Thursday, April 22, 2021

Total Depravity (Romans 3:9-20)

"There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Romans 3:18).

The biblical doctrine of total depravity is often misunderstood to mean that humans are as bad as they can possibly be. Today we want to look at this doctrine and understand it better.

The Bible teaches that the sinner, in his heart, hates God. We can call this the (sub-) doctrine of radical depravity. “Radical” comes from the Greek radix, which means “root.” We are depraved at the root of our being, at the place where we, as God’s images, confront Him.

This radical depravity affects every area of human life, individual and social. We can call this the (sub-) doctrine of comprehensive depravity. The mind, will, and emotion of man are perverted: People do not think clearly, they do not want the right things, and they do not feel about things the way they should. Man’s body is twisted with disease and moves toward death. His societies are warped and perverse.

Not only are human beings radically and comprehensively depraved, they are also progressively depraved. The more we grow, the more we know, and the more we rebel. As people get older, they get worse. They learn more about God to hate, and they come to hate the images of God around them. Their innate love of death increases (Proverbs 8:36), and they become bitter.

But human beings are not absolutely depraved. They can still get worse. There are remnants of God’s likeness found in them, and from time to time they do good things—but never with a God-centered motivation.

This doctrine was known in the early church as Augustinianism, and today is known as Calvinism. The opposite doctrine says, in essence, that people are born pure as Adam, and they only sin because of the influence of society. This heresy was known in the early church as Pelagianism, at the time of the Reformation as Socinianism, and today as modernism, liberalism, or humanism. There is also an in-between doctrine which says that man is bad but not totally at war with God, and thus man can help save himself. This was known to the early church as semi-Pelagianism, and today is called Arminianism.

Read Romans 3. Which doctrine does the Bible teach? Reflect on the Biblical doctrine as expounded in today’s lesson. Where do you see radical, comprehensive, and progressive depravity manifest in today’s society? Where do you see them in your own life?