One distinguishing mark of Calvinism is the emphasis that is laid upon the doctrine of the total depravity of fallen mankind. The reason this is important is that mankind, when he denies the wickedness of his own heart, will quickly erect monuments honoring his own goodness, which only leads to just as quickly being disillusioned by the manifest wickedness that is done by mankind. The Roman Catholic position believes man is simply out of wonk, and when God’s grace is added, things sort of “rebalance.” Humanism wishfully believes mankind is basically good, and society is what taints him, thus the need for social progress to refine the “system” for bringing up the wee-ones––this of course leads to total Statism.
However, the Bible makes it plain there is none righteous (Rom. 3:10), none that does good (Ps. 14:3), every thought of man’s heart is continually wicked (Gen. 6:5), and while God made man upright he has rebelled thoroughly against his created purpose (Ecc. 7:29). The reason total depravity is such a vital doctrine is that man is not simply “out of whack,” a little wonky, or in need of mere “remedial therapy,” rather, he is dead in his trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). The Scripture being our authority plainly teaches this, but our own heart reveals this, and any history textbook should make it plain that mankind has rebelled against God and defrauded his neighbor at every turn. Apart from God’s restraining grace, things would be a lot worse.
If we teach that man has some goodness in him––enough to choose of his own free will to follow God––we leave a portion of our salvation to us, and a portion to God. We have just enough goodness left in us to reach out and take the life-preserver God has thrown to us––or so the thinking goes. However, both experience and Scripture reveal that when given the choice, mankind always spits in God’s face rather than take hold of the salvation offered.
Solomon expressed the thoroughness of our wickedness in this way, “The thought of foolishness is sin (Pro. 24:9).” It is not that we are morally neutral beings always being pulled in a cosmic battle of good and evil. That is pagan anthropology. Rather, according to the Bible, we are enemies of God. This is evident in the news headlines, history books, but most plainly in the most secret places of our inward man.
We are not all murderers, robbers, or rapists. However, an unregenerate man is full of envy, covetousness, lust, greed, avarice, bitterness and all sorts of wickedness. An unregenerate man or woman plots ways to snub those he is bitter towards. He indulges himself in undressing––in his mind, of course––the sexy vixen who just caught his gaze. He murders, in his heart, the jerk who just cut him off in traffic. She envies the woman with perkier curves, cheering for her downfall. She broods over all the nice things that the neighbor down the street has. All of this can be done without ever coming to the sight of our fellow man. At its core, though, it is the foolishness of lying to ourselves. We are deceived by our own wicked heart that God doesn’t see what is going on inside of us. We think we can put on a moralistic front, to cover the tomb of blackest envy and lust within. Solomon tells us, however, that the very thought of foolishness is itself sin. We are damned for even thinking we can coddle our sins that “don’t hurt nobody.”
This spiritual death has so permeated every part of us that unregenerate man’s very motives are sin. Even our “best” is tainted by pride, selfishness, and unbelief. You harbor sinful thoughts, thinking you can coddle those foolish notions without any consequence. But God’s Word tells us that, in and of itself, IS sin. In the Arminian scheme, the insistence of the total freedom of man’s will is nothing more than an attempt to preserve some small portion of self-congratulatory pride. The pride of self-righteousness insists, “No, I chose to believe in Jesus, a loving God wouldn’t coerce me.” This is only a foolish attempt to preserve a shred of our dignity. To employ an illustration which Lewis once used, this is like a corpse putting on lipstick: it only adds to the revolting reality of our deadness.
True repentance is a gift. The gift of sight to a blind man.The only remedy for man’s sin is God’s free grace. Not of our own merit, deserving, work, goodness, or choosing. No room for boasting here. Our folly in thinking we have even the smallest shred of goodness which we could muster to decide upon Christ, is itself a sin.
Only a new heart––a new birth––worked by the Spirit of God will suffice to save. True repentance is a gift. The gift of sight to a blind man. Suddenly he sees the worthlessness, and the wretchedness, of all his own righteousness, and clings to Christ as the lone hope of salvation. The thought of folly is sin. The unregenerate mind says, “There is no God (Ps. 14:1-3).” Thus, it will take the mighty work of the Holy Spirit to deliver us, that we might be able to see the wisdom of the Father’s salvation which is offered to us in Christ.