What are the consequences? If the unfaithfulness of a spouse can bring guilt, shame, and estrangement in the relationship of the couple, both of whom are sinners, how much more does the breach caused by Adam’s disobedience result in guilt, shame, and estrangement before the holy God? But this is the severest estrangement: the bond of love and trust in the Lord God is severed. Adam had been, if you will, a priest-king. On God’s side, there is estrangement, too, and God in holy anger drives the sinful pair out of the sanctuary garden and blocks their return. They are guilty and under sentence of death.
how total is depravity?
Yet Adam and Eve still bear the divine image. They don’t become animals devoid of moral responsibility but remain humans without excuse and fully accountable. Their likeness to God, however, is marred in every part. All of Adam’s descendants continue to bear the image of the man of earth (1 Cor. 15:47). But death now has its hold on them body and soul. In the day they disobeyed, the sentence was passed, and the certainty of the sentence is expressed like a royal edict (Gen. 2:17; see 20:7). Dislocation in human relationships, painful toil, and sorrow are characteristic because of the rejection of the Lord God. Nor has man lost all gifts or all lordship over the creation, but now he acts not for the honor of the Creator but for his own praise. He was always to spread over the earth and subdue it, but now he often misuses creation because of his greed and lust for glory. Obstacles that he might otherwise have overcome weaken him. Ultimately, whatever his labor, he is defeated by the earth and returns to dust from which he came, his dignity reduced to the level of beasts that perish (Ps. 49:12).
When we speak of man’s total depravity, we are not saying that man is as bad as he could be or that there is no good in him at all. Rather, we are saying that every aspect of man is affected and marred by sin, and we are saying that there is no spiritual good in him (see Westminster Confession of Faith 16.7; Westminster Larger Catechism 25). He is dead in his trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). We recognize, however, that unbelievers still have gifts that the Lord in His goodness gives them as He gives to all (Ps. 145:9). Hiram, the pagan king of Tyre, had building skills lacking in Israel (1 Kings 5:6). A pagan poet may speak words worth quoting (Acts 17:28). An unbelieving doctor may have more skill than a Christian doctor. While we must not fail to recognize the humanity in others, the kindness and compassion they may show, which may outshine on the human level imperfectly sanctified Christians, we cannot abandon the reality that God looks on the heart and that everyone is a desperately needy sinner before a holy God.