I love Sweet Tea. In fact, if I had to choose from amongst all the beverages in the world for my own drinking pleasure, I would probably choose Sweet Tea. I enjoy it so much that I take pleasure in just typing the words out…S-w-e-e-t T-e-a (For the sake of distinction, though, I should clarify that I’m not speaking about any of that Yankee tea, Yuppy tea, Herbal tea, or any of that garbage. I’m talking about that simple pure tea poured on ice with sugar.) I guess sweet can be a relative term depending on an individual’s tastes, can’t it? I mean, for example, I prefer one cup of sugar for every ten cups of tea; however, others may want more…some less. So, some have a lot of sugar in their tea, others have just a pinch. But one thing’s for certain: their tea is all classified as sweet.
The sugar in tea, is like sin in man. The Bible teaches that Adam and Eve were created perfect and without sin. However, when Adam partook of the forbidden fruit, by representation, he brought all mankind into spiritual death (Romans 5). There are plenty of passages (will be alluded to throughout) that deal with the effects of the fall on the nature of man. Hopefully, as we go along, we will deal with those passages more elaborately. The particular doctrine in question (i.e. Man is born dead in sin, alienated from God, unable to please Him in any way) has been called several different things by various theologians. Some have called it Radical Corruption, others Total Inability, and someone has also called it Rebels without a Cause. The Historical term would be called Total Depravity. To establish the backdrop for Total Depravity, let’s briefly revisit the story of the Fall.
In Genesis 2 and 3 we learn of man’s creation and his fall. We note that God did not create Adam as some puppet to manipulate and work with on a chessboard. Rather, He created Adam as His own, giving him sonship (we gather this from phrases like “made in the likeness of”, which denotes Adam’s origin being from God) and to the glory of His own Name. Adam and Eve were both created upright, not prone to sin, and not even knowledgeable of it. Not only did He create them as perfect, flawless beings, but He put them in the perfect, flawless, circumstance. Eden was lacking of nothing, and had provision for all that Adam and Eve could’ve ever needed or wanted. Noting all this, Adam still transgressed the commandment of God, breaking the covenant of works God had made with him. As has been noted several times previously, it was through Adam which sin came into the world. Though Eve partook of the fruit and sinned first, it is clear from Scripture that Adam is the culprit. Articulating this point well, I want to quote from Alan J. Dunn in his book, Headship in Marriage: In the Light of Creation and the Fall:
…Adam violated God’s law: he ate. We see the incomprehensible mystery of man’s created free will. In 1 Timothy 2:14, Paul tells us it was not Adam who was deceived. Knowingly, deliberately, he chose to sin! John Murray writes, “How could a being perfectly holy and upright become sinful? We cannot tell. It constitutes an insoluble psychological and moral problem. Every reason was against the commission of sin. It was in the deepest sense an irrationality” (Collected Works, Vol. 2, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, p.75). The London Baptist Confession of 1689 lays the blame squarely on the man: “Adam, who without any compulsion, did willingly transgress the Law of their creation and the command given unto them, in eating the forbidden fruit” (London Baptist Confession, Chapter 6, Paragraph 1). He acted in whole-souled rebellion and really “fell!” He effected a reversal of the moral and spiritual direction of mankind. This was not a morally neutral man veering off the straight path. This was a morally upright man turning about face and heading in the opposite direction: downward to death!
You and I would’ve done no differently! We may say, “Well, that foolish Adam! What was he thinking? I would’ve never done that.” Wrong! The Scripture has shown us in the story of Adam that man, though he was created perfect and put in perfect circumstances, could never be inherently, perpetually holy like his Creator. This is not to take away from the fact that God had decreed man’s fall, because he did. So Adam’s transgression did not surprise or befuddle our Great God. No, He’d made a provision for this very thing long before the foundations of the earth were laid. Adam, being the representative of all mankind (Remember, in Romans 5 it says “Through one man sin entered the world”) passed on this guilt and condemnation unto us all. “That’s not fair,” you say. Really? Would you…nay, COULD YOU have done any differently? I think not. As a result, we were found all, by nature, Children of Wrath. Hating God and loving only that which is evil. Adam, the perfect man, placed in perfect circumstance, still managed to cast all mankind into shame and wickedness by his disobedience…spreading to all by his headship and representation of mankind as a whole.
