This week we explore the depth of our spiritual sickness and our need for God’s grace as the only means of receiving salvation.
What we have to say…
“All people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under the power of sin. As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous-not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.” – Romans 3.9b-12 (NLT)
The Christian view of mankind is that we are sinful apart from the redemption of Christ as a propitiation for our sins. There is nothing good that we do apart from God. We are capable only of sin due to our inherited sin nature. St. Augustine called this posse peccare, which is Latin for “able to sin.” Augustine, describing the four states of a Christian’s life in his work Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love says,
“When, sunk in the darkest depths of ignorance, man lives according to the flesh undisturbed by any struggle of reason or conscience, this is his first state. Afterwards, when through the law has come the knowledge of sin, and the Spirit of God has not yet interposed His aid, man, striving to live according to the law, is thwarted in his efforts and falls into conscious sin, and so, being overcome of sin, becomes its slave… and thus the effect produced by the knowledge of the commandment is this…he is involved in the additional guilt of willful transgression, and that is fulfilled which is written: ‘The, law entered that the Offense might abound.’ This is man’s second state.”
Apart from Christ, all we possess is the ability to sin. Though we might do good works in the eyes of the world (donations to charity, volunteering, buying Girl Scout Cookies), those works are meaningless in the eyes of God as meriting towards salvation. Isaiah, speaking the word of God, calls these works “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64.6). Smelly, unclean, disgusting rags. Paul in Romans 3 tells us we are all under the power of sin. We call this view total depravity. It is man’s fallen state. Total depravity does not mean that man is not capable of relative good (i.e. good accomplishments, advances, acts of compassion etc.) rather it speaks to the core of our nature as a person. Our sin nature effects even the relative goodness we can accomplish in this life under our own abilities. Utter depravity means we are always looking to commit evil no matter what, and this is not the Christian view of man. The two views are often confused. We are depraved, yet we are created in God’s image and so capable of relative good things even though such good things mean nothing apart from a right relationship with Christ. Augustine continues his exposition by saying,
“But if God has regard to him (that is man), and inspires him with faith in God’s help, and the Spirit of God begins to work in him, then the mightier power of love strives against the power of the flesh; and although there is still in the man’s own nature a power that fights against him (for his disease is not completely cured), yet he lives the life of the just by faith, and lives in righteousness so far as he does not yield to evil lust, but conquers it by the love of holiness. This is the third state of a man of good hope; and he… shall attain at last to peace, that peace which, after this life is over, shall be perfected in the repose of the spirit, and finally in the resurrection of the body.”
We must understand our nature, because in doing so, we will fully comprehend the depth of salvation. God doesn’t help those who help themselves; God helps those who can’t possibly help themselves. This is the Christian view. Let’s take a look at what the world believes.
What they have to say…
“In contrast to the Christian teaching that human nature is basically evil, Islam teaches that it is essentially good. There are many elements to Human nature and each one has the potential to bring benefits. So there is no ‘Original Sin’ in Islam. It is that when Man contradicts God’s commandments or His will, he commits sins.” – Islamic teaching
Whether it be a teaching that says man is essentially good, or can achieve goodness through meditation or karmic good works, the world’s view of man is that we can achieve good apart from God’s intervention (that is of course if you even believe there is a God). Another philosophical ideal in today’s world is relativism. Truth is relative to society and culture and is often self-defined. You can believe whatever you want, and your truth is just as true as mine. This contradictory worldview is prevalent in schools, entertainment and even in some churches today. The Unitarian Universalist Church says,
“Unitarian Universalism is a theologically diverse religion, in which members support one another in the search for truth and meaning. As members of a non-creedal religious tradition, Unitarian Universalists are free to discern their beliefs about theological and ethical issues.”
Unfortunately, the world does not believe in a standard, that is, God’s standard, for truth and salvation. Earning salvation through goodness/meditation/knowledge is the best the world has to offer, unfortunately that misses the mark with God. Paul explains this in Romans 3.23, “”For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” Since people fall short of God’s standard, instead of coming in line with that standard, people would rather redefine the standard. Redefining the standard allows one to feel free from the guilt of not following God’s standard. With relativism, the standard is what you make it to be and this includes whatever view you want to have on sin/goodness/salvation.
“Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one-who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” – Romans 3.27-31 (ESV)
We are sinful by nature, yet we are redeemed and given a new one. As Christians, we recognize our nature but we also recognize that God’s grace has saved us and has regenerated our hearts, allowing us to pursue Christ-likeness by the power of the Holy Spirit. We should also understand the different worldviews that surround us. Many of our fellow students, coworkers and neighbors more than likely believe in some kind of relativist thinking where everyone has their own truth and everyone is right. It’s not necessarily our job to go around and call them out, but it should be our mission to engage culture and start conversations with others. Interact in their lives in order to get to know people, genuinely care for them, and hopefully guide them into the truth of Scripture. It’s not our job to change people, but to love people, and this is how we can love them. Find someone that you can engage this week and just start a conversation. Maybe it will lead to deeper things, and maybe it will lead them to Christ! Press on with the Romans study. Stay in the Word! I pray you and your family are finding time to gather around the Word and the study of Romans. Take care and have a great week in the Lord!
Peace in Him,