Total Depravity: What’s Up with Your Dispositional Complex?

Did you know that you are an intricate integrated dispositional complex? At least that’s the way God created you in the beginning. When Adam and Eve came from the hands of the Lord they were holy, righteous, and knowledgeable. How do we know this? Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10 that saints are being renewed in the image and likeness of God in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. To be renewed is to be restored. Before the fall, our first parents were created to glorify and enjoy the Triune God (is there any other God?). They did this with their whole soul. Their intellect, will, and emotions were well-integrated. They functioned properly. It is true that Adam and Eve were undergoing a period of probation and this was brought to its high point in the prohibition concerning the eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:15-17). This test would have yielded a promotion from probation to unalloyed blessing had our first parents obeyed the Lord. But that is another story.

Before the fall, Adam and Eve’s intellect, will, and emotions cooperated and there was no usurpation of one capacity by another. Ever since the fall reality has been a different story. But before we go there let’s consider how the fall unfolded. As Genesis 3 recounts, Eve began to talk with the serpent and began listening to his inviting and insinuating comments. Satan’s conversation was an invitation for Eve to think on her own without consideration for God’s word. Eve would think for herself. She began to mull over the tree that God had told her husband to shun. She looked at the tree longingly and she began to desire the fruit of that tree. It was only after she decided to declare her intellectual independence and volitional freedom that she began to long for fruit from the forbidden tree. Eve had become overwhelmed by sinful temptation long before she moved her arms and hands and twisted the fruit off the tree and took her first sumptuous bite. In other words, her formerly well-integrated intricate dispositional complex began to go awry before it manifested itself in outward actions.

Adam’s troubles began to pile up as well. He was placed in the garden to guard and keep it. Despite the common understanding of these words found in Genesis 2:15, Adam was not doing farm work in Eden, but priestly work. Typically, when the Hebrew words for work and keep appear together they are in reference to the work of the Levitical priests in ancient Israel and their service in the tabernacle and later in the temple. Adam’s intellect, will, and emotions were a well-integrated intricate dispositional complex in service to his priestly work of working and keeping the Garden of Eden, which was a microcosm of the heavenly temple.

Adam was supposed to maintain the purity of the garden precincts. We see this throughout the Old Testament and we see it in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21 & 22). The New Jerusalem is a temple in itself and it is a garden city and there is no uncleanness found in it at all. As part of his priestly duties, Adam should have been on the lookout for the unclean serpent and he should have kicked it out of the holy garden. Instead, his failure to protect the garden inner sanctum (the garden was a precursor to the tabernacle and temple’s holy of holies) was an outward indication that his dispositional complex was coming undone. Genesis 3:6 tells us that Adam stood close by and listened to his wife’s conversation with the serpent and he did nothing. There was a breakdown internally before there was an outward manifestation of disorder. Adam finally did do something. When Eve took from the fruit of the forbidden tree Adam took the fruit from her hand and he bit into it too. The well-integrated intricate dispositional complex became unglued.

With the fall, Adam and Eve fell under God’s displeasure and his judgement. Genesis 3:8-19 recount God’s confrontation of our fallen and disordered first parents. Instead of a well-integrated intricate dispositional complex, Adam and Eve now possessed a disintegrated intricate dispositional complex. The Bible has a one-word name for this intricate dispositional complex of intellect, will, and emotions. It is called the heart. While in western culture, the heart is usually thought of as the seat of the emotions, in Scripture the heart is the center of our personality. Another way we refer to this intricate dispositional complex is by the word soul. God created our intellects, wills, and emotions to work together in sweet harmony. This was how Adam and Eve came from the hand of God. Now our intricate dispositional complex is not only at war with God, but it is at war with itself. We often try to argue that the intellect is more important than the will and the emotions. Or the will is more important than the intellect. Or the emotions are more important than the intellect and will. Not so. God made us as well-integrated intricate dispositional complexes. Our hearts were created oriented toward God our maker. Now apart from the grace of God in Jesus Christ we have darkened minds, recalcitrant wills, and emotions in disarray. We call this mess total depravity. The prophet Jeremiah famously said that the heart is desperately wicked and he asked who can know it (Jeremiah 17:9). The prophet goes on to point out that it is God who searches the human heart.

Jesus came to renew disintegrated intricate dispositional complexes. He came to restore fallen human hearts so that they may properly function according to the plan of their Maker. So, what’s up with your dispositional complex? If you are outside of Christ (or in Adam, which is the same thing) you possess a disintegrated intricate dispositional complex. And it is impossible for you to fix it. If you are by grace in Christ, then your dispositional complex is being progressively reintegrated. Not only so, if you have put your faith in Jesus Christ for salvation (and that involves what we have been talking about here and a whole lot more), you are not merely being restored to the condition of Adam and Eve in the garden. Au contraire! We are being renewed in the image and likeness of the Son of God (Romans 8:29) who is perfect representation of God the Father. The Holy Spirit is renewing us in the image of the Son to the glory of the Father. What a life!

Jeffrey C. Waddington (Ph.D., Westminster Theological Seminary) is stated supply at Knox Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  He also serves as a panelist at Christ the Center and East of Eden and is the secretary of the board of the Reformed Forum.  Additionally he serves as an articles editor for the Confessional Presbyterian Journal.

Jeffrey Waddington