Total Depravity: Why It Matters
Whenever someone uses a big theological term it usually garners a rolling of the eyes. Many people just don’t find the use in thinking theologically. If there is not some kind of moral application for them they just don’t see it as relevant. Despite this tendency towards moralistic thinking, there are some theological terms of which all believers should be aware. One of these terms is total depravity.
Total depravity is nothing more than a belief that all mankind is completely corrupted and separated from God by sin. If you hold to the view of total depravity, you believe that there is absolutely nothing that you can do to earn your way to God, but that He must first act on you and make you able to receive His grace. This may sound simple but how you stand on this issue says volumes about how you view yourself and ultimately the Lord.
As it relates to total depravity, there are two extreme views that many evangelicals fall into. On his church blog, Pastor Ligon Duncan addresses these extremes:
There are many errors propagated in evangelical circles on this subject, the two main tendencies of which are: perfectionism and antinomianism. The former asserts that the Christian life is (or ought to be) characterized by complete victory over sin. Hence, Christian life as intended by God is “higher life” or the “victorious life.” Perfectionistic teachers not only distort the biblical teaching on holiness, but also dangerously underestimate the believer’s struggle with indwelling sin (setting up the tender-hearted Christian for a real struggle with depression and assurance).On the other end of the spectrum, purveyors of antinomian dogma insist that true Christians may be no different in terms of vital godliness than pagans. They teach that the believer may be judicially free from sin, while “carnal” in the overall tendency of life. Oftentimes without realizing it, they teach that sin may still have dominion in the believer’s life (setting up many for tragic self-deception and encouraging spiritual lethargy in others).In sum, the perfectionist tends to deny continuing depravity in the believer, while the antinomian implicitly denies the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification to be an essential component of our salvation. Of total depravity in the believer’s life, the perfectionist says (of the ‘victorious Christian’) “it no longer exists,” while the antinomian says (of the ‘carnal Christian’) “it doesn’t matter.” Over against both these mistakes, the Bible teaches that when a person becomes a Christian the dominion of sin is broken, but the presence of sin is never abolished in this life (see Sinclair Ferguson, John Owen on the Christian Life [Banner of Truth, 1987], 125ff).
To gain a greater perspective on the danger of these extremes and for what the scriptures teach, I highly recommend reading the rest of the article which is found here.
HT: Tim Challies