For the instruction this morning, open your Bible to Romans 8. We are doing a series in Romans 8, and we’ll continue in this chapter. I’m not in any hurry to get through it because there’s so much here that is very important for us. Let me read the opening nine verses again just to set it in your minds.
The apostle Paul says, “Therefore” – based on all that he has taught in chapters 5, 6 and 7 about the gospel and salvation in Christ, because of all of that – “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We looked at that. We are in no condemnation status. Why? Because our condemnation was born by Christ in His death on the cross. We will never be condemned, because, verse 2, “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 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, so that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.”
As we’ve been saying throughout this brief study so far, we are in no condemnation status because we are in Christ, and in Him we bear His righteousness as He bore our sins. As a result of being in Christ, the Spirit has given us life, verse 2 says, has made us alive and set us free from the law of sin and death. The Spirit has also enabled us, verse 4, to fulfill the law, so that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. This chapter is the Holy Spirit’s chapter, and it lays out for us how the Holy Spirit brings us to eternal glory, how the Holy Spirit maintains our no condemnation status all the way into heaven. He does it obviously by giving us life through the work of Christ by regenerating us, as described in these verses; and He does it also by enabling us to fulfill the law in the power of the Spirit.
But I want to stop the process a little bit to note, before we go to the next work of the Holy Spirit in our lives in verses 12-13, that there is a doctrine laid out here that must be understood, must be understood. It is the most attacked doctrine in Scripture. It is the most offensive doctrine in Scripture, the most contrary doctrine in Scripture. It is the most necessary doctrine in Scripture. It is the most defining doctrine in Scripture. It is the most foundational doctrine of the gospel and salvation and is often not understood, even though it is all of those things.
We will see that truth revealed if we look at verse 5 and follow the flow of the text. “Those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh.” Verse 6, “For the mind set on the flesh is death,” verse 7, “because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
Those are amazing statements. They are defining statements that describe the condition of every person who is in the flesh. There’s only two kinds of people in the world: those in the flesh and those in the Spirit. Those who are in Christ and in the Spirit are of the Spirit: they mind the things of the Spirit, they walk in the Spirit, they fulfill the law, and the end is life and peace. But for those who are in the flesh, they mind the things of the flesh; they walk in the flesh; they are hostile to God; they are on the road to death; they’re not subject to His law, not able to be subject to His law, nor can they do anything to please Him. That is divine revelation on the human condition.
Lest you think that people are basically good, I want to show you what this passage is saying. Those who are in the flesh walk according to the flesh. In other words, they do what their fleshly impulses dictate. Their minds are set on the flesh and only the flesh, and the end is death. They hate God – that’s what the word “hostile” in verse 7 means – they hate God. They do not subject themselves to the law of God, they aren’t able to do it, and because they’re in the flesh, they cannot please God. That is the human condition.
This is the most attacked of all doctrines, whether wittingly or unwittingly. The idea that sinners, that people – all of them, the entire human race apart from Christ – are completely helpless, hopeless, unwilling, unable to please God in any sense is offensive. In fact, in John 7, our Lord summed it up in these words, John 7 and verse 7: “The world hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil.” There it is in one summary statement.
Why did they reject Jesus? Why did Israel reject Jesus? Why did the religious leaders reject Jesus? He says it there: they hated Him, hatred enough to have Him executed by the Romans. They hated Him because He said their deeds are evil. And their deeds are evil because their minds are evil, because their nature is evil.
That is the most offensive of all Christian doctrine. However, at the same time, it is the most distinctively Christian doctrine. It is distinctively Christian because it is contrary to the doctrines of all other religions. All religions, in one way or another, find a spark of goodness in man. All other religions affirm that people can be good, should be good, should will to be good, should behave in a good way, and if they do that they will gain favor with the deity and merit whatever category of blessing there is in this life and the life to come. Only the Christian gospel starts with the utter sinfulness of all human beings, so that they hate God. They are unable to keep His law, unwilling to keep His law, and it’s impossible for them to do anything to please Him in any way that would turn His judgment into favor.
