Author: Ron Graham
Total depravity is the T in TULIP, and is the first point of Calvinism. The fall of Adam and Eve (Gen 3) seriously hurt humanity. "Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all mankind, because all sinned" (Rom 5:12).
Human beings have "fallen short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). This lesson examines human nature, and the mechanism by which sin and death spread to all. Is it by heredity or by contagion?
Calvinists believe the natural human condition is total depravity. They say that human beings are "utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil..."
The doctrine does not mean to say that human beings are devoid of all good, but rather that none of the good in them is pure. Imagine a child tips some salt into the bowl of sugar. If we take the bowl away quickly, we might be able to lift out a part of the sugar, and in doing so remove all of the salt with it. But if the little monkey has stirred the sugar, then we may find no part unspoiled by the salt. Now all the sugar is salted and worthless.
It is in that sense that defilement is said to be "total". Good there may be, as there was sugar, but it is all marred and made useless. Sin has affected the person's will, understanding, affections, and every other faculty, rendering the person totally corrupted.
Jesus did not think that all men were utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil. He could see some good in people that was still pure and some faculties untouched by sin. Jesus spoke of a man "in whom there is no deceit" (Jhn 1:47). He was Nathanael, a perfectly honest man, proving that human beings can have unspoiled faculties.
Calvinists say that "fallen nature" is passed on from Adam and Eve to the newborn through all generations. When Adam and Eve, our first ancestors, committed the sin of eating the forbidden fruit, they "...fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation."
Jesus and Paul disagree with that. They believe people are born without moral corruption or "sinful nature", but become victims of moral pollution and contagious sin.
Paul pictures human depravity in Romans 1:18-32. The people were not depraved by nature, but deliberately perverted what was good in their nature and knowledge. They chose to exchange good for evil, truth for lies.
Romans 5:12 tells us how sin spreads: "Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned..." It is true that Adam and Eve fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin. But there is no truth in the statement, nor does the verse say, that the guilt of Adam and Eve's sin was imputed to all their posterity, or that and their death in sin and corrupted nature was conveyed by ordinary generation to all those descending from them.
Look again at Romans 5:12. It says, "Death spread to all men, because all sinned". A person who has never yielded to enticements to commit sin, is not dead in sin, and death in sin is spread by contagion, not heredity. People deceive others into committing sin.
"Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven". Jesus went on to declare woe upon anyone who "causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin", and he warns, "Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father..." Later Jesus says, "Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven" (Mtt 18:1-11, Mtt 19:13-15).
These children had a capacity, not a disability. They were able to be humble and to believe. Jesus foresees them becoming sinners, but how? "Offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!" (Mtt 18:7). Who is "that man" to whom Jesus referred? Jesus wasn't looking back to Adam’s offense by which many were made sinners (Rom 5:15-19), but to future offenses when an uncorrupted child is caused to become a sinner.
Christ was a real human with a lineage from Adam and Eve. Jesus called himself "The Son of Man". If he did not share our nature, how can he be called "man" or be a High Priest who is able to sympathise with our weaknesses having been tempted in all points as we are? (Heb 2:12-18, Heb 4:15)
Did Jesus suffer from hereditary total depravity? Was he "made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil"? Was he "wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body"? Was he "utterly indisposed and disabled" in his attempt to be righteous? You say "No! No!" Of course you are right; and you've just seen one of the gaping holes in Calvinistic theory. It requires one to invent a theory to explain how Jesus can be wholly human, one of Adam's children, sharing their nature, yet not born depraved like all the rest.
[Creed quoted: THE WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH - 1646]