Depravity is a theological rather than Biblical word, which distinction indicates that the term, though not found in the Sacred Text, by so much like the words Deity and Trinity, represents a truth that is clearly taught in the Scriptures. This doctrine, furthermore, is misunderstood and often resented because of the fact that the Scripture has not been heeded or because the term depravity actually refers to that which God sees when He looks at fallen man and not to what man sees when he looks at himself or his fellow men. These two grounds of misunderstanding unite in one general declaration when it is stated that depravity is what God declares that He sees, and precisely what He sees, when He looks at fallen man. The student would therefore do well to give unprejudiced and exhaustive consideration to all that is recorded in the Bible on this theme. Theologians employ also the phrase total depravity, which does not mean that there is nothing good in any unregenerate person as seen by himself or by other people; it means that there is nothing in fallen man which God can find pleasure in or accept.
The picture looks dark, and would be much darker still were it not for the divinely provided remedy which announces full and free salvation. This picture of mankind does not stand alone. A large portion of the angels "kept not their first estate," and for them no hope is offered whatever; they are unrevokably doomed to the lake of fire prepared for them (Matt. 25:41). Likewise, the Gentiles who lived between Adam and Christ are described in Ephesians 2:12 as doomed souls: "That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world." The estate of man after the fall and before the flood is declared in Genesis 6:5: "And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." David testified of himself, "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Ps. 51:5; cf. Job 14:4; Ps. 58:3). Similarly, three major passages may be cited from the New Testament which cover all men of this and other ages, namely:
"There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes" (Rom. 3:10-18); "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal. 5:19-21); "And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins: wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others" (Eph. 2:1-3; cf. John 3:6; Rom. 5:12).
Distinction should be made between depravity as such, which is universal throughout all human history from Adam's fall onward, and the estate today of men "under sin," which estate is the result of a divine mandate declared to the end that God's grace may have its perfect exercise and manifestation (John 3:18; Rom. 3:9; 11:32; Gal. 3:22), and is evidently a condition which obtains only in the present age of grace when it can be said that there exists no difference between Jew and Gentile.
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