Archive for the ‘theology’ Tag

A Broken Compass   Leave a comment

I live in Alaska, which is far to the north. It is so far to the north that our compasses don’t point north. They point northeast, toward Greenland, where magnetic north is located. For this reason, if we rely on a compass at all, we adjust it about 23 degrees so that it points toward true north.

A few years back, my family and I traveled to the Northeast to visit relatives and while we were there, we thought it would be fun to go hiking in a forest in the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

Let’s settle a misconception at the outset. The White Mountains are not mountains. By Alaskan standards, they are hills. In fact, we have a few “mountains” here in Interior Alaska that have a higher elevation than Mt. Washington and we call them “domes” because they just don’t measure up to the larger mountains surrounding them.

The lack of mountainous terrain may have resulted in less preparation than we normally would have taken. We essentially grabbed some sun screen, some water, my daypack and set off into the woods. We had a trail map, but it wasn’t the terrain maps we normally carry for Alaskan wilderness treks. In fact, I think I’d want a better map for taking a subway in New York.

But, hey, we’re almost professional hikers, so no problem! Right?  Uh ….

About an hour into the hike, I recognized that the sun was in the wrong place compared to where we should have been on the map. We were faced with multiple choices in paths and it was clear we’d taken the wrong one. I dredged my compass out of the back pack and my husband and I charted a new route designed to take us back to the road. Only it didn’t. Night comes very quickly in New England. In Alaska, we may only have 2 1/2 hours of daylight in the winter, but there’s two hours of dusk at either end of that, so when the sun started to lower, we weren’t worried — until it got dark. Oh, my!

Our daughter announced that she was pretty sure we were traveling in circles. She’d seen this rock formation before. She’s got a photographic memory, so we paused again. There was a moon, which any hiker knows rises in the east and sets in the west after traveling along the southern horizon and it had just come up, so we knew which direction east was. My husband stared at my compass, shooting little glances at the moon.

“Did you change the declination on the compass?” he asked.

Uh, no. We were never planning to need the compass and … oops. After an oh-so-very-polite discussion of how many degrees to remove (we eventually decided to disable declination entirely), we charted yet another course on the less-than-helpful trail map and started out again. We were all greatly relieved when we found blacktop only a half-mile from where we’d left the car.

Lesson?

If your compass is pointed toward the wrong object of attraction, you will get hopelessly lost even in conditions that don’t seem all that threatening, even if you think you know what you’re doing.

Spiritual lesson?

If you think that something other than Jesus Christ is going to save you, you are lost and you will never find your way out of whatever woods you’re in until you admit that you’ve got your moral compass pointed toward the wrong object of attraction.

There are a lot of philosophies out there that seem wise, loving, beneficial, etc. But truth isn’t a multiple choice option and Jesus Christ is the Truth.

Salvation Alone   Leave a comment

Now that we’ve settled the issue that mankind really is lost and really can’t rescue ourselves, it’s time to discuss how we get unlost and who is going to do the rescuing.

Baptists, of which I am one by church membership, believe in the doctrine of once saved by faith alone in Christ alone, but I know a lot of Baptists who are not really saved. They think they’re close and they hope to go to heaven some day, but they really aren’t saved. Not too long ago, I was talking to a fairly new friend who has attended my church for longer than I have (we’ve been members there about 2 1/2 years) and he said he wanted to be baptized soon so he could be sure of eternity. I asked him if he was saved. He said “I think I’m about 75% of the way.” He’s not alone. A Gallup poll indicates that 34% of all adult Americans believe that they have been “born again”. I don’t know all those people, but I suspect many of them are a lot like my friend — they think they’re close enough. It’s not a new condition. Agrippa told the Apostle Paul that he was almost persuaded to become a Christian (Acts 26:28). Agrippa understood, however, that he was a lost man according to Paul’s gospel. He knew this because Paul told him so. For those who are 75% “saved”, there’s the thought that salvation is somehow a matter of degrees. If you’re closer to saved than to lost, you somehow will get points for proximity. That’s not the way it works. True Christians are falling down on their God-given job if they’re allowing the folks attending their churches to believe that close enough is close enough.

There is no doctrine of faith more fundamental than salvation. Misconceptions here result in eternal destruction because faith placed in the wrong object cannot save. Ask yourself this question:  If you died today and stood before God, what reason would you give Him to admit you into His heaven? Would you say “I’ve lived a good life, kept the 10 Commandments, fed the poor, gone to church, gave to the offering?” Are you trusting in a past instance of raising your hand, walking an aisle or signing a card? Do you believe that joining a church, being confirmed or being baptized with save you?

