Total depravity is the sad but biblical idea that every person is morally corrupt and spiritually dead (Psalm 51:5; Ephesians 2:1-3). But rather than being a sour belief which hampers faith, it is a scriptural teaching which drives us to cling to the sovereign grace of God.
It is an evangelical doctrine which ignites hope that no matter how morally twisted a person is, she is not beyond the reach of grace.
Total depravity implies not only that this person is just as sinful as the worst villain in the world, but that this individual is no less ‘saveable’ than I was. Since I was saved in spite of my moralism and pride, she can also be saved in spite of her obstinacy and hard hardheartedness. I could not move my heart towards God and yet he saved me. He will not turn his heart to Christ, and do I think that makes his conversion impossible?
Not at all.
The drunk or womanizer is no less a candidate for the Holy Spirit’s work than I was and am. Paul described himself as the chief of sinners, a self-righteous Pharisee who went about arresting and killing believers. Christ met him on one of such campaigns and brought him to his feet. Augustine was a philosopher who had dabbled into many ancient religions in his search for truth. He lived a dissolute, pleasure-seeking life, until he was eventually gripped by the hand of God. John Newton was a slave ship captain for several years. He was noted as a profane and coarse-speaking sailor, perhaps the unlikeliest person to experience conversion. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, however, he was made into a new person.
Total depravity shows us all to be infected with the sin disease. Since we all share the ailment, we can all benefit from the cure, depending on God’s sovereign will. And God administers the cure regardless of our willingness, for he himself makes us willing.