Question: What is total depravity and why is it important for me to know and believe?
Answer: The doctrine of “total depravity” is an absolutely essential, foundational tenet of biblical Christianity. It describes how man was created by God (and made in His image or like-ness) morally perfect and sinless. Man was created with a perfectly righteous nature (Gen 1:26-31). God gave man a perfect environment from which to live out God’s design for man; which was/is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever! (Gen 2:8-25; Isa 43:7)
With all this blessing and provision, God placed one loving restriction – do not eat from one specific tree (Gen 2:16), and one just penalty for rebelling – you shall surely die (Gen 2:17). God as Creator and Lord has the ultimate right to impose His perfect will upon His creatures (Rom9:19-20).
Man failed to obey and plunged himself and all of his descendants (the rest of mankind) into sin; spiritual and physical death (Rom 5:12; Rom 3:23; Rom 6:23). So every person is born spiritually dead, relationally separated from God, bearing an unpayable debt of sin and under God’s just condemnation (Rom 1:18ff; Eph 2:1-4).
The result of man’s fall into sin is also called “original sin”:
- Not a specific sin or act but rather an inherited, flawed condition of our heart; a pervasive defect in our natures
- Is the effect of the sin of our first parents – Adam and Eve on the human race
- Includes the judgment God gave for that sin (spiritual, physical and, ultimately, eternal death!)
- Explains our behavior as humans – we all possess a nature that is at it’s core prideful, self-centered, self-glorifying and God-rebelling, in attitudes and actions
The key result of our “sinful condition” is that we are born without grace and inclined to love ourselves more than the one true and living God!
This is important to know and believe because the whole plan of salvation which God set into motion to bring dead,sinful humans to Himself is due to “original sin!” Total depravity explains how, prior to God’s grace being applied to our hearts, we were dead – trapped in a hopeless, helpless spiritual and moral condition (death) and justly condemned.
You and I and every person who has ever lived is dead in trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1).
The cross of Jesus Christ is God’s gracious response/provision to our “total inability”(depravity) to know and respond to God and make things right between Him and us.
“For the wages on sin is death,but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23).
So what does a dead person need?
“Jesus answered,’Most assuredly I say to you,unless one is born of water and the Spirit, He cannot enter the kingdom of God.That which is born of flesh (fallen humaness) is flesh., and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again”” (John 3:5-7).
Fallen man is incapable of knowing God and having a right relationship with Him without His gracious “awakening” of our dead heart!
God calls dead sinners by His Spirit through His Word:
“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44).
“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing (understanding) by the Word of God” (Rom 10:17).
Embracing this basic doctrinal truth (total depravity/inability) provides the basis for a clear biblical understanding who we are as humans. It clarifies God’s plan to save sinners through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And it exalts God’s love and wisdom, as it unfolds the purpose and power of the everlasting gospel of grace!
“For you were saved by grace through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God so that none may boast” (Eph 2:8-9).