Douglas Wilson on Total Depravity

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“There are two basic pictures of man’s state in the Bible. The first is that man is a slave to sin. The second is that man is dead in his transgressions and sins. In both cases, man is utterly helpless, and the helplessness is comprehensive. It affects everything he is, and everything he does…

As Paul states, no one seeks after God. The sinful mind is hostile to God and cannot desire Him. But as Paul also recognized, the unregenerate Jews did have a zeal for God, but without knowledge. This zeal only increased their condemnation. Paul, before his conversion, delighted in the law of God, and had a great zeal for it. But he also hated the people of God… [As Paul himself said, he had a] zeal without knowledge. [What this means, is that] seeking after God on your own terms, with your own understanding, is simply a subtle way of running from Him. An unregenerate man can love the Word of God, but only so long as he misunderstands it. An unregenerate man can understand the Word of God, but only so long as he hates it… If he lifts his arm, the rest of him sinks deeper…

The sinful mind is hostile to God. This does not mean that the non-Christian cannot praise God or pray to Him. It does mean that everything is done in the context of his larger rebellion against God. And the context affects everything. Therefore, when he praises God, even his praise is sin. When he prays, his prayer is an offense. This means that evangelical obedience, obeying the gospel, is impossible for the non-Christian. He cannot repent properly, and he cannot believe properly. He can perform what he believes to be repentance (but which is actually a worldly sorrow unto death), and he can assent to the truths of the Christian religion. But as he does these things, he will always be doing something else that negates or denies it. He will take back with one hand what he gives with the other. He cannot remove himself from the context of his rebellion. He cannot cease rebelling; he cannot surrender. If he runs up the white flag, it is with treachery in his heart.”

Douglas Wilson, Easy Chairs, Hard Words: Conversations on the Liberty of God 

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