Are Christians Totally Depraved?

Believe it or not, this is an important question. It’s not simply a theological question. It’s a theological question that has profound practical implications. Our answer will inevitably reveal our understanding of the gospel and reflect our understanding of sin and grace.

First things first: what total depravity isn’t.

Total depravity does not mean “utter depravity.” Utter depravity means that someone is as bad as he/she can possibly be. Thankfully, God’s restraining grace keeps even the worst of us from being utterly depraved. The worst people who have ever lived could’ve been worse. So, don’t read “utter depravity” into “total depravity.”

Well, if total depravity isn’t utter depravity, then what is it? As understood and articulated by theologians for centuries, the idea of “total depravity” means more than one thing.

On the one hand, total depravity affirms that we are all born “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1-3; Colossians 2:13), with no spiritual capacity to incline ourselves Godward. We do not come into this world spiritually neutral; we come into this world spiritually dead. Therefore, we need much more than to reach out from our spiritual hospital bed and take medicine that God offers. We need to be raised from death to life. In this sense, total depravity means we are “totally unable” to go to God. We will not because we cannot, and we cannot because we’re dead.

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. (Romans 3:10-12)

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:7-8)

Salvation only happens when God comes to us.

When the Resurrection and the Life says “Lazarus, come forth”, the rest of the story does not depend on Lazarus. He can drag his feet all the way-admittedly, a hell of a thing to do-but he rises, no matter what. He just plain does… Jesus came to raise the dead. The only qualification for the gift of the Gospel is to be dead. You don’t have to be smart. You don’t have to be good. You don’t have to be wise. You don’t have to be wonderful. You just have to be dead. That’s it. (Robert Capon)

So, in the sense above, Christians are obviously not totally depraved. We who were dead have been made alive.

But 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—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…(Ephesians 2:4-6)

But once God regenerates us by his Spirit, draws us to himself, unites us to Christ, raises us from the dead, and grants us status as adopted sons and daughters, is there any sense in which we can speak of Christian’s being totally depraved?


Theologians speak of total depravity, not only in terms of “total inability” to come to God on our own because we’re spiritually dead, but also in terms of sin’s effect: sin corrupts us in the “totality” of our being. Our minds are affected by sin. Our hearts are affected by sin. Our wills are affected by sin. Our bodies are affected by sin. This is at the heart of Paul’s internal struggle that he articulates in Romans 7:

For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

The painful struggle that Paul gives voice to arises from his condition as simul justus et peccator (simultaneously justified and sinful). He has been raised from the dead and is now alive to Christ, but remaining sin continues to plague him at every level and in every way.

Paul’s testimony demonstrates that even after God saves us, there is no part of us that becomes sin free–we remain sinful and imperfect in all of our capacities, in the “totality” of our being. Even after God saves us, our thoughts, words, motives, deeds, and affections need the constant cleansing of Christ’s blood and the forgiveness that comes our way for free. This is what J.C. Ryle was getting at when he wrote, “Even the best things we do have something in them to be pardoned.”

While it is gloriously true for the Christian that there is nowhere Christ has not arrived by his Spirit, it is equally true that there is no part of any Christian in this life that is free of sin. Because of the totality of sins effect, therefore, we never outgrow our need for Christ’s finished work on our behalf–we never graduate beyond our desperate need for Christ’s righteousness and his strong and perfect blood-soaked plea “before the throne of God above.”

The reason this is so important is because we will always be suspicious of grace (“yes grace, but…”) until we realize our desperate need for it. Our dire need for God’s grace doesn’t get smaller after God saves us. In one sense, it actually gets bigger. Christian growth, says the Apostle Peter, is always “growth into grace”, not away from it. Many Christians think that becoming sanctified means that we become stronger and stronger, more and more competent. And although we would never say it this way, we Christian’s sometimes give the impression that sanctification is growth beyond our need for Jesus and his finished work for us: we needed Jesus a lot for justification; we need him less for sanctification.

The truth is, however, that Christian growth and progress involves coming to the realization of just how weak and incompetent we continue to be and how strong and competent Jesus continues to be for us. Spiritual maturity is not marked by our growing, independent fitness. Rather, it’s marked by our growing dependence on Christ’s fitness for us. Because we are daily sinners, we need God’s daily distributions of free grace that come our way as a result of Christ’s finished work. Christian growth involves believing and embracing the fact that, even as a Christian, you’re worse than you think you are but that God’s grace toward you in Christ is much bigger than you could ever imagine.

Because of total depravity, you and I were desperate for God’s grace before we were saved. Because of total depravity, you and I remain desperate for God’s grace even after we’re saved.

Thankfully, though our sin reaches far, God’s grace reaches infinitely farther.

  • Ed Nugent says:

    This should get the “glory” theologians going!

  • Rach says:

    Great article. Would change the typo in the headline — it’s Christians, not Christian’s. No possessive needed :)

  • Sarah says:

    Amen!! Love this. :)

  • Devon says:

    Tullian you are awesome! Can’t get enough of your teaching.. Keep posting and preaching and be encouraged that you are affecting many lives.

  • Ken Stewart says:

    The argumentation here involves what could be called “a bridge too far”. The argument begins by acknowledging (correctly) that TD can be taken to mean UD. And so proper care has been taken in the application of the concept to the unregenerate.
    But why, with this admitted ‘minefield’ in the application of the terminology to the unregenerate, turn this problematic terminology towards the realm of regenerate life? It is not a strictly biblical terminology in the _first_ case (the unregenerate); its use with regard to the regenerate is much much more tenuous.
    Anyone who has ever heard a professed Christian pleading his continuing total depravity as the explanation for his sin (and I have heard this) will have sensed the problem. No regenerate person can be allowed to plead that they have an un-renewed nature. Paul says “live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Gal.5.16) and “with every temptation comes a way of escape (1 Cor. 10.13).
    The categories used in this analysis are too confining. It is not as though the believer is either totally depraved (as when still an unbeliever) _or_ beyond sin (in some perfectionist sense). No the third category is of a person with a renewed nature, with resources provided by the Spirit and Word to combat sin, whose best works will still be flawed. Calvin says somewhere in his _Institutes_ that the best works of the believer require to be justified by Christ.
    In sum, the continued application of TD language to the Christian believer is a misrepresentation of the Christian life as though it were treadmill-like, i.e. stationary.

  • scott says:

    What does regeneration accomplish then? I do not dispute the need for continuing grace in the sanctification of the believer. Nor obviously should one dispute the presence of the old sinful nature and the need for continuing renewal of the soul in the believer. Just want to understand what regeneration accomplishes and what exactly is the giving of a new heart that is promised in the New Covenant.

  • Steve Martin says:

    Christians are not TOTALLY DEPRAVED.

    We are, as non-Christians are, capable of doing a great deal of good.

    We are not, however, capable of choosing the God in matters of faith, because we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.

    I know what the Calvinists mean when they say “totally depraved”. But words mean things and the language could be better used to describe the situation.

