My family and I were in church and had just heard a powerful sermon from the Ten Commandments. I turned to my wife said, “I am so glad our children were here to hear that sermon!”
She didn’t even have to say anything to me. She simply gave me that look. You know, the one that says, “I can’t believe you are actually saying what you are saying.”
I felt embarrassed and grieved. It had happened so subtly and quickly. I had placed myself outside the circle of the sermon’s diagnosis. I had accepted that whatever the Word of God and the preacher were describing did not include me. And I was glad that the people in my family who “really needed” the diagnosis had been in attendance.
Why do we find comfort in pointing to people who appear to be worse sinners than we are? There’s only one conclusion that fits. We stubbornly hold onto the possibility that we’re more righteous than the Bible describes us to be.
And how does the Bible describe us? It’s devastating; a hard pill to swallow: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5)
I wish this verse was describing a historic super class of sinners. But sadly, it’s a mirror into which every human being is meant to look and see themselves. It’s capturing in a few powerful words what theologians call “total depravity.”
Total depravity doesn’t mean that as sinners we are as bad as we could possibly be. What it actually means is that sin reaches to every aspect of our personhood. Its damage of us is total.
Physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, motivationally, socially, we have been damaged by sin. It’s ravages are inescapable and comprehensive. No one has dodged its scourge, and no one has been partially affected. We are all sinners, all totally depraved.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I want to believe that I’m deprived, but not depraved. Or that I may be depraved … but not totally.
That’s why I make up self-atoning revisions of my history. That’s why I erect self-justifying arguments for what I have said or done. That’s why I turn the tables when someone points out a wrong, making sure they know I’m not the only sinner in the room.
Remind yourself of the Gospel: There’s no need to line up all the good things we’ve done as a counter-balance for all our wrongs.
“Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2)
Each one of us needs grace that not only forgives our sin, but also frees us from the self-atoning prison of our own righteousness. We’re not only held captive by our sin, but also by the delusion of our righteousness.
We must all humbly confess: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. . . . Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” (Psalm 51:5, 2)
And then rest in his righteousness alone.
Paul David Tripp
- When was the last time you were "glad" that someone else was in the room to hear a message?
- Why did you think you were outside of the diagnosis of what the Bible had to say?
- How have your words, actions, or desires proven that you still needed grace for that particular area?
- How have you experienced total depravity recently, both internally in your own heart struggles and externally in this fallen world?
- What are some practical, everyday responses that we should have to total depravity?