The Doctrine of Total Depravity is Reformed Church doctrine derived from Augustine’s idea of “original” sin. In the Doctrine of Total Depravity, because of the “fall” of Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden, every single person born into this world has been enslaved to the service of sin. We are all in nature, in King James language, “all bondservants of sin.” This Doctrine teaches that apart from the grace of God, mankind is utterly unable to choose or elect to follow God; indeed, mankind is unable to either choose or accept even salvation, when offered to us.
Total Depravity may be seen as the state of all of mankind after we left the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were made sinless, but they fell to sin – and that sin is what Augustine called the “original” sin; the sin which Adam and Eve committed as they disobeyed God ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3). Now the sin of Adam and Eve was not seeking to be like God – for the Bible tells us again and again to be like God – but their sin was that they sought independence from God. In other words, they wanted to be Gods unto themselves. I refer you to our article “Praying Against the Sin of Independence from God”
As a result of this original sin and the subsequent eviction of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, the Doctrine of Total Depravity asserts that it is not in the nature or in the inclination of mankind to even love God with one’s whole heart and mind and strength (Mark 12:30). Instead of loving and seeking God, this doctrine states that mankind will at all times reject God and instead, serve our own desires and self will. It also asserts that the good which men do, they do not for the glory of God, but for their own self gain, as even their altruistic aims originate from their own worldly imaginations, rather than from God.
We can see the truth of this doctrine played out in any child; as it develops naturally to demands its own way and exercise its own will with total self interest. No doubt you have seen at some time an 18 month-old child screaming in rage for a toy which a parent is withholding. That child is focussed on only one thought – to get that toy at all costs! They will use every ounce of strength and every millimetre of stretch which they posses to get that toy. Now imagine, if you will, that suddenly and miraculously that 18 month-old child had the physical attributes of an 18 year-old. That child would then use all the resources of their new-found power and size to overcome the parent and after extracting the toy from the bloodied hand of the parent, the child would blissfully step over the body of their bleeding and dying parent without a second thought, or even looking back, to go and enjoy the prize.
But be clear, the Doctrine of Total Depravity does not mean that mankind, as we see mankind, is as evil as mankind can be. Instead, it teaches positively the love which God has for mankind, that He supernaturally holds back the worst atrocities of which man is capable. It is only by the divine grace of a loving God, that we are not as bad as we would otherwise be.
This outpouring of grace from a loving God is made clear and real in the process of Salvation which God works out in us, as He helps man to overcome his innate inability to come to Him by his own volition and will.
It follows therefore, in Reformed theology and doctrine, that if anyone is saved and made alive to be able to accept God, then God must have predestined, or called that person to salvation. Without this predestination, Reformed doctrine says, man is simply incapable of choosing God. Ephesians 2:5 is a pivotal Bible verse on this Reformed doctrine, saying “…. (even when we were dead in sins) has made us alive together with Christ (by grace you are saved)….” The Reformed understanding is that if we are, as the verse says, “dead in sins,” we cannot save ourselves. We can only save ourselves after God has made us alive and in that, granted us both the ability and the opportunity to choose Him. The word “elect” throughout the New Testament when used to refer to individuals and groups, means those whom God has chosen and in that choosing, have been made alive, such that they can choose Him.
The Catholic Church also maintains that man cannot “be justified before God by his own works,… without the grace of God through Jesus Christ,” but rejects Total Depravity, saying instead man was only “wounded” after the fall and is not “dead” in sin. They argue therefore, that being wounded and not dead in sin, man has still retained some freedom of choice and condemn the Doctrine of Total Depravity as heresy .
The following Bible verses speak to the support of the Reformed Doctrine of Total Depravity and are based on a compilation contained in a Wikipedia article.
Genesis 6:5“And Jehovah saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
Genesis 8:21“And Jehovah smelled a sweet odour. And Jehovah said in His heart, I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, because the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth. And I will not again smite every living thing as I have done.”
Job 15:14“What is man, that he should be clean? And what is he born of a woman that he should be righteous?”
Job 15:15“Behold, He puts no trust in His saints; yea, the heavens are not clean in His sight.”
Job 25:4-6“How then can man be justified with God? Or how can one who is born of a woman be clean? Look even to the moon, and it shines not; yea, the stars are not pure in His sight; how much less man who is a maggot, and the son of man, who is a worm?”
Psalms 51:5 “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”
Psalms 58:3“The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from the womb, speaking lies.”
Ecclesiastes 7:20“For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin.”
Ecclesiastes 9:3“This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event to all. Yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.”
Isaiah 64:6-8“But we are all as the unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as a menstruation cloth. And we all fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is no one who calls on Your name, who stirs up himself to take hold of You. For You have hidden Your face from us, and have melted us away because of our iniquities. But now, O Jehovah, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You are our Former; and we all are the work of Your hand.”
Jeremiah 13:23“And if you say in your heart, Why do these things come on me? It is because of the greatness of your iniquity; your skirts are bared, and your heels suffer violence. “
Jeremiah 17:9“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?”
Mark 7:21-23“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things pass out from inside and defile the man.”
John 3:19“And this is the condemnation, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the Light, because their deeds were evil.”
John 6:44“No one can come to Me unless the Father who has sent Me draw him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
John 6:64-65“But there are some of you who do not believe. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who is the one betraying Him. And He said, Because of this I said to you that no one can come to Me unless it was given to him from My Father.”
John 8:34 “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, Whoever practices sin is the slave of sin.'”
Romans 3:10-11“… as it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no not one; there is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God.'”
Romans 3:23 “…. for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God….”
Romans 8:7-8“… because the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither indeed can it be. So then they who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
1 Corinthians 2:14“But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
Ephesians 2:1-3 “And He has made you alive, who were once dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience; among whom we also had our way of life in times past, in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the thoughts, and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.”
Titus 3:3“For we ourselves also were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, slaving for various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.”