Titus 3:3-7 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Even if you’ve fallen way behind (or never began) memorizing Titus, I urge you to put 3:3-7 to memory. Because it gives such a clear and concise picture of the gospel and its effects, I don’t think it is an understatement to suggest that this is one of the most important passages in the entire bible. As such, we’ve already spent two weeks on it and are going to spend several more on it as well. Having already looked at the big picture of this passage, we’re going to spend some time zooming in on the key doctrines presented in it.
Specifically, over the next several weeks we’re going to look at:
- The depravity of man (3:3). Today.
- The nature of God (3:4, 5, 6, 7).
- What it means to be saved (3:5).
- The significance and insignificance of our works (3:5).
- Saved according to God’s mercy (3:5).
- Saved by the washing of regeneration (3:5).
- Saved by the renewal of the Holy Spirit (3:5, 6).
- Justified by grace (3:7).
- Might become heirs (3:7).
- Heirs according to the hope of eternal life (3:7).
As I said, this morning we’re going to begin at the beginning, with the nature of the fallen nature of mankind. But with all of that, though, let’s not miss the simple fact that these are the words of eternal life from our Father in heaven. These words describe our hope and help. They describe our rescue and salvation. They describe God’s mercy and compassion. And they describe God’s Son and Sacrifice. Let’s pray that God would impress us with the impressiveness of this passage, cause us to believe it, and grant us salvation through it.
One of the most fundamental questions that mankind can ask is, “What am I really like?”. Or, what is my nature? Or, what am I in my innermost being? And one of the most fundamental elements of the message of Christianity is that all mankind, since Adam, because of Adam, is most fundamentally depraved in his nature. That’s not a normal word we use, so let me define it for you.
What is depravity?
Depravity is moral corruption or wickedness. To be depraved, then, is to be morally corrupt or wicked—sinful.
Although God created Adam and Eve with good natures (Genesis 1:31), when Adam rebelled against God’s command and therein rejected God as his God, his nature and that of all mankind after him became corrupted—depraved. This is Paul’s point in passages like Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15.
Romans 5:12 …sin came into the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…
1 Corinthians 15:22 …in Adam all die…
Without a doubt Titus 3:3 teaches that mankind is depraved—still living with the effects of Adam’s sin. That is, to be “foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (which we all are by nature) is to be morally corrupt or wicked.
The point of Paul’s words in Titus isn’t that every one of us has committed every one of these sins with an equal intensity. Rather, the point is that we all possess (by the nature of being one of Adam’s decedents) the same depraved nature which produces those sins. Of this, R.C. Sproul writes, “We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners.” And we are sinners because we are children of Adam.
The bible teaches this in many other places as well.
Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
Psalm 14:3 They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Ecclesiastes 7:20 Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.
Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…
1 John 1:8, 10 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us… If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
It’s very difficult to imagine having access to a history book or a news paper or an internet connection and not easily being able to recognize the fallen nature of mankind. And it’s even more difficult to imagine taking the bible seriously and not being able to recognize its teaching concerning the depraved nature of mankind.
Again, this is not to say that mankind is as wicked as he could possibly be. It is to say, though, that from birth mankind is in a constant state of rebellion against God because his nature has been corrupted, such that even our best attempts at benevolence are tainted in that they are not from faith (Romans 14:23).
Paul sums all of this up plainly in Romans 3.
Romans 3:10-18 … as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; 11 There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; 12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving,” “The poison of asps is under their lips”; 14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”; 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood, 16 Destruction and misery are in their paths, 17 And the path of peace have they not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
The fact that all mankind is born depraved is not difficult to see. Needless to say, this is not good news. Indeed, it is gravely serious. What’s worse, though, is the fact that if we’re left in this condition the bible is unambiguous about the fact that as hostile enemies of God (Romans 8:7-8) the wrath of God is fiercely upon us (Ephesians 2:3), and the wages of our treason is death (Romans 6:23). This, clearly, is very bad news. But it gets worse still.
We are depraved, but we need to ask, how depraved are we? Or, what is the nature of our depravity?
The bible teaches that we are not only depraved, but that we are totally depraved. If we were only partially depraved this would be bad news indeed. But partial depravity would at least leave the door open for hope on our part; hope that we might be able to do something about our sin and rebellion and death sentence. This is not, however, how the bible describes our depravity. Consider the following passages:
Genesis 6:5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Isaiah 64:6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
Jeremiah 13:23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.
Romans 7:18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh…
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.
2 Corinthians 4:3-4 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers…
Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins…
Do these verses sound partial to you? They do not to me. They sound total. Indeed, they teach at least the following two undeniable principles:
1. Our depravity is total in the sense that every inclination of our heart in our depraved state is only evil continually (Genesis 6:5).
There are four key words here. The first key word is “every”. Every means what you think it means. It means that all of our natural inclinations are evil. Our depravity is so total that every single thing we desire is wicked.
The second key word is “only”. There are no other inclinations that we have besides evil ones. Our depravity is so total that we only desire wickedness.
The third key word is “continually”. Our depravity is total in that our every inclination is not only evil some of the time; they are only evil all of the time. There is never a moment in which this is not the case in us as long as we possess a sinful nature. The totality of our depravity isn’t a part-time problem. It is continual.
