DOCTRINES OF GRACE
1. Total Depravity
In Ephesians 2:1-5, we read, “And you hath he quickened, who 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. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)” An extremely important truth concerning the spiritual condition of unsaved man is found in the words “even when we were dead in sins, hath (He) quickened us.” When we look a things from God’s point of view, all men are spiritually dead before they are saved. This is a statement of man’s total depravity. Therefore, we can dismiss the commonly held idea that men have an ability to help themselves in the sense that they have a free will to accept God as their Savior. That is a wrong way to view sinful man. According to Ephesians 2:1 and 5, unsaved men are dead.
Let us illustrate the sinful state of man in the following way. What would happen if a man fell from the top of a building? That would depend upon how high the building was. A fall of eight feet could result in serious injury. A fall from a tall skyscraper, hundreds of feet tall, to the pavement below would result in instant death, his physical destruction would be so complete that he would be a bloody mess and not easily recognizable. Now, how high must the building in our illustration be if we use it to describe the Bible’s view of how far men have fallen in their sin? Does the Bible say that a man is injured in his sins? Is a man so debilitated by sin that he can do nothing but lie on the sidewalk, so to speak, and cry out for help? Or does the Bible say that he is dead and is inert? Is sinful man similar to a man who is likely to die if his cries are not heeded, or is he a corpse that can make no sound at all? Ephesians 2:1 and 5 tell us quite frankly that men are dead in their sins, D E A D, dead. Unsaved men have absolutely no spiritual life at all, and can do nothing to help themselves. They are dead.
Perhaps some people will argue that the word “dead” does not mean a sinner is dead like a corpse but that it is a word that is used in a poetic or comparative sense, that a sinner can do very little but ask and reach out for help. The Bible will not permit such a weakened view of the word “dead.” The same word is used in Ephesians 1:20. Unless we are prepared to believe that Christ did not really die on the cross but somehow experienced something close to death, we must face the fact that sinful men are spiritually exactly like all those people who are physically buried in a cemetery. According to the Bible, the problem with men is not just that they do not obey God, but that they cannot (Jer. 10:23, Rom. 8:6-8). The reason is that they are dead.
Of course sinful men walk around upon this planet and do all sorts of things. Many of the things men do are quite clever and noble. Men can make choices and perform all sorts of human good. God has not removed His hand of restraint upon men’s wickedness so that men behave as bad as they possibly could (e.g. Gen . 20:6). There is not one man who lived who has not done even one good thing no matter how small, even though it is selfishly motivated and has no merit toward God (Isa. 64:6). But the Bible says that no man can do works that have any spiritual good, any saving good.
But even more serious is the fact that unsaved men are not able to seek God for any spiritually help because they are dead. Sinners have no desire to seek God (Rom. 3:10-18). That is, they cannot do any spiritual good and are totally incapable of crying out to God for mercy in order to escape judgment they deserve for all their evil deeds. A sinner's heart is totally evil without a spark of any spiritual good within it (Gen. 6:5, Jer. 17:9).
This view of man’s condition in sin is quite different than what many other people teach. Many people teach that faith is a good work that men can exercise by means of their own free will. In contrast to that, the view we have presented is that men are dead and faith can only be a gift which God freely gives to whom He wants to save (Eph. 2:8, Phil. 1:29). In other words, the truth of salvation is that God contributes the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and God contributes the faith that applies that sacrifice to men’s lives. Men contribute nothing at all, for they are dead. Only the power of the Holy Spirit working in a men’s hearts results in faith and new spiritual life within them.
Therefore we must put aside any notions that man is basically good and can contribute to the solution of his spiritual problem of sin and the wrath that will come upon him. A man has no say in his salvation at all for he is dead and cannot say anything. According to the Bible, Jesus chooses His people, they do not choose Him because they are dead (John 15:16, II Tim. 1:9). Before a man is saved, his nature is to oppose and turn from Jesus. It is only until God changes a sinner’s heart first that he then turns to Him for mercy.
Salvation can not be compared to the situation of a man in jail who regrets his misery and promises to lead a better life when an offer of pardon is extended to him. Rather, salvation is correctly compared to the situation of a person in jail who feels no remorse for his crimes and threatens to commit the same crime if he is promised his freedom. God comes to despicable sinners and must transform them into someone who desires Him and his salvation. God must put new life into a sinner if he is to hunger and thirst after righteousness. Only people who are “quickened’, that is, made alive, want to eat and drink. Dead people do not and cannot eat or drink.
The value of this teaching is that it is true and honest. It describes the real need of people. Instead of confusion or despair, people understand that their only hope is to seek the salvation of God rather than trust in their own efforts. This teaching also gives us a correct view of the world, so that believers will not be so surprised at the evil men are capable of and will not be so quick to trust men. This teaching also is God honoring, for He and not man gets all the credit for anyone’s salvation.
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