Controversial Tuesday: Yes, I Believe in Total Depravity

4 Dec

Isaiah 9:2, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”

I am a great believer in the power of light.  I also believe in the contrast of light.  Not only does light break forth and bring joy to the heart, but it brings the most joy to the heart that has dwelt in the most darkness.

Jesus said it about the sinful woman who washed His feet with her tears and her hair:  “The one who has been forgiven much, loves much.”  I believe this, too.

And I resoundingly believe in total depravity, the doctrine that says not one of us was anywhere near righteous in our own strength prior to Christ’s light coming into our lives.

I saw a blogger today who said Augustine made up the doctrine of total depravity which was unknown in the early years of the church.  Well, the early years of the church were probably more concerned with evangelism than with writing down doctrinal theses, but I can assure you that someone who wants to deny the doctrine of total depravity will have to take issue with Isaiah and Jeremiah in the Old Testament.  Maybe someone wants to argue that human nature changed between the Old and New Testaments and man became a better sort of being?  <smile>

What total depravity does not mean is that each of us has committed every possible sin.

It is possible that each of us could commit every possible sin given the right circumstances.

For example, I have often heard people say that no one can say they would not have been twice as bad as Hitler if they had been brought up as Hitler was.  Sin is a choice, but our besetting sins can be a combination of our early environment and our own bad choices.

Total depravity mostly means that there is not one part of our being that is not fallen and affected by sin.  Our bodies, our souls, our wills, our instincts, all of it is affected by the sin in this world.

Even after salvation, we will still wrestle with sin for the rest of our lives, till we are glorified in heaven.

I was thinking about how we love to flatter ourselves at times when we disagree with others by shaping their position as sinful and ours as righteous.

That, in itself,  is just another mark of our own total depravity.  We can’t even see in ourselves how self-righteous we are, nor how prone to blame others for everything that happens.  This tendency has existed since the Garden of Eden and it is usually invisible to us.

In fact, I am learning to automatically recast those moments of disagreement as altercations between two totally depraved people.

That does not mean that there are no issues of right and wrong.  In fact, the clearcut issues of right and wrong correspond pretty completely to what the Bible calls the law (in the eternal sense, not in the Old Testament ritual sense).

One example would be if we are attending a school concert and someone is carrying on a loud conversation on her cell phone in the row behind us so that two or three rows of people can’t hear the children singing.  That would eternally be regarded as selfish, in every place and time.  Although we have advanced enough technologically these last fifty years to develop smartphones, we still have not been able to eradicate in the human heart the tendency to think that the convenience of taking a phone call without leaving one’s seat is more important than the 20 or 30 people around who now can’t hear the concert.

Problem is that when we approach the person who is selfish enough to be taking the call, we approach with the right actions but usually with the wrong motivations.  We get our self-righteous on and try to inconvenience that person back, by talking loudly and angrily, or by interrupting the call.

Yes, the person should take the phone call outside and do it now.  But we are rarely able to merely represent the fact that this is one of those unwritten societal laws.  We usually make it personal to that other person and heap on the scorn, anger, and perhaps revenge.

You see, we are totally depraved, too.

A place I can almost guarantee we have all seen ourselves (and others) engaging in total depravity is when someone dies and there is a will to be settled.  We say this brings out the worst in people.  But I would say that worst part has been there all along and just comes out more easily due to the emotions of grief and anxiety centered around losing a loved one.

Have you ever seen a situation where one of the children was appointed executor of the parent’s estate that ended well?  So far, I haven’t.  There is something about giving one child power over what everyone else gets from the inheritance that just makes these things turn out badly for all concerned.

Here is a check about the self-interest that is in our own hearts.

There are several ways to divide an estate, as we all know.  And there can be reasons for each way of doing it.  One way is to divide it evenly by the number of children.  For example, I have two siblings, so my parents could choose to divide their estate three ways.  Or you can divide it evenly by the number of grandchildren.  My parents have six grandchildren:  my sister’s three, my brother’s two, and my one.  Under this system, my sister’s family would get one half of my parents’ estate, my brothers’ family would get one-third, and my family would get one-sixth.

Now I can authoritatively say that, if you give people a choice, those who have the most children will always opt to have the estate divided between the grandchildren, while those who have the least number of children (like me) will always opt to have the estate divided between the original children.  You see, as parents, we are programmed to advocate for our children.  It would be unthinkable, if given a choice, to choose a system where our own children would receive less.

We are self-interested to the point that we would rather hurt someone else than give up something we think belongs to our children.

And that self-interest, while natural, is also indicative of our total depravity because it causes  rancorous  disputes between siblings.

Disclaimer:  my parents are still in excellent health and I have only used our family as an example in order to avoid inserting actual situations where I have seen siblings fight bitterly about these issues of inheritance.

One more and I’m done.  Have you ever heard (or said), “I would never purposely hurt you, but I apologize because what I did unintentionally caused you to be hurt” ?

Do we really believe that about ourselves?  That we would never purposely hurt another person?

Honestly, I give a person credit for even apologizing at all nowadays, as that seems to be a lost art entirely, but it is totally theologically incorrect to say we would never purposely hurt another person.  We do it all the time.  And we deceive ourselves when we think we don’t.  Especially those of us who are married.  How many times do we plough on  into each other and only stop when we see that deer in the headlights look that reveals we have cut that person not just a little bit, but to the very heart???

If you have never done that, congratulations, but I am willing to say about 90% of us are cringing about now at the memory of having done just that.  The other 10% may just have short memories.

This is our guilty little secret, you see.  We can be very good at playing church with each other sometimes.  So good that we can convince others that they are the only ones who have a wicked heart that can only be helped by the gospel.

Truth is, when we come out from hiding and get real with each other and pray for each other as we should, we find out that we all have wicked hearts that can only be helped by the gospel.

That is bad news but it is also good news, the best news.

Because the gospel is there for us.  Jesus is there for us, meeting us in our need and helping us become something better in Him.

Admitting our need for Him is ultimately freeing.  Glory!


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