The "T" in T.U.L.I.P. stands for "total depravity." Some scholars prefer the phrase "total inability" or "absolute inability" and I prefer those as well. We are not all as evil as we could be, but we are all utterly unable and incapable. We are unable to save ourselves and we are unable to come to faith without God granting it to us. We are born into sin, born into the desires and lusts of the flesh, incapable of doing any spiritual good.
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" Jeremiah 17:9
"Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil." Jeremiah 13:23
"But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person." Matthew 15:18-20These verses make it pretty clear that the human heart is a hopeless, wretched thing apart from Christ. This is because we are all born spiritually dead.
"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience--among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." Ephesians 2:1-3We are dead. What can dead people do? Absolutely nothing. Dead people have no power, no ability. John MacArthur says, "Man's problem is he is absolutely dead and he is incapable of relating to God at all...God's person, God's truth, or God's commands (Online Source)." If man is born a sinner, then what is his fate apart from Christ?
"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 6:23"But, people can do good!" you protest. Yes, people can do good, but they are incapable of doing spiritual good which will be pleasing to God. What is demanded by our God? Perfect righteousness.
"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." Romans 3:10-12.
"For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh 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." Romans 8:6-8As Phil Johnson says, Romans 8:7 "describes a hopeless state of utter inability to love God, to obey His commands, or to please Him. That is the state of all whose hearts have not been renewed by Christ (Online Source)." How do we escape the flesh, how can we please God?
"You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you." Romans 8:9-11Did you catch that? It is God, by means of the Holy Spirit, who raises us to life!
"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--...For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." Ephesians 2:4-6, 8-9God "made us alive" through the saving work of Christ on the cross and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit within us. A dead person cannot will himself back to life. Lazarus did not emerge from the tomb until Christ called him and enabled him to do so. So also can dead sinners not emerge from the darkness of their sin until they are called and enabled to do so. "We cannot by sheer force of will set our hearts to love Him, because as fallen creatures we are so in love with our own sin and rebellion that our desires are twisted. Our affections are warped and hopelessly corrupted...Our hearts are poisoned by sin, and that is why we do not and cannot love God on our own (Johnson, online source)."
"We cannot love God on our own." So true. And yet,
"For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die--but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation." Romans 5:6-11"Christ died for the ungodly." He died for the unrighteous, for the sinner, for those who were his enemies. It does not read that Christ "died for those who made a few mistakes but were basically good." Nope, we were hopeless, helpless, wretched, unrighteous, enemies of God. And yet He died that we might live.
It's imperative that we understand the doctrine of man's absolute inability if we are preaching the Gospel. If we cannot describe the fallenness of man, then we cannot explain what we mean when we say that "Jesus saves." Saves from what? From the wrath of God. Why do we need to be saved from the wrath of God? Because we are all deserving of that wrath if left to our sinful nature without salvation through the blood of Christ and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. If we don't tell people why they need a Savior, then the Good News falls flat.
"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." 1 Corinthians 2:14So we preach the Gospel to unsaved sinners by revealing to them the terminal illness that afflicts them. The Gospel is not really "good news" if the hearer is unaware of his own sinful inability before a holy, just, and righteous God. Without a right understanding of man's inability, I fear we will find ourselves lacking a right understanding of salvation.