Question & Answer Forum

Does the Bible teach “total depravity”

Morally, our fallen nature is completely corrupt and degraded. “Deceitful above all things, and incurable” (Jeremiah 17:9, JND), our natural heart, our mind, is hostile to God and rebellious against and incapable of submission to righteousness (Romans 8:7, 8). Apart from Gods intervention, we neither seek Him nor desire anything but what serves self. This evil contaminates all that human nature produces; therefore, the unregenerate cannot glorify or please God.

Going beyond Scripture, Calvinists, however, teach that “total depravity” means mans will cannot choose right. That God brings judgment on those who disobey the Son (John 3:36, Weymouth) and assures the water of life dependent on mans will (Rev. 22:17) affirms mans ability to choose evil or good. Adams fall bent the will of “the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:3) toward evil, but did not make them incapable of choosing right. Furthermore, mans conscience bears the signature of Gods law (Romans 2:13). Depravity is total in its effect on all man does, but not its extent to every part of man.

D. Oliver


How do the commending statements about Cornelius harmonize with teaching regarding human depravity?

Cornelius was just and reputable, prayed, feared God, and gave alms (Acts 10:2, 4, 22, 24, 31, 35). These notable commendations coordinate with Peters growing awareness (“I perceive,” verse 34) through previous revelation (eg. Luke 24:47), his vision (Acts 10:11-16), and his circumstances (verses 19-33) that God makes no distinction between Jews and Gentiles who seek Him (verse 35).

“There is not a just man upon earth” (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:10); “there is no fear of God” in man by nature (Romans 3:18); “there is none that seeketh after God” (Romans 3:11). These harmonize with what is said about Cornelius only because he responded to the light of divine revelation and the dealings of the Spirit of God. Although he was not saved (Acts 11:14), he chose to do right things; yet each of those acts came short of Gods righteous requirements (Romans 3:23). None of what is said about Cornelius indicates that he was saved apart from grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). Gods grace spoke to Cornelius, granting him repentance (11:18) and remission of sins (10:43). Before and after his salvation, Cornelius had nothing in which to boast before God. As is proper, he submitted to God.

D. Oliver


Is preaching about human sinfulness necessary in the gospel message?

The Spirits work convicts of sin (John 16:8). The disciples preached that men should repent (Mark 6:12) while the Lord was on earth. Before His ascension, He sent them to preach repentance and remission of sins (Luke 24:47). Paul preached “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). To the Jews in Jerusalem, Peter highlighted their crucifying the Messiah (Acts 2:36). To the Jews in Asia, Paul emphasized their historic disobedience to God (13:17-29) and to the Gentile philosophers their sin of idolatry (17:22-30). The Lord faced the Samaritan woman with her perceived need and with her sins (John 4:13-16), as He also did with the rich ruler (Luke 18:18-22). The Lord focused on Nicodemus sin, his spiritual ruin (John 3:3). The Spirit does not reveal truth about Christ while a soul resists the truths of guiltiness (because of sins) or ruin (because of sin).

Popular evangelical preachers are increasing their insistence that the gospel should make seekers comfortable and address only the hearers perceived need. In general, societys thinking justifies sin and obscures the divine line between right and wrong. These conditions demand a greater, rather than decreased, emphasis on mans sinfulness. Unbelievers, even while struggling to be saved, have not yet repented or submitted to God. Clearly presenting the sacrifice of Christ and the simplicity of salvation will not deliver an unrepentant sinner. The preaching of the gospel balances these valuable truths regarding Gods remedy with the convicting presentation of mans ruin.

D. Oliver


Won’t preaching about sin offend unbelievers?

The Lords gentle, precise, respectful manner in asking for the husband of the Samaritan woman is instructive. He aimed for an immediate response. His patient dealings with the rich, young ruler aimed at an eventual response. The ruler was not prepared to acknowledge his need, so the Lord Jesus planted seeds of truth intended to produce conviction. Since the ruler did not love his neighbor as himself, he needed to face his guilt in breaking Gods law. The listeners need and degree of understanding determined the approach. Peter didnt decry idolatry in Jerusalem; Paul didnt decry the guilt of crucifying the Messiah in Athens.

Preaching about sin was and is essential. Such truth confronts human thought, but its presentation need not be confrontational or offensive. Some who listened to apostolic preaching were uncomfortable and offended (Acts 2:37; 4:1-3; 7:54). The content of the message, not the manner of its presentation, was the reason. Preaching in the power of the Spirit of Christ will convict. It will be sensitive to the needs of the listeners, handling confrontational truths in the manner most likely to be effective. Preaching the gospel is a service. Servants honor those whom they serve (Romans 12:10, 11; Philippians 2:3).

D. Oliver