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Grace Fellowship Church

Total Depravity

The Doctrines of Grace: Total Depravity

Romans 3:9-20

Grace Fellowship Church

April 29, 2007

 

9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” 19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Introduction

There is a war that is going on in the world.  This war is not new.  It has nothing at all to do with terrorism.  The enemy is a misunderstanding of sin.  It is a misunderstanding of the nature of humanity. 

 

For instance, many in the mental health field believe that people are basically good and what corrupts them is their surrounding environment.  So if we can simply educate people they will do the right things.  When I was in college the psychology classes argued what was the biggest influencer of behavior; nature or nurture.  If the right answer is nurture then if children simply have the right parents that will instill the right values in them then they will turn out better because after all in the world’s eyes they are basically good.

 

But we have to ask some very important questions.  How much education does it take to make someone better morally?  If our nation is one of the most educationally advanced civilizations ever, then why is our crime rate so high?  I know some will say that it is the uneducated that are committing the crimes but what about the white collar crimes?  What about the Savings and Loans scandal of the 90’s?  Were not some of those people some of the most educated in our nation?  How is it that a very educated banker or accountant will rob a company of millions of dollars if education is the key?  How is it that a university student goes in and shoots 32 people and then himself? 

 

Why has all this education and mental health care not reduced the amount of crime and sin in our nation?  It is because people have a warped view of themselves.  Everyone wants to think that they are good people.  We all want to have a very good self image. 

 

We live in a day where self esteem rules the day.  Of course self esteem really does not fit into the message that the Bible gives us about ourselves. 

 

Many churches no longer sing some of the great hymns of the faith because they are detrimental to our sense of self worth and inherent goodness.  For instance, Isaac Watts hymn, At The Cross.  If it is sung the hymnal will often change one line in particular.  “Alas and did my savior bleed, and did my sovereign die?  Would he devote that sacred head for such a worm as I.”  What about Amazing Grace?  “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” 

 

The doctrine of total depravity is one of the most hated doctrines in the Bible.  But it is what the Bible teaches.  The question has to be looked at carefully and answered: What was the effect of sin on mankind as a whole?”  If you go back to Genesis and the fall of Adam and Eve, what you will find is a warning.  “The day you eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you will die.”  When they ate the fruit they did not immediately die physically.  They did begin the process of dying physically but something else happened. Sin infected the world and mankind all died in sin.  The Bible makes very plain man’s inability to please God by his or her own efforts. 

 

Paul rightly diagnosis the spiritual condition of the Ephesian Christians before they were saved.  Ephesians 2:1-3 says:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind , and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

 

At that point, while dead in sins and trespasses the Ephesians simply did what was in their nature to do.  Listen to the verses again.    

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind , and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

 

Certain things happen by nature.  Dogs, no matter how cute and cuddly they are, are by nature scavengers.  You do not have to teach them to dig in the garbage.  They do it by nature.  Cows, by nature, graze on grass in the field.  You could not get a cow to eat a steak dinner.  Why?  That is against its nature. 

 

Paul tells us that by nature, the Greek word phusis which means instinctively or what we do simply because of ho we are, we are dead and sons of disobedience.  We are children of wrath. 

 

This doctrine of total depravity can be proven by watching little children.  Parents teach their children all kind of things.  But they do not have to teach their children to lie, to steal, to be selfish and self centered, and to desire their own way.  You don’t have to teach them to be little rebels.  You must however work very hard to teach them to be obedient.  You have to teach them to be considerate. 

 

Our children have proved total depravity over and over.  I have hundreds of stories to illustrate that and I know that all of you have stories to illustrate that as well. 

 

When the kids are small that depravity can be cute.  But when they get older it gets uglier and uglier.  It’s like kittens.  They are cute but then they grow up into cats. 

 

I want to try to explain total depravity and raise objections to this doctrine in the body of the sermon.  Some of the common objections are:

1.  If man is totally depraved then why are some people moral people without being Christians?

2.  If man is totally depraved then how do you explain people being heroic in saving the lives of others? 

3.  If man is totally depraved then what about free will? 

 

Let me give you a working definition of Total Depravity.  Total depravity describes man’s condition apart from any grace extended to him by God.  Total depravity means that man is totally incapable of pleasing God through actions of his own or even seeking after God apart from a work of grace.  Total depravity is the result of sin infecting and destroying man’s spiritual ability. 

