A while ago I posted an article entitled, “Is Anyone More Holy Than Anyone Else? The Missing Category of the ‘Righteous Man”. In that article I discussed the downplaying of sanctification and holiness in some Reformed circles today. For whatever set of reasons, certain pastors and theologians are convinced that in order to preserve the doctrine of justification we cannot emphasize that real progress is possible in our sanctification. If we are really about ‘grace’, we are told, then we must focus predominantly on our depravity.
In my prior post, I argued that one of the motivations for this entire approach is a misunderstanding of the doctrine of total depravity:
Reformed believers love the doctrine of total depravity. And rightly so. It is core biblical teaching that the natural man is fallen in every part of his being: morally, intellectually, emotionally, volitionally. The natural man does not love God, desire God, or seek God. Thus, it is only by God’s wonderful grace that we come to a saving knowledge of him. But, the problem is that we don’t talk as much about how a person’s dark heart is changed after regeneration. We don’t talk as much about the new man. Thus, we can begin to believe that no one really changes. No one can really be holy. Totally depravity becomes the unfortunate justification for declaring everyone is equally as sinful as everyone else.
Given the ongoing misunderstanding of total depravity, even within (or especially within!) Reformed circles, I am appreciative of the recent article by Rick Phillips, “Thank God Christians are Not Totally Depraved.” Rick is responding to a prior post by Tullian Tchividjian entitled, “Are Christians Totally Depraved?” where Tullian, in effect, answers yes. Rick provides a helpful and balanced response, reminding us that we need not pit justification and sanctification against one another. Here’s his conclusion:
To be sure, Christians remain dependent on Christ’s grace for sanctification, just as we have for justification. Yet it is because Christians are no longer totally depraved but born again in union with Christ that the apostle urges, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you” (Phil. 2:12-13). Thank God that regeneration does not leave Christ’s people in the situation of those who reject him in unbelief. We are certainly still dealing with sin in the totality of our beings, but thank God that we are no longer totally depraved. Praise God that, as Paul wrote, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).