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Doctrines of Grace: Total Depravity


These posts aren’t meant to persuade anyone to change their theology. Enough has been written on both sides of this debate that I don’t even dare believe I can persuade anyone or add anything to the discussion that hasn’t already been said. We can disagree here and still be playing on the same team. However, I often think the five petals of TULIP often go misunderstood and I want to explore them over the next several weeks. My hope is that you’ll see that TULIP doesn’t shut down evangelism and TULIP doesn’t make God out to be a monster. Instead it puts His glory and grace on display in a way that I think few other theological frameworks do.

**As a caveat for those who I know will “go there”, I am well aware that TULIP is man’s “invention” and not explicitly taught in Scripture (no Bible passage says “thou shalt define the faith as TULIP”). But, we often develop easy ways to help us understand and communicate big concepts and that’s what I believe TULIP helps us to accomplish**

For those unaware, here is what TULIP stands for:

Total Depravity of Man

Unconditional Election

Limited Atonement

Irresistible Grace

Perseverance of the Saints

With that said….here we go!

T: Total Depravity

Total Depravity is derived from Augustine’s doctrine of original sin. In a very small nutshell “Total Depravity” means:

  1. Men and women are sinful to their very core and even the “good” things that we do are tainted with sin (Isaiah 64:6)

  2. Men and women come into the world guilty and with an inclination toward sin right from the start (Psalm 51:5, Romans 5:12-14).

  3. There is nothing good in us that leads us to seek after God (Romans 3:11).

It’s also important for us to understand what “Total Depravity” does not mean:

  1. It does not mean that every man or woman is as sinful as they could be.

  2. It does not mean that we are incapable of doing things that society would deem “good” for others.

So why does this matter? Well it matters quite a bit if we believe that the grace of salvation is a free gift from God. “Total Depravity” means that there was nothing man could do to get back to God. In fact, without God making the first move, mankind doesn’t even want to be reconciled to God; we’d rather stay comfortably in our sin. It also means that there is no way for us to work our way into Heaven, no matter how hard we try or how “good” we are. We are “totally” affected by sin.

When we get “total depravity” then we realize just how hopeless our case is. Then when we realize what God has done through Jesus Christ to redeem us, the grace and glory of God comes blazing through like a supernova! God acted on behalf of those who were “totally” incapable of making amends for their sins. God acted on behalf of those who have no hope within themselves. God stepped in to help those who didn’t even want anything to do with Him. “Total Depravity” shows us that, if you are a Christian, you are one solely because God came looking for you. Knowing that the Great Creator loved you to the point that He came looking for you even when you didn’t want anything to do with Him makes His grace and mercy so brilliantly visible.

That is what “Total Depravity” helps us to see.

I certainly welcome discussion on each of these posts. I only ask that the discussion be kept civil, grace-filled, and edifying. Remember Ephesians 4:29 – “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

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