HA note: The following is a transcript of Voddie Baucham’s sermon “The Doctrine of Total Depravity.” Baucham delivered this sermon on the Calvinist ideology of total depravity (and its implications for mental health and child training) on May 2, 2010 to Grace Family Baptist Church. Baucham is the Pastor of Preaching at Grace Family Baptist Church, which is the host of Baucham’s Voddie Baucham Ministries and a member of the Southern Baptist Convention. This transcript was created by HA Community Coordinator R.L. Stollar.
Click here to read other transcripts by and posts about Voddie Baucham.
As we come to Romans, Chapter 3, Verses 9-18, we come to a point of Paul’s argument that basically is a culmination of his case against all mankind and his case against anyone or anything that would boast in being worthy of God’s favor or standing and being declared righteous before God. We have already seen, beginning in Chapter 3 [sic], and Verse 18, that he builds his case carefully in that chapter against the Gentile world. And beginning in Chapter 2, he builds his case carefully against the Jewish world. And we come to Chapter 3 and we are beginning to reach this crescendo. But as we reach this crescendo in Chapter 3, it’s important to understand that we are now at a moment of great tension. That tension, however, is not relieved until next week. But remember, the letter was meant to be read at a single sitting. But we come to the place of being laid low today. We come to the place of recognizing what it is that we actually deserve from God and what it is that we’ve been saved from.
If we don’t get the doctrine of total depravity, total inability, if we don’t get the doctrine of man’s sin — by the way, not the doctrine of original sin; we’ll get to that later on in Chapter 5, when we talk about Adam and original sin — now we’re talking about total depravity and what that means. Or radical depravity, as it is sometimes referred to.
Here are just a few implications of this doctrine, why it’s important that we understand this doctrine rightly:
One implication, for example, is the way we discipline our children, or discipline our children. If you disciple a child, or discipline a child, and don’t believe in the doctrine of total depravity, it will change the way you approach the discipline of that child.
Secondly, the establishment of civil government. There is a difference between the establishment of government among people who believe that man is basically good and the establishment of people who believe that man is a sinful creature and we must keep an eye on him through checks and balances.
Determining guilt and/or punishment of criminals. If you don’t believe in total depravity, it will change the way you view guilt or innocence. It will change the way you view punishment for those who have sinned. Was it this person’s sin or the way they were raised?
This doctrine also has a great deal to do with the way we treat so-called “mental illness.” There’s a great debate in the land as to what constitutes mental illness and when we’re actually dealing with sin. Your understanding of this doctrine and the doctrine of total depravity can be the difference between believing a person in a particular instance — not every instance, but believing a person in a particular instance — perhaps just needs a pill to feel better or should feel horrible about what’s going on and needs to come to repentance.
Again, every time we talk about this I make the same disclaimer because of the accusations that are always hurled. We do not teach nor do we believe that there are no persons in this world who have actual, organic problems that need to be dealt with medically. That’s not our argument. That’s not what we’re saying. But we do have a culture that, because of the denial of this doctrine and because of a failure to acknowledge the depravity of man, automatically and in every instance goes straight to, “Let’s make a person feel because nobody ought to feel bad.”
This doctrine affects the way we share the Gospel. There’s a difference between the way you share the Gospel with a person that you believe is kinda bad and one that you believe is radically depraved.
This doctrine also affects the way that we hear and receive the Gospel. If I feel like I’m a pretty good person, I will never comprehend the depths of my own sin and the depths of my need of Jesus Christ. If I feel that I’m a pretty good person, I will never, ever come the place where I magnify Christ rightly and worship and adore him in the way that he is to be worshipped and adored — because I do not comprehend the vast magnitude of difference between him and me.
It is only when I understand sin rightly, that I magnify and worship Christ appropriately. So this is bad news today. It’s very bad news today. But without the bad news, you don’t understand the goodness of the good news. Amen?
With that in mind, let’s look, beginning in Verse 9 of Romans, Chapter 3. It begins with his rhetorical questions again:
“What then, are we Jews any better off? Not at all. For we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are under sin.”
