The Christian will struggle with sin his whole life. But the Christian struggles in Christ. Before regenerating grace appeared we did not struggle in Christ. Now we do because now, in union with Christ through the Holy Spirit, we are not totally depraved.
Let us consider then how the doctrines of grace are good and necessary for the shepherding of souls in the churches of Jesus Christ. And let us begin with the doctrine of total depravity.
The expression total depravity summarizes scripture’s teaching on the spiritual condition of Adam and all his offspring after the fall into sin. In Adam’s fall we sinned all and none were lightly wounded.
By our revolt against God, we forfeited the excellent gifts which once belonged to creatures bearing the divine image. By one man’s disobedience, the race of man immediately incurred, as stated in the Canons of Dort (COD, III/IV.1), “blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity and perverseness of judgment, became wicked, rebellious, and obdurate in heart and will, and impure in his affections.”
Not by imitation did we come to possess this corruption, as Pelagians everywhere would have us believe, but by propagation, the propagation of a vicious nature: “A corrupt stock produced a corrupt offspring” (COD, III/IV.2).
Total depravity does not mean we are as sinful as we could be. It means, rather, that our nature is thoroughly defiled by sin. We are soaked through with it. God says so. He says it of man before the flood in Genesis 6:5 and he says it of man after the flood in Genesis 8:21: “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. … the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”
How then does this weighty doctrine become a help in the care of souls? Total depravity brilliantly helps manage expectations.
Consider first the expectations of Christian parents. We so easily expect children to be reformed by rules that we soon become hardened when they are not. But a wise man once said the doctrine of total depravity should stir deep compassion in parents, for after all the first thing we gave our children was their sin nature. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5).