a will after His own heart and a new nature that reflects the image of Christ.
Here’s why it’s so important for Christians to uphold this doctrine of total depravity. If you tell a man he is not ALL THAT BAD, he will look within himself for some hope. He will trust a source that isn’t God, and therefore, isn’t good. The primary drive of the world is to highly esteem self, but God’s primary goal is His own glory. We must esteem Him higher than everything. The true gospel of grace shows man that he is unworthy and unable. God wants sinful man to see that there is only one way out, and that is Christ, not self. We must not compliment man’s natural ability, but instead, reveal it’s depravity. Exalt Jesus so highly that man may see the saving riches and ability of God alone, and therein, place total dependence.