  • Good discussion. I approached the matter differently recently by suggesting that we must be careful about articulating a doctrine of human depravity from the wrong starting point. When we build our understanding of sin by starting with sin, we risk ending up with a kind of truncated theology of human depravity and a potentially misguided approach to some of the requirements of godly living.
    If interested, I discuss the matter here:

  • Stan Fowler says:

    Clearly we need grace for the whole of our Christian life, but Tullian’s way of saying it fails to affirm the radical change that comes with the gift of the Spirit. Romans 7 shows up here as expected, but you don’t have to be an Arminian to believe that Romans 7.14-25 is NOT a description of Paul’s Christian experience. I do not see any way to correlate Romans 6 and Romans 7 as two descriptions of the same thing. The Christian life does involve moral struggle (Gal 5.17), but the struggle in Rom 7 is a losing struggle (vs. 23, for example), and that is not the reality of life in Christ (see all of Rom 6). The Christian battle is between the flesh and the Holy Spirit (Gal 5), but the Spirit is not named in Rom 7. To say that Christian life involves moral struggle in which we obey imperfectly is not to say that it is a losing struggle in which we never become more victorious in the struggle. It is time to stop using Rom 7 as an excuse for disobedience.

  • […] pastor helpfully explains what it means to be ‘totally depraved’ — you know, the way all of us naturally […]

  • Travis says:

    Sounds like the author’s view of sin is that it is greater than God. Jesus’ sacrifice was not enough to break the bonds of sin. I wonder how the author would explain why Paul says the Romans are “full of goodness” (Rom 15:14), the Colossians are “complete” (Col 2:9-10) or that the Corinthians are “unleavened” (leaven being the symbol for sin, 1 Cor 5:7)?

    Those sound more like the believer is not “Totally Depraved” but is actually totally remade in the inner man (2 Cor 5:17). The believer is totally new and sinless in soul and spirit. However, we are not in our behavior (Heb 10:14). That is where the daily renewing and grace are needed.

    I will gladly chose to believe that Jesus’ sacrifice has perfected me for all time (Heb 10:14) rather than sin somehow maintaining the upper hand. Which sounds like good news to you?

  • jeremiah says:

    Hear is a sentence from above-
    Many Christians think that becoming sanctified means that we become stronger and stronger, more and more competent.

    Here is the NT-
    About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

    Or Paul-
    But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh.

    Please address the word of God.

  • Jack says:

    This article is like anti-Wesleyanism.

    Wesleyanism promises the impossible — that we can eradicate sin from our souls in this life (by a special work of the Spirit). It’s too optimistic. It leaves Christians shocked at their own faults.

    But this Reformed approach is far too pessimistic, and as a result encourages lo expectations and excuse-making for sin.

    Ironically, it also clashes with Reformed ideas about Lordship Salvation. Lordship Salvation preaches that people with deep and chronic sin-problems are false converts. Professors, not possessors. But then here we have an article saying that all Christians have deep, chronic sin-problems. LS preaches first-work-of-grace eradicationism out of one side of its hat, then preaches pervasive depravity out of the other side of its hat, thus confusing everyone.

  • cornell says:

    Christians are not totally depraved; but that does not mean that they do not experience the effects of total depravity. Thank you Pastor Tullian, for clarifying this. God bless you.

  • Robert says:

    Salvation, Sanctification is all God’s doing in the end. Thankfully we are not going to be judged as to what extent our beliefs hinge on our badness or goodness. God will not judge our theology of sin but he will judge whether we have concluded that Jesus is our only hope.
    For me to live is to die and to die is to gain. Just the fact that our bodies die proves that sin still reigns in our members. But oh thank you Jesus my life is hidden in Christ.

  • Sally says:

    Thank you for defining total depravity…Very helpful article

  • […] Tchividjian – Are Christians Totally Depraved? Believe it or not, this is an important question. It’s not simply a theological question. It’s […]

  • Could you please reconcile these two thoughts from your article?:

    “In this sense, total depravity means we are “totally unable” to go to God” because we were dead.

    “Because of total depravity, you and I were desperate for God’s grace before we were saved” because we were dead.

    So on the one hand we’re dead so we’re totally unable to go to God but on the other we’re dead but we’re desperate for God’s grace. If we’re dead to God with no ability to approach God how could we possibly be desperate for God? How can it be both? Are you saying we have an unrealized and unfulfilled need for God but if we’re dead how would we have such a recognized need?

  • Cornell says:

    Hi Brian,

    I think you’re feeling a contradiction of terms when what is really happening is a confusion of tenses. The “desperate” is not written in an active but in a passive tense. The unregenerate are “desperate” for God in the sense that they are in a state of desperate need of God, though they are not consciously and actively aware that it is God they need.

    Relate that with this quote from C.S. Lewis.
    “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

    This does not mean that the person knows that he has a desire for God, but his depravity puts him in a state of desperate need which can only be satisfied by God.

  • Cornell, thanks for your response. The three issues however with your line of reasoning. First, you need to read the tense into the contradiction but according Calvinism dead is dead. There is no contradiction in the way a person is spiritually dead – they have no ability to be desperate, according to Calvinism, and if we’re already dead no reason to be. But since faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God we must be alive enough to respond to what we hear and therefore not dead to recognizing our desperation as the Father draws us. Second, with reference to your quote, I seriously doubt C.S. Lewis would have insisted the person who was having such a thought was dead. In fact, there is no evidence that C.S. Lewis was Calvinist, more quite the contrary as he advocated the goodness of God which is much more an Armenian view. Third, cognitive dissonance is always a mind-trap for those who refuse to reason out the contradictions in their worldview. If you have some desire for God it is unreasonable to assume and unsupported by both human experience (please see C.S Lewis quote again) and Biblical evidence (Romans 2:14-15) that you are dead. I’m afraid, at minimum, the total depravity doctrine is perhaps one of if not the most useless doctrines for the Kingdom of God, as much as Calvinists esteem it. It is simply mental gymnastics that serve no Gospel purpose. God bless and shalom.

  • […] Are Christians Totally Depraved? – Tullian Tchividjian […]

  • Steve Martin says:

    Not only are we dead, we are born with our backsides to God. We are in active rebellion against Him.

    We just don’t say ‘no’ to God…we say ‘hell NO!’ to Him.

    Through the hearing of God’s Word, the law and the gospel, the Spirit creates faith when and where He wills.

    Give this one at least 5 minutes, You’ll be glad you did:


  • Kimm says:

    As I grow in my walk there is one theme that continues to grow along with me. That is the awareness of just how very depraved I am. The older I get the more aware I become of my sin and the more aware I become the more I long to be close to Jesus. If it weren’t for the realization that I am dead in my trespasses and nothing good can come from me except through the life that I now have in Christ I would be in constant need of finding something good in me. This would only eventuate in a state of either pride or despair. I am glad to say that I am totally depraved and that there is nothing good in me for if there was I would have no need for a Savior. I am emensly thankful for the total depravity that showed me my need to be rescued and continue to be thankful for my daily need of grace when I fall into the belief that I am good enough to sanctify myself.
    Thank you,Tullian, for continuing to press forward in speaking the truth to weary souls.

