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Total Depravity

Total depravity or delusion?

1. What is the doctrine of total depravity?

It is the doctrine that the natural man is never able to do any good that is fundamentally pleasing to God, and in fact does evil all the time. Another way of describing total depravity is to call it total inability. This refers to the inability of man to do, understand or even desire the good.

Edwin W. Palmer from "The Five Points of Calvinism"

2. What are the elements of the doctrine?


3. Is the term, "total depravity", found in the Scriptures?

The term is not found in the Scriptures. The remainder of this study sheet is to determine if the concept is found in the Scriptures as defined in the answer to the second question.

4. Is man a sinner from birth?

If the doctrine of total depravity only stated that man is a sinner, I, for one, would agree. But the doctrine states that man is a sinner from birth. To this, I must disagree. James tells us God does not tempt anyone to sin but rather each is carried away by their own lust and that when lust has conceived it gives birth to sin, and when sin is accomplished it brings forth death. Man is not a sinner as the result of an others lust, including Adam. Man is a sinner as a result of his own sin. Now man may suffer the consequences of an others sin. The child of an addicted mother may indeed suffer as a result of the mother’s sin but he is not a sinner thereby. Even so, mankind has suffered physical death as a result of Adam’s sin, but we are not thereby sinners. Many passages teach the man is a sinner and that the heart is wicked but this is a result of his own sin. Romans 3: 10-18; 5: 12-15; James 1: 13-15;

Ezekiel 18: 19-23

5. But wasn’t David said to be born a sinner in Psalms 51: 5?

The verse reads, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me." Let’s look at several possible interpretations.

6. Is man, dead in sin, completely unable to do, understand or desire the good? First, let us say that man is indeed dead in sin and unable to save himself except that out of love Godpurposed and acted. Secondly, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to convict the world, not the elect, of sin, righteousness and judgement. The Spirit is quite capable of accomplishing this task. Thirdly, the word of God is living and active, and sharper than a two edged sword. If God can speak the universe into existence through His word, He can call and draw us to Him. Fourthly, by the grace of God Jesus tasted death for everyone, not just the elect. Fifthly, this good news is God’s power to salvation. There is no other. Ephesians 2: 1; John 16: 7-11; Hebrews 4: 12; 2: 9; Romans 1: 16-17 The basic idea of death is not inertness or the inability to will or act, but separation from God. Isaiah says, "But you iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear." James tells us, "For just as the body without spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead." Adherents of the doctrine of total depravity take a quality of physical death and misapply it to spiritual death. Being dead in sins and trespasses means we are separated from God and can not have a relationship with Him because He is completely righteous and does not have fellowship with darkness. Isaiah 59: 2; James 2:26; 1 John 1: 5-6

Now let us look at a man who was lost and thus according to this doctrine, total unable to do understand or desire good. We know he was lost because the Scriptures tell us that Peter would speak words whereby he might be saved. Cornelius was dead in his trespasses and sins. Yet the following was said about him: Acts 11: 14

Let’s look at another example of conversion in which considerable detail is given. On the first Pentecost after Jesus’ ascension, 3,000 people were converted. Notice the things that happened:

In both of these examples the natural man, unregenerate man, was able to do, understand and desire good contrary to the doctrine of total depravity.

7. Must a man be regenerated before he can respond to the things of God?

Regeneration takes place when man receives the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit. When does this occur? In Acts 2: 38 the three thousand were told to repent and let themselves be baptized and then they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. God tells us in Acts 5: 32 that the Holy Spirit is given to those that obey Him. In Ephesians 1: 13 the Scriptures state that the sealing with the Holy Spirit takes place after the person believes. My friends, the Holy Spirit is a gift of God to those who have already responded, to those who are in Christ.

8. Is salvation of ourselves? How does God save us?

This is one of the most controversial subjects in Christianity. Some say one thing, and others say something entirely different. Since there is no one place you can turn in the Scriptures to get an exhaustive answer, the solution is even more difficult. Ephesians 2: 8-10



9. Why do most not hear the good news? Why will man not be saved?

Most will not hear and be saved because they will not humble themselves. God does not arbitrarily save some and reject others. To assert that He does, comes dangerously close to speaking against the goodness of God.

My friend, I hope that this study will benefit you. Look up and study the references as they are of much greater importance than my answers. Remember these points.

  1. We have all sinned and missed the mark.
  2. There is a great spiritual law, the law of sin and death, which states we must die if we sin.
  3. God, through Jesus Christ, paid the penalty for our sins.
  4. God has purposed before the foundation of the world and will work both to will and to do in us individually if we will but humble ourselves.


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Last Update   09/26/12