And the fourth key word is “evil”. As I mentioned earlier, the fact that every inclination of our heart is evil does not mean that every desire of ours is as evil as it could be; rather, it means that our depravity is so total that every inclination of our heart is birthed out of rebellion to God. Evil isn’t defined by what disgusts us. Evil is defined as rebellion against God. And, as Romans 14:23 teaches, “…whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” As non-Christians we do nothing out of genuine faith in God and, therefore, all our attempts at righteous deeds are like polluted garments to God (Isaiah 64:6). Indeed, there is nothing good in us (Romans 7:18).
Even now, as Christians who are being made new, consider the remnants of this total corruption. How often would you say you truly do the right thing for the right reason? Even when we pray with people, it’s often so that they’ll know we prayed with them. Even when we share the gospel with our neighbors, it’s, at times, so that we can tell our Christian friends that we shared the gospel with our neighbors. Even when we engage in worship, it’s commonly so that the people around us will be impressed by our spiritual maturity. Even when we memorize scripture, it’s not unusual that we do so to make our parents happy.
If we are like this even as new creatures, it shouldn’t be hard to imagine the totality of our depravity apart from God’s grace.
The first principle to draw from these verses (and the many others like it) is that our depravity is total in the sense that every inclination of our heart is only evil continually.
2. Our depravity is total in the sense that there’s nothing we can do about it. Ethiopians have dark skin and leopards have spots by their very nature. They cannot change it. In the same way, people who are totally depraved cannot do good (Jeremiah 13:23). Those stuck in their depravity cannot please God.
I was pretty short in Jr. High. I wanted very badly to be taller. No matter how much I wanted it, however, it was not in my nature. If I was going to get taller, it wasn’t going to be because I made it so.
To make sure we don’t miss the total nature of our depravity God has given us a number of illustrations. We saw three in the passages we just looked at: confusion, blindness and death.
We are in a state of total depravity because we are in a constant state of confusion concerning the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14). We have minds, but they are unable to grasp anything spiritual. We do not accept the truth about God or our depravity because they are nonsense to us. Even when we think we understand, we don’t. Even the truths we do acknowledge are only partial and altogether inadequate.
For instance, I don’t think I would have ever denied the fact that I was a sinner. I’m sure many of you can attest to that as well. In fact, I doubt many of you have ever met someone who would deny that they’d committed sins. However, our depravity is so total that we’re impossibly confused about the true nature of sin as a treasonous act against the holy God of the universe. For the most part, we see our sin as merely knowing that we don’t always make the best choices. Indeed, on their own, even those non-Christians who hate their past decisions and would call them evil, are utterly confused as to the real nature of their sins. Because of this confusion, there’s nothing we can do about our sin. Our depravity is total.
We are also in a state of total depravity because we are blinded to the reality of God and his offer to rescue us (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). Being blind, by definition, means possessing an inability to see. Blind people can’t will sight for themselves. Blind people can’t try harder to see. What’s worse, our depravity and the blindness it produces is so total that we don’t even know we’re blind. How do you even know you can’t see if you’ve never seen? How would you even know what sight is? Blind people, if they are going to see, need something outside of them to work sight for them. As non-Christians we are spiritually blind. We simply cannot even see the true nature of our sin and, therefore, there’s nothing we can do about it. Our depravity is total.
Lastly, and most significantly, we are in a state of total depravity because we’re spiritually dead. Being confused to the things of God is disheartening. Being blinded to the things of God is a bit more serious yet. But being dead to the things of God is absolutely perilous. And yet, this is exactly how Ephesians 2:1 (and other passages) describe us. It’s not hard to imagine confused people being made wise, and thanks to modern technology, it’s not all that hard to imagine blind people being made to see. What’s impossible to imagine, though, is dead people being made to do anything. You don’t tell dead people to be wise. You don’t tell dead people to see. You don’t tell dead people to be good. You don’t tell dead people to seek God. You don’t tell dead people repent or believe or have faith or…anything. They’re dead. The very essence of being dead means that these things are impossible. But again, that’s exactly what the bible says we are in our depraved state. Our depravity is total.
Again, all of this Paul sums up well in Romans 8.
Romans 8:7-8 For the mind that is set on the flesh [the depraved mind] is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Since Adam’s Fall, all mankind has been born totally depraved; in rebellion against our Creator, under the wrath of our Creator, and sentenced to death by our Creator for our treason against our Creator. Every inclination of our heart in this state is only evil continually, and, what’s more, there’s nothing we can do about it because we’re spiritually confused, blind, and dead.
But Grace, that’s not to say there’s nothing that can be done about it, only that there’s nothing we can do about it. As uncomfortable as this doctrine may be, it really is freeing. It frees us from trying to be good on our own strength. It fees us from the burden of trying to live up to a standard that we know we can never live up to. And it frees us from futilely attempting to rescue ourselves from our sin. What’s more, it also frees us to love others in their sin, knowing that it was only the grace of God that rescued us from ours. It frees us to hope that salvation can come to everyone since it has come to anyone. And it frees us, above all, to look to God, not for approval for our attempts at earning his favor, but for his mercy.
Grace, we must never forget or shy away from or neglect the fact that we, along with all mankind, “were once [or are still] foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” We must never forget or shy away from or neglect the fact that this depravity was total, that it was our nature, continually. We must remember this. We must meditate on this. We must be humbled by this. We must be made serious by this.
But Grace, we must also never forget or shy away from or neglect the fact that this isn’t where the story ends. For, “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us”. It is only when we recognize our utter inability to save ourselves that we can be saved. That’s where we’ll turn next week. Amen.