The Hope of Depravity

When someone begins a conversation with the familiar phrase, “There’s good news and bad news,” which do you prefer to hear first? I am definitely of the opinion that hearing the bad news first paves the way for the good news to add perspective to the bad. Always tell me the bad news first because the good news always helps me digest the negative more effectively.

In the first part of 1 Corinthians 15:22, the Apostle Paul begins with the bad news, “For as in Adam all die...” This is terrible news. Because we are seminally in Adam, we are under the same curse placed upon Adam in the garden. We all die physically because of our sin. But the bad news is even worse than that. We are all dead spiritually because of Adam’s sin.

Paul said it this way in Ephesians 2:1: before you knew Christ as your Savior, “you were dead in the trespasses and sins.” One of the significant problems in our culture is that it overlooks just how unhealthy we are spiritually. I am writing this article on May 1, 2019. Early this morning I read an article about a horrible shooting on the campus the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. We don’t have to look too hard to find examples of just how sick we are spiritually.      

In our unhealthy state, we pursue the lies of sin which our culture promotes, and hope that the promises sin offers will satisfy our empty souls. But no matter how hard we search for satisfaction in this world we are left disappointed.

The bad news is, we are all unhealthy spiritually. More to the point, we are depraved. Because of God’s common grace we are not as sinful as we could be, but nonetheless humanity is depraved. We are all hopeless apart from God’s mercy and grace.

Theologians refer to our innate sinfulness as total depravity, which is the doctrine that human nature is thoroughly corrupted and sinful as a result of the fall. This doesn’t sound like good news. But understanding your depravity can change your life and make the good news of the gospel even sweeter.

Paul wrote in Romans 7:18-19, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing”

Thankfully, despite our sinfulness, God still loves us, and through no work of our own, we can be saved from our sins. Only faith in Christ can produce eternal salvation and provide the solution to our depravity. Salvation is granted to those who believe in the resurrected Redeemer as a gift. The redeemed are made alive through the sacrificial death of Christ and delivered from the power of sin.

Despite our redemption through the resurrected Redeemer, the spiritual battle rages on. The reality of total depravity is that it’s “total” or “complete.” Even in repentance, the brokenness of everything in us leaves us fearful, sinful, broken, and at times overcome by despair. Victory has been secured by the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, but the war in our sinful hearts continues even after salvation.

There is tremendous comfort, however, in knowing that while we are still corrupted, broken, and sinful, Christ has chosen to love us and rescue us from our depravity. Christ’s death on the cross paid for all of our sin debt, even for the debt we continue to accumulate through our struggle with sin.

The bad news is simple. In Adam, we are utterly depraved and without hope. We really are that bad.

Understanding total depravity changes everything. For the child of God, understanding our desperate need of redemption is the path to hope. Only through total depravity do the beauties of the atonement, unmerited grace, and God’s gift of salvation come into their full glory. Only through properly understanding just how corrupt we are in Adam do we even begin to perceive how deeply loved we are in Christ.

While all believers have been redeemed, we are still sinful. We must be suspicious of our depraved hearts. We daily need the resurrected Redeemer. We are all just a few poor decisions away from sinful situations that we never imagined we would find ourselves in. Because of our depravity, temptation to sin against God draws us away from the path of obedience.

In order to guard against the lingering effects of depravity, we must consider the areas of life in which we are particularly vulnerable. Our depravity affects:

  1. Affection: what you love. When our human desires are denied, they demand to be satisfied. In our depravity, we seek the quickest and easiest way possible to get relief (e.g., Galatians 5:24).

  2. Attention: what you focus on. What consumes your mind controls your life. What you readily talk about reveals your focus (e.g., Zechariah 7:8-14).  

  3. Attraction: what you desire. What you fix your gaze upon is what you will chase. Your attractions flow from your depraved heart, and often misguide you (e.g., 1 John 2:15-17).

  4. Ambition: what you spend time pursuing. Ambition leads us to many worthy pursuits, but we must guard against ambition slipping into sinful pursuits (e.g., 2 Timothy 2:22).  

  5. Adoration: what you worship. We become like what we worship. We are prone to idolatry, and must carefully consider what we are worshipping (e.g., Romans 1:25).

  6. Action: what your affection, attention, attraction, ambition, and most importantly, your adoration, rest upon will determine your actions (e.g., Jude 1:16).  

Thankfully, there is good news in 1 Corinthians 15:22. Paul tells us in the second part of the verse that “in Christ shall all be made alive.” While we are completely depraved, we are redeemed through faith in the Redeemer.  

Salvation is by grace, only grace. Salvation requires a miraculous work of God because you really are that bad.

In Ephesians 2:4-5 Paul reminds us that, “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved.”

By God’s grace, the redeemed share in Jesus’s righteousness. God’s unmerited declaration of righteousness is meant to empower ongoing repentance and righteous living in the life of the believer (e.g., Romans 2:4 “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance”).

The bad news is that you and I are absolutely depraved. But this truth makes the good news that much better. Your Creator loves you, sent His Son to die for you, and promises to redeem all who repent of their sin and believe in Jesus. That is truly good news. In fact, it’s the best news you will ever hear.

Jay Knolls