Desperately Wicked

People are bad, really bad, intensely evil (Job 15:16), desperately wicked; God says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Je 17:9

Total Depravity, a basic Christian doctrine, is simply stated: We make the most evil choice God allows us to make every time we make a choice. In our natural state we consistently seek rebellion; we do so with relentless, unyielding, desperation; without God’s aid we’re incapable of anything else. (Je 13:23) It’s insanity at best, this mystery of iniquity within us, but it’s very, very real.

Yet we don’t ever actually experience total depravity, either in ourselves or in others; we only get glimpses of it, hints, so it’s easy to dismiss God’s Word as allegorical or obsolete.

But our lack of experience proves nothing; God also says He limits or controls our wickedness, holding us back, restraining us. (2Th 2:7) This is God’s irresistible grace, enabling us to be good (He 12:15), moving in us to be less wicked, more righteous. (Php 2:12) It’s a gift, something He does in us. (Ep 3:7) One Day He’ll stop doing this with those who aren’t His; only then will depravity be on full display. (Re 6:4)

Man’s total depravity humbles us, dismissing all formal religion as vanity, all supposed religious power and authority as deceit, all hope of meriting God’s favor as a lie. It’s the key to soteriology, how God’s unconditional election and limited atonement align with His genuine, universal offer of eternal salvation. (He 5:9)

Depravity explains how God can be in absolute, total control over all things, yet how Man still has free will. It even moves Hell itself into glorious context, as awesome, unarguably appropriate and just. All these truths appear hopelessly irreconcilable until we understand Total Depravity. There’s comfort, peace and joy in seeing it all from God’s perspective. (2Co 13:11)

Yes, it seems the world’s “going to Hell in a handbasket,” it sure does, but it shouldn’t surprise or alarm us. God has a glorious purpose in all He allows. Let’s pray for and be concerned for others, and for our world, while exulting in God, being anxious for nothing. (Php 4:6-7) He knows what He’s doing.

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5 thoughts on “Desperately Wicked”

  1. Additional scripture (and my commentary) supporting this concept:
    — And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every (no exception) imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil (nothing else) continually (without abatement, no wavering or doublemindedness). (Ge 6:5)
    — there is none (zero, nada, zilch) that understandeth, there is none (zero, nada, zilch) that seeketh after God. They are all (no exception) gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable (zero goodness); there is (absolutely) none that doeth (even a little) good, no, not (even) one. (Ro 3:11-12)
    — whose mouth is (chock) full (no room for anything else) of cursing and bitterness: (Ro 3:14)
    — there is no (zero, nada, zilch) fear of God before their eyes. (Ro 3:18)
    — For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing (not even a little bit): for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. (Ro 7:19)
    — in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; (2Ti 2:24 — Evidently, until God gives repentance, no one will repent on their own.)
    — And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain, and blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds. (Re 16:10-11) (For example, no one will repent on their own, even when God tortures them because of their rebellion.)

  2. The key point isn’t that people are intrinsically bad (this is obvious); it is a question of how bad.

    Though we have the moral capacity/ability to choose good, without God intervening and restraining/enabling, does fallen Man have the slightest inclination to choose good? Will he ever choose good or God on his own?

    Total Depravity says “No.” To answer differently is to say Man has some goodness in him apart from God, an inclination to choose God or good entirely independently of God (i.e. “on his own”).

    While I feel this is an important (core) biblical doctrine, I agree that it is for the most part academic since we don’t ever experience total depravity in ourselves and/or others in this life. This then is merely a theory which (I find) enables me to consistently hold a number of otherwise apparently contradictory biblical claims at the same time. (Free Will vs God’s Sovereignty, Limited Atonement vs Universal Gospel)

  3. Total Depravity need not necessarily mean all people are equally depraved; some of us may have more actual capacity for evil than others, even though without God each of us would be as depraved as we could possibly be.

    This accommodates my definition of humility: to esteem others morally better than ourselves; we might each indeed be, apart from God’s grace, the most evil person in all the world for all time.

  4. Total Depravity does not mean fallen Man has never had the actual capacity to choose good or do good. That would mean Man is not responsible for his evil choices and it would implicate God in creating Man with an evil nature.

    We must hold that Man is always responsible for his choices, that he is responsible to choose God and good, and that, even if he has now totally forfeited his capacity to choose good due to having chosen evil and ensnared himself, destroying his own capacity to choose God, at some point each soul has freely chosen evil of his/her own free will and is rightly held accountable for all of his/her actions.

  5. The way I am reading the text (as emphasized in my commentary), particularly Ro 3, may not leave much room for discussion.

    The question remains, and it is an important one: how do I know if I am reading this text correctly?

    This is a different question, which I answer more generally in my blog post Rightly Dividing, and in comments on that post.

    In summary, in my view, in order to rightly divide the Word, the interpretation/application/teaching:
    –[1] must not contradict any other scripture; we must be able to reconcile any claim with all of scripture without doing injustice to the context and/or grammar of any other biblical passage.
    –[2] must not force the grammar of the passage at hand or deviate from the plain meaning of all the words in the text, unless:
    —–[A] doing so would either generate a contradiction (as in case [1]) or necessarily be inconsistent with the immediate context, and
    —–[B] a special/unique definition is reasonably required and/or understood from history and/or the larger context which validates and supports the wording of the immediate context.

    I don’t see how my reading of Ro 3 does any injustice to the text itself, or to the immediate context, or to the entire context of scripture.
    — I think it does no injustice to the immediate context:
    —— “every” can easily mean absolutely all, no exceptions.
    —— “only” can easily mean nothing else, no exceptions.
    —— “continually” can easily mean all the time, relentless, without abatement, no exceptions.
    —— “no” and “none” can easily mean absolutely none, zero.
    —— “all” can easily mean absolutely everyone, no exceptions.
    —— “full” can easily mean completely and totally full, leaving no room for anything else
    — I think it does no injustice to scriptures which command us to choose good, since it is right for God to command us so even if we are entirely unwilling to do so when left to themselves, or “on their own”.
    — I think it does no injustice to scriptures which demonstrate people choosing good, since I can attribute this to the grace of God working in them, whether they are believers or not, and that they are not doing so “on their own”.

    I think to read the above texts, and Ro 3 in particular, in any other way, and conclude that some people have the inclination to choose good/God on their own, without God’s aid, one would have to have a legitimate reason for doing so, which would necessarily be one of the following:
    — [i] a text of scripture exists which plainly states fallen Man has the inclination to choose good/God all on his own, without God’s aid, which would imply using the plain meaning of words in the text at hand openly contradicts the plain meaning of this other scripture (to my knowledge, there is no such text)
    –[ii] the grammar of the text supports the alternate reading without distorting the plain meaning of words (which I think is unreasonable, since then “no, not one” and “none” and “every” must really in this particular context for some reason mean “few” or “most”, which is not the plain meaning of the words)

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