TheoThought 300

David W. Hegg



Total Depravity


Introduction: In our previous lesson we found that all of Adam’s posterity participate in the effects of Adam’s sin. All who are “in Adam” have inherited both the guilt and the ensuing corruption that have resulted from his sinful action in Eden.


In this lesson we ask the question: What is the effect of inherited guilt and corruption on the nature of man?


1. Examining the Question


A. The effects of sin on the sinner physically:


i). Disease and Death: The most recognizable effect of sin is death and its precursor, disease.


Rom. 5.12   Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and  death through sin, and  so death spread to all men  because  all sinned—


Rom. 6.23  For the wages of sin is death,


Rom. 8.2 For the law of  the Spirit of life  has set you  free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.


ii).Other Effects: The actual effects of sin in humanity are certainly too numerous to list but we would all agree that pride and selfishness, deceit, restlessness, harmful competition, inability to empathize or love, lack of compassion, denial of responsibility, hatred, greed, lust, and a host of other negatives in human society can be traced back to the corruption each of Adam’s posterity has inherited. Left to itself, the human animal will present personal characteristics that are hurtful to self and hazardous to others. Some will evidence this more than others but no one is able, apart from God’s redemptive love, to subdue all the harmful characteristics that spring from the soil of inherited corruption.


B. The effects of sin on the sinner spiritually:


i) Separation from God:


Gen. 3.22   Then the LORD God said,  “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand  and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—”  23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden  to work the ground from which he was taken.  24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the  cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.


Is. 59.1    Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; 2 but your 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.


ii) Spiritual blindness:


1Cor. 2.14   The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are  folly to him, and  he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.


2 Cor. 4.3 And even  if our gospel is veiled,  it is veiled to  those who are perishing.  4 In their case  the god of this world  has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing  the light of  the gospel of the glory of Christ,  who is the image of God.


iii) Eternal punishment:


Matt. 25.45,46 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these,  you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away  into eternal punishment, but the righteous into  eternal life.”


Mark 9:47  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into  hell, 48 ‘where  their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’


Rev. 20.14 Then  Death and Hades  were thrown into the lake of fire. This is  the second death, the lake of fire.  15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life,  he was thrown into the lake of fire.


iv) Spiritual inability:


It is here that the most controversy arises. While the great majority of evangelical believers would agree with what has been said to the point, when it comes down to the question of spiritual ability there is disagreement.


• Calvinism (Augustinianism):


The immediate concomitant of the first sin, and therefore hardly a result of it in the strict sense of the word, was the total depravity of human nature. The contagion of his sin at once spread through the entire ma, leaving no part of his nature untouched, but vitiating every power and faculty of body and soul. This utter corruption of man is clearly taught in Scripture … Total depravity here does not mean that human nature was at once as thoroughly depraved as it could possible become. (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, pg. 225, 226).


The above paragraph is a classic definition of what is termed total depravity. Yet, because this term requires the disclaimer that it does not mean mankind is as bad as he can be, it is better to understand it as pervasive depravity. That is, to understand that the effects of sin are pervasive, reaching into every part of man, including intellect, emotion and will.


Note: When we discuss total or pervasive depravity we are most often talking, not about the effects of sin generally, but rather the question of a fallen person’s ability to rectify the situation and bring themselves back into relationship with God. Since we will be studying the issue of the Freedom of the Will in coming weeks, we will not delve into that subject here but only speak generally about how inherited corruption effects mankind.


The Augustinian/Calvinistic position regarding depravity is that the corruption inherited from Adam disables humanity’s ability to keep from sinning, or to erase sins effects fully, or most importantly, to repair the breech between them and God. Sin has made it impossible for them to be reconciled to God through their own efforts, no matter how noble they may be.


“Because of the Fall, man is unable of himself to savingly believe the gospel. The sinner is dead, blind, and deaf to the things of God; his heart is deceitful and desperately corrupt. His will is not free; it is in bondage to his evil nature. Therefore, he will not – indeed, he cannot – choose good over evil in the spiritual realm. Consequently, it takes much more than the Spirit’s assistance to bring a sinner to Christ. It takes regeneration, by which the Spirit makes the sinner alive and gives him a new nature. Faith is not something man contributes to salvation, but is itself a part of God’s gift of salvation. It is God’s gift to the sinner, not the sinner’s gift to God.” (Steele, Thomas, and Quinn, The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented; pg 5,6)




Gen. 6.5    The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every  intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.


