Rev. Kleyn is pastor of Covenant of Grace Protestant Reformed Church in Spokane, Washington. Previous article in this series: April 1, 2009, p. 298.
Lord’s Day 3
Question 6. Did God then create man so wicked and perverse?
Answer. By no means; but God created man good, and after His own image, 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.
Question 7. Whence then proceeds this depravity of human nature?
Answer. From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise; hence our nature is become so corrupt, that we are all conceived and born in sin.
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, except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.
Following the first two Lord’s Days of the catechism, Lord’s Day Three digs deeper into our misery. The first Lord’s Day shows us that, if we are to enjoy the comfort of belonging to Jesus our Savior, we must first know our misery. The second Lord’s Day begins a diagnosis of man’s misery with a personal question, “How do you know your sin?” and it shows us, from the law of God, that we are sinners. Now Lord’s Day Three shows us how bad our sins and sinfulness are by teaching us the doctrine of Total Depravity. It does not leave us with any wiggle room to blame God, or to blame our first parents, or anyone else, but shows us that, because we are sinful in our nature, we ourselves are guilty before God. But, however negative this may seem, the purpose is positive, namely, to lead us into understanding the riches of God’s grace.
How Bad Is Our Depravity?
Notice, our depravity is not couched in nice terms in the catechism. Far from flattering or making people feel good, the Catechism tells us that we are “prone by nature to hate God and the neighbor,” and we are described as “so wicked and perverse,” and “so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good and inclined to all wickedness.” Our depravity is not simply a flaw, an evil streak in something that is otherwise good. Human sinfulness is not just a sickness, partially cured by common grace. But our depravity is absolute, it is complete, it is total. It is impossible for man, apart from saving grace, to do any good in the eyes of God. Unless a work is done out of faith, and in love for God, it is sin.
And this is the Bible’s teaching from the very beginning. In Genesis 6:5-6, before the flood, 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.” After the flood, when there were only eight righteous souls living, God repeated this evaluation in Genesis 8:21, “for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” The prophet Isaiah says, Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way.” Romans 3:23 teaches that “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
Is God to Blame?
Today philosophers, and many others, ask the question, Where did evil come from? Although there are many different answers given, this is the wrong question. It really doesn’t matter where evil came from, so long as we confess with Scripture that God is not the origin of evil, and yet remains sovereign over all evil men and deeds. The Catechism asks the right question, Who is at fault for man’s sinfulness? Is man to blame, or should we blame God? Did God create us this way, or did we bring this on ourselves?
In Genesis 1 we learn that God created man, and in verse 31, “God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” This includes man, and the goodness extended to man’s entire character and person. It was not merely external. There was no manufacturer’s defect that with time would come to light. And, even though man was made “able not to sin,” but with a will that could choose to sin, this was no flaw. This was a part of the glory of the first creation. They were free to choose to love and serve God.
Man’s original perfection is described as “the image of God.” This means that man was made different from all the other creatures, but not merely in this sense, that he could think analytically and walk upright on two legs. Rather, God created man to represent Him in the earth and to know and live in communion with Him. Man represented something of the character of God in true righteousness and holiness. This was the image of God, and Adam’s original perfection. This is how God made Adam, so God is not to blame for the wickedness of man.
Man Is to Blame
The blame for sin in the human race rests entirely on man. It is true, Satan is to blame for the origin of sin in the angel world, and Satan did instigate man’s fall into sin, but Adam himself chose to sin and brought death and depravity on the entire human race.
This whole event is recorded for us very plainly in Genesis 3. Though God had very clearly said to Adam and Eve that they were not to eat of the tree in the midst of the garden, they ate anyway, and the consequences of which God had forewarned them came immediately. Adam and Eve lost their innocence, and immediately, as their behavior shows when God found them, they became self-centered and unwilling to accept the responsibility for their sin. They shifted the blame right back on God. And today man wants to do the same thing. He does not want to take responsibility for his misery, and he wants to find some other cause for evil in this world, and for sin in his life, rather than to recognize his own responsibility.
