New City Catechism 14.2
Question 14: Did God create us unable to keep his law?
Answer: No, but because of the disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, all of creation is fallen; we are born in sin and guilt, corrupt in our nature and unable to keep God’s law.
Theologians speak of the biblical doctrine of “total depravity,” which describes the effect of Adam and Eve’s sin on us. Total depravity does not mean that we are as bad as we can possibly be. What it means is that sin has corrupted every part of us: heart, mind, will, and even our bodies. There is nothing that we can do as fallen human beings that is not in some way tainted by sin.
One truth that corresponds to total depravity is total inability, or our complete lack of being able to please God by anything that we do apart from the working of his grace in us. Paul notes that the mind of the flesh (i.e., the fallen mind) not only does not submit to God’s law, but that it actually cannot do so (Rom. 8:7). Because we are fallen, we are spiritually and morally unable to obey God. Because we are dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), we are unresponsive to God apart from the powerful working of his grace. This is why what we need is not merely a repair job, like you might repair a slightly damaged vehicle. No, we are totaled. We need to be made completely new. And that’s why the New Testament speaks of our salvation as a powerful act of God by which we are born again (John 3:1-8).
Suggested passage for family or personal reading: John 3:1-8. What does Jesus’ teaching about the new birth imply about our present condition? What does it teach us about what is necessary to save us?