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The Total Sufficiency for Our Depravity

What two distinctions do the words Trinity, sovereignty, and depravity have in common? First, all of them represent sound Bible doctrines taught by orthodox Christianity. Secondly, none of them is found in the scriptures. For this reason, the unorthodox religious world customarily accuses us of fabricating doctrines that the Bible does not teach.

The Word of God, however, does in fact set forth the concepts and precepts represented by these theological terms. God is revealed as a Tri-Unity of Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Godhead is supreme in authority, executing their will and good pleasure without consultation from any external entity. The Bible portrays fallen man as morally corrupt and spiritually bankrupt. In theological lingo, this condition is referred to as “total depravity”.

The doctrine of total depravity as articulated by orthodox Christianity teaches that man is as bad off as he can be regarding his condition although he might not be as bad as he can be in terms of his actions. The initial act of sin caused Adam and Eve to incur spiritual death immediately, and the Bible tells us that spiritual (and ultimately physical) death passed upon all men as a result (Romans 5:12). In one tragic moment, they fell from the heights of sublimity to the depths of enmity. The initial indicator of depravity was an aversion for the presence of God. It rendered Adam and his posterity totally incapable of approaching God apart from a grace intervention.

Cain and Abel were therefore born into this world as totally depraved sinners. The manner in which God dealt with these two brothers, especially Cain, is critical to our understanding of total depravity. The fact is God was graciously interacting with totally depraved men thousands of years before the first theologians drew battle lines over its meaning and extent. A sober reflection upon God’s behavior toward Cain as recorded in Genesis 4:1-16 is worth more than a thousand theological volumes on the subject!

It is useful to observe the effects of total depravity upon Cain. First, he exhibited a total disregard for the kind of sacrifice God required (4:3-4). The prescribed way of approach to God was a blood offering that symbolized a life sacrificed in place of the sinner who presented it. Abel complied with an attitude of submission; Cain disobeyed with an attitude of rebellion. Secondly, God’s disrespect for his offering was met with anger rather than inquiry (4:5-6). He might have responded, “Lord, I desire your acceptance! What would you have me to do?” He essentially raised a clinched fist toward God, saying in effect, “How dare you disrespect the hard-earned work of my hands!? My offering is every bit as good as Abel’s!” Thirdly, he disregarded his privileges as firstborn as well as the gracious warning of impending sin (4:7). Fourthly, he committed the act of murder, gave false testimony in Lord’s presence, and incurred additional curses (4:8-12). At the last, he complains of his unbearable punishment without the first word of confession or an ounce of sorrow regarding the sin that caused it (4:13). Cain teaches us that at the end of the road called total depravity stands the inn of brazen infidelity!

So what was the difference in these two brothers? Did God do something for Abel that He refused to do for Cain? The context provides the answers. First, Abel believed and obeyed God while Cain chose unbelief and disobedience. In contrast to the baseless claim that God simply “passed over” Cain in the matter of personal salvation, the Lord made it perfectly clear to Cain that acceptance (i.e., a righteous standing before Him) was solely contingent upon a willingness on his part to do the right thing (4:7). Secondly, the argument could be made that God actually did more for Cain than He did for Abel in terms of grace! The Lord graced him with His personal presence, reasoned with him One-on-one, reiterated the terms of acceptance, warned him of the potential dangers of disobedience, and set a mark upon him to preserve his physical life, postponing an appointment with eternal damnation!

It is a remarkable truth that Cain, the first man born into this world, was also the first vessel of wrath that God endured with much longsuffering—a man who fitted himself to destruction by his own devices (Romans 9:22). The same precious grace that Cain resisted was sufficient to save Abel from his sins.

Brethren, there is nothing like a Biblical context to set the record straight on doctrinal issues. Is it possible to reflect upon the Lord’s interaction with Cain and draw the theological conclusion that God simply withheld from Cain the ability to believe? I have serious and reasonable doubts! I have no doubt, however, that the Lord Jesus Christ is the total sufficiency for our total depravity!


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