The carnal mind is enmity against God.
Suppose your life behaviour is sometimes similar to the commandments of God but you have not lived this way intentionally to obey God. Is this obedience? No. You have not really kept God’s commandments.
God counts it all as sin: “The carnal1 mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then, they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7,8).
And there is nothing that we can do, say or think that can offset, undo or cancel out the guilt of any of our sins.
God does not have a set of “scales of justice”. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that God weighs people’s good deeds against their bad deeds, and then allows them into heaven (or some imagined other-worldly paradise) if their good deeds are greater.
But what we find in the Bible is this: God demands that we be perfect (see Genesis 17:1; Deuteronomy 18:13; 1 Kings 8:61; Matthew 5:20,48). And God solemnly threatens, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Deuteronomy 27:26; Galatians 3:10).
How could a holy God do otherwise?
It is not as though we can do some good but insufficient to save our souls, and so along comes Christ to add his merit “after all that we can do” to help us get all the way to heaven.
No. All we do is sin.2
Nothing we think, say or do can save us, or can contribute toward saving us. Nothing of our own is in any way meritorious—all our works are demerit (the opposite of merit)—because it is all sin. So, even if God did have “scales of justice”, we have no good deeds to be weighed!
And it is also most foolish to think that anyone who sins—anyone who is disobedient to God—will be allowed into the presence of God:
“For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee. The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity. Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing:3 the LORD will abhor the bloody and deceitful man” (Psalms 5:4-6).
When the Bible describes the coming judgment according to a person’s works, it refers either to sinners being declared guilty or to believers being revealed as truly the Lord’s people—as judged by their deeds and their heart, not by mere words and outward actions (see e.g. Matthew 25:31-46; John 5:29; Romans 2:1-16; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:11-15).
Christians are no longer in the state of emnity against God. We were God’s enemies too before we were converted, but that is no longer how we are now.
This is now true of us: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement” (Romans 5:8-11).
The Nature of the Spiritually Dead Soul
The spiritually dead soul always rejects the true God as he reveals himself to be in the Bible.
He may worship a so-called “god” or other spiritual entity; or he may be (on the surface at least) an atheist; or he may be a member of a cult that pretends to be Christianity but is not at all; or he may even be pretending to be Christian in a Bible-believing church.
“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God” (Romans 3:10,11).
The spiritually dead soul always rejects the truth that God’s moral law is the standard by which he ought to live.
He may sometimes pretend to live by God’s commandments, if the society in which he finds himself has been strongly influenced by the Bible—but he will have many ways of rejecting them in his heart.
Or he may be totally pleased to live in a nation that is set against God and working hard to reject every one of God’s commandments. And he may be delighted to be rushing headlong in sin without any concern for where he will end up.
His discomfort and resentment is especially in the deeply-probing exposition of the moral law which Christ made so clear in his Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew chapters 5-7).
God’s moral law is what makes him most angry.
The spiritually dead soul is always interested in sin.
Sin occupies all his waking and sleeping thoughts—indeed, he despises the whole idea of living a godly life, exclaiming that it is boring and annoying, only for “losers”, “hypocrites” and “bigots”!
By no means will he seek to do anything for the glory of God. “The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts” (Psalms 10:4).
Not that God is in some of his thoughts, but that all of this thoughts are had in opposition to God.
The spiritually dead soul always rejects the Gospel of Christ.
It is as the Lord Jesus Christ said: “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).
As Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden, so fallen human beings still flee from God—and they flee from “God manifest in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16; John 1:1-3,14). They do not turn to the true God or to the true Christ. “No man can come to me”, declared the Lord Jesus, “except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44).
Where a person claims to be seeking God without turning to Christ, that person is not really seeking the true God at all. He refuses to seek God on God’s terms: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Matthew 17:5).
The spiritually dead soul never delights in Christ—not as he is revealed to be in the Bible.
The sinner is never pleased with him in whom God is well pleased (Matthew 3:17). He would much rather follow a false Christ than the true Christ.
He may pretend that “Jesus” is (or, was) any one of several imaginary beings:
merely a good man
a legendary hero
a non-violent freedom-fighter
a mere prophet (one whose actual teachings, they say, have been corrupted or lost)
a man showing his “feminine side”
a master of occult mysteries
an “ascended master” who enables us to evolve ourselves to the next level by “channelling spiritual energies”
a superman or god-like man who exemplifies what we can become by our own “personal development” or “untapped potential” or “faith.”
