Sinful Nature

posted Jun 3, 2012, 8:47 PM by Hector Falcon
One of the earliest creeds of the early church was the formulation of the fallen nature of mankind. The Bible clearly teaches that people are born with a fallen nature since we are the direct descendants from Adam and Eve. The Bible teaches that because of the rebellious act of our original parents that we are born with a sin nature which leaves us helpless to save ourselves. God takes the initiative to provide us with the means of escaping his judgment for our sin nature. The Bible and the early church leaders taught that mankind is totally dependent on God for salvation from the judgment of God. 

Total depravity (also called absolute inability, radical corruption, total corruption, or Augustinianism is a theological doctrine derived from the Augustinian concept of original sin. It is the teaching that, as a consequence of the Fall of Man, every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin and, apart from the efficacious or prevenient grace of God, is utterly unable to choose to follow God, refrain from evil, or accept the gift of salvation as it is offered.

It is advocated to various degrees by many Protestant confessions of faith and catechisms, including those of LutheranismArminianism, and Calvinism.

Total depravity is the fallen state of man as a result of original sin. The doctrine of total depravity asserts that people are by nature not inclined or even able to love God wholly with heart, mind, and strength, but rather all are inclined by nature to serve their own will and desires and to reject the rule of God. Even religion and philanthropy are wicked to God to the extent that these originate from a human imagination, passion, and will, and are not done to the glory of God. Therefore, in Reformed theology, if God is to save anyone He must predestine, call, or elect individuals to salvation since fallen man does not want to, and is indeed incapable of choosing God.

Total depravity does not mean, however, that people are as evil as possible. Rather, it means that even the good which a person may intend is faulty in its premise, false in its motive, and weak in its implementation; and there is no mere refinement of natural capacities that can correct this condition. Thus, even acts of generosity and altruism are in fact egoist acts in disguise. All good, consequently, is derived from God alone, and in no way through man.[5]

This idea can be illustrated by a glass of wine with a few drops of deadly poison in it: Although not all the liquid is poison, all the liquid is poisoned. In the same way, while not all of human nature is depraved, all human nature is totally affected by depravity.

Nonetheless, the doctrine teaches optimism concerning God's love for what he has made and God's ability to accomplish the ultimate good that he intends for his creation. In particular, in the process of salvation, God overcomes man's inability with his divine grace, though the precise means of this overcoming varies between the theological systems. The differences between the solutions to the problem of total depravity revolve around the relation between divine grace and human free will – namely, whether it is efficacious grace that human free will cannot resist, as in Calvinism, or prevenient grace enabling the human will to choose to follow God, as in Arminianism and Molinism.

Many of the early Church Fathers affirmed the freedom of the will in man, laying the responsibility for whether any particular person followed virtue or vice on them, while also maintaining the need for grace from God in salvation.

Writing against the monk Pelagius, whom he understood as teaching that man's nature was unaffected by the Fall, or at least was only weakened in the Fall, and that he was free to follow after God apart from divine intervention, Augustine developed the doctrine of original sin and, Calvinists contend, the doctrine of total inability. Augustine's views prevailed in the controversy, and Pelagius' teaching was condemned as heretical at the Council of Ephesus (431) and again condemned in the moderated form known as semi-Pelagianism at the second Council of Orange (529). Augustine's idea of "original" (or inherited) guilt was not shared by all of his contemporaries in the Greek-speaking part of the church and is still not shared in Eastern Orthodoxy nor in Oriental Orthodoxy.

The Catholic Church maintains that man cannot "be justified before God by his own works,... without the grace of God through Jesus Christ,"[7] thereby rejecting Pelagianism in accordance with the writings of Augustine and the Second Council of Orange (529).[8] However, the Catholic Church disagrees with the Protestant doctrine of total depravity, because the Catholic Church maintains man retained a free but wounded will after the Fall.[9] Referring to Scripture and the Church Fathers,[10] Catholicism views man's free will as deriving from being made in God's image.[11] Accordingly, the Catholic Church condemned as heresy any doctrine asserting "since Adam's sin, the free will of man is lost and extinguished".[12]

The doctrine of total depravity was affirmed by the Five articles of Remonstrance and by Jacobus Arminius himself, and John Wesley, who strongly identified with Arminius through publication of his periodical The Arminian, also advocated a strong doctrine of inability.[13] Some Reformed theologians have mistakenly used the term "Arminianism" to include some who hold the Semipelagian doctrine of limited depravity, which allows for an "island of righteousness" in human hearts that is uncorrupted by sin and able to accept God's offer of salvation without a special dispensation of grace.[14] Although Arminius and Wesley both vehemently rejected this view, it has sometimes inaccurately been lumped together with theirs (particularly by Calvinists) because of other similarities in their respective systems such as conditional election, unlimited atonement, and prevenient grace. In particular, prevenient grace is seen in many of these systems as giving humans back the freedom to follow God in one way or another.

One refutation of the doctrine is that it implicitly rejects either God's love or omnipotence. That is, it is argued that if God is both loving and omnipotent, then God would not have allowed mankind to become totally corrupt. Thus, total depravity would imply God is either not all-loving or not omnipotent. This refutation relies, however, on an insistence that man can know God's thoughts and plans, and therefore judge His actions.

Advocates of total depravity offer a variety of responses to this line of argumentation. Wesleyans suggest that God endowed man with the free will that allowed humanity to become depraved and he also provided a means of escape from the depravity. Calvinists note that the argument assumes that either God's love is necessarily incompatible with corruption or that God is constrained to follow the path that some men see as best, whereas they believe God's plans are not fully known to man and God's reasons are his own and not for man to question (compare Rom. 9:18-24; Job 38:1-42:6). Some particularly dislike the Calvinist response because it leaves the matter of God's motives and means largely unresolved, but the Calvinist sees it merely as following Calvin's famous dictum that "whenever the Lord shuts his sacred mouth, [the student of the Bible] also desists from inquiry."

Arminianism is considered by many to be one of the earliest heresies to appear on the scene questioned the creed of the early church regarding the fallen nature of mankind. The initiator of the view that people were not as bad as the early church leaders believed was a man named Arminius. The views of Arminius were popularized by John Wesley and his views have been adopted by many evangelical churches since his era. Currently many of the church growth strategies incorporate the same theological heresy to promote church growth. John MacArthur gives a very good presentation of the issue in the following video.


Bondage of the Will