  • Simon says:

    I think the major failing of Reformed anthropology is that it assumes that human beings are completely empty vessels. The distinction between total and utter depravity above makes this clear. Tullian is right, people can be much worse than they are. He puts this down to something like “common grace” – i.e. God restraining us by his grace from being utterly depraved. I think a much better explanation, and one that is consistent with how the early Church understood Scripture, is that all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. Human beings are intrinsically good precisely because God made us and called us “very good”. I know this will eventually go towards the endless arguments on human freewill or lack thereof. I don’t want to go there, but I will note that the Fathers, particularly the Eastern Fathers (including ones that the Reformed like including Athanasius and Chrysostom), had a robust theology of freewill. I didn’t see anything on human beings being image bearers of God in the above article. I just don’t think Christians can begin to talk about human beings without this as their starting point. What intrinsic value do human beings have if what we really are, in essence, is very bad? In Reformed theology, everything good is alien to us. We are not “very good” as God declared in the Scriptures. We must not take St Paul’s metaphors places where the text does not take us. Nowhere does St Paul say that being “dead in our trespasses…” means that we cannot respond to the Gospel – this is a non sequitur. Our deadness is caused because we have separated ourselves from Life. The consequence of sin is death – not because we are being punished for it, but because when we separate our selves from Life, we die. God did not tell Adam “if you eat of the fruit… I will kill you”. He said “if you eat of the fruit… you will surely die”. We are still God’s very good creation. We still bear his image – although this is obscured by sin. Things just aren’t as black and white as Reformed theology would have it. It isn’t Reformed theology OR Pelagianism. There is room for mystery in theology. How is it that we can hear God and respond positively? Our salvation is a mystery of the co-suffering love of God. Love requires a response, else it would not be love. It’s why the Revelator says that Christ knocks and waits, he does not barge in. We can respond to him precisely because we are his intrinsically good image bearers.

  • Shonda says:

    There is never a reason to argue the points of Calvinism. You have either been enlightened by The Lord, or you haven’t yet…don’t just rely on articles from our brothers and sisters, dig and search the scriptures yourselves, it’s there…thank you Tullian for another great article.

  • Steve Martin says:

    The Lord does not wait for us to act, like some mendicant at our front door, hat in hand, “believe in me…please believe in me. Would you please make a decision for me.”

    No. He is a real God, who acts FOR US while we are yet dead in our sins and trespasses.

    Did the Lord wait on Paul? And ask Paul for a decision?


    He knocked him on his keester and told him, ‘Your mine. End of discussion.’

  • @ Simon, very well said, sir. Obviously the Psalmist wasn’t a Calvinist when he says in Psalm 139:

    13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
    14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
    15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
    16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
    17 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
    18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

    The problem with Calvinism it that it sets up contradictions with Scripture for an anthropology that cannot be validated by a thorough going exegesis. Our recognition and desperation for God is not born out of total depravity but rather a deep abiding realization and desire for the life God means for us to live. Of course we have a level of corruption in our “fallen” condition, living under the curse, but the emphasis and essence of what Christ has done must be recapturing more of the imago of God in which we are fearlessly and wonderfully made. When we realize how short of the glory we do fall we can pray – Lord give me more of who you made me to be. Shalom.

  • Matti says:

    A wonderful article. I’d like to add this thought that even if we would be able to behave in perfect morality it still wouldn’t be the holiness that God wants. The great tragedy of the Fall was that man became morally independent of God and we lost the fellowship with God. And that is the great sin of idolatry what pervades us.

    Now the business of true sanctification is not to become increasingly moral but increasingly depended on God for fellowship. It’s through this fellowship with God we are transformed and we still as the regenerated children of God struggle to maintain that intimate fellowship with Him.

  • James says:

    The Word of God constantly affirms it. Unregenerate people are spiritually blind, deaf, dumb, and dead.How could Nicodemus, a master of Israel, refuse the message of John the Baptist? Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews, not a mere master of a
    synagogue. As a member of the Sanhedrin, he was in charge
    of interpretation and enforcement of the law. A member of
    this ecclesiastical organization must be highly trained in
    judicial administration.Why did Nicodemus come to the Lord by night? It is evident that he did not come because he possessed disposition of heart for the Person of Christ. Even though he recognized Jesus Christ as a teacher come from God, he was concerned about his own reputation before the Sanhedrin.Nicodemus came by night because the friendship of the world is enmity with God.The conviction of Nicodemus was based on the miracles
    of Christ, not His Person.Nicodemus, a man of the Pharisees, was drawn to Christ by an imperfect faith built upon miracles. He was in a position where he could not compromise himself in the eyes of the Jewish Sanhedrin. The imperfection of his faith is revealed
    by his secret coming to Jesus Christ.Nicodemus did not see Jesus Christ as the true Messiah, the eternal Son of the eternal Father; he saw Him as only a teacher sent from God. The knowledge of Christ as the Son of the living God is the revelation of God. This is something more than flesh and blood can reveal (Matt. 16:16, 17). Nicodemus was unable to see any further than the manhood of Jesus Christ,“a teacher come from God.”…

  • James, how does the story of Nicodemus’ “imperfect faith,” which is based on the knowledge he had, support the Calvinist anthropology of total depravity? From the beginning of the story – in John 3:2 we read “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Obviously, Nicodemus recognized something more about Jesus than that he was a teacher doing miracles. Nicodemus was not only a spiritual leader but this account shows he was a spiritual seeker looking to understand more of God, and saw something in Jesus that was of God. That Nicodemus was seeking before he understood what Jesus was about to tell him sets up a contradiction with the Calvinist worldview that he was dead and had no ability to approach God. Obviously, many Jews of the time understood something of God before Jesus made an appearance to reveal the fullness of God (see also Simeon – Luke 2:27-29) and Nicodemus was one such person who was awaiting the Messiah, albeit with imperfect information.

  • James says:

    Thank you Brian for your reply,
    Nicodemus was not entirely insensitive to the works of Christ. The Bible does not teach that all unregenerate men are completely insensitive to the things of God. They may be sensible of the evil of sin with regard to themselves, but do not recognize that it is against God. Damnation may scare them, but pollution does not. Hell may frighten them, but offending God does not disturb them. Agrippa said, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” (Act 26:28). The people, sit as they sit, and talk about the message as a lovely song (Ezek. 33:30-33). Nicodemus, an unregenerate man,was attracted to the miracles of a teacher sent from God. The coming of an unregenerate man, Nicodemus, to Christ is a significant fact that should not be overlooked; but let me emphasize that it must be studied in the light of its context.His coming was a physical act, brought about by God’s providence, the outcome of which was unknown to himself. This physical act must not be confused with coming to Christ for salvation, which is the inward drawing of the Father. His natural ability enabled him to go where Jesus Christ was, but his spiritual inability kept him from recognizing the blessed Person of the eternal Son of God. Jesus Christ replied to the statement made by Nicodemus,saying, “…Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). The true value of Christ’s work cannot be known by natural man. Until one is born again, he is unable to recognize the merit of Christ’s life and death. Regeneration is necessary in order for one to see further than the flesh. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see….” Some, after the presentation of God’s message of the gospel,say, “I just do not see it.” If they have not been regenerated,then they are telling the truth. Are you going to become angry with them because God has not opened their eyes to behold spiritual things? You may use all human persuasion possible,but you cannot give spiritual life where death reigns. God alone, by a creative act, can bring life out of death. The sinner is not dying; he is spiritually dead. Every faculty of his being is completely ruined. He cannot see (John 3:3),understand (I Cor. 2:14), receive (John 14:17), come (John
    6:44), cease from sin (II Pet. 2:14), call (I Cor. 12:3; Rom.
    10:9, 10, 13), please God (Heb. 11:6), or enter the kingdom (John 3:5). Man’s only hope of spiritual life is in the lifegiving
    power of God’s Spirit. Spiritual arguments to an unregenerate man are only warm clothes to a corpse. Debating in this manner is like standing before Lincoln’s Memorial and talking to the statute of the former president about moon trips…. Your reply is not without merit well said in some area’s others I see differently.

