It is important to know what is meant by the term. When we say that men are totally depraved, we do not mean that every man is as bad as he could be. We do not mean that there are not some very fine things about some men that make them desirable as neighbors or friends. We do not mean that some men are not generous hearted, kind, gentle, and good to their children, their families, their neighbors. We do not mean that they cannot be fine citizens, and even give their lives for their countries, for their friends and their families.
Neither, by the term total depravity, are we comparing Christians to non-Christians, as if we are saying that non-Christians are very much worse than Christians. It is a fact of experience that some non-Christians are better citizens and neighbors than some Christians. When a man becomes a Christian he does not lose his depravity, for Christianity is not changing the bad into the good, but the implanting of a new nature, like unto Christ, that is at enmity with the old depravity, so that a Christian has warfare within that he did not experience before he became a Christian.
What is meant by depravity is enmity toward God, the God of the Bible, the God of Creation. The natural man may be very religious, but his religion will be turned toward idols, toward idols of his own or others' imaginations. By total is meant that the whole man, in all his parts, has this enmity toward God. His mind, his will, his emotions--his entire being--is at enmity toward God and under the dominion of sin.
This truth is expressed very often in the Bible.
“The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” He cannot receive the wisdom of God, because he counts it as foolishness. He dismisses the Scripture with a wave of his hand and a sneer on his lips, because it all is just foolishness to him. “The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”
I Corinthians 1:18
This same man may go out after dismissing the Gospel and give great sums of money to build a hospital; or may even give his life for his country, but he does it in order to gain earthly goals, for he is blinded to the kingdom of God. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” are the words of Jesus (John 3:3).
“And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and in sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as other....”
The “deadness” extended both to the body and the mind (vs. 3) but did not include inactivity. The deadness was toward God, not toward man. We had our “conversation” (manner of life) in the lusts of our flesh, and fulfilled the desires of the flesh and of the mind. We were not inactive, but were active in the wrong things. We were self-centered, living for ourselves, not for the glory of God. What we did, we did in order to gain some earthly goal: power or influence over people, some pleasure of the body or mind, some vain earthly end. Being dead toward God does not mean that we did nothing, but that we “walked according to the course of this world.” We served the devil rather than serving God, for as images, we cannot do anything but serve. Before God we are as walking dead men but very active in service to Satan's kingdom of darkness and sin and misery.
“By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
Not even the faith that saves is the work of the natural man. If it were something that man could do himself, he could boast in it, and Jesus would not have had to die on the cross. The good works that Christians do are the result of God's workmanship, and the result of foreordination in Christ Jesus. What could be plainer? Works that are done without faith in Jesus Christ have no merit whatsoever as far as salvation are concerned, and are the result, not the cause of salvation.
“For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man would one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Note the contrast. If we miss the contrast, the whole passage makes no sense. It might be natural for a man to give his life for a good man--some might even dare to do that. But God's love is contrasted with the best that man might do, by sending His Son to die for sinners! A good man might have the strength and influence to cause some of his followers to die for him--and that has happened throughout history. But Christ died for those who were ungodly, for those who had no strength. What strength did poor sinners have that would have persuaded God to send His son to die for them: for them, the ungodly? Why should God do good to His enemies? If poor, ungodly sinners, without strength, are to be saved, it must be because of something in God, not something in them. If it is in God, then it is from eternity, for God does not change.
“For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”
God will not give His glory to another (Isaiah 42:8). Salvation is the greatest and most glorious work of the Lord of Hosts, and He will be praised forever and ever. The righteous are as diadems that adorn His majesty. The wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption that arise from mankind are as filthy garments in His sight (Isaiah 64:6). Those that offer them are abominable to God, who insists upon perfection and beauty. Therefore, He provides in Jesus Christ wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption for the sinner, that no flesh may glory in His sight.
“We have proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
No, not one.
There is none that is righteous. There are many who are proud and boast. There are many who are religious and perform ceremonies. There are many who glory in their sacrifices and in their self-affliction. But there is not one who is righteous and fit for heaven. Not a single one. Not one of the sons of Adam. They do not live for the glory of God, nor do they love the Lord their God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength. “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23)
There is only one door by which men can be saved. They cannot come in the door of the righteous: that is closed to all who are not perfectly righteous. They cannot come in the door of those who love God, because that is closed to all those who have not loved the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. They cannot come in the door of obedience, because that is closed to all who have broken any, ever so small, of the precepts of the law, for those who offend in one, are guilty of them all (James 2:10).
The only door is the door for sinners. If a man refuses to go in that door he cannot be saved. “God commended his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8). If you think you are no sinner, then you have no part in Christ, but are lost and utterly undone. He came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10).
If you know you are a sinner, there are wonderful promises to you. “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28).