By the way, when did he already charged that? He already charged that in Chapter 1, Verse 18 through this point.
“As it is written, 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. Their throat is an open grave. They use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood and their paths are ruin and the misery and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
That’s the picture of man in his sin. That’s the picture that God has painted.
Several things that we need to understand. First, I want you to grasp this doctrine. Listen to this, from Loraine Boettner, in his classic work, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination:
“This doctrine of total inability, which declares that men are dead in sin, does not mean that all men are equally bad, nor that any man is as bad as he could be, nor that anyone is entirely destitute of virtue, nor that human nature is evil in itself, nor that man’s spirit is inactive, and much less does it mean that the body is dead. What it does mean is that, since the Fall, man rests under the curse of sin, that he is actuated by wrong principles, and that he is wholly unable to love God or to do anything meriting salvation. His corruption is extensive but not necessarily intensive. It is in this sense that man, since the Fall, is utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, wholly inclined to all evil. He possesses a fixed bias of the will against God and instinctively and willingly turns to evil. He is an alien by birth and a sinner by choice. The inability under which he labors is not an inability to exercise volition but an inability to be willing to exercise holy volitions. And it is this phase of it which led Luther to declare that, ‘Free will is an empty term, whose reality is lost. And a lost liberty, according to my grammar, is no liberty at all.’”
By the way, this is not a new idea that Paul comes up with. He quotes from several places. Most of these quotes come from the Psalms. For example, listen to Psalm 14, 1-3:
“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt. They do abominable deeds. There is none who does good” –
Does that sound familiar?
“The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside. Together they have become corrupt. There is none who does good, not even one.”
That’s what’s being quoted in Romans, Chapter 3. Listen to Psalm 53, 1-3:
“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity. There is none who does good. God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there is any who understands, who seek after God. They have all fallen away. Together they have become corrupt. There is none who does good, not even one.”
That’s what Paul’s quoting here. Not a new concept. Not a new doctrine. This is something that has been since the Fall. But what do we understand from the way that Paul lays out this argument?
One thing we understand is this: The universal nature of sin. Verses 9-12. Look at Verse 9:
“What, then, are Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are under sin.”
By the way, when he says “Jews and Greeks,” he means “the whole world.” His argument in Chapter 1, Verse 18 through the end of the chapter, is against the Greek world — or the non-Jewish world. His argument in Chapter 2 is against the Jewish world. In other words, whether you’re inside the Jewish world or outside the Jewish world, Paul has stated clearly up to this point that you are not righteous before God. You are a sinner.
“As it is written, 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.”
There is a Greek phase that is used there five times between verses 10 and 12. And in the English it comes across as “No one,” or “Not even one.” Over and over and over again he makes this statement in order to be clear: “I’ve made an argument, now I’m going to summarize that argument, and as I summarize my argument I want you to understand that every human being on the face of earth — from Adam to the end of time — finds himself in the same condition, and that condition is completely and utterly ruined before a holy God.”
There is no one who is righteous. There is no one who understands. There is no one who seeks after God. No one. And this is difficult for us because deep down inside of us, here’s what we want to believe: We want to believe that God looks at the little old lady down the street who doesn’t know Christ and somehow grades on the curve. Amen? Somehow we want to hold on to that.
Somehow we want to believe that because there are men who have been so much more evil outwardly than other men, that somehow God has to grade on the curve. Somehow there has to be some people who are good, some people who decent. Folks, no one is as bad as they could but everyone, everyone is condemned and no one is righteous.
But there’s one thing to say — that sin is universal, that sin touches all of us. But Paul goes beyond that point. His point is not just that sin touches all of us. But his point is also that sin touches every aspect of us. If you remember, we talked about the Pelagian heresy last week. The Pelagian heresy is not that, you know, that there’s no Fall and nothing wrong with man at all. The Pelagian heresy doesn’t just go that far and state it outright. People today who hold to that idea aren’t saying that there is no effect of sin, no effect of the Fall. But what they are arguing is — though man is effected by the Fall, there are aspects of man’s character, man’s nature, man’s soul, man’s spirit, that somehow are somehow still able to respond to God. So they believe in partial depravity. Not total or radical depravity. Man is only partially depraved. And there is something in man that somehow is able to cooperate with God in this synergistic process of salvation.
