Thursday, September 4, 2008

Just How Depraved Are We?

The natural spiritual state of mankind is both the subject of theological debate, and homespun philosophy apart from any consideration of religious doctrine. Folksy conclusions drawn from the observation of life can be stated succinctly, running along a spectrum, from "nobody's perfect," to "everyone has some good in him," to "children learn what they live." The parallel theological spectrum runs from Calvinistic total depravity to Pelagianian free will. One would think that Paul put the issue to rest with Romans 7, but the debate lingers on.

In trying to assure that God gets all the glory in salvation, many feel they have to diminish man in order to elevate God. I wonder, does God need us as a step ladder? While the desire to glorify God is commendable, diminishing his stated plans, purpose and design for man in order to do it is, at least, misplaced assistance. So, how does Worm Theology glorify the Creator in whose image the "worm" was made and the Son of God was incarnated? Of course, in the opposite vein, overstating the quality or abilities of natural man will induce self-dependence, which can only result in frustration and loss.

The problem outlined in Romans 7 for natural mankind is not that a sinful person is unable to perceive the goodness of the law, nor even to understand what is good conceptually, but that he has something within him which frustrates his ability to actually do anything about it. Now I should add, there is no clue that the natural person is able to derive what is good on his own or has any desire to (although he is able to discern the nature of God that way). However, the natural human is definitely capable of seeing it when God graciously presents it.

The godly sorrow that results in that perceiving, as their ensuing exasperation burgeons, is what leads the natural man to abandon self-reliance and to put trust and hope in Christ. To the depraved Christ proclaims his life saving message, "Repent, and believe the good news!" For those that do, the frustration of personal depravity yields to the peace of his ability.


  1. The problem with this post is that it is not an extreme that paints other Christians as lacking something that you have. lol

    I am not sure why people find this a new thing. Lev. 20:7,8
    Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you.

    We sanctify ourselves and He sanctifies us. I think folks just don't like mysteries.

  2. Carl.
    Mystery, schmystery! ;-)

    Locked away in the heart and mind of God is the warp and woof of our partnership with Him. Who can understand it?

  3. As a Calvinist, I am comfortable with what you have written, SLW. One clarification: the Pelagian view doesn't merely relate to free will, but to the supposed ability that natural man has to obey the law apart from the aid of the Spirit -- so much so, that it is questionable as to whether Christ is necessary for salvation if one indeed perfects himself.

  4. Paul,
    There really is more that unites us than divides us! I tried to align Pelagianism with the notion that children are a blank slate with the power to be whatever they're taught, but it was a bit subtle. I hate the way the term is bantied about today, but if ever there was someone who deserved the epithet, "heretic," it was Pelagius.

  5. Yes, Pelagius seemed to miss some very important details about our sin nature and inability to keep the law. He seemed to think he was succeeding, but I suspect that he was doing so only by minimizing the scope and spirit of the law.

    As I understand, one of his arguments was that if God gave us the law and demanded that we keep it (i.e., that we ought to obey), then we must have the natural ability to do so or else it was an unjust requirement. Not to reopen a can of worms, but I would submit for your consideration that Pelagius' point is similar in nature to a claim that saving faith must be within our own power if it is demanded by God. A point only against a philosophical Arminian objection.

  6. Paul,
    That is a very good point. I would say, however, that we have the testimony of scripture telling us specifically that we cannot obey the law though commanded to. I don't know that we have anything that directly says that about faith.

  7. Good question - Just How Depraved Are We?? - More than we really know and more than we are willing to admit.


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