  • Scott Leonard says:

    Tullian, I’m calling on you to answer this question: What does Paul mean when he says TWICE in four verses (an astounding occurrence, especially in light of the context!), “it is no longer I who sins, but sin that dwells in me.” ?? My reformed brothers dance around these verses like they are rattlesnakes! MacArthur says the reason we still sin, though we are new creatures in Christ is simple: We are regenerated, new creatures who live in dead, unredeemed bodies. If you let Paul say what he says, it makes perfect sense. It is also the reason Paul can say in Romans 8 that we are “waiting for our adoption as sons, (that is) the redemption of our (what?) BODIES!”

    Please weigh in.

  • Mitchell Hammonds says:

    The “now and not yet” of the christian life. Fully redeemed and fully sinful. Except for Travis who obviously has reached perfection. That is unless he admits he still sins… which would completely deconstruct his view of himself.
    This was my problem as a Southern Baptist – I still sin so what am I to do with this reality. One group says “Ignore the sin… it isn’t an issue. You’re reading the Law and you need to leave that part of Scripture alone.” But Paul seems to address our condition through the Law (Romans 7). On the other end you have the perfectionists/progressive sanctification crowd who says “If you’re not getting better day to day you probably need to examine yourself to see if you were saved in the first place.” Both completely ignore the reality of where we are in relation to God and they both direct one inward for what is missing in every individual – Assurance. Assurance that God is truly merciful toward us – even in the midst of Christian failure – which is all of us really. So He gives a preacher to proclaim it to be so that we might look beyond ourselves. Believe it – because it is so. God promised it!

  • Scott Leonard says:

    It would also be helpful to notice the caveat Paul makes when he says “for I know that nothing good dwells in me, THAT IS, IN MY FLESH.” He wants to make it very clear that he is not really saying “in me,” but rather, that the problem is in his flesh. And be careful not to spiritualize the word, “flesh.” It means what it looks like it means! If you make a simple list of every time Paul uses “flesh” and body and members in Romans 6-8, you will discover something very interesting. They all refer to the same thing! Just examine the texts.

  • Scott Leonard says:

    Mitchell, the good news is that though my flesh is rotten to the core, and never gets better, the real me, the inner man in Christ, is righteous. I am never surprised by the thoughts that fly into my head or the outbursts that come out of my mouth! But as I learn what it really means to walk in/by the Spirit, the Vine, with whom I am in real union, lives through me and “mortifies/puts to death the deeds of the BODY (the what?)” The sanctification process is not primarily revisiting our justification, as daily AWESOME as that is! It is resting in our justification, and applying the truths of liberation found in Romans 6-8 and letting Christ live the life! Not passivity, I have to choose and obey moment by moment. But living out Galatians 2:20! I am amazed at how much talk about sanctification bypasses the mother load of truth on it: Romans 6-8. There was virtual silence on it in John Piper’s recent conference on the subject! Amazing to me. But the reason is (get this) that reformed thinkers have a hard time truly exegeting 6-8. Lloyd-jones did a great job, and so does John MacArthur.

  • James says:

    Mitchell, you made me laugh but in question to Scott’s flesh,body & member to refere that these 3 words may have the same meaning throughout Romans 6-8 is questionable. Also it’s not uncommon that the word “Flesh” for example as you mention the problem is in my flesh that is in my “Fallen Nature” side if you will. the flesh against the Spirit, the Spiirit against the flesh. I take that’s what you mean the war that rages with in but nonetheless I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me…?

  • Scott Leonard says:

    James, take a look at these selections from Romans. I have capitalized to highlight the essential issues.

    Romans 6:6, 11-12, 17-18 ESV

    We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the BODY OF SIN might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. So you also must consider yourselves DEAD to sin and ALIVE to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal BODY, to make you obey its passions. But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become OBEDIENT FROM THE HEART to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become SLAVES of righteousness.

    Romans 7:17-18, 20, 22-25 ESV

    So now it is NO LONGER I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 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. Now if I do what I do not want, IT IS NO LONGER I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I DELIGHT in the law of God, in my INNER BEING, but I see in my MEMBERS another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the LAW OF SIN THAT DWELLS IN MY MEMBERS. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this BODY OF DEATH? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I MYSELF serve the law of God with my mind, but WITH MY FLESH I serve the law of sin.

    Romans 8:9-10, 13, 23 ESV

    YOU, however, ARE NOT IN THE FLESH, but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although THE BODY IS DEAD because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death THE DEEDS OF THE BODY, you will live. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our BODIES.

  • James says:

    The new birth, contrary to what is commonly taught, is something done not merely “for” but “in” man, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Some believe that the subject is active in the new birth, and the Spirit employs the Word as God’s means of accomplishing regeneration. But the subject, according to Scripture, is spiritually dead, blind, deaf, and dumb. Thus, the sinner is passive, spiritually speaking; but he is actively engaged in sinful acts. If he cannot cease from sin (II Pet. 2:14), then he is filled with all unrighteousness. He not only commits things worthy of death, but has pleasure in those who perform such evil deeds (Rom. 1:29-32). The Holy Spirit, therefore, must quicken the passive spirit of the sinner making him sensitive to the call of the gospel. Sensitivity to the gospel is the fruit of regeneration. Scriptures classify this as conversion.Non-existent spiritual life cannot give being to itself. Light is not brought out of darkness, neither does love come from hate. Every seed bears its own kind. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). A new creature, therefore, cannot be the product of natural power. The sinner is not regenerated by combined efforts of God and man. There is no “I will if you will” in regeneration.Most religionists think sinners take the first step in their salvation, but informed Christians know better. The day of regeneration is solely the time of God’s love and power. “Nowwhen I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness; yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest mine” (Ezek. 16:8). Just for the sake of argument, if sinners did take the first step, they would be like the Roman myth of St. Dennis. It is said that after the head of Dennis had been cut off, he picked it up and walked two thousand miles with his head in his hand. Some wit, when hearing the story,
    said, “I see no difficulty in the two thousand mile walk. The
    difficulty lay in the first step.”

  • Scott Leonard says:

    The phrase, “in Christ” is used far more than is the phrase, “Christ in you/me/us”. Yet the focus is far more on the latter than the former, except when a dumbing-down of “in Christ” occurs by use of the humanly fabricated term,”positional.” Often, “positional truth” is a euphemism for “stuff that couldn’t really be true because our eyes and experience know better than to believe Paul REALLY means THAT!” Colossians 3:1-4 can’t really be as true as Paul lays it out, so it must be positional truth! Analyze those four verses carefully, in light of Romans 6-8, and you will find a couple of hints as to why that doesn’t have to be “positional truth.” And if I am only positionally in Christ, guess what? Christ is only position ally in me. “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” (John 14:20 ESV)

  • James says:

    True, let every man be a lier.