Well, two things: First of all, here’s the problem with that idea. It’s going to be addressed particularly but even when speaking of sin as being universal, notice what Paul says: “No one is righteous.” So again, there’s nobody who’s righteous at all who can stand before God. “No one understands.” So there’s no one who can reason themselves to God if there’s no one who understands. “No one seeks for God.” Again, remember the Pelagian argument: “There is part of us, there is something in us, that is still untainted enough to seek after God.” Really? That sounds good in theory but Paul just said there’s no one who does that.
“No one does good, not even one.” So again, Pelagianism has a problem. Because what are we arguing in Pelagianism or Semi-Pelagianism? That somehow there is part of man that is able — number one, to do some good, ‘cuz you have to do some good in order to come to God; number two, seeks after God; number three, understands enough to—; number four, be declared righteous. In other words, the Pelagian heresy denies every principle that the Apostle just put forth in explaining the nature of sin. It’s universal and it’s complete.
How do we see it? First, look at the sin that we speak. Look, beginning in Verse 13:
“Their throat is an open grave. They use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
I want you to notice what is spoken of here. The organs. Throat. Tongue. Lips. Mouth. In other words, complete corruption. Total corruption. Everything that comes out of your mouth is utterly corrupt. Throat. Tongues. Lips. Mouth.
Is this something new, by the way? Turn with me, if you will, to the right. Look at the Book of James. James, Chapter 3, beginning in Verse 1:
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers. For you know we who teach will be judged with greater strictness for we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also. Though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member yet it boasts of great things. How great a force is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.”
Jesus said it is not what goes into a man that defiles him but what comes out. We read in Ephesians, Chapter 4, that we are to let no corrupting talk come out of our mouths, but instead, that which is fit for building up. Why is there such an emphasis? Here’s why there’s such an emphasis: because one of the evidences of man’s fallen nature is what comes out of man’s mouth. One of the evidences of the fact that we do not belong to God, that we are not right with God, and that the lost, hurting, and dying world desperately needs to be saved, is what is spoken.
Yes, sin is universal. But what we see of it is first, what comes out of the mouth. But not just what we say, but also look at how we live among one another. Look at the next verse, Verse 15:
“Their feet are swift to shed blood, and their paths are ruin and misery and the way of peace they have not known.”
This is the way they walk. And when he says, “The way of peace they have not know,” he’s not saying that these individuals have no inner peace. What he’s saying is that fallen man has not known, cannot know, peace with one another. Because fallen man has fallen desires and his feet are swift to shed blood. Why? Because he wants what he wants and everyone else is an obstacle to his own satisfaction.
So fallen man apart from God is swift to shed blood. Fallen man apart from God reeks havoc on his fellow man. Fallen man apart from God wars with his fellow man. Interestingly enough, if you look at Psalm 1, Verse 1 and 2, and compare it to this text, you see that there’s perhaps another Psalm that informed what Paul is saying here. Psalm 1, Verse 1 and 2:
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, not stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night.”
Walk. Stand. Sit. Blessed is the man who does not walk, does not stand, does not sit, in these places. And here, in Romans, Chapter 3, we see: their feet are swift to shed blood, they’re walking and their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. This is a man who’s walking on his way. And as he walks on his way, the only thing he leaves in his wake is destruction. That is the state of fallen man. That is the state of every fallen man. It is the state of every culture because of fallen men.
It is your state and my state apart from the person and work of Jesus Christ. And we must understand this. If we don’t, we cannot comprehend his greatness and his majesty.
