A Ruined Soul

IN ORDER TO GROW spiritually, we must first see our soul in its ruined condition, in all its dysfunction, and recognize that it is nothing like what God had in mind when He created us. Intellect, emotions, social interactions, appetites, values, and knowledge—all aspects of humanity—have been impacted by sin. The sin of pride, wanting to be like God, led Adam and Eve to disobey and violate their covenant with God. Their fall from grace in the Garden of Eden has negatively impacted every aspect of Creation and every human endeavor. The damage is so deep that nothing can be done to fend off the wrath of God’s judgment to come in the last days. However, Dallas Willard writes, “…even in its ruined condition, a human being is regarded by God as something immensely worth saving.”1 In other words, sin does not make us worthless, only lost.

The Nature of our Condition

The doctrine of total depravity acknowledges that as a result of the Fall every part of man—his mind, will, emotions, and flesh—has been corrupted. Sin has tainted all areas of our being including who we are and what we do. C.C. Ryrie said that our original relationship with God has been broken. Total depravity means because of the corruption of sin, we can do nothing to merit God’s favor. The depravity of sin has impacted our minds (Rom. 1:28), our conscience (Heb. 9:14), and our hearts (Jer. 17:9).2 Paul expounds on this in Ephesians. He says, “…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” (Eph. 2:3). He refers to this as “sin nature” in Romans 7.

“The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.” —Malcolm Muggeridge

I agree with St. Augustine that all humanity was seminally present in Adam and therefore sinned with him. Further, I accept the Calvinist view that total depravity comes from inherent corruption, which originated in Adam as the “covenant representative” of all mankind. Bible verses about the evil in our hearts tend to give us pause as they can be difficult to accept. The prophet Jeremiah said man’s heart is “deceitful and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9). Paul tells us no one is righteous. No one seeks after God, nor do they understand His ways (Rom. 3:10-11). Paul adds, “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is in their lips” (Rom. 3:12-13). Jeremiah writes, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). The psalmist appreciated this dilemma and longed for a reprieve. He wrote, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psa. 51:10).

Denial and Its Effects

St. Augustine said, “God being God offends human pride.” Thomas Nagel said, “I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”3 Many reject the idea of God primarily because they don’t want Him to exist: they would rather not be told what is right and wrong or be held accountable for their actions. It is by denying the truth of God’s sovereignty that we begin to delude ourselves into thinking we are in charge. Dallas Willard says, “If God is running the universe and has first claim on our lives, guess who isn’t running the universe and does not get to have things as they please?”4 Many people seem to forget that although we are made in the image of God, we are not made to be God. Willard says, “Of course, by ‘denial’ we mean to include not only rejection of what is the case but also affirmation of what is not the case.”5

When we choose to live a false truth or deny the reality that is in front of us, our minds become dysfunctional. That is, thought becomes fictionalized. We misuse our brains as an accomplice in devising a truth that best fits our needs. Feelings, emotions, and even sensations begin to betray us as well. Willard smartly quips, “It is this that accounts for the perpetual human blindness to the obvious.”6 And guess where this all leads? Sensuality becomes central. Paul warns that those who exchange the truth about God for a lie and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator, who crave the lusts of their hearts more than they desire God’s presence, and who dishonor their bodies among themselves, God will give them up to dishonorable passions (see Rom. 1:24-26).

The Solution

Christians agree that the effect of sin on human nature is fatal. The wages of sin is spiritual death: total and permanent separation from God for all eternity. God’s just punishment for unredeemed sin is eternal torment in a place of fire (Matthew 25:41) and outer darkness (Matthew 8:12). In other words, punishment and separation. Sin originated when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and consume fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Through this act, they were in effect deciding to be “like gods,” coveting the power to decide for themselves what is good and what is evil. When evicted from the Garden, Adam and Eve were forever cut off from the Tree of Life which stood in the center of the Garden. Many biblical scholars believe the Tree of Life is a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ. Man’s eviction from the Garden meant that a new way of obtaining redemption and eternal life must be provided by God.

Through faith alone in Christ alone God has justified us by the blood of Christ shed on the cross. When Jesus died, we died. When Jesus was resurrected, we were resurrected. Those who believe in Jesus as the Christ and confess their faith in Him are forgiven and redeemed to live free in Christ and dead to sin. But I still sin you might say. So do I. So did Paul, Peter, David, and Moses. We still reside in a body of flesh. We are not exempt from making sinful choices. However, we have been set free from the curse of sin and death. Our redemption has been purchased through the death of Christ, and spiritual formation as believers in Christ is fueled by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theology

Unless otherwise specified, all Scripture references contained herein are from the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Holy Bible.


1 Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Puttin On the Character of Christ (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2021), 42.
2 C.C. Byrie, “Total Depravity,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 3rd. ed. Daniel J. Treier, editor (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 240.
3 Thomas Nagel, The Last Word (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1997), 130–131.
4 Willard, Ibid., 48.
5 Ibid., 48.
6 Ibid., 49.

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