This is also the doctrine at which point most people are deceived. Jeremiah says, “The heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” The dominating deceit which shows up in religion is that there’s something good in man – spark of divinity – that there’s something in us that can choose good, do good, think good thoughts, and thus please God and turn away His wrath, whoever that god may be, and find favor with Him. This is the great deception of all deceptions.
Look, Satan is a liar and the father of lies, John 8:44. Everybody who is a child of Satan is engulfed in a world of lies and only lies; and the dominant lie is that you’re good to some degree. And to say that the human condition is the way that Romans 8 says it is contrary to fallen man’s natural defense mechanisms. People deny that they are essentially evil. They don’t deny that they do things they shouldn’t do, but they deny that they are essentially evil. They would deny that they’re hostile toward God, that they hate God. You hear people, politicians a lot lately and people in the pop culture talking about God and Jesus, and they love God and they love Jesus, and they would deny that they hate God, that they hate Christ. They would deny that they are incapable of true good, and the reason they deny that is because they are self-deceived. That’s part of being in the kingdom of darkness.
The dominating reality of the kingdom of darkness is you believe lies, and the big lie you believe is that you’re good, that you’re good enough to be acceptable to God. People invoke the name of God all the time and the name of the Lord Jesus. They claim to love God, they claim to love Jesus, while in reality they hate God. They have a sentimental affection for the god of their own making, but they hate and cannot love the true and living God. “Friendship with the world,” James says in James 4:4, “is hatred of God.” So if you’re a part of the world, you hate God.
Now this is a most paradoxical doctrine also, because most people deny that that they are basically, inherently bad, but they admit that they do bad things. But that seems to be the exception rather than the rule to self-protective sinners. But they will admit that they are sinners in their sins, but not in their nature and not in their goodness. When they do favors for people, when they do philanthropic things, when they act in some noble fashion for the benefit of others, or when they are religious they don’t see the sin in their goodness, they don’t see the sin in their religion. They don’t understand that their righteousness is filthy rags, Isaiah 64 says.
False religion, in fact, is the most heinous sin of all. You hear somebody say, “I believe in God. I love God. I believe in Jesus.” That is a heinous sin if it’s not the true God and the true Jesus. False religion is the most heinous of all sins because it is a breach of the first commandment, to love the true God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and never to have another god. Religion just makes other gods. Even in the name of Christianity man is so deeply sinful that he will invent gods and religions that directly show his hatred to the true God. He will even embrace supposedly the God of the Bible but hold onto sin and iniquity as if it was virtue because he is religious, and in reality it is nothing but hatred of the true God. Simply stated, Jesus said this: “If you love Me, you” – What? – “keep My commandments.”
So, this is a paradoxical doctrine because what you’re saying to someone is this is who you are, according to Romans 8, according to the revelation of God, you are a God hater. You are hopeless, helpless, unwilling, unable, cannot please God at all; and they are offended. And they will say, “But I’m very religious. I believe in God. I even believe in Jesus.” But it is a Jesus of their own making, of their own manufacturing like the – or a god of their own making, like the golden calf back in Exodus. Some evangelical preachers aid and abet this hatred of the true God, this hatred of the God of Scripture because they hide this truth from sinners. They don’t want to say what the Bible says about the sinner’s condition; it’s offensive.
You’re not going to pack an auditorium with a rock concert and a light show and a whole pile of entertainment and then preach on total depravity and have anybody show up next week. So if your goal is to get a crowd and make them feel good about themselves, you don’t talk about this, so you essentially ignore the foundational doctrine of all doctrines of salvation, the doctrine of human sinfulness. Consequently, it is the most minimized doctrine. All false belief systems affirm some human goodness. Christianity affirms no human goodness. They’re not talking about the fact that you can’t do a favor for someone or act in a philanthropic way. When I say no goodness, I mean no goodness that alters the sinner’s relationship to God and takes it from a position of judgment to a position of favor.
