Total Depravity and the Antithesis

It is quite apparent to anyone with any spiritual discernment that worldliness is more and more creeping into the church. In many cases worldliness has in fact taken over the church. Witness for example how the perspective of the world on almost any subject under the sun has become the perspective of the church. What the world has to say about sex, marriage, divorce, birth control, morality, education, and a host of other subjects has in many cases simply been adopted by the church. Consequently, the life-style of the church also closely resembles that of the world. The songs, the dress, the speech, the dance, the entertainments of the world have become a way of life for the church. It is safe to say that there is no church today that is entirely free from this kind of thing. In many cases this trend is applauded as being good and wholesome. In actual fact it means the destruction of the church. The devil knows of no better way to destroy the church than to make it worldly. When the church becomes the world then it’s simply a fact that you no longer have the church. 

To combat this trend of worldliness in the church it is necessary to emphasize the antithesis. 

The word “antithesis” implies opposition and contrast. That you have an antithesis means that you first have a “thesis,” something put down and established. That which forms the opposite and contradicts this is the antithesis. Thus for example the antithesis of light is darkness; the antithesis of heaven is hell; the antithesis of sin is grace. 

Between the church and the world there also exists an antithesis—a spiritual antithesis.

On the one hand there is the world. This world is characterized by spiritual darkness and depravity on account of the fall. Through the fall man became horribly twisted and perverted, from a spiritual point of view. He lost the image of God in which he had originally been created. To be more exact, the image of God was changed into the very opposite. His righteousness was changed into unrighteousness. Originally he was holy; now he is profane. Once he was upright; now he is crooked. Through the fall the mind of man became spiritually darkened, his will obdurate, his heart hard. The heart of fallen man is filled with enmity and hatred against God and his neighbor. This is man’s depravity. 

This depravity is total. By total depravity we do not mean that every part of man is to some degree depraved. This is the teaching of some who would allow for some good yet in the fallen sinner. This is a misuse of the term. By total depravity we mean rather that every part of man—his heart, his mind, his soul, his strength—is totally and completely defiled with sin and depraved. Man is so completely depraved that there is nothing good left in him. Nor is there any possibility of his doing any good whatsoever. He is capable only of sin and disobedience to God. 

This certainly is the teaching of our Reformed Confessions. The Heidelberg Catechism in Lords Day 3, Question 8, teaches that unless we are regenerated by the Spirit of God we are so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good and inclined to all wickedness. The Canons of Dordt in Head III, IV Article 4 teach that man does retain some glimmerings of natural light after the fall. But even these he is incapable of using aright, even in things natural and civil. 

That man is totally depraved is also the teaching of the Scriptures. Are we not taught, for example, that the natural man is dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1)? Is it not true that the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be (Romans 8:7)? Is not the judgment of God as He views the wickedness of man that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continually (Genesis 6:5)? Certainly the natural, fallen man is depraved, totally and completely. 

This depravity of man in turn defiles all of man’s accomplishments. The natural man is able to accomplish many great feats. Due to his glimmerings of natural light he is able for example to discover the various laws and powers in God’s creation and to put them to use. As king in God’s creation he is able to a certain degree to subdue the creation. Hence, we see the development in history of music, literature, art, medicine, science, technology, and the like. All these things however the world produces in its depravity. Consequently it is all defiled with sin and stands in the service of sin. 

The antithesis arises because of the work of God’s grace in the heart of His elect. By the power of grace, the elect of God are born again. This spiritual rebirth consists of radical change in the very depths of their spiritual being. They are restored to the image of God, restored to righteousness and holiness. They are given the life which is from above. They are made new creatures who have a new life, able to walk in a new obedience.

Consequently, there are from a spiritual viewpoint two different kinds of people in the world: there are the children of light and the children of darkness; there are those who are spiritually dead and those alive in Jesus Christ; there are those who bear the image of God and those who bear the image of the Devil; there are those who have the ability to serve God and those who can only serve sin. This is the reality of the antithesis. The antithesis is not something we must create or establish. It is an existing reality established by the work of God’s grace as He calls His people out of darkness into His marvelous light. 

