“Sin is a cruel tyrant. It is the most devastating and degenerating power ever to afflict the human race, such that the entire creation “groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Romans 8:22). It corrupts the entire person—infecting the soul, polluting the mind, defiling the conscience, contaminating the affections, and poisoning the will. It is the life-destroying, soul-condemning cancer that festers and grows in every unredeemed human heart like an incurable gangrene.
You can see why the doctrine of total depravity does not sit well with humanistic audiences. As a counterpoint, they’ll trot out various examples of benevolence and kindness.
How could we deny man’s innate goodness in the face of charitable millionaires, self-sacrificing volunteers, and faithful recyclers?
The term total depravity does not mean that unbelieving sinners are always as bad as they could be (cf. Luke 6:33; Romans 2:14). It does not mean that the expression of sinful human nature is always lived out to the fullest. It does not mean that unbelievers are incapable of acts of kindness, benevolence, goodwill, or human altruism. It certainly does not mean that non‑Christians cannot appreciate goodness, beauty, honesty, decency, or excellence.
What it means is that NONE OF THESE has any merit with God.
Total depravity means sinners have no ability to do spiritual good or work for their own salvation from sin. They are so completely disinclined to love righteousness, so thoroughly dead in sin, that they are not able to save themselves or even to fit themselves for God’s salvation.
Unbelieving humanity has no capacity to desire, understand, believe, or apply spiritual truth: “A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Corinthians 2:14)