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Total Depravity and the Gun Debate

What has been lacking in the "gun debate" is a true understanding of the foundational issues. As Christians, we must be the bearers of the truth of God’s Word which means we must understand what God says in this area of life.

  • Chris Zimmerman,
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It would be a world class understatement to say that much has been said of late regarding guns and gun control in the media and online. As passionate as many are on either side of the issues, what has been lacking in the debate is a true understanding of the foundational issues. Appeals to emotions or to the Founding Fathers fall on deaf ears, and so the battle wages on with no true progress. As Christians, we must be the bearers of the truth of God’s Word which means we must understand what God says in this area of life.  

The Nature of Man

In order to approach the gun control debate from a Biblical perspective, we must first look at what the Bible says about the nature of man. It is only by thinking God’s thoughts after Him, who is the Definer of all things, that we can think clearly, accurately, and truthfully. The Scriptures make it clear that with the fall of man in the garden, and his acceptance of the lie of the serpent, man became completely corrupted by his original sin in the totality of his being: mind, spirit, emotions, and body. That original sin was to be his own god, knowing or determining good and evil for himself (Gen. 3:5). This was in stark contrast to man’s original creation in knowledge, righteousness, holiness, and dominion where he examined all things through the lens of God and His Word. This doctrine is commonly called the Total Depravity of Man and it is mentioned in the Westminster Confession of Faith (Chap. 6:2): 

By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body. 

The London Baptist Confession (Chap. 6:2) says much the same in this regard: 

Our first parents, by this sin, fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and we in them whereby death came upon all: all becoming dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.

 Simply stated, this doctrine means that there is no aspect of man that is not fallen and corrupted with this sin to be our own god. Therefore, no part of our being can be considered untainted from this corruption and trustworthy. The commonly espoused belief that we should “trust our heart” is destroyed by this doctrine. However, when this topic is discussed it is typically misunderstood to mean that man must be as evil as he can be. That would be a misrepresentation. In fact, this doctrine does not deny the restraining hand of God upon the unregenerate nor does it deny that the same can do what appears to be outwardly “good” works. G. I. Williamson stated it thus, 

But this does not mean that this or that particular man is already as evil as he can ever become. By and by the lost will become totally evil in degree, as they are now totally depraved in extent. But there are, for the present, certain instrumentalities of God which retard and restrain man’s depravity in order that life in this world might be tolerable. 1

 What are the direct results of man’s original sin and resulting depravity? That each man acting on this premise will seek to implement his own law upon the lives of others, by force if necessary. After all, by definition a god is the source of truth and a sovereign, so all others must submit to the will of this single, self-proclaimed god. With every human being applying this premise in varying degrees to all other human beings, the end result is the human conflict we have seen since the fall. Furthermore, this manifests itself in actions such as theft, where the thief has determined that taking that which doesn’t belong to him is “right,” and murders, where the murderer takes life according to his own law and desires.

The Positions

We must now examine the common positions of those calling for more gun control in order to respond to these Biblically. There are three basic positions with endless combinations. First, there are those who deny depravity to man but must explain the fact of evil in some way. They do so by ascribing it to the object: in this case, the gun. Their claim is that the tool made the person evil and by removing the object you will remove the evil. 

Next, there are others who hold to a variation of pagan thinking known as the continuity of being. In this line of reasoning, all of creation is one metaphysically and to examine one aspect of the world reveals the nature of another aspect of the world. Dr. Rushdoony’s comments on this are excellent, 

But, basic to this religious faith was also the concept of the oneness of being; all being is one. This is a faith of course that we find in virtually all religions apart from Christianity, but very highly developed in some particular forms such and Hinduism, Christian Science, Mysticism, and a variety of other faiths. As a result of this faith in the oneness of being, Apollo had two names, and the other name for Apollo was Python, who was the devil of the system. So that Apollo was Apollo, and he was Python. He was also everything else in between. Since all is one, and one is all, the god of this system was also the devil of this system. And so, they spoke as this letter declares, of the depths of saying, or the deep sayings of Satan; the depths of Satan or the deep sayings of Satan. What did this mean? It meant that if you pushed anywhere in this system, you pushed everywhere at the same time. So that if you explored the deep things of Satan, you were also exploring the deep things of God. If you were exploring the deep things of God you were also exploring the deep things of Satan. 2

For these people, this manifests itself in the thinking that by removing the guns and being nice to people, evil will be eliminated. This thinking will also blame the environment for problems (i.e., their home was bad, they were not loved enough, etc.).