  • James says:

    There was a debate some years ago between a liberal preacher and an evangelical minister. The liberal’s subject was entitled, “Fanning the spark into a flame.” He taught that there is, in every person, a Divine spark which only needs fanning by good influence and education. “If the spark is given proper attention,” he said, “It will burn into a blazing fire of good influence and works.” The evangelical minister took the position that there is no Divine spark in natural man. Therefore, his rebuttal was, “There is no spark to fan.” At the conclusion of the rebuttal address, the liberal preacher stood up and said, “I commend you on your reply, but I have a question to ask you. Do you believe that man has the ability,in himself, to either accept or reject the gospel?” The evangelical minister, without a moment’s hesitation, replied, “Yes, I surely do.” The liberal then asked, “What is this ability in man?” The evangelical replied, “That ability is man’s free will.” Then the liberal smiled and said, “You call it free will, and I call it a spark of goodness.” Actually, there was no difference between these men when it came to the subject of man’s condition by nature. They both denied depravity, which is essential to the proper concept of regeneration and conversion which was the condition of Nicodemus aside his positional position, teacher and knowledge of the law was nonetheless positionally any different then the other Pharisees that Jesus spoke about when He said you are like a white washed tomb on the out side all prim and proper but on the inside your nothing less then dead mans bones, though Nicodemus I believe had a different frame of mind then the hardliners (possibly why God used Nicodemus unknowingly…)It is God’s will and to do according to His purpose for His good pleasure so we as believers can understand and know God regardless of the ways and meens He uses which isn’t always straight across the board.

  • Steve Martin says:

    “…we are born not of the will of man…but of God.”:

    No…that can’t be right. The Bible must be mistaken. We have this spark of goodness and free-will!

    Right. Look in the mirror and the trail of broken promises and hurt people strewn behind you. That is what my free-will has accomplished. And you?

  • Scott Leonard says:

    Yeh, “there is NONE good, no, not one!” Dead people can’t choose God! They actually hate the true God. Even their good works are as filthy rags. Then He wakes us up and saves us, bringing us literally alive for the first time, and “Therefore, if anyone is IN CHRIST, he is a NEW CREATION. (My, how we dumb that down!) The old HAS passed away; behold, the new HAS come.” (ESV)

  • The ontological problem with the doctrine of total depravity is with the very word “nature” (i.e. man’s condition by nature). According to total depravity thinking, our very nature has changed. But what is a nature? In real terms, “nature” refers to the essence of something—that which makes a thing a thing at its deepest level. The early church Fathers used the term “ousia” for nature or essence. God is one nature (ousia) and three persons. Christ and the Father are of the same ousia. The incarnate Christ has two natures—human and divine. But here’s the problem, if humans are intrinsically depraved in their essence (i.e. “sinful nature”), then God created sin. Who’s willing to say that? The Reformed will of course argue, “No, man was created with a good nature, but that nature changed.” But here’s the problem – how can a nature change? There is no Biblical evidence to tell us that at the Fall man’s nature change. A nature is the definition of a thing, and can only be defined by the one who creates the thing. God say he created “very good” and Paul agrees when he says “For everything God created is good” (1 Tim 4:4). Paul also says “Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.” (1 Cor 8:2). God says we’re created good, Calvinists says we’re created totally depraved. No apologies, brothers, but I’ll go with God until someone can demonstrate a doctrine that doesn’t set up such ontological contradictions. Shalom.

  • Scott Leonard says:

    Brian, here’s the answer: God told Adam that the day he sinned, he would die, and he DID. Not physically just then, but in the most important way. His spirit died and he became evil in his essence. He could do nothing but deeds of death, “dead works,” scripture says. The only way that can change is for him to be placed into Christ, placed in union with him who is Life. That is when our essential mature changes. It is literal regeneration.

  • Simon says:

    Scott, if dead people can’t choose God, how can they hate God? #justsaying

  • Scott, thanks for responding but I’m sorry your answer is an imposition of a presupposition on Genesis 2:17 and 3:3. Come let’s reason together. In Genesis 2:17 we read – or “when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Note that it doesn’t say that your nature will become totally depraved nor does it say that his spirit died but that he would die, physically, which of course he did. Furthermore, the New Creation give us new Christlike attributes that we did not have prior to coming to faith in Christ. Yes our identity is now in Christ but we don’t become other than human. Rather we become fully human, just like Jesus was, or at least we take a step not possible without Christ in that direction. Another problem with total depravity is that if the human “nature” is total depraved, and Jesus was both fully divine and fully human, then Jesus is totally depraved by his human nature. But of course he was completely without sin so how could it be that he was fully human? Again, there is something more to it then nature.

  • Scott Leonard says:

    I believe the phrase in Gen 2 in Hebrew is, “dying, you will die.” Adam died the moment he ate. Then he began to slowly die physically, and his soul began experiencing death as well. Paul tells saints that they WERE dead in their trespasses and sins, and the fact is every offspring since Adam was born dead, because a dead man begat them! Adam was alive to God until he sinned. I love the saying, “Christ didn’t come to make bad people good; He came to make dead people live!”

  • Scott, the phrase is “muwth muwth” which is best translated “die die,” and Adam began to die just like all humans that moment. All humans begin to die moment they are born since natural life is terminal. God could have said, now you’re going to get old and die, which is exactly what happened. We don’t need to read anything more into the text than what is clearly there. Actually, what Christ came to do is infuse is very life into ours (Colossians 3:11) and eventually unite us all with the Father (John 17:20-23). Shalom.

  • Paul St Jean says:

    regeneration is at the unconscious level by Gods Grace and conversion is what we do when we are changed by our will. ie when we consciously turn from our sin when God enables us by His Grace. That is my understanding. And of course sin is atoned for but not removed completely because of our earthly body.

  • Walter Flach, Geneva-CH says:

    50 blogs. So much confusion. So much contradiction. So much “I know better than you.” Are you all PhDs of theology? Do you have to prove yourselves? Rather meditate on 1 Cor. 13:12 and you will stop this futility.Focus on John 6:28-29 and know GOD is GOD and you are not!

  • Walter Flach, Geneva-CH says:

    Sorry, 50 blogs shoud read 50 comments.

  • Scott Leonard says:

    Walter, the word of God is rich with available truth for anyone with a teachable heart, who walks in the Spirit and studies. PhD not required. Paul revealed previously hidden mysteries, and our union with Christ is one great revealed mystery. (Col 1:27) yet one day all will be revealed and we will know even as we are known.

    Regarding the fall, there would have been no death had Adam not sinned. That is plain. And yes, he began to die physically like us, but not when he was born (like us), but rather, the moment he sinned and died spiritually. There is a tiny bit of deduction here, since the Bible does not say verbatim that he died spiritually that moment, but in essence it does in the discussion of Romans 5. Condemnation came to all men when Adam sinned, and that condemnation included the deadness that every human contains the moment they are born. They are all part of that set that Paul refers to in Eph 2 when he says, “and you were dead in your trespasses and sins…” That set includes Adam’s first child, Cain. Adam was a dead man, fathering dead children, just as every unsaved man does today!

  • Scott, Nowhere in Romans 5 does Paul say that the spirit died rather that death entered the world through sin, when Adam chose to reject God and go his own way. Your reading that into the Scripture through a Calvinistic eisegesis. As you point out, the moment that Adam sinned he started to die – physically and 930 years later he croaked. The gift of God is life eternal, now and forever.

