The doctrine of Total Depravity is the Biblical expression of the effects of sin on human nature. One’s view of salvation is primarily defined by his view of sin and the effects of the fall on mankind.
Total Depravity does not mean that every person will be as bad as they can be, but that the effects of the fall affect them physically, and spiritually. This does not mean that men do not do things that appear civilly good, but that according to God’s perfect standard they all fall short. Therefore, man is rebellious toward God and cannot nor will not do anything to affect his own salvation. Men have a will free to choose what to eat, where to go, and what to wear, but not the ability to salvifically choose righteousness or to ‘cooperate’ in some manner.
The Bible is filled with commands of God to sinful men and though God commands something, it does not mean that God also grants the ability to do it. God commanded the Israelites to abide by all of His Law, yet Scripture informs us that they were unable.
Gen 2:16-17 The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”
This agreement God made with Adam whereby he could remain in the garden and live so long as he did not partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God promised death for disobedience of His command.
Gen 3:19 – By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.
Adam broke this agreement, partaking of the fruit of the tree and so suffered the penalty of the agreement, death. Not only did this curse come to Adam, but to his offspring as well.
Gen 5:3 When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years; he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth.
Because Seth was born in the likeness of Adam, he so partook of the curse of Adam. Although Seth and other offspring were still in the image of God, they were fallen, no longer “good.” This agreement was, therefore, not just with Adam. As expressed in Romans 5, Adam’s actions affected his offspring as well.
Rom 5:14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.
Romans teaches that “death reigned”, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam. A person did not therefore need to engage in sinfulness to endure the same judgment declared upon Adam.
Rom 5:15-17 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.
Romans 5 explains that “if by the transgression of the one the many died”, that is, by Adam’s one sin many died. There can be no ambiguity in this; it is by the one transgression of Adam that many died and resulted in condemnation on many.
When Romans 5:17 states “death reigned through the one,” it explains in verse 14 that Adam, being a type of Christ to come, was a representative of his people, all of mankind, just as Christ is a representative of His people, the church. Therefore, all who are in Adam partake in the same condemnation he received.
1Co 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.
While Adam did not immediately physically die, God’s punishment was not withheld. Adam died spiritually and was consequently separated from communion with God. His hostility toward God was immediately evident in his actions.
Regardless of one’s opinion of how this curse is transmitted, it is evident from the Scripture that all of us do endure condemnation not just for our own sins, but also of Adam. Adam’s sin is imputed to us. Thus, “by the transgression of the one the many died.” Much like an infant born in a country at war with another, no one could claim that the infant was not also at war. The infant is born, as a citizen of said country at war with the other. Scripture likewise describes men as enemies of God.
Dead in sin
The complete nature of this spiritual death is established throughout the entire Bible. From the writings of the Psalmist, to the writings of Paul we find clear indication that spiritual death is upon every man. Far from a mere sickness as some suggest, spiritual deadness is likened to enslavement. Christ Himself said:
John 8:34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.”
One might argue that this indicates that the actual commission of sin is required for one to be enslaved to sin, but the Psalmist speaks otherwise,
Psalms 58:3 – The wicked are estranged from the womb; These who speak lies go astray from birth.
This condition is universal, as Paul writes in Romans 3:9-10 “…for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; “THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD””. It is therefore evident that we are all wicked, from birth, as all have turned aside and not one of us does good while we are yet enslaved to sin. As it is written, “All have sinned…”3
This is no more clearly illustrated than in Ephesians 2:1-4 and its sister passages in Colossians.
Eph 2:1-3 – And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
This spiritual deadness is so complete that all of us walk according to the ways of the world and Satan. All of us live in lust and indulge the desires of our flesh and are “by nature children of wrath.” Paul explains in Ephesians 1:4-5 that through Christ we are ‘made alive’ just as 1 Corinthians 15:22 states that “in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive”. Thus, the case for Adam’s headship over mankind is made evident and the only possibility for redemption from the curse of Adam is in the headship Christ.
Col 1:21 – And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds
Paul, in Colossians, explains that prior to God’s grace, we were alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds. The evil deeds are a result of the hostility and not a cause of this condition. Later Paul writes,
Col 2:13 – When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions
Paralleling Ephesians 1, Paul declares men to be ‘dead in… transgressions’. Paul explains further…
Unable to please God
Noting this concept of the ‘uncircumcision of your flesh’ we find clarification for this condition in the book of Romans, wherein Paul more clearly details the symptoms of being ‘dead in sin’.
Rom 8:5 – For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.
Paul describes two types of people, those whose minds are “set on the things of the flesh” and those whose minds are set on “the things of the Spirit.” Paul later (in verse 9) explains their differences. First, Paul explains the symptoms of one whose mind is set on the flesh.
Rom 8:6-8 – For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Here is death, as God promised, “You will surely die.” The person whose mind is set on the flesh is dead in their sins, he is hostile toward God (just as Col 1:21 expresses), he does not subject himself to the law of God and he is not able to do so. This person cannot please God. This is the spiritual death spoken of in the aforementioned verses clearly defined.
Both Jesus and Paul explain elsewhere that such a person cannot even understand the things of the Spirit of God as to accept them4. The only way the Apostles knew and listened to the Spirit is because the Spirit abided with and was to be in them.
1Cor 2:14 – But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
For one to be saved they must be able to hear and understand the message of the Gospel, this is impossible for ‘natural man’. What does Paul tell us is the difference between those minds are “set on the things of the flesh” and those whose minds are set on “the things of the Spirit”?
Rom 8:9 – However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.
For one not to be in the flesh, the Spirit of God must dwell in them. Without the Spirit of God dwelling in them, they are not in Christ and remain in Adam. Therefore, the following is true of the person who does not have the Spirit of God in them:
They are hostile toward God
Do not subject themselves to the law of God
Cannot subject themselves to the law of God
Cannot please God
The person, in whom the Spirit does dwell, however, has his mind “set on the things of the Spirit”. He is able to understand Spiritual things, can subject himself to God’s Law, and can please God by faith in His Son. Thus it is written in the first verse in Romans 8, “There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.”
The doctrine of Total Depravity is a proper explanation of the Biblical doctrine of man’s sinful nature and inability to affect his own salvation. Again, this does not mean that men cannot act in accordance with civil law when it pleases them or choose what food to eat. It does mean that men cannot please God as to be saved apart from the Spirit of God dwelling in them. Many historical heresies began with an incomplete understanding or outright denial of this truth.
 Rom 5:10
 Rom 3:23
 John 14:17
 Mat 13:23