Posted by Gary on October 31, 2008
John 18:4-6;12-13 “So Jesus, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth and said to them, "Whom do you seek?" They answered Him, "Jesus the Nazarene." He said to them, "I am He." And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them. So when He said to them, "I am He," they drew back and fell to the ground…So the Roman cohort and the commander and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound Him, and led Him to Annas…”
In recent weeks at our church we have been studying the doctrine of total depravity. By total depravity we mean that at the Fall of Adam, man became depraved in every facet of his being: mind, heart and soul. It is only when this doctrine is understood that Bible verses like these make sense:
Romans 3:10-12 “as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one."
1 Corinthians 2:14 “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
I try to be understanding with people who grapple with the Reformed faith for I struggled with it for quite awhile myself. If we understand total depravity then we must believe that man left to himself would never turn to God, he would only react toward God according to his sinful nature and would always and only reject God. The only reason that anyone seeks God or desires Him is because God frees us from the bondage of sin and draws us to Him:
John 8:34-36 “Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”
Still I find that people grapple with what we mean when we speak of total depravity and so perhaps it is just best to point to it at work. In the first verses listed above from John 18 we see the scene of the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus is with His disciples on the night He will be betrayed. We are told that a large crowd led by Judas comes to arrest Jesus. But before the arrest Jesus asks the crowd whom they are seeking. When they respond, “Jesus of Nazareth” Jesus replies, “I am” (the “he” included in English translations is not found in the original Greek).
Upon hearing Jesus say “I am” the crowd falls backward to the ground. No what is this? Well first when we consider the extreme importance of “I am” (Exodus 3:14) we know that Jesus is declaring that He is God. As God, Jesus is making it clear to the mob that they are not going to take Him but that He is deciding He will go with them. This event is a tremendous show of power in which Jesus makes it clear that He is in control and that His life will not be taken from Him but that He will lay it down of His own initiative (John 10:17-18).
Now here is an amazing thing, Jesus levels a Roman cohort (estimated between 500-1000 soldiers) and an untold number of religious leaders and others. At His word they fall down to the ground. What would one think would be the response to such a show of power? Wouldn’t it seem that perhaps they would rethink what they were doing? Wouldn’t one imagine fear in response to this power? But what do we find? When Jesus allows them to get up they arrest him, lead him to judgment and we must assume that many found their way to the cross to watch and support the crucifixion of Jesus.
Do you have trouble understanding total depravity? You shouldn’t, just look at it in action. What the Fall brought about for us is a spiritual condition that will reject God even when He is standing in front of you, indentifies Himself as God and knocks you to the ground by His power. The response of fallen man is still to get up and rebel against our holy Creator and God. The Bible tells us that mankind will still refuse to repent even as God sends His judgment on the earth at the end of all things:
Revelation 16:9-11 “Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory. Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues because of pain, and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds.”
Apart from God’s grace, left to yourself, you would have done the same thing the mob did in the garden of Gethsemane and I would have also. Immediately the ranks begin to thin, not many will embrace the doctrine of total depravity for very few want to acknowledge that this is how evil they are. You and I are not able to come to God unless He enables us to do so because we are totally depraved.
John 6:65 “He went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him."