You can’t do that kind of goodness. And yet you have all these people in their church growth strategies wanting to hide the true condition of sinners and tell them all God wants to do is give them what they want - they can speak it into existence. All God wants to do is let them know He loves them unconditionally, as if they were attractive and He’s waiting for them to come and embrace all the things that He wants to give them. And what does He want to give them? Whatever they want, whatever they desire. Wherever you have any kind of confusion about the doctrine of human sinfulness – and it’s everywhere – you impede the advance of the true gospel, because God is looking for a broken and a contrite heart, as we read in Psalm 51. And as Isaiah 66 says, “and one who trembles at His word.”
You cannot advance the gospel without starting with a full picture of human sinfulness. To remove that doctrine is to wind up on the side of the enemies of the cross. Every movement in Christianity that has minimized or rejected this truth of human sinfulness has gone badly astray, because if you don’t get this right, you don’t get the rest of soteriology right. And that’s because this is the most foundational doctrine. To grasp the truth of man’s sinfulness is to understand all other doctrinal components of salvation. They become obvious.
You hear people say, “Well, I can’t believe in predestination. I can’t believe in the doctrine of sovereign election to salvation. I can’t believe in the fact that salvation is a monergistic or a sole work of God and God alone. I can’t believe that.” You could believe that. You would have to believe that. You would have nothing else that you could possibly believe if you understand the human condition.
If God doesn’t choose and God doesn’t give life and God doesn’t regenerate and God doesn’t justify, it will never happen because the sinner is not willing, not able, only a God hater. Once you understand that man is in the condition he is in, understanding sovereign salvation is obvious. The true gospel ministry transcends all forms of manipulation. So when you don’t lay the foundation of human sinfulness and then you appeal to the sinner as if the sinner has the ability to respond to that appeal based upon giving God the character of some heavenly genie who’s going to give the sinner what the sinner wants, you’re using manipulation to overcome consumer resistance which you can’t overcome, because it’s the very nature of sinners.
So, the doctrine of human sinfulness is the most God-glorifying doctrine, because when someone is taken out of death into life, God gets all the glory, right? Scripture is clear on human sinfulness. This is the most historical doctrine. This had to be understood in church history.
Today you hear a lot about free will, as if the sinner has the willingness and the ability, if prodded the right way or induced by the right musical environment, on his own to turn from sin to God, to turn from death to life, from blindness to sight, from hating God to loving God. That’s the free will idea. But the Bible teaches that that’s impossible because man has been conceived in sin. That, too, from Psalm 51, right? “In sin did my mother conceive me. I was formed in iniquity.” It doesn’t mean he was an illegitimate child; he means, “From the very moment of conception sin was passed to me.”
The most historical doctrine I mean in this sense that the doctrine of original sin is essential to Christian orthodoxy; it’s essential. It was not invented by Luther, was not invented by Calvin or the Reformers. They were part of helping us understand it. Go back from them a thousand years to Pelagius, a man named Pelagius, who was born in 360 AD and died in 420, and his friend Celestius, and they said that, “Man is not born sinful.” They said that the sin of Adam affected only Adam, and every human being who is born is born in the same innocence as Adam. He doesn’t bring any sinful nature into the world - sin is a choice for everyone, everyone is exactly like Adam, Adam’s sin affected only Adam. On the other hand, Augustine came along and said, “No, sinners are totally unable, totally unwilling to obey God, to do anything that pleases God, unless God,” he said, “intervenes by grace to free them from the bondage of sin” - Augustine.
