What does human depravity mean
How spoiled is man?
Imagine a circle. This circle represents the character of the person. Every time a person sins, a stain - a kind of moral blot - appears in this circle, which ruins the person's character. As more sins occur, more eyesores appear in this circle. So if sins keep multiplying, at some point the circle will be completely filled with stains and blemishes. Is it really that far? The human character is obviously tainted with sin, but this discussion is about the extent of that defilement. The Roman Catholic Church maintains that man's character is not completely defiled and has a small island of righteousness. The Protestant reformers from the 16th century, on the other hand, affirmed the unbroken pollution and depravity of man, which makes us completely corrupt.
There is a lot of misunderstanding about this commitment by the Reformers. The term “total depravity” is used in classical Reformed theology to describe man's predicament. People tend to flinch at the mention of this word because of the widespread confusion between the concept of utter depravity and the concept of utter depravity. Extreme depravity would mean that man is as evil, as corrupt as he can be. I don't think there is any man who is utterly depraved; but this is only because of the grace of God and the power of his general grace. As many sins as we have individually committed, we could have been worse. We could have sinned more often. We could have committed sins even more hideous. We could also have committed more sins. Total depravity does not mean that a person is as bad as one can imagine.
When the Protestant Reformers spoke of total depravity, they meant that sin - its power, its influence, its drive - affects the whole person. Our bodies have fallen, our hearts have fallen, our minds have fallen - there is nothing about us that can escape the desolation of sin. Sin affects our behavior, our thought life, even our conversations. The whole person fell. This is the true extent of our sinfulness when judged by the standard and norm of God's perfection and holiness.
R.C. Sproul (1939-2017) was a Reformed pastor and professor of systematic theology. He is the founder of Ligonier and the author of numerous books and films.
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