What exactly is total
depravity? When we hear the
expression, it conjures up ideas of wickedness of the most debase manner. That is not necessarily so. It has to do with man’s sin nature. The view one takes concerning salvation will
be determined, largely, by how they understand the biblical teaching of man’s
definitions of total depravity:
Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost
all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a
natural man being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not
able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or prepare himself
thereunto. Westminster Confession of Faith,
Chapter 9, Section 3.
Man’s nature is corrupt, perverse, and sinful
throughout. “Total” does not mean that
each sinner is as totally corrupt in his actions and thoughts. Instead, the word is used to indicate that whole of man’s being has been affected
by sin. Steele and Thomas: The 5 Points
Total depravity means that natural man is never able to
do any good that is fundamentally pleasing to God, and in fact, does evil all
the time. Edwin H. Palmer: The 5
points of Calvinism.
From our three definitions above we can conclude the following
about the total depravity of man:
1). Man fell into this state.
2). Man’s fall into this sinful condition affects his whole being, both physically and
3). Man does nothing good to please God.
4). Man’s sinful condition is such that he cannot save
Now, it is one thing to say these things about mankind, but
does scripture support it?
Man’s fall into sin:
The first three chapters of Genesis describe these events.
The final creation week was originally declared “good.”
In Genesis one and two, we have the record of God creating
the world. Beginning in Gen. 1:10, as
God would create, He would end His creative act with the phrase, “it
was good.” It is repeated in 1:18, 21, 25, and in 1:31 God describes
the finishing of creation as “very good.”
The Hebrew word tob is translated into good.
Its simple definition means to be favorable,
pleasant, or right. God qualified His
original creation as being favorable and right.
It is reasonable to believe at that time all that God had
created was, as He wanted it. Man’s
depravity had yet to come into the world.
creation of man: Gen. 1-2
God’s crowning work of the creation week was the creation of
Adam and Eve, the first man and the first woman.
Genesis 1:26-28 describes this event.
First, it is important to point out that it was God alone
who chose to create. It was a plan made
by the holy council of the Godhead.
God made man in our image and in
our likeness. Thus, God
patterned man after Himself.
Image has the
idea of to carve out. It is akin to a statue being carved.
Likeness has the
idea of similarity to some thing.
Does that mean that man looks like God? Or, does it mean man
is like God in essence, or can become like Him?
No, the scriptures do not support such thinking.
How then is man like God?
He has a nature that is not shared by the animals – He
walks upright and can think abstractly with reason. Man can even think upon his own thoughts.
Man can verbally communicate. He can speak, debate and discuss with other men.
He has moral consciousness. He can distinguish between good things and bad things
He can express wide-ranging emotion.
He has volition to make choices
Most importantly, man has the capacity to love and
Adam and Eve were also unique, in that they were given dominion over the rest of creation God
made (Gen. 1:26). Dominion means they
were invested with authority by God to subdue the earth.
The most unique attribute of Adam and Eve was their holiness. They were with out the corruption of sin.
The Fall: Genesis 3
In Genesis 2:16-17, God commands the man not to eat of the
tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
That leads to a question: What kind of tree was this? The Bible is silent. It should be noted that it wasn’t the
physical fruit that brought this condition upon man, but the selfish act of
disobedience against a gracious God that brought the fall.
Henry Morris writes: Man already had knowledge of good. All he had seen and experienced was
good. Rejection of God’s word and His
prohibition would necessarily convey knowledge of evil to him. (Morris, The Genesis Record).
With out going into explicit detail, Man was tempted to eat
the fruit by the serpent (Satan) and he and the woman partook of the forbidden
tree, and the consequences were dire.
The Consequences of
Man’s sin placed him in a realm of death. He died both spiritually and physically.
NOTE: The biblical
concept of death is separation, not extinction, or extinguishing.
Adam and Eve
For Adam and Eve, they immediately felt shame and exposure
that had previously not been experienced, (2:7).
They were both cursed by God, (2:16-19). Eve was to have multiplied sorrow in
bringing forth children and an unfulfilled desire to rule her husband,
(3:16). Adam on the other hand, was
cursed to toil under laborious conditions, (3:17-19). And both of them were separated from the presence of God, (3:23).
Adam and Eve’s sin did not end with them. They, as the progenitors of the human race,
passed their sin nature onto the whole of humanity.
From this fact, we can conclude the following with
regards to man’s sin:
Man is born with
sin. This sin nature is brought
forth at conception.
wrote in Psalm 51:5 that he was “brought forth in iniquity, and in sin
did his mother conceive,” him.
He wrote further in Psalm 58:3 that the wicked, “go astray from the womb” and that they “err from their birth.”
a spiritual principle: the offspring of
two people with a sin nature will only produce another person with a sin
NOTE: The idea of an “age of accountability” is not taught
in scripture. Though children may not
manifest ungodly behavior for some time, their sin nature is present and
already has the child in bondage to only make sinful decisions.
effects his whole being, or person.
