Original Sin and Total Depravity

by Mike Ratliff

8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10 NASB) 

Sacred Scripture’s diagnosis of sin is as a universal deformity of human nature found at every point in every person (1 Kings 8:46; Romans 3:9-23; 7:18; 1 John 1:8-10 see above). Both the Old Testament and the New Testament describe sin as rebellion against God’s rule, missing the mark God set for us to aim at, transgressing God’s law, offending God’s purity by defiling oneself, and incurring guilt before God the Judge. The moral deformity is dynamic: sin is an energy of irrational, negative, and rebellious reaction to God. It is a spirit of fighting God in order to play God. The root of sin is pride and enmity against God, the spirit seen in Adam’s first transgression, and sinful acts always have behind them thoughts and desires that one way or another express the willful opposition of the fallen heart to God’s claims on our lives. 

I know from experience and if any of you have done any discernment work or work in the area of apologetics dealing with those who attack God’s truth, his doctrines of the Church, or the Church itself, then you know as well how those who claim to be Christians, but hate the truth are willfully blind and, in their sin, they have an irrational sense about them that refuses to even consider the truth. As I have said to some of friends about this, it is as if these people have lost the ability to reason. They are enslaved to their sin, which is that energy of irrational, negative, and rebellious reaction to God. However, once we realize that this is who we are dealing with, then we will always have the upper hand because we have the wisdom of God, his peace and joy, and the mind of Christ.

Sin may be defined as breaking the law of God, or failing to conform to it, in any aspect of life, whether thought, word, or deed. Scriptures illustrating different aspects of sin include Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 12:30-37; Mark 7:20-23; Romans 1:18-3:20; 7:7-25; 8:5-8; 14:23 (Luther said that Paul wrote Romans to “magnify sin); Galatians 5:16-21; Ephesians 2:1-3; 4:17-19; Hebrews 3:12; James 2:10-11; 1 John 3:4; 5:17.

“Original sin,” meaning sin derived from our origin, is not a biblical phrase (it comes from Augustine), but it does bring into focus the reality of sin in our spiritual system. Original Sin does not mean that sin belongs to human nature as such; “God made man upright” (Ecclesiastes 7:29). Nor does it mean that the processes of reproduction and birth are sinful; the uncleanness associated with sexuality in Law (Leviticus 12; 15) was typical and ceremonial, not moral. Rather “original sin” means that sinfulness marks everyone from birth, in the form of a heart inclined toward sin, prior to any actual sins; this inner sinfulness is the root and source of all actual sins; it is transmitted to us from Adam, our first representative before God. The doctrine of original sin makes the point that we are not sinners because we sin, but we sin because we are sinners, born with a nature enslaved to sin.

The phrase “total depravity” is commonly used to make explicit the implications of original sin. It signifies a corruption of our moral and spiritual nature that is total in principle, although not in degree (for no one is as bad as he or she might be). No part of us is untouched by sin, and no action of ours is as good as it should be. Consequently, nothing we do is ever meritorious in God’s eyes. We cannot earn God’s favor, no matter what we do; unless grace saves us, we are lost.

Total depravity includes total inability, that is, being without power to believe in God or his word (John 6:44; Romans 8:7, 8). Paul calls this universal unresponsiveness a form of death; the fallen heart is “dead” (Ephesians 2:1, 5; Colossians 2:13).

The Westminster Confession of Faith 

Chapter IX

Of Free Will 

III. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.

To this darkness the word of God alone brings light.

27 But He said, “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.” (Luke 18:27 NASB) 

6 For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6 NASB) 

Soli Deo Gloria!

10 thoughts on “Original Sin and Total Depravity

  1. Dear Mike,

    Just now grasping the huge implications of the doctrine of Total Depravity and why it is so important.

    A perfect example of a wrong, but common view is in the book by C.S. Lewis “The Problem of Pain”: “This chapter will have been misunderstood if anyone describes it as a reinstatement of the doctrine of Total Depravity. I disbelieve that doctrine, partly on the logical ground that if our depravity were total we should not know ourselves to be depraved, and partly because experience shows us much goodness in human nature.” Sadly, this assesment was made on (human wisdom) and (subjective feelings) not the Bible.