None of these reasons are acceptable to God. While all of the above are worthwhile, none of them will save you.

God and human kind are very different in spiritual matters (Isaiah 55:8-9). Unsaved men view the essence of Christianity as very broad and its expression as amazingly narrow. Some believe a man can get to heaven pretty much anyway he chooses and that “faith” requires few demands. Hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but that’s completely incorrect! The Bible teaches that there is only one way to be saved and that the Christian life affects every facet of a human life, radically changing our thinking, attitudes, values, priorities, desires and conduct. In the Bible, the essence of Christianity is very narrow and its expression is extremely broad.

Jesus Himself had some shocking words about those who would spend eternity in hell. He said it would be peopled with some of the most religious people of His day, people who were absolutely convinced that heaven would be their eternal home.

“Not every one who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).

If those people who are going to hell will include those who both profess to know God and serve Him, we definitely need to look carefully at what it is that actually saves a person.

The essence of the gospel message is that God has achieved eternal salvation for all who will believe, through the work of the sinless Son of God, Jesus Christ, Who died on the cross as the sin bearer of the world. In a word, salvation was accomplished for men by the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. There are a handful of essential features of the death of Christ to be found in Scripture.

The life and teachings of Jesus are of great important to Christians, but it is His death on the cross that saves us. While it is essential to understand that the life and teachings of Jesus proved Him to be qualified for the work of the cross (e.g., the temptation of Jesus — Matthew 4:1-11), it was His death on the cross that brought salvation to men. His teachings instructed men and prepared them for His death, but His death actually saved them. His miracles authenticated His teaching and helped to establish His deity, but His death is what accomplished our redemption. The “new covenant” in Jesus’ blood (Luke 22:20) was accomplished only by His death. The writer to the Hebrews put it this way:

For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives (Hebrews 9:16-17).

The cross of Calvary not just as a part of the gospel; it is the heart of it. The death of Christ was not an accident or an after-thought, but a part of God’s plan from the very beginning of eternity. Some have attempted to teach that Jesus died a tragic martyr, misunderstood and killed by an unfortunate turn of events, but the Bible tells us that our Savior’s death was a part of God’s plan before creation:

… knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a Lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you … (1 Peter 1:18-20).

And all who dwell on the earth will worship him, every one whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain (Revelation 13:8; Matthew 25:34).

Jesus Himself was very clear that His death would not be accidental, but an act of obedience to His Father’s will:

“For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father” (John 10:17-18).

Jesus did not die for His own sins, because He had not sinned. His death was substitutionary:

… knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19).

… who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed (1 Peter 2:22-24).

When John the Baptist introduced our Lord, he exclaimed,

“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

Jesus said of His purpose in life and death,

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Jesus died in our place, bearing the penalty for our sin. The prophets announced that the coming Messiah would be a sin bearer:

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him (Isaiah 53:4-6).

Centuries later, the apostle Paul, looking back on the cross of Christ, wrote:

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The writer to the Hebrews spoke of the work of Christ as the purification of sins (Hebrews 1:3), while Peter says He bore our sins (1 Peter 2:24). John, in his epistles, says that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

The death of Christ was a final, once-for-all payment for sins. In the Old Testament God merely passed over the sins of Israel (Romans 3:25-26), but the blood of sacrificial animals did not forgive sin. These blood sacrifices were merely reprieves, not pardons. By offering the sacrifice, the Old Testament believers expressed the faith of one who looked forward to the coming of the “Lamb of God”.

… and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12).

The work of the cross was complete, final. Sins were paid in full. No more payment was needed. This allowed Jesus to confidently say from the cross, “it is finished!” (John 19:30).

There is a hymn that goes “What can wash away my sin — nothing but the blood of Jesus.” That is the most important thing to know about salvation. Only Jesus’ blood saves. Following that, there are equally important points of consideration, but they’re only important if they follow Jesus’ death..

Humanity Still Sucks   1 comment

The misconceptions surrounding the doctrine of man’s total inability (or total depravity) do not negate the implications of the doctrine.