There’s a final piece — the sin we can’t see. Verse 18:
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
So now we have it: all men are shut up in sin. Every man who has ever lived in every place around the globe. Not only that, but we see the evidence of it as man opens his mouth and has opened his mouth throughout the course of history, we’ve seen evidence of it in what man speaks. As man walks forth along his way, we’ve seen evidence of it in what he pursues and what he leaves in his wake. And by the way, there is no hope for this man in and of himself. Because there is no fear of God before his eyes.
So here’s the picture: Lost man is walking under a curse. And as lost man walks under a curse, he opens his mouth and spews forth things that are in keeping with the curse under which he lives. His feet take him to places and bring about destruction that is in direct relation to the curse under which he lives. And as man goes forth and brings agony on himself and fellow man, he knows that something is wrong. But because there is no fear of God before his eyes, he doesn’t know what it is and he doesn’t know what to do about it. He’s lost.
This is what it means to be lost. You can’t educate a man away from this. You can’t argue a man out of this. You can’t discipline a man into this. You can’t coax him, you can’t — there is nothing that you or I can do about this because the blinders on his eyes are there supernaturally and must be removed supernaturally. Otherwise there will never, ever be a fear of God before his eyes.
But here’s what we often do: we find man in this condition and we try to compromise with this man. We find a man in this condition and we try to clean him up on the outside. We find a man in this condition and we begin to work with him and we say, “Don’t talk like that, talk like this.” And if you get a man who is in this condition to talk differently because of behavioral modification, what you have is a man who inwardly is still corrupt but outwardly has learned to use his tongue, his throat, his lips, and his mouth in order to get what he wants by being deceptive about it. If you can somehow guide his feet so that he is no longer as quick to shed blood, if perhaps you can incarcerate him so that he longer has the opportunity to shed blood, what have you really done? You have merely put a man in a position where what he is on the outside — what he is on the inside cannot be expressed on the outside.
I’ve told you before about my opportunity to preach in Angola, the largest maximum security prison in the world — and that eery moment where I had that opportunity that few human beings ever do and none should ever want, to stand face to face and eye to eye with a serial killer there on death row. Twenty three hours a day he is in this cell by himself. Twenty three hours a day. One hour a day he gets to go outside in a caged enclosure so that he can walk around. No more than you’d have for a doggy run. And after that one hour he goes back to the remainder of his twenty three hours a day. I stood there, face to face and eye to eye. Had a conversation. Knew the history of these feet that were quick to shed blood. Heard the words that came forth from his throat, his tongue, his lips, and his mouth. And have never been more disturbed by another human being in my life. And I realized: You can cage evil but there’s nothing you or I can do to eradicate it. There was no fear of God before his eyes. Radically depraved.
But here’s the news flash: Apart from Christ, neither you nor I would be any better off. Why? “Well, he doesn’t seek after God!” Yeah, I didn’t either. “Clearly he doesn’t understand.” Yeah, I didn’t either. “Clearly he doesn’t do good.” Yeah, I didn’t either. “Clearly he’s not righteous.” Yeah, I wasn’t either. “Clearly his feet are swift to shed blood.” Yeah, mine were as well. Or do you not remember the teachings of Christ on the Sermon of the Mount? —
“You’ve heard it said that you shall not murder. But I say to you, if you hate your brother, you’re guilty enough to face the fires of hell yourself.”
But for the grace of God, there go you. There go I. But for the grace of God, this is who we were apart from Christ. And unless and until we grasp this, we will never, ever, ever properly understand or appreciate our debt to Christ. Unless and until we understand this, we will never grasp, and we will never understand, how worthy he is of our worship. But your problem and my problem is this: we believe this about everyone else but not about us. We believe this about the serial killer but we don’t believe it about me. We look back on our lives as we were before Christ and if the truth were told, we actually believe that in us there was some inkling of something that Christ must have seen and must have appreciated and must have made us catch his eye. But instead, we ought to say with the Apostles, “I was chief among sinners.”
