Here is a set of words that is often misunderstood. That is at least partially the fault of those who use it for failing to explain it. But this will be our task for today, to understand what is meant by total depravity and why it is essential. As we have been going through the Heidelburg Catechism we have come to the point where we have seen that through the sin of Adam and Eve every one born, apart from Christ, has been born in sin. We saw this in answer to question seven. If you remember from last week question seven asked, "From where, then, did man's depraved nature come?" This question came as the logical next question from how Adam and Eve were created. Scripture and the catechisms teach us that Adam and Eve were created good, but through their sin, they fell from their original state. Question eight of the Catechism follows these and helps us to further understand the extent of that fall.
How Far Was The Fall?
Question eight for many people is difficult, even without hearing the answer. It asks "But are we so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and inclined to all evil?" We have to understand that this question is not in a vacuum. It is, as we have mentioned before the logical next question. If Adam and Eve were created good, where did sin come from? Sin came from their disobedience and sin corrupted all those who come after them. The extent of that sin is not just a single action but a corruption of their very nature. This is what is meant by the term "Total Depravity," that all of a person is depraved. That is that there is no part of a person, not his will, emotions, knowledge, reason, or any other part of him, that is not corrupted by sin. It does not mean that every person is as bad as they could be. This is essentially the starting point for the gospel. It is the understanding that there is no part of human nature that is able to save itself, not your will, or your knowledge, or anything. You are, as the question states, "unable to do any good and inclined to all evil."
What Are Sin and Evil?
It is important at this point to take a step back and ask what is the essence of sin and evil. It is easy for us to think of evil and sin in the abstract or the simplistic. To think of them as simply things that happen. Where someone breaks a law or attempts to hurt another. These are examples of sin and evil but are not the essence of it. The essence of all sin can be seen in the first and greatest commandment, you are to love the Lord your God with all that you are, all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength. To do any less is sin. So even things that we think of as being good, like giving to charity or caring for the sick, even reading our bible and praying, if not done out of love for and seeking the glory of God is sin. Christ teaches us that we cannot serve two masters. Ultimately the difference is between self and God. Do I do things so that my works might be seen and I will be glorified, or do I do things so that my Heavenly Father might be glorified? Our nature, that is our hearts, from the moment of conception, is in this state. Scripture teaches us that we are born in our iniquity. We read things like Genesis 6:5 and Jeremiah 17:9, which teach us that the heart of man is desperately wicked. This is what the catechism means when it speaks of our depravity. We are born in total depravity, every part of us being born in sin, being conceived in iniquity.
Where is the Hope?
We saw that the question is asked, "But are we so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and inclined to all evil?" The Catechism answers in two parts. The first part is a simple yes. Isaiah 53:6 says that everyone has turned away from God, and puts themselves first. Paul reiterates this in Romans 3:10-11 by saying that no one seeks God, and no one does good. If this was the end of the answer it would be quite depressing, but the second part is where our hope is found. The second half of the answer says, "unless we are regenerated by the Spirit of God." This is where our hope is found. In the wonderful power of our Lord and God. Who by his grace regenerates sinners like you and me that we might know and more importantly be known by God. This is the message of the gospel. We are born in our sin, totally incapable of saving ourselves, but God being rich and merciful sent his only Son to live and die so that those who are called by his name and according to his purpose might receive eternal life.
You may be tempted to question why this is important, or even to disagree. But I encourage you to search the scriptures, that is our only true guide in these things. They are the very words of God, breathed out by him for his glory and our gain. I encourage you to rest in the grace of God, which is wholly undeserved. There is nothing that we have done or will ever do that could make us worthy of God's grace. But because of his own mercy, he has chosen to save his children. He regenerates us by the power of his Holy Spirit, apart from which we cannot even see the kingdom of God. This week as you dig into God's word remember his grace. "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel." (2 Timothy 2:8). Remember not just the work of Christ that saves us, but remember his glorious person. Remember that He not only died for our sins but that he is raised from the dead. When we understand the depth of our depravity, when we understand how fallen and truly dead in our trespasses we are apart from his grace, then that grace is so much sweeter. Rest in the sweetness of God's grace this week. It is ours not by right or because we earned it, but because God being rich in mercy, according to the purpose of his own will, saw fit to make us his own.
Soli Deo Gloria
Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Job 14:4; Is. 53:6. John 3:3-5.