    “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to ALL men because ALL sinned… So then as through on transgression there resulted condemnation to ALL men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.” Romans 5:12&18

    The Bible says were are spiritually dead:

    “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”. Romans 6:23
    “For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23
    “And you were DEAD in your trespasses and sins,” Ephesians 2:1

    What can a DEAD person done? Nothing…
    [Just highlighting a few of the verses you outlined in your post:-]

    It is a great comfort to know that even though we are incapable of saving ourselves we have a great God, who through His Word and His grace made available the knowledge of His Son Jesus that who so ever believes and calls upon His name shall be saved!

    Praise God for your continuing study on the doctrines that are the very foundation of Biblical Christianity.


  2. If we had any good in us then Jesus would have never said—Mar 10:18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God ALONE.=emphasis mine.

    I absolutely cringe with people who seriously think they have “free will” to choose Jesus. that’s implying that we had our hand in salvation and there is some goodness in us deep down. No we are rotten to the core-(heart). They are so deceived. If we can choose then why pray tell are there prisons filled with criminals? If they can just simply choose and are free then STOP! Simple truth we are DEAD and cannot

    One thing that has really jarred me as a Christian is how I can deceive myself. I’m to learn to be totally dependent on the Lord. If God took his restraining hand off of me I’d go absolutely wild in sin. If God allowed my conscience to be seared, I’d be a raving carte blanche lunatic. I DON”T because the love of Jesus Christ keeps me moral and I don’t want to let Him down.
    It is because of God’s love that I’m not consumed. People just dunno that the reason why they are getting laws passed such as for homosexuals, it’s a very bad thing for them. God is giving them over to a reprobate mind. They celebrate in their shameful lifestyle and freely strut-Ps.12:8- around more and more. God’s giving them over to their depravity. They are on the edge of a precipice and dancing on a thin line. Their lusts control them.

    anyways don’t wanna get on a tangent here…
    Love your passion in your writings and most importantly for people to read them and be set FREE


  3. Mike,

    I echo the comments from the others. I just sent this out to a YahooGroup I moderate, which has a determined fan of Kenny Copeland on board who rails against the Doctrines of Grace. I pray he will one day see the Truth.

    Press on!

    BTW – I am near “finished” with the Reformed Baptist Library I am collecting (will continue to add to it as I find gems), so please send me your mailing address, sbrogden at gmail dot com


  4. Exellent series of blogposts Mike. Here is a little lengthy, but excellent quote on sin, from JC Ryle in his book on “Holiness” that is apropo for our times.

    “In the next pace, a Scriptural view of sin is one of the best anticdotes to the extravagantly broad and liberal theology which is so much in vogue at the present time. The tendency of modern thought is to reject dogmas, creeds, and every kind of bounds in religion. It is thought grand and wise to condemn no opinion whatsoever, and to pronounce all earnest and clever teachers to be trustworthy, however heterogeneous and mutually destructive their opinions may be. – Everything forsooth is true, and nothing is false! Everybody is right, and nobody is wrong! Everybody is likely to be saved, and nobody is to be lost! – The Atonement and Substitution of Christ, the personality of the devil, the miraculous element in Scripture, the reality and eternity of future punishment, all these mighty foundation-stones are cooly tossed overboard, like lumber, in order to lighten the ship of Christianity, and enable it to keep pace with moder science. – Stand up for these great verities, and you are called narrow, illiberal, old-fashioned, and a theological fossil! Quote a text, and you are told that all truth is not confined to the pages of an ancient Jewish Book, and that free inquiry has found out many things since the Book was completed! – Now, I know nothing so likely to counteract this modern plague as constant clear statements about the nature, reality, vileness, power, and guilt of sin. We must charge home into the consciences of these men of broad views, and demand a plain answer to some plain questions. We must ask them to lay their hands on their hearts, and tell us whether their favourite opinions comfort them in the day of sickness, in the hour of death, by the bedside of dying parents, by the grave of beloved wife or child. We must ask them whether a vague earnestness, without definite doctrine, gives them peace at seasons like these. We must challenge them to tell us whether they do not sometimes fee a gnawing “something” within, which all the free inquiry and philosophy and science in the world cannot satisfy. And then we must tell them that this gnawing “something” is the sense of sin, guilt, and corruption, which they are leaving out of their calculations. And, above all, we must tell the that nothing will ever make them feel rest, but submission to the old doctrines of man’s ruin and Christ’s redemption, and simple childlike faith in Jesus.”


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