A pastor I know once told me that he is a firm believer in total depravity, because he practices it every day. Or something close to that. His point is that if we’re honest with ourselves, we are all great sinners. Not were great sinners — are great sinners. And will be until we are finally glorified in the presence of God.
In his book Unspeakable, Os Guinness writes,
When the Times of London once asked several of Britain’s leading intellectuals what they thought was the problem with the world, the celebrated Catholic journalist G. K. Chesterton sent back a postcard response: “I am.”
“I am.” Was he wrong? Would anyone else reading this disagree with him? Can anyone else honestly give a different answer?
James tells us in his New Testament letter in 1:13-16,
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.
In his commentary on James, J. Alec Motyer concludes his thoughts on this passage with these words,
The rich love which links believer with believer prompts concern for spiritual welfare, and issues in a call to be clear-headed and open-eyed as to the realities of the situation. Present within is the great and inescapable foe of progress with God, the subtle and insinuating power of our sinful and fallen nature.
Where so much present-day Christian preaching and conversation would have introduced ‘the devil’ or ‘Satan’, James has no reference to this arch-enemy. And where so much contemporary analysis of the human condition would introduce external factors, such as amenities and facilities to keep people positively occupied, or circumstantial factors like boredom as a sufficient exculpation for delinquency, James says nothing of such matters. There is no need to introduce Satan here as an explanation; neither is there any excuse arising from circumstances or idleness. Were there no Satan there would still be wickedness; were every prospect pleasing, human nature would still be vile. The enemy is not only within the camp, within the heart; the enemy is the heart itself. (emphasis added)
Another writer who tackles this topic and does it well is Kris Lundgaard in his book The enemy within: straight talk about the power and defeat of sin. And he tells us that he is piggy-backing on the works of John Owen.
So what do we do with this? First, we need to own up to the fact that we are the problem, and then second, turn to God as the only solution, as James does in his letter in the verses that follow verse 16. In these verses we learn that God is the one who grants life (the new birth Jesus spoke of in John 3) through his word — the gospel as written in Scripture — and that as we continue to hear the word we must be doers of what we learn in that word.