Written by Jonathan Hilt
How does one build a house? Does the builder erect the frame, cover it, and then set it on the foundation? Or does the builder first lay the foundation and then proceed to build upon it? Is it possible for the author of this article to ask anything more basic and ridiculous? The answer is no to the first question, yes to the second question, and absolutely to the third question!
Alright, alright I’ll sober up here and actually write, but I was being serious when I asked my first two questions. So often in Christianity, believers get so focused on adding to the Church they forget that the additions have to be set into the solid foundation that supports the Church. That foundation is sound doctrine. This is not a truth that requires a seminary degree to see; it is found explicitly in the Holy Bible (see Titus 2:1).
Why is it necessary for a Christian to be taught and believe sound doctrine? Well, sound doctrine nourishes Christians. It is the “meat” that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 3:2. It is the “spiritual things” that 1 Corinthians 2:13 speaks of. It is the “truth” that Jesus prays for His elect disciples to receive and be sanctified in in John 17:17. Sound doctrine gives freedom and life to the believer. Jesus said in John 8:32 that “the truth shall make [Christians] free”. David, the great warrior king and songwriter, exclaimed “The law of The Lord [aka the truth, aka sound doctrine] is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of The Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7). I could keep going, but I believe you get my point. Sound doctrine is very important.
One of the foundational doctrines contained in Scripture is the doctrine of man. It is easy to understand why this is so foundational; since the Bible’s intended audience is man, it is important to have the proper view of man espoused by the Bible. The doctrine of man is a doctrine comprised of multiple doctrines and two of these are going to be the focus of my article. They are the doctrines of original sin and total depravity. The reason I am grouping these two together is because they are inseparable. You can not have total depravity without first having original sin.
The doctrine of original sin is not seen in plain site. It is seen by reading through the Bible and observing. What is original sin? Simply put, original sin is the curse of Adam’s sin imputed to all of his descendants (the Westminster Confession of Faith has a section on this as well specifically chapter 6, part 4). Original sin first appears in Genesis 3 at the Fall. At the Fall, Adam curses humanity because of his disobedience. This curse (explained by Eve) is given by God in Genesis 3:3. The curse is that if man eats of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he will die. Now at first glance, this seems only to immediately affect Adam and Eve. That is true. However continue reading on to Genesis 4 and then beyond and immediately we see the doctrine of original sin. Cain and Abel are the first examples. God outright tells us in Genesis 4:7 that “sin is crouching at the door” of Cain’s heart and that he “must rule over it”. Had sin not passed on, Cain would not have murdered his brother Abel. Had sin not passed on, Cain would not have had to fight against himself in such a way.
The sin of Adam and Eve passes on from Cain to his descendants, and finds its ultimate expression in Genesis 6:5 where God tells us that the “wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Of course the story progresses and we come to Noah who is made righteous before and by God and then is told to build the Ark, which floats for a while, and then lands on well land. Finally Noah offers a sacrifice and God again tells us in Genesis 8:21 that “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” And from there it repeats again and again with man showing how bad he is necessitating Jesus to come and die for sins and give fallen man a shot at eternal life. Hooray. Yippee. Huzzah. The end . . . Right? Not quite.
As I labored to explain above, the doctrine of original sin is something that if we read Scripture we will find. Virtually nobody (there are some exceptions) disagrees about man being a sinner. Even if the Bible did not outright show that, real life evidence of man’s badness would compel us to formulate a stance on it because everywhere we go there is some kind of evil scheme being played out by a person in some way. But there is something else linked to original sin that is absolutely crucial for us to understand. That is the extent, the depth of the depravity of man.
This is the doctrine of total depravity.
You may or may not have noticed that I said Noah was made righteous before and by God. If you did and are shaking your fist at the screen (or didn’t and are going back now) this is something that we need to notice. The reason that I said Noah was made righteous before and by God is because prior to this, Noah was just like the rest of humanity. Notice if you will Genesis 6:5 which says that the “wickedness of man was great in the earth and . . . every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”. Noah was in this. Noah was one of these. Noah was born evil. In the New Testament, Romans 3:11-18 fleshes this out a bit more.
Romans 3:11-18 proclaims
“no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
To add an even more vivid picture of this extensive corruption, Ephesians 2:1 states that man is “dead in [his] trespasses and sins”. The Apostle John in his epistle wrote that when Christ came into the world (or in English came to humanity, His creation) “the world did not know him”
In summary, the effect of original sin was not just that man would constantly struggle with evil in his heart. The effect of original sin was that man would constantly struggle, AND would not be able to come to Christ for life.
This is the doctrine of total depravity. Man in his natural fallen condition can not come to God because he will not come to God because his nature is corrupted to naturally only go after things of darkness.
It is a sad reality.
I assume that most who read this will not buy into it. Most of Christianity today has been told that man possesses the power to come to Christ on his own if he will just choose to repent. The truth is that is a lie. It is impossible. Jesus in John 14:16 said that “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. This verse parallels John 1:12-13 which says “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God”. Note the phrases “nor of the will of the flesh” and “but of God”. Man cannot come to God by his own will; it takes a sovereign act of heart softening by God for man to be able to come to God.
Why is this important? Why does this doctrine matter? Why must we believe this?
Well for starters it is in the Bible. Whether we like it or not, it is in the Bible and it is something that we must believe (just like Creation). This doctrine explains why sometimes we are not heard by unbelievers the first time. I can not tell you how many Christians get put out by a failed evangelism. They would not if they only understood that it does not ride on them to open a person’s eyes! Unless God opens their eyes first, the best apologetic will fall hard. Finally this doctrine gives us a respect for our own salvation. Beloved your faith is a gift from God. He graciously chose you to be His and once He opened your eyes you responded to Him. Count your blessings because that is something He could have chosen not to do.