by Bob Burridge ©2011
Humans were created without an inclination to do evil. Adam and Eve were holy and free. Their freedom didn’t mean that God had no plan or idea what would happen. Their Creator was not open for suggestions about an uncertain future which in any way was dependent upon them. Eden was not a cosmic moral experiment. God is sovereign eternally. By “free” we mean that man had no built in pull toward evil. He had the moral ability both to do good and to sin.
In the fall, all humans lost that freedom and
became corrupted, inclined toward evil.
Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”
At that moment in Eden, when Adam represented us all in the first sin, humanity became depraved. Sin brought death and bondage. There was no more ability to do good. The chains of corruption were firmly fixed upon us all. Fallen humans were cut off from the Creator, the source of truth and life. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:1 saying that we were all, “… dead in trespasses and sins”
Sin alienates us all from God. The guilt that comes from it deserves eternal judgment, eternal separation from the Creator. Romans 6:23 says, “the wages of sin is death.”
This corruption, or “depravity”, is inherited by all humans. In Romans 5:12 Paul wrote, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.”
Just how seriously damaged are we from our inherited corruption?
We say this depravity is “total” because every part of the person is involved. Fallen humans are unable to do any spiritual good. Humans are corrupted to the core of their soul. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?”
The Bible says in Ecclesiastes 7:20, “For there is not a just man on earth who does good And does not sin.” The Apostle Paul references that verse, and quotes from Psalm 14:1-3 in his letter to the Romans. There he tells how complete our depravity is from the time of our conception. The classic passage of Romans 3:10-12 says, “As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.’ ”
No one, aside from God’s grace, has the ability either to believe or to repent. Jesus said in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” In 1 Corinthians 2:14 the Apostle Paul wrote, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
No one can change his own basic nature. To do that he would have to go against what he already is. He can’t even understand the real problem, much less understand and trust in the solution. As far back as the time of the prophets, Jeremiah 13:23 said, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Then may you also do good who are accustomed to do evil.”
Fallen humans hate the fact that they need God’s grace in order to do what is truly good. Once confronted with this biblical teaching, it either converts them, or condemns them. Those not renewed by a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit will be offended. They will refuse to admit their lost condition. Their negative response further exposes the corruption they are so quick to deny.
The denial of man’s total depravity is at the root
of all non-christian thought and values.
The philosopher Rousseau proposed the idea of the “Noble Savage”. He was born in Calvin’s Geneva in 1712 (about 200 years after John Calvin). Rousseau came to hate the principles of God which were revealed in Scripture. Instead of total depravity, he taught the natural goodness of humanity. To him civilization was a mistake. It gets in our way. He thought that if we could just get rid of rules and cultural traditions, we would see mankind at his best.
The Frenchman Robespierre believed strongly in the teachings of Rousseau. He believed that man will prove his natural goodness if he was only allowed to be really free. He believed this theory could liberate the people of France.
He and his followers finally came to power. He had his opportunity to put his beliefs into practice. We call this period of France’s history the “Reign of Terror”. It lasted for a little over a year beginning in 1793. When it was over more than 20,000 Frenchmen had been killed in a horrible blood-bath by the “good men” of Robespierre. Included among those massacred were many clergymen who dared to doubt that man was naturally good.
How did he justify his use of terrorism and violence in proving that humanity is basically good? He explained it this way, “We must annihilate the enemies of the republic at home and abroad, or else we shall perish… in time of revolution a democratic government must rely on virtue and terror… Terror is nothing but justice; swift, severe and inflexible; it is an emanation of virtue …”
A couple generations later there was the French artist Gauguin. He also believed in Rousseau’s idea that man is basically good. He left civilization to live with the “Noble Savage” in Tahiti. The Tahitians lived without civil laws and restrictions. He was certain he would find an ideal society where there was unhindered human kindness and goodness. However, Gauguin was disillusioned with what he found in Tahiti. After painting a Tahitian scene, showing that what he found was not noble, he committed suicide.
History confirms what God reveals about man in the Bible. Humans are all fallen creature. We are totally depraved and live under the shadow of eternal damnation.
These are hard teachings. Jesus admitted this to the disciples in John 6. Some had stopped following him because of his teachings. In John 6:60 it says, “Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can understand it?’ ”
So Jesus repeated that same thing he had said earlier in verse 44. In John 6:65 Jesus said, “… Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”
Our total depravity provides the barrier
that reveals the power of God’s grace.
In contrast with our being dead in sin, Paul said in Ephesians 2:4-5, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)”
Since salvation is totally a work of grace, and since it is entirely granted by an all sovereign and all powerful God, there can be no uncertainty about our salvation when we truly believe in Christ’s work as our only hope. Our confidence is never dependent upon our works or knowledge. The price demanded by our offenses against God was fully paid for on the cross of Calvary long ago by Jesus.
(The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.)
I always have trouble understanding the words ‘total depravity’. To me it conveys the idea of somebody who has sunk to the depths of depravity. I know that we are corrupt through and through and therefore everything we do and our motivations and thoughts are basically sinful and selfish. We can’t do good for good’s sake, but can only do ‘good things’ to try to save ourselves or make ourselves feel good.
I do believe that we can’t choose God on our own, but I don’t believe that God chooses people from eternity to be saved or not saved. I believe (hope) that God draws all men. I believe that the Holy Spirit works on all who hear His word. We can’t choose Him until our eyes are opened. He opens the eyes of those who see their need for Him, and then they can submit to the gospel and repent. I do believe many hear the gospel, but wilfully choose not to submit. This is a hard subject, and it makes people dig into the word to try to understand it, but I don’t think we’ll be able to resolve it until eternity.
The term “total depravity” is a technical one and is easily misunderstood and misused. It doesn’t mean we are as bad as we can be. God in his mercy restrains sin in all humans to one degree or another. The term means that the depravity of sin touches every part of the fallen heart. Until we are regenerated by the Holy Spirit by the work of Jesus Christ, our desires and understanding are confused and mislead. We don’t see God as he really is, and we don’t see his hand at work in the lives and world around us. In that sense we are totally depraved. Not one part of our being is still pure and untouched by sin. The term “Total Inability” is a far better term because it is more precise and less confusing.
I also understand how hard it is to accept the idea that we would not come to Christ if he does not regenerate our hearts (save us) first and restore our ability to do this very good and important thing. I too struggled with this concept as did the followers of Jesus (John 6:60). Upon careful study of the direct statements in God’s word one is often confronted with matters that challenge the desires of our yet imperfect heart and understanding. You might find the article about “Effectual Calling” helpful. It looks at this very issue. It is found in our online syllabus, Unit 4 (Subjective Soteriology), Lesson 2.
The full link is: http://genevaninstitute.org/syllabus/unit-four-subjective-soteriology/lesson-2-effectual-calling/
Thank you for your comments. We all need to keep searching the Scriptures to test what we believe with what God says in his word.
I also meant to say that even though we are corrupt and can’t do any good, and can’t ‘rise’ to be better on our own, that people can sink to lower depths of depravity as sinners. On our own we can only sink; we cannot rise. That’s why ‘totally depraved’ confuses me. Somebody once said that maybe ‘total inability’ is a better phrase.
see my comments on your previous post.