Total Depravity

April 20th 2017

The doctrine of total depravity is the acknowledgement that the Bible teaches that, as a result of the fall of man (Genesis 3:6), every part of man—his mind, his emotions, his will, and his flesh—has been corrupted by sin.  Total depravity is a label that is used to summarize what the Bible teaches about the spiritual condition of fallen man.  Within the Calvinists’ TULIP, the acronym commonly used to describe what are known as the five points of Calvinism (the doctrines of grace), the “T” is where we find “total depravity”.



Realize that sin affects all areas of our being including who we are and what we do.  Sin penetrates to the core of our being so that everything is tainted by sin.  The doctrine of total depravity accurately summarizes what the Bible teaches about the spiritual condition of fallen man.  Let’s look at what Scripture has to say about man’s condition:


The Bible teaches that, before coming to Christ, this was the “state” that each of us were once in (at some point, that “state” changed):


For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. [Tit 3:3]


The first question most of us will ask at this point is, “when did I become a sinner?”


Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me. [Psa 51:5]


The source of King David’s sin was a fallen, sinful disposition, that he possessed since conception.


The wicked are estranged from the womb; These who speak lies go astray from birth. [Psa 58:3]


At this point, one may say, “well maybe I was born a sinner, but certainly I grew out of it.”


The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it? [Jer 17:9]


This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. [Jhn 3:19]


The fact of the matter is that the apostle Paul tells us that no one seeks after God:




Isaiah tells us that there is no one who calls on God:


6 For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7 There is no one who calls on Your name, Who arouses himself to take hold of You; For You have hidden Your face from us And have delivered us into the power of our iniquities.

[Isa 64:6-7]


So, if I was born in sin, and I didn’t seek after God, then how did God view me while I was in that state?


1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. [Eph 2:1-7 NASB]


I was dead in my trespasses and sins…  I was a child of wrath…  “BUT GOD…!”  With this understanding, how can the Christian not fall to their knees and praise the God who created Heaven and Earth?


Once we understand our prior state and our current state, how should the Christian respond to this understanding and who should we give the credit to?


24 The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.

[2 Tim 2:24-26]


The Bible teaches that we sin because we are sinners by nature.  The total depravity of man is seen all throughout the Bible.  The unregenerate man is enslaved to sin; or, in other words, he is controlled by his sin nature (his natural tendency to sin).  The fact that unregenerate people are controlled by their selfish, sinful tendencies should not come as a surprise to any parent.  What parent has to teach his or her child to be selfish, to covet, or to lie?  Those actions come naturally from the child’s sin nature that he or she was born with.  



Even with this understanding, do recognize that there is a common misconception regarding total depravity.  Total depravity does not mean that man is as wicked or sinful as he could be, nor does it mean that man is without a conscience or any sense of right or wrong.  Neither does it mean that man does not or cannot do things that seem to be good when viewed from a human perspective or measured against a human standard.  It does not even mean that man cannot do things that seem to conform outwardly to the law of God.  What the Bible does teach, and what total depravity does recognize, is that even the “good” things man does are tainted by sin because they are not done for the glory of God, nor are they done out of faith in Him (Rom 14:23; Heb 11:6).  


While man looks solely upon the outward acts and judges them to be good, God looks upon not only the outward acts but also the inward motives that lie behind them.  Fallen man’s good deeds are motivated not by a desire to please God but by our own self-interest and are, thus, corrupted to the point where God declares that there is “no one who does good, no not one…”


Since Scripture is very clear that all of man is affected by sin, and so much so that “no one seeks after God,” then how can anyone possibly become a Christian?  The answer is that God must overcome man’s depravity in such a way that man is able to recognize his spiritual state and his hopeless condition apart from the grace of God.  Man’s spiritually blind eyes must be opened and the bondage of sin that renders him hopelessly enslaved must be broken so that he can respond in faith to the gospel message and the atoning work of Christ on the cross.  Only God can do this.


Properly understood, the doctrine of total depravity will destroy the hopes of those who place their faith in any type of works-based system of salvation.   A person must recognize that God’s sovereign grace is man’s only hope.  While the doctrine of total depravity destroys man’s self-righteousness and any misconceptions about man’s ability to be saved through his own free will or by his works, it inevitably leads one to ask the same question the disciples asked our Lord in Matthew 19:25-26:


When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”


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