"Total Depravity" - Christians, what do you understand this Calvinist expression to mean?

The expression "Total Depravity" is much misunderstood and often maligned by Christians. What does the Bible have to say about the depravity of man, and what does Calvin actually (really) say about it?


For clarification (because I suspect some people have read far more into this question than was intended), this is my position on the subject of "Total Depravity":

The Bible view of total depravity is that since the fall of man, every part of man - his mind, will, emotions and flesh - have been corrupted by sin. This sin penetrates to the very core of our being and that is why "all our righteous acts are like filthy rags" before a holy God (Isaiah 64:6). We all sin because we are all sinners by nature. Jeremiah 17:9 says that man's heart is "deceitful and desperately wicked" and the thoughts of our heart are continually evil (Genesis 6:5). We are born dead in transgression and sin (Psalm 51:5; 58:3; Ephesians 2:1-5) and our minds are "hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is unable to do so" (Romans 8:7).

I go along with what Paul said about the total depravity of man in Romans 3:9-18.


Update 2:

My thanks to all who have responded - even if some of you got the false impression that I follow Calvin and not Christ Jesus. I would like to add my 'Amen' to what Mobile DJ said (thanks to the grace of God, none of us are as depraved as we could be) and to what Dan the Man said (there is nothing in and of ourselves that is worthy of salvation) but would modify his last sentence to read: it is only through Christ's blood that our depravity can be overcome.

Best answer goes to the person who most clearly spells out what the doctrine of Total Depravity actually is - and to everybody who disagrees, please check out the Got Questions link. I am now going to lie down in a quiet and dark room and repeat to myself, one hundred times, "I must never ask any questions about Calvin on R&S."

13 Answers

  • 10 years ago
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    The usual idea of "total depravity" has been distorted due to "total misunderstanding"!!! Please let me briefly explain what this shorthand-phrase actually means, because some Christian answers here demonstrate their lack of understanding of this Calvinist phrase:

    It is about the correct assessment of the condition of the one who is to be saved. If we believe that the fall of man in Eden was merely partial, then we shall most likely be satisfied with a salvation that is partly attributable to God, and partly attributable to man. If a Doctor has a wrong view of a disease, his diagnosis and prescribed remedy will not deal with the disease! If someone who is diseased tries to make their own diagnosis and prescription but that very disease affects their thinking, they're not going to get it right!

    Depravity can also be described as 'corruption', which is our natural state. We have been corrupted (by Adam) even before we were born. What this does NOT mean is the common misunderstanding, "Man is as evil as he could possibly be and unable to recognise the will of God and unable to do any good." What the Reformers at the Synod of Dort in 1619 meant was this:

    When man fell in Eden, he fell in his 'totality'. The whole personality of man has been affected by the fall, and sin extends to the whole of the faculties - the will, the understanding, the affections and all else. See Romans 5:12, 2 Tim 2:25 onwards, Mark 4:11 onwards, 1 Cor 2:14, Psalm 51:5.

    This, then, is man's natural state. Well, if we are 'dead' spiritually, can we raise ourselves to spiritual life? Can those in bondage free themselves? Can the blind give themselves sight, or the deaf hearing? Can the uninstructable teach themselves? Can the naturally sinful change themselves? See Job 14:4 & Jer. 13:23. No. We are like Lazarus in his tomb; we are bound hand and foot, corruption has already set in. But the Lord performs the miracle of grace. He quickens us, and makes alive those "who were dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1). When the Lord performs a miracle, He does it perfectly. Nothing can go wrong when God's hand is at work. Nothing is left to chance, or with open-ended outcomes. All God's works are perfect and He brings about the new birth to those whom the Holy Spirit convicts of their sin. Therefore, even the 'total depravity' of man cannot stop God's miracle of grace! But, as Roman 2:14-16 shows, even the most rebellious sinner still knows God exists, therefore, as Paul shows, he is inexcusable. Nobody can plead 'total depravity' to excuse themselves! On the contrary - it only serves to utterly condemn us.

    This point about total depravity in Calvinism is not the same as the point about predestination. They are two distinct subjects, or points. But if the correct view of total depravity is understood, then it can be seen that God's predestining prerogative would be utterly necessary to overcome the totality of man's sinful condition.

    Source(s): The Five Points of Calvinism (booklet) by W J Seaton (Banner of Truth Trust)
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  • 10 years ago

    The first of the 5 points of Calvanism means that until a man (or woman) has been preached the word of God and made aware of the Gospel - he/she is "totaly depraved" of knowing God and cannot find salvation apart from knowing Him. This was believed for many years to be true but now we know (by a better understanding of the Bible and the Grace of God) that it is NOT true. We still need to hear the word of God in order to be saved from eternal death (Romans.10:17) but we are not totaly depraved of knowing that God exists.

