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Total Depravity


Total depravity does not mean that man is as bad as he can possibly be. It means that man’s depravity extends to the total man. Sin influences our mind, heart, and will– the total man.

The degree in which man is a sinner:

  1. Some say man is basically good but has learned bad habits.
  2. Some say man is sick in sin.
  3. Total depravity teaches that man is incapable of spiritual goodness. Man never does acts of righteousness, and can’t do it in and of himself in his unregenerate state.

As a result of Adam’s transgression, men are born in sin and are by nature spiritually dead. Therefore to become God’s children and enter His kingdom we must be born again.

Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned– (NASB)

Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (NASB)

Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me. (NASB)

Because men are born in sin and are by nature spiritually dead, Jesus taught that man must be born again if they are going to enter God’s kingdom.

John 3:3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (NASB)

You can’t see or enter the kingdom of God until you’re first born again. To be born again means you have been given a regenerate heart, and are born from above. You can’t have saving faith or even want to repent until you have been born from above. Jesus says that being born of the Spirit is like the wind blowing. Can you cause the wind to blow? You can’t cause yourself to be born again either. Let me ask, did you chose to be born the first time?

1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (NASB)

As a result of the fall, men are blind and deaf to spiritual truth. Their minds are darkened by sin; their hearts are corrupt and evil. See Genesis 6:5, Genesis 8:21, Ecclesiastes 7:20, Isaiah 64:6, Mark 7:21-23, John 3:19, I Corinthians 2:14 – cannot understand, Ephesians 4:17-19, Ephesians 5:8, Romans 8:7-8 – are not able to submit to the law of God; cannot please God.

Before sinners are born into God’s kingdom through the regenerating power of the Spirit, they are children of the Devil and under his control; they are slaves to sin. See John 8:43-45, John 8:34-36, 2 Timothy 2:25-26-Repentance is a gift. 1 John 3:10- You are either a child of God or the Devil, 1 John 5:19, Romans 6:20, Titus 3:3-6.

The reign of sin is universal. All men are under its power; none are righteous, not even one. See 1 Chronicles 6:36, Psalm 130:3, Psalm 143:2, Proverbs 20:9, Ecclesiastes 7:20, Isaiah 64:6, James 3:2-8, 1 John 1:8-10, Romans 1:18-25, Romans 3:9-12.

John 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (NASB)

Verse 12 and 13 is all one sentence. Verse 13 clarifies the people who believed and received Him. The people who received and believe on Him are the ones who have been born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. The people who are born of God are the ones that believe on and receive Him (Christ).

A person will never choose God unless God changes his heart of stone. We are slaves to sin. Man does not have within himself the power or ability to choose God. Man does not have or want God until he is born from above. Remember being born is not something that a person can do themselves. You did not choose to be born. See 1 Peter 1:3-5, John 3:3-8.

Man left in his spiritually dead state is unable of himself to repent, to believe the gospel, or come to Christ. He has no power within himself to change his own nature or to prepare himself for salvation. See 1 Corinthians 2:14, John 6:63-65 No one can come to Jesus unless it has been granted him from the Father. John 6:37-40 All that the Father gives Jesus will come to him and Jesus will raise him up on the last day. John 6:44-Draw is the same Greek word as drag that is used in James 2:6. God makes the heart willing to come to him. God must act first in salvation. See Ephesians 2:1-5, Acts 13:48, Acts 16:14, Acts 18:27, Phil 1:29, 2 Tim. 2:25-26, Ephesians 2:8-9 – Faith is a gift.

After we are regenerated, God gives us faith and repentance, gifts of His grace. Regeneration (being born again) is a monergistic work where God alone acts. After being quickened by the Holy Spirit, the regenerated man is enabled to do that which is good and willingly responds to God’s effectual call, embraces the grace offered by God and exercises saving faith and repents. This is called a synergistic work where man and God act together.

Next article in this series: Election

About the author

Buddy Woods

Buddy Woods is an elder in good standing at Covenant of Grace Church.