    Since this will be final comment on this thread I’ll put it as plainly as possible – this total depravity doctrine is a hideous distortion of Scripture that paints a picture of a monstrous God and cannot be supported logically or with proper exegetical understanding. It has been refuted for centuries. Ask yourself where in Scripture does God tell us to be so self-loathing? Repentance does not require that we hate our nature but that we hate what is evil (Romans 12:9), especially when God says we were made in his image and “very good.” Yes we reject God prior to salvation, yes we need Christ to complete us, but that doesn’t mean we were dead with no way to approach God’s perpetual offer of grace, until we harden ourselves against it and God says have it your way. One of my first comments here was that this doctrine is useless to the Gospel and the Kingdom of God. The reason it is is that the total depravity argument is what in Greek is called Ignoratio elenchi, meaning it fails to address the issue in question. The issue for all disciples of Christ is how do I make disciples and glorify Christ. To the work of God it makes no difference whether one is dead spiritually or total depraved because we cannot know what we do not know nor what the Scriptures do not tell us clearly about our condition before we came to the knowledge of his glory in Christ. Attempting to support the total depravity doctrine is simply pointless mental gymnastics. What we can know is that once I was lost and now I’m found, was blind but now I see – thank you Jesus. Shame on Tullian for suggesting that “Because of total depravity, you and I remain desperate for God’s grace even after we’re saved” What utter nonsense. You best do a study of all that Christ has done for you if you buy that line as you have been given fullness in Christ (Col 2:10). Now we just need to start living like it – through his mercy, by his grace and in his love.

    Happy Thanksgiving and shalom.

  • Scott Leonard says:

    Thanks, Brian. As I said, Romans 5 doesn’t say that in so many words. What we do know clearly is that, according to Eph 2, God says all are dead, and only saints are alive. You can decide when you think Adam died. You might be more comfortable with “total deadness” than with “total depravity” :)

    And I am with you on the error of not embracing the glory of the new creation, the saint, the one Paul says in Romans 6 is “obedient FROM THE HEART,” a “slave of righteousness,” the one who has, in fact, been placed in vital union with Christ the Vine!

    Happy Thanksgiving.

  • Scott Leonard says:

    One of MANY decisive statements by Paul that seals the deal about the absence of depravity in saints and the reality of their glorious union is this one: “…YOU are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit.” Time to celebrate the truth of what it really means to be IN Christ. The problem is the flesh, and Col 2:11 says we “…WERE circumcised …by putting off the body of the flesh…”

  • Jason Dollar says:

    Tullian: “Although we would never say it this way, we Christian’s sometimes give the impression that sanctification is growth beyond our need for Jesus and his finished work for us: we needed Jesus a lot for justification; we need him less for sanctification.”

    This is a powerful diagnosis of the human condition and tendency to avoid grace at all costs. I am convicted by the phrase “beyond our need for Jesus.” How the lingering effects of sin continue to attempt to steal the glory of God by minimizing the grace of our Lord!

  • Steve Martin says:

    I don’t know about you, but my will hasn’t been the too good in showing that I am converted. In fact, my will is what I need to be converted ‘from’.

    God’s will. That is where our conversion starts…and is finished.

  • Josh says:

    Unfortunately, some Christians still hold to this false and crippling theology, that is described in this article, and find in it a sub-conscience excuse and a justification for a sinful life.

    As a Christian, I am saved by grace but I am not a sinner anymore. Jesus’ work on the cross was powerful enough to SET ME FREE. Sin ought to be an exception in the Christians life. 1 John teaches clearly that I am either in darkness or in the light, not both. I’m either lost and in sin, or saved and free from it.

  • Scott Leonard says:

    Josh, you are spot-on. It is interesting that books like Con Campbell’s 480 page work on union with Christ has just been spotlighted on the Desiring God site. My reformed brethren are going to see the sun set on a sub-biblical view of the man IN Christ, and the sun will rise to further illumine Paul’s mystery. In the process, there will be a cleaning up of confusion about false notions and false concerns about things like sinless perfection, passivity, gnosticism (especially the false idea that matter is evil), “positional truth,” and lack of responsibility for sin.

  • Mitchell Hammonds says:

    Josh and Scott if you still sin you are still sinful. I promise you both… you still sin. The christian life is a struggle between the 2 realities of “being free from sin” = the spiritual new creation and the “flesh” = sold out to sin (Romans 7). Read your Bibles not your false assumptions about how “fixed” you think you are.

  • Scott Leonard says:

    Ahhhhh, Mitchell! I sin a lot!…but not like I used to, and (watch this, my friend, because you will savor it one day:) I sin only as much as Paul did when he said, (count ‘em) TWICE in four verses, “it is NO LONGER I who sins…!) Munch on that a bit as you chew your turkey, and have an awesome day!


    “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”-Psalm 16:11

  • Scott Leonard says:

    And Mitchell, I want you to read, too…Count how many times Paul says, in other words in Romans 6-8, what he exactly says in 8:9–“YOU are NOT in the flesh!” Note, he didn’t say you are in the Spirit AND in the flesh! Strip off your categories and exegete it!

  • Josh says:

    Mitchell Hammonds… we do have struggles, temptations, and even failures, yes. But the christian life, as you call it, is a love-relaiontship with Jesus Christ. 1 John 3:6 is pretty clear on our condition when we are in such a relationship with our Savior.

    God wants to us to mature and become more and more like Jesus in everything we do. If ‘total depravity’ were legitimate and biblical, then there would be no hope for us in that regard. It certainly is not about how “fixed” i think i am (as you put it). Sin is the voluntary rebellion against Yahweh and His truth. Sin is a rebellious and selfish choice to reject God’s just and loving authority to live lawlessly for self.

    I am either in relationship with Jesus or I am not. I either live for myself or for Him. It’s all about ultimate intentions, it’s all about the roots and where I am rooted in…

  • Mitchell Hammonds says:

    I’m not arguing the case that I’m a new creation… but all accounts in my daily life say something different. I know what Paul says and I agree. But the old sin nature still hangs with us. Relentlessly! My argument is in the way you and Josh state your case… as if you do not sin because you are “in the light.” Again I agree with the statement but I won’t agree with the presumptive way in which you present this reality. Righteousness is a life of “faith” with small glimpses into who we really are. Right now though the evidence is against us that this is true. We know because we are told so by Paul and the other writers of Scripture.

  • Scott Leonard says:

    Yes, Mitchell, it is against our eyes, only enjoyed by faith, but it is nonetheless true! I think one simple distinction is to see that what many erroneously call the “old nature,” (a term Paul never uses), Paul calls the FLESH. NIV unfortunately confuses. The only time Paul uses “nature” is when in Eph 2 he says “you WERE by nature….”

  • Steve Martin says:

    We know it is our ‘nature’. Read the first few chapters of Romans. Paul does not have to use the word itself for us to see what he means. The word Trinity in not in the Bible, either.

    We have a sin nature. It started when we were in the womb. “In sin my mother conceived me”.

    We are both sinners and saints.

    Sinners by fact. And saints by faith.