It is, however; the calling of every child of God to live this antithesis. The antithesis must reflect itself in his life as he lives it from day to day in the world. This is done when the child of God lives in spiritual isolation from the world. There have been those who made the mistake of trying to live in physical isolation from the world. They have sought to maintain a separate physical existence, apart from society, thinking that they will both escape sin and please God. This is wrong and doomed to failure. God has placed His people in the world; and in the world they are to stay and work and live. We are to be in the world. We are not however to be of the world. Our isolation is to be spiritual only. But spiritually isolated we are to be from the world. We are to stand apart and be distinct. 

This means several things. This means first that the direction of our life must be obviously different from that of the world. The spiritual direction of the world is completely away from God. The direction of our life must be towards God. Whereas the world walks in rebellion and disobedience against God, we must humble ourselves before God and His law. Whereas the world stands with all that it is and has and does in the service of sin, we must stand in the service of our God. 

Antithetical living means secondly that we must be careful how we use all that the world produces. As we have already seen, all that the world produces—its art, literature, music, science, etc.—it produces in its depravity. Hence, it is all defiled with sin, and by the world pressed into the service of sin. This means that we must be careful how we use these things. That which we can sanctify and press into the service of God we may properly use. But much of the world’s art and literature and culture is beyond this. In fact, as we fast approach the end of time and as the world continues to develop in sin, the culture of the world is becoming so vile that most of it is beyond use by the child of God. He can not possibly sanctify it for use in the kingdom. Then his calling is to turn away from it and repudiate it lest he defile himself. 

Antithetical living implies thirdly that there is no room for cooperation with the world in things spiritual. The world may talk in very glowing terms of all its righteous and noble causes. In the name of righteousness it will fight poverty, overcome social injustices, make peace, and alleviate suffering among mankind. But in truth all these works are works of darkness, performed in the service of sin as acts of rebellion and disobedience to God. Anyone who would deny this denies the plain and simple teaching of the Scripture. All these “noble” works of the world are aimed at the establishment of the kingdom of Antichrist. Consequently, there is no room for cooperation in these things with the world. The child of God must have a hands-off policy lest he defile himself with the unfruitful works of darkness. Better yet, the child of God is to oppose these causes of the world in the name of God. 

Lest there be any misunderstanding in all this, it must be remembered that in a certain sense all these causes which we have mentioned must be championed by the child of God. Certainly the child of God is called to fight poverty, oppose injustice, make peace, and alleviate suffering. However, he must do this differently than the world. He must do it not according to the wisdom of men but according to the dictates of Scripture. This means that he must do it on a different basis than the world, in a different manner than the world, for a different purpose than the world. This means in turn that he can not do it in cooperation with the world but in cooperation only with his fellow saints. 

All this however is undermined and destroyed when the truth of total depravity is denied. Remove the foundation of a building and it will crumble. Deny the truth of total depravity which is the foundation for a truly antithetical life and such a life falls by the way. It simply stands to reason that if there is still some good in the world of unregenerate man and some good that the world can do, then there is a common spiritual ground on which the world and the church can both stand. In those areas where the world is able to please God, there is room for cooperation between the church and the world. In fact, this cooperation is demanded. Insomuch as the world does that which is good the church may embrace the world, follow the world, live as the world, and invite the world into its fellowship. And this is exactly the trend in those churches that have in one way or another turned from the truth of total depravity. It simply is inevitable. 

This is a dreadful thing. For the truth of total depravity stands, whether the vast majority in the church world today will acknowledge it or not. And, therefore, by embracing all this “good” of the world, one simply clutches to his bosom the unfruitful works of darkness and defiles himself with them. Vain is the religion of a man who does not keep himself unspotted from the world (James 1:26, 27). 

Let us therefore hold fast to the truth of total depravity. It is in a way an ugly doctrine. It certainly is not a flattering doctrine. But if we will maintain an antithetical life in the midst of the world it is a necessary doctrine. Let us then confess this doctrine, defend it and then live it.