What is Total Depravity
John Piper defines it as, “man’s natural condition apart from any grace exerted by God to restrain or transform man.” J. William Kanoy said, “Depravity does not mean that a man is as bad as he can be, but that a man is as bad off (spiritually) as he can be (dead). Depravity is the description of our nature and it effects on our lives. To fully understand Depravity one must study the Doctrine of “Original Sin.” Summed up it is the teaching that the Adam acted as our covenant head, when he sinned we sinned in him, therefore we inherit his guilt and it’s consequences. With that in view we realize that we are born depraved that we are so “by nature”. It was also universal, meaning all are depraved.
Why should I study it?
This doctrine’s importance cannot be overstated. We will never be able to appreciate so great a salvation until we understand depravity. We will never realize our need for redemption until we see our total lost-ness. We will never see the depths of God’s love for us until we realize how wicked we were. We will never understand the workings of life until we realize that all men are evil. We will never be zealous in sound evangelism until we come to the understanding of this vital doctrine.
Moreover, when we fully realize these things we will see our devotion grow. It will drive us to worship when we see what Christ did for us as unworthy as we were. It will help us to be humble and give us zeal to witness to others. The knowledge of depravity will help our understanding and rightly dividing of the Scriptures.
Disclaimer: This is written to the Christian. If you are not saved, you are still in this condition and need to seek God now for your salvation.
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others
Our Condition Was Dead
Paul here calls us “dead.” He did not say that we are dying. He said dead. Completely, utterly, without any life, we were dead. Martyn Lloyd-Jones phrased it like this, “Life for the non-Christian is a living death.” What is man without Christ and his power? DEAD. The word has the idea of a corpse. Man is spiritually dead.
What is this thing of spiritual death? It is the opposite of spiritual life. Spiritual death is separation from God. Death in this sense is to not know God. It is to have no fellowship with him. If life is “that they might know thee, the only one true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent,” (John 17:3) death then is the contrary.
There is no knowledge of God in death. We could not understand the things of God. We had no grasp of spiritual truth. Nor do we have a desire for them. Our separation in death means that we were without anything that makes life worth living. We had no love for God in death. We had no ability in death. We were totally reprobates without any means in which to instill life into ourselves. We were corrupting in death. We were decomposing, and growing to be worse than we were. In summary, A. W. Pink powerfully stated, “Natural death divests man of all those characteristics which are proper to him as a man; but spiritual death makes him worse, without any comeliness in the sight of God, and a stench in His nostrils.” We were dead.
We have seen that our condition was dead. Now let us notice:
Our Condition Was Dominated
Our death brought us under dominion. We were controlled not by the Spirit of God but the spirit of the world. We were not serving the Lord of Lord and Kings of Kings, but the prince of the power of the air. We were not walking on the narrow way, namely the way of Christ, but we walked according to the broad way, the course of the world.
Verse One expresses our Death while verse two expresses our domination. The word walked means to conduct one’s self and order one’s behavior. It signifies the whole of the activities of life. “According to” adds the thought of being by. We ordered our behavior as controlled by external influences. We put ourselves under theses influences.
First notice that:
We Were Dominated By The World’s System
The “course of the world” is view and frame of mind of this present world. Trench states on the use of the word “course” that it is “all that floating mass of thoughts, opinions, maxims, speculations, hopes, impulses, aims, aspirations, at any time current in the world, which is impossible to seize and accurately define, but which constitutes a most real and effective power…” It is the urrent philosophy of the world. The course is its system. The word kosmos in Greek / world in English is used in several different ways always discernable by it’s context, in this passage it refers to man living in alienation from God. It is his outlook and his attitude apart from God.
The whole of anything cannot be any superior to its parts.
If the parts are evil, the whole is evil. The nature of those who make up the world determines the course of the world. The course of this world is what other people think or say or do. We were controlled by the opinions of others. We were dominated by the fashions of this world, with the desire to fit in, to be part of the group. We were controlled by conformity. What the world said, we echoed. What the world did, we mimicked.
