Total Depravity’s Wager

Whenever someone says in anguish, “It’s just not supposed to be this way,” they are making an astute theological proposition called “the doctrine of total depravity.” When Adam rebelled against God, he acted not only for himself but also for all of his natural born progeny. The consequences of that sin, that “fall,” stretch into ever human heart so pervasively, so personally that our every act and intention; our every thought, word, and deed; even our decisions to act or not act; all of it is affected by the putrefying work of sin. Every human is totally depraved not in that they are as bad as they possibly could be (that would be utter depravity), but that every area of every human’s life is tainted by sinful motives and motions.

It sounds pretty depressing, and it is. You will never have a thought, word, or deed that you could offer up to God as pure and righteous in and of itself. But what we find in the gospel is that Jesus bore our curse on the cross to reconcile us to God, forgiving our pervasive sin, and setting about the work of restoration in us, restoring the ravages of sin, a grand renovation of the highest order. In that way, the diagnostic discovery of metastasized sin is an invitation to apply the forgiveness of Christ and implement the obedience of faith just as pervasively to every area of life. Seen in this way, the totality of depravity in your life—sin touching everything—is an invitation at the same time to watch for the totality of regeneration in your life—grace transforming everything.

And so we find that total depravity and personal renewal are mirrors to one another, the first predictive of the restorative work of the latter. This is why we say that, far from cosmic fire insurance, the gospel applies to every area of life. In the same way that sin produces sexual immorality, greed, and bitterness, so grace not only forgives but also restores us to purity, generosity, and peace.

Jesus offers a double invitation in the doctrine of total depravity. First, he invites us to see how destructive and pervasive sin truly is in our lives. But he also invites us to buckle in and watch his great restorative work in those very areas so marred and poisoned by sin. That isn’t to say that we are passive in sanctification. Fighting sin isn’t easy. Repentance will gut you. Remaining sin will knock you to your knees. But what God starts he finishes. In the end, the posturing of darkness only serves to predict the triumphant power of Christ.