Christianity 201

June 1, 2014

The Depravity of Humankind

Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?  (KJV)

“The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful,
    a puzzle that no one can figure out.
But I, God, search the heart
    and examine the mind.
I get to the heart of the human.
    I get to the root of things.
I treat them as they really are,
    not as they pretend to be.” (same passage, from The Message, w/ vs.10)

Job 5:7 Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.  (KJV)

But man is born to trouble as the sparks and the flames fly upward.  (same verse, Amplified)

This weekend we were talking about the theological idea of the depravity of man, and my youngest son, who has been studying these things this year, pointed out that while man is totally depraved he is never utterly depraved. This came out in a discussion as the proposition that some of the worst people history has offered were still made in God’s image, while some of the best people the world has ever seen still need a savior.

My son defined it this way:

Total depravity means every single part of you is affected by sin.
Utter depravity means every single part of you is destroyed by sin.

Man is born with a sin nature that must be dealt with. It permeates body, mind, emotions, and spirit; but is never beyond the redemptive grace of God. But man is also born with an innate capacity to respond to God’s offer of salvation. (Whether you believe this is a matter of election or free-will choice is immaterial here, what matters is the capacity to say yes to God.)

So, you’re probably thinking of some of the examples that came up in our discussion…

Could Judas or Adolph Hitler asked for and received the grace of God toward the end of life? Yes. It’s important when remembering the “last minute” salvation given to the one crucified with Jesus that day was a criminal. That’s the only identification we have of him.

Could Mother Teresa or Billy Graham rest on their own virtue and righteousness and miss somehow the need to be covered by the atoning blood of Calvary? Yes. Anyone could try to get their own their own merits and not be resting in what Christ has done for us.

We live in the tension between being born in sin and depravity yet not being so utterly depraved that we cannot respond to the grace and goodness of God.


  1. Great distinction between ‘total’ and ‘utter’ depravity.

    Total depravity is shown in Ephesians 2:1-3
    but the sublime verse 4 “BUT GOD. . .”
    makes the way for us not being utterly depraved.

    Comment by meetingintheclouds — June 2, 2014 @ 6:53 am | Reply

  2. Great article that really makes you think!

    I think you have described a distinction without a difference. Utterly and Totally mean the same thing. They are synonyms. In Calvinism, Totally Depraved means that one absolutely can not choose to follow God or accept his gracious offer of salvation on his own. He is totally and utterly incapable of doing this. No matter which word you choose, utterly or totally, they both describe the exact same thing. Totally incapable, utterly incapable, completely incapable.

    I submit that what you are actually saying is that humanity is NOT totally depraved, that we do have the capacity to choose to follow God, refrain from evil, or accept the gift of salvation as it is offered.

    A while back I ran across an article by a Orthodox priest who offered a very compelling critique of Total Depravity. I posted it on my site. As a protestant, I had never once heard anyone argue against this concept. It will definitely make you think! The article is called “Could The Doctrine of Total Depravity Be Totally Depraved?” Here’s the link:

    Comment by Jim — June 2, 2014 @ 7:34 am | Reply

    • The distinction my son introduced was as explained by his residence adviser who is, as most of the students at the school, Calvinist.

      I’ve started reading the article you linked. Thanks!

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — June 4, 2014 @ 9:13 am | Reply

      • Hi Paul,

        That really does amaze me that a Calvinist adviser would say that. But then, Calvinists say all kinds of things that amaze me :)

        Comment by Jim — June 4, 2014 @ 9:21 am

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