The spiritually dead man will prefer any of these lies to the true Lord Jesus Christ of the Bible.
To possess a spiritually dead soul is to be totally depraved.5
We do not mean by this that each fallen human being outwardly manifests their own moral corruption to the fullest extent. We mean that every man’s depravity is “total” in that it has totally corrupted every inward part—every aspect—every faculty—of his soul. Therefore, not one part of his being—spiritual, moral, rational, physical—remains pristine, unaffected by the Fall.
It really is a kind of death: spiritual death (Ephesians 2:5), from which only God’s re-creating, regenerating, life-giving power can save us.
A spiritually dead man cannot give this new life to himself.
To deny man’s total depravity is to reject the total salvation provided by the Lord Jesus Christ.
All that Christ brings to spiritually dead souls in salvation answers to their real needs, for he gives spiritual life, and that even more abundantly than Adam had in the beginning. As Christ said of himself: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10b).
Christ also said: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). You must understand the past tense in the Lord’s words here.
The apostle Peter follows his Lord in teaching the same thing: “the gospel [is] preached…to them that are dead” (1 Peter 4:6)—he meant those spiritualy dead but physically living people who listen to preachers of the gospel.
This is why, also, Christ told Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God…Ye must be born again” (John 3:3,7).
A spiritually dead man cannot give this new birth to himself.
Salvation Is a Gift from God
The Word of God commands human beings to do things that their spiritually dead souls are incapable of. It requires a work of God’s grace in our souls in order for us to do or to possess these things. Here are a few examples:
God commands “all men everywhere” to repent of their sins—but it is God himself who must grant this “repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18; 17:30).
God invites “all the ends of the earth” to look to him for salvation; this great invitation is made to all to whom the Gospel is preached: that if they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ then they shall be saved—but salvation is by God’s grace alone and faith is the gift of God (Isaiah 45:22; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8).
The Lord Jesus Christ tells one and all what is mankind’s need above every other need: “Ye must be born again”—but this new spiritual life is not obtained through family bloodlines, nor through the totally depraved nature of man, nor though a man’s will or effort, but it is entirely “of God” (John 1:12,13; 3:7).
More examples from the Bible could be cited.
If you are saved, then you will sooner or later come to understand that you have contributed nothing toward your own salvation. If you are saved it is no thanks to you, yourself!
“But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you…For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:17,23). “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15).
Whenever a man, woman or child turns to the true Christ—whenever they hunger and thirst for righteousness—whenever they are pained in their consciences and recognise their real need for the Saviour—whenever they seek the Lord while he may be found—whenever they give sincere attention to the Holy Scriptures and to the true Gospel preached—whenever they trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and repent of their sins—all of this is entirely because God is visiting them in mercy and working these things in their souls.
All these are evidences of God’s saving grace. “Marks of grace”, as some of our spiritual ancestors (e.g. the Puritans) called them.
Such is man’s total depravity, that salvation must be is totally provided by God as an unearned and undeserved gift—or there is no salvation.
I should add here, to reassure anxious souls, that the conversion event is not always an emotionally intense and overwhelming experience.
For example, in the case of those who are converted at a very young age, or those who were raised in a Christian family, they may not have had opportunity to manifest their total depravity to a great extent.
Or, in some cases God may not cause his people to pass through a long time of mental anguish and mourning for themselves under the weight of their guilt, before their conversion.
On the other hand, for example, the experience of the Puritan John Bunyan, which he described in his autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, was clearly exceptionally overpowering.
And sometimes conviction of sin, etc. becomes more evident after conversion as the believer matures spiritually and appreciates more concerning their old nature and their ongoing struggle against sins.
To be continued.
- The apostle Paul sometimes uses the words translated “carnal” and “flesh” as a metaphor to describe fallen man’s unspiritual, spiritually dead state.↩
- See Chapter 2 at the section, The Spiritually Dead Soul.↩
- Lies; untruths.↩
- Christians whose faith is in accord with the Biblical truths rediscovered (or, re-emphasised) in the Reformation often use the shorthand term total depravity to refer to the extent of man’s fallen, spiritually dead state. This phrase is in contrast to the denial of this doctrine. This denial says that man’s depravity is not total—men, women and children are not evil but they have real goodness in their hearts, and that anyone can choose to become a Christian on their own “free will”.↩