Total Human Depravity
By Pastor William H. Heinrich
EPHESIANS ONE is certainly one of the greatest chapters in the Bible. It tells us succinctly what God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have individually done for the believer and the three particular things the Apostle Paul was praying about for the Ephesian church.
But I believe Ephesians 2 is just as great, if not greater. For in it we have the contrast between total human depravity and total divine grace. It seems as though God is telling us that we cannot really understand grace until we first look at human depravity and realize how desperate and awful the condition of natural man is.
In this message I’ll try by explaining the first three verses to help you see the dire condition of man so that, hopefully, you will come to the point where you will say, “Well, who can help us?” Then the words, “But God…” in verse 4 will be as dewdrops from heaven on a hot, sultry day.
We’ll start with the first verse: “And you, who were dead in trespasses and sins…”
In the King James the verse includes the phrase, “hath he made alive,” which is in italics. Those words were not in the original text but were added by the translators for clarification. For the sake of emphasis, let’s just leave that phrase out for now. In other words, let’s not look at the positive yet. Let’s look at is as God gives it to us, and it’s all negative for a while.
Dead in trespasses and sins – that’s the position of depravity.
Dead is a state in which the corpse initiates no action and responds to no stimulus. When a person is spiritually dead, therefore, you can give the greatest sermons and the most moving illustrations in the world, and nothing will happen other than at most a temporary emotional stirring.
God says in Romans 8:7-8, “The carnal 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.”
Somehow we have to understand that the natural born person, even when he is just a little baby, cannot please God. We get our feathers up, don’t we? We don’t want to pick on little babies. But the truth is, until they are born again, they are spiritually likened unto a corpse.
Why then are we told to go forth and proclaim the Word of God? Because God is in the business of making dead people alive. He uses the Gospel we bring to save His elect.
It says here that the natural man is “dead in trespasses and sins.” He is in the sphere of trespasses and sins. That’s the condition of depravity that we all were in. Before God saved us, we were in bondage to our trespasses and sins. So just as every part of a person who dies begins to corrupt, the man in bondage is all corrupt and keeps on corrupting spiritually.
Now verse 2: “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world…”
Dead in trespasses and sins – that’s the position of depravity. Dead is a state in which the corpse is dead spiritually but alive physically. The natural man is walking about. He is very much engaged with things of this world. He conforms to society but not to God. He strives to be accepted by man but not the Son of Man. To him the world is all and in all.
Worse yet, he’s also in bondage to the devil. Verse 2 continues, “according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience.”
Labeled as a prince, Satan is a person of authority. His powers and principalities are spoken of in Ephesians 6. And he is “of the air.” He is not subject to physical laws like gravity. He can travel the speed of lightning and do all kinds of supernatural things.
This powerful Satan is right now working in all the unsaved people of the world. This brings to mind Revelation 16:13-14. “And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God almighty.”
Can you imagine these demons going forth and gathering the kings of the earth to make battle against God? I tell you what, the wicked, unregenerate world is utterly in bondage. It is controlled by the prince of the power of the air.
And now verse 3, “Among whom also we all had our manner of life in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” We were in bondage not just to the world and the devil, but to our own sinful nature as well. As the will of the natural man is dead and set against the will of God, we have a vile and corrupt sinful nature.
First there’s the selfish desire. That desire then gains the consent of the human will. Next the mind devises a plan to achieve that will. And finally, we try to justify that plan of action, no matter how vile it is.
Until the Lord, by His amazing grace, unlocks that bondage for us, we keep corrupting in that condition of depravity.
The natural man is in a state of spiritual judgment. That’s the penalty of depravity. The end of verse 3 says, “and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.”
But our personal sin puts us there, too. That’s right. Imparted sin is the root of corruption received by birth. Imputed sin is the guilt we share in Adam since we were in his loins when he sinned. And personal sin is the expression of the inner pollution that’s in our nature.
Until the Lord, by His amazing grace, unlocks the bondage for us, we keep on corrupting.
Wrath of God
Romans 1:18 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” Just look at the scriptures up to this point. He is saying, and it’s obvious, that God’s wrath is revealed in history.
Have you ever looked at God’s wrath in history? Right at the beginning, He drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden. Not too long afterwards, the flood came. Then came the Tower of Babel and then the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Looking at the nation of Israel, you see the captivity into Assyria and then Babylon. You’re reminded of the judgment of God upon the sins of His own people.
Not only do we see God’s wrath in history, but we see God’s wrath pending now. He says, “and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” Even as those in history past, so we today are the children of wrath.
The Bible warns in John 3:36, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”
The wrath of God abideth. It hasn’t changed. Man has changed God in their minds, but God is still the same God. His wrath still abides on all those who believe not the Son. Why? Because they dance to the devil’s tune. They follow the wind of the world. They yield to the lusts of the flesh.
In summary, total human depravity is a state of spiritual death, spiritual bondage, and spiritual judgment. Desperate, hopeless, and helpless, the natural man is corrupt through and through. There’s no escaping it. The wrath of God abides on him.
You ask, Pastor, why did you pick such a morbid subject?” I didn’t. I picked a beautiful subject. Notice what it says in the next two verses. “But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has made us alive together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved).”
God, you see, didn’t leave us desperate and helpless. That’s the good news. That’s the awakening, alarming, exciting message we proclaim – but God made the difference.
Here I was helpless and hopeless. I could do nothing for myself. I was in bondage to the world. I was in bondage to the flesh. I was in bondage to Satan. But God broke the bonds and set me free. That’s right.
If you can’t see that in this passage, then I can’t help you. The difference is God. It’s not you.
We’ve seen the nature of man – trespasses and sins. Here we see the nature of God; it’s mercy and grace. God is the only answer to man’s needs. Man’s problem is beyond self-correction because it’s in his nature, and no one can change his nature.
Rich in Mercy
Besides being the only answer, God is also the unlikely answer to man’s need. Why? I can see a friend or at least someone I haven’t offended come to the rescue. But it is God’s righteousness that I offended. It is He that I have sinned against, and it is His wrath that abides on me. Yet He came to my rescue because He is rich in mercy.
So the only answer and the most unlikely answer becomes the all-sufficient answer. We need never question whether He’d finally get disgusted with us and give up on us because He is rich in mercy. He has storehouses and storehouses and storehouses of mercy.
Rich in Love
Notice how He says it: “But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love with which He loved us.” He is rich both in mercy and in love. By His great love He loved us. He loved us so much that He gave His only begotten Son to die for our sins, to set us free from our bondage, and to give us a new nature and a new heart.
And He relates us not to the old but to the new. Whereas we were once sphered in trespasses and sins, we are now sphered in Christ and righteousness. And He did it even while we were at enmity against Him. Verse 5 makes that clear. “Even when we were dead in sins, He made us alive together with Christ.”
Rich in Grace
And then there’s that beautiful small phrase, “by grace ye are saved.” Sufficient in mercy, sufficient in love, and sufficient in grace. As we read on down to verse 10, we find “grace” mentioned three times. It is the key word of this whole passage. True, mercy and love are there, but the key word is grace. Love focuses on the unlovely, mercy pities them, but grace pardons them. Yea, and much more. Grace also delivers them from the power of sin itself.
God doesn’t just say, “You’re forgiven.” He also says, “You are now empowered to live a new life.” We live it by a new nature and by the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit. And it’s all done by grace – the unmerited favor from God.
The opposite of grace is works – something you do. And the minute you say, “God, here are all the good things I’ve done, won’t you accept me now?” then you can’t be saved.
All He wants is what the old hymn writer says: “Simply to the cross I cling, nothing in my hands I bring.”