  • Scott Leonard says:

    Steve, my point was that Paul DOES use the word nature, and he says we WERE (past tense, and the sentence implies we no longer are) by nature, “children of wrath, even as the rest.” (Eph 2:3 NASB) Paul never refers to his hearers as sinners. He calls them what they/we are: saints. By the way, people don’t HAVE a nature; they ARE somebody. Paul says we WERE by nature children of the evil one. Now we have literally been born a second time. We are God’s offspring. We are new creatures, “the old things passed away, BEHOLD (reformed brothers, please behold!), new things have come.” (II Cor 5:17)

    Romans 6-8 is Paul’s incredible, detailed explanation of that simple verse (II Cor 5:17). It is amazing to me how many seasoned pastors and teachers cannot sit down and discuss, verse by verse, what Paul says on those three chapters!

    Let me say it again: Paul says it is NOT him who sins (Rom 7:17,20), you are NOT in the flesh and everyone else is (Rom 8:8,9), and when he says nothing good dwells in him, he backs up and says, “THAT IS, in my FLESH!” (Rom 7:18)

    So why do I still sin? Because although I am a brand new creature, I live in a dead, sin-cursed body!–“…the body is DEAD because of sin…!” (Rom 8:10) I’m not making this up! Read the texts. And this is why Paul, being consistent, says we groan, “waiting for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our BODY!” (Rom 8:23)

    I sin every day, and I hate it more each day because I appreciate God’s holiness more, but I receive heat comfort and a deeper sense of who I am when I agree with God that “it is no longer I who sins.”

    Meditate and pray over these things, my friends.

  • jeremiah says:

    Thank you Scott for actually engaging the scriptures with these questions.
    Quite refreshing indeed.

  • Mitchell Hammonds says:

    If your interpretation is what Paul meant by his statements then it begs the question “Why do we still confess sin?… Why have any adverse attitude toward our sinfulness?”
    Paul refers to himself in the final days before his own death as the “chief of sinners.” Go figure… Paul certainly believed in the simultaneously, yet awkward state, saint and sinner. God’s work is total yet not fully known in this life. This is what the resurrection of the body is for. We are a walking paradox of righteousness and sinfulness as Paul lays out in Romans 6-8.
    Also, prayer and meditation do not magically reveal truth. God’s truth is gained through revelation by way of the Bible primarily through a preacher/teacher… not by osmosis via mystical experience in one’s alone time.

  • Stan Fowler says:

    I was waiting for someone to play the “chief of sinners” card. I suggest that if you consider the whole statement from 1 Tim 1.12 to 1.16, you will agree that Paul’s reference is to his pre-Christian life. Yes, I know that verse 15 is written in the present tense, but that’s simply because Paul is the same person who once committed those sins. His point is that if Christ was patient and gracious and willing to save him, then he is willing to save anyone who believes.

  • Josh says:

    To use psalm 51 as proof for a sin nature is just not valid. David was born illegitimate, and here, he is declaring that the act of his conception happened in sin. He is not saying that he himself was born sinful. Please throw away the NIV, and don’t study it. It’s translation is plainly wrong ;).

    Romans 5 teaches that if we live our lives patterned after Adam’s humanism and his selfishness, we will develop a sin nature because of our choices and habitual behavior, and we will die. When we pattern our lives after the second Adam, Jesus. serving and loving God with all our hearts, we will live. According to Ezekiel 18, sin is not inherited but chosen. CS Lewis said regarding hell: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it …”

  • Scott Leonard says:

    Mitchell, You made some great statements. I love it! I wish I had it all figured out. I wish I knew exactly what the flesh is, and I wish I knew exactly what the inner man is, and I wish I knew exactly how the body, soul and spirit interact! What I do know is that many people I read and listen to are not dealing with the texts. They often do not let Paul say what he says.

    I do know that Paul equates the “flesh” with his body in a very striking way, and that most people I read are unwilling to admit it. I Do know that Paul says twice in four verses that is no longer he who sins, and yet reformed brothers don’t even want to touch it!

    Regarding the confession of sin, (another very good question), several things are worth noting. First, it is intriguing that there is not a single place in Scripture where Paul exhorts Christians to confess their sins! As I am sure you know, the word “confess” means “to say the same thing as,” and every time a Christian sins he painfully agrees with God that it is, in fact, sin, and he hates it! Because Christians are in Christ and Christ is in them, they are constantly aware of their sin and they are constantly agreeing with Christ about that sin, but they are also rejoicing in the fact that those sins were all punished on the cross and that the real source of their sin is now “no longer I, but sin that dwells in me!”

    Now, why did Paul say that he was the chief of sinners? It surely wasn’t to contradict all that he said about being in Christ and about it no longer being him that sins. First of all, he was the chief of sinners because he persecuted Christ and the church. Second, he had more truth given to him than just about anybody else, and yet he still probably sinned every day, and so he certainly felt the gravity of that sin and the responsibility for when he failed to walk in the Spirit and “put to death” the deeds of his body. Guys, we can let Paul say all that he says. We are still sinners in the sense that sin still occurs in our life. But we are not sinners in the sense that the true me is the source of sin anymore. Have you grasped the reason that Paul says “you are NOT in the flesh but in the spirit?” We cannot say that we understand these passages if we are not willing to honestly exegete all of what they say.

    Lastly, I am intrigued by your statement regarding how truth is revealed. I don’t believe in magic, but I do believe that prayer, study, meditation, a teachable spirit and, yes, being in the presence of godly, wise teachers is how we learn as we behold the glory of the Lord in his word. Regarding the critical passages on the man in Christ, I have memorized, studied, meditated, and sat under great teachers for about 40 years, including my time getting my masters degree at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I Have had particular interest in studying what the Scriptures say about the new creature in Christ during all of that time. I believe God has given me some light that has been confirmed by many other astute teachers and preachers through the years. Have you read what Lloyd-Jones says about the man in Christ in his lectures on Romans?

    Thanks for taking the time to engage me on these great truths!

  • Mitchell Hammonds says:

    I enjoy the theological engagement as well! Have a great holiday season my friend.

    Stan Fowler,
    We will have to simply disagree as to how Paul refers to himself. Suffice it to say that each one of us should mirror Paul in calling ourselves “chief of sinners”… I do it with a smile on my face (at times) knowing God is faithful to His promises.

  • Mitchell Hammonds says:

    “One is either in a relationship with God or not.”

    Wrong. Every single person has a relationship with God… it simply is a matter of whether God is near in wrath or mercy. Both are relational – it is the mediated relationship through Christ that makes God approachable not your ability to keep God appeased with keeping his Laws. The latter is a paganistic view of God. A worldly view of God.
    A repentant individual agrees with God about his condition and casts his fallen existence on the mercies of God found alone in Christ – not a false pretense of inherent goodness. The parables bring this out greatly – specifically the rich young ruler, the prodigal son.
    Sin, in my understanding, is primarily a condition that produces sinful acts of commission and omission.

  • […] professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary.  This article was reprinted from his blog, with […]

  • John Dunn says:

    No longer totally depraved “IN CHRIST”!!

    The reality of the “IN CHRIST” organic union means I am no longer sinner, but saint . . . raised up with Him, seated in the heavenly places!!

  • Scott Leonard says:

    And John, it is impossible to describe the magnitude if what you just wrote! The two little words, “in Christ,” completely transcend our understanding of reality and existence. Amazing how we can nonchalantly roll them off our tongues!

