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MM00097 The Total Depravity of Man

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Mentoring Manna:  The Total Depravity of Man

© 2003 Pastor Keith Hassell



Romans 3:10-12 (NKJV) “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.”

            Are human beings inherently good or inherently evil?  It is almost universally agreed that there is no one who is perfect.  When we fall short of perfection we often quote the maxim, “To err is human.”  Paul says it this way:  “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”[1]  But can our imperfections simply be “flaws” in an inherently good nature?  Or do our “flaws” point to a deeper problem?

            We like to believe that we are good people.  We like to imagine that our imperfections are only surface blemishes.  But Jesus said that there is only One who is good, that is God.[2] I have asked people on many occasions where they believe they are going when they die.  If they say they are going to heaven, I ask them why they believe this.  In the majority of cases people believe they are going to heaven because they are basically good people who have tried to do what is right.  Sure they have made a few “mistakes,” but who hasn’t?  They have not done anything really “bad.”  As a rule, our modern culture has adopted this view of man’s inherent goodness. When man is wicked, it is because of some external influence. However, the Bible teaches us quite the opposite.

            The Bible teaches what theologians call the “total depravity of man.”  This means that sin has affected every part of man’s being.  There is nothing in man that has been untouched by the corruption of sin. Our spirit, soul, and body have been terminally affected. Sin’s corruption is not a surface matter. Man is rotten down to the very core of his being.  Indeed, if we “appear” to be good, it is only because we compare ourselves to others worse than ourselves rather than to Christ. Even the “good” that we do is often tainted with selfish motives and personal agendas. Human goodness is motivated by the benefits we receive from being good.  But when the benefits of being good are removed, we will by nature do what is wrong rather than what is right.

            The Bible teaches us that although man is totally depraved, he is not utterly depraved. In other words, we are not as bad as we could be. Even Hitler and Stalin could have been worse than they were.  The reason we are not as bad as we could be is that God in His wisdom and mercy has placed restraints upon our lives that prevent us from becoming utterly wicked.  These restraints come in the form of parental boundaries when we are growing up.  They come in the form of religious and civil laws that restrict our conduct.  They come in the form of the threat of consequences or punishment.  They come in the form of lessons learned.  They come in the form of the fear of rejection, loss, harm, war, and death.  They come in the form of the fear of God and of eternal judgment. Restraints are sometimes the sovereign work of God to keep us from evil. As godly restraints are removed from our lives, however, we exhibit greater manifestations of our depravity.[3]

            Only through the Gospel can we be delivered from our slavery to sin.  Only through the new birth can man inherit a new nature.[4]  Through faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ we can receive His divine nature so that we might genuinely exhibit to the world around us the One who is alone is good. 


Application:  Repent of self-righteousness and thank God for restraining you from the utter depravity of your sinful condition. God demonstrated His love by sending Jesus to deliver us from our depravity and by giving us a new nature in Jesus Christ.  Allow the One who alone is good to live in your heart today.


Prayer:  “Heavenly Father, I want to thank You for loving me even when I was still in my sin.  Thank You for Your restraints that have kept me from being totally given over to my sin. I thank You for the new birth through which I have received a new nature, the nature of Christ within.  I determine to allow His goodness to live in and through my life so that others may see and believe in the One who alone is good.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”



[1] Romans 3:23 NKJV

[2] Matthew 19:17

[3] See Romans 1:18-32

[4] John 3:1-8; 2 Corinthians 5:17

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