The natural state of man is total depravity; that is man’s nature is crippled by sin. So much so that he is incapable of seeking God. This is a topic that is not accepted by many, especially by those who have embraced a works based righteousness and, most especially, those who insist that they will be granted access to Heaven because they are “basically good people” reject it. We are going to discuss what John MacArthur calls the Doctrine of Absolute Inability or more commonly called Total Depravity.
Let’s start with the obvious question, what is Total Depravity? Total depravity is a phrase that is used to summarize what the Bible teaches about the natural spiritual condition of fallen man (By that I mean the spiritual condition we are born in because of Original Sin). It’s the “T” in the acronym TULIP, which is commonly used to enumerate the five points of Calvinism and the “T” that is used in FACTS to enumerate the 5 points of Classical Evangelical Arminianism.
This isn’t a comfortable topic; it certainly isn’t something that we discuss at parties in “polite society” and it certainly isn’t some niggling little detail that can be overlooked. It entails what may well be the most taboo word in our morally relativistic society, sin. You are a sinner and so am I (yes I really did just go there) and we are all in big trouble because of it.
Total Depravity, though often misunderstood, acknowledges that the Bible teaches that every part of man—the mind, will, emotions, and flesh are corrupted by sin. This is a result of the sin in Genesis 3:6. This is to say that sin affects all of our being—who we are and what we do. Sin has so penetrated us, going to the core of our being, so that everything is polluted by sin. Any good deeds that we do, any righteousness that we bring to God is like filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6) To give you an idea of how disgusting sin is to God, how utterly repugnant it is, I will share with you what the Hebrew literally says; filthy rags is the cleaned up version for church. Literally, in the Hebrew, it says our righteousness is as a menstrual cloth. I realize that what I just said is shocking and it should be. We don’t take sin seriously enough; you don’t and I don’t and that’s just reality. None of us lives in constant awareness of just how awful our sin really is. Let’s move on…
In the bullet points below, we have summarized the Doctrine of Total Depravity
- The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9)
- We are born dead in our transgressions and sins (Psalm 51:5, Psalm 58:3 and Ephesians 2:1-5)
- We are held captive to a love for sin (John 3:19 and John 8:34)
- There is no one who seeks for God (Romans 3:10-11)
- Man loves the darkness (John 3:19)
- Men do not understand the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14)
- As a result, men suppress the Truth of God in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18) and continue to live in sin.
- Because of the totally depraved nature of man, he continues to live in sin and this sinful life actually seems right to him (Proverbs 14:12)
- Depravity is so pervasive that, by nature, we reject the Message of the Gospel as foolish (1 Corinthians 1:18) and our minds, naturally do not submit to God because it is unable to do so. (Romans 8:7)
Paul summarizes Total Depravity this way (Romans 3:9-18)
- No one is without sin
- No one seeks after God
- There is no one is good
- Our speech is corrupted by sin
- Man’s actions are corrupted by sin
- And above all, man has no fear of God
The summary verse of the Doctrine of Total Depravity is Romans 3:12 which tells us that there is no one who does good, not a single one.
Totally depravity does not mean that man is as sinful or wicked as is possible to be (Utter Depravity) and it also does not mean that we are totally without a sense of right and wrong. It doesn’t even mean we cannot do things that would be considered good by human standards. It does, however, mean that we are incapable, on our own, of pleasing God.
We are not without hope: prior to the cross, God made a way for us to deal with the pollutions of sin through Faith and Obedience combined with the Levitical Sacrifices. After the cross, we are justified by faith and empowered unto holiness by the indwelling Holy Spirit, Himself being God, who is the seal of our redemption and the guarantee of our eternal home in Heaven.
Until next time, May mercy, grace, and peace be with you.