Totally Depraved

We as Reformed believers confess the T of TULIP, that is, Total Depravity. This means in all our members we are wholly and completely given over to sin. To impress upon ourselves our great need for Christ and the amazing love of God to make us His children, we must know our miserable state. In learning of our sinfulness, we can stand in greater awe for the love of God in which He foreordained Christ’s blood for us, yes, even you and I, who were totally depraved and inclined to hate him, to wash away our blemishes and purify our souls even all the corruption of all of our members! (I Pet. 1:20-22, emphasis added). I want to focus on the fact that all of our members are given to sin. Scripture paints a full picture of the depravity of me and of you by showing that each member from the head to the feet is given to sin. 

Logically, we begin with the tops of our heads and see the sin which is manifest there. The Bible does not so much associate a particular sin with the tops of our heads. However, it does make multiple comparisons between sin and our head. The first comparison says that our sins pile up so high that they extend beyond our heads and even protrude into the heavens (Ezra 9:6). We only daily increase our debt. How often do we picture how large this debt becomes? It is so great we cannot even see the tops of the piles of our debt as it were. The second comparison can be found in David’s confession in Psalm 40:12 that “they are more than the hairs of mine head.” Again this picture emphasizes the great multitude of sins that we bear. David cries out here that his “iniquities have taken hold upon [him].” Without God we only grow in our sins and increase our debt. We would quickly become the servants of sin again. 

The head is only the first of many pictures showing the sinfulness contained in our bodies. Continuing down from the tops of our heads, our eyes, ears, nose, and mouth each are filled with their own sin as well. We face the “lusts of the eyes” (I John 2:16). We are tempted to look at evil and say it is “pleasant to the eyes” even as the forbidden fruit was pleasant to Eve (Gen. 3:6). Our ears “itch” to hear the praises of others who speak of our greatness or we “stop our ears” from hearing the admonition of God’s love (II Tim. 4:3; Zech. 7:11). In those whose nostrils the breath of life was breathed there is now only the stench of death to be smelled (Gen. 7:22). And the sins of our mouth cannot be emphasized enough by scripture! There are, for example, many passages in Proverbs which speak negatively of the sin which proceeds from the mouth, tongue, and lips. Perhaps most notable is Proverbs 18:7, which says, “A fool’s mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul.”

It is exhausting to continue to search and see the sinfulness of our members (and we have only seen our heads!), but we continue down our members to the chest. The chest which I Corinthians often describes as puffed up. Our chest which we lift up above others, saying how great and mighty we are. We puff it up and lift our heads so that we do not even see those below us but only our own chest. In the center of this member is that great hard sinful rock of a heart, beating with the passions of this world. The heart, which Jeremiah describes as “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (17:9). Out of that flows a man’s life. Out of that?!? How awful! The heart which is desperately wicked pumps the blood to sustain a man’s life? The two do not make sense to consider together. The natural purpose of the heart was wholly corrupted. It no longer serves life, but destruction.

Finally we consider our arms/hands and our legs/feet. Scripture has much to say of these members. Towards the believer there is the warning which quickly comes to mind, “If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee” (Matt. 5:30). Our hands are “stained with blood” and our “fingers with guilt” (Is. 59:3 NIV). I choose this translation carefully with the theme of this writing in mind. Being stained with blood and guilt strongly paints the picture of the corruption and helplessness of our members. Like sheep we used the strength of our legs and feet to walk astray and turn “every one to his own way” (Is. 53:6). 

To summarize and conclude this picture which Scripture draws of our total depravity, so total that all of are members are “wholly incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness” we look at the picture leprosy paints of our sinfulness (Heidelberg Catechism, L.D 3  Q.A. 8). It is such a horrible disease, one which gnaws away all of the flesh. It corrupts every member. It is so bad that “both male and female shall [be] put out…that they defile not their camps” (Num. 5:3). The leprosy (my sin, your sin) defiled our members “from [the] head even to [the] foot” (Lev. 13:12).  


“This is our miserable state of ourselves without Christ. Selah.”


Meditating on this instruction of Scripture, we are driven to come with humble hearts knowing our dependence upon God. The Lord intends for us to see our sin, and then to recognize the depth of our depravity, not so that we succumb to despair, but rather, so that we flee to Christ who alone provides salvation from our sin and depravity. Without Christ we would be most miserable and we would not even know why we are in misery. We could not identify the sin that was the root cause of our emptiness. All our members are given to sin yet we would not know that one is wrong. We must realize this state of sinfulness as who we were without Christ. Acknowledging our sins we will cry to God with the humility of David confessing our “foolishness” and the “shame [which covers our faces]” (Ps. 69:5,7).

This knowledge of our depravity does not cause us to wallow in pity for ourselves and become overtaken with shame for all of our lives. David does not conclude by resting hopelessly in shame in Psalm 69, nor may we. God does humble him, however. In this standpoint of humility, we look to Christ alone for the forgiveness of our sins. With confidence in our Saviour, David continues to say later in this Psalm that he will “praise the name of God with a song” and that, seeing this, the humble will “be glad” (vv. 30, 32). How can David say both these things in the same Psalm? In humility, we acknowledge the sinfulness we still exhibit within ourselves both passively and actively. We pray, as David does throughout this Psalm, that God takes away the shame and removes our enemies from us. In “confidence by the faith of Him” that is very God and truth, we are assured that He has taken away that misery as He has promised us and delivered us entirely from not only our debt, but from our shame and guilt as well (Eph. 3:12). We have joy in the multitude of Scripture passages which reveal the purifying work of Christ and His Spirit within these members to make us His holy children. As long as we live in this world we still have our depraved old man of sin. That old man rises against us daily. But our old man has been crucified and his power broken by the work of Christ. God has regenerated us and given us a new man and new life in Christ. The regenerated child of God is a new creature in Christ, dead to sin, and alive unto God, able, by the power of grace, to think, will, and do the good. Challenge yourselves to find the passages which speak of the saving work in each of these members. Out of such comforting confidence given by that Scripture comes the joyful praises of our grateful hearts.

Luke Christian Potjer

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