(1) Because man is totally depraved, salvation is necessarily a supernatural phenomenon. Those who are “dead in their trespasses and sins” do not normally or naturally become alive in Christ. Many of us are not convinced of this. Our thinking goes somewhat like this:  If only the gospel were explained clearly enough, then anyone would turn to Christ for salvation. How do we explain the “failure” of Jesus to convert all but a few of His hearers? Intellectually, man is so affected by sin that a totally convincing argument will fall on deaf ears. The gospel is not logical to the lost, but foolishness:

For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18, 19-31).

While some people suppose we can reason the lost into heaven, there are others who believe that we can nag them into eternal life by breaking down their resistance to the point of surrender. That is why we play 29 stanzas of “Just As I Am” and plead with the lost. That is why some wives persist at trying to wear down their husbands with the message of salvation, over and over, sneaking in a tract here, setting up a meeting with the preacher there, and so on. Others will try to use emotions to scare unbelievers into a decision for Christ by threatening them with hell fire.

Do not misunderstand me! I am not saying that the gospel can’t be sloppily and haphazardly explained. We should make the message of salvation as clear as possible. We should address the whole person—intellect, emotions and will. But after we have done the best possible job of proclaiming the gospel, it is only God Who can bring a dead man to life. Salvation is a supernatural experience and we mere humans must not rely upon our own strength or devices. If people are to be saved, it must be because God has used us and our words. We remain continually be dependent upon Him for success in evangelism.

(2) Even children are totally depraved. I know that statistics reveal that most people are converted in their youth. A famous Southern Baptist study showed that 80% of all conversions take place before the 21st birthday. I’m not going to refute these figures. Yet, logically speaking, if we are born in sin and rebellion against God, children are just as dead as adults. They are no more inclined to trust in Christ than anyone else. Granted, they have not become hardened in their sins (1 Timothy 4:2), but they are no less dead. All that we have said above applies to children, as well as to adults.

Children, because their desire to please, will often go through the motions of conversion, but that does not save them. Children, like all others, must be convinced of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8). They must be born again. Unclear statements of faith, such as “having Jesus in your heart” often lead to professions without any concept of what salvation means.

(3) Because salvation is a supernatural matter, no one is ever too lost to be saved. Some people are far more aggressively opposed to the gospel than others. This leads us to conclude that an agnostic is more likely to be saved than an atheist, but who could have been more opposed to the gospel than Paul, who referred to himself as “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15)? Salvation rests with the ability of God Whose power is infinite. No man is less dead than another. The most hardened and resistant sinner is no obstacle to the grace of God. No one is beyond God’s salvation.

(4) The bad news of total depravity is really the good news. The most difficult aspect of salvation is not getting man saved. I’ts in convincing him that he’s lost in the first place. After all, who needs to be saved who is not hopelessly lost? Total depravity means that man cannot save himself and must look to another for salvation. Christ came to the world to save sinners. He did not come to heal those who are well, but those who are sick (Mark 2:17). If you are lost in sin, there is hope, there is help, for Christ died to save sinners. When people come to the point of despair, realizing their own inability, it is also the point of hope, for where else would they look but to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation and deliverance. Soft-soaping mankind’s total inability to save himself will not hasten the process of salvation, but probably will hinder it.

(5) We must be careful not to cushion the consequences of sin so as to minimize the desperate condition of the sinner. The prodigal son wised up to his situation in the pig pen, far from his father in a foreign land, eating the pods which were pig food. As much as that father loved his son, he realized that he would not be reconciled to him until he saw the folly of his ways. He had to be lost before he was found; he had to be dead before he could receive life (Luke 15:32). Many of us are tempted to build a pig pen in the back yard, trying to soften the blows of sin. While we must surely grieve at the sins of those we love, sometimes we must allow hard times to come upon them before they will recognize the seriousness.

(6) If man is totally unable to save himself or to contribute to it in any way, then all of the praise and glory for our conversion must go to God.

But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).

Perhaps it is in our prayers that we are most likely to confess the fact that our salvation is solely from God. As B. B. Warfield put it,

He who comes to God in prayer, comes not in a spirit of self-assertion, but in a spirit of trustful dependence. No one ever addressed God in prayer thus: “O God, thou knowest that I am the architect of my own fortunes and the determiner of my own destiny. Thou mayest indeed do something to help me in the securing of my purposes after I have determined upon them. But my heart is my own, and thou canst bend it. When I wish thy aid, I will call on thee for it. Meanwhile, thou must await my pleasure.” Men may reason somewhat like this; but that is not the way they pray.

