On the Doctrine of Total Depravity

I’ve recently been involved in a conversation about the doctrine of Total Depravity, and one of the things that has really stood out to me is this. The definition of the doctrine of total depravity is, “Total depravity (also called radical corruption or pervasive depravity) is a Christian theological doctrine derived from the Augustinian concept of original sin. It is the teaching that, as a consequence of the fall of man, every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin, as a result of their fallen nature and, apart from the efficacious prevenient grace of God, is utterly unable to choose to follow God, refrain from evil, or accept the gift of salvation as it is offered.”

When I looked into this, one particular verse stood out to me perhaps more than any other. See, so often, when discussing this doctrine, people quote Paul’s writings in Romans, “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10-12). What must be remembered in this passage is that Paul is writing it in reference to the Jews who claimed that, because of their cultural heritage, they were more righteous than the Gentiles, having “Abraham as their father.” Paul isn’t using this in reference to all of humanity, rather, he is stating these Scripture quotes (each of which is quoting from the Old Testament) to humble the Jews, reminding them that they are equally in need of the Lord Jesus as the Gentiles are. He also states multiple times in his epistles that “there is neither Jew nor Greek” (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11), but that “all are one in Christ Jesus. 

It’s important to understand what he was referring to because the point of his quoting those Scriptures was not to imply that all men are evil and depraved, but rather that all men are equal, and thus all men are equally in need of the same salvation, the same faith. In the epistle to Titus, he states that “to the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled.” (Titus 1:15). Now, consider for a moment what that passage says. “To those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure.” Compare that passage with the doctrine of total depravity, which, by definition, states that every person, as a result of original sin, is unable to refrain from evil or choose salvation. Paul, in the passage from Romans states that no one seeks after God, but in the Book of Hebrews, we read that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). Bearing that in mind, as per the reading of Romans to refer to all of humanity as totally depraved, it is impossible for any of us to please God, because we would never diligently seek Him. Further, it is also important to remember that the same apostle wrote that God would “render to each according to his deeds.” (Romans 3:2). Again, if Paul meant those quotes (from Romans 3:10-12) to refer to this doctrine of total depravity, then “there is no one who does good, no not one” is a very dark statement, considering he had just told them that God would render to each according to their deeds.

I am so passionate about this doctrine, because it leads us to a very antinomian approach to our faith. To consider that no one can ever do good and please God, no matter what we do or how we try leaves us in a position where so many would just abandon hope and never try. Our goals as Christians include our personal holiness and sanctification, our mortification of sin; and it would be so easy for someone who believes that no matter what they sacrifice that they could never be pleasing to God to just surrender and say, “I’m washed by the blood, freed from the punishment of sin, I can do whatever I want since I can never lose my salvation anyway.” And that’s not what we see in Scripture. To the contrary, we constantly see the prodigal, leaving and going away, and then deciding of his own accord that he needs to humble himself and return, and being accepted upon his repentance. According to the doctrine of total depravity, the prodigal would never have returned, because the father never calls him to return; thus the son would never have sought good or sought to return to the father. Through theological contortion and our own interpretation, we could claim that the situations were given by the father that made it so miserable for the son that that became his call to seek the father, but none of that is in Scripture, it would all be applying our own “wisdom of the age” to alter the story that the Lord has already given to us, perfected and infallible.

More of a passionate ranting than an actual study here, the conersation thus far has gone on for in excess of 5 hours of verbal communication and four very lengthy emails, but I wanted to post the basics of it here.

May the grace of the Lord be with you, my beloved family.

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