[this article is contributed by Alex Rover]
In part 1 of this article, we have examined the Calvinistic teaching of Total Depravity. Total Depravity is the doctrine describing the human condition before God as creatures who are completely dead in sin and unable to save themselves.
The problem we found with this doctrine is in the word ‘total’. While human depravity is an indisputable fact, we demonstrated in part 1 the problems arising from taking it to Calvinistic extremes. I believe that the key to approaching this topic with the correct balance is found in 1 Corinthians 5:6
“Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?”
We can see humans as both evil and good at the same time, each having a portion of the yeast that is sin, hence fully dead. Therefore, I submit that it is possible to see humans as inherently good and still be able to satisfy the fact of us being wholly dead in sin and unable to save ourselves.
Imagine: a certain woman is 99% good, and 1% sinful. If we met such a woman, we would probably call her a saint. But the 1% of sinfulness would act as yeast, and would make her 100% dead in sin, and unable to save herself.
Something is missing from the picture. How can she be 100% dead in sin, yet be 99% good?
Holy, Holy, Holy
In Isaiah’s vision of Jehovah God in His Glory, one seraphim calls out to another and said:
“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” (Isaiah 6:2 ESV)
At this, the doorposts were shaking and the temple of Jehovah was filled with smoke. That’s when Isaiah realized and said: “I am ruined for I am a man of unclean lips.” Unless we truly appreciate our Father’s ultimate Holiness, we cannot understand our own depravity. Even the tiniest speckle of sin would make us fall down on our knees before our superlatively Holy Father. In this light we proclaim: “WOE IS ME, FOR I AM RUINED” (Isaiah 6:5 NASB).
Then one of the Seraphim flew to Isaiah with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar. He touched his mouth with it and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips, and your wickedness is removed and your sin is atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:6-7)
Only if our sins are atoned for, we can approach God and start to know him as a Father. We understand that we are totally dead in our sin and unworthy to approach him without our mediator Christ. Meditating on his enduring love and activity (Psalm 77:12) along with his Holiness will help us to develop a genuine bond with him and never allow our hearts to be hardened.
Hymns of Dawn – Holy, Holy, Holy
1 Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee:
Holy, holy, holy! merciful and mighty!
God in The Highest, blessed Majesty.
2 Holy, holy, holy! all the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Which wast, and art, and evermore shalt be.
3 Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see,
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee
Perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity.
4 Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea,
Holy, holy, holy! merciful and mighty!
Yea, let thy Son be blest eternally.
In His Image
In his image we were made, to resemble his Holiness, to abound in love and wisdom and might. To reflect his glory. (Gen 1:27)
Let’s analyze Genesis 2:7:
What does it mean to be in God’s image? Does it refer to our body? If we were in God’s image by body, then wouldn’t we have a spiritual body? (Compare 1 Corinthians 15:35-44) Observe from Genesis 2:7 what exactly caused man to be a living being in his image? God’s neshamah. What distinguishes us from other living souls is neshamah, it causes us to have understanding (Job 32:8) and a conscience (Proverbs 20:27).
We were given a perishable natural body, but what makes us human is Jehovah’s neshamah. If he is Holy, Holy, Holy, then Holiness is the essence of what makes us human. In other words, we were made with perfect understanding of what is good, and a perfect conscience. Adam had no understanding of “good and evil”. (Genesis 2:17)
Adam’s perishable body was sustained by the tree of life (Genesis 2:9,16), but as sin entered his understanding and tainted his conscience, he lost access to this tree, and his body started decaying just like the dust that he was. (Genesis 3:19) It is important the difference between flesh and spirit. In flesh we are not all that different from animals – it is the neshamah which makes us uniquely human.
So if total depravity were possible, then we would consequently need to be stripped of all goodness, and there would be no neshamah left, leaving only the flesh but no trace of God’s Holiness. Did such a thing happen?
The Fall of Man
After the fall of Adam, he became a father, a grandfather and eventually his offspring had begun to fill the earth.
“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—“ (Romans 5:12)
“[Adam] is the figure of him that was to come.” (Romans 5:14)
“For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.” (Romans 5:15)
Adam has the role of a type of Christ. Just as we inherit grace from Christ directly and not genetically from our own father, we inherit death through sin from Adam. We all die in Adam, not in our own father. (1 Corinthians 15:22)
Sins of the Father
Contrary to what I was raised to believe, a child does not bear the sins of the Father.
“…sons [shall not] be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin.” (Deuteronomy 24:16; Compare Ezekiel 18:20)
This is not in contradiction with Exodus 20:5 or Deuteronomy 5:9, for those verses deal with people in a federal headship arrangement (such as children of Abraham or Adam) or in a covenant arrangement (such as with the people of Israel under the law of Moses).