Immediately he and his wife felt ashamed. Had they died a physical death? No. Had Adam given birth to spiritual death? Yes. Just as a gallon of Sweet Tea, no matter how much sugar the individual glass has, is saturated with sugar throughout, so is each man born of man tainted with sin throughout. Some men are more depraved than others, but all are dead in their sin. In other words, there’s a difference between the degree to which a man is depraved and the extent to which he is depraved. For example, a kid is good as he grows up, never acting up in school, making good grades, and is obedient to his parents. However, he is spiritually dead, having never been saved and changed by the grace of God. Yet, his classmate was terrible in school, always acting up, who grows up to be a murderer and a thief. Both men are still lost, dead in their transgressions. They are both completely depraved in extent, but the second man is more depraved in degree than the first.
It’s important to note that the depravity in which we are born does not make us unable to make choices, decisions, and the like. What sin does do is make us unable to make the right choices, i.e. those which are made with a pure heart toward God with the desire to please Him. Since sin renders man spiritually dead, the Bible says that naturally he cannot discern spiritual things. Not only does total depravity point to deadness, it also points to limits. Let us look at the law of Inertia to better understand such a principle.
The law of inertia states that:
A body will preserve its velocity and direction so long as no force in its motion’s direction acts on it.
Merriam-Webster has this:
A property of matter by which it remains at rest or in uniform motion in the same straight line unless acted upon by some external force.
Though the analogy given may not be the best, overall I think it illustrates the sad-but-true biblical doctrine of man’s natural state. Just as an object will continue (either in its stagnancy or in its motion) “doing” what it’s always “done” unless acted upon by an outside force, so does man continue on “dead in trespasses and sin,” unless acted upon by the Spirit of Almighty God. “So…what’s your point, Josh?” you may ask. My point is if we’re dead in our sin, we’re dead spiritually. If we’re born dead spiritually, then we cannot discern spiritual things. I’d like to spend some time within the texts of Scripture examining the aforementioned subject.
In John chapter 3, the Lord is talking to Nicodemus who had come to Christ by night. Nicodemus begins by saying, “Lord, we know you’re of God for no one can do the things you’ve done unless God is with him.” So, you’d think Jesus would respond with something like, “It is as you say” or “You are correct” or something like that, right? But that’s not what He does. Jesus answers a question that Nicodemus didn’t ask (yet). He cuts right to the chase and says, “I tell you, Nicodemus, unless a man is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Notice the term, “cannot.” It is not to be confused with “will not.” Christ here is speaking of ability. He says unless a man is born again (literally “born from above”), he CANNOT see the kingdom (or enter v. 5) of God. Nicodemus epitomizes Jesus’ whole statement concerning man’s ability by responding, “How can these things be?” Why did he ask such a question? Because he was thinking along physical, human, terms and not the spiritual things that he should’ve been discerning. Look at the passage (my emphasis added):
John 3:2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? Such speaks not of free will, but ability.The Bible says, “Anyone who sins is a slave to sin…” Thus, a will that is captive to sin is not free, except to function in the context of its captivity. Are you a slave to sin, or a slave to Christ?
Now, I would like to leave you with a few Scriptures aptly illustrating the depravity and deadness of man’s heart (i.e. will, affections, etc.)
Genesis 6:5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.Genesis 8:21 And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth…Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Ecclesiastes 7:20 Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.
Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
Matthew 13:10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
“‘You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.
15 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’
16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.
John 3 (Nicodemus, quoted above)
John 8:34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. (Also quoted above)
John 11 (The story of Lazarus, typifying a completely dead man who can only be raised by the voice of God)
Romans 3:9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
Romans 8:7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
1 Corithians 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Colossians 1:21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,
Titus 1:15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.
But man is not without hope. The Scriptures point to this: Grace. Decreed in eternity past. Employed at man’s fall. Applied through regeneration and faith to those who were given (John 6:37) to the 2nd Adam (Romans 5), the Son of Man, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, before the foundation of the world. Amen and Amen.