  • […] Not Totally Depraved.”  Rick is responding to a prior post by Tullian Tchividjian entitled, “Are Christians Totally Depraved?” where Tullian, in effect, answers yes.  Rick provides a helpful and balanced response, reminding […]

  • […] Tullian Tchividjian – This article on the Gospel Coalition website first raises the question.  To his credit, a careful reading shows that Pastor Tchividjian acknowledges that the answer has both “No” and “Yes” components.  But I believe his development of the “Yes” component basically negates the “No” sense of his answer and leads to trouble, as is well pointed out by… […]

  • […] Tullian Tchividian’s article about “Christian Total Depravity” […]

  • […] the context of this situation, Tullian Tchividjian has written a blog post addressing the first of the five points of Calvinism, total depravity, which defines the full […]

  • […] Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, wrote the article Are Christians Totally Depraved? on November […]

  • […] couple weeks ago I posted a blog asking the question “Are Christians totally depraved?” The point I wanted to make was simple: “Because Christian’s never leave off sinning, […]

  • J. Dean says:

    I think some of you here are missing the point. Nowhere in the blog am I seeing Pastor T suggest complacency or licentiousness for Christians. What I’m seeing is that our sanctification, like our justification, is rooted in Christ, and that we ought not act as if Jesus is there for us in the gospel but not in our obedience. As well, I also get the impression that we will never be perfect, and will never come to a point where we will no longer need grace. What’s so controversial about that?

  • […] or not the believer is still totally depraved.  The former’s original post can be found here, and the latter’s two posts here and here. Tchividjian’s most recent reply is […]

  • […] couple weeks ago I posted a blog asking the question “Are Christians totally depraved?” The point I wanted to make was simple: “Because Christian’s never leave off sinning, they can […]

  • […] Are Christians Totally Depraved? by Tullian Tchividjian […]

  • […] dialogue in the comments section of Tullian Tchividjian’s reply to my critique of his article on total depravity and Christians. Let me say at this point (even though I look forward to the day when such statements are not […]

  • […] and sanctification in the Christian life appears to have settled somewhat. Tullian wrote an article responding to the question “Are Christians Totally Depraved?” His answer, in short: Yes […]

  • XL-7 says:

    Well said Pastor Tullian! Y’know the one thing I love more than anything about Reformed Theology (I’ll be bold enough to say true Biblical Theology) is how quickly it exposes the pride of man which is a testament to our fallen nature. The notion that we are completely reliant on the grace and work of a sovereign God to perfect us is absolutely appalling and absolutely drives us nuts. Yet if we were perfect, and Jesus’s death did completely erase the elect’s sin nature, then why did Jesus teach us to pray ” . . . forgive us our trespasses (sins) as we forgive those who trespass (sin) against us . . . “? And if we were already perfected, what’s the point of Revelations? Why would God judge perfected people? The truth is, we are fallen. We are corrupt. I don’t shy away from using Total Depravity because the offensiveness of the terms is a good thing. It keeps us from getting a big head and it reinforces the whole point of the Bible: we are fallen people who desperately need a Savior and it is only by grace that we are saved.

  • Big Dale says:

    Blessed is the man in whom the lord will not impute his sin. Legal term refering to as reckoned as such. A christian is no less a sinner than he was before his conversion. He just has Christ status imputed or reckoned to him. He doesn’t become sin free he is treated as though he is sin free.

  • Scott Leonard says:

    Big Dale & Co., Two suggestions: Re-read Romans 6-8 several times, and ask yourself if it is possible to say what you just said above in light of Paul’s tedious arguments there to convince us that far more than justification happened through our union with Christ (Could be why he says, “…it is no longer I who sins, but sin that dwells in me,” and “…you are no longer in the flesh, but in the Spirit.” There’s about a dozen more where those came from.–Just sayin’).

    Second suggestion: Read Con Campbell’s new book, Paul and Union With Christ (500+ page tome featured on Desiring God a couple of months ago.) Your union with Christ is far more than something relegated to religious talk or “positional truth.” (Unless you don’t believe the Holy Spirit is actually “in you.”) “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”-John 14:20


  • Zachster says:

    Were we built this way? Were we made with this sinful nature? If so wherein is the liability if we were built to fail? What is the purpose of creating something that was made to fall only to save it in the end? Maybe similar to saying, I will make a motorcycle that can only go 5kph so I can show it that it can go 100kph, only through my help. should the motorcycle be blamed if it was built to only go 5kph to begin with?

  • Liberate says:

    […] couple weeks ago I posted a blog asking the question “Are Christians totally depraved?” The point I wanted to make was simple: “Because Christian’s never leave off sinning, they can […]

  • […] the context of this situation, Tullian Tchividjian has written a blog post addressing the first of the five points of Calvinism, total depravity, which defines the full […]

  • JVY says:

    The pious and wonderful Jonathan Edwards wrote (Edward’s Works volume 1, pages xlvi-xlviii) :My wickedness, as I am in myself, has long appeared to me perfectly ineffable, and swallowing up all thought and imagination; like an infinite deluge, or mountains over my head. I know not how to express better what my sins appear to me to be, than by heaping infinite upon infinite, and multiplying infinite by infinite. Very often, for these many years, these expressions are in my mind, and in my mouth, ‘Infinite upon infinite—Infinite upon infinite!’ When I look into my heart, and take a view of my wickedness, it looks like an abyss, infinitely deeper than hell. And it appears to me, that were it not for free grace, exalted and raised up to the infinite height of all the fulness and glory of the great Jehovah, and the arm of his power and grace stretched forth in all the majesty of his power, and in all the glory of his sovereignty, I should appear sunk down in my sins below hell itself; far beyond the sight of every thing, but the eye of sovereign grace, that can pierce even down to such a depth. And yet, it seems to me that my conviction of sin is exceedingly small and faint; it is enough to amaze me, that I have no more sense of my sin. I know certainly, that I have very little sense of my sinfulness. When I have had turns of weeping and crying for my sins, I thought I knew at the time, that my repentance was nothing to my sin.

    I have greatly longed of late for a broken heart, and to lie low before God; and, when I ask for humility, I cannot bear the thoughts of being no more humble than other Christians. It seems to me, that though their degree of humility may be suitable for them, yet it would be a vile self-exaltation in me, not to be the lowest in humility of all mankind. Others speak of their longing to be ‘humbled to the dust;’ that may be a proper expression for them, but I always think of myself, that I ought, and it is an expression that has long been natural for me to us in prayer, ‘to lie infinitely low before God.’ And it is affecting to think, how ignorant I was, when a young Christian, of the bottomless, infinite depths of wickedness, pride, hypocrisy, and deceit, left in my heart.

  • […] Christian leaders vigorously debated how to balance law and grace in the Christian’s life. Some argued that Christians should live their life solely by grace, while others advocated that both […]

  • […] Christian leaders vigorously debated how to balance law and grace in the Christian’s life. Some argued that Christians should live their life solely by grace, while others advocated that both […]

  • […] cristianos debatieron vigorosamente cómo equilibrar la ley y la gracia en la vida del cristiano. Algunos argumentaron que los cristianos deben vivir su vida únicamente por la gracia, mientras que otros […]

  • […] couple weeks ago I posted a blog asking the question “Are Christians totally depraved?” The point I wanted to make was simple: “Because Christian’s never leave off sinning, they can […]

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