Total Inability

Five Challenging Bible Facts
Challenging Fact #1: Total Inability

You are Worse Than You Think

by Bob Burridge ©2012

I remember a frightening incident that occurred when I was about eleven years old while my family vacationed at Honeoye Lake in New York State. We went there a few times every summer when we lived in South Buffalo. The lake was about 80 miles from our home.

My younger brother and I along with a cousin rowed out in a small wooden boat to a place about fifty yards from shore. We anchored the boat to relax for awhile reading comic books as the boat slowly rocked on the waves that passed us on their way toward shore. All was peaceful on that warm New York Summer day.

The lake is nestled in a valley surrounded by hills which kept us from seeing a storm coming our way. Without any warning winds started blasting across the lake. Our little boat was suddenly hurled toward dangerous waters which surrounded an island not far from where we had anchored.

The winds were strong, and the cement anchor was not the right type to hold us in place during a storm. Two of us pulled at the oars while the other shouted and waved toward shore for help. Our efforts were useless. We were headed toward tree roots and stumps which would easily rip the bottom out of our boat leaving us unprotected.

Those on shore were quick to see our problem. They were keeping an eye on us even when we thought we were out there on our own. Almost immediately a motor boat was heading into the storm to pull us out of harm’s way. The rescue was quick with little time to spare.

In that boat, our desperate cries for help came without much thought or deliberation once we became aware of the problem and our need for rescue.

This is the way it is in our spiritual lives too. Until the great danger is understood, the value of the Savior cannot be appreciated. There is no crying out in humble confession of our offenses and recognition of our own inabilities, if we fail to see the horrors that lie ahead, and how helpless we are to avoid them if left on our own.

Those who are unaware of the danger do not come running in repentance to the Savior. They aren’t convinced they have a serious enough need. Instead of needing a Savior from a deserved eternal condemnation, many see us more needing an encourager and friend. Jesus is much more than that.

In place of the Christianity taught in Scriptures, the fallen world creates a “non-threatening” form of religion. They invent one where humans are in control, and God is easy on them, not demanding much. They add a little religion to their lives, but have little concern for the dangers of sin. There is little expected of them in that configuration of God’s world. Their world-view requires little commitment except what serves their own self-centered aspirations.

They believe their little human efforts are enough to satisfy God. They reason, “After all, God is love, isn’t He? Won’t He be lenient?” They take a piece of Scripture here and there, but no holiness, no moral rules, no demands of divine justice. They reason, “I’m doing a lot better than a lot of others, so I must be doing OK.”

In our lost estate, we tend to get the impression that God grades on a loose curve so that everyone but the most degenerate criminals will qualify to be welcomed in the Creator’s presence forever. Without an appreciation of their desperate need, an offer of “rescue” or “salvation” gets little attention.

The Doctrines of Grace begin with a view of man seen through the eyes of God. It is a very challenging fact for us to accept. But God says it’s true, as hard as it may be for us to face.


Humans were created in a condition of moral goodness.

In Eden there was no human inclination to do evil. Adam and Eve were holy and free. The word “freedom” often causes misunderstandings. It depends upon from what type of limits you are set free. When we say that Adam was free, we do not mean that he was free to write history whichever way he chose. God was not holding off on finalizing his plan until he saw what Adam would do. Eden was not a cosmic moral experiment. God is Sovereign. By “free” we mean in this case that our first parents had no built in pull toward evil. They had the ability either to do good or to sin. They were free to do what they most desired to do at the moment. Their choice would reveal how they were being used in God’s plan.


Humans became corrupted in the fall.

All humans since Adam are born unable to do good. They are morally corrupt, disabled, and helpless.

Sin brought death and bondage.
When depravity entered the human race, man’s freedom to do good was lost.

Ecclesiastes 7:29, “… God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes. ”
Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death …”

Paul explained this very clearly in Ephesus 2:1-3.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

Fallen humans are cut off from their Creator, the Source of spiritual life. Sin alienates them from the Holy God. Their guilt makes them deserve God’s judgment. Since there is no remedy for sin aside from Salvation through the work of Jesus Christ, that judgment is eternal.

This corruption, or “depravity”, is inherited by all humans.
Adam was the designated representative of the entire human race. When he sinned, we all sinned by representation. This is the way God decreed it to be. He reveals this to us in his covenant recorded in Scripture.

Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned– ”
1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, …”


Since the fall, Humans are no longer morally free. They are in spiritual bondage.

Just how seriously damaged are we from our inherited corruption?
Humans are corrupted to the very core of their souls.
Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Fallen humans are not morally able to do anything truly spiritually good.
Ecclesiastes 7:20, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.”

Humans bear guilt for their corruption.
Psalm 130:3, “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?”

Human depravity is total because every part of the person is involved. He has no ability to believe, repent or to be holy.

John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”
1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
Jeremiah 13:23, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.”

No one can change his basic nature. To do that he would have to disobey himself.

One of the most clear passages about the extent of our inherited depravity is found in the Apostle Paul’s summary in his letter to the Romans, chapter 3.

Romans 3:10-12, “as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’ ”

In mankind’s separation from God because of the offense of his sin, human nature was corrupted to where we are all unable to please God. This corruption even effects man’s understanding of his own nature. This concept was not an invention of John Calvin or St. Augustine. It is what God’s word says from beginning to end.

To support this truth, Paul turned to Scripture. He quoted from Psalm 14.

Psalm 14:1-3 says, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” (the same as Psalm 53:1-3)

These passages (these entire Psalms) teach us that no one is righteous in the eyes of God. And no one is excluded from his plan, neither Gentiles nor Jews. Not one person can say that as God see it he has lived righteously.

No one in his fallen estate understands things as they truly are. It’s not that we are unable to understand the rules of math or linguistics. It means we are all alienated from God, and can’t possible see truth truly. We are bound to see ourselves as better and more in control than we are. And we see God as less good, less sovereign, and less consistent than he really is.

No one in his fallen nature seeks the true God who is revealed in Scripture. He distorts the truth about God, so the god he seeks is not the true God. Fallen man loves to worship, but not as God prescribes, nor to worship the God who really is. He wants a God who doesn’t judge him fairly for what he deserves, a God who will let him have his forbidden pleasures, yet provides salvation too, a God who will measure up to his assumptions and mistaken view of all the rest of reality.

This depravity is total and universal. It includes all humans and touches every part of each one.

God’s Law clearly reveals this depravity. No one in his fallen condition can keep the moral commands of God. Even the redeemed are not able to obey God’s revealed moral principles perfectly. This should drive us to repentance, begging for grace. But in the lost, it does no such thing. Human corruption is so complete that aside from God’s work upon the heart, all will refuse to see things as God presents them.

Fallen humans hate the Doctrines of Grace.
Once clearly understood, the need for grace exposes corruption and condemns. The fact of undeserved grace either converts a person, or it offends him.

1. Fallen man is arrogant, proud and foolish.
He finds the idea of a Sovereign God repulsive.

W. E. Henley could not accept this teaching of Scripture. He wrote a poem called, Invictus where he shows his belief that chance, not God, governs all things, and that each person alone is sovereign over his own soul and life. He writes, “I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance My head is bloody, but unbowed.” … “It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

Much unappreciated by him, his ship was not free to veer from the course of the Captain of captains, who created him and all things.

2. Fallen man makes excuses for himself.
He refuses to admit the great danger he is in. He speaks of sin as if it was a little matter. The lost say, “We all have our faults” as if we should just accept and excuse disobedience to God. But sin is not a small issue. It breaks homes. It instigates substance abuse and violent crimes.

Our inner corruption is deep and horrible. What we see are but symptoms of our depraved condition.

1 John 1:8-10, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

3. Depravity is dressed up to appear less severe than it is.
It is hidden in the outward trappings of education, culture and personal accomplishments. Some say, “Change the external circumstances (housing, medicine, education …) and you will see people at their best”. I say, “Educate a dedicated criminal, you have an educated criminal.” Culture can be a narcotic that makes the symptoms seem to go away. But it just covers over the symptoms. It masks their warning. Similarly anesthetics don’t stop what causes the pain. They block us from “feeling” it.

Jesus said, “the tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33). Hanging peaches on your palm tree, will not make it a peach tree. Putting culture over a corrupt heart will not make it good. It is what comes out of a heart that reveals its true condition.

4. Roussau proposed the idea of the “Noble Savage”
He was born in Calvin’s Geneva in 1712, about 200 years after Calvin. But Roussau came to hate the laws of God in Scripture. He proclaimed the natural goodness of all humanity. To him civilization was a mistake. It gets in our way. He imagined that if we could just get rid of rules and culture, we would see mankind at his best.