According to Pelagius and Pelagianism, “Anyone who chooses to obey God can do so, we just have to move people’s will.” He denied that human nature was in any way defiled or disabled by inherited sin from Adam. Pelagius said, “Every person possesses perfect freedom of the will as Adam did.” So we sin purely by choice, not compulsion, and not by nature. It’s a pretty lame argument, because everybody who’s ever lived has died, and the wages of sin is death, and nobody made a choice other than sin. You might want to rethink that idea. Pelagius said, “Sinners have the power to change their choices and free themselves from sin. We need to appeal to the sinner to get him to make that call.”
After being dealt with for a period of time from some church councils, finally in 431 at the Council of Ephesus, the idea was denounced as a heresy. It’s a heresy to say that there’s anything good in man, that he’s unaffected by the sin of Adam so that he comes into the world like Adam did, innocent, and he can choose righteousness or he can choose sin. That was denounced by the righteous minds as heresy.
Well, didn’t go away. A new wave followed which said, “Well, okay. Adam’s sin did affect man, but affected man only in some partial way. It affected man so that most of him was disabled, but not all of him. Sinners were left with just enough free will to make the first move toward God, the first move in repentance, the first move in faith, unaided by any divine grace or any divine power, and that was called semi-Pelagianism. That was also labeled as prevenient grace – a theological term meaning there’s some little deposit in us of God’s grace that has left part of our will unaffected by the Fall; and so we have enough of that that we can choose God, and God simply responds to the sinner’s choice. He doesn’t choose who is to be saved. He doesn’t actually start salvation, He simply kicks in when the believer by his own will enacts that faith.
This is depravity admittedly, but not total. Saving grace is a divine response from God. This is the idea, whether it’s articulated theologically or not, this is the idea that drives all pragmatism in ministry, that there’s something in the sinner that can respond on the sinner’s own. So don’t worry about talking about depravity in sin, a wretchedness and wrath and eternal hell; that will offend the sinner. Make the sinner feel comfortable, make him like Jesus, and he’ll turn his will toward Jesus, and God will take over from there. This, too, was declared a heresy and denounced by several church councils starting in 529 AD.
Five hundred years before Luther and Calvin the depravity of man was preached by Jan Hus, Wycliffe; later, of course, by Luther and many others. Luther wrote a book on the bondage of the will in which he was arguing with Erasmus over this issue. Now this is what they were affirming and this is what the Scripture would teach us. We are all equally unable, we are all equally unwilling. That is not to say we are all as bad as we could be.
When we talk about total depravity we don’t mean that everybody is Jeffrey Dahmer, or everybody’s Adolf Hitler, everybody is some serial killer; we don’t mean that. What we do mean is that all men are unwilling and unable to come to God on their own to give life to themselves, to give sight to themselves. The Westminster Confession put it this way: “Man by his fallen state of sin has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation.”
Great statement: “Man by his fallen state of sin has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation.” This was affirmed in the London Baptist Confession. This was confirmed in the Thirty-nine Articles of the Anglican Church. This was confirmed in the Belgic Confession. This is historic Christian doctrine. That’s why I say it’s a historical doctrine.
Man is totally depraved, just as Romans 8 says. Hates God. His mind is on the flesh because his nature is in the flesh. He does the things of the flesh, which is what it means to walk in the flesh. The end is death. He cannot subject himself to the law of God; it’s not possible, and therefore he can’t please God. That is the opening message of the gospel. If you hide that, you’re assuming that the sinner has the power to come to God on some other basis than the terrifying reality of sin and death and judgment.
“Oh, Jesus wants to make you happy and rich and famous and successful.” No. The Bible describes the sinner’s condition as dead, describes the sinner’s condition with words like this: darkness, blindness, hardness, slavery, incurable sickness, alienation. The condition is so complete that it affects body, mind, emotion, desire, will, motive, behavior; so powerful, that no sinner can overcome it.
Now why am I dealing with this? Well, because it’s true, and that’s enough reason, right? But because pragmatism has engulfed and swallowed up the professing church and convinced them that this message is so offensive – in fact, it was so offensive they killed the Lord Jesus. You would have thought that pure goodness, pure love embodied in the incarnate Son of God would have been enough to overcome hostility. But the one thing you cannot keep telling sinners is that they are evil.
