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God crowned His creation-launching handiwork with the formation of man.

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Gen. 1:27)

Read that verse again. The Creator made us like Him. The heights of our created dignity boggle the mind. Though God is Spirit (Westminster Shorter Catechism 4), our being made in His image (imago Dei) means that we mirror Him in every aspect of our being, material and immaterial. From our biology to our ideology, from our guts to our goals, from our lives to our loves, as individuals and in our relationships—we reflect our Maker.

Created male and female, we do not possess the image of God only to drop it when we want. We are image bearers, and image bearing is inescapably, therefore, what we do. At every microsecond of our existence, we live before and in relation to the God who made us in His image. Here we stand. We can do no other.

Yet the beauty and towering grandeur of our image bearing suffered a short life. On the heels of the original and “very good” creation (Gen. 1:31), our covenant head, Adam, along with his wife, Eve, snubbed their Creator King. Disobeying His word, they cast themselves and their offspring into the pit of sin, its guilt and its perversion. This image-deforming act birthed corruption and banished us all with humanly irreparable consequences.

Adam and Eve became moral contortionists, twisted in on themselves. Designed for rich fellowship with the holy God, now as self-glorifying narcissists, our guilty first parents and their offspring face alienation from Him, while we stubbornly chase our own pernicious, me-myself-and-I ways.

Distorted, deceived, and desperate, image bearers flip God’s world upside down. Created to think in accordance with God’s thoughts, our distorted minds believe and speak deceiving words. Formed to glorify God, our distorted hearts twist divine affection into self-love. Designed to obey God’s Word, our stubborn wills insist that lawlessness is freedom. Intended for life in Him, without divine rescue, we die estranged from Him. In all things, we spurn the Word of God and turn from the God of the Word.

It is no wonder that the Bible paints our sin so hideously. Sin in all its forms is idolatry. In our sin, we demand subjection from the King of the universe. Then we exchange Him for would-be gods beaten into the shape of our perversion on the anvil of our own steely hearts. Once magnificent, we are now maimed image bearers who fabricate gods of our liking, gods that reflect us.

This sinful distortion is what we call depravity.

Drawing on the root pravus (crooked), the Latin word depravare means “to distort or disfigure.” The term depravity graphically captures the Bible’s teaching concerning the damaging and damning effects of sin. What was by original creation straight is now warped by the fall; what was pure is now putrid. With hardened hearts and skewed minds, we are bent in on ourselves, undesirous, unwilling, and unable to turn rightly toward God. Formed in the image of God, we are now deformed. Depravity desecrates dignity.

The risen Son is the sole antidote for our depravity, the One who heals us from the inside out. The Savior of sinners pours out His resurrection Spirit on us and makes us new.

It is often asserted that total depravity does not mean that we are as bad as we could possibly be but rather speaks of the permeating reach of sin. In a very impor­tant sense, this is true. God kindly restrains humanity from the depths of evil that our hearts would cherish and chase. While the breadth/depth distinction clarifies something, however, we must be careful. Taking total depravity lightly manifests depravity; trivializing it masks its deceptive power.

Paul notably urges us to take sin’s force seriously:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Eph. 2:1–3)

Sinners, apart from grace, live under the dominion of “the prince of the power of the air”—Satan himself, to whose authority we eagerly, earnestly, and necessarily submit, while we pursue our hearts’ passions and surrender to our minds’ distortions. Sinners walk as dead men, alive to the power and presence of sin and dead to the blessedness of God.

Just as Genesis 2:17 warned, disobedience to God ends in death. James accordingly describes each link of the unbreakable sin chain: sin’s source (our nature), sin’s acts (our behavior), and sin’s outcome (our death): “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14–15).

We sin necessarily because of what we are naturally since the fall: totally depraved. Though manifestations of depravity differ by person and degree, depravity is total and universal. Without exception, sin disfigures everyone everywhere. Sinners to their core, individuals and communities spend their lives in rebellion against God. Whereas we once reigned as servants of glory, we now stagger as slaves of sin. Yes, here we stand. Because of total depravity, we can do no other.

I am no fan of zombie movies, though this genre dramatically pictures what is true of the dead: they act according to their depraved minds and hearts.

They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Rom. 1:29–32)

Enraptured with self-interest, sinners are not happy as loners. Dizzied in their death and damnation campaigns, the depraved recruit. Sinners seek teammates. And when they secure their recruits, like zombies, they cannibalize them. Unsatisfied with isolated rebellion, they delight that those whom they recruit share in ultimate defiance and certain damnation.

Reading these words, you may say to yourself: “I’m a pretty good person, all things considered. I don’t see myself here. Did total depravity skip me?”

Claims of innocence betray self-deception. Under divine inspection, every sinner’s heart aces the perversion test.

The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
“I the Lord search the heart
and test the mind.” (Jer. 17:9–10)

Sinners’ hearts are “deceitful” and “desperately sick,” their deeds never wholly good. Seeming goodness suffers from a subterranean subterfuge. This means not that everything you do is 100 percent evil but that nothing you do is 100 percent pure. In the eyes of God, incomplete holiness is unholiness. Mixed motives are not pure motives. Partial truths are distortions, violations of God’s will and Word.

Since sanctification is not complete, even for Christians, the heart is not a pretty place. Think honestly:

  • When you hear the words of the Sermon on the Mount, does Christ’s kingdom ethic appear counterintuitive or unreasonable? Depravity makes the wisdom of God seem unfeasible, strange, even stupid.
  • Do you exercise greater zeal to conceal your sin than to expose and kill it? Depravity steers us to self-protection.
  • Do you seek ways to be noticed or to hide, to be right or to look superior? Depravity crowns self-interest above all else.
  • Do you ever question the presence, goodness, or promises of God? Depravity spews doubt regarding God’s love and power.
  • When you receive a harsh word, do you naturally seek a piercing word in return? Do you then add an edge to your words? Depravity compels us to wound with our tongues and to justify the act in our hearts.
  • Have you ever behaved in an unkind way to someone or spoken ill about someone? Your act not only exposes a depraved heart but recruits others to join in your evil.

Make no mistake: sin is ugly and unacceptable. It corrupts all and is beyond all to fix.

So what do we need? A crutch to compensate for a spiritual limp? Spiritual protein powder to fortify our merely weakened spiritual condition? The answer is an emphatic no. Depraved sinners need the cross of Christ to crush our sin, its guilt, and its power. We need Christ’s resurrection power to raise us from death to life.

Praise be to God, He gives us this Christ. The risen Son is the sole antidote for our depravity, the One who heals us from the inside out. The Savior of sinners pours out His resurrection Spirit on us and makes us new (1 Cor. 15:45; 2 Cor. 5:17). He redeems His disfigured people. He straightens our crookedness. He secures our blessedness.

We are, according to the gospel plan of the Father and by the power of His Spirit, made like Jesus. By grace, we are conformed into His image.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Rom. 8:29–30)

Read that again. And again. The holy Creator has redeemed us. The depraved become like Jesus, holy sons and daughters of God. The heights of this transformational dignity rocket beyond our wildest conception:

As it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9)

The redeemed of Christ, at every microsecond of our existence, blessedly live before and in relation to the God who renews us and perfects us in His Son. The perfected beauty and glory of our Christ-shaped image bearing endures forever. By grace, here we stand. All praise to His glorious name; we can do no other.

Why Five Points?

Unconditional Election

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From the December 2023 Issue
Dec 2023 Issue