Frenchman Robespierre believed strongly in the teachings of Rousseau. His view was that man will prove his natural goodness if allowed to be really free. He believed this theory could liberate the people of France.

When he and his followers finally came to power, he had his opportunity. We call this period of France’s history the “Reign of Terror”. It lasted for a little over a year beginning in 1793. When it was over more than 20,000 Frenchmen had been killed in a horrible blood-bath by the “good men” of Robespierre. Included among the massacred were many clergymen who dared to doubt that man was naturally good.

How did he explain his use of terrorism to prove that humanity is really morally good? He said, “We must annihilate the enemies of the republic at home and abroad, or else we shall perish … in time of revolution a democratic government must rely on virtue and terror … Terror is nothing but justice; swift, severe and inflexible; it is an
emanation of virtue …”

A couple generations later came the French artist Gauguin. He also believed in Roussau’s idea that man is basically good. He left civilization to live with the “Noble Savage” in Tahiti. The Tahitians lived without the civil laws and restrictions. He was certain he would find an ideal society where there was unhindered human kindness and goodness. But Gauguin was disillusioned with what he found in Tahiti. After painting a Tahitian scene, showing that what he found was not noble at all, he committed suicide.

History confirms what God reveals about man in the Bible. Man is a fallen creature. He is totally depraved and lives under the shadow of eternal damnation.

The news we see every day fits perfectly with the biblical view of man.
History is filled with evidences of human depravity. There have always been wars. We have seen the economic collapse of nations, horrible revolutions, terrorism, and hateful riots by minorities with bigoted views of everyone else. Millions of humans have been denied their right to life, killed by abortion before they were born.

There have been victories in war, alliances of nations to protect one another, and charities to bring food, education, and health care to the impoverished countries. Some look to these as proof that man is really inwardly good, that the world could eliminate all wars, hunger and disease.

Sadly, victories are short lived, and are in reality moments where God holds back the evil that flows from the hearts of fallen people. Alliances over the millennia have broken down with time. Some charities become manipulative tools for politicians and opportunists for self-serving ends. Until God brings this era to an end, we will have wars, poverty, disease, and jealousies.

The problem will never be solved by a New World Order humanly devised.
The cause of it all lies deep within each person’s soul. There is no hope aside from the provision of atonement made by the Creator.

These are hard doctrines for the fallen mind to accept. Jesus admitted this to his disciples in John 6. Countering the pride and arrogance that gave the Jewish leaders of his day a false sense of acceptance with God, Jesus said in verse 44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

His own disciples reacted as recorded in verse 60, “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ ”

Rather than soften his message of verse 44, Jesus simply repeated it again in verse 65 because it was true, “And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’ ”

When some followers heard this challenge to their denial of personal depravity, some stopped following Him (verse 66). While our depravity removes all hope of delivering ourselves, it reveals our abiding hope.


God’s people are set free by grace.

In contrast with our being dead in sin, Paul continued in Ephesians 2:4-10,

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

If salvation is secured by a Sovereign God, then it cannot fail!
When the Holy Spirit brings you face-to-face with how God sees you, and with your deserved eternal horrors, there is good news! No heart that humbly repents from sin, and trusts in the finished work of Christ alone, will be turned away from salvation. Those who come in true faith discover that they are drawn by His grace. Jesus promises that there is new life for all those who rest in Him.

Our response to this Grace is Gratitude toward our Sovereign God.
When we understand our Total Depravity we will perceive that deeper love of God, and have a more profound and life-changing appreciation of His Grace. It makes us serious and joyful worshipers of our Sovereign Lord.

When a person refuses to admit his corruption and depravity, when he clings to his arrogant illusion that his need isn’t all that serious, then there is no hope given for him in the word of God.

Man’s depravity and total moral inability is answered by the Doctrines of Grace. The cross of the Savior sufficiently provided healing for those undeserving ones held in the grip of evil. The debt of sin was paid. The guilt is removed. The repentant sinner is clothed with the righteousness of the Savior. New life emerges from the restored fellowship of that redeemed child with his Creator.

When a person becomes aware of us deserved condemnation, there is evidence of the operation of the Holy Spirit upon that soul. When this conviction drives the lost to the cross, there is reason to rejoice and worship. A lost sheep is found and reclaimed by the Good Shepherd.

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(Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)

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