 

PNP

This morning from our text, I want you to see from Romans 3:9-20 two impossibilities for all people apart from the grace of God. 

1.  Apart from the grace of God, total depravity has made it impossible for us to understand the things of God.

2. Apart from the grace of God, total depravity has made it impossible for us to please God.

 

Purpose

My purpose for teaching you this doctrine is so that you will not only understand the spiritual condition of the lost people that you come into contact with, but that you will also understand the amazing, overwhelming grace of God that has been bestowed upon you as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. 

 

Part of the reason of the hatred by many of these doctrines is because it takes away the pride that we all have.  The idea that we were smart enough to become believers is cast away as false pride.  The idea that we are somehow more worthy of being saved than the rest of the lost world will be cast underfoot and false pride will be destroyed. 

 

With Isaac Watts we will proclaim, “Alas and did my savior bleed and did my sovereign die.  Would he devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?”

 

RPNP

So look with me at these two impossibilities for all people apart from the grace of God. 

 

Notice first that:

1.  Apart from the grace of God, total depravity has made it impossible for us to understand the things of God.

Look at verses 9 through the first part of verse 12. 

9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

 

If you read Romans 1 through where we are this morning in Romans 3, the Apostle Paul is like a prosecuting attorney bringing a charge against all of humanity.  He uses the terms Jew and Greek.  These are his way of referring to the Jew and all the other people who are not Jews.  It is Jew and Gentile alike.  And according to the Apostle Paul they both, no matter of any outer accoutrement, are in the same spiritual condition.  Look at verses 9 and 10.

9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one;

Jews and Greeks were far different in the first century world.  Jews were often pious.  They tried to keep God’s Law.  They wanted to please God by keeping the traditions of the elders.  The Greeks or Gentiles were polar opposites.  Many lived according to the desires of the flesh. They were heathen and acted upon the basest of desires. 

 

If one group was more pleasing to God, it would seem that the Jews who were trying to lead a lawful life would be that group.  They had the ten commandments, they studied the bible, they prayed, they kept festivals and holy days.  This would definitely be the group that pleased God right?  Wrong.  Look at what Paul says again in verse 9 and 10.

9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all.

Why?  Romans 2:12 says: 12 For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law;

Even though the Jews were pious and tried to keep the Law, they were unable to do it.  Look at the rest of verse 9.

For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,

Look at where the two groups are.  They are under sin.  What is the result of  this position of all of us being under sin?  Look at verse 10.

10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one;

  This is the testimony of the Old testament.  Paul is quoting from Psalm 14 and from Psalm 53 in our text this morning.  Paul the prosecuting attorney has leveled his charge.  There is none righteous, no, not one.  Mr. Pious Jew you are not righteous.  Mr. Free Greek you are not righteous.  Not one single human being is righteous. 

 

So what are the effects of this unrighteousness?  What are the problems that come along with Adam plunging the rest of mankind into sin and the rest of us following suit in Adam’s sin?  Look at verses 11 and 12. 

11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

 

Paul lists three problems that all humans have in common. 

1.  We all have a mind that has been ruined by sin. 

This verse says that we do not understand the ways and the will of God.  Listen to Romans 1:28-32.

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

 

Listen to Romans 8:6-8.  For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Did you hear that?  Let me read it again. This is verse 7.  because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so,

Apart from the grace of God not one of us would ever have a mind set on the things of God.  We are hostile to God and His law by our very nature.  For us to desire the things of God is like a cow wanting a steak dinner.  It is like a leopard changing his spots.  It is impossible for us.  Only God can make a cow eat steak or a lion graze like a cow, or change a leopard’s spots to stripes.  And only God can change our depraved mind so that we actually understand His will. 

 

2. We all have a will that is ruined by sin.  Remember I asked a question in the introduction.  “If man is totally depraved then what about free will?”  Look again at verse 10.    

11 no one understands; no one seeks for God.

 

The declarative statement by Paul is that no one seeks after God.  But doesn’t God require that man seeks after Him?  Yes.  If you do a study on the words “Seek the Lord” what you will find is that no one in the Bible sought the Lord without the Lord first acting.  Think back to the Garden of Eden.  It was the Lord who sought out Adam and Eve after they sinned.  They hid from God because of their guilt.  So if any of us seek God it is because He first sought us. 

