Q&A: Grappling with Total Depravity

Grappling with Total Depravity

What is meant by the term total depravity; how is it often misunderstood?

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Answer

Grappling with the area of total depravity, let me first of all try to describe what it is not, and this is the realm by which much in terms of misunderstanding can take place. Total depravity, for example, does not mean that I, you, will commit every sin. To speak of total depravity does not mean that we are as bad as we can be. No, I think we can still progress along that way. Total depravity does not mean that you and I are incapable of doing anything good. By good I mean that which benefits others. I mean, I don't know how many times I've seen movies with gangsters or drug dealers that will occasionally stop by a church and drop off a bunch of money maybe with the intent of trying to buy God's favor, but the money can benefit people that are in need or have a building built that could benefit others. So, total depravity does not insist that we are incapable of doing things that could be regarded as admirable, sacrificial for the sake of others. What total depravity basically encompasses is the reality of the pervasiveness of sin. Sin pervades all that we are, meaning even in our best thoughts, even in our most noble intents, self-centeredness, a certain self-glorification are also evident. It is essentially total depravity that contributes to the understanding, whatever we do in terms of what we assess as good or what others may assess as good, is still shot-through, is still contaminated before God. All our righteousness is as filthy rags before him. And total depravity is basically the element of the doctrine of sin that helps to explain why that is. It kind of just totally disqualifies us before God of doing anything that would somehow merit his favor, merit his acceptance.