It has been asked about the doctrine of Total Depravity, “If we are totally depraved, then how did we come to know of this estate of sin and misery?” Beza, in his works discussing the question “For what ends the Holy Spirit use the preaching of the Law?” is helpful here.
Citing John 9:41, (Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains) Beza reminds the reader that in our fallen estate, corruption reigns in us to such an extent, that we are ignorant of our ignorance. In our fallenness, we are pleased with those things which ought to displease us. We suppress the light of truth that we have as Paul states in Romans:
Rom 1:20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
Rom 1:21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Rom 1:22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools;
Rom 2:1 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.
We are in need to understand the depths of our despair. There is no better way for God to do this than by the declaration of the Law. The Law declares to us what we should be. It takes no account of our ability to achieve that obedience because that would be changing or moving the standard. It is, as Beza says, blackness being placed by white.
Rom 3:20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
Rom 7:13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.
So God begins with the preaching of the Law. Because in the Law we see what we cannot be and yet what we have to be. It is in the Law that we see how close we are to utter damnation. In the Law declared to our souls, we are reminded again and again how desperately we need a remedy.
We should not be surprised, that God begins with making us realize our miserable condition and estate as part of the process of drawing us to him. The Law is given not to justify us but to condemn us.
Gal 2:21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
Gal 3:18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.
Gal 3:19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.
Gal 3:20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
Gal 3:21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.
The Law is used to open our eyes to our location. That we are over the mouth of hell (to use Beza’s illustration), and it is ready to swallow us. The Law removes our pride and shows us the wrath of God as we number our sins before his righteous judgments.
Rom 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
Rom 4:15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
Gal 3:10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”
Gal 3:12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”
We look back in history, or even in our own lives, and humanity has always sought salvation in those things which will bring about their condemnation (the Law). Instead of fleeing to Christ by faith, they add the Law to their life and pile condemnation upon more condemnation. It is as if the Law did not condemn them enough.
Gal 4:9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?
Gal 4:10 You observe days and months and seasons and years!
Gal 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Col 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
Col 2:16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.
Col 2:17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
Col 2:18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind,
Col 2:19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
Col 2:20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—
Col 2:21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”
Col 2:22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?
Col 2:23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
How do we understand our condition (total depravity)? Though the preaching of the Law, the Holy Spirit makes known to us our faults and our inability to meet God’s righteous requirements. The Holy Spirit uses this to bring about repentance of the heart and produces a confession towards God. When we think we have clearly seen ourselves, and deny that we are in the darkness of condemnation, we are unfit for salvation.