Total depravity, or total inability, describes man’s absolutely sinful and corrupted fallen state as a result of original sin. When Adam, the representative head of the whole human race fell into sin, the entire human race fell too. This is clearly shown in Romans 5:12, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Hence, eve- ry single man, head for head is totally depraved. Since the fall, every single person, even a newborn baby, is depraved as he is born in sin. This is seen in Psalm 51:5 which says, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” This implies that sin is deeply embedded into man’s nature. He is totally ruined and willingly turns to evil from the very day that he was born.
Because man is born into sin, every part of him is totally depraved. Man is wicked, corrupt, perverse and opposed to God in his nature. He is inclined to serve his own will and desires and to reject the rule of God, as proven in Genesis 6:5 “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” He is also unable to serve and love God wholly with all his heart, mind and strength. Man rests under the curse of sin and is wholly incapable of loving God or to do anything which merits salvation. Even the good which man may intend to do have false motives. This is seen in Romans 3:10-12 “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”
This doctrine of total depravity, however, is denied by most Christians today and avoided by many as it is not seen as a “friendly” doctrine. Many of them cannot accept that they are totally depraved such that they are unable to do any good by themselves. They assert that there is a difference between total depravity and absolute depravity. Their understanding is that man is totally depraved, but not absolutely depraved. They falsely claim that man, although sinful, is still able to do some good, such as to do good works, or to choose God. This is absolutely wrong as since the fall, man is completely unable to do any good. Psalm 14:1-3, The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their belief further emphasizes their wickedness, as the nature of fallen man is such that he readily listens to any theory which makes him even partly independent of God as he wishes to be the master of his fate and the captain of his soul. This is seen in many other beliefs too.
Total depravity also proves to man that all his claims of goodness are unfounded, and it shows him that his only hope of a change in life lies in the sovereign and divine grace of the Almighty God. The old man is constantly opposed towards God. It is only the power of the Holy Spirit, which works in man’s cold and hardened heart, which allows him to be saved.
This alone proves the eternal and infinite love of God when he sent his only begotten son Jesus Christ to die on the cross so as to provide redemption for His people. John 3:3, Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
From this, we are to learn that there is no room for pride. We owe everything that we have to God. We ought to be thankful for and appreciate God’s unconditional grace, and further rely on Him and use the means of grace that He has given us, such as the preaching of His Word, family devotions, prayer and youth group activities so that we can grow more in Him. Furthermore, we are not to look down on others. By comparing ourselves to others and deeming ourselves better, we are full of pride, and as we are warned in Proverbs 16:18, pride goeth before destruction. In fact, we have absolutely nothing to be proud of, as the scriptures clearly says that we are all equally depraved, dead, and wicked, and we have all gone astray.
Only through understanding our depravity, are we able to comprehend how great the measure of God’s love is for us when he unconditionally elects us, wretched sinners, and saves us from eternal damnation in hell even though we are such unworthy creatures who continue to sin against Him time and again. Our lost, ruined and helpless state must be constantly set before us so that we can comprehend our depravity and thank God for the gift of salvation that He has bestowed on us.
Written by: Koh Hui Qi | Issue 7