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Doctrines of Grace - Total Depravity

Its importance:

Our understanding of the problem will govern our understanding of the treatment needed. If we fail to understand the Biblical teaching on this doctrine our understanding of all the doctrines related to salvation will be faulty. To have a right understanding in this matter is therefore crucial.

To what does the expression refer?

The expression "total depravity" describes the condition of man as he is now in sin, as a result of the "fall" in Adam. It does not indicate man's original state when first created.

What it does not mean:

It does not mean that every man is as evil as he possibly could be. It does not mean that man is incapable of things considered good and noble from a human viewpoint.

What it does mean:

Basically it means that sin has affected every aspect of a man's being. It means that in and of himself, man in the state of sin is unable to do anything which is spiritually good or which will contribute toward his return to and reconciliation with God. Broadly speaking we may view "man" as comprised of mind (intellect, that part of us which thinks and understands); affections (that part of us which "feels", either attracting us to something or repelling us from it); and will (the volitional part which chooses and acts).

How has sin affected these basic elements of man's being?

  1. The mind has become darkened with respect to spiritual things: Romans 8:5-8; 1 Corinthians 2:9-14 ( especially vs. 14 ); 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 4:17,18; Colossians 1:21
  2. The affections have been corrupted by sin. John 3:19; Job 15:14-16; Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9; Mark 7:21-23; Isaiah 53:2
  3. The will is in bondage to sin.

    It is important to appreciate that the will is controlled by the nature; what we do is determined by what we are; the fruit depends on the nature of the tree. The will is not an independent principle, but is always governed by other elements of the nature.

    Consider a sheep and a vulture in a field of grass in which there is the carcass of a dead dog. The sheep eat the grass; the vulture eats the dog. Why? Simply because their choice is governed by their nature.

    Will man then, with darkened mind and corrupted affections choose Christ and the way of holiness if left to his own free will? No! The faculty of choice is still his, and no one coerces him, but governed by his sinful nature he always makes the wrong choice in spiritual matters if left to himself. John 5:40,43,44; 6:44 (Compare Genesis 37:4). Job 14:4; Jeremiah 13:23. Note especially Romans 3:10-18.

    Man is invited and indeed commanded to repent and believe the gospel. It is his responsibility and duty to do so; he cannot be saved unless he repents of sin and exercises faith in Jesus Christ. Yet because of his sinful state he is, of himself, unable to do so. This is the alarming condition of a sinner. His need is a supernatural divine work in his soul. This is how the Bible does explain the reception of Christ by some. See John 1:12,13.

The Bible clearly states what man (by his own will or power) cannot do:

He cannot see the Kingdom of God                                                      John 3.3
He cannot please God                                                                           Romans 8:8
He cannot know the things of God                                                       1 Corinthians 2:14
He cannot say Jesus is Lord (i.e. as being real and genuine to him)    1 Corinthians 12:3
He cannot come to Christ                                                                     John 6:44

The figures by which the Bible describes the work of salvation emphasize the Divine initiative and Divine sovereignty:

It is a resurrection ( i.e. a spiritual resurrection )                                  Ephesians 2:5,6
It is a new creation                                                                                2 Corinthians 5:17
It is regeneration ( being born again )                                                   John 3:3-8
It is a shining of light into darkness                                                      2 Corinthians 4:6
It is a taking away the stony heart and the giving of a new heart and new spirit Ezekiel 36:26,27

Man is indeed totally depraved. Lost in every terrible sense of the word. His desperate need is a supernatural work of God's grace in his soul, to enlighten his mind, re-order his affections and liberate his will, so that he might understand the gospel and desire and choose Jesus Christ.