Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Theology of Regeneration: Man's Total Depravity

The place to begin when speaking about the doctrine of regeneration (or the command to be born again) is to ask, "Why?" Why do we need to be born again? That’s a bit of a radical thing to say, isn’t it? "Born again? Is there something wrong with the way I was born the first time?"

Well, yes, actually, there is.

If we see nothing else up front in Jesus' statement that Nicodemus needs to be born again (John 3:3, 5, 7), we need to see that that statement is a woeful diagnosis of our condition. There is something so profoundly wrong with us -- with the entire human race -- that no natural remedy exists. We can't just be reformed. We can't just work on ourselves a bit. Far from finding that people are "basically good" people who just do bad things sometimes, Jesus' diagnosis of humanity is that we're so terribly messed up that no amount of behavior modification will fix what is wrong with us. According to Jesus, the only way to be right with God our Creator, and thus be able to see and enter the kingdom of God, is if we are born again.

To put it in spiritual terms, we must be born again because we are born the first time spiritually dead.

But how did that happen? Well, in Romans 5, the Bible teaches that spiritual death entered the world through sin. "OK, so where did sin come from?" Well, in that same passage, the Bible says that sin entered the world through a man. Here's what it says:

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin...

So there we have it. Death came through sin, and sin entered the world through one man. That one man was Adam, the first human being ever created. And we all know about Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, the serpent, the forbidden fruit, etc. God created Adam and Eve as innocent before Him, and they enjoyed perfect fellowship with God in His garden of Paradise. He gave them one command, which they broke: at the temptation of Satan, they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the tree, of which God said, " the day that you eat from it you will surely die" (Gen 2:17). And so we see right there, death came through sin which came through Adam.

But that's not the end of the verse in Romans 5. It also says this:

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned...

So not only did sin enter through Adam, and death through sin, but then death spread to all men. This is how we become spiritually dead even before we are born. When Adam sinned, death not only entered the world, but spread to all of humanity. There was no person who would ever be created that wasn't affected by this original sin.

Now, you might be thinking that that isn't fair. I mean, you didn't eat the fruit. You didn't disobey the one command God gave in Paradise. Adam did. Why should you be held responsible for his sin? Well, the answer to why death spread to all men is given in that verse. It says, "because all sinned" (Rom 5:12).

"All who?" Every human being who ever lived. It's interesting, isn't it? The text there teaches that every human being in history sinned (past tense) when Adam sinned. "But I wasn't even there!" Well, this text teaches that in some mystical, yet very real, sense, you were. Death spread to every human being because every human being was reckoned, or counted, as being in Adam when he sinned. Adam was the representative of all human beings. And we were "in his loins" when he rebelled against God and sinned against Him.

As so as a result of the Fall, all human beings are totally depraved (spiritually dead) even from the womb. There is no aspect of our being that this spiritual death, this depravity, has not reached and corrupted. All that we are, no matter how good we look to other people, is fatally tainted by our sin.

And that's the reason why Scripture speaks the way it does about humanity. We are spiritually dead.

  • Romans 3:10-12 – As it is written, "There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one."
Have you ever thought at any point in your life you were seeking God? Well, this text teaches that that's entirely false, if you're outside of Jesus Christ. There is none who seeks for God.

Have you ever thought that you've done good? Well, certainly on a human, horizontal level that's true. But on the level that
counts, on the level of reality, in God's sight, there is none who does good. "None?!" Nope, not even one.
  • Colossians 2:13a – When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh…
  • Ephesians 2:1-3 – And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 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. 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.
Here is the truth we've been speaking about now presented in the language of Scripture. We were dead in our trespasses, transgressions, and sins. And not only that, but Ephesians 2:3 says that we were by nature children of wrath. That means that without anything happening out of the ordinary, we, by default, are born under the wrath of God. If we are born, and nothing happens to overcome our sinfulness, we will suffer the wrath of God. That's why John says, "He who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36). It abides, or remains on him. It's already there, because we are by nature children of wrath.
  • Psalm 51:5 – Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.
  • Psalm 58:3 – The wicked are estranged from the womb; These who speak lies go astray from birth.
These verses demonstrate, again, that we are not born innocent and then become sinful. Rather, we were all conceived in sin. We are estranged and go astray from the womb, from birth.
  • Romans 8:6-8 - For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 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, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Here again is the testimony of our death. But here, God tells us that we're not just passive. Our death isn't just a neutral lying around and not doing anything. He tells us that our spiritual death causes us to be hostile toward God. We actively hate Him by continuing in our natural state of depravity. And because we're as sinful as we are, we aren't even able to submit to the law of God. There is no way for depraved sinners to please Him.

This is Jesus' sad, condemning diagnosis of humanity: "You are
dead. You are totally depraved. And because of that you can do nothing to improve yourself to gain acceptance with Me or My Father. In fact, you are so hopeless that the only thing that's going to make any bit of difference is if you are born again."

It is of
paramount importance that we understand this diagnosis of our spiritual condition from the Great Physician. If we don't understand the nature of humanity -- our nature -- we'll never understand God, ourselves, or anything about our lives.

Because that's true, I want to take some more time to contemplate what it means to be spiritually dead. What is the nature of this death? I mean, I'm not saying that people are actually
dead, right? They breathe, they walk, they talk, they go to work. They do stuff! How can I say they're dead!

That's coming for next time. Until then, meditate on what the Scripture has to say about your condition by nature, without a Savior. You need to be born again.

The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?
- Jeremiah 17:9 -


Pilgrim said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mike Riccardi said...


While I appreciate your comment, I haven't been able to discern the end of it. Were you talking to me? Were you engaging the original post? It seems like you just copied and pasted something you wrote for another time.

If you'd like, please follow up on what you wrote in a way that engages the post in some way. Until then, your comment will remain deleted.