cripture is very clear and consistent in its teaching that we were all born into a state of sinfulness, guilt, and spiritual death. When we truly grasp our fallenness, we can instantly see that our own sin is a moral and spiritual dilemma from which we are utterly unable to extricate ourselves.
Paul told the Ephesian believers: "[You] were dead in trespasses and sins: wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others" (Ephesians 2:1-3). The "others" he speaks of is everyone. That is the state of every person who comes into this world. The apostle was describing the spiritual effects of our fallen human nature.
Look closely at what he says there: Every unregenerate person is spiritually dead, walking in accord with Satan, by nature a child of wrath. We are born into this world as thoroughgoing sinnersnot merely tainted a little bit by sin, but completely, hopelessly in bondage to it. Every aspect of our beingmind, emotions, desires, and even our physical constitutionis corrupted, controlled, and disfigured by sin and its effects. No one escapes from that verdict. We are totally depraved.
Incidentally, the doctrine of "total depravity" was not invented by Calvin. It is a biblical doctrine. It was also standard orthodox Christian theology, expressly affirmed by all of mainstream Christianity for more than a thousand years before the Reformationfrom the Pelagian controversy on. So don't dismiss total depravity as merely a Reformation-era novelty, peculiar to Calvinist dogma. It's not.
On the other hand, if you truly understand the doctrine of depravity, you will see the truth at the heart of Calvinism's emphasis. This is why we stress divine grace rather human free will as the prime factor in our salvation. And I don't apologize for being emphatic about this: Scripture clearly teaches that God is utterly sovereign, and sinners are totally powerless to save themselves. Once you grasp those truths the way Scripture presents them, you will have embraced the very heart of what is commonly labeled Calvinism. This dual emphasis on human depravity and the necessity of God's sovereign grace in the salvation of sinners is also the basis of all truth that can legitimately be called "evangelical." I yield no ground to those who want God's sovereignty or the sinner's inability to be watered down. To do so is to corrupt the gospel at its very starting point.
In this upcoming series of posts, I intend to consider four of the hardest questions about the doctrine of depravity with clear, biblical answers:
- In what sense is depravity total?
- How can we be held responsible for our own inability?
- How did we inherit Adam's sinfulness?
- Is there an antidote for human depravity?