the Church on the Hill
by D. Eric Williams
Pastor, Cottonwood Community Church
The doctrine of total depravity tells us the children of Adam are touched by the effect of sin in every aspect of their being. That isn't to say mankind is as bad as he can be, but that there is no part of his being left undamaged by the Fall. At the same time, the doctrine of total depravity - rightly understood - informs us that mankind does have some capacity for good. Thus, we should not be surprised when the unregenerate do perform good works of a sort.
Now, I'm defining "good" here in a broad sense; truly there is no one good but God and no one can do anything really good without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, no one can do any good deed that gains favor with God. The point is that even the unregenerate are capable of doing beneficial deeds, useful and kind acts because the image of God remains in them even though clouded and twisted. This is why honest business deals are possible; it is why people contribute to charities; it is the reason for relatively happy and stable families among the unsaved.
At the same time, we need to realize it is impossible to find common (neutral), ground with the unsaved. Paul tells us the unregenerate "suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Rom. 1:18). He says what may be known of God is "manifest in them" and the "invisible attributes" of God are displayed in creation. However, mankind - in his natural state - rebels against the truth and refuses to accept and submit to God (Rom 1: 19-ff).
Thus even in those areas were there seems to be commonality, there really is not. For instance, an unregenerate man may be against abortion (and rightly so!) but unless he acknowledges God as the author of life and Lord of creation, his laudable stand in favor of life is inadequate; it is based upon man's wisdom in some form and not upon truth. This doesn't mean we cannot work together with the unsaved in pursuit of a godly end. It simply means if we hope to glorify God we must be very careful. We cannot compromise our stand for truth just so we can "get along" and not jeopardize our alliance with the unsaved man. It is essential to keep in mind that the apparent agreement between us and the unregenerate does not mean we begin with the same presuppositions. It simply means the image of God in him has forced its way to the surface. At the same time, the apparent agreement does provide an excellent opportunity for evangelism (the first thing we should do is ask our unsaved friend why he holds to a position inconsistent with his unchristian belief system).
Common grace assures us God will not allow the depravity of mankind to overwhelm the efforts of His people as they endeavor to serve Him. From time to time we will find ourselves in a situation where we will be working shoulder to shoulder with the unsaved. When that happens, we must keep in mind the truth of Romans chapter one; rather than assume we have found common ground with the unbeliever we need the great gulf between us and use that opportunity to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.