Back to John 7, verse 7: “They hated Me because I told them their deeds were evil.” Where is that? Where is that on the list of Christian priorities to declare to this generation? This contemporary generation is looking for methods to overcome consumer resistance which can’t be overcome because it’s impossible.
So much of current evangelistic strategy is to identify what people desire and then tell them Jesus will give it to them. Never does the Bible ever say God wants to give sinners what in their sinful, fallen condition they already want, because it’s all selfish, it’s all self-indulgent, it’s all superficial. God never promises to give any fallen human being what that fallen human being in his fallen condition wants in his fleshly desire. So we’ve got to tell them the truth; this is gospel honesty.
Now let’s look at a couple of texts that support what we see here in Romans. Go to Ephesians 2 – just a few before we wrap it up. “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins.” It can’t be said any more clearly than that. Dead people don’t respond. Dead people don’t respond. The analogy is so obvious. You can go to a funeral and you can reach in the casket and you can make any gesture you want. You can say anything, you can sing a song to the corpse, you can push the corpse: no response.
What is the nature of death? The inability to respond. “You were” – before you came to Christ – “dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world,” – and this world hates God, as we saw in James 4:4 – “according to the prince of the power of the air,” – that’s a title for Satan – “the spirit now working in the sons of disobedience.” So you’re dead in sin; you walk according to the course of the world; you’re under the prince of the power of the air. The spirit is now working in you and you are a son of disobedience, a child of disobedience, which means your defining characteristic is disobedience. “You are living in the lust,” verse 3, “of your flesh, indulging the desires of your flesh and your mind, and by nature you are children of wrath, just like everybody else.” Wow.
That is a very clear description of the human condition of sinfulness. “You are a child of disobedience,” means that you are essentially of the family of the disobedient. “You are a child of wrath,” you are a member of the family of those who are headed for eternal judgment, just like everybody else. “The problem is in your nature,” verse 3, “the problem is in your desire,” verse 3, “the problem is in your mind,” verse 3, “the problem is in your flesh,” verse 3, “and the compounding of that problem is the world, and the prince of the power of the air who is working in you.” “You’re blinded not only by your fallenness, you’re blinded by Satan,” 2 Corinthians 4 says. This is the human condition.
So what do we do about that? We don’t do anything. Verse 4, “But God.” That’s really important. That’s where it starts, because it can’t start with us. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
“But God...in mercy.” “Mercy” assumes that you haven’t done anything to deserve it. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” It’s mercy and mercy alone, mercy motivated, verse 4, by love, and by mercy and love: “When we were dead, God made us alive together with Christ.” He placed us in Christ. We died in Him, we rise in Him, and it’s all by grace. Verse 8, “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves” – that salvation by grace through faith is not your work – “it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” That can’t be more clear, right?
People will say, “The doctrine of election offends me.” Really? So you’re not like the rest of the human race, right? You have the capacity in yourself to believe as a dead, blind member of the kingdom of darkness, “a child of disobedience, a child of wrath, doubly blinded by Satan, the god of this world who’s blinded their minds, lest the light of the gospel should shine unto them.” You’re hopeless, helpless. But somewhere in your hopeless helplessness, in your inability to please God, you picked yourself up and decided to come to God on your own. Really?
That’s not even remotely close to what Scripture teaches. And if you believe that people have a sort of semi-Pelagian prevenient grace residing in them somewhere, then you can become a pragmatist. But if you understand the doctrine of depravity the way the Bible lays it out, you can’t possibly be a pragmatist, because only God saves. John 5, verse 40 – well, 39 - “You search the Scripture because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” Another pathological description of the human condition: “You are unwilling.”