Eph. 2.1    And you were  dead in the trespasses and sins 2  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following  the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in  the sons of disobedience—  3 among whom we all once lived in  the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body  and the mind, and  were by nature  children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.


Col. 2.13  And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God  made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,


Gen. 8.21 And when the LORD smelled  the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again  curse  the ground because of man, for  the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.  Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.


Jer. 17.9    The heart is deceitful above all things,   and desperately sick;   who can understand it?


John 3.19  And this is the judgment:  the light has come into the world, and  people loved the darkness rather than the light because  their works were evil.


Rom. 8.7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is  hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law;  indeed, it cannot.  8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.


2Tim. 2.25 correcting his opponents  with gentleness. God  may perhaps grant them repentance  leading to a knowledge of the truth,  26 and they may come to their senses and escape from  the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.


Jer. 13.23   Can the Ethiopian change his skin   or  the leopard his spots?   Then also you can do good   who are accustomed to do evil. 


John 6.44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me  draws him. And  I will raise him up on the last day.




“We deny that the human constitution is morally depraved, because it is impossible that sin should be a quality of the substance of soul or body. It is, and must be, a quality of choice or intention, and not of substance … To represent the constitution as sinful, is to represent God, who is the author of the constitution, as the author of sin … Moral depravity consists, remember, in the committal of the will to the gratification or indulgence of self—in the will’s following, or submitting itself to be governed by, the impulses and desires of the sensibility, instead of submitting itself to the law of God revealed in the reason.” (Charles Finney, Lectures on Systematic Theology, pg, 249, 253)


The Semi-Pelagian/Arminian view flows out of the belief that Adam’s sin did not absolutely affect the rest of his posterity. Rather, Adam continues to be a vivid reminder of what occurs when we choose to go against God’s commands. While sin has brought negative consequences in creation, and even into the realm of mankind, it has not affected mankind’s abilities to choose right from wrong, and thus, to believe savingly in Jesus Christ and be reconciled to God.


This view teaches that Adam’s sin did have some effect on humanity, but not to the degree that it rendered him unable to rectify the brokenness of sin. God intends the breech to be rectified, and has granted prevenient grace to all. This enables mankind to repent and believe if he so chooses. Whatever the ill effects of Adam’s sin, each person has been given the ability to choose God or to rebel against him, and his eternal destiny depends on the choice he makes.


“However, in Semi-Pelagianism there remains a moral ability within man that is unaffected by the Fall. We call this an "island of righteousness" by which the fallen sinner still has the inherent ability to incline or move himself to cooperate with God's grace. Grace is necessary but not necessarily effective. Its effect always depends upon the sinner's cooperation with it by virtue of the exercise of the will.” (R. C. Sproul,




The question of mankind’s depravity must be answered with Scripture. Paul makes it clear:


Rom. 3.9-18   What then? Are we Jews  any better off?  No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both  Jews and  Greeks, are  under sin,  10 as it is written:    “None is righteous, no, not one; 11  no one understands;   no one seeks for God. 12  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;   no one does good,   not even one.” 13   “Their throat is  an open grave;   they use their tongues to deceive.”    “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14   “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15   “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16  in their paths are ruin and misery, 17  and  the way of peace they have not known.” 18   “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”


But … this raises real questions about freedom, and free moral agency! And we will address these issues in a coming lesson.






The Five Points of Calvinism; Defined, Defended and Documented; David N. Steele, Curtis C. Thomas, S. Lance Quinn (Phillipsburg; Puritan and Reformed Publishing) 2004


Christian Theology, Millard J. Erickson (Grand Rapids; Baker) 1991


Human Nature in its Fourfold State, Thomas Boston (London; Banner of Truth) 1964


The Christian View of Man, J. Gresham Machen (Edinburgh; Banner of Truth) 1984


Lectures on Systematic Theology, Charles Finney (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans) 1878




Augustine and Pelagius


Total Depravity by John Piper - Monergism