What is depravity, and why does it plague humankind? Is there, furthermore, some kind of imaginary line that separates what is simply wrong from the genuinely depraved, or is everything evil we do a result of the sin we are infected with?
“Who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.” (Ephesians 4:19, NKJV)
“Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.” (Ephesians 4:19, NIV)
Sometimes it makes more sense to work with two translations, not to pick and choose to make a verse say what you want it to say, but to better understand what it is really saying. Taking the NKJV and the NIV quoted above, we can see that this verse describes people who have sinned so much that they are no longer sensitive to their wrong-doing, and have given themselves over to sensuality, to greedily indulge in every kind of impurity. The NIV seems to say that they indulge in every kind of impurity and are greedy (two different things), but I suspect that it is more likely that they greedily pursue (one thing) every kind of impurity. Regardless, the picture this verse paints is ugly.
Is this, then, depravity? Yes, but even though we tend to call the really wicked, despicable acts humans do depraved, depravity is so much more than just that. The truth is that depravity is everything the sin nature in us is capable of producing. It was God’s mercy that banished Adam and Eve from the Garden so they could not eat of the tree of life and descend into ever increasing degrees of wickedness throughout eternity in their sinful condition. Yet each of us has a depraved nature. What does this mean?
An excellent explanation is found on the site http://www.gotquestions.org/total-depravity.html:
“While often misunderstood, the doctrine of total depravity is an acknowledgement that the Bible teaches that as a result of the fall of man (Genesis 3:6) every part of man—his mind, will, emotions and flesh—have been corrupted by sin. In other words, sin affects all areas of our being including who we are and what we do. It penetrates to the very core of our being so that everything is tainted by sin and “…all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” before a holy God (Isaiah 64:6). It acknowledges that the Bible teaches that we sin because we are sinners by nature. Or, as Jesus says, “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.” (Matthew 7:17-18).
The total depravity of man is seen throughout the Bible. Man’s heart is “deceitful and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9), and the thoughts of his heart are “continually evil” (Genesis 6:5). The Bible also teaches us that man is born dead in transgression and sin (Psalm 51:5, Psalm 58:3, Ephesians 2:1-5). The Bible teaches that because unregenerate man is “dead in transgressions” (Ephesians 2:5), he is held captive by a love for sin (John 3:19; John 8:34) so that he will not seek God (Romans 3:10-11) because he loves the darkness (John 3:19) and does not understand the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14). Therefore, men suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18) and continue to willfully live in sin. Because they are totally depraved, this sinful lifestyle seems right to men (Proverbs 14:12) so they reject the gospel of Christ as foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18) and their mind is “hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is unable to do so” (Romans 8:7).”
While there are certainly varying degrees of depravity—of how low we can sink into evil—all of us have a depraved nature. This means that without God reaching down to us to pull us up out of the muck and mire of our sin infested existence—without our being born again of the Spirit and the influence of His Word—we are all depraved.
But God didn’t leave us there. Romans 6:6-14 tells us:
”For we know that our old self was crucified with Him [with Jesus] so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin…count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.”
Even after the new birth, we are still capable of sin, but the deck is no longer unevenly stacked against us—we are no longer stuck in wickedness, not even realizing we are there, and unable to do anything about it. In Christ, God gives us an understanding of our natural depravity apart from Him, forgiveness, and the power to live every increasingly holy lives.
Thank You that in You we are no longer slaves to sin—that sin is no longer our master. Help us count ourselves dead to sin but alive to God in You. Amen.