John 6:44, Jesus said, “No one comes to Me unless the Father draws him.” Oh, well that makes sense, right? John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” John 6:64, “‘There are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who didn’t believe, and who it was who would betray Him. And He was saying, ‘For this reason I have said to you, no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.’” Oh. It’s only possible to be saved if it’s the will of the Father.
In John 8, verse 36, “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” If the Father decides to set you free, you’ll be free. If the Son decides to set you free, you’ll be free. Listen to John 5:21, “Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life” – listen to this – “even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes.” You can’t possibly have anything but a doctrine of divine, sovereign salvation when you understand the human condition.
The Bible describes man as the living dead. “As in Adam all die,” Romans 5:12. By one man’s sin, the whole human race fell into sin. The Bible says the heart reflects that deadness: “The heart, deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.”
The mind, we see that right here in Romans chapter 8. The mind is affected. People mind only the things of the flesh. First Corinthians 2:14, “The natural man understands not the things of God, they’re foolishness to him. He can’t know them, because they’re spiritually discerned and he’s spiritually dead.”
The will is affected. “No one can come unless the Father draws him.” The conduct is affected. In Mark chapter 7, there’s a very important text of Scripture that speaks about this human condition. Listen to verse 20 of Mark 7. This is Jesus talking: “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man.” Wow, there’s some pathology of human sinfulness. It’s what’s inside of you that’s wretched. “It’s that which proceeds out of the man that defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” The problem is not outside, the problem is inside. And then we saw in Romans 3:10, “There’s none righteous, no not one.” There’s none that does good.
In an unconverted condition, everyone is dead, in the darkness, driven by the lust of the flesh, the desires of the flesh and of the mind, hating God, even though being religious, but hating God, hating the true God, and hating anyone who declares to them that their deeds are evil. This doctrine has been the conviction of the true church for centuries. It is called total depravity. That can be misleading. When we think of depravity, we think of something degraded and debased and immoral to a twisted and perverted and extreme degree. So if you say to someone, “You’re totally depraved,” I mean, that’s a classic term for the doctrine. People are going to say, “What are you talking about? I’m not Charles Manson.”
To call someone totally depraved would be to sort of set them outside the normal understanding of what depravity has come to mean in our culture. So better to say, “You’re a child of the devil. You’re a child of disobedience. You’re a child of wrath. You hate God. You cannot subject yourself to His law; you’re unable to do so, you’re unwilling to do so, and nothing you could ever do on your own would please Him, and that’s the truth. And consequently, you’re headed for judgment.”
All people are completely unable to raise themselves out of the death and blindness and darkness and slavery and ignorance. Can’t be done. It can’t be done. You say, “Well, what do I do?” If you’re asking that question, it may be that the Spirit of God is moving on your heart. “Do I start with repentance?” you say. “Maybe I could do the repentance part, huh?” Uh, no. No, you can’t do the repentance part either.
Listen to 2 Timothy 2:25-26: “If perhaps God” – let’s go back to verse 24 - “The Lord’s slave” – the one who preaches the gospel – “must not be quarrelsome, kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with meekness,” – or “gentleness” – “correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.” The only way you’ll ever escape is if God not only grants you the faith, but God has to grant you – What? – the repentance, the repentance.
First Corinthians chapter 1 - the end of the chapter, great chapter - verse 26, “Consider your calling,” – your calling to salvation – “there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble.” The Lord chooses the insignificant people. “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong. And the base things of the world, and the despised, God has chosen the things that are not” – the no ones, the nobodies – “so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before God.” God chooses, God chooses, God chooses, “so that,” verse 30, “by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written” – all the way back in Jeremiah – “‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” You made no contribution.
Until God regenerates the heart, until God by His Spirit produces true repentance, you have neither the ability or even the inclination to come. God is not waiting for you to start it or depending on you to agree with Him to do it mutually. He grants repentance. He raises you from the dead. He gives you life in place of death. Apart from the work of God through the Holy Spirit based on the accomplishment of Christ, no sinner would ever, ever, ever come. You say, “Well, how do I know if I’m one God is drawing?” Because He’ll draw you.
Again, anything less than understanding this complete picture of sinfulness will put us in a position where we’re asking sinners to do what they can’t do. All we can say to sinners is, “If you desire this, repentance and confession and salvation, cry out to God to rescue you.” I mean, if you’re drowning in the rapids shouting, “Save yourself, save yourself, save yourself,” to yourself, it’s not going to do much. And it won’t do any good if there are some people on the bank saying, “If you can save yourself we’ll dry you off when you get out.” Not helpful. A gospel call can be to the sinner to repent and believe, but with the understanding and the knowledge that you have to tell the sinner his condition so that he understands from which position he hopelessly and helplessly can only be rescued by God.
One other text comes to mind, Titus 3, verse 3: “We also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice” – which is a word for “evil” – “and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when” – it sounds like Ephesians – “when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for man appeared, He saved us,” – Got that? – “not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but again it’s according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,” – it’s the new birth – “whom,” – the Spirit – “whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Again, “But God,” our Savior, His love, His mercy. Nothing to do with us, our deeds; but by mercy He regenerated us, gave us new life by the Holy Spirit: justification, sanctification, and one day, glorification. This doesn’t happen in a vacuum, by the way.
Listen to 1 Peter 1:23, “For you have been born again” – you have been regenerated – “not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.” What is it that God uses to regenerate? “The living and enduring word of God.” Faith comes by hearing the Word.
So what do we do? We tell sinners the truth about their condition, and that only God can rescue them. And we show them the plan of God’s rescue in the gospel, and it’s up to the Spirit from there. Denial of this doctrine of human sinfulness leaves people with the idea that they can find ways to convince the sinner because there’s something good in there by which the sinner can respond, and they will twist the message to make it appealing, and inevitably not tell the whole truth.
Never ever tell sinners that God wants to give them what they want in their fallen flesh. Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “If any man come after Me, let him deny” – What? – “himself.” Okay, the message is not if you want health and wealth and prosperity and all your dreams to be fulfilled, come to Jesus. The message is, “If you will deny every desire, every longing, every ambition and come to Jesus, penitent and broken, He won’t turn you away.” Jesus said, “Whoever comes to Me, I will not turn away.”
Never ever appeal to what enslaves fallen people in an effort to convince them that they can rescue themselves from that enslavement by luring them with what in their fallen flesh is a natural desire and not a godly one at all. Don’t ever affirm the legitimacy of the sinner’s desire. Never change the message to somehow think you can reduce consumer resistance. Preach the truth about sin and righteous and judgment. All sinners are the same. All in the same condition need to be told that condition, and then told the goodness of the gospel.
And in the midst of all of this, I go back to something said in Matthew 11 because you’re saying to yourself, “Well, how do I know who’s chosen and who’s not?” Don’t worry about this. Listen to what Jesus said: “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Wow, open invitation.
Who’s going to come? Those who labor and are heavy-laden. What does that mean? People who have a hard job? No. People who are literally overwhelmed with the burden of – What? – their sin, their sin.
You know, the church – this is sad to say – of all professions; the church really is the only institution, ministry is the only profession where we ourselves are responsible for our failures and none of our successes, because all the success comes from – Who? – God. All we want to do is get in line with His truth. Let’s pray.
Lord, this is such an important truth to declare as You revealed it. I know there are people here whose hearts have been convicted because they are in their unredeemed, fallen condition as children of Satan, children of disobedience, children of wrath, therefore children of judgment. All the while you offer free forgiveness. In Christ, you offer life and peace and the Holy Spirit, and walking in the Spirit, and minding the things of the Spirit, and being led by the Spirit; and that leads us right into the eternal glories of heaven. Speak to hearts, Lord; be gracious to sinners today. Be merciful to them for Your own name’s sake, we pray. Amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.