Original Sin and Total Depravity
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? Jeremiah 17:9NKJV
Question 25 of the Larger Catechism asks, “Wherein consisteth the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?” It gives the answer, “The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consisteth in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of that righteousness wherein he was created, and the corruption of his nature, whereby he is utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually; which is commonly called Original Sin, and from which do proceed all actual transgressions.” Last question we looked at the nature of sin itself. Today we examine what it means to be a sinner.
How would you answer someone who asked you, “What do Christians mean when they say that man is fallen?” Maybe you would say something like, “Well, when Adam transgressed the commandment, all mankind fell from perfection and became sinners.” This answer is good in that it affirms the fact of the fall, but it says nothing about what the fall actually is. We know what sin is – breaking God’s law. And we know that all men are sinners – all men break God’s law. But why does this always happen? Why do all men sin and continue to sin? Why aren’t some men born who choose not to sin, or who choose to stop sinning so that they are no longer “sinners”? The answer given by Scripture is that when Adam sinned the nature of man changed. Man became a sinful being. Man’s problem is not that sometimes he does evil. Man’s problem is that he is evil! This is the ancient doctrine of original sin.
Jesus affirmed this doctrine many times and in many ways, to His disciples, and not just His enemies! On one occasion a disciple asked Jesus to teach His followers how to pray. After giving them the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus went on to encourage them to pray by contrasting God’s goodness with their own inherent evil, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” (Luke 11:13). Jesus says it so matter-of- factly to His disciples; “If you then being evil”! According to Jesus we do not become evil because we sin, we sin because we are already evil. Thus, another time Jesus explained to His disciples that it was not what was outside of them, corrupting or tempting them to sin that brought about evil, it was their heart inside of them that produced the evil that led to sin, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man,” (Mark 7:21-23). The apostle James taught the same thing, “But each one is tempted by his lusts, being drawn away and seduced by them. Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin. And sin, when it is fully formed, brings forth death,” (Jam. 1:14-15). The Bible teaches this truth repeatedly. Sin does not corrupt fallen man from without, it breaks out of his heart, his core, which is already corrupt and full of sin. This reality is what it means to be fallen.
Because Adam was our representative, the guilt of his original transgression (not all of the subsequent ones in his life) is rightly imputed to us. Thus, when Adam sinned, we sinned. When Adam fell, we fell. Adam’s nature became corrupt. He was no longer righteous. We are born with this same corrupt nature. The Catechism describes this nature as, “utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually.” Read the Scriptures themselves to get a much more detailed and graphic nature of the sinfulness of fallen man. Here are just a few examples: Rom. 1:29-32; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 4:17-19; Col. 3:5-8; Tit. 3:3; 2 Tim. 3:2-5; 1 Pet. 4:3-4; etc. The effect of original sin is total depravity. Because we are born with a sinful nature, apart from the regenerative work of God in our hearts, there is no good thing in us, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh,” (Rom. 7:18); “As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one … There is none who does good, not even one,” (Rom. 3:10, 12). These doctrines of original sin and total depravity are essential to the gospel. For until a man knows and mourns over the fact that he is “made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually,” he will not repent of his own pride and perceived goodness and trust in Christ alone for salvation.