Total Depravity: horrible words that describe humankind’s falleness

No words can adequately describe the result of humankind’s fall into sin, the words total depravity have been used and are frequently misunderstood by those who do not hold to a Reformed Theology. When we say that men are totally depraved we are not saying that all men are as evil as possible, what we are saying is that sin has affected the totality of a person’s being. The fall into sin has affected our minds, our emotions, our will, and our bodies. Some people try to exempt some part of our being such as the intellect or the will but this is not tenable in light of the biblical revelation. In this article, we will see the radical results that sin has brought upon humankind as we look at the Biblical text.

In Genesis 3 we have the well-known account of the fall into sin by Adam and Eve, by believing the lies of the serpent they find themselves separated from God and expelled from the Garden of Eden. In the garden, God spelt out the results of his curse upon humankind and the creation The following chapters are not a pretty picture as they describe how sin spread, we read of Cain murdering Abel and it goes on until in chapter 6 we read,

5 The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the LORD said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.

The New International Version. (2011). (Ge 6:5–8). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

God’s righteous judgement is shown here against the backcloth of the sin of humanity. The writer describes the state of humans in their thinking as “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” This description shows how God views fallen humanity. We will see that even though Noah was a righteous man, sin still pervaded the earth and still does.

Jeremiah 17, shows us something more of the sinfulness of man,

The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it
The New International Version. (2011). (Je 17:9). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

The heart is the seat of the mind, will, and emotions in Hebrew thought and therefore, this is a very radical statement indeed, humankind is in a desperate state and only God can bring salvation to him.

Throughout both the Old and New Testaments we find humankind’s plight described in a radical way sin has has corrupted every part of humankind’s being, this can be seen in the writings of the apostles and I want to to look particularly at the letters of Paul. I want to start with the Book of Romans. in the first 5 Chapters, we find Paul dealing with the topic of sin in some depth. I will just touch upon a few key points from this letter and then note some other key passages in his writings. In Romans 1 Paul says,

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
The New International Version. (2011). (Ro 1:18–25). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Here Paul shows that human beings have sinned against their creator and have believed the lies of satan and ignored the evidence of His being, humankind exchanges the truth of God for a lie. In chapter 2 he develops his argument about sin even more but he shows clearly the dreadful plight we are in, in chapter 3,

9 What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. 10 As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
11there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit.”
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
14“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16ruin and misery mark their ways,
17 and the way of peace they do not know.”
18“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

The New International Version. (2011). (Ro 3:9–21). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Paul shows the extent of sin by this group of quotations from the Old Testament and the verdict is not very complimentary, we are totally in bondage to sin and its corrupting influence. All are under the sentence of death because of their transgressions. Paul goes further in Romans 5,

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—
13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.
15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!
The New International Version. (2011). (Ro 5:12–15). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Sin has become part of fallen human nature (see also Psalm 51) and has polluted us, even before the giving of the law death reigned because men and women have sinned against a holy God.

Ephesians 2 shows the plight of man before the grace of God comes into his life,

2 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

The New International Version. (2011). (Eph 2:1–3). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

We are dead in our sins, this shows how radically sin affects us, it is not until the grace of God works in our lives that we are truly alive. We have all followed the false pathways of sin until we were called into the light by the grace of God.

Paul encouraging Titus to witness to the gospel reminds him of the plight of man in these words,

3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another

The New International Version. (2011). (Tt 3:3). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Paul uses strong language to describe the plight and power of sin but he is confident that the power of the gospel exceeds every sin.

I could list many other verses but I will close this post with a helpful quote from the Pentecostal Theologian, Bruce R Marino, he says,

Corruption. Because human nature was so damaged by the Fall no person is capable of doing spiritual good without God’s gracious assistance. It does not mean that people can do no apparent good, but only that they can do nothing to merit salvation. Nor is this teaching exclusivelely Calvinistic. even arminius (although not all his followers) described the “Free Will of man towards the true good” as “imprisoned, destroyed andlost …it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine Grace” Arminius intent, like Wesley after him, was not to retain human freedom in spite of othe Fall, but to maintain divine grace as greater than even the destruction of the Fall”

(Bruce R  Marino in Systematic Theology edited by Stanley Horton pages 261-262, Logion Press 1995  Springfield, Missouri.)

Here we see a remarkable unity amongst Calvinists and Arminians on the doctrine of sin.

About pneumaandlogos

David Rollings was born in Luton in1949 and raised by my Christian parents in the Gospel Standard Strict Baptist denomination( Hyper-Calvinistic} in the sixties I rebelled against this background and got involved in left-wing politics. I became a Christian in 1969 and soon started reading Francis Schaeffer's books and came to embrace a Christian Worldview. I had the privilege of being on the staff of L'Abti Fellowship from1975 - 1979. After L'abri I studied at London School of Theology where I gained my BA.(1983) A few years later I studied for my MA by distance learning with The Nazarene Theological College Manchester (1999) For the last 25 years, I have been an elder of Shoreham-by-Sea Baptist Church. I also regularly attend the Christian Doctrine Study Group of the Tyndale Fellowship.
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