I believe this to be the lynch pin upon which the rest of the points (the five points of Calvinism) either stand or fall. I do not think that the others make sense unless we can accurately view ourselves how the bible portrays us. The term total depravity is misleading however, as it leads to an assumption that it means utter depravity, meaning that a person is as wicked as he could possibly be. In other words, it implies that the person is totally and completely corrupt, incapable to perform even what is known as civil virtue. Instead, total depravity refers to the effect of sin and corruption on the whole person and how it affects every part of our being: the body, soul, the mind, will, and more. R.C. Sproul prefers to call total depravity “radical corruption” mostly because of the core meaning of those words. Radical, he writes, “derives from the Latin radix which means “root”. To say that mankind is radically corrupt is to say that sin penetrates to the root or core of our being. Sin is not tangential or peripheral, but arises from the center of our being”. I imagine that most would agree with the clever phrase, and you have probably heard it before, “we are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners”. This only means, that sin is not something that is outside of us and we just have to deal with, but it is rather a part of us, something we are born with and into, that we cannot escape. The inability to escape is even illustrated in Galatians 5: Paul speaks of the flesh warring against the Spirit of a saved person, so that we do not do the things that we desire to do. The things we desire to do, being the righteous work of Christ, that our sinful flesh resists, for the remainder of our life. Talk about a sin that derives from within.
Civil Virtue: It is clear that men can do things that are “good”. We build hospitals, roads, administer medicine that saves lives, we donate organs, help the needy, and perform humanitarian missions trips, and many many other things, that are all good, helpful, and wonderful. This is not outside of the will of God. It is His desire that His creation generally, and His church specifically benefit from the wonderful grace that He’s provided. This did not go unnoticed by the reformers, nor should it go unnoticed by us. The reformers noticed that fallen sinners can refrain from stealing and perform acts of charity, however these civil virtues are not deemed good in the ultimate sense. For we know that God does not only consider the outward acts of humanity but also the heart (our motives) behind those acts. God requires that our supreme motive in anything that we do, to be love for God. This is why, Romans 14:23 says “...whatever is not from faith is sin”. And as I studied this passage, it became more clear to me the separation of God from the world, and how counter to the “world” scripture, and christians ought to be. Every instance of someone donating an organ, or donating money for a hospital, or going on a humanitarian missions trip, or doing any number of “good” things, yet without faith in Christ, are effectively sinning.
John 8:31-38 “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
Jesus is speaking to men, who believed in their own freedom, and even though they lived obviously under the rule of Rome, they felt it fitting to say that they had “never been enslaved to anyone”. Unfortunately these Jews forgot their own history, they had in fact been enslaved to many people during the span of the life of their nation, they were self-deceived. But what this text clearly identifies, is that those whom Jesus was addressing were offended. They obviously “believed” in Jesus, but when Jesus makes the comment that you must continue in my word, and then you will know the truth and the truth will make you free, they became enraged. They are offended that they need to be made free. Jesus’ argument is, that everyone who commits sin is the slave to sin. What our Lord is saying, is that to no longer be a slave to sin one must be made free, and one cannot free themselves from slavery, as these Jews clearly understood, based on their rejection of slavery. Slavery in the ancient world was a decision out of the hand of the slave. Slavery in this time, and as recent as our own nations not-so-distant past, has lost its meaning among us. We cannot relate to a state of our being, being completely out of our control, however this is exactly what Jesus is saying to these people, “you are slaves to sin”. Jesus continues to say that “if the son sets (or makes) you free, you will be free indeed”. This language points directly to our will that is bound. And again, Jesus says that they are unable to hear His words. Jesus’ words are of God and the reason that they are not able to hear them, is because they are not of God. In summary, it is either being of God or not of God that allows you to hear, not the other way around.
John 6:43-44 “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”
This passage shows the inability of man. We do not have the capacity or ability to come to Jesus unless something happens outside of ourselves. And the rebuttal will be: “God draws everyone”, and if that is the case then we are looking at universalism, because as the text shows, anyone who is drawn by the Father to the Son will be is raised up on the last day to eternal life. Jesus is talking to people who had just came across a lake to see Him, and he tells them that they are unbelievers because they were coming for the wrong reasons. They didn’t see that He was the source of spiritual life, rather they were coming for miracles. V37 shows this “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”
Romans 8:6-8 “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
This is perhaps the most clearly stated, and obvious text (in my opinion) about the state of our will, and our total inability. We are told, twice, that man does not have the ability or capacity to do anything pleasing to God. They are according to the flesh, not the Spirit. This distinction is nothing new; all throughout the bible are those who are right with God and those who are not right with God, those who are dead in their sins, and those who have been made alive in Christ. These who are according the flesh are unable to subject themselves to the law of God. And we know the law and command of God, Acts 17:30 makes it clear, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent”. This is what God’s law says, but God’s word also says that there is something wrong with man (consistent exegesis begins to show itself invaluable here). Repentance is something that is pleasing to God (Hebrews 11:6), as well as faith, so the question becomes if those who are in the flesh cannot subject themselves to the law of God, and those that are in the flesh cannot please God, then how can those who are unsaved do those things that are self evidently pleasing to God? John Gill in his commentary on this passage says this:
“There are many things which are pleasing to him, such as prayer, praise, giving of alms, keeping his commandments, and walking in his ways; but these unregenerate men cannot do in any acceptable manner to God; for they are without the Spirit, without Christ, without faith; and in all they do have no view to the glory of God: they have neither grace, nor strength, nor right principles, nor right ends.
This reality should not lead us to dismay, but to glorify all the more our great savior, who has rescued us from, absolutely the most hopeless eternity imaginable.