Total Depravity

“The heart is more deceitful than all else, and is desperately sick; Who can understand it? “I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind…” – Jer. 17:9-10

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh;” – Romans 7:18

“The wicked are estranged from the womb; These who speak lies go astray from birth.” – Psalm 58:3

“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” – Psalm 51:5

Every child comes into the world with an alarming capacity for evil. Does that shock you? Did you think I was going to end the sentence differently? Scripture teaches us that the heart of the human problem is the problem of the heart. That’s true of us even before we are born.

The theological term for this is “total depravity.” It means that the depravity of man, including all the babies born into our world, is total.

Does this mean that people are as depraved as is possible for them to be? Does total depravity mean utter depravity?

No, for even the very worst amongst us can still be looked upon as having the capacity to be even worse than they are.

How’s that? Well, remember, Adolf Hitler? As bad as he was, he did not kill his mother! As strange as it may seem, we can conceive of Hitler being even worse than he actually was, of committing more crimes, and killing more people.

What total depravity means then is that every area of man has been affected by the Fall: man’s entire body, soul and spirit has suffered a radical corruption. This does not mean that man is without a conscience or any sense of right or wrong, nor that every sinner is devoid of all the qualities that are both pleasing to men and useful to society, when those qualities are judged only by human standards. In addition, this does not mean that every sinner is prone to every form of sin.

To quote Dr. John MacArthur “it means that children do not come into the world seeking God and righteousness. They do not come into the world with a neutral innocence. They come seeking the fulfillment of sinful and selfish desires. Although the outworking of the sin nature does not necessarily attain full expression in every person’s behavior, it is nontheless called total depravity because there is no aspect of the human personality, character, mind, emotions, or will that is free from the corruption of sin.”

Where do kids get this depravity? It’s not a learned behavior, but rather an inbred disposition. Kids get it from their parents, who get it from their parents, and so on, all the way back to Adam. Adam, “begot a son in his own likeness, after his image.” Gen 5:3. Adam’s children all bore the stamp of sin and were infected with evil desires, including, like Adam, an aversion to the things of God, who hid himself from the presence of the Lord (Gen 3:8).

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men” Rom 5:12, “for as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners…” Rom. 5:19. All of us as descendants of Adam have inherited the guilt and stain of sin. No one is exempt, or born innocent, except for Jesus Christ, who was supernaturally conceived by the Holy Spirit, free from the moral taint of Adam’s sin.

Perhaps “radical corruption” is a better term to describe our fallen condition than the historic term “total depravity.” “Radical” not in the sense of being “extreme,” but radical in the sense of its original meaning, stemming from the Latin word for “root” or “core.” Our problem with sin is that it is rooted in the core of our being, permeating our hearts. It is because sin is at our core and not merely at the exterior of our lives that Romans 3:10-12 declares: “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.”

Man, by nature, does not want to know God. “There is no one who seeks after God,” as the above Scripture says. As Dr. Michael Horton noted, “We cannot find God for the same reason that a thief can’t find a police officer.”

Spiritually speaking we were all born D.O.A. (dead on arrival), with no desire for God. Paul, addressing the Christians at Ephesus wrote, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 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. 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. But God…” (Eph. 2:1-4). Only by the direct, gracious intervention of God will anyone ever come to a saving knowledge of Christ.

As parents, our natural reaction is to recoil at such an idea about the little ones who are newly born to us. We tend to see them as totally innocent. Yet the Bible reveals that these little ones are born simply naïve and inexperienced, and all the potential for sin is already present in their hearts.

In reality, we do know this, for how many parents have actually had to teach their children to be naughty? No, the kids do that all by themselves!

If you having trouble with all this, just remember that your children are just miniature versions of yourself! When children are simply permitted to follow the dictates of their own hearts, the result is disaster. Left to themselves, kids don’t follow the ways of godliness. “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him.” (Prov. 22:15).

That’s why Paul summarized the entire parenting task in a one-verse admonition to fathers: “Do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4)

As parents, we need to be evangelists in our homes. We are not to leave this task to others, including the children’s ministry or youth department at a Church. God holds us as parents (and especially fathers) responsible to teach the children the message of the Bible. This includes giving the children an understanding of the law of God, the Holiness of God, His just wrath against sin, the gospel of Divine Sovereign grace, and the need of a perfect Savior. Then we need to point them to Jesus Christ as the only One who can save them.

“For as through the one man’s disobedience (Adam’s) the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One (the Lord Jesus Christ) the many will be made righteous.” Rom. 5:19

“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” 1 Cor. 15:22

One thought on “Total Depravity

  1. Hey John

    You are absolutely right. Only by the direct intervention of the Lord will any be saved.

    I read John Chapter 6 in my Quiet Time this morning and this chapter clearly upholds what you said in this article. eg. v 44 states that no-one can come to Christ unless the Father draws them, moreover, verse 65 states that no-one can come to Christ unless the Father works in them.

    Kind regards


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