Children are born innocent. Jesus did not describe them as “wholly inclined to all evil”, “opposite to all good”. Instead he used them as a model for all believers to imitate. (Matthew 18:1-3) Paul used infants as a model of purity for Christians. (1 Corinthians 14:20) Children were allowed to enter Canaan while their parents were denied. Why?
“…your little ones who […] have no knowledge of good and evil shall enter”. (Deuteronomy 1:34-39)
Jesus himself was fully human and was innocent “before he knows enough to refuse evil and choose good”. (Isaiah 7:15-16) Children are innocent, and this is why Jehovah abhors human sacrifices of children. (Jeremiah 19:2-6)
We do not inherit other people’s sin, but we are born innocent and when we gain “knowledge of good and evil”, our “own sins are separating us from our God” (Isaiah 59:1-2).
Sin Not Imputed When there is No Law
Our dying is the curse of Adam, related to “knowledge of good and evil”. Adam was created with a perfect knowledge of good, thanks to the spirit of God [neshamah] within him. We already demonstrated that neshamah gives us understanding and a conscience. Compare this to Romans 5:13-14:
”…until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed where there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam.”
Death reigned from Adam until Moses, even without a written Law. So is there another law? Yes, the spirit of God [neshamah] was teaching the complete will of God, of what is good. After the original sin, God did not take away this spirit from mankind completely. Let’s examine some evidence for this:
“And Jehovah said, My spirit shall not always strive with [contend with, abide in, plead with] man, for that he also [is] flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.” (Genesis 6:3)
Since Noah and his pre-Flood-born children lived well over a hundred and twenty years, we can observe a special situation of mankind between Adam and the Flood: God’s Neshamah was striving with the flesh. Pre-flood humans had a greater amount of neshamah than post-Flood humans, and this was directly related to their longevity. But if they had a greater amount of neshamah, they should have a better understanding of God’s will. Just like with Adam, there was no need for a written Law, for the spirit of God was abiding in men, and was teaching them all things.
Keeping this in mind, what did Jehovah observe?
“The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time”. (Genesis 6:5)
Here Scripture describes the human race as having become so depraved that there was no return. Can we understand God’s anger? Despite his striving with mankind, their hearts were only evil all the time. They were grieving the striving spirit of God at every inclination.
So was God’s neshamah completely removed from mankind after the flood? No! True, his neshamah would no longer be striving with the flesh to extent in had in the past, but we are reminded that we remain in God’s image:
“Whoever sheds human blood, by other humans must his blood be shed; for in God’s image God has made humankind.” (Genesis 9:6)
Consequently there remains a conscience within us, a capacity for goodness within each human. (Compare Romans 2:14-16) Since all humans since Adam have died, there remains a law which we violate. If there is a law, there is the spirit of God within each man. If there is the spirit of God within each man, there is the free will to act in accordance with this law.
This is great news, for although “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), we are not totally void of neshamah, the spirit-breath of God.
Total Unity with God
“The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one” (John 17:22)
In order to be united with God, two conditions must be present:
- The knowledge of “good” needs to be whole, complete, and:
- (a) We must have no “knowledge of good and evil”, like pre-fall Adam or:
(b) We have “knowledge of good and evil” but do not sin, like Jesus Christ or:
(c) We have “knowledge of good and evil”, sin, but full atonement is made for this sin, and ultimately we sin no more, like the glorified Congregation.
It was always God’s will that man would live in total unity with God.
In regards to point 1, the written law of Moses was a tutor leading up to Christ. It was teaching God’s will at a time when men’s consciences were seared through sin. Then Christ taught us the complete will of God. He said:
“I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.” (John 17:6)
While Jesus Christ was with them, he kept them in God’s will (John 17:12), but he would not always be there in person. So he promised:
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will cause you to remember everything I said to you.” (John 14:26)
Thus condition 1 has been made possible in Christ’s ministry and thereafter through the Holy Spirit. This doesn’t mean we already know everything, but that we are progressively being taught.
In regards to point 2, we have knowledge of good and evil, but we also know that we are sinners, and require some form of ransom or payment for our sin. When we believe in Christ, such ransom is paid, causing our “wickedness to be removed”. (Isaiah 6:6-7)
Unity with our Holy Father is possible, but only when we are considered holy as well. This is why we stress the importance of partaking at the memorial, because Christ gave his blood to cleanse our sins. We are unable to save ourselves aside from Christ, unable to be justified if he is not our mediator.
The unanimous declaration of the congress of the United States of America on July 4th, 1776 was: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Each and every one of us is capable of goodness, since we all have the very thing that makes us human: neshamah, the breath of God. No matter if we sin 1% or 99%, we can be considered 100% forgiven!
“But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:22)
So let us praise our Holy, Holy, Holy Father and share this Good News which was given to us, the ministry of reconciliation! (2 Corinthians 5:18)