The root of our depravity is found in the sin of Adam and Eve. Their corrupt nature is passed on to all their children, so that all are conceived and born with a sinful nature that is opposed to God. It is like a hereditary disease that infects the entire nature, even before birth, in the mother’s womb. Man’s sinfulness is not a result of a bad environment or poor examples in his life, but is a part of his nature. It is who he is before he is born. The Canons of Dordt put it this way (Head III/IV, Art. 2):
Man after the fall begat children in his own likeness. A corrupt stock produced a corrupt offspring. Hence all the posterity of Adam, Christ only excepted, have derived corruption from their original parent, not by imitation, as the Pelagians of old asserted, but by the propagation of a vicious nature.
I am to Blame!
A part of our being born with this sinful nature is accepting our personal responsibility for the sin of Adam and Eve. In Romans 5:12, talking about Adam’s sin in the beginning, the inspired apostle says, “all have sinned.” He means we all sinned in Adam’s sin and share in the guilt of it before God. God did not view Adam as an individual but as the head and representative of the entire human race, and in Adam God saw the whole human race rising up in rebellion against Him. And though we may want to react against this, we must receive it by faith, the same faith by which we are included in Christ, not because of what we have done, but because of what He has done as our head. My depravity is in Adam. My exalted position is in Christ. I cannot have the one without the other.
The conclusion is that we are all and each to blame for the misery in which we find ourselves. This is not a time to point fingers, me at you, you at me, or us at Adam and Eve. Each of us is responsible before God for his own sinful nature and deeds.
In Psalm 51, David takes responsibility for his sin and sinful nature before God. The context is his sins of adultery and murder. In the Psalm he makes one of the greatest confessions of sin in the Bible. He does not blame the circumstance, the pressures of his job, the woman who enticed him, or his other wives not meeting his needs. Instead, in verse 5, he confesses the sinfulness of his nature, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” He’s not saying, “I couldn’t help it, I was born a sinner” but rather is confessing, “I did not become a sinner, a murderer and adulterer, when I committed these acts, but this is who I am from my birth.” This is the reality of our depravity, and we must feel the burden of it before God.
This is important doctrine, particularly for personal salvation. Question 8 says, “Are we then so corrupt …?” and the answer is an emphatic “YES, INDEED WE ARE!” The term used in the Bible to describe this depravity is the word “dead.”
Today this is widely denied. People want to tell you, in Christian literature too, that “You can do it! You can help yourself!” Most people view our fall into sin as comparable to a fall off a two-story building. You probably end up with some injuries, maybe even a broken back or some other life-threatening injury, but you are not dead. You are still conscious. You are able to decide on a course of action to follow. You can call out for help.
But the biblical truth is that we are “dead in trespasses and sins.” It’s as though we fell from one of the tallest buildings in the world onto hard pavement. We are dead. There is no life in us to call for help or to accept help. Man would leave us for dead. That’s the way the Bible describes our fallen condition. We cannot call out to God for help. We cannot cooperate with God in the recovery by lifting a leg. We are “unable to do any good and inclined to all evil.”
And that is important doctrine, because it leads us to the only way of deliverance and to the graciousness of God’s gift of salvation. The only deliverance is that we are “regenerated by the Spirit of God.” And that is a miracle and a gift of God. God raises us from the dead. God makes us to live. God restores what man took away. It is all of grace, and nothing of the work of man.
Do you know your misery and are you humbled before God?
Questions for Discussion
1. What was unique about the creation of man as compared to that of other creatures?
3. Has sin always been a part of who man is? What brought the change in human nature?
4. Why are the descendants of Adam and Eve also corrupt? What is our relation to Adam according to Romans 5:12 ff.?
5. Are little children and infants sinful too? What does Psalm 51:5 say?
6. List the parts of the human nature that are corrupted by sin (see LD 2, q. 4). Is there any part of man that is not depraved?
7. What word does the Bible use to describe our depravity in Ephesians 2:1-2? What does this say about a free-will gospel?
8. How does the theory of common grace contradict the teaching of this Lord’s Day?
9. What act of God is necessary before a man can ever do a good work?
10. How does an evolutionary view of Genesis 1-3 undermine the fundamental truth about man?
11. How should believers respond to the truth concerning their depravity?