Are Our Minds Totally Depraved?

from Jun 27, 2015 Category: Articles

Yes. The doctrine of total depravity asserts two key points. First, all that we are has been affected by the fall. It impacts our hearts, our minds, our bodies, our desires, everything about us. There is no untouched area. Second, the doctrine affirms that there is no island of righteousness out of which we can, on our own, embrace the work of Christ for us. We are dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) and before we can embrace His work for us we must be made alive by the Holy Spirit. Regeneration, or the rebirth, like our first birth, isn’t something we do, but something done to us. Thus, regeneration precedes, logically speaking, faith. Regeneration is the cause of faith, not faith the cause of regeneration.

Regeneration is the cause of faith, not faith the cause of regeneration.

Total depravity also denies utter depravity. That is, we are not as bad as we could possibly be, because of the restraining hand of God’s grace. This is important, not because it preserves some small level of dignity, but because it helps us understand the limits of our depravity. The human mind, for instance, even without regeneration, is not totally useless. There are some who would suggest sin has so impacted our minds that we can know nothing. One challenge with this approach is it doesn’t match how sin impacts the rest of us. That is, if total depravity impacts the human mind such that it can know nothing, then it must also impact the human body such that we are utterly paralyzed. The fall’s impact on our bodies explains why we stumble, why our bodies sometimes fail us. In like manner, the falls impact on our minds explains why we stumble with our minds, why we remember falsely, calculate poorly, and deduct irrationally from time to time. Remember also that the demons know that God exists (James 2:19).

We know this, of course, because our minds do work. You can’t know the mind has erred unless the mind shows you so. I know I err when saying 9x9=82 because I can know that 9x9=81. While errors of the mind are a burden, the real problem is that we use the genuine capacity to think, in our fallen nature, to justify our unbelief, and to justify our sins. We rationalize. Our minds become tools to aid and abet us in our sin. The demonic mind that knows God is matched with a demonic heart that shudders rather than rejoices. The human mind, knowing there is a God, suppresses that truth in unrighteousness. The mind works rightly in seeing that God is, then works wickedly to suppress that truth.

One of the ways we suppress that truth is by constructing worldviews that seek to make sense of the world without God. Those attempts, of course, always fail. And in failing they often undercut the very foundations that make truth knowable. That is, if I assert, “There is no objective true and false” I seek to remove from my thinking the objective truth that there is a God. But in so doing I have denied (and ironically affirmed) that there is a truth to know. My system doesn’t allow for truth, while the mind that built the system does.

Which is why, when dealing with the unbeliever we have to both believe that they can know truths (remembering it takes the Holy Spirit to give life) while at the same time showing them that their worldview leaves no room for truth. Which is why we can proclaim Jesus with confidence. He changes hearts and minds, bodies and souls. He changes everything.

R.C. Sproul Jr. is rector and chair of philosophy and theology at Reformation Bible College. Originally published at