 

So what about this business of free will?  Is man’s will really free?  Can’t we act as free creatures?  And the answer is yes and that is where the problem is.  Remember Paul’s statement in Ephesians 2 that we read?  “We are by nature children of wrath…”  And because of our nature we will do what comes natural to us.  We will sin and continually not seek after God.  In this way, the will is not really free in the sense that most people think it is. 

 

Most people understand free will this way. “I have the right as a free moral agent to either choose to do good or choose to do evil.”  That is probably the way that you have been taught.  But that is not the biblical definition of free will at all.  The biblical definition of free will is found in Romans chapter 1.  I gave you a home work assignment last week to read Romans 1.  If you did that what you found was that God has revealed himself in creation and humans in their free will have decided to worship the creature rather than the creator.  So you read in verse 24 of Romans 1 that God gave humanity over to the lusts of their hearts.  That is their nature. 

 

These who are exercising their free will are falling further and further into depravity and the second time in Romans 1:26 God gives these people over to their degrading passions and they engaged in more destructive behavior.  Then in verse 28 Paul tells us for the third time that God gave these people over to a depraved mind where they eventually destroy themselves and are cast headlong into hell. 

 

What I am saying to you is this, you do not want God to leave you to your so called free will.  By nature we are all children of wrath, enslaved to sin and apart from the gracious act of God restraining us we will fall further and further into more sickening depravity ultimately destroying ourselves.  It is a good thing for God to restrain us from following our own desires.  Our desires must be changed because the truth is that we are by nature evil and our will is bent toward evil and left alone without God would destroy ourselves and others in our paths. 

 

How many people have you watched destroy their own lives?  How many people have you seen go from success to failure in a matter of days? 

 

Illustration

When we lived in Kansas City, which has two professional sports franchises, I saw multi-million dollar athletes stay in trouble.  They played a game for a living.  They made more money in a year than most of us will make in a lifetime.  They had all the privileges that this world could give.  People loved them and celebrated them.  They were the toast of the town.  But I promise you almost on a weekly basis one of these guys were getting arrested for doing something boneheaded.  Why?  Because by nature, even with everything that money could buy, they were still children of wrath.   

 

So far we have seen that sin has ruined our mind, it has ruined our will and:

 

3.  We are completely ruined by sin spiritually.

Look at verse12.

12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

Listen to our confession of faith deal with this. 

 4. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.

Paul says that we as humanity have turned aside from the way of God to our own way.  We do our own thing to our own destruction.  I want you to notice the second part of the verse.  together they have become worthless;

Now this is not the passage that will help your self esteem.  This passage will not make you feel good about yourself.  As a matter of fact after you understand what the Bible is saying here you will not feel good about yourself.  Paul is quoting Psalm 14:3 that says in the KJV “they have all become filthy.”  The word means tainted.  It is like something that is good becoming bad.  It is like milk that has seriously soured.  It is putrid, horrible and no longer useful. 

 

Because of sin, we are utterly hopeless and helpless.  Our minds are depraved.  Our will is now set on evil.  Spiritually we are ruined by sin.  We are totally depraved.  

 

We have seen because of this we are morally and spiritually unable to please God apart from the grace of God. 

 

The second point this morning is: 

 

2. Apart from the grace of God, total depravity has made it impossible for us to please God.

Look at the rest of verse 12. 

no one does good, not even one.”

Here is the great prosecuting attorney the apostle Paul’s second indictment.  “No one does good, not even one.” 

Now I want to answer the other two questions that I posed. 

First, if man is totally depraved then why are some people moral people without being Christians?

According to Paul, in our text, not one person is actually moral.  But don’t we all know someone, maybe a family member or a neighbor or coworker, who is not a Christian who lives a moral life?  What about Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons or Muslims or Jews who live moral lives?  Are they not good people? 

 

If you do not understand the first point then you will fall into this same trap.  Paul was very clear that by nature we are all sinners and we are totally ruined. 