To God be the glory, great things He has done!

Humanity is Responsible   Leave a comment

Humanity is totally depraved. We’re born in sin as a result of Adam’s original sin in the garden, but then we choose to disobey God whenever we have a choice in the matter. Even Christians fail God’s standard all the time. Humanity sucks, but we can’t use that as an excuse to sin. A truth as crucial as that of man’s depravity has many implications for Christians as well as non-believers, but it’s important to understand what it does NOT mean.

(1) Total depravity does not mean that man is as bad as he could be. The adjective “total” in the term “total depravity” does not mean 100% so that every man is completely corrupt, totally evil. In fact, some men are more wicked than others. This is why Luke 12:47-48, Matthew 10:15 and 11:21-24 provides for degrees of eternal punishment. During the great tribulation men will be given the liberty of pursuing their wicked desires without restraint (2 Thessalonians 2:6-10), until then, total depravity refers to the condition of man whereby every aspect of his nature—intellect, emotions, and will—have been tainted by sin. Not every molecule of bread is yeast, but yeast affects the whole loaf. Total depravity works in the same way.

(2) Total depravity is never intended to reinforce sinful psychological self-abuse. Many Christians fail to appreciate who they are in Christ. They demean themselves as unlovable and unworthy. We are unworthy of God’s grace—that is what makes it grace. Though we are worthy of condemnation, we are also divinely created and fashioned by God in the womb (Psalm 139:13). God valued man enough to send His Son to die for us, while yet sinners (Romans 5: 6-8). If we are true believers, we are in Christ, and He is in us. Every Christian has a spiritual gift which equips that saint for a function and calling within the body of Christ, the church (Romans 12:3-81 Corinthians 12:1). When the Christian is self-demeaning, he or she is depreciating the work of God. In my opinion, that’s a pretty serious sin. If you will remember, it was the steward who thought he had the least to offer his master who was inclined to be slothful with what he was given (Matthew 25:14-30).

(3) The doctrine of total depravity is never an excuse for sin in the life of any Christian. I’ve heard self-proclaimed Christians excuse the sin in their life with a flippant, “But I’m totally depraved; what did you expect from me?” The answer to such a statement is, “No, if you are a Christian, you are not totally depraved.” Paul wrote in Ephesians “You were dead in your trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). That’s past tense. In Romans 6, Paul again addresses the subject of sin in the life of the Christian. The rhetorical question has been raised; “Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?” (Romans 6:1) Paul emphatically answers, “God forbid!” The reason that a Christian must not continue to live in sin is because he has died to sin:

Now if we have died with Christ we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:8-11).

Christians must leave the old life of sin behind to begin living a new lifestyle of righteousness. In Romans 7 tells us that a strong desire to shun sin and practice righteousness is still not enough to overcome sin’s influence in our lives. In Romans 8, we find that no Christian must live in sin because God, through His Son, has brought forgiveness, and through His Spirit, has brought power to live according to His righteous requirements.

Total depravity means that man will always choose to do evil, because that is his disposition. Since, in Christ, “old things passed away” and “new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17), we now are able to choose righteousness and flee evil because of God’s enablement. No Christian must sin because total depravity speaks of the condition of lost men and women.

We who were dead in sin are now alive in Christ, free from sin and forgiven of its penalties (Ephesians 2:1-10). We are presently being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Our lives are being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). The Holy Spirit enables us to comprehend spiritual realities (1 Corinthians 2:6-13). The Spirit of God gives us power to live according to His demands (Romans 8:1-4).

(4) Total depravity does not mean that an unsaved person has no choice to make, but it does mean that fallen man will always choose to go his own way rather than submit to God. Early in Romans, Paul demonstrates that all men are worthy of God’s eternal wrath, not just because Adam sinned, but because all men are given some revelation about God, which they must accept or reject, and, given this choice, men always choose to reject God. The lost must be confronted with the gospel of Jesus Christ, for apart from a hearing of the word, men cannot be saved:

“Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:13-15)

All men are faced with the choice of submitting to God or rejecting Him, but man’s nature determines man’s decision. Man, in his lost state, has the same free will to become a Christian that a lion has to become a vegetarian. This is why salvation is always initiated by God and not by man:

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13).

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. … For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, … (Philippians 1:6, 29).

(5) Man’s total inability in spiritual things does not mean that it is futile to proclaim the gospel to the lost. Man will never respond positively to the gospel in his own strength, but the Bible makes it clear that those who are saved have been the recipients of divine enlightenment and enablement.

And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. … And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul (Acts 13:48; 16:14).

Because it is God Who saves men, we may proclaim the gospel boldly knowing that those whom He has chosen will be saved. And when we pray, we need not pray that men will have the intellectual ability to believe, or that their wills may be open to divine instruction, but that God will give them life, effectually call them, and draw them to Himself. If it is ultimately God Who saves men, then we can plead with Him for the souls of men, knowing His desire to save (1 Timothy 2:4), knowing He delights to answer our prayers (1 John 5:14-15), and knowing He is able to save any whom He chooses (Acts 9:1-22).

And even when men do not believe the message of the gospel, God is glorified by its proclamation:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” And He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.’ Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull, And their eyes dim, Lest they see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed” (Isaiah 6:8-10).

In evangelism, as in every area of Christian living, we are never commanded to be successful, but only to be submissive to His will and obedient to His word.

Humanity Sucks   Leave a comment

Ouch! Does it seem that I have a very low opinion of human kind? I do. I look around the world and see the depravity of man and agree wholeheartedly with the Bible that the human race, apart from God, sucks. Oh, there’s people out there who do a good turn for others from time to time and there’s even one or two exemplary folk who do a lot of good, but taken as a whole, human kind shows more evidence of hell than heaven.

The Bible got there a long time before I did. God watched Adam sin, but He knew before He ever breathed life into Adam that His creation was going to spit in His eye. God only ever created two types of creature with a free will — angels and man — and both rejected His love.

Theologians and philosophers have argued this point for centuries, ever since Pelagius (a Briton living in the fifth century) suggested God wouldn’t hold mankind accountable for obeying Him if He hadn’t also made us able to obey Him in our own right. Bible theologians like Augustine refuted Pelagius sternly, arguing for the traditional Christian belief in the depravity of mankind, but others found comfort in a synthesis view, whereby mankind was damaged by sin, but could seek God in our own strength. Both those heresies remain with the modern church.

The Bible is clear that mankind is fallen, so badly damaged by Adam’s original sin that there is no hope of recovery without God’s intervention. We are not made sick by sin. We are dead in our sin.  “‘There is none righteous, not even one;  There is none who understands. There is non who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one. Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving. The poison of asps is under their lips; Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; Their feet are swift to shed blood, Destruction and misery are in their paths, And the path of peace have they not known. THere is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:10-18).

Romans is a systematic exposition of the gospel of Jesus Christ as it relates to both Jews and Gentiles. In the first three chapters of the letter, Paul lays a foundation by establishing a universal need for salvation. His conclusion is found in the expression “all have sinned” (3:9, 23). The pagan is rightly under divine condemnation because God’s creation reveals His “eternal power and divine nature” (1:20), but man has willfully exchanged this truth for a lie and has chosen to worship the creature, rather than the Creator (1:23, 25). Man is further condemned because he fails to live according to the standard by which he condemns others (2:1-3).

The Jew is even more culpable, because he has received the written revelation of God contained in the Old Testament. Some not only hold God’s word to be authoritative, but are teachers of it, and yet fail to live by its commands (2:17ff.). All men, then, from the pagan who has never heard of Christ to the Jewish Rabbi who teaches from God’s word, are under divine sentence of death. And this must mean that those of us who now have the revelation of God contained in both the Old and New Testaments are even more responsible before God. Our difficulty is surely not the shortage of revelation, but our failure to live by it.

In verses 10-18 man’s desperate and damned condition is depicted by citations from the Old Testament. The extent of the depravity of man is underscored so as to force us to conclude that man is not sick but dead. First, Paul proves that when viewed corporately man, without exception, is found to be unable to do what God views as righteous. Second, individually man is rendered helpless by sin in every part of his nature: intellect, emotions, and will.

When it comes to sin, we’d all would like to think of ourselves as the exception to the rule. If Paul had said that most men were sinners, we would probably assume we ourselves among the few who are not. Thus, Paul must show that all men, without exception, fall under the wrath of God and need the salvation provided only in Christ. Four times in these nine verses Paul uses the word “all” to describe man’s fallenness. To prevent any misunderstanding, twice he clarifies his point by affirming that “not even one” is righteous in God’s eyes. So far as God’s righteousness is concerned, “there is none righteous, not even one” (3:10).

Paul did not limit man’s sinfulness to one particular age or culture. The truth of these verses can be amply illustrated throughout history. By referring to the Psalms and Isaiah, this broad historical perspective is accented. When Paul reminds us that “destruction and misery are in their paths” (verse 16), we know that this is as true today as it was in Paul’s day or-the prophet’s. In a day when a president and a pope can be shot within weeks of one another, we need not be urged to accept the fact of the violence of man.

Having established from Scripture that man, without exception, is a sinner, Paul also proves irrefutably that every dimension of a person’s nature is tainted by sin, incapacitating every person where righteousness is concerned.

In verses 13-18 Paul speaks from the perspective of a physician, showing that every organ in our body becomes the instrument of sin due to our depravity. Beginning at the head, Paul deals with the organs which generate speech. The throat is a grave, corrupted and defiling, and the tongue is deceitful (verse 13). The lips of man, much like the viper, conceal deadly poison; they are instruments of destruction. The mouth is full of curses and bitter words (verse 14). The feet hasten man to deeds of evil (verse 15). The sum and substance of this anatomical analysis of man is that from head to foot man is dominated by sin. His organs are instruments of sin (6:12, 13).

Morally, every man falls short of the standard of righteousness which God has set. “There is none righteous” (verse 10), “there is none who does good” (verse 12). Understand, this does not mean that individual people cannot do anything that his fellow man considers good. It is obvious that some who do not profess to know Christ personally at times live by a higher standard than some who do know the Savior. Unbelievers may be kind to their wives, give to the poor, and help the helpless … all commendable deeds. However, the Bible teaches that no one will ever be justified that is, be declared righteous, by his works:

Because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20).

The Law was not given to save men but to condemn them, to show them their sin and the need for a savior. Legal righteousness could only be earned by obedience to the whole Law, without any violation, ever:

For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them” (Galatians 3:10).

For whoever keeps the whole Law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all (James 2:10).

Anyone under the Law is obliged to keep it completely, lest the Law condemn him. Further, the Law, while it provides the standard of righteousness, does not give the strength to do what is righteous:

Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? (Galatians 3:5).

Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a Law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law (Galatians 3:21).

For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bandage to sin (Romans 7:14).

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:3-4).

Righteousness, then, cannot be earned by good works or the attempt to keep the Law of God, for fallen man is incapable of overcoming sin apart from divine enablement. Beyond this, those deeds which may appear to be righteous in the eyes of man may be evil because they are accomplished out of evil motives. Good deeds, if they are done to earn God’s approval and blessing (that is, righteousness), are based upon an evil motive. God has said that we cannot please Him by our works, for they are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Most often we do good deeds in order to obtain man’s approval and acclaim, which negates any possibility of divine approval:

“When therefore you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full” (Matthew 6:2).

Unsaved man may perform deeds of human kindness and charity. Man may do those things which win the approval of others. But men, apart from God, cannot please God. They cannot do anything which God calls righteous or has merit in His eyes.

The unsaved man’s will is always contrary to God’s. It can thus be said that no man seeks God (Romans 3:11). Frequently man willfully turns from God for Paul reminds us, “all have turned aside (3:12) so as to become useless. Man is born in sin (Psalm 51:5), and is thus an enemy of God by nature:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest (Ephesians 2:1-3).

Intellectually, man’s ability to comprehend spiritual matters is nullified by the effect of sin. Paul wrote, “there is none who understands(Romans 3:11). Man has made great strides in the fields of science and medicine, but even the most elemental spiritual truths are beyond the grasp of the most brilliant person, who is still in his sin:

But 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).

This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart (Ephesians 4:17-18).

We are therefore driven to the conclusion that all men are sinners by nature and by practice. Man is not sick in sin, but dead. We don’t not need a doctor to treat our weakness, but a medical examiner to pronounce us slain. We do not need God’s help; We need life. The Westminster Confession of Faith states this same truth:

Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.

The early Christian church understood this painful truth and taught it to all who they evangelized. Christianity spread throughout the known world over three centuries without the use of violence or the means to coercion. Yet today we reject this cornerstone of the gospel for fear that modern man will not accept a God who thinks we’re not perfect. Or perhaps its that we think modern man would reject any gospel that takes him out of the driver’s seat of his own destiny.

More on that subject later.

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