Total Depravity 4

Total Depravity may be viewed both negatively and positively. Negatively, the doctrine does not mean (1) man is as bad as he possibly could be; (2) that sinners do not have a consciousness about God; (3) that every sinner indulges in every kind of sin; or (4) that the sinner does not do good things in the opinion of other people.

Positively, the doctrine does mean that man is radically corrupted by sin in every part of his being including his intellect, emotions and will; (2) that there is nothing in sinful man that deserves praise and commendation before the righteous God.

Dr. R.C. Sproul offers helpful insight on total depravity when he writes:

When we speak of the fall and of original sin, we are not speaking of the first sin committed by Adam and Eve, we are speaking of the radical consequences of that sin, which followed to all future generations of mankind. In Reformed circles, the doctrine of original sin has often been described by the phrase “total depravity.” That it’s called “total depravity” is explained in one sense because the letter “T” fits so neatly into the historic acrostic TULIP, which defines the so-called “five points of Calvinism.”

Nevertheless, the word total with respect to our depravity may seriously mislead. It could suggest that our fallen natures are as corrupt and depraved as possible. But that would be a state of utter depravity. I prefer to use the phrase “radical corruption,” perhaps because the first initial of each word suits my own name and nature, R.C., but more so because it avoids the misunderstanding that results from the phrase “total depravity.” Radical corruption means that the fall from our original state has affected us not simply at the periphery of our existence. It is not something that merely taints an otherwise good personality; rather, it is that the corruption goes to the radix, to the root or core of our humanity and it affects every part of our character and being. The effect of this corruption reaches our minds, our hearts, our souls, our bodies — indeed, the whole person. This is what lies behind the word total in “total depravity.”

The significant consequences of the sinner’s total depravity are (1) Fallen man cannot do an absolute good; (2) Fallen man may and can do relative good due to God’s common grace; (3) Fallen man makes choices within his bondage to sin (Romans 6:17-20); (4) God’s redeeming salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone is the only way out of this bondage to sin.