Dear Church Family,
The doctrine of depravity is the understanding that men and women are born with original sin, the sin of Adam. This original sin, along with the actual sins that we commit, is what comprises our depravity. Depravity is simply the sinful condition of every human being who is descended from Adam by ordinary generation (that means Jesus is exempt). The fact that men and women are born depraved means that this sin permeates and touches all parts of our being and all parts of our actions. Nothing that we are or do is free from the effects or taint of our sin. God created us in His image and very good – that was the original plan (Genesis 1:26-28, 31). But, all of us – in Adam and then personally – sinned and rebelled and turned against our Creator (Isaiah 53:6).
It is this depravity (or pervasive sin) that cuts us off from our Creator who is holy and just. We are natural-born children of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3). All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). It is the doctrine of depravity which makes the love and grace of God more glorious, more astounding: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Understanding our own sin and depravity is essential to understanding the grace of God in rescuing us by sending His Son, Jesus Christ. In the realm of apologetics and evangelism, one must first establish an understanding of a holy God who demands perfection from His sinful, depraved creatures. Only then does God’s saving grace in Christ Jesus make sense.
At the same time, it is dangerous to over-emphasize a particular doctrine to the exclusion of others. When we do that with the doctrine of depravity, we end up believing in something called “wormology.” Wormology is the over-emphasizing of the doctrine of depravity to the detriment of our understanding of regeneration and sanctification. Unfortunately, wormology is alive and well in the church; it’s alive and well in our own hearts.
Here’s what I think happens. Those who have formerly did not believed in the depravity of man but now do (or those who have come to see that it is a much-denied doctrine in our culture), will often argue and continue arguing for the depravity of man such that it becomes an all-consuming passion. And so, rather than understanding our new position in Christ as that which defines us, an over-emphasis on depravity leads to wormology: even though a person has been set free and made a new creation in Christ, he continues to think of himself in terms of his sin, rather than in terms of his new life in Christ.
Yet, Jesus assumes that God’s people will do good works in order to glorify their heavenly Father (Matthew 5:16). When we are reborn, we are recreated in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).
Are these good works acceptable to God? Well, we know that without faith it is impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6), but what about believers? Are our good works and sacrifices made acceptable and pleasing to God? Of course they are! It is precisely because we are part of the spiritual household of faith and holy priesthood of God, that our spiritual sacrifices are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4-5). Depending upon the power of the Holy Spirit in us, we seek to imitate God by walking in love, always trying to mimic the love of our Savior; when we do this, our offerings and sacrifices to God are a fragrant aroma to Him – well-pleasing to our God (Ephesians 5:1-2; Philippians 4:18).
Too many believers fail to see the glorious benefits of the new birth, and how faith in the Lord Jesus Christ does away with both the punishment and the power of sin in our lives. We are not only forgiven, but we are also able to now resist sin and live righteously (Titus 2:11-14).
Wormology stunts the growth of believers and leads to apathy in the pursuit of holiness. And, it is biblically untenable. Instead of embracing – or even focusing on his sin and failures – the Apostle Paul acknowledges his own weakness, but is not satisfied to wallow in the mire of his sinful condition: “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Paul’s focus is not on who he was in his own sin, but who he is in Christ Jesus: “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3).
There’s a world of difference between acknowledging one’s sin and weakness and embracing one’s sin and weakness. Let us not use our weakness, or our acknowledgment of our sinful condition, as an excuse to be apathetic in our pursuit of holiness. Instead, let us remember that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). And then, let us present our bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is our spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1).
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch