January 21, 2108 Total Depravity

Scripture Reading: Romans 3:10-12.


[I.] Here the apostle Paul quotes King David and applies his words to all mankind, both Jews and Gentiles. He says there are none who are righteous, not even one person! There are no exceptions to the observation that sin is so pervasive that it captures everyone. Even unbelievers will admit this.


Paul then writes, “No one understands.” Some will object to this; but Christians know that, although many think they know something about God and His requirements, they really do not. They often think that God is against something that He is for and that He is for something that He hates. This is because they make themselves the measure, or they make society the measure, rather than what God has revealed about Himself and His ways.


In verse 12 Paul writes, “No one does good, not even one.” Here, even Christians have a hard time accepting this truth. That we are all sinners is easy to admit. So, too, that none of us is perfect. But to say that no one does any good at all seems to fly in the face of common sense. We hear stories all the time of people making sacrifices to help others, donating their time to help the less fortunate, even giving their lives in time of war to save a fellow soldier. Surely these are good deeds and surely not all who do them are Christians. One Christian author observed that a car with a “Coexist” bumper sticker may drive the speed limit while a car with a “Honk if you Love Jesus” sticker whizzes by him at 20 miles over.


Paul could be using hyperbole here – purposely exaggerating to make his point. But he is not. If he is using hyperbole in saying “no one does good” then he is using it throughout verses 10 through 18. But, if he is using it the whole time, it then destroys his argument that all are sinners and that Jews and Gentiles are equally guilty before God. Paul means to say that, literally, no one does good. How can this be since it defies what we observe to be true?


The answer is that we look on the outside but God looks on the inside. (I Sam 16:7; I Peter 3:3-4; Mark 7:15-23) We also must take into consideration that the word “good” is used in two ways. It is used in a relative sense, that is, “good” as compared to what we generally see in people’s behavior. In common language when we say that a person is good, we mean that they are good compared to other people. And, it is used in an absolute sense, meaning that every aspect of person’s action is considered.


When the rich young ruler came to Jesus and addresses him as “Good teacher,” Jesus responds: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”[1] Jesus, of course, was God manifested in the flesh. But, at this time in his earthly ministry, the ruler did not know that. Therefore, Jesus speaks to him where he is at, in accordance with the knowledge that he had. He answers him with his understanding that Jesus is just a teacher. He says, “No one is good except God alone.” But Jesus was good in a relative sense, too. Therefore, Jesus was using the word “good” in the absolute sense. In that sense only God is good.


God looks at the motive of all that we do. Most actions in which we engage have a mixture of motives. We seek our own interest. We seek the interests of those we love. We seek the interest of others. And, we seek the glory of God and the glory of Christ. Out of those four motivations our own interest should be fourth. When our self-seeking is higher than fourth then our actions are not truly good. In fact, unbelievers never do anything for the glory of God, which should be first. This excludes their actions as being truly good. Hence, we see that Paul is right as he always is.


In the last part of verse 11 we read: “No one seeks for God.” Yet, how many times have we heard Christians say, “So and so is not a Christian but he (or she) is searching”? There is a notion that there are people all over the place searching for God. They just haven’t been able to find him. Is God playing hide and seek? Although there is a sense in which God is hidden, he has still made Himself known through nature, through our conscience, and through His word. By the testimony of two or three witnesses shall a thing be established (Deut 19:15; 2 Cor 13:1; Hebrews 10:28). We need two or three witnesses when people are involved because fallen people have a tendency to not tell the truth or to get things wrong. God does not have that problem. He always tells the truth. Therefore, God only needs one witness: Himself. That is enough! Yet, he still has give us three: our conscience, nature, and His word. God is not hiding when it comes to His reality. (He sometimes hides when we seek guidance.)[2]


In the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve sinned, who hid? Jesus came into the world to seek us (Luke 19:10). Neither Jesus nor the Father are hiding.


Why do we think that some people are seeking God? The great theologian, Thomas Aquinas, has answered that question for us. He says we observe people seeking after peace of mind, freedom from guilt, meaning for their lives, maybe even release from the bondage of a sin. We know that these things can only be truly found through Christ. So, we may think that if they are seeking any of these things then they are seeking God.


People are not seeking God. They are seeking the benefits of God. R C Sproul has summarized man’s plight well. “The sin of fallen man is this: Man seeks the benefits of God while at the same time fleeing from God Himself. We are, by nature, fugitives.”[3]


There are passages that tell us to seek after God (Isaiah 55:6; Mat 7:7, among others), but these are directives towards those already in a covenant relationship with the Lord.


Seeking is something that only believers do. Until we believe we do not seek. Once we believe then our seeking just begins. Seeking the kingdom is one of the primary goals of the Christian life.


Later in the book of Romans Paul writes this:


            For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. [4]


He says that nothing good dwells in him. Is the ability to choose Christ something good? Of course, it is. That ability does not dwell in the natural man.


In his letter to the Corinthians Paul makes this even more clear:


The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. [5]


The fallen, unregenerate person…


  • Does not do anything truly good
  • Does not seek God
  • Does not understand spiritual things
  • Has nothing good in him.


The Scriptures further testify that all, before they come to Christ, are slaves to sin and are caught in a snare of the devil.


This condition is called total depravity. Sometimes that expression is misunderstood. It does not mean that people are as bad as they could possibly be. We might call that utter depravity. Even the most wicked of humanity are not as bad as they could be. The most vile criminal could have done more wicked deeds than they did. The word total is meant to communicate that no part of who we are is left untouched by the fall. The fall has brought depravity to every part of who we are.


Some theologians prefer the expression total inability rather than total depravity. Others have suggested radical corruption. Whatever you call it, it is true.


Total depravity means that every aspect of who we are has been affected by the fall and, before regeneration, we are running away from God. Our bodies are corrupted. Disease afflicts many. Disease is here because of sin. Even those who are generally healthy still must wear glasses, especially when they get older. Many men go bald. As we get older we get weaker. Everyone dies…because of sin.


In the natural state, our minds are perverted. Our thinking process has been corrupted so that we make errors in reasoning. We think thoughts that ought not to be part of our thinking.


Our emotions are not stable. Some are too emotional. Others are not emotional enough. Many times things that are not wholesome bring us joy and things that are good and healthy bore us.


Our human will chooses sinful things. And, our will purposely neglects spiritual duty.


Before we come to Christ in desperation, our human spirit is dead. There is no spark of divine life within us before God comes to rescue us. So, we see that:


  • Our bodies are corrupted with diseases and maladies. They become weaker as we age.
  • Our minds our prone to make mistakes and our thinking takes wrong directions.
  • Our emotions are unstable
  • Our will chooses wrongly and incapable of choosing the truly good.
  • Our human spirits are dead.


This is why the natural man has no interest in the things of God. We have no ability to do what is truly good and no ability to choose Christ.


[II.] What are the practical implications of this doctrine? If we understand the truth of radical corruption it makes the person who is lost hopeful and it makes the Christian life easier. Yes, it does!


How can this be? From the perspective of the person who has not yet come to Christ, if they know that they are totally depraved, how can that make them hopeful? Wouldn’t that tend to cause them to lose hope? After all, if they have no ability to come to Christ why even try?


That is one way of looking at it. But that way of looking at it leaves someone out of the picture. It leaves God out! If God the Father, knowing our condition, desires to save you then this simply means that nothing can prevent you being brought to him through his Son. It also means that it doesn’t depend on you. You do not have to muster up energy or will to get right with God. Of course, a person still must choose to repent (turning away from sin) and must choose to follow the Lord Jesus. But, it is not something that must be mustered up. It is a choosing that flows from a heart that has been melted by the Holy Spirit.


If a person recognizes their lost condition but they have no sense of urgency to get right with God, they have very little desire to follow the Lord, then this is the sort of prayer that they can pray: “Lord, I know that within me dwells no good thing. I know that I am not right with you, yet I barely have a desire to forsake my sins and follow you. Have mercy upon me through your Son, Jesus! Change my corrupted heart and save me from myself!”


If a person begins to utter that kind of a prayer and does so daily, God will begin to answer. Total depravity understood brings hope to the lost because it communicates that everything depends on God and not upon the individual.


The doctrine of total depravity brings a protection to the disciple of Christ.


Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (I Cor 10:12, ESV)


“ So beware if you think it could never happen to you, lest your pride becomes your downfall.” (Passion Translation)


Understanding our radical corruption will make us more wary of situations and circumstances that we think would not be a cause of stumbling to us. Further, we ought not to be too surprised when we hear of the transgressions of political leaders who are Christians or just the average member of a church who falls. We are fallen. We are broken. We are corrupted.


We ought not to be too discouraged when we ourselves fall. This doctrine brings hope because we know that, even in our best days, there are corruptions within us that seek to bring us down. If we are down, we don’t stay down. We get up. We dust ourselves off. And, we continue on the path of life.


This doctrine brings hope because it takes away our lofty self-expectations and makes us accept ourselves for who we are. Not that we should be satisfied as to where we are. We ought not to be. But, understanding our radical corruption, we do not yield to despair because of our own failures.


Finally, with respect to our duty to share the gospel, this doctrine takes all the responsibility off of us. If people are radically corrupted what hope do you have of bringing them to faith? You have none.  They are too far gone to be persuaded by the most eloquent and moving speaker. Their inability to come to faith leaves you powerless to convince them. It is the Spirit’s work to do, not yours. You have only to offer them the way of deliverance. You have only to answer some questions they may have. The Spirit will do his heavy work if you will do your light work. And, the truth of the matter is that the Spirit will have been working on a person’s heart long before you speak with them.


Go, therefore, with confidence that God is at work and He will do the work that you cannot. He will do it in you. And, he will do it in those to whom you speak.





[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mk 10:18). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] See A God Who Hides Himself, the sermon notes from August 14, 2016.

[3] R C. Sproul, Chosen by God (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, ©1986), 86.


[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ro 7:18). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Co 2:14). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.