Not only were we controlled by the world’s system but also because of its influence of the world’s system:
We Were Dominated By The World’s Sovereign
The “prince of the power of the air” controls the world system and he controls us thereby. He orders the things of the world, and continues to mold it and shape it contrary to the delight of God. Satan is the God of this world. He is the one setting up false religions, dictating false viewpoints, and working accord to his evil ways. It is him that is so subtle and so sneaky that most people are unknowingly moved. They think that they are in total control of their self and don’t realize that Satan is dominating their thoughts, and deeds. He is in control of the powers of evil. More over His is in control of “the spirit which now worketh in the children of disobedience”.
We are dominated by the world’s system, by the world’s sovereign, and by:
We Were Dominated By The World’s Spirit
There is an evil principle that in working in this world. It is this principle, this power that which we were controlled by. Satan is its prince. It is operative, and effectual as expressed in that word “worketh”. In some places it is even translated effectual and mighty in some places. And it is by that which is active in the “Children of Disobedience”.
Not only are condition was dead and our condition was dominated, but we see also:
Our Condition Was Disobedient
“Children of Disobedience” is an idiom. It falls along the same lines of “Sons of Belial”. It refers to the nature as that of disobedience. We were in total rebellion to God and everything we did was against God. It is a common falsehood that men without grace in their natural state seek God genuinely. They may call on him in a pinch, but they don’t seek him as he is. Even outward compliance is not true righteousness. It is not done in submission to His authority and reliance on Him.
We see our disobedience in two areas. First notice that:
We Were Disobedient In Our Actions
We were “in trespasses and sins”. These were our actions, which were disobedient. Our very deeds were evil and wicked.
“Trespasses” is the idea of trespassing. If we were to walk through the woods we might come across a sign that says “NO TRESSPASSING.” If we moved into the area marked off as off limits we’d be in violation of the law, and we’d be worthy of punishment. God set up boundaries and we marched right past them in open defiance and disobedience.
“Sins” comes from the thought of a Greek spearman when he missed the target at which he aimed at. It carries the idea of failing in one’s purpose and to miss the mark. Even if we try to living pleasing to God we will always fall short; we will always miss the mark.
Our actions are disobedient, and:
We Were Disobedient In Our Attitudes
Without the right attitudes we will never have the right actions. Our actions express our attitude. We are told that our mode of living, tenor of life, or our “conversation” was “in the lust of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind”. We lived not to please God, but to please ourselves. The lusts of the flesh are seen in two areas, “the desires of the flesh” and “the desires of the mind”. It is these in these area’s we see the inward principle that is articulated in our actions.
What is a desire in contrast to a lust? The lust of the flesh is it’s strong, ungodly cravings while the desire carries the idea of a command. Desire has the idea of a will. It has the idea of an urging to action, the driving force to action.
We see that we fulfilled the “desires of the flesh”, such as hunger, thirst, pleasure, contentment, sleep, sex, happiness, etc. These in themselves are healthy and good, but what is expressed here is that they have taken control and we are being commanded and driven by these desires of the flesh. We begin to live to eat, or live to seek pleasure, or live to sex. God never intended us to be controlled by these things.
We also fulfilled the “desires of the mind”. The mind is his process of thought, including emotions. These are the things that controlled our attention. These include envy, pride, jealousy, bitterness, as well as the being controlled by the attainment of wealth or success, power or social status. Moreover, you can add a lust for learning or knowledge. These things may be good things in themselves, but not when they drive you. Not when they become your life.
We have looked at the truth that our condition was dead, that we were dominated, and that we were disobedient. Now let us focus on the fact that:
Our Condition Was Damned
We were “children of wrath”. We were totally deserving of eternal punishment. We were deserving of hell. The intensity of the punishment is a indicator as to the intensity of our transgressions. Since Hell is a total sentence of condemnation, we can see that we were totally deserving of eternal punishment. Since we are totally dead, totally dominated, totally disobedient, we are totally blameworthy. Many today say that God is a God of Love and therefore there is not hell, but wrath is not uncontrolled anger. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “Wrath is a demonstration of indignation based on justice.” It isn’t against the Love of God, but it is the other side of God’s love. The world we be judged in righteousness, and we were totally deserving of the wrath of God. God’s loathing of sin is manifested in his wrath.