Every part of you was made to know, love, and enjoy the Triune God. Your rational mind or intellect was created to comprehend something of the divine nature for your enjoyment. Your affections were made to be satisfied in God and to enjoy passionate worship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Even your will exists to give and receive love freely in a genuine relationship with the heavenly Bridegroom. The Greatest Commandment is great because it reflects your telos, or final created purpose: to love God with all that you are, with all that belongs to your nature, “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Mt. 22:37). Luke adds “strength,” but nothing is missing in Matthew; the point is totality.
Total Depravity in the First Adam
God made us for a beautiful purpose. But if we look around (and within), something has gone horribly wrong. From birth, the mind is darkened by sin and set on the things of earth (Php. 3:19; Rom. 8:6). Reason, “the candle of the Lord,” is nearly extinguished. The heart is deceitful above all things and its intentions evil from youth (Jer. 17:9; Gen. 8:21; cf. Gen. 6:5). Our wills say “no, Lord, no” instead of “yes, Lord, yes, to your will and to your way.” We’re deeply self-centered rather than God-centered, curved in on ourselves by nature (incurvatus in se). The song of our soul is “I did it my way,” and we’re proud of it (Isa. 53:6). Even our bodies are subject to death and decay. In a word, human nature has been totally corrupted—corrupted in all its parts.
Despite being the first letter of the Calvinist acronym “TULIP,” total or entire depravity is a catholic doctrine. The first canon of the Second Council of Orange affirms that “it is the whole man, that is, both body and soul, that was ‘changed for the worse’ through the offense of Adam’s sin.” Wesley spoke of “that entire depravity and corruption which by nature spreads itself over the whole man leaving no part uninfected.” Today, we might say “total person,” but “man” refers especially to “humanity” or “human nature.” The point is clear: sin affects not part of us, but all of us. Wesley even taught that this doctrine separates Christians from heathens, who are “wholly ignorant of the entire depravation of the whole human nature, of every man born into the world, in every faculty of his soul.”
This is crucial: human nature is the thing that is corrupted or depraved. When we speak of our “sinful nature,” “sinful” is an adjective that describes the condition of the human nature that God created. Metaphysically speaking, we don’t have a “sin nature” (compound noun)—some other thing that’s been added to the person and needs to be literally removed or taken out. Sin doesn’t have a substantial existence; it’s just a distortion or corruption of the good. In this case, it’s a corruption of every part of the “very good” (Gen. 1:31) nature which God created to know, love, and enjoy him.
Total Incarnation and Healing by the Second Adam
When the whole of our nature fell, God looked with compassion on our sorry condition. He was unwilling to abandon us to our sin and misery. God knew that for his creatures to be happy in him, the “disease” of total depravity would need to be healed by a mighty power. For this reason, he sent his Son to be made man. By sending Christ to assume all parts of our nature, God united human nature with the “medicine” of the divine nature for its healing.
Wesley is known for his love of the Greek fathers with their emphasis on sanctification and participation in the divine nature, and none is greater than Gregory of Nazianzus. When the heretic Apollinarius taught that Jesus did not have a human mind, Gregory explained that if this was true, our human minds would be forever lost in corruption:
If anyone has put his trust in Him as a Man without a human mind, he is really bereft of mind, and quite unworthy of salvation. For that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved. If only half Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole. (Ep. 101)
When Adam sinned, “the whole of his nature fell”; therefore, the whole of his nature needed to be united to the Godhead for its healing. Total depravity requires total incarnation. In his incarnate life, Jesus loved God perfectly with his mind, affections, and will. By his total obedience, even unto the death of his human body and soul, Christ perfected our nature.
Total or Entire Sanctification by the Spirit of Christ
Only in light of the incarnation and atonement are we prepared to preach sanctification by the Spirit. It is the Spirit’s role in the divine economy to apply what Christ has accomplished by his mediatorial ministry. The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9), sent to apply the whole Christ to the whole man. Born of the flesh, we partook of the sinful nature of the First Adam; born of the Spirit, we partake of the perfected nature of the Second Adam. Through union with Christ, we are blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3), including sanctification.
Total depravity requires total incarnation which provides total or entire sanctification.
While Jesus “the great example is, and pattern for me,” sanctification is more about participation than imitation: “because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). And because the perfected human nature of Christ is hypostatically united with the divine nature, we simultaneously “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). The Wesley brothers understood that our only hope for holiness is to share in the nature of Christ:
Jesus, in whom the Godhead’s rays
Beam forth with mildest majesty;
I see thee full of truth and grace,
And come for all I want to thee.
Save me from pride—the plague expel;
Jesus, thine humble self impart:
O let thy mind within me dwell;
O give me lowliness of heart.
Enter thyself, and cast out sin;
Thy spotless purity bestow:
Touch me, and make the leper clean;
Wash me, and I am white as snow.
Sprinkle me, Saviour, with thy blood,
And all thy gentleness is mine;
And plunge me in the purple flood,
Till all I am is lost in in thine.
Sin is “expelled” or “cast out” as Christ comes in and imparts himself, his heart and mind, to believers. When the indwelling Spirit begins his sanctifying process, he infuses in us the thoughts and affections of Christ, causing us to cry “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15). A conflict naturally ensues with our still-corrupted nature. Though believers submit to Christ’s lordship when they believe, only by the indwelling Spirit are they able to obey the command to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1). “Bodies” refers to the whole by the part; the Apostle calls for a surrender of our entire selves, that Christ may be all in all. This totality is in view in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, the locus classicus on entire or total sanctification: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
At the outset of his Plain Account of Christian Perfection, Wesley makes clear that this is his driving concern: “‘simplicity of intention, and purity of affection,’ one design in all we speak or do, and one desire ruling all our tempers”; “to be all devoted to God, to give him all my soul, my body, and my substance.” In his hymn “Jesus, thine all victorious love,” Charles Wesley explains entire sanctification in terms of being sanctified in “every part,” including the “heart” and “soul.” This happens when the indwelling Spirit fills “the whole” of human nature with Christ’s own love:
Refining fire, go through my heart,
illuminate my soul;
scatter thy life through every part
and sanctify the whole.
Perfect love is the keynote of Wesleyan entire sanctification. Wesley taught, “It is nothing higher and nothing lower than this, the pure love of God and man—the loving God with all our heart and soul, and our neighbour as ourselves. It is love governing the heart and life, running through all our tempers, words, and actions.” He emphasized, “The more care should we take to keep the simple scriptural account continually in our eye: pure love reigning alone in the heart and life, this is the whole of scriptural perfection.” Thomas McCall and Keith Stanglin concur that “ultimately, it is simply whole-hearted and complete love for God and neighbor,” and go on to affirm,
Sanctification is “entire” in the sense that it involves and includes the whole person. Tracking closely with Pauline teaching, the Methodists and Holiness advocates insist that the “whole spirit and soul and body” will be “preserved blameless” (1 Thess. 5:23). It is not “entire” in the sense that there is no room for growth or maturity in the Christian life for those who are sanctified, but it is “entire” in the sense that the entire human person is consecrated to God for cleansing and service. It can be referred to as “Christian perfection” not in the sense that it signals something that has arrived at its telos and can get no better—instead, “perfection” is to be understood in the sense of older Christian usage of perpetual growth in godliness that is unimpeded. (emphasis original)
Total depravity requires total incarnation which provides total or entire sanctification. Entire sanctification is nothing less than the whole Christ for the whole man. By yielding every part of our corrupted nature to the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are empowered to fulfill the Great Commandment and make greater progress in the lifelong journey of being conformed to the image of the Son from one degree of glory to another (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18).
This article was first published in Firebrand Magazine.