"We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away."
This issue of "Total Depravity" is one I've been turning over in my mind recently, before this topic was even brought up by someone else. So I wouldn't say I've come to a hard conclusion on it.
For several years, and until a month or so ago, I might have said that I believe in Total Depravity: that we cannot do anything classified by God as "good" apart from God dwelling within us and acting through us by the Holy Spirit. (Although that's not the official definition. Someone can feel free to post it here if they find it.)
That may seem like a strange view, given that many non-Christians give to charity, help those in need and forgive those who have wronged them. But the view of Total Depravity I took claimed that all of these seemingly "good" acts were nothing compared to the goodness of God. They were, as Isaiah said, like a polluted garment. (Which literally translates from the Hebrew to "menstrual cloth", so yes. A used tampon. Blech!)
A verse that helped me get to the position of Total Depravity is from Mark 10:18 (and Luke 18:19) where Jesus responds to being called good by saying,"Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone." In essence, Jesus was saying, "do you realize that if you think I'm really, truly good, you're saying I'm God?"
Another one was Romans 3:10-12 (which Paul paraphrases from Psalm 14)
"as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one."
What's taken me away from a strong attachment to the view of Total Depravity is the language involved in these verses, and the ramifications involved in believing in Total Depravity, which I believe are not compatible with scripture.
First, Isaiah says that our "righteous deeds" are like dirty tampons. But what does he mean by "righteous deeds"? (Not much help looking at the Hebrew. It basically means the same as the English.) Does he mean what WE THINK OF as righteous deeds are actually not righteous deeds? I don't think so.
The ESV uses the word "polluted" when talking about our righteous deeds. What this could easily mean is that our righteous deeds are still righteous deeds. They are still truly good, just like the tampon is still a tampon, and a used diaper is still a diaper. It just has crap smeared all over it. It's "polluted", but still a diaper.
And note that Jesus doesn't say that only God DOES good. He says that only God IS good. So this verse doesn't remove a capacity for good from unbelievers either. Which leaves, of the three verses mentioned, Romans 3:10-12.
A key factor in loosening my grip on Total Depravity here was the use of the Present Participle, which is present in the words "understands", "seeks" and "does". The Present Participle expresses continuous or repeated action. So in other words, no one CONTINUALLY understands, seeks God or does good. As opposed to saying that no one EVER does these things.
To my understanding, a belief in the inability for someone to do good also removes their free will and therefore their responsibility to either accept or reject God's offer of salvation. Yet God clearly holds us responsible for our decision to either accept or reject God and Jesus Christ.
Romans 1:20 "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." (See also context)
And reading a little further after the famous John 3:16, we see in 17-19:
"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil."
As Dr. Norman Geisler observes, regarding the Bible's teaching on salvation, "Never does the Bible say, 'Be saved in order to believe'; Instead it repeatedly commands, 'Believe in order to be saved'." (Systematic Theology Vol. 3, pg.129)
So while I don't claim to have an argument opposed to the doctrine of Total Depravity that is iron clad, I can't see how one can claim that the Bible definitively teaches the concept. In fact, I think there are several issues to be addressed first in order to see it that way.
If anyone feels like adding their thoughts to this, feel free. I'd be surprised if there weren't multiple perspectives on this issue represented in our little community, and it's a worthwhile topic to examine and re-examine.
I'm jumping off-grid for awhile, though I may check in a few times between now and January 4th when I'm back in my "office". Mean time, Merry Christmas!