Monday Morning Quarterback: Total Depravity

by Gabe Fluhrer on July 11, 2016


“No one understands; no one seeks for God."  (Romans 3:11 ESV)

The great Christian apologist G.K. Chesterton once responded to a request from The London Times, in which the newspaper asked a simple question, “What is wrong with the world?” Chesterton supplied an equally simple answer. He wrote, “Dear Sirs: I am. Sincerely yours, G.K. Chesterton.”

As Chesterton’s response makes clear, something is very wrong with us. Over the next few weeks, I want to take some time to look at the Five Points of Calvinism. Often misunderstood, these five doctrines are a summary of the Bible’s teaching on how we are saved. They are organized under the acrostic “TULIP.” The first doctrine, the “T” of TULIP, is Total Depravity, which teaches what is wrong with the human race. Moreover, all of the other doctrines in TULIP follow from Total Depravity.

Total Depravity might be the most unpopular doctrine of the Christian faith today. Almost without exception, from politics to education and everywhere in between, the majority of our country believes that people are basically good. The Bible teaches the exact opposite. In Genesis 6:5, we read, “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.” The prophet Jeremiah makes the same point when he writes, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). The Apostle Paul, quoting Psalm 14, highlights the fact that both Jews and Gentiles (i.e. all people) are not basically good. Notice his all-inclusive language: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God…All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Rom 3:10-12).

According to the Bible, Total Depravity is the teaching that all people, in all times and all places, are basically bad, not basically good. We need to be clear on just what this means. Total Depravity does not mean utter depravity, or the view that people are as bad as they could be. Because of God’s common, restraining grace, they are not. Rather, Total Depravity teaches us that, because of Adam’s first sin, every one of our faculties—our minds, our wills, our intellect, our hearts—are tainted with the effects of sin.  In short, left to ourselves, we are not inclined to good, but to evil.

It’s easy to see why this view of people is not popular! But nothing could be more important than understanding and believing that we are Totally Depraved. For, if we do not understand our problem, we will never seek God’s solution. Stated somewhat differently, we will never get to the good news of the gospel until we accept the bad news about our condition.

What are some implications of Total Depravity? First, if we understand that people are not basically good, we will not be dismayed when people do awful things to each other. Every day, it seems, examples of human depravity pour forth from our newsfeeds. It has been well said that Total Depravity is the only one of the Five Points that can be demonstrated from observing the world. So, when people do bad things, it shouldn’t lead us to cynicism or despair. Moreover, the problem is not just other people. As Chesterton’s response so keenly recognized, the biggest problem in my life is my own depravity! Knowing our biggest problem leads us to rejoice in God’s solution.

Therefore, in the second place, understanding Total Depravity makes the grace of God truly amazing. When we realize that it was when we were not seeking God, when we were only living for ourselves and our desires, when we had no love for Jesus or his word, when we were rebels against God—that in this state, Jesus saved us, then we begin to grasp how amazing is God’s grace! This is why Paul wrote, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8)

As one author put it, the gospel teaches us that we are far worse than we ever imagined (Total Depravity), but in Christ we are far more accepted and loved than we ever dared to hope. The gospel, therefore, shows us that we don’t have to pretend, to put up a front. All of us have areas of our lives that are a mess. But because we are fellow Totally Depraved people who are saved by God’s sheer grace, we can look at each other’s junk and say, “Me too.” So don’t be afraid of admitting you’re as bad as the Bible says you are. For it is only then that you can enjoy Jesus as the amazing Savior he promises he is!