Drinking Deeply

Tuesday, November 07, 2006 at 1:53 AM

TULIP (1) - Total Depravity

Working up a definition here. Feel free to suggest clarifications and changes.

T – Total Depravity

Man is, by nature after the fall, sinful. Not only have they committed sins, but the sinfulness (depravity) is total, extending to every single part of their being. This is not to mean that they are all mass murders, but simply that they cannot, without the grace of God, will anything that is good or pleasing to God. Even those works that look “good” to us, are not done in faith and thus are not pleasing to God. There is nothing good in man after the fall.

It would be far too easy to list off a bunch of passages without supporting explanation (and that's rather unconvincing for people who don't already agree with me), so I am going to focus on one or two passages and then list the rest at the end along with links for those who are interested in future reading.

Romans 8:1-11 (NIV used because of the better translation of the word sarx as "sinful nature", literally flesh, but used by Paul at times not for our physical bodies but rather our sinful nature. Prevents the confusion of seeing physical matter as evil and spiritual matters as good. One place where I like the NIV better than the ESV. It has it's drawbacks though [like, does it mean that humans have two natures just like Jesus?])
1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,[a] 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature,[b] God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.[c] And so he condemned sin in sinful man,[d] 4in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

5Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6The mind of sinful man[e] is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7the sinful mind[f] is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. 8Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

9You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.
Paul, after affirming that all alike are under the condemnation of God in Romans 3, sounds the trumpet call of joy. There is now, no condemnation. When? Now, immediately. No condemnation. Though the intended point was total depravity, we see how closely it attaches itself with other doctrines like limited atonement. We see it attached to preservation of the saints with the promise that God who raised Christ will give life to us (v. 11).

But that's not really the point I wanted to make. Observe specifically -
7the sinful mind[f] is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. 8Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.
So what it's saying is that the sinful mind does not and cannot submit to God's law. It is utterly displeasing to God. Notice that in its position, it cannot even set itself on the spirit, as that would be something pleasing to God (an act of submission to God's law). It is stuck and dead. It is hostile to God. Opposed to God.

This is against all conception of people as "in general good" or even "mostly bad, but having sparks of good." This puts humans opposed to God and unable to submit to God's law. They are failures, utterly lacking in all that's needed to please God. They are hostile to God.

In contrast, those who live by the spirit have life. They are "controlled by the spirit." They are promised eternal life, and as the rest of the wondrous chapter describes, obtain all good things through Jesus Christ.

Another verse:

Ephesians 2
1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in 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-- 3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body[a] and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Paul here describes the former state of people who are now saved (this can be seen by the rest of the text).

How does he describe them?

1) Dead - not weakened or asleep, not mangled or injured, but dead.
2) following Satan (the prince of the power of the air) - We were actively sinning, living in the passions of our flesh, carrying out sinful desires.
3) by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind - This was our natural state. Children deserving of wrath and judgment.
4) Right alongside the "sons of disobedience" enjoying the same disobedience they were. (Note that this also is an explicit denial of the idea that we are all "sons of God." We aren't, if we are to use the Bible's definition of "son.")

So man is dead. Killed, kaput. We were hostile to God, unable to please Him. We were complete and abject failures.

To come:

"I agree with you, but I still don't agree with Calvinism, what about prevenient grace?"

"Why would he make these commands if we couldn't obey Him?"

Related links:
Total Depravity

Other passages I wanted to bring up but decided not to for the sake of space (and because I'm lazy)

Genesis 6:5
Romans 3:9-20
Romans 14:23
1 Cor. 2:14
Hebrews 11:6


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Blogger jefe said...

i appreciate you walking through this, mxu.

i think i mostly agree with you here, but i'd like to offer some further clarification. thing is, there are different claims that could go by the name "total depravity": all christians agree to some of them, and only some agree to others. i'm going to lay them out here (and make up some catchy names) in the hope that they'll contribute to the discussion.

Mere Depravity (MD): humanity is sinful.

Global Depravity (GD): all of humanity is sinful. (this is the version that gets the most play in the new testament, especially with respect to the fact that neither jews nor gentiles are exempt. e.g. romans 3)

Universal Depravity (UD): every person is sinful. (note that this is stronger than GD: for instance, if all of a blanket is checkered, that doesn't mean every piece of it is checkered--some pieces are solid. i think some of the passages often invoked to support UD really only support GD.)

Total Depravity (TD): every aspect of every person is sinful. (By "aspect" I have in mind faculties like the will, mind, emotions, body, etc.)

Total Total Depravity (TTD): every aspect of every person is entirely sinful. I.e. there is nothing good in anyone.

Extreme Depravity (XD): every person is as sinful as they possibly could be.

these are in order from weakest to strongest: each one is implied by the ones below it, but not the other way around.

i'm pretty sure all christians agree that Mere Depravity and Global Depravity are true, and just about all of them agree that Universal Depravity is true. similarly, just about everybody will agree that Extreme Depravity is false (we're not all mass murderers, as you say). that leaves Total Depravity and Total Total Depravity in contention.

i think i'd affirm something close to TD, but not TTD.

if you take romans 8 in context with the end of romans 7, it doesn't look to me like it supports some of the claims you're pulling out of it. when paul describes the situation that god saves him from through christ, he says this:

"When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members." (Romans 7.21-23)

he wants to do good--and in fact his "inner man" is a "slave to God's law" (v. 25). but his "inner man" is captured by the flesh (i prefer to stick to this translation, with the qualifications that you pointed out), which works out sin through him. and so, because his mind is "set on the flesh" (8.7) his life is opposed to god, and he is unable to please god.

but this doesn't sound to me like TTD--in fact, it doesn't even sound quite like TD! paul's description isn't that there is no good inclination in him at all: it's that his good inclinations are entirely overridden by the sin at work in him.

it's a tricky passage, and there's room for disagreement on the interpretation, but i think this is a faithful reading. what say you?  


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