You will remember that in our last entry we left off with the fact that man is required to keep God’s law perfectly and yet man is by nature prone to hate God and neighbor, thus revealing that man can not accomplish what God requires. Because of this deficiency in man — this proneness to hate God and neighbor — God’s disposition towards man is the disposition of a just Judge about to pass sentence on the guilty criminal.
At this point the Catechism pauses to query whose fault this wicked proneness, found in men, to hate God and neighbor is. Whose fault is it that man has this wicked sin nature? Is this sin nature that is prone to hate God and neighbor God’s fault?
Question 6. Did God then create man so wicked and perverse?
In fallen man there is always the tendency to want to blame something besides themselves. Fallen man will always try and play the victim in order to excuse, rationalize, or justify his behavior. Even in Adam’s fall we find this tendency to want to play the victim and blame someone else. Eve blamed the serpent. Adam blamed both God and Eve. This predilection to not shoulder responsibility for our behavior is found everywhere yet today. We blame our parents. We blame our teachers. We blame our environment. We seldom hold ourselves responsible for our behavior.
And so the Catechism asks, in light of our proneness to hate God and neighbor if it is God’s fault that man is as wicked and perverse as he is. Before we charge on from here, pause just a moment to realize that what the Catechism has taught here is that man, outside of Christ, is duly characterized as “wicked and perverse.” Every person you meet, outside of Christ, is wicked and perverse. Now, not all men will be wicked in perverse in the same way or to the same degree but all men outside of Christ are prone to hate God and neighbor and so are wicked and perverse.
The Catechism answers this question that has been posed of whether God created men so wicked and perverse,
By no means; but God created man good, (a) and after his own image, (b) in true righteousness and holiness, that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love him and live with him in eternal happiness to glorify and praise him. (c)
Only after God had completed His creation with the creation of man did he pronounce all that He had made as “very good (Gen. 1:31).” Man was the crown of God’s creation and the man that God created was not created wicked and perverse nor with a sin nature prone to hate God and neighbor. The fact that there was no proneness to hate God, as man was originally created, is seen in the fact that Adam had intimate fellowship with God prior to his expulsion from God’s temple garden sanctuary due to his sin. The fact that there was no proneness to hate neighbor, as man was originally created, is seen in Adam’s delight in the presence of Eve.
Indeed, Adam was the very opposite of wicked and perverse upon creation. Adam was so excellent that he was the very image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), and revealed that image when, like God, he exercised dominion. Adam’s presence in the garden, having dominion by tending and keeping the garden put under his charge, was a small scale model of God having dominion over the universe through His tending and keeping of the cosmos.
However, the image of God that God created man as, was found not only in man’s dominion activity, but it is also found in the reality God created man as truly righteous (legally innocent of any condemnation resulting from sin) and holy (set apart as unto God). Man was created not wicked and perverse but as legally innocent before God (in righteousness) and as set apart for God’s service (in Holiness) (Ephesians 4:24).
This man who was the image of God was not made to hate God but to know and love Him (Colossians 3:9-10).
So, this begs the obvious question, “If God did not create man so wicked and perverse, prone to hate God and neighbor, where does this sin nature of man come from?” or as the Catechism puts it,
Question 7. Whence then proceeds this depravity of human nature?
First of all a word on “nature.” When Christianity speaks on man having a nature that is depraved it is saying that the substance or essence of man in his spiritual dimension is to be inclined towards evil. Because of the nature of birds they fly. Because of the nature of fish they swim. Because of the nature of dogs they bark. Because of the nature of man, they sin.
So, what is being emphasized here is that man has a depraved human nature. This belief is contrary to most people you bump into. I challenge you Caleb, to do a informal survey by asking your non Christian friends, “Do you think that you’re basically a good person,” and I am willing to bet that they would overwhelmingly say “yes.”
Indeed in some quarters it is believed that man does not have a nature at all. Man has no inclination towards anything and the individual man himself creates and recreates whenever he desires his own temporary nature. As a philosophy this is called “existentialism.” It is quite popular today though most people who are functional existentialists have no idea what the word means.
Back to the matter at hand. If God is not responsible for man’s depraved nature then who is responsible? The Catechism answers that question,
Answer: From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise; (a) hence our nature is become so corrupt, that we are all conceived and born in sin. (b)
Man’s depraved nature is the consequence of man’s fall.
Note what is being presented here is the organic unity of the human race. All of mankind was contained in Adam and so when Adam sinned Adam despoiled his nature and that despoiled nature became the definitive identifying trait for all humans who would follow Adam (Romans 5:12). All men are conceived and born in sin (Psalm 51:5) and all men commit sin because of that sinful nature. Because this is true, any solution we must look for, must be a solution that addresses not merely our individual acts of sin but must provide something of an answer for the sin nature out of which our sinful acts make themselves known.
This idea that mankind is organically one is an important truth grasp that we will return to in later posts. As Americans we tend to think of people as individuals only without relation to other people. There is some truth in that, however there is also truth in the idea that mankind must be considered in its organic unity one with another. The Gospel makes no sense without its teaching on both original sin (that is the teaching we find here) and its teaching on Adam being man’s Federal Head (a teaching that we will find elsewhere in the Catechism and a teaching that reinforces the idea of man as considered in his organic unity from another angle).
The important matter to note here is that man cannot blame God for his depravity and is responsible for his own sin nature. Now someone might object, “Its not fair that I have a sin nature just because Adam blew it.” However, to object this way is only to 1.) indict God for His failure in creating a good enough representative of mankind, and 2.) To wail about the nature of reality as God has created it. Because of the organic unity of mankind, ma has a sin nature regardless of whether or not he thinks it fair.
The catechism then turns to the implication of this human depravity.
Question 8. Are we then so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness?
Answer: Indeed we are; (a) except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God. (b)
This answer is known as the doctrine of total depravity. Allow me to explain.
The Bible teaches that man’s nature is fallen and so depraved. Let’s consider just a few of the scriptures that clearly teach that truth,
Gen.8:21 The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth;
Romans 8:7 — The carnal mind is at warfare with God, for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so…
Gen.6:5 And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Job 14:4 Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one. Job 15:14 What is man, that he should be clean? and he which is born of a woman, that he should be righteous? Job 15:16 How much more abominable and filthy is man, which drinketh iniquity like water?
Job 15:35 They conceive mischief, and bring forth vanity, and their belly prepareth deceit.
Isa.53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Spiritually man is dead in his sins and trespasses. All man outside of Christ can do is sin all the time. Total depravity teaches that every inclination of a man’s heart is bent away from pleasing God. Total depravity teaches that because of man’s fall all man can do is increase God’s hostility and animosity towards him. Conversely total depravity does not teach that all men are equally excellent in the expression of their depravity. Nor does it teach that all depravity among men will express itself the same way. Nor does it teach that when compared among themselves men cannot do relative good. The depravity of a man who funds a Children’s burn hospital is of a nobler quality then the depravity of a man who molests children. However, the actions of neither men, if outside of Christ, make no difference upon God one whit in terms of their standing before God. Both are condemned as sinners and both have the anger of God set against them. So a totally depraved person might do what we call “civil good” but that “civil good” avails nothing in terms of salvation.
This belief in the Scripture’s teaching on man’s total depravity sets off Reformed Christians as Biblical vs. other denominational expressions of Christianity. Because we believe that man’s total depravity is total we do not believe that man cooperates with God in any way in his being regenerated (born again). This sets us off from Lutherans, Wesleyans, Many Baptists, Church of Christ, Pentecostals, etc. if only because each of these believes, in one form or another, that God’s regenerating power can be resisted and as such they all teach, to one degree or another, that man is not totally depraved. In point of fact, anyone who accepts the premise that Jesus died for all individual men who have ever lived and who ever will live must deny total depravity.
Anyone who honestly believes in total depravity, as the Scripture defines it above, will be paedo-Reformed. All deviations from the Reformed faith are deviations at some point from the doctrine of total depravity. As such, belief in it and a right understanding of it is paramount because a great deal necessarily follows from the embrace of this truth. As such you won’t mind too terribly much if I drone on a bit.
In order to make fine distinctions let us continue to press on. The belief in total depravity is not the same thing as believing in Utter depravity. Utter depravity teaches that unbelieving man never gets anything right. Total depravity teaches that pagan man gets things right sometimes but when he does get things right in is in spite of his hatred toward God. Utter depravity teaches that we are all as wicked as we possibly could be. Total depravity teaches that there is always room for improvement in how depraved man can show himself. As Reformed Christians because we do not believe in Utter depravity we do believe, for example, that a pagan employer could treat his pagan employees in a manner that wasn’t abusive. The thing to note about total depravity is that Reformed Christians, following passages like Ephesians 4:17-19,
17 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, [a] excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality [b]for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.
believe that men outside of Christ are corrupt at their core and that in all their thinking, acting, willing, and emoting, there is a bent towards sin. This is why they must be born again in order to no longer hate God and neighbor. Because man is totally depraved he is totally unable, apart from the regenerating work of the Spirit of God to do anything that pleases God.
The catechism, allows in a beam of hope when it introduces the idea of being regenerated by the Spirit of God. We are dead in our trespasses and sin, totally depraved and shot through with corruption. However, though our state is sad it is not hopeless. There is the hope that we might be regenerated by the Spirit of God. To be regenerated (born again) is to be given spiritual life so that we have a new nature which alters and counteracts our inclination to hate God and our neighbor. This regeneration is completely gracious (it is a reality that we are given that we do not deserve) and comes to us apart from our own will and decision (John 1:13, 3:3, 5). Being regenerated is something that must happen to us and is not something we can do to or for ourselves and is not something we can successfully resist or decline. Without being born again we cannot be part of God’s battalions nor enjoy His blessings.
Regeneration is a bringing to life and occurs when the Spirit of God is poured out on those who are His. It is a reality that gives us new inclinations and desires. This interior renewal happens within us so to speak and when coupled with what happens outside of us in the reality of imputation, (more on that later) and what will happen in the consummation (more on that later also) the consequence is salvation. A salvation for which we were set apart from eternity past.
So, in summary, God is not responsible for man’s sinful nature. In point of fact God created man as His image, which is to say having dominion, and in being righteous and holy. Because of the organic unity of mankind Adam’s fall in the garden means that all men now have a sin nature. This sin nature is so thorough that unless we are born again we are unable to do any good and are inclined to all wickedness.