Are We “Totally Depraved”? (Daily Devotional)

Today’s Reading: Genesis 5-6.

For quite some time the phrase “totally depraved” gave me shudders, and I kept saying “that can’t be right”. Well, I realized later that the concept was right, but the wording was wrong. Calvinists define totally depravity as the inability of a person to do good at all without God. That part is accurate, because we “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28, ESV), therefore if we cannot even breathe without God, then how could we possibly do anything else? Now, the further definition of Calvinism goes on to say that man is so deprived he cannot ever be accepted by God, therefore God must give man salvation without man choosing it. A clear rejection of Biblical free will. There is some mystery here, no doubt, but man does have free will, and it works hand-in-hand with God’s sovereign will.

His choice gave us choice
His choice gave us choice.

Therefore, to say that man is totally depraved is incorrect. Man is not totally, but partially corrupted (the meaning of “depraved”).

For example if I have a shirt that I just finished washing, and then someone comes and spills grape juice on it, that shirt will be stained, dirty, corrupted, and in this sense depraved. Whenever I say “depraved” in our modern culture, people think of a pervert, a sexual degenerate. That is very narrow. When Calvin and Augustine used the phrase they referred to man’s corruption, in every part of him. As with my example, is the shirt totally dirty (corrupted)? Of course not, but it is partially corrupted.

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5)

How can one understand the terrible gravity of such a verse? Augustine explained that man, made up of soul, mind, and spirit, was corrupted at all three levels. Each one of them had been “dirtied”, if you will, by the effects of sin. Yet man could still, even being a corrupt sinner, do good. All people can still enjoy beauty, laugh in joy, appreciate goodness, etc. Why?

We were made with, and continue to carry, the imago Dei, the image of GodYes, we have corrupted His image, and are in the process of destroying the world, but even so some good remains in us. It is as the reflection of an image on a broken mirror, the sun rays bouncing off of a moving lake. We are still bearers of His image, far superior to any other created thing, and the thing that separates us form all other parts of the created world is the fact that we think, experiment, meditate, and believe. 

To be saved we need to call out for His help in our free will, yet inability to save ourselves, and He must reach down and actually save us from the punishment due our total depravity. For Noah’s time the penalty was a flood, yet that does not even begin to account for the other penalty of sin: eternal and terrible separation from God, the loss of all good in us, the loss of His image. This is hell.


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