But we do not. We do not. If we don’t understand this — I’ll say it again — if we don’t understand our children and their greatest need, and we look at these behaviors of our children, and yes, we want to correct those behaviors but we do not understand that the reason our children — these small little cherubs — these so-called “innocent ones” — the reason that they do what they do is because they are every bit of Romans, Chapter 3, Verses 9-18. They come into the world like this.
One of the reasons that God makes human babies small is so they won’t kill their parents in their sleep. They’re evil.
Yes, this is true of children: “None is righteous; no, not one. None understands. No one seeks God. No one does good.” Yes, that little, precious one — you better believe it. If you don’t, you miss the big picture and you don’t realize your desperate need to get the gospel to your child again and again and again and again.
Here’s the other thing you need to understand: It takes your whole life to wash this off. Amen, somebody? The sanctification process — again, we are declared righteous before God. There is that legal declaration — and praise God for that legal declaration.
But here’s what that legal declaration doesn’t mean: You are declared righteous and from this day on you will forget the things you used to know, your feet will no longer those well-worn paths to shed blood, your tongue will no longer remember how to shape those words that destroy. No, you and I know better than that. And every once in a while we’re reminded that we’re saved but we remember some stuff. And it causes us to remember once again our great need and dependence every moment of every day on the saving and sanctifying work of Jesus Christ, of our great need — week in and week out — to have the Gospel preached to us, of our great need to actively refuse to be conformed to this world, and to be actively transformed by the ongoing renewing of our minds.
Here’s the other thing: I pray that this truth causes us to realize the great need of our family and our friends and our neighbors. What they need is the Gospel. You know, one of the reason we don’t preach the Gospel to people around us — aside from just outright fear and trepidation — one of the reasons we don’t is ‘cuz we don’t believe they need it. We’re not desperate over the souls of our lost loved ones ‘cuz we don’t believe this paragraph. We look at our lost loved ones and all we see is the inconvenience they bring when they come over to our house with their “stuff.” And I don’t mean their suitcases. Amen? That’s all we see. And as a result of seeing just that, here’s what we pray: “Lord, when they come, will you please help them to just not be as horrible as they were last time?” Instead of praying, “God, this is who they are. They’re not righteous. They don’t seek after you. They don’t understand. They do not do good and nor did I. They haven’t known the way of peace. Their feet are swift to shed blood. There is no fear of God before their eyes. And they need the Gospel. Grant me wisdom to share what they need. And will you continue to break my heart so that I share it again and again and again? And instead of praying that they don’t inconvenience me so much, help me to pray that they will not offend you with their sin. ‘Cuz the fact of the matter is, God, I am much more concerned about my lost friends, neighbors, and relatives inconveniencing me than I am jealous for the glory of your name.”
That’s why we don’t share the Gospel. ‘Cuz we don’t believe this. That’s why we’re not on our faces before God, weeping over people who have never heard God’s truth. Weeping over places where there are no churches. ‘Cuz we don’t believe this. But we believe that somehow there are pockets of people in the world who are ignorant but not evil. Somehow there are evil people all over the place but somehow, there are people in the world who haven’t had an opportunity to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ and those people aren’t evil. They’re just ignorant. That’s why we sit down and we ask questions like, “Well, what about those people? Surely, surely God wouldn’t condemn those people.”
Do we need to go back to Romans, Chapter 1? They are without excuse.
They, too, are not righteous. They, too, do not seek after God. They, too, do not understand. And they, too, are absolutely no good. That’s why we must preach to them.
Folks, this is why the Gospel is good news. ‘Cuz the fact of the matter is, neither you nor I would have seen fit to go and redeem this. And yet God, being great in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, he did just that. While we were yet sinners, he did just that. Christ did not die for those who had a little spark and a little inking, that did something with it that made it worthwhile for him. Christ died for the ungodly. And it is because of his finished work and his shed blood that we are able to be saved.
We get that? We get the greatness of the Gospel. We get that? We get the majesty of our Savior. We get that? And we get some of these proclamations that we make, week in and week out.
Do you view your sin this way? ‘Cuz only when you do will you view Christ rightly.