 Finally, there are those who are evolutionary in their thinking and hold that man has evolved beyond the need for guns. These people would also deny depravity to man. In dealing with the fact of evil, their claim would be that until those “unevolved” people who resort to violence are gone, the state must be the only entity with weapons … a sort of necessary evil in their minds. This reveals that their true faith lies in salvation by law or by the state (statism) so that by enacting a law, people are somehow changed.  

​ The Biblical Response

However, the Scriptures make it clear that evil comes from man:

 And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Gen. 6:5) 
Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. (Prov. 4:23) 
A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. (Matt. 12:35) 
But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man… (Matt 15:18-20) 
Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. (Titus 1:15)

 Therefore, man apart from Christ is not “evolving” into a higher being devoid of evil. In fact, as long as he is in the state of rebellion against God (Rom. 8:7) who is the Truth (John 14:6), man is actually degenerating and becoming less of a man. Paul, in Romans 1, fleshes this out and points out that God gives the reprobate over to their depravity as part of their judgment. It is the ultimate insanity to be in rebellion against God since He is the Creator of all things and all things are revelatory of Him. Therefore, unregenerate man lives out this insanity and descends more and more into darkness. This descent will also manifest itself in evil acts against the image bearers of God.

 Furthermore, nowhere in Scripture do we see an object being the source of sin. As an object or tool, it can be used for good or evil. A criminal holding a knife to someone’s throat is a very different thing than a surgeon holding a knife to a throat in surgery. Sin does not exist on its own, it is the action of men in rebellion against the law of God. To rid oneself of evil means to walk in obedience to God’s Word by the power of the Holy Spirit, i.e., sanctification. Accordingly, the state has no Biblical warrant to ban objects, plants, etc., because it is not the objects that cause evil acts, but rather men commit evil acts because they are evil.

Scripture also makes it clear that there is no continuity of being between God and man. God is uncreated Being and everything else is created: 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1–3) 
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. (Gen 1:1) 

Likewise, the unity of all that was created is not unified, in and of itself, but in the fact that all was created by God and is upheld by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3). Because of this, when man is in rebellion against God, he is also “out of tune” or at war with the very creation. Therefore, “being nice” to those committing evil does not change their heart; they are still evil. Taking guns away from the law-abiding will not, then, encourage the criminal to lay down his weapons, either. 

Taking this a step further, the Word of God makes it clear that men have a covenantal duty to defend life (Exod. 20:13) and we see over and over throughout the Bible men not only arming themselves, but also developing their proficiency with those weapons in order to be effective when needed. The man of God, as the just, must live by faith (Rom. 1:17)—faith in what God has said regarding the nature of all men apart from Christ—and plan/act accordingly. So, we need to have our eyes wide open to the fact that there are people seeking to do others true harm. By ensuring the safety of himself, his family, and his neighbor (including the atheist in the store), the covenant man is assuming his role of responsibility in the covenant. 

Christians need to take a step back from the sound bite wars and humanistic thinking. We need to recognize this battle for what it is: religious in nature. The humanist is taking a stand based on his faith regarding the nature of man and the source of evil, so, too must the Christian. For far too long, we have been trying to set aside the Word of God and beat the opposition down with statistics and quotes. What we fail to recognize is without the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, men will remain evil. No amount of laws will change the heart of men so we must examine every solution to the gun debate in the light of Scripture and respond in faithfulness to it. What we need are meek men, men who are the tamed of God and governed by His Word which comes by discipling the nations and teaching them to observe all things He has commanded. This is the only way to truly answer the gun debate.



  1. G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith For Study Classes, 2nd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1964), p. 72
  2. R. J. Rushdoony, “Compromise (Thyatira),” Audio lecture RR129C5.

  • Chris Zimmerman

Chris Zimmerman is a Chalcedon Underwriter and resides in Nevada, with his wife and family. He works for an airline in the I.T. department. He is also the co-host of the weekly Men's Roundtable online Bible study.

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