John newton once famously summarized the believer’s experience with regard to his sin:
I am not what I ought to be. Ah! How imperfect and deficient! I am not what I wish to be. I abhor what is evil, and I would cleave to what is good. I am not what I hope to be. Soon, soon, I shall put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection. Yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was—a slave to sin and Satan. And I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge, “By the grace of God, I am what I am.”
This is a beautiful sentiment about the way true believers are to view themselves in light of the regenerating grace of God in the gospel. We are no longer what we were (totally depraved), yet we are not what we will one day be (fully delivered from remaining corruption). Understanding these truths is vital if we are to advance in the Christian life.
The Westminster Confession of Faith explains the nature of the total depravity of all mankind: “We are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil” (WCF 6.4). Reflecting on the doctrine of total depravity in the Calvinistic backronym TULIP, John Gerstner stated, “Total depravity is our one original contribution to TULIP. We are the dirty soil in which God plants His flower, and from our filth, produces a thing of divine beauty.” To see your need for the redeeming grace of God, you must first come to terms with the teaching of Scripture about what you are by nature—pervasively corrupt and evil.
Isaiah summarized the extent of depravity in an accusation against old covenant Israel: “From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness” (Isa. 1:6). Jeremiah set out the fraudulence of man’s sinful heart when he wrote: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). Quoting the psalmist, the Apostle Paul testified, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Pss. 14:1; 53:1; Rom. 3:10).