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Total Depravity



One of the most definite things about man as spoken in the Bible is the sinfulness of our being. There can be no mistake regarding the holiness of God and the depravity of man, and such contrast was set out throughout the Old Testament and the New. The famous verses of Paul in his epistle[1] to the Roman Church are the usual proof text on this matter – the sinfulness of man. David reflecting and regretting his sinful life announced that he was a transgressor from birth – I was brought forth in iniquity[2]. The old seers mourned at human birth, recognizing that sin was present even while a man is in his mother’s womb (e.g. For I knew that you would deal very treacherously, and were called a transgressor from the womb – Isa 48:8).[3] We are called children of wrath[4] by nature, being darkened in the heart to understand and grasp the things of God. This is the depravity of man – sin affects us in every way, whether our heart, soul and mind, in the worst degree. Contrast this with the call of the Scripture to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. The unconverted man cannot fulfill this Scripture because of his depravity. We are like a dead stump, unable to spring up any leaves; a corpse not having the ability to respond to the voice of the living. We will only do what our nature dictates, (as all our faculties are fallen, the will is also incline to choosing evil rather than good), hence the acts that come forth are sins to reflect our allegiance to the master of our flesh – Unrighteousness. This sinful nature is a version of the so-called Original Sin, i.e. the transgressions against God’s law by Adam and Eve, our common parents. It is a flaw in humanity passed on by the first parents to all their posterities.[5] This passing on of the original corruption is by the principle of federal headship – that is, one represents many.[6]


Being affected deeply, wholly and unreservedly by the abnormal condition of our nature (that is, our sinfulness), we thus will always, never wilt never and are surely wont to incline to do evil. It is not our natural desire to pursue godliness. Some may, by the grace common to all man, display some forms of righteousness, but these, like the rest of the fallen humanity, will never demonstrate allegiance to the true God.[7] The fact that we sinned because of our evil nature should not, however, be a seen as a defense of our actions. “Surely man is in want of free will” Nay. Can the fish in the sea be said to have acted against its own will by having to live underwater? Does the swine involuntarily billow in the mud? Do we not want to act in such manner and when acted upon our wanting, we did feel happy and satisfied in our deepest being? Unless acted at gunpoint, in which a defense of innocence is reasonable, we all want to sin, desire to sin, volunteer to sin and is unable not to sin.  Augustine describe the category of our ability as at Creation, man is able not to sin (posse non peccare) and this ability being mutable, had Adam choosing to go against God (sinning) and thus all mankind sinned in him. Now, in our fallen state, we are unable not to sin (non posse non peccare). This is not to mean that we cannot choose to do the otherwise, and hence implying that we are acting without freely willing to do so. We may choose to not sin, but we cannot not sin. All our experience, our knowledge and our skills will incline our faculties towards choosing to do evil. We inevitably, though not involuntarily, will sin.


Sin (the depravity, the noun), therefore, is present in a man’s life as his sinful nature. In obedience to this nature, the man then sinned (the action, the verb). So there is a difference between we sinned because we are natural sinners and we are deemed sinners because of our sinful actions. God judged us by the latter. Nevertheless, we cannot stretch the distinction too far because as was mentioned, everyone has sinned and will sin.


The Bible besides charging everyone to be under the presence and power of sin also pronounced the judgment (i.e. the penalty) on sinners. A death sentence was required of all who sinned – the soul who sins shall die[8] and the wages of sin is death[9]. Warning against sin and its consequences was first given to Adam when God set the boundaries on Adam’s freedom in Eden. He charged him to follow that rule in which if broken will cause him his life.[10] God, therefore, is being just when He punishes sinners. Though it was forewarned of the consequences, we yet still choose to sin. Who among us will question the justice of a magistrate in condemning a criminal? If he does not judge fairly, he is in negligence of his duty and integrity. Far be it that God will abandon justice and righteousness. The unprofitable creation[11] that does not fulfill its purpose will have no other end but destruction. The farmer will not hesitate to cut down the fruitless tree - Why does it use up the ground?[12] God will never charge an innocent person. It is because of our own sins that we are condemned.[13] We are not judged for the wrongs of another. The original sin did not make us guilty before God on its own, but by our cooperation with it.[14]


Now, to die is not simply annihilation or termination of life as in the medical understanding. In the Bible, it always means separation. Hence Adam did not immediately experience a physical death after he broke God’s rule. He, however, did die in the sense that he was severed from God in fellowship. Such was usually termed spiritual death. Our present condition is a temporary spiritual death. We are separated from God in all His holiness and righteousness. At our physical death (the separation of the body and the spirit) we will be cut off from God’s presence forever. Now we may not experience the full effect of this separation, but in the future we will experience completely, the pain, sorrow and torture of being in such a state.




This doctrine of Total Depravity is not to exaggerate the condition of man. Some will think that surely human beings are not that bad. This is a misguided, ignorant and self-deceiving assumption. By the doctrine of Total Depravity, it is hope to present a realistic picture of humanity. It is to instill fear and humility into man so that he knows his real position and true state. And when in such realization, he found God (or rather God found him) he will come to greatly appreciate that amazing grace bestowed upon him. We must never come to God by our own deeds lest we be found wanting. There is nothing in a man that God should have mercy on him. Therefore, know that only Jesus can save us from this miserable condition. Only veiled by Him can we approach God safely for without, who can stand before the holy and righteous Jehovah?

[1] Rom 3:23 - For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

[2] Ps 51:5

[3] See also Ps 58:3 “The wicked are estranged from the womb; They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies” and Ps 51:5 “In sin my mother conceived me

[4] Ephesians 2:3

[5] Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world

[6] Rom 5:15 – 19: v19 For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous. In Hebrew 7: 9, the priestly tribe of Levites were said to have paid tribute to Melchizedek through the representation of their father, Abraham.

[7] We have turned, every one, to his own way – Isa 53:6 and There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside – Rom 3: 11,12

[8] Ezekiel 18:4,20

[9] Romans 6:23

[10] Genesis 2:17

[11] They have together become unprofitable - Romans 3:12

[12] Luke 13:7

[13] A person shall die for his own sin – 2 Chron 25:4

[14] Death spread to all men, because all sinned – Romans 5:12