This is what is meant by the word total. Man’s sin has corrupted all of his faculties:
Gen. 6:5, “…every imagination of
the thoughts of his heart was only
Eccles. 9:3, “yea, also the heart of men is full of evil, and
madness is in their hearts…”
Jer. 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things and
Rom. 8:7, “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God…”
Eph. 2:3, “…fulfilling the desires
of the flesh and the mind…”
Eph. 4:17,18, “…in the vanity of
the mind, having the understanding
Titus 1:15, “…but even their mind and conscience is defiled.”
John 3:19, “…and men loved darkness rather than light,
because their deeds were evil.”
Rom. 1:32, “Who knowing the
judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not
only do the same but take pleasure
in them that do them.”
1Tim. 4:1, “…some shall depart
from the faith, giving heed to
2 Tim. 3:2,4
“For men shall be lovers of their
own selves … lovers of pleasure more
lovers of God.”
- Man’s sin has rendered him unable to
understand spiritual truth.
of man has plunged him into spiritual darkness. Though he is “spiritual,” inventing and practicing all sorts of
religions, his spirituality is worldly, ungodly, and thus unpleasing to God.
2:1, “You who are dead in trespasses
2:13, “And you, being dead in your
word “dead” in these two
passages. It is taken from the Greek
word nekros. The word means as it is translated in
English, dead. Spiritually, natural man
is a corpse. He can no more respond to
spiritual truth contained in the gospel, as a cadaver could respond to the heat
of an approaching fire.
2:14, “The natural man receives not
the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they
are discerned spiritually.”
point in the first two chapters of Corinthians is to show that natural men do
not understand spiritual truth. In
order to understand the things of God, those things must be revealed to the
natural men by God.
3:3, “except a man be born again, he
cannot see the kingdom of God.”
2:5, “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened
us together with Christ…”
It takes a divine act of God to
make a spiritually dead person alive.
- Man’s sin has made him unable to come
Man’s bondage to sin, he can never come to God for salvation. This is
Total Inability. It is the flip side to
Total Depravity. Sin has so corrupted
men that they
from responding to spiritual truth. Man
is in essence, a slave to sin.
John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the father
who sent me draws him…”
“Jesus answered them, Verily, I say to you, whosoever commits sin is the
servant of sin.”
Romans 6:20, “when you were servants of sin…”
Romans 8:7,8, “Because the carnal
mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they
that are in the flesh cannot please
Titus 3:3, “For we ourselves also
were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures…”
Prov. 20:9, “who can say, I have
made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin?”
Jer. 13:23, “Can the Ethiopian
change his skin or the leopards his spots? May you also do good who are
accustomed to do evil?”
What about free-will?
One subject usually raised during the discussion of total
depravity is the role of man’s will, or choice, in choosing Christ. Normally the question is asked, “Is not man’s will free to choose Christ or
The common understanding of man’s will is freedom to equally choose between spiritual good (turning from sin and
following Christ) and spiritual bad.
The Biblical evidence, however, is contrary to this common
thought in respect to man’s will. The
Bible clearly teaches that the mind and heart of men are subject to/enslaved to/servant to their sin nature. This sin nature causes men to think and act in a manner that displeases God. All of their thoughts and actions will have
a fountainhead from their sinful
A. This is not to
say men lack understanding of biblical facts, the person of Christ or His
atoning work. What is does mean is that
men do not respond to these facts in the proper, spiritual way, repenting of
sin and embracing Christ as Lord.
B. Nor is it saying
there is an absent of relative good in men.
Man can do good acts of service, kindness, and generosity to his fellow
“What it does mean is that men are actuated by wrong
principles, and that he is wholly unable to love God or to do anything meriting
salvation.” Loraine Boettner, The
Reformed Doctrine of Predestination.
It is better to say that men have free volition or choice,
but it is freedom to only choose between degrees
of sinfulness. Man can only choose
according to his nature and the Bible describes it as sinful. A natural man can be a fine moralist,
raising money for orphanages, or a pornographer, dealing in the vilest of
lusts. Neither person is pleasing to
God, for they are under the curse of their sin nature.
True freedom is the ability to do what is righteous and no
natural man has that ability.
*Just a thought.
Christians are bound to their regenerated state, and are not free to reject
Christ. They are just as unable to deny Christ, as the natural man is unable to accept Him.
Man’s sin places
him under God’s wrath.
1:18, “For the wrath of God is
revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness…”
Eph. 2:3, “…and were by nature the
children of wrath…”
1 Thess., “…for the wrath of God is come upon them to the
Ps. 21:9, “…the LORD shall swallow
them up in his wrath…”
2 Pet. 3:7, “…reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and
perdition of ungodly men.”
All of mankind struggles with disease, pain, suffering,
decay and eventually death. Physical death is the visible manifestation of
man’s sin nature.
“For the wages of
sin, is death” Romans 6:23.