Mankind is totally “dead” in our “transgressions and sins” as Paul says [Eph 2:1]. Yet the scriptures assume everywhere that mankind has the “ability” to choose good, and in doing so, to choose God [e.g. Gen 4:7; Ezekiel 25-31; Romans 1:18-20].
But the term “ability” suggests that man is “able” in his own right to choose good over evil. To this the scriptures are emphatically opposed [Rom 3:12]. Because of this many have run far away from any hint or suggestion that man – while being dead in his trespasses and sins – is yet called and expected to come to God and to “do what is right”.
Yet the scriptures are also opposed to this idea, for Cain was instructed by God to “master” the sin that desired him and to “do what is right” [Gen 4:7] even while being “dead” in his trespasses and sins. There is no intimation here that Cain was regenerated, yet – taking the scriptures at face value – it seems God fully expected Cain to “do what is right”.
Furthermore, the very fact that God judges the heathen nations in Ezekiel 25-32 shows that God expected them to do what is right; it is because they did not that they were judged. To this Paul writes in Romans that they suppressed the truth by their wickedness and that is why they will be without excuse [Rom 1:18-20].
So how can God expect men who are Totally Depraved, dead in their trespasses and sins, to do what is right? Because while mankind may be “unable” within themselves to do what is right, they have been ENABLED by God. It is the constant rejection of this enablement that amounts to man’s constant rejection of God’s offer of saving grace.
… Is that doctrine by which all men are born with the inclination to sin. [Jer 17:9; Gen 6:5; Rom 3:10-12; Eph 2:1]
… Is that doctrine by which all men have been enabled by God to accept by faith his offer of saving Grace. [John 16:8; Luke 19:9-10; John 6:44; Rom 2:4; 1 John 4:19; and especially Titus 2:11, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men”]
The Balance, Always the Balance…
To accept the one without the other will result in an imbalance in theology. I have a friend who has captured nicely the balance between Total Depravity and Prevenient Grace; “if all Fell in Adam, then don’t all receive God’s Call in Adam as well?” [Gen 3:9-10, “But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’ He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden’.”]