    It is written; that to some degree, the law of God is written on every human's heart and that because we are made in the "image of God' - whether we are Atheists or other - we subconsciously know that God the Creator and Judge of the world does exist and that we are accountable to Him.

    So to say that man is "TOTALY depraved" of knowing and understanding God is untrue.

    “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and [their] thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)” (Rom. 2:14-15 AV)

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  • 10 years ago

    The following is from "THE FIVE POINTS OF CALVINISM" http://www.prca.org/fivepoints/chapter1.html

    In this quotation the distinction is made between total depravity and absolute depravity. Total depravity means that man is depraved in every part of his being. But while he is depraved in every part of his being, at the same time there remain in every part of his being remnants of good. Absolute depravity means that every part of his being is wholly bad. This distinction therefore is intended precisely to leave room for some good which man is able to perform. And this good is particularly the good of accepting with his will the offer of the gospel. That is precisely what our Canons do not mean by total depravity.

    It goes well beyond anything I want to get involved with, therefore, I will leave it where it lays.

    As for the bible, we need look no further than Saul and his attempts to kill all Christians or followers of "the way" only to become the writer with the most books in the NT.

    No one is so bad that God can not save them and all any one has to do is to call on the name of Jesus, repent that you are a sinner and ask for forgiveness. God will do the rest no matter how depraved you are.

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  • 10 years ago

    Christ calls to follow Him and none other. That can only be done through His word.

    In His word He calls seventeen times to follow Him.

    His promise in His word is that all who follow Him will know Him for themselves, And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.

    My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.

    Why then, do you suppose people follow Calvin instead? Strange to say the least, don't you think?

    Could that be regarded as total depravity?

    If you want to know what the Bible says, why don't you read it?

    Preferably before reading Calvin or any other man. Why would any want to read Calvin when they can read the Bible?

    To start you off ---

    As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

    There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

    They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

    Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:

    Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:

    Their feet are swift to shed blood:

    Destruction and misery are in their ways:

    And the way of peace have they not known:

    There is no fear of God before their eyes.

    There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God, but lots that seek after Calvin.

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  • 10 years ago

    You can always tell when a Calvinist comes on here. They like the words "total Depravity" very much. It defines who they are. I had never even heard of a Calvinist before coming here.

    Total depravity means totally evil and without understanding, but I have never looked the words up so I could be wrong.

    I think the Bible says men are depraved without the Grace of God.

    Calvin taught predestination.

    Now correct me.

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  • 10 years ago

    Calvin meant that man can't help himself.

    You can only be saved by the will of God and by God's will alone.

    Calvin also believed that you had no choice in the matter.

    Calvin believed the decision of whether you were to be saved was already made by God when God created the world, and that your decision to be a believer was just the outward sign that you were one of the "God's Elect" who were preselected for salvation.

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  • 10 years ago

    When we under stand to rightly divide the Word of Truth in creation as whole, then it is known who is Christ Jesus and who is Jesus Christ and were angels stand, For the gospel has with in it tells of angels, men, and Sons of God they all are in the same basket but not the same fruit in workings. Unless He be sent, and believed on, darkness in these will remain.

    Some have no understandings and never will but do have part, for this question is the fact of that showing, as always when it comes up. But nevertheless when the Son of Man appears again with his angels He will put to rest in the Father and the Son, Him; for a thousands years.

    Source(s): Church of the Father and the Son, In You
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  • 10 years ago

    There is nothing in and of ourselves that it worthy of salvation. It is only through Christ's blood that we can overcome our depravity.

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  • 10 years ago

    I am a Christian !

    I do not follow Men I follow Christ !

    This Christ can be found in the Bible !

    Personal relationship with the creator is expected.

    Men Lie His WORD does not !

    (John 1:1 KJV) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

    (John 1:2 KJV) The same was in the beginning with God.

    (John 1:3 KJV) All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

    (John 1:4 KJV) In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

    (John 1:14 KJV) And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

    (John 3:5 KJV) Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

    (John 3:6 KJV) That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

    (John 3:7 KJV) Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

    (John 3:15 KJV) That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

    (John 3:16 KJV) For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

    (John 3:17 KJV) For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

    (John 3:18 KJV) He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

    (John 3:19 KJV) And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

    (John 14:6 KJV) Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

    (John 14:7 KJV) If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.

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  • Anonymous
    10 years ago

    I have a relationship with Jesus those like you than follow humans will forever be in darkness.

    And yes Calvin taught predestination - something that was used to support the slave trade. As I said, forever in darkness.

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