 

The classic illustration for this is what I used to teach our kids this truth.  Imagine that you have your favorite drink here on the table.  My favorite drink is tea.  I like it with ice and in a tall glass.  My favorite brand is Community Tea.  Now I have this tall, icy cold, glass of tea here and I am thirsty, I mean very thirsty.  I can’t wait to drink that tea.  But you come along and you have a medicine dropper.  In that medicine dropper you have sewage.  You place one drop of sewage in that glass of tea.  Will you drink it?  I wouldn’t.  Why?  It is ruined.  That one drop of sewage has putrefied that otherwise perfectly good glass of tea. 

 

So no matter how good a person may be morally, one drop of sin has ruined them.  Imagine biting into a hamburger and it tastes good.  But you look before your next bite and you find a fingernail.  Are you going to pull the fingernail out and finish the burger?  No.  You are going to take back or call your waitress over and refuse to pay for it.  At that point you are no longer thirsty. 

 

Now I want you to understand how God views your sin.  No matter how moral you are, no matter how good you are, you are so tainted by sin that in God’s eyes you are ruined.  You are worthless and unredeemable.  Listen to Isaiah 64:6-7.

For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7 There is no one who calls on Your name, Who arouses himself to take hold of You; For You have hidden Your face from us And have delivered us into the power of our iniquities.

 

The same answer is for the other question.

2.  If man is totally depraved then how do you explain people being heroic in saving the lives of others? 

All our heroic efforts are ruined by the drop of sewage, sin that has infected us and changed our nature. 

 

The attorney has presented his case against all humanity.  Now he unveils the evidence that will lead to our conviction.  Look at verses 13-18.

 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

 

None of us like that description.  We like to think of ourselves as basically good people.  But this is how the Lord of the Universe sees us apart from Christ. 

 

This is why the truth of salvation by grace alone through faith alone is so important.  It is pivotal to salvation.  You can not be saved by your own effort.  You can not be saved by your own decision because left to your own you would never choose God. 

 

In order for any of us to be saved we have to rely on the grace of God to change our desperately wicked hearts and cause us to be born again. Listen to Ephesians 2:1-8 again with a fresh understanding of our spiritual condition apart from Christ.

 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind , and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

 

When we understand our own depravity and sinful nature it is only then that we begin to seek the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  It is only then that we understand the beauty of the cross of Christ as He laid down His own life, taking the punishment for the sins of His people, reconciling us to God who we had made our enemy.  It is only as we understand the depth of our sinfulness that we can appreciate the depths of the riches of God’s mercy which He has bestowed upon us. 

 

Justice is getting what we deserve.  We deserve death and eternal hell.  Grace is getting what we do not deserve and that grace is salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone. 

 

When we understand all of this we can declare with Paul as he did in Romans 11:33-36:

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35 Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever . Amen.

 

And then in the final blow against all self perceived righteousness Paul destroys the notion that keeping the Law will make us righteous.  Look at verses 19-20.

 19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

 

Conclusion

 The Law can not save us.  Sin has made us totally incapable of saving ourselves.  And without a sovereign gracious act of almighty God sin has made it impossible for us to understand spiritual things and to do good. 

 

Someone may say, “Well that leaves us utterly incapable of going to Heaven.”  That person would be exactly right.  We are utterly incapable of going to Heaven.  We are not savable or redeemable.  We are not good in any way.  We only deserve death and hell and should receive it. 

 

But it is only in this recognition that we can be saved.  It is only when we realize our utter depravity and helplessness before God that we can be saved.  It is only when we see that there is no good in us that we look to the righteousness of Christ who bore our sins on the cross for salvation. 

 

This is the Gospel.  We are all bad.  None of us are redeemable.  But while we were still sinners Christ died for us.  Christ came to redeem sinners in the words of Paul, of whom I am the chief. 

 

Have you realized your depravity?  Have you seen that you are not worth redeeming?  There is no salvation in self esteem.  There is only salvation in Christ as by faith you receive His righteousness.  It is only as you look to Christ as the author and finisher of our faith that you can be saved.  Its not in repeating a prayer after someone.  It is not in being baptized.  It is not in being a member of a particular church.  Salvation is only in Christ and an understanding of the doctrine of Total Depravity should press us to faith in Christ alone. 

 

Today, if you are not redeemed, pray and ask God for His grace. Ask Him to grant you repentance and faith in Christ alone for salvation.  That is our only hope and the only hope for the entire world. 

 

Let’s pray.     

 

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