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Total Depravity - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

The Tract Series

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What does it mean to be a sinner in God’s sight?

The Bible mentions the word “sin” over 475 times. We know it is an important subject, especially when it is mentioned almost as much as the holiness of God. Even if it were only mentioned once, it would still be important since God took the time to put it in His infallible Word. But to ponder the immense treatment the Bible gives the doctrine of sin is mind-boggling.

This tract is not so much directed towards the concept of “sins” as in “the sins someone commits,” but rather, it is aimed toward the theological idea surrounding where “sin” comes from and its effects. So we must begin at the beginning.

In Genesis 2:8-17, God makes man, puts him in the garden He has created, and then instructs the man to follow His Word–not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. Basically, it was a time of testing. It was a covenant that God made with man, and to test man. God was saying, listen to My Word, do not eat of the tree and you will live, but if you do eat of it, “you will surely die.”

Then the serpent came into the picture, tempted Eve, Adam’s wife, and she gave in and ate of the forbidden fruit. She then gave some to her husband and he ate of it as well. They sinned. They failed the test and broke covenant with God. God cursed the serpent for deceiving them, and he cursed the woman and the man for disobeying Him. Adam and Eve were now sinners in the eyes of God. They were consequently cast from the Garden of Eden, into the wilderness and away from His presence.

Someone may say, “well, so what? What does Adam have to do with me here in the 21st century?” To clarify this we have to look at Romans 5:12, “…just as through one man sin entered the world and death through sin, thus, death spread to all men, because all sinned.” Adam’s sin was representative of all of us. Because the whole human race was “in” Adam’s loins, it was as if we all committed a rebellious act before God. Adam was the representative on our behalf. It is the same as if the President of the United States was to declare war on another country, all Americans, who live in America, would be in the war. He is the representative on our behalf. Adam, in the same manner, was the representative on behalf of the whole human race. We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners in Adam. We have inherited the fallen nature which Adam acquired after “falling” from grace in the garden. We have a rotten nature that is corrupt through and through.

Before the Fall in the garden, Adam was without sin, but had the potential to sin if he chose to do so. Since he chose to sin, he fell from the gracious state he was in and entered into a sinful state. Once the pot is broken it can never be unbroken; it will always have cracks no matter how much glue you use. What exactly did we inherit in this sin nature? Genesis 6:5 says, “And the Lord saw the wickedness of man was great in the earth and every intent and thought of his heart was only evil continually.” The heart is the spiritual center of man’s being. It is the place where mind, emotions, and spirit all reside in a collective whole–it is the heart of man. The sinful heart is only evil, and anyone who has one of these hearts is evil. Not just that they do evil things, but they are inherently evil. Being “evil” means that they have inherited Adam’s sin. In God’s eyes that means they are imperfect. Being imperfect is evil.

Genesis tells us, “And every intent (or motive) and thought (or every idea) is only evil continually.” The word “continually” means “day in and day out.” All day long, every day, the whole of man’s heart is evil. It is constantly evil. Someone may ask, “When does a man’s heart become evil? Certainly little children are not evil?” But King David stated in Psalm 51:5, “In sin my mother conceived me.” The very moment David was conceived in his mother’s womb he was a sinner as Psalm 51:5 states. Because of Adam’s sin, everyone born is born a sinner and is imperfect. Everyone born is born evil.

The question usually arises, “What about the Age of Accountability (that children are not sinners until they “come of age” to be able to reason about good and evil.)?” The Bible does not teach the Age of Accountability. Children are sinners as much as anyone. They are sinners from conception and do not receive special treatment from God just because they are babies or children. Remember, Adam’s sin, his sin nature, is given to all his offspring–including children and babies. Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” This idea that Adam’s sin is “given” to all, is called “imputation”. What that means is everyone inherited Adam’s outcome and judgment. Adam’s account was credited to us, and as a result we are “given” or “imputed” or “reckoned” sinners and wicked in God’s sight.

The depravity, or sinfulness of man is a doctrine which is vital to understanding salvation. Why have a tract on sin? Because most of the church today does not understand the doctrine of the sinfulness of man. People think that man still has the capacity to be good. They think people are able, in and of themselves, to do works of righteousness before God without the help of God at all. Lost people (people that have inherited Adam’s sin) cannot work righteously before God. Saved people, by the power of the Spirit of God, are able to work righteously only because they have the Spirit dwelling in them. Whenever someone says that they can believe in Christ for salvation on their own, or choose to follow Him on their own before the Spirit of God changes their heart, then they are saying man is good because the Fall of Adam has not totally corrupted them. They can still perform righteous deeds–like choosing salvation. They are not following the Bible at this point, but rather the teaching of Pelagius.

In 420 AD Pelagius was in deep controversy with Augustine of Hippo about the sinfulness of man. Pelagius said that Adam’s sin did not affect us, thus we are able to perform righteous deeds on our own. We are sinners, according to Pelagius, when we sin for ourselves. This was the only way Pelagius could keep that aspect of man that nobody wants to give up–free will. Pelagius knew that if Adam’s sin was imputed, or put onto us, then the sinful fallen nature destroys any hope of having a free will to choose good or evil. He knew that Adam’s imputed sin would cause man to be evil “continually.” Augustine challenged Pelagius with the Bible. He used Genesis 6:5, Romans 5:12-19; Romans 3:10ff; Jeremiah 17:9, and other Scriptures which prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that we are sinful because of Adam. We have a completely sinful and depraved nature which is only interested in rebelling against God. In modern days, Pelagianism has been revived by Arminians. They are the followers of Jacob Arminius, a man who lived in the later 16th century. He tried to reconcile Augustine and Pelagius and came up with Semi-Pelagianism. He said, “okay, Adam’s sin does affect us, but just not totally. That way I will be able to keep man’s free-will intact.” But the Bible does not say that man is “kinda evil” or “sorta bad.” It tells us that we are “evil continually.” It is faulty study and a bad examination of the texts of the Bible which lead people to deny this original sinfulness in us. The Bible says that man is in utter hopelessness without Christ. The Spirit of God must first change man’s heart (Ezekiel 36:26) before he can do any righteous works before God. Believing in Christ is the most righteous work anyone can do, and no man can believe without the Spirit.

So what we see is that man cannot be saved unless the Spirit of God firsts chooses him and changes his heart so he can believe (John 3:1-8). If the Spirit does not apply the work of Jesus Christ and His shed blood upon a man’s heart, that man will have a hard heart all the way into the depths of hell itself, just like Pharaoh (Romans 9:14-21).

Adam was tested by God, failed the test, broke the covenant, and sinned. Man is a sinner because of Adam, and from the very time of conception, has a sin nature. That sin nature is what causes man to commit “sins.” Because of this nature man’s whole disposition is evil. It remains evil until the Spirit of God changes his heart by applying the blood of Jesus Christ. This gives him the capacity to believe. Just like men inherit a bad heart and a bad record from Adam, they inherit a good heart and a good record from Jesus Christ.

Man is like a broken down junkyard car. It has a cracked engine block and does not run. It has leaked out all its fluid, and has no gas. It has four flat tires and the body is all smashed up. How long would it take this old rusted out, junkyard car to fix itself? The answer is never. It needs a mechanic, and His name is Jesus. Without the mechanic, the car will never run on its own–that is Total Depravity simplified.

Total Depravity does not mean that people are as bad as they can be, but that the total person, mind, emotions and spirit, have been completely affected by the Fall of Adam. Man is corrupted completely and depraved totally. All the faculties of man are evil, not just parts of him. Adam’s sin made all people sinners – evil, wicked and depraved.

So, there is no Gospel (good news) without the bad news. We must get through the bad news before we get through to the good news about the Savior. The problem is that people want good news, then more good news, but no bad news. The cross only answers to those who are sinful, not “good.” Jesus is the Physician for the sick, not the healthy. He is the Mechanic who fixes broken cars. And He can fix your sinful soul as well.

Man must call out to God and throw himself upon His mercy to be saved. He must follow the directive of the tax collector in Luke 18:13 and say, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Men need to be humbled by their sin before Jesus Christ exalts them. When the Holy Spirit comes to the heart of a man and changes that heart to respond by faith, that man must repent of his sin and turn from his wicked ways. He must die to sin and live unto righteousness. He must mourn over his depravity and see himself as totally helpless, poor in spirit, before the Almighty Christ. He must see his life hanging by a thread over the depths of hell and its flames, knowing full well that God is the only Redeemer through which he can be saved.

Without recognizing, by the Spirit’s power, your Total Depravity, your utter sinfulness, then you will never be saved. For no man may come before the bar of God’s judgment seat and be acquitted without knowing what the Great Redeemer, Jesus Christ did on the cross, and why He did it. Jesus died to take upon Himself, as the Lamb without blemish, all the blemishes and sin of His people. The Sinless took upon Himself the sinful as a sacrifice for sin. He died so that the helpless soul will be freed from their Total Depravity.

O, sinner, cry out to him this very instant! Fall upon your knees and beg for His abundant mercy–for all that call upon the Lord shall be saved! Jesus Christ is the only answer to sin. He is the only remedy for depravity. He is the second Adam, who is obedient to God, and is the only One who is able to vanquish sin upon the cross.

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