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Total Depravity in Scripture


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.”

—Genesis 2:16–17

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This is really where the doctrine of Total Depravity is introduced, with his warning of the consequence of disobedience to God’s first command: spiritual death. But Adam did disobey. He did eat the forbidden fruit, he did die, and all mankind with him.

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned . . .

—Romans 5:12

Note well: The language here is not of spiritual sickness, but of death. This is our condition from birth (Psalm 51:5; 58:3). This is why the illustration of throwing a rope (the gospel) to a drowning man doesn’t work. We are not drowning, but already drowned. A dead man cannot grab a rope. We do not need to be rescued; we need to be reborn.

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

—John 1:12–13

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

—John 3:5–6

This rebirth is in no way a result of our own effort. It is nothing less than a miracle. In the same passage, Jesus continued,

Do not be amazed that I said to you, “You must be born again.” The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.

—John 3:7–8

We are born utterly without any hope in ourselves (Romans 8:7–8; 1 Corinthians 2:14), and would remain that way, if not for two beautiful words found in the following passage: “But God . . .”

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. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ . . . For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

—Ephesians 2:1–5, 8–9

This post is a brief summary of The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 21–27.



Posted 2018·01·12 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Monergism · Sola Gratia · Soli Deo Gloria · The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented · Total Depravity

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