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Defining Depravity

What does it mean to be “totally depraved”?


The question of man’s depravity considers not the extent of his guilt before God, but the extent of his corruption in sin. The question is: am I totally depraved or only partly depraved? This is not to say there is nothing good about us. In fact, we need to emphasize that humankind was created good, bearing the image of God. The most depraved person you will ever meet enjoys the dignity of God’s original glorious creation of mankind. The doctrine of total depravity does not teach that men and women are “worthless”; as Francis Schaeffer passionately argued, image“Though the Bible says men are lost, it does not say they are nothing.” Far from it: it is the priceless value of every human soul that defines the tragedy expressed by total depravity. Neither does total depravity mean that little children should never be called “good boy” or “good girl.” It is very possible for totally depraved sinners to do things that are in and of themselves good.

So what is total depravity really about? Loraine Boettner explains:

imageThis doctrine of Total Inability, which declares that men are dead in sin, does not mean that all men are equally bad, nor that any man is as bad as he could be, nor that anyone is entirely destitute of virtue, nor that human will is evil in itself, nor that man’s spirit is inactive, and much less does it mean that the body is dead. What it does mean is that since the fall man rests under the curse of sin, that he is actuated by wrong principles, and that he is wholly unable to love God or to do anything meriting salvation.

—Richard D. Phillips, What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace? (Reformation Trust, 2008), 20–21.

Posted 2013·11·20 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Francis Schaeffer · Loraine